Finding your bearings in Montréal and feeling at home
I come from a small French town and I arrived in Montréal at age 18. Before that, I had never been away from home for more than a month. When I came to Montréal to begin my studies everything was new to me. It was actually the first time I took the metro by myself. I had this fear of feeling overwhelmed in the middle of this huge city that changes from one neighbourhood to the next. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to adapt or feel at home. I think that’s the case in most big cities; they don’t wait for you and it can get dizzying. I’ve been living in Montréal for two years now. It may seem long but these wonderful years have gone by so quickly. Today, my home is Montréal. It became my home after I established and found by bearings. I’m not saying I know all the best spots in Montréal because I keep discovering new places every day. However, I can share a few places where I found a warm reception and some good company thereby helping me come out of my shell.
Finding a few gems in Plateau-Mont-Royal
A French person studying at HEC (Université de Montréal) and living in the Plateau is indeed quite a cliché. Yet I really didn’t discover Plateau-Mont-Royal until last May. A few months later, I set down my luggage and I’m living right in the middle of it. It’s one of the most welcoming and warm places on the Island of Montréal. The colourful brick buildings are quite low, giving it a human-scale feel. The streets are lined with big trees and there are many parks, such as La Fontaine and Jeanne-Mance that run along Mount Royal. It’s a very calming yet lively neighbourhood. It’s the perfect place to find the most original shops—second-hand clothing stores, book stores that smell of old books and café-bars with crazy concepts. I just love venturing off by myself and getting lost in the streets of the Plateau, popping into all the interesting shops and restaurants. What I love the most is taking the time to look up and watch the city as a live painting. That’s how I found Saint-Denis Street, which counts with so many cafés, each one more impressive than the other. Between Code & Café, which offers workshops to learn about robots and IT, and Céramic Café, where you can paint some ceramic while enjoying a cup of coffee, there is a bit of everything. My roommate and I went to Ceramic Café and she really loved it. As we headed home, we discovered Colonel Moutarde, a restaurant where you can play board games. We booked a reservation! But my greatest find is Drogheria Fine. This spot is known for its Calabrese-style tomato sauce and its gnocchi available at the takeout counter for $5. It was a magical moment for my taste buds, I was instantly transported to the heart of Southern Italy. The Plateau is filled with surprises, it’s a pause in time that you need to visit with your sense of curiosity far from all the hoopla downtown.
A North-American downtown bubbling with culture
Downtown Montréal is as typical an North-American downtown as you can imagine: tall buildings, wide streets and lots of action. I fell in love with the original Quartier des spectacles. The area comprises small theatres, stages and bars—there’s something for everyone. I repeat, for absolutely everyone. It is astonishing. You can go see an opera and, a few steps away, attend an evening of improv at the very intimate Théâtre Sainte-Catherine, where big-name international comics got their start. What I love the most is going to Mount Royal Chalet at night to admire the lit-up city away from the skyscrapers while listening to some music. It’s the best view of Montréal.
How about a stroll in Old Montréal?
Old Montréal is the oldest neighbourhood in the city and full of history. It is a very touristy area where you’ll find, especially in the summer, the most beautiful rooftops with a magnificent view of Saint Lawrence River. There are very nice restaurants and cafés, such as Tommy Café that has a constant feed on Instagram. And, I also found a real gem.
During a snow storm one day, I found shelter in a café after work and immersed myself in a pool of human warmth; It was Anticafé. You take off your shoes at the entrance and put on some slippers. You pay by the hour and eat as much as you like. They saw me every day when I had to study for my exams. Sometimes a band plays music and in the basement, they hold nude painting workshops, language workshops and other events. It’s nice to be recognized in a big city and to have a cozy spot outside your apartment where you can also feel at home. Unfortunately, this café is no longer open so why am I even telling you about it? What I felt in that café, you can find it elsewhere if you give in to your curiosity and keep an open mind.
If you want to feel at home, you need to find your own spots. Montréal is full of charming little places sure to catch your attention. There is no single must-go place that trumps all others. Montréal changes from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. It’s up to you to take the first step to find your bearings and the way of life that suits you. Lastly, you can always tailor Montréal to suit you.
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