Montreal from an American Perspective

Oh, Canada…

Greetings again dear readers! As you know, from having read my previous blog posts, I arrived in the Commonwealth of Canada, in the Province of Quebec, in the city of Montreal in late August 2017. After having passed through customs with the proper paperwork in hand, and after spending many hours just getting out of Ontario, we finally crossed into Quebec. Our arrival into Quebec was heralded by a large sign with the Quebec flag and the words “Bienvenue au Quebec” in large white letters. As we drove on the highway, all the signs were in French. After we crossed into Quebec, we didn’t see a single road sign in English. I was thinking to myself, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” (I love “The Wizard of Oz”, but then again, who doesn’t?).

Montreal, here we come!

By this point, we had crossed into Montreal, and were driving through the city. My initial reaction was “Wow…this looks so similar to the U.S. But hold on a minute, there are subtle differences.” The biggest and most obvious difference being the fact that everything was in French. It was a neat feeling, knowing that the next two years of my life would be spent in this city. I was feeling a bit nervous, because I was embarking on a new adventure where I didn’t know what to expect and there were so many unknowns. But, I was also excited to be moving on to bigger and better things, to get out of my small, Midwestern town, and to be living in a big, metropolitan city again.

The Highlights of Montreal (in my opinion)

Since I don’t have the time or space to go into each and every place I visited in Montreal during my time at McGill, I’ll list the highlights. Places and things that to the first time visitor, you really should try to do! Also, please note that these are my opinions, and are therefore subjective.

  1. McGill University (obviously): Not only is McGill one of the most beautiful campuses I’ve been to, it’s also located right in the heart of Montreal. Step outside of Roddick Gates (the main entrance) and you’re right in the middle of downtown Montreal. I thought that was pretty cool. Having spent four years at a small, Midwestern liberal arts college in a small, conservative town, being able to live and study in a large, diverse, culturally rich city like Montreal was a breath of fresh air.
  2. The Old Port: Popular with tourists and locals alike, the Old Port has so much to see and do. Many of the buildings in this part of the city date back to the 1600s. Walking down the cobblestone streets and gawking at the absolutely magnificent Basilique Notre-Dame de Montreal is pretty incredible. If you have time, stop in a for a look round. At $5 per person, it’s well worth the price of admission to gaze at the beautiful interior, complete with glided altar, candles everywhere, pipe organ, etc.
  3. Mount Royal: Whether you climb this mountain (as I did several times) or drive, this is one of the top destinations for first time visitors to the city. The view from the top is stunning and will take your breath away. If you have time, and are up for a bit of a further hike, check out La Croix du Mont Royal. At night, the cross is lit up and for special occasions, the usually white LEDs lights are replaced with colored lights. Upon the death of a Pope, the lights are changed to purple, for AIDs awareness red, and for Saint-Jean Baptiste Day, blue.
  4. Marche Jean Talon: If you like markets and if you happen to visit Montreal during the summer, then you’ll love Marche Jean Talon. The numerous stalls sell fresh fruits and produce, flowers, tasty treats (I had a delicious crepes with apples and whipped cream), and all sorts of goodies. Right in the same area as Marche Jean Talon is Montreal’s Little Italy, a place where Italian immigrants settled and wove their culture into the fabric of the city. There’s an amazing Italian bakery nearby, Pasticceria Alati-Caserta, that has the most amazing Italian pastries and cookies. Their cannoli are to die for! Ack! My mouth is watering just thinking about them. Ok, I’ll stop. And you be sure to stop by this delectable bakery when you’re in Little Italy.
  5. St-Viateur Bagels: A Montreal staple. Located in the Plateau neighborhood, this bagel shop may be small, but don’t let that fool you. Every day (especially during the warmer months) this shop is chock full of hungry people queuing up for warm, toasty bagels. The best part of St-Viateur is the fact that these bagels are made from scratch and are baked in a giant brick oven, easily visible upon entering. The warmth of the dough and the slightly sticky texture of the bagel (due in part to the sesame seeds) and the crunchy exterior all make for a delicious treat. These bagels are a little bit sweet, but that’s why they’re perfect! Get 1 or a few, and munch on them while you stroll through the neighborhood.
  6. Poutine: I couldn’t mention Montreal and not mention it’s most famous food! Poutine can be found in various locations throughout the city. From cheap digs with great eats to more sophisticated locations, everyone loves a good helping of poutine. I’d say it’s easily Montreal most well-known food, by both Montrealers and non-Montrealers. Another great place for grub is Tim Hortons, the chain that’s become synonymous with Canada. Often I’d grab coffee and a breakfast sandwich on my way to an early morning class. Also of note, there are A&Ws in many locations throughout Montreal. So, if it’s late at night and you need a burger fix, you know where to go.

Wrapping up…and thank you!

I just realized that the last several items on my “best of Montreal” list were all food related. Sorry about that, but there are many good places to find food in Montreal!

Most of my interactions with Canadians and Quebecois were very pleasant; however, there was one occasion that didn’t end well. In a nutshell, I was trying to find the bus to the airport in order to get to the airport in time. I rode the metro and got off at what I thought was the most convenient stop (plot twist: it wasn’t, and I learned my lesson for the next time I went home for winter break).

I approached the nearest metro worker. This lady was Quebecois, and probably in her mid to late 50s, possibly early 60s. I politely asked for directions to the bus which would take me to the airport. As soon as I started speaking, she immediately responded in French. I was speaking English and she was speaking French. This exchange probably only lasted a few seconds, but it felt longer. After politely thanking her for her time, I hurried off to find the elevator to the street level. Once inside the elevator, I found that all the signs were again, in French! I pushed a random button hoping it was the right one, and lo and behold, it was! I then had to ask another person who thankfully spoke English. She told me where the bus stop was, and after thanking her, I made my way to said bus stop. Despite the frustrating experience, I eventually made it back home. And, now I have a story to tell. Looking back at that episode, it was almost like something out of a Monty Python-esque sketch. Funny, a little awkward, and totally relatable.

Ah, I don’t know what to write now. I guess, my parting words of advice to aspiring MLIS students is… Before committing to a school, be sure to do some research about the school’s MLIS program, the courses offered, the professors, etc. Try to get in touch with a current student who would be able to give you the scoop in terms of the overall vibe of the program. Work hard, but you already know that. Be prepared to go to tutorials, the prof’s office hours, group study sessions, etc. Basically, anything to make sure you’re as ready as possible for those midterms and final exams. They’re hard, but not impossible. And, if you do fail a course (it happens more often that you think), don’t despair. Yes, it sucks. But now that you at least know the material, hopefully you’ll do much better the next time, and will ultimately pass the course. Don’t lose faith and don’t give up!

And last but certainly not least, remember to have fun! I spent most of Summer 2018 exploring the city on my own, and I absolutely loved it! It was a special treat to be able to go and find some of Montreal’s hidden gems all on my own.

Well, that’s it. Before I go, I’d like to thank The Tipsy Librarian for inviting me to be a guest writer on her blog. So, thanks! It’s been a pleasure writing these posts. I hope that other future MLIS professionals find inspiration and comfort in my words.

As they say in Montreal, bonne journee et a la prochaine chicane! 🙂

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