Saturday, March 9, 2019

Winter Wonderland at Montréal, Quebec

The first time I experienced winter, I fell in love with it. It was love at first sight despite the biting cold and the occasional runny nose. The moment I went outside the terminal building of Pearson Airport, the cold wind struck without warning. I know it was almost March, but Spring wasn't around the corner yet. Canadian winters are known to last until May! Since my friend and I were itching for a new adventure, we decided to take a road trip up north to Montréal, Quebec!

We left Toronto before 7 in the morning. The sun has just risen, and the temperature that time plunged to -12 degrees Celsius. Located approximately 500 kilometers northeast of Toronto, Montréal is the largest city in the province of Quebec, a predominantly French-speaking part of Canada. Travel time usually takes five hours, but it took us more than six hours not because of the slippery surface of the interstate, but because we had so many stops in between for either bathroom breaks and snack breaks. As we neared downtown Montréal, there were numerous roadblocks and detours. The was one part where the entire skyway needs to be torn down for some reasons, and it reminds me of the road constructions in Manila.

Highway to Quebec.

Old Montréal District.

After we settled our things, we went around the old downtown Montréal. It was even colder than in Toronto even if the sun was shining brightly, and the sky was blue and cloudless. If you're planning to explore Canada during in the middle of their blisteringly cold winter (that's around January-March), better bundle up to keep you warm! Two days after arriving at the other side of the world, jetlag had finally hit me. After gobbling tons of pork dumplings and rice at Montréal's Chinatown (I know, it's a weird combination, but I have to eat rice that time).

I believed I slept for 12 hours straight and I felt relieved. I guess it didn't take a lot of time for my circadian rhythm to adjust with the new timezone. The sun was up but the temperature that time plunged to -12. Despite the cold weather, we went exploring the old and new quarters of Montréal. The city feels foreign to me – the locals speak French, and the architecture somehow resembles the old quarters old quarters of Paris (as what my friend told me because I haven't been to Europe yet).  For lunch, we sampled one of Montréal's best restaurants, Schwartz's Deli. All of my friends who have been to Montréal told me that we should try it. The queue was quite long when we got there, but we didn't wait long. We ordered their smoked meat sandwich and fries, and I must say it was the best-tasting sandwich I've ever had! The smoked meat was super tender, and if only they serve rice, I could've ordered more! Oh well, I can't blame the Pinoy inside me who always craves for rice.

Lovin' the vibe here!

Immediately west of downtown Montréal stands Mount Royal, a hill which offers a panoramic view of the city. History says that the city of Montréal takes its name from Mount Royal. The hike wasn't super stressful compared to what I've experienced in Elephant Mountain Trail in Taiwan. The trail, covered with foot-deep snow and ice, was a bit challenging, but we made it to the top anyway. We were blessed to have good weather, and the view was just spectacular.

It's already March, but snow's everywhere!

Hiking Mount Royal is fun!

Downtown Montréal, as viewed from the summit of Mount Royal.

A trip to Montréal would not be complete without visiting Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal. It's located right at the heart of old Montréal district. Ticket costs $8, but it was super worth it. I was in awe upon entering the church. Beautiful was an understatement. The church is highly decorated, built in the Gothic Revival style. The vaults are colored deep blue and decorated with golden stars, and the rest of the sanctuary is decorated in blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold. It is filled with hundreds of intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues.

Inside Notre-Dame Basilica of Montréal.

My trip to  Montréal was short but sweet.  Driving from Toronto to Montréal in the middle of the Canadian winter was a visual treat for me. While the highways back home are all surrounded by towering verdant landscapes and cerulean waters, it's all white and gray here. Some might find it dull, but I liked it. My friends always find me weird because I prefer the overcast and rainy day than the hot and sunny day. It felt like I was in my natural habitat! Merci, Montréal! I'll see you again soon, maybe during Autumn when the foliage bleeds crimson and orange. That would be lovely!

Planning to visit Montréal during winter? Here are some tips:

1) Bundle up! Canadian winters can be harsh, and if it's your first time to experience winter, it can be uncomfortable. I suggest buying thick jackets and wear heattech undergarments to keep yourself warm and cozy. Gloves and earmuffs are necessary as well.

2) During winter, there are fewer activities around, but that doesn't mean you'll stay in the hotel for the entire day! You'll never go wrong with Montréaler cuisine! Why not try their famous poutine, a Québécois dish made of french fries and cheese curds topped with brown gravy, or Montréal-style smoked meat at Schwartz's Deli, or indulge with mouthwatering steak at Joe Beef? I have tried these, and it was fucking good! But, if you're craving for rice, Chinatown is the place to be. It's nearby old Montréal.

3) Most signages are in French, but don't worry! Almost everyone knows how to speak English. It's easy to ask the locals for directions without trying so hard to speak French. Excusez-moi? Parlez-vous François?

All bundled up! My outfit kept me warm and comfy all day, all night.

Leather boots and snow.


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