On my second day in Montreal, I set out to sample some local specialties, soak up the foliage, and do some serious frolicking. I expected it to be a good day – little did I know I was about to have myself an ever-rare perfect day. You know, the kind of day where you find yourself thinking over and over “OMG I love today!” – and not just because one exceptionally awesome thing happened, but because the day as a whole is just one continuous string of awesome.
I find that I tend to have my ‘perfect days’ when the weather is glorious; not the case with this one! It was in the 50’s, alternating between sun, clouds, and brief rain. It was a beautiful fall day though, so I can’t complain.
My ‘perfect day’ frolic had me tromping through the Latin Quarter, Plateau Mont-Royal, Mile End, and Parc du Mont-Royal:
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Coffee at Cafe St-Henri Emery
I kicked off tour seeing Montreal in a day by checking out a coffee shop on my To-Try List near where I was staying in the Latin Quarter: Cafe St-Henri Emery. Though it didn’t seem to have the popularity and buzz of other indie coffee shops in town, there were enough rave reviews to coax me to pay this place a visit.
Um, whoa – I had the best latte of my life at Cafe St-Henri. A big bowl of sweet milky espresso, served with sparkling water and a cloth napkin, by a barista wearing a dress shirt with a waistcoat – very classy. The only thing that would have made it better is some fancy latte art. I am 100% coming back before I leave to pick up a bag of their espresso beans. But wow, perfect way to start out the day!
Edit: I returned 2 days later to buy a bag of beans ($15.50 CAD) and got a free latte with it! This time there was latte art. I could not be happier with this cafe!
Adequately caffeinated, I headed north through the Latin Quarter, up St-Denis toward Plateau Mont-Royal. St-Denis is one of the main streets where many university students hang out – lots of restaurants and bars all along the street. The buildings in this area are colorful and seem to all have balconies. I am ok with this.
I walked uphill on St-Denis to Plateau Mont-Royal until I looked to my left and saw this view down Ave des Pins:
I took off in that direction, chasing after the autumnal colors of Mont Royal in the distance. Within minutes, I got distracted by one of the side streets and took a little detour. Suddenly I found myself transported to a land where pretty terraced homes, fall foliage, and grit coexist. Kind of a strange juxtaposition, but I freaking LOVED IT. There are a few of these side streets between Duluth and Pins, west of Henri Julien Ave.
I popped out from the side street on Duluth Ave, heart of the Plateau and soon-to-become my favorite street in Montreal. The amount of street art here is just ridiculous – it’s EVERYWHERE, from storefronts to houses to parking lots to side streets. I’ve never seen such a high concentration of street art anywhere, including Brooklyn – and that’s really saying something.
Aside from colorful art, Duluth Ave has a wide array of ethnic restaurants and shops. I already had plans for lunch, so I vowed to come back here for dinner at least once.
I was a woman on a mission for lunch: I just HAD to try Schwartz’s Deli. Yes, it’s famous and thus touristy, but it’s famous for a reason: their smoked meat sandwich. Smoked meat is one of Montreal’s specialties, and Schwartz’s is said to do it best.
When I arrived at peak lunch hour, there was a line out the door. I only had to wait about 5 minutes to get in, though! Behold, one of the pros to solo travel: getting to cut the line when there’s room for just *1* person at the bar. Score!
I don’t think I was in the restaurant for more than 10 minutes. I knew exactly what I wanted, they had it ready to go right away, and I pretty much scarfed it down. Was it worth the hype? I’d say so!
Post-lunch, I frolicked up St-Laurent Blvd, the main drag in the Plateau stacked with restaurant upon shop upon bakery. In an impressive display of self-control, I managed only to window shop at the many vintage stores and bakeries that caught my eye. You could do some serious damage to both wallet and waistline on this street.
A ways up St-Laurent, I turned right onto Ave du Mont Royal, another of the main streets in the Plateau. I didn’t find this one as interesting as St-Laurent or Duluth, but there were plenty of shops and street art to grab my attention. I was merely making my way to lunch stop #2: bagels at St-Viateur.
St-Viateur Bagel & Cafe
I’m not really a bagel person, but if I were I’d probably have walked into this Montreal bagel shop ready to mentally compare it to New York’s famously delicious bagels. Montreal bagels tend to be thinner and smaller in volume, which makes me feel slightly better about ODing on nutritionless carbs. Their everything bagel was great – soft inside, slightly crisp on the outside.
I am, however, a coffee person – as you might have gathered by now. As a coffee snob, I must say that their coffee was BAD. Like, regrettably bad. I took the tasteless hit of caffeine and went on my way.
I walked from the Plateau toward the neighborhood of Mile End, which from limited research I’d gathered to be a new hipster enclave and similar to the Plateau. No sooner had I begun walking off my bagel than a cat started following me down the street. No complaints here!
In this neck of town, I noticed a plethora of winding staircases. Flat after flat with these gorgeous winding staircases; these aren’t even fancy houses, mind you – it’s just the norm in these neighborhoods. I’ll take a colorful flat with a balcony and winding staircase for a fraction of my NYC rent, please!
Mile End has lots of street art. And bikes. And small gardens outside of most apartments. I don’t hate it.
Coffee at Myriade
I needed to erase the abominable coffee from St-Viateur and escape the sporadic bursts of rain, so I ducked into a cool-looking cafe called Myriade (ironically enough, on St-Viateur). I didn’t remember coming across this place in my research, but it looked legit.
I often find that other countries can’t master filtered coffee or americanos like the US can, which is frustrating for someone who usually takes her coffee black. But the pour over I had at Myriade was PHENOMENAL. I’m still dreaming about it, days later. When I got back that night, I immediately looked this place up online and found rave reviews – rightfully so. What a happy accident it was to stumble upon it!
It was getting late in the day and I was damn near wiped out, but I really wanted to catch the sunset at Mont-Royal. It rained a bit on my walk there, but soon the sun came out again and I found myself walking toward a massive double rainbow. This almost NEVER happens to me!
Parc du Mont-Royal
It was starting to get dark by the time I finally made my way to this massive park. I contemplating saving it for another day, but dammit what if I didn’t HAVE another day to do this? Nevermind the fact that it was supposed to take about an hour to walk to the top – I would haul ass to see the sunset!
Thankfully there are steep dirt paths that cut through the winding paved road as it slowly climbs the mountain, so you can cut your ascent time in about half if you’re fit enough to handle the path incline. Offroading it made the park feel more like a forest – no cars, and few other people in sight. I was left to my own devices to frolic in the fallen leaves, just the way I like it!
View from Chalet du Mont-Royal
I made it to the first lookout point before dusk, and the top just after sunset. It was COLD up there, but totally worth enduring for the view of Montreal from above. Framed by foliage, I’m not sure if this scene could look any more gorgeous. Amiright?
Dinner at Arepera Du Plateau
I’d vowed to come back to Duluth Ave to have dinner at one of its many enticing restaurants. I’d barely even made it 2 blocks down before an arepa bar caught my eye – Arepera Du Plateau, DONE. (Fun Fact: My favorite restaurant of all time is Caracas Arepa Bar in NYC). I had a pulled chicken arepa and guacamole with yuca chips and it was the perfect end to a perfect day in Montreal.
Knowing I’d be walking an obscene number of miles and ending up far from my hostel, I had planned on getting a 24-hour pass for Bixi bikes. I’d activate it after dinner, and then use it all day the next day to bike around the city. NYC has a similar bike sharing system called Citi bikes, but I haven’t tried it because I have my own bike. I had visions of not being able to lock/unlock my bike, or fumbling around at the kiosk, but Bixi bikes could not be easier or more intuitive to use. Two thumbs up from me!
A Perfect Day, in my book, is a day of utter contentment – where I literally think to myself, ‘wow, today was perfect’. It doesn’t happen too often, and never happens intentionally – but it tends to be a day full of sunshine and *me* time, where I’m very in touch with my surroundings.