Vespas and bicycles in downtown Montreal. But we rode a different kind of bike provided by the bike tour company.
After catching a red eye flight to Montreal, my sister started the day with a croissant and cappuccino in the Outremont neighborhood, where we will be staying for the weekend. This trip was relatively unplanned, compared to the various trips my sister and I have done in the past.
We had an idea of what we wanted to do, but needed to prioritize We looked at guidebooks and consulted the maps we took from the information center at the airport. It was only after checking the description that I realized I took the official version, which means everything was en Francais. Welcome to Montreal.
It was 10 am on a Thursday and between our groggy selves and desire to immediately kick start our adventure, we took a 20 minute walk that started at Boulevard Saint Joseph and Saint Catherine Street. We passed by quiet, tree lined streets where people of all ages were just about waking up, heading to work, or running errands. We passed by a young couple that were taking turns unloading their cars of their latest grocery haul– bottled water, chips, beer, wine — which looked to be the ingredients of an upcoming house party. We passed by old couples waiting for the bus toward the day’s destination. We saw children in their pressed uniforms walking to their classes. Some young people were dressed in casual outfit of shorts, t-shirts, light cardigans, which gave away their current vacation status.
My sister and I finally arrived at Fitz and Follwell. The shop had a small entrance in the basement, and being located on the busy street of Mont Royal, it was almost impossible to find. We signed up for cycling on Saturday morning.
Fitz and Follwell has a stylish brand from the looks of its website, all the way to its store. The store was small, relaxed and interesting. Every available space was filled with bike or bike accessories: baskets, bells, seats, and other obscure accessories only known to bike riders. The bikes we were given to ride reminded me of Amsterdam bikes; they were Dutch-style with a basket infront.
Starting the trip by Jean Mance park, we passed by young professionals playing tennis, athletic cyclists riding alongside us, and families taking a quiet morning stroll in the park. We hit up the McGill University campus, one of the best Canadian universities. Coincidentally, it was first day of school and booths were set up all around their lawn. Nervous collegiate students and their confused parents gathered around tour guides for orientation. The scene reminded me of my own undergraduate days at the UCLA campus. It felt like home to be on a campus again.
We passed through downtown Montreal, which was filled with old brick buildings dating hundreds of years, to newly made bank buildings bearing opulent facades, and glass-and-steel modern condominiums. It reminds me of the downtowns of great American cities, such as Chicago, New York and Boston. Our tour guide showed us the coexistence of French and British influences, from the Queen Victoria Statue directly across an Art-Noveau style entrance of the Metropolitain metro station. Many might say French and English influences clashed in this area throughout history, and there are still some tension present to this day, but I would say, as an outsider, the cultures converge, and it makes Montreal more interesting because there’s nothing quite it. French and English influences with a North American brand of optimism and boldness… that’s what Montreal is for me.
We weaved through the beautiful Old Montreal, with its cobblestoned streets, beautifully designed city government offices, and classic brasseries. This is an even more charming part of an already marvelous city, and while we had to cycle through cobblestoned streets where we shook and skidded on our bikes for minutes on end, the neighborhood is laden with so much history and reminiscent of the Old World.
We also saw the Vieux Port, the old Montreal port that enabled North American and transatlantic trade; Quai Jacques Cartier; Scena restaurant; and Habitat 67, a housing complex designed by renowned Canadian architect Moshe Safdie. From the vantage point at the port, we even saw Terrase L’Auberge, a beautiful rooftop bar overlooking the whole city at the roof of L’Auberge Vieux Port hotel, where we had dinner the night before.
Le Plateau Mont Royal
We rode through the colorful neighborhood of Le Plateau Mont Royal, filled with walk up houses, each possessing wrought iron staircases and stone exterior. There are clothing boutiques, bakeries, cafes, bars, cheese shops throughout the neighborhood. Our tour guide called it the Williamsburg, Brooklyn of Montreal, perhaps because of its low-key yet creative vibe.
Our tour guide took us through a combination of steep roads tormenting our calf muscles, and back alleys where we passed by neighbors having conversations and children playing.
These back alleys and well designed neighborhood streets support the essence of Montreal joie de vivre living. These are the places where people spend leisure time with their family, friends and neighbors. These are the places where local shops thrive, where moms can buy baguettes, cheese, meat, cheese, vegetable from local sellers who they see everyday for years.
We ended the day with a croissant at Boulangerie Mr Pinchot, a family owned bakery in a heart of a residential street. It was a well-suited ending to a 3-hour long bike ride through the delights of Montreal.