Montreal Observations

Upon entering Montreal last Friday (sorry this is so behind–I’ve been holding out for pictures, and it’s just taken me a bit to settle in), I was told by Boyfriend that I would hit a significant amount of traffic. “No!” I said, laughing like the foolish American I am, “No! I am from Austin! I know all about terrible traffic! I am smart enough to realize that terrible traffic does not exist at 3 PM! I will be just fine!”


I was wrong. Today, 5 days into Montreal, it seems like an appropriate day to think about other things I’ve been wrong about, or things that I’ve (happily) been able to learn since leaving the US.

1. French is hard, and also everywhere.

I walked around this city for a day and a half before I ever overheard a passing conversation in English. I have really, really, really loved picking up pieces of French, even if the pieces are really small and relatively useless and serve more to make me sound uneducated and silly, as opposed to silent. I’ve always liked languages in general, but this is the first time I’ve ever attempted to learn segments purely by audio input. My brain has a tendency to switch into Spanish when I can’t find the word in French, which sometimes results in very interesting/nonsensical things coming out of my silly American mouth–bless Boyfriend’s heart, he’s being unwittingly forced to pick up some Spanish this way. Thus far I’ve only truly confused one cashier, and I was lucky enough to be with people who were able to translate/rescue us.

2. Cars are a liability here, not a commodity.

First off, parking is a nightmare–even more of a nightmare than in Austin (!). Secondly, you don’t need a car in the city of Montreal–the metro is cheap, there’s a public bike system (Bixi) that is really pretty ingenious (it’s what I’ve been using here), and everything from the easy grid of the city to the culture surrounding arrivals/departures is conducive to walking. McGill University just became a car-free campus, and most people here that live in the city don’t own a car, and don’t see any problem with that. Given my love of roadtrips and general tension concerning cities (as opposed to countryside, which has significantly less public transportation), this is a hard concept for me to understand and truly be comfortable with…what if something happened, and you really needed to get away? What if the Metro was closed, the Bixi network spontaneously broke, and your destination was too far away to justify walking? What then? But people who come from different backgrounds assure me that the absence of an automobile does not result in world implosion, and can even be a pleasurable thing (despite the associated absence of excellent country songs romanticizing pick-up trucks and tail lights). Related note: it costs about $60/month to rent a parking garage space for your car in Austin, assuming you wish to own a vehicle purely for out-of-city use. The same service costs $150/month here.

3. Poutine is proof that Americans are not the only ones capable of make terrible cardiovascular decisions.

Here’s how this goes:

You have french fries. You have an abundance of french fries. You have an abundance of thick, perfectly-battered, fried, lightly oiled and pleasurably-salted french fries. You also have sauce. You have an abundance of rich, runny, fat-based sauce that is something akin to what you drain off of your mother’s best roast. You have divine sauce. Greek gods would pass up ambrosia for your sauce.

You now have a dilemma. How, do you suppose, will you possibly be able to consume both excellent things without becoming full before your tastebuds are satisfied? My friend, you combine them. You spoon your delicious, fatty, rich sauce over your delicious, crisp, thick fries, and you bask in the marvel of your own efficiency (and you hold a brief moment of silence for your arteries, which harden when you look at this dish). But wait! Something is missing. Something vital. Something decidedly not-optional. This missing item is VERY IMPORTANT to your enjoyment of your light, obviously healthy dish. You need just a light touch of something…special.

The answer is cheese curds. Poutine is yummy fries and excellent sauce, topped with cheese curds. It is a heart attack waiting to happen, and it is very, very Quebec.

4.Green space here is very, very green.

Montreal is home to so many nice parks–they are huge, and they are well-kept because they are well-used. On any given day you can see people groups of people exercising, meditating, dancing/playing music, eating, or napping in the grass–there is far more park usage here than at home, and it’s refreshing.

This is not ragweed.

5. This city has the best-ever response to allergies.

Austin is the allergy capital of everything (the state, the country, the planet–take your pick). While Montreal is not, they do have issues with allergies, mainly from Ragweed. Rather than the allergy season simply be an excuse to run more ads for Claritin (though I’m sure that happens–on a side note, I love me some Zyrtec), the city encourages people to pull up the plants before they become an issue(slogan: “Pull it, Mow it! Biodiversity!”). I think this is absolutely hilarious.

I’m having such a great time.

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