My short (it seemed long) holiday to Montreal is over. I really had a good time and never realized there was such a wonderful city so cloe to New York. It's amazing that there is a city which seems so foreign and so refined, only an hour and a half flight from Newark.
Before I go into my tips and impressions, I want to remind you to visit this sight again in the next few weeks. I took tons of photos and will add them to my posts and maybe put an album online.
Here are my final impressions:
-Traveling to Montreal is like taking a mini European vacation. I think it would be a good prep for anyone who fears going to Paris. One of the biggest differences between Montreal and Paris is the most people in Montreal can speak perfect English.
-Airfares to Montreal can vary greatly and can be very inexpensive on off peak days with an advance purchase.
-French is the primary language of Montreal and the Quebec government goes to great lengths to keep it that way. Be prepared to learn a few French words.
-Most people easily switch between English and French. Many seem to wait for a greeting of "hello" or "bonjour" to determine how to converse. Don't worry, even if you want to greet someone with "bonjour" or a "bonsoir", they will know which language you speak. You can't fool them.
-In restaurants many waiters are happy to help translate a menu and explain the French specialties.
-in general people in Montreal are very friendly and welcoming. They love your money!
-The European custom of kissing on both checks is widely practice. If you feel you want to kiss your concierge, remember kiss on the left then kiss on the right. Never go for a full lip kiss unless you really "like" him.
-The custom of having wine with lunch or dinner is a very common practice. You will be surprised to find glasses of wine as low as US$4.50 in some restaurants.
-Restaurant prices can vary greatly but with a good US to Canadian exchange rate you can get a good meal for around 20-30% less than in a big American city.
-The Metro has a good network and is an easy way to zip around. You can buy a strip of discount tickets or a 3 day tourist card which will save you money off individual ride tickets. The Metro trains are not air conditioned. I guess we are spoiled in New York City
-In the Summer it can be very hot and humid in Montreal. Some restaurants seem to have bad air conditioning or none at all. Dress light and casual.
-Pastry, pastry, pastry. Montreal is not a "non-fat" city. Bakeries still bake in the French tradition.
-Montreal is a beautiful and varied city. Parts will remind you of Paris, New York, London, Melbourne and other international cities. There are parts that are very modern and other that are old world.
-There is a lot of shopping to be done in the downtown area. Be prepared to walk a lot and find some incredible deals!
-Too cold? Bad weather? Go underground. Montreal has a sprawling underground city in the downtown area that links from shopping center to shopping center. There are specialty stores, food courts, services and entry to department stores. It's impossible to find a plan and it's signed horribly, but wandering is half the fun, or is it?
-Supermarkets are the best place to buy souvenirs or picnic supplies. Look for maple syrup (in cans!), jams, biscuits and picnic supplies. The three main markets in Montreal are Provigo, IGA and Metro.
-People don't seem to use cell phones here as much as in other cities.
-People don't smoke as much as Europeans do, but smoking is still allowed in restaurants. Most have no smoking sections.
-Old Montreal is very scenic and about as touristy as San Francisco's Fisherman Wharf or other central tourist districts. This is where you go to buy chintzy souvenirs, expensive maple syrup and silly little paintings of the city (although there are a few good vendors). Once you are ready to eat be careful because prices can be high and food can be substandard. For a good meal walk a short distance to the edge of the quarter to La Gargote or Boris Bistro. Both are reviewed on this sight.
-You wil get the best exchange rates by withdrawing money from an ATM. Check with you banks concerning fee's and rates. I have a non-Visa check card from my bank which charges me no fees and refunds fee's charged by other banks.
-Paying by credit card still gets you good exchange rates but your bank and credit card issuer will add a "processing" fee ranging from 1-3% of the purchase.
-Good news! The taxes you pay on your hotel bill are refundable! You can usually find a mail in form at hotels and the airport. Be sure you get a receipt from your hotel.
-Currency is easy to use oin Canada. Bill look different than US money but coins follow the same general size. There is one big difference, there are no $1 bills and coins come in added denominations of $1 and $2. Be careful or once you get to the airport you will have to buy a lot of candy bars to get rid of them all.
-The Aerobus is a great value into the city from the airport.
-For travel books on Montreal, I used both Frommer's Montreal and Lonely Planet's Montreal. Both offered great advise for walking tours, sights, restaurants and shopping. I think I perferred the Lonely Planet book if you can only get one. To get a great deal on a new or even slightly worn travel book, go to www.half.com or www.powells.com. You will often find the book you are looking for at a very low price.
-Fodors.com is a good sight if you want to read about Montreal online. Frommers.com can also be useful. Foodies can check into chowhound.com for tips on Montreal restaurants but be warned people on chowhound can be very opinionated and the Montreal board isn't particulary active.
-One funny note, as I walked the streets I often smelled people smoking "the funny stuff". How bold.
If you have any other tips, please add them to the comments on this post.
Remember, stay tuned as I update and organize this sight in the next few weeks. Also if you happen to visit any of the restaurants listed, please feel free to add your comments or review.
Au Revior, Montreal!
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