There's this old Chinese adage that my dad used to tell me. It centers around a frog that was born and raised in a well. One day, a sea-born turtle stumbles upon the frog from outside the well, and tells amazing tales about the sea. The turtle tries, but fails to convince the frog to leave the well. The frog sees no reason to leave, as since it's the only place they ever knew, it's paradise to them.
(Apologies if I butchered that in translation, but that's roughly how I remember my dad's retelling of the tale aided by WikiBooks' article.)
Having been born and raised in Vancouver, I've grown to love virtually every part of living here. My dad, having realized this, has warned me of "becoming the frog" many times, and justifiably so: I had a very small comfort zone even in the beginning of university (a recurring theme for many of my blog posts, as you can tell). I was aware that I could very well be stuck in the well of Vancouver my entire life if I didn't take steps to actively seek opportunities to explore the world, looking for potential places to try living in before choosing a city as my favourite and settle down. This is the very reason I booked that "spontaneous" trip to Los Angeles last year.
During my co-op work term with Appnovation, I was given an opportunity to work from their Montreal office for a week and essentially have a "workcation". The prospect of not only having a chance to travel after using up my vacation days on a family trip to China, but also to live in Montreal like a true local had me ecstatic. Additionally, up until that point I'd never actually been on the eastern side of Canada: the furthest out from BC I'd been was Alberta. Quebec seemed like it would be a completely foreign experience for me: like a mini-France but with maple syrup and Canadian currency.
Researching the city (and getting quite a helpful suggestions from Glenny, whose Instagram and blog you have to check out) got me more and more excited. The architecture, food/coffee scene, and general vibe all seemed perfect for me.
My initial thoughts were absolutely right: I fell in love with the city after my very first day there.
That's partly the reason it's taken me so long to write something about my time there: the amount of photos I wanted to share was simply too voluminous for a blog post! After some filtering, and re-filtering, I've finally narrowed it down my collection to a somewhat reasonable amount.
On my first day in Montreal, I would be walking towards our destination and every block or so, a street would catch my eye and I'd veer off my path to marvel at the stunning architecture. Yes, Vancouver may have one or two pretty houses, but it's rare that you'll look down a street and see so many consistently gorgeous houses.
One thing I noticed was the ever-present motif of staircases and how virtually every building had one either beautifully or utilitarian-ly integrated to the entrance. According to one of my friends, these external staircases were often built as they allowed homeowners to save on their heating bills in the fierce Eastern-Canadian winters. It makes sense: rather than having to heat an indoor staircase which would only be used for entering and exiting, they allow homeowners to instead have just a little more usable square footage in their homes.
My initial guess was that the staircases would provide an escape to those unfortunate enough to be snowed in during the winter, so I guess I was on the right track.
Without ever having been in Europe, this is how I imagine the streets to be like. It seems like every building has been meticulously designed in a way to stand out. Neighbouring houses with purposely matching or contrasting colours, ornate banisters where simple wood beams would do, it's clear that there's a very keen eye for artistic detail in the city. In contrast to Vancouver, where each new building tries to create its own, disintegrated identity with total disregard for what stood before it, even many newer buildings in Montreal are crafted to fit the vibe of the adjacent houses.
Yes, it's a detail that many wouldn't care about, but it helps give each region of the city its own flair and sense of identity.
And those aforementioned details go well beyond just the architecture. It's as if every chance there is to stand out, Montrealers would take it, but usually to a tasteful extent. Some places can try far too hard to be unique and end up straddling into pretentious territory, but the things I saw were just quirky and cute enough to approach, but not cross that border.
A good example of this attention to detail is in Montreal's subway stations. Yes, each could be a carbon, sterile copy differing only to fit the geological restrictions of the area, but where would be the fun in that? Public art, aesthetically pleasing architecture, and little flashes of delight run rampant even under the city.
Often, each subway station will have a series of underground tunnels which link to nearby popular destinations, such as malls, tourist attractions, or corporate buildings. Apparently, they serve as the veins and arteries of the city when snowfall inhibits above-ground movement. I'm starting to see a recurring trend behind these design motivations. Their winters must be absolutely miserable.
Back above ground, there are public art installations everywhere. It's almost rare to walk several blocks without seeing a sculpture or mural. Perhaps this is because I visited right during the Mural Festival and shortly after the city's 375th birthday, but as somebody who's been a huge fan of what Vancouver has been doing with its murals, it was an absolute treat to see so much art decorating the city, turning the already beautiful streets even more visually appealing.
Needless to say, Montreal is filled with places to take photos. I'd argue that it's one of the most Instagrammable cities I've ever seen, and this is further solidified by the extensive selection of restaurants and cafes which fill the already bustling streets. More on those in the coming few weeks.