Montreal, QC Felix Wong

In May 2008, I spent two weeks in Montréal to study French and see where my dad spent his youth from age 13-21. I rented a sublet downtown just about a block away from Metro Guy/Concordia, which coincidentally was only about a block away from where my friend Kathleen used to live (great since she was able to give me tips on where to eat and visit within walking distance). I also visited my friend Sylvie, who I met in the Mardi Gras Marathon two years ago.

Below are some notes about my general impressions of the city.

The Good

  • When I first got off the plane, I first thought, “wow, it is humid here.” But in truth, the weather in May was very nice—about 16-22 Celsius (61-72 degrees Fahrenheit). It only rained or drizzled a couple times while I was there.
  • There are restaurants everywhere. However, there seem to be very few grocery stores. Perhaps no one cooks at home?
  • While French is the primary language spoken most of the time by most people, everyone seems to be bilingual and fluent in English. Impressively, this even includes the minimum wage people at McDonalds or Tim Hortons.
  • There are several dedicated bike routes, including that by the Canal deLachine and one on Rue Maisonneuve.
  • The city is very walkable with a good mass transit system (buses and subways). Those who do drive either drive something economical and practical (e.g., MINI) or something ultra-fancy.
  • Several friends had told me they heard that women in Montreal were “totally hot,” and they were right! I think it is because people dress so well here and they sound so good (particularly when speaking French or speaking English with a French or Canadian accent).
  • While the city can be described as a concrete jungle, at least it has some dedicated open space areas like Parc Mont-Royal, Parc Prefontaine and Fontaine, and Le Canal de Lachine.

The Bad

  • There’s graffiti everywhere. It probably has the most graffiti of any place I’ve been to aside from maybe Tijuana, Mexico and Stockton, California.
  • Traffic and parking is as bad as San Francisco.
  • According to a woman I met on the plane (just a 3.5-hour direct flight from Denver) named France (who even kindly drove me from the airport to a metro station—thanks!), Montréal has budget woes. As a consequence, the roads are neglected and are in really bad shape.
  • The harsh and long Montréal winters are probably a major reason why the roads go to crap quickly.
  • There is a lot of construction going on. Every morning I would be woken up by jackhammers.
  • As in almost every big city, there is a significant criminal element. I was a victim of one, where someone stole the little backpack I had hanging off the back of my chair while I was working on my laptop in a café.

Ultimately, while I enjoyed my time in Montreal and thought it was a neat city (esp. with its French bias), it is not a place I’d care to live in due to its crowds, noise, traffic, crime, concrete, lack of tranquility, etc. I guess I remain not a big city person.

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Montreal as seen from the top of Mont-Royal.Le Quartier Chinois (Chinatown).My great grandfather's laundry shop used to be here until Rue Sanguinet was widened in the 1970s.  Now it is a parking lot.Another view of Rue Sanguinet, where my great grandfather's laundry shop used to be.I believe this (right-center) is where Alexander School -- the elementary school my dad went to for part of grades 5 and 7 -- used to be on Rue Sanguinet just south of Rue Sainte-Catherine.This is Montreal High School -- where my dad went for 8th grade -- on Rue University across from the McGill Science Building.Another view of Montreal High School.My dad went here -- Baron Byng High School -- for 9th grade in the Mont-Royal area.  Many Canadian luminaries claim it as their alma mater.For college, my dad first went to Sir George Williams University -- now part of Concordia.  He had a personal meeting with Dean Hall, whom presumably this building is named after.McGill University Photo: Doug Rathburn of rathburnnet.Funny flyer hung near McGill.This is Royal Victoria Hospital, where my great grandfather passed away.While attending French classes for two weeks, I subletted an apartment in downtown across the street from Concordia.  Below the apartment was a Cantonese restaurant.My downtown sublet was cramped but pretty convenient.Coincidentally, my friend Kathleen (who lives in San Francisco now) went to Concordia and used to live in an apartment just a block away (near this Tim Horton) from where I stayed.Unfortunately, like most big cities, Montreal has a ton of graffiti everwhere (this example was somewhat artsy at least).At least there are some dedicated bike paths in Montreal like this one on Rue Maisonneuve near me.... or this one along Le Canal de Lachine.There are some nice parks too, including this one (Parc Fontaine).Guys playing bocee ball in Parc Fontaine.Outdoor dining is very popular in Montreal -- at least when the weather is nice like it was in May!It was still warm enough in May to have drinks outside late at night with Sylvie.A bunch of us from the Point-3 Language School in the Mont-Royal area for a "book finding" activity.

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