Some days you’re lucky, some days you’re not.
And for some reason, we always have a hard time “mastering” Montreal. It should be easy—it’s a first-world city, a blend of North American and French influences, it’s close to Ottawa… and yet, we always seem to run into minor annoyances. We’re experienced travellers and we’re doing fine in Toronto, for instance. So what’s so complicated with Montreal?
After a night of being eaten alive by bed bugs and getting little sleep, we decided to spend the day at the Parc Jean Drapeau, more precisely on the Île Sainte-Hélène, one of the islands in the Saint Lawrence River. We hadn’t been there since Radiohead’s concert in 2008 and the weather was gorgeous—a perfect time to enjoy the outdoors.
Driving in Montreal is a frustrating exercise, yet we didn’t have the choice since the hotel was far from downtown, close to the airport. Feng is an excellent driver but he was soon lost between one-way streets, “no right turns on red light” regulations and construction work. We got trapped in a massive traffic jam on Papineau Street—apparently, the entire city had decided to drive across Jacques Cartier Bridge.
Fortunately, we found a good radio station, “Rouge FM,” playing classics from the 1980s and 1990s and it seemed to keep Mark relatively quiet.
When we finally arrived on the Île Sainte-Hélène, we realized parking was a steep $16. Ouch.
Never mind. We paid and headed towards the Biodome… one of the first “landmarks” I visited in Canada back in 2002.
Next thing we knew, we were thirsty. No problem, there were a bunch of vending machines nearby. Actually, problem—all empty. And the ice-cream shop didn’t sell any drinks.
We spent a while exploring the park, hiking to the Tour de Lévis, admiring Montreal’s skyline and checking out the La Ronde attraction park. I actually toyed with the idea of going to the amusement park, but tickets were almost $60 per person. Ouch. Again.
Eventually, we drove back to Montreal, and bam—traffic jam on Papineau, again. And yes, we did try to avoid this street but somehow there was no way around.
It was time for Mark to eat. “No problem,” I said. “Let’s find a coffee shop on Saint Denis.” Before you ask me, no, Mark doesn’t drink coffee but franchised coffee shops like Tim Hortons, Second Cup or Starbucks are an easy way to get some hot water for the bottle and they often have relatively clean restrooms where I can change him if needed.
We drove around Saint Denis. Not a “Le Café Second Cup,” “Le Café Starbucks” or “Timmies” in sight. Shocking. In Ottawa, we have one every block or so. In Montreal, the bar scene is bigger and local seem to enjoy wine more than coffee!
Eventually, we found a small Tim Hortons hidden somewhere. Phew.
Alright. Time for us to eat. The small fancy restaurants around the area weren’t a great place for Mark so we decided to head back to Montreal’s downtown core and figured we could grab a bite in Chinatown.
Little did we know that half of the city also had the same idea—we couldn’t find parking anywhere! Every time we spotted an empty space, there was either some restrictions (“permit only” or indecipherable parking regulations) or a fire hydrant. Or an idiot who had parked over two perfectly fine spots.
Believe it or not, we drove around Montreal for… yes, 90 minutes. And it’s not like we were trying to find a specific restaurant in a specific street. Honestly, after 20 minutes of driving, we were ready to eat anything. And eating close to the hotel wasn’t an option either—there wasn’t much in the area and I was scared to find cockroaches in my food at the hotel’s restaurant (well, if the room had bed bugs… you can only imagine what was going on in the kitchen!).
Eventually, we found a spot close to Sainte Catherine and had Korean food. Best Bulgogi ever, trust me. Especially when you’re starving.
A last minor annoyance occurred we went to grab some water and drinks at Jean Coutu on Sainte Catherine. Entering the store wasn’t a problem, but leaving was—there were two vertical posts at the exit door (presumably to avoid shopping cart theft) and the opening was too narrow for the stroller. Granted, it’s a small thing, but I found it infuriating, stupid, and thoughtless. If you are going to make your store difficult to access for wheelchair users, people with walkers or people with strollers, go all the way and block the entrance as well as the exit, so that we can avoid the place altogether!
Finally, we got lost on the way back to the hotel… but at least, room #104 didn’t have bed bugs.
Phew. What a day!