So somehow time has flown so quickly that it’s been 3 months since I had to say au revoir to Montreal and finish up my exchange (if you missed what I got up to – you can check it out here). So now uni has started (we’re somehow in Week 4?!), life back in Wollongong is in full motion and exchange feels somewhat of a dream.
Everyone always talks about how amazing exchange is. How it’s the best time of their life. How you’re going to make friends for life, drink too much, see wonders of the world, get your Instagram popping and how it’s going to change your freakin life! And all of this is true, and these are just some of the many reasons that I encourage everyone to seek the opportunity to study abroad and travel.
But in all honesty, I wasn’t prepared for the complete confusion, doubt and insecurity I faced at home and within myself when I returned to Australia. I’ve heard about reverse culture shock before, and I’ve lived away from home before and I knew something like this was coming… but it still smacked me in the face.
Whilst I know the following thoughts are natural and silly, at the time I was dealing with these thoughts, the stress and anxiety was real. My biggest fear was surround my friends.
Was I going to lose my friends that I’d just made in Montreal? Would they still be interested in my life back in Australia? Would they make time to talk to me? Would I make time to talk to them? Would my friends back home accept the new me? Would they even notice that I’ve changed? Would I even have my old friends back home?
These (thankfully) were all dealt with and overcome when I saw my friends back in Australia again and I was overcome with happiness, gratitude and joy. Plus, being able to FaceTime and Snapchat my friends back in Montreal, it reassured me that these friendships are strong and real. And it actually made me appreciate them even more – the fact that they care about my life over here and they’re willing to put in the effort to keep in touch and keep the friendship alive.
My other concern was about my identity and personality, leaving me asking ‘who am I?’ I slowly saw myself, my ideas and my values change over the course of the time that I was away. I was exposed to problems and issues I’d never heard of, listened to stories of strength, injustice and survival, changed my core values, altered my ideas… all that cheesy stuff associated with going through a life changing experience. And you’re determined to hold on to it all, bring it all to your life back home and just be a freakin awesome changed woman.
But the reality is that you start to adjust back to your old life, old routine and old ways, and you can’t help but let some of those ideas go. You almost get trapped in between 2 versions of yourself, and you’re not really sure which one is the real you, or the one you want to move forward it. I guess everyone has these types of identity crises throughout their lives, but it’s especially apparent when you return from an adventure overseas.
So how do I move forward? Where do we go from here?
I think I’ll continue to romanticise my exchange, always giving me fun, beautiful and exciting memories to look back on. But my goal is to channel that feeling. The feeling that anything is possible, that anyone can be a friend, that your day could take you anywhere and that life is freakin beautiful. And I just need to accept that not everyone shares these ideas, but I can’t hold back who I am or what I want. I’ve got to remember to be fierce and do what sets my soul and heart on fire… chase and create that feeling.
So you’re going to Montreal? LUCKY YOU! Is there room in your suitcase? Can I come? On the off chance that you said no, and you’re going without me (rude), here’s my ultimate list of thing to do, see and drink in Montreal.
Like all good things in life, Montreal is full of extremes and the unexpected. Summer is hot hot hot. Humidity central. And Winter… Ice Ice Baby. It’s so cold that your nose hairs freeze outside. And fall is simply splendid. The trees explode with colour and make for some pretty popping Instagram pics. Regardless of when you visit, keep in mind that this will ultimately determine what you do and when you do it. Because you ain’t going to be walking the streets of Montreal for hours on end in freezing rain (I know this because we tried and I swear our veins were starting to freeze up). OK – so now I’m done being weather woman, here’s my ultimate list of things to do in Montreal!
This is my number 1 thing to do in Montreal, and once you do it you’ll see why. There’s not many cities in the world where you can feel like you’re lost in the woods when you’re actually just on a mountain in the middle of the city. You can do this in all seasons and it’s still just as magical. Mont-Royal was designed by the same guy that designed New York’s Central Park (that dude knew his parks). Not only is the walk up easy and beautiful, but the top hosts some of the best views in all of Montreal (plus it’s FREE). If you’ve got a few hours, definitely explore the rest of the mountain. There’s a beautiful old cemetery, L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph and Beaver Lake (which you can go ice skating on in Winter).
2. Vieux-Port (Old Port).
This is the heart of culture in Montreal. Home to Basilica Notre Dame (Paris’ Notre-Dame’s little sister), Rue Saint-Paul (Montreal’s oldest street), and access to the Saint Laurence River, this is a place you simply cannot miss. In Summer there are markets, stalls and lots of street performers and buskers to keep you entertained whilst you soak up some sunshine on a Terrace. Exploring old port, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were lost in a little European town.
3. Le Plateau.
This is for all you coffee lover, hipsters out there. The Plateau is an area of Montreal, kinda the equivalent of Newtown in Sydney, but French. Yea – I’ll let that sink in. And this is where I used to live so I think I’ve earned the right to say I know the Plateau pretty well. You can get off at metro station Mont Royal and explore Avenue Mont-Royal. You’ll find some beautiful little cafes, thrift stores, restaurants and houses. The architecture in the Plateau is really something special and you can feel the buzz and vibe in the air. You haven’t been to Montreal unless you dip your toes in the hipster hood of the Plateau.
4. Parc La Fontaine.
This is one of my favourite parks in Montreal. There’s squirrels galore and you’ll see dogs running about like crazy. Summer is beautiful as you can sit under a tree and watch the fountain bubble over the pond. Winter is extra special because it honestly looks like something from a fairytale. If you can get your hands on a toboggan, you won’t regret unleashing your inner child and slipping and sliding down the hills. It’s located on Rue Rachel near Mont Royal Metro.
5. La Banquise.
The best thing about travelling is trying new food, we all know this. And if you go to Quebec, especially Montreal, you need to try their specialty, Poutine. La Banquaise definitely has some of the cities best poutine. Whilst people will tell you poutine is just chips, gravy and cheese… it’s so much more than that. My favourite is called La Boogooloo, fries, gravy, cheese, pulled port, sour cream and cabbage… OMG, it’s bringing tears to my eyes just thinking about it. It’s right around the corner from Parc La Fontaine on Rue Rachel, so once you’ve finished exploring, you can stuff your face with Poutine. Make sure you look after your food baby accordingly.
Speaking of food babies… make sure you go to this renowned brunch restaurant on an empty stomach. Wait times, similarly to La Banquise can reach 45 minutes, but I assure you it’s worth it. After taking 15 minutes looking through the menu and finally deciding what to devour, make sure you check out the bathroom. Just do it. Again, I assure you you’ll leave that place waddling down the street.
Check out Ben Brown’s vlog from when he was in Montreal and go to experience the extravagance of L’avenue.
7. The Gay Village.
One of the best things about Montreal is it’s liberal thinking, love and acceptance. They have an amazing gay village, right near Berri UQAM Metro. In Summer there were beautiful decorations lining the street that was closed off for pedestrians to stroll along. If you’re looking for some gay nightclubs, then this place has you sorted!
8. Jean-Talon Markets.
Fresh food and produce your thing? Make sure you don’t miss these incredible markets! Again, ensure you’re got an empty stomach and follow your noses. Are you noticing a trend here? Yes, I love food. Yes, Montreal has f*cking good food!
9. Boulevard Saint Laurent.
Think murals, street art, thrift shops, clubs, restaurants… the hub of nightlife in Montreal. Any good night out in Montreal starts and ends here. You’ll want to make sure you’re looking pretty flashy and jump in line pretty early for a lot of clubs, or you may find yourself just partying in the street. When you’re stumbling from the club at 4am, make sure you stumble by ‘Two Chow’ or ‘Toodles,’ $2 noodles. You’ll be devouring them in seconds and it will make the walk home much more entertaining.
Sundays in Montreal are honestly perfection. Especially in Summer. To enjoy your Sunday afternoon you can either go to Picnique Electronique or Tam Tams. The Jean Drapeau park with the theme park. Sadly I didn’t make it to this place, but hey, you’ve gotta have something to go back for. You take the yellow line from Berri UQAM and jump off on the island. My friend told me they built this island from all of the dirt from building the metro (thanks Rosa), and decided to put a theme park on it. In Summer it hosts an EDM event every Sunday afternoon called Picnique-Eletronique. And if you go in Winter, you can go to check out the view of the city, I’m told it’s pretty spectacular.
And to shake things up, you can spend your Sunday afternoon at this free unofficial community event called Tam Tams. Held in Mont Royal Parc near the big statue, every Sunday afternoon whilst it’s warm, you’ll see hundreds of people playing drums, Frisbee, hacky sac, and smoking weed. Montreal is pretty relaxed on smoking weed, especially at this event. Whether you smoke or not, it’s an incredible sight to see, people coming together to celebrate music, their community, friendship and good times.
So they’re my top 10 things to do in Montreal. There are sooooo many more, but that should keep you busy for now. Two pieces of advice, brush up on your French, and engage with locals. The locals of Montreal are so lovely and kind (and know how to drink), so to get the full Montreal experience, make sure you have a chat with some locals at a bar.
Well, get on out there! Montreal is waiting for you. Wait, I still need to get in your suitcase!!!!