A couple days ago it was the first official day of spring and it snowed. As a born and bred Minnesotan, I am usually not one to complain about winter and I definitely don’t expect it to be over when spring “officially” starts, but it has been a pretty brutal winter this year. It was pretty disheartening to get more snow – and snow that actually stayed on the ground – after a few days of 50 degree teasers. It seems we’re in the clear now, but while the last of the snow melts (and hopefully we don’t get anymore), I thought I would reminisce on a place that does winter right – that’s right, Montreal!
When Igor and I decided to go to Montreal for my birthday in December, I was a little scared because I had never been there in the winter. We went in November once, the weekend before Thanksgiving, and it was cold (and they were already celebrating Christmas, which felt really weird, but I love a good holiday parade!), but it wasn’t really winter yet. I was afraid that the frigid cold would prevent me from my typical urban exploration vacation style, but that was not the case! Montreal definitely embraces winter. While there are plenty of things to do inside (museums!) and an extensive underground network of shopping malls that is easy to get lost in if you’re not careful, I was happy to find that there were also many things to do outside that really encouraged people to spend time outside.
One of the coolest things that was going on while we were there was the “Lumino Thérapie” displays around the city center. Montreal is a city of festivals, and winter is no exception. The Lumino Thérapie (or light therapy) displays were at 8 locations in a small area of downtown Montreal, and were basically audio-visual projections onto different buildings. Some of them were interactive, like the punching bag video game projection! One was cabaret themed, another was a magician’s act projected onto the façade of an old cathedral. It was super cool, and definitely worth trekking around in the cold to find all of them!
There was also a big display of colorful rotating clear prisms in the Place des Arts. A man working for the city (of which there are many – Montreal has a lot of city-sponsored events, and employs a lot of people!) explained to us that this light festival was suggested as a solution for the perceived waste of space at the Place des Arts, which is used for big festivals, concerts, etc in the summer. In February, the Place is used for the Montreal festival of lights (Montréal en Lumière).
In the Old Town, there were outdoor fireplaces that were constantly supplied with wood by city workers, creating a really nice little area to warm up but still enjoy the fresh air. There was even a stand with hot cider and every maple product you could think of, including maple syrup drizzled onto snow and then rolled onto a stick, which is apparently a thing. I am a huge fan of maple everything now. Thanks, Canada!
One of Montreal’s biggest attractions is Parc Mont Royal, another great place to spend time outdoors that is not as touristy. It is a huge hill on the west side of the city that overlooks downtown, with McGill college right at the base of it. Igor and I hiked up to the lookout point, and saw lots of people sledding and cross country skiing on the way. The chalet at the top was a nice surprise, and we got to warm up and drink some hot chocolate before the walk back down.
Of course, the indoor things were great too, and we tried a bunch of nice bars and restaurants, several of which were very English-inspired. I love that Montreal is francophone and definitely has French influences, but I never realized before this trip how much English influence there is, as well. Canada used to be English, after all. We found a tea salon with English style pastries, and a nice little speakeasy-style bar/restaurant that had a menu that was kind of half French, half English (the fish and chips were delicious!)
Of all food-related things, or just things in general, I probably get the most excited about markets. This is one of my favorite features of winter in Montreal – get the farmer’s market experience without having to stand in the cold! Montreal has two really great enclosed markets, Jean Talon and Atwater, and there is nothing better than a food market during the holiday season in any place influenced by French cuisine. I don’t know if I like goose, but this display really makes me want to try it!
So, as we say goodbye to winter, just remember that no matter the time of year, we can always enjoy the fresh air and the beauty of the season. There are plenty of pretty things to look at, lots of good food to be had, and if you can find a wood burning fire pit and some maple candies, then you’re golden.