Travel Thursday: Montreal - A Favorite Place For Us To Feel Right At Home.
When I think about where I would enjoy having a condo for summer living, my heart always leads me to choosing Montreal. With it being an enjoyable handful of hours drive from Maine, Boston, and New York and having major airlines offering direct flights from most American metropoles, it's an easy city to reach.
How do you know you're in the right place? How do you know when you have reached the gay mecca of the great north? In all my years of traveling to Montreal and walking down Saint Catherine, you know you're in the right spot because you can feel it. In recent years you can definitely see it, too. Especially because of those big French balls.
"The balls, which are cast-resin, were made in Quebec, and hang on a rope system made by a local business. Members of the community hand-strung the balls, essentially participating in a large-scale communal craft project in the streets. The balls will be carefully taken down in September and stored for next year’s installation.
In addition to the balls—which do add a bit of dappled shade to the asphalt below—the installation includes 150 weeping willow trees, which cool the street even more. In the evening, the balls appear to glow, creating yet another interesting—and very Instagrammable—visual effect."
If you have a check list of things to do in Montreal, you can now check off seeing French balls.
Next thing you need to might want to check off is staying at an amazing Montreal bed and breakfast. I've been to several over the years, but I continue to have a love affair with La Conciergerie (http://www.laconciergerie.ca/). I can always rely on Luc to help me and my friends get settled, know what is going on in town, and create an amazing spread for breakfast. I won't tell you what the best room is in the place, because they are all great, but I have my favorite and my friends know to stay away from booking it. Don't be afraid to go all out because with the Canadian/US exchange rate, everything is a great price.
So, a great place to stay, check! But let's revisit those balls. Yes, one reason we go to Montreal is for the boys, the boys in the streets, the boys in the restaurants, the boys in the bars, and the boys in the strip clubs. There's a good handful (pun intended) of strip clubs in the Gay Village. Walking from La Conciergerie, which lies on St Hubert, the start of the gay part of Saint Catherine Street, the first yummy strip club you come to is Campus, then it's Stock, and then a ways down the Rue, bar Taboo. Campus dancers consist of muscled college boys, Stock dancers are just as collegiate but maybe with a little more muscle, where Taboo boys are your barely into college twinkie boys. We enjoyed them all and we miss JP's. Some strip clubs come and go so keep an eye out for a rebirth.
You can hit the bars and restaurants all up and down St Catherine. I don't think we have had a bad meal in any of them. During the touristy months of Avril to Septembre, many restaurants and even bars take over some of the real estate in the street since Rue Ste Catherine is shut down to motorized traffic, turning into one of the largest and gayest walks you will ever have. As you walk during the day, keep an eye out for great places to eat, drink, and dance later. We recommend a couple of our favorite haunts.
L'Aigle Noir - looks wonderful and is inviting for all men. The Eagle should not scare anyone away for the men drinking there and the ones serving the drinks are worth the price of a pour or three.
Le Stud - resides toward the end of the Gay Village. Decor is wood, dark, you seem to be dancing in a horse barn downstairs and an '80s club upstairs ... we love it all. It's very bearish, leathery, but still good for everyone.
Complexe Sky - This has been an institution for some time and the design has changed over the years. The dance spaces have altered their appearance, but the "complex" seems to be in a great growing flux with a roof top space which includes a pool. It's worth checking out day and night.
Like I said, check out the spots as you stroll through the village and check out where to pop in at night. And of course, ask around. The men in the shops and restaurants will tell you what is going on that weekend, that night, and where to go after hours.
During my last trip, I wanted to partake in activities that a well rounded Montreal tourist would do. Taking the double-decker tour bus around town is a definite must. The pass we bought was good for two days. We rode it in the hot September sun the first day. Jumping off on one stop to get lunch and picking up the next one in an hour, we did the whole loop. We decided to not spend the time the first day at two stops and would return the next day to the Saint Joseph Oratory of Mount Royal and the Chalet Du Mont-Royal. These are well off the beaten path and outside the Gay Village and high above the city. The bus tour made the trip. It as well went through the Old Village and other parts of the city.
The Casino de Montreal was another new experience this trip. It was fun, relaxing, but I did expect a little more having been to Las Vegas several time. It was a relaxing experience with friends and something away from the strip bars.
My biggest recommendation for Montreal, besides GO GO GO! is that you just enjoy. Walk St Catherine, explore the old village and the area around Place Jacques-Cartier, and keep your eyes and ears open for a new experience. We happened to walk by a re-enactment of some Montreal battle. I did not pay attention as much as I should, but it was eye-catching and non-strip bar related.
Another recommendation is don't be afraid of the language barrier for it doesn't exist. Legally, the language of business and communication is French in Montreal and all of Quebec Province, but inhabitants will swap over to English once they understand you don't understand.
There are three cities in the world where I experience complete relaxation. Walking around New Orleans and having your body caressed by the air of the Big Easy and having your ears soothed by the Jazz of the Crescent City while your hand hold your to-go cup. Key West is a member of that relaxing trio. Riding your bike across the island and down the side streets, sweating while your Monkey bar frozen drink cools you off as you stroll to Caroline's for the best bruschetta you've ever had. And Montreal, a truly European feeling city here on our continent, where love and acceptance are definitely ingredients 1 and 2 in the air in the Gay Village and across the city.
Montreal, you will always have my heart. You give me joie de vivre every time I visit and the next time I go, it's never soon enough.