Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Montreal: Part 2

We arrived in Montreal on Friday afternoon, and spent the evening exploring the area around our hotel and walking around the historic Montreal and port areas. We weren't really hungry and were more interested in exploring than eating, so we ended up having a beer and some fries at the TinTin themed, Belgian-style bistro Frites Alours! and walking around the Universite du Quebec a Montreal area. If you're in the Latin Quarter on a weekend evening, the Rue St-Denis is the place to be. We also found our local IGA grocery store and stocked up on coffee and breakfast supplies (conveniently, there was a little kitchen in our room), and tried to remember as many French words as we could.

On Saturday, armed with Design Sponge's Montreal design guide, we went and explored the Mile End and Le Plateau areas. If I were to ever move to Montreal, this would be where I'd want to live. Some highlights included:

  • Wanting to buy everything at the kitchen store Les Touilleurs, including a beautiful glass butter churner and more silicone baking molds than I've ever seen in one place at one time.
  • Stumbling upon Au Papier Japonaise, a Japanese paper store that is filled to the brim with beautiful Washi products. They also offer courses on everything paper related, from paper quilting to Polaroid transfer prints to watercolor on thin Japanese papers.
  • Buying chocolate at La boutique Grandbois, where everything looked, smelled and tasted delicious.
  • Browsing through Drawn & Quarterly, the wonderful shop of the art and literary comic publishers, where we could have stayed all day had we not gotten hungry and gone a few doors down to...
  • the Brazilian restaurant Senzala for brunch. I had a gigantic plate of eggs and cheese and tomato that was baked in a dish over a halved mango (so hard to describe but so delicious), and which came with grilled plantain, banana and apple, some non-grilled assorted fruit, potatoes, orange juice, coffee, and toast. It was amazing.
  • Browsing through the boutiques and design stores that line the Boulevard St-Laurent
  • Not being able to read any of the signs on the work featured at Les Commissaires, a design gallery/boutique that features some really interesting lighting, makes great use of a small space by having made the gallery space into multiple levels, and has a very nice lady working there who answered all of our questions (in English!) and pointed us towards SIDIM, the Montreal International Design Show, that happened to be open to the public that day at the Place Bonaventure.
  • canuhome, a very cool traveling exhibit that was featured at SIDIM. There were a ton of interesting vendors at SIDIM, but canuhome was my favorite. Shaped like a canoe (thus, the name), this exhibit is an innovative effort to stimulate more sustainable and affordable housing solutions for Canadians, showcasing Canadian vendors that supported the canuhome's goals of helping educate consumers about ways to do such things as decrease utility bills, imporove indoor air quality and help the environment.

I loved this building in the historic district, and it shows off a particular architectural design feature that I noticed was everywhere in Montreal: the tall, often winding staircase leading to a building's second story. This gives tenents on the upper floors outdoor access to their apartment, but I suspect that building that look that they may have once been single-family homes also built these becuase they'd be useful in the winter, where the average annual snowfall in Montreal is almost 90 inches.

At first, I was confused as to why all fire hydrants had either a flag attached to them or an additional sign next to them with a picture of a fire hydrant on it, until I remembered that it's because most things are buried under the snow in the winter. This is also why there are so many indoor, underground stores and mall areas in the city. Now that the weather is finally nice, many of the restaurants in the city had moved tables outside and opened up whole sections of what would be windows and garage-style walls in the winter, letting the sunshine and nice weather in. We made it a point to eat either sitting directly next to one of these large, open windows or on an outdoor terrace wherever we went, and it seemed like most of the city had the same idea.

Montreal has a ton of parks and green spaces. If I remember correctly, this picture is of the Place du Canada with the Cathedrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde in the background.

This huge, beautiful stained glass window was above one of the train tunnels at the Berri-UQAM station. You can get a good idea of just how big it is and the way it's situated above the tunnel in the photograph below.

This piece is entitled Hommage aux fondateurs de la ville de Montréal, and was created by Pierre Gaboriau and Pierre Osterrath. You can see another image of it on the Art in the Metro of Montreal website here.

I'll post part 3 with Sunday's highlights and more pictures tomorrow.

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