“You’re staying where?” asked Hadley.

Kirk and I had just booked an Airbnb in Montreal for the weekend of Hadley and Phil’s wedding. It was a little pricier than we’d hoped for, but since both Kirk and I would be working remotely there, we wanted to make sure the space was comfortable.

I told Hadley the address.

“Better learn French,” she quipped.

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The official language of Montreal (pronounced MUNN-tree-all by English-speaking natives) is French. Despite the handful of unpleasant Parisians I’d met while my mom and I fumbled our way around Paris in 2011, I didn’t think this whole not-speaking-French thing would be a problem in Montreal. I mean, it’s Canada.

“Come on, really?” I countered.

“I told you not to go past St Denis!”

Apparently we’d strayed a bit far from the English-speaking ‘island’ of Westmount where Hadley lives. I was nonplussed. We’d be fine. Besides, our biggest hurdle was communicating with our Airbnb host — and she spoke English. That, and finding the apartment in the first place.

I arrived in Montreal by myself at 6 pm. Kirk’s flight didn’t land until 11 pm (he was en route from Detroit), so I was off to find the apartment by myself. It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled alone in a foreign country. (I know, it’s Canada, but as this was French-speaking Quebec [pronounced KUH-BEK, not KWE-BEK, as Hadley taught me]), it was more foreign than not.) I was excited. I had to do this old-school. With maps.

My iPhone became much less phone and more camera when I touched down at Trudeau International Airport. It was worthless except for the screen shots of the Google-mapped public transportation route I’d looked up before leaving the airport’s wifi.

Kirk was worried about me. At 16 I traveled around Europe with my 76 year-old grandmother. Guess who was the navigator? “This is cake,” I assured him.

After declaring a bag of nuts and an orange at customs, I followed the flow of people out into the world. Right before the exit doors, which led to a curb full of taxis and buses, an information desk stood awaiting the clueless. I walked up. The woman spoke English. She showed me the ticket machine and pointed to the bus I needed to catch into the city.

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I bought my ticket. Hopped on the bus. Checked my phone. Got off at the first stop. Crossed a park to the metro station. Found the northbound green line, hopped on. Ten stops, off. About ten blocks walk, and it should be here somewhere…

I stopped halfway up the street, seeing the address numbers get higher than the one I was looking for. I’d passed it. I turned around 180 degrees. The building was across the street.

I carried my suitcase up the stairs to the second floor. A tiny table and chairs sat on the balcony. Spotting the lockbox on the doorknob, I checked the email from our host, and punched in the pin. Click. Smile.

Cake.

The apartment? Lovely. Decked out like an IKEA showroom, it wasn’t exactly unique, but who doesn’t like the tastefully designed IKEA room? The lights were on and casting a warm glow in the living room and kitchen. The temperature was pleasantly cooled by the A/C. A radio played from the bathroom. Our host must have just been by making final preparations.

A bowl of chocolates sat on the bar. A bag of fresh bagels on the kitchen counter. Orange juice and bottled water in the fridge — and even cream cheese for the bagels.

Yesss.

I sat on the couch and logged onto the wifi to text Kirk the journey was indeed cake. And there was chocolate.

– – –

After spending a couple days holed up in the apartment glued to our laptops, we made it out to see the city. We were both excited to discover Montreal had a bike-sharing program (very similar to DC‘s).

We grabbed bikes from a station just a few blocks from our apartment and started riding toward downtown.

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Downtown. (One street, anyway. The most photogenic, hands down.)

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So what’s with the ‘pink balls’? Officially named Le Projet de Boules Roses, it’s an annual installation taking place every summer created to support the growing LGBT community. The strings stretch across Sainte-Catherine Street for an entire kilometer.

That’s a lot of balls.

200,000 in fact.

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Street art is everywhere. I was a particular fan of the above work. I couldn’t not smile seeing a three-story brick wall covered in cake.

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Or, fish in hats, for that matter.

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This city is full of parks. This one is right in the middle of downtown. Kudos, Montreal, for having your greenspace figured out.

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And a community garden, too! This concept — grow food where people live — seemingly so simple, unfortunately still eludes the vast majority of America.

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Old Montreal. Its brick buildings reminiscent of Europe, their insides filled no longer with retail or services for residents, but trinket shops for tourists.

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Look at that, I knew I forgot something:

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Isn’t it interesting how all the “cool” places are eventually/inevitably scraped of their souls?

Ooh sheesh, I’m getting dark.

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Riddle me this: Why do all the street artists seem to draw the same style of caricature?

“It’s a glitch in the Matrix,” said Kirk.

I snapped a photo for posterity. “Oh really?”

“Yeah, they only wrote one program for the ‘Caricature-drawing Street Artist.'”

“They messed that one up.”

“Mhmm. We’re onto them.”

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My favorite part of Montreal was walking up Mount Royal, a small mountain located within the 500-acre Mount Royal Park. This park is located directly west of downtown, meaning you only need to veer off the main drag of Rue Sherbrooke for a few blocks before finding yourself in the trees.

A half-hour walk with roughly 500 feet in elevation gain brought us to this terrace overlooking the city.

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The verdict on Montreal? Lovely (just like our accommodations). Pretty architecture, abundant greenery, great public transportation. Food is fantastic, too, I heard, though we didn’t get much chance to eat out.

Or practice our French.

Next time. ☼

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