Sunday, May 6, 2018

Montréal

As soon as I crossed the border, I found myself in rural Québec. Flat fields extended on either side of the road, dotted with silos, farm houses, and barns. The landscapes and the structures all resembled rural Michigan; in fact, the highway I was on could very well have been the country road I used to drive to church growing up. I had an intense moment of déjà vu. The only difference between Québec and Michigan I could see was that all the road signs were in French, so it really felt like I had entered an alternate version of my childhood in which the British had never pushed the French out of the North American Midwest. 
Row houses in Montréal with external staircases

I drove on for about another hour, and the traffic increased as I drew closer to Montréal. Instead of farm land, I was surrounded by industrial infrastructure. Smoke stacks, metal tubing, and gray-colored buildings lined the highway. 

To be honest, Montréal caught me a bit off-guard. I was expecting Paris 2.0, but instead, I found an industrial Midwestern city. The buildings were mostly old, with the houses all looking like they were built in the 70s or 80s. It reminded me of Gary, Indiana. My friend, Julie, who had invited me north, described it as a "working man's city."

One very unique thing about Montréal that I noticed: all the homes have external staircases. Brick row houses line the neighborhood roads, and on the front of each one is a winding wrought-iron staircase leading to the second floor. The first and second floors of most row houses have different house numbers, so presumably, they are separate residences. Rather than waste space inside the house for stairs, Montréal residents put their stairs on the outside. I liked the aesthetic.

Notre Dame Basilica in downtown Montréal
We did find a bit of European influence in Montréal's downtown. The "old city" is packed with stone buildings and old cathedrals. One-way streets lined with restaurants, shops, and parallel parking open up into European-style plazas, always with a fountain in the middle. The diversity of people was also higher than I had noticed in the neighborhoods - individuals of Indian and African descent were more common in downtown. We even stumbled across a wedding party being photographed on the steps of city hall, and based on the style of the bride's dress, I think they were Sikh.

Montréal sits right on the St. Lawrence River, so we were able to take a walk along the waterfront. A zipline stretched over the pedestrian walkway, carrying screaming tourists at high speed to the river's edge. The wind blowing off the water teased my hair, and sunbeams poked through the fluffy white clouds. I'm grateful for the chance to experience Montréal and see a new part of the world. 


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