Travel Diary 1: Montréal (Part 1)

The 'travel bug' is a curious thing, its bite imparting a deep and yearning wanderlust in those who are afflicted. I am one of the many in my generation to have been affected by this metaphorical bug. To me, travel is more than just a chance to broaden my horizons and improve the aesthetics of my Instagram account (although they are both positive side effects of such adventures), it is a powerful external catalyst for the inward journey of self discovery. It is a chance to throw yourself into something completely different, new, unfamiliar and perhaps even a little scary. It is a chance to reflect upon the similarities and differences between the place you call home and the places to which you travel. It is a chance to directly impact, in some small way, just a few of the other 8 billion humans on this little rock we call Earth. It is a chance to see the world through their eyes, their lives, their cultures and their rituals. And personally, above all else, it is a reminder that each place, each person, each little (or big) piece of history has a story to tell... If you are willing to listen.

Now let's take a leap away from my philosophical reflections upon the meaning of travel and instead dive head-first into some of my travel adventures. Although I've been fortunate enough to travel fairly extensively in my childhood and teenage years, this exchange to Canada marks the real beginning (at least in my mind) of my true, adult worldly adventures. Today I wanted to share with you just a few of the beautiful places I've visited in the past two or so weeks since arriving in Montréal. And on that note, Montréal is a truly diverse and incredible city, so if you ever get the chance to come here I would highly recommend it!

FOOD 

Naturally, I start with arguably my favourite topics! Here are some of the great places and food options I've found in Montréal.

Atwater Markets

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I don't think I will ever get sick of visiting farmer's markets, they are all so great, but Atwater has to be one of the best I have ever seen in my entire life! Yesterday morning I spent a couple of hours wandering around in total awe, particularly at the abundance of wild berries that are currently in season here. Not only is there an incredible range of fresh produce, but also nut shops, butchers, fromageries (cheese shops), a chocolate shop, health food and speciality stores and bakeries inside the market. Of course, I purchased plenty of food, sampled the berries and enjoyed a plate some delicious African curry for lunch, followed by some chocolate ice cream (treat day?!). Considering it is open every day and so close I am sure I'll be returning many times in my four-month stay here.

Couffin Bio

After wandering past this store on my first night in the city, I then made a special trip to purchase some of my favourite cupboard staples. It is a great organic/health food store with pretty much everything you could want, from supplements to superfoods, fresh produce and beauty products. The price point was also pretty similar to the stores I shop at in Australia, which was a welcome relief.

McGill Farmer's Market

On Thursday the first Fall farmer's market took place on the McGill campus, which included a stand of vegetables from McGill's MacDonald campus for agriculture. Aside from the fresh produce there were also some delicious looking pastries and baked goods, raw local honey and a stall selling Indian/Ayurvedic meals and lassis.

Liquid Nutrition

Green smoothie hanging on campus
Green smoothie hanging on campus

Liquid Nutrition is quite literally my Happy Place here in Montréal, with a menu, atmosphere and philosophy very reminiscent of my beloved workplace back in Melbourne. In my first few weeks here I've visited the store on campus several times for cool and filling refreshments and have loved every flavour I've tried so far. I also inadvertedly entered a competition by posting a photo on Instagram, and won, meaning there are five free smoothies heading my way!!

Rise Kombucha

After becoming somewhat of a kombucha addict at work in Melbourne, I was delighted to find this brand of kombucha in Canada, that is sold in most supermarkets and general food stores. With a variety of tasty flavours for good prices, this has already become a staple in my diet here.

MOVEMENT

Since I arrived in Montreal at the end of summer, I've been taking advantage of the warm (even hot) weather to get outside and get active. This is definitely a city that is very health and fitness orientated, so it isn't hard to find a plethora of options when it comes to getting yourself moving.

Climbing Mount Royal

Panoramic views from the Mt Royal lookout
Panoramic views from the Mt Royal lookout

Despite its grandiose name, Mount Royal is something more like a very large hill situated near the back of McGill University in Montréal. It takes about 25-30 minutes to walk to the top, depending on your speed and which of the many paths you choose to take. There are stairs if you want to give the legs a bit of a workout, or you can take the relatively flat, winding road up (which is also good for running, at least so I hear). The view from the top is nothing of spectacular and definitely the perfect location from which Montréal and the St Lawrence river can be admired.

Ensō Yoga Studio

Enso's Reception
Enso's Reception

Upon my arrival in Montréal I was quick to join the Trade for Yoga program at Enso, a studio recommended to me by a fellow student at McGill. Essentially, I volunteer cleaning at the studio for three hours a week in return for unlimited classes. Considering their extensive schedule and range of classes, including hot power yoga, barre and Pilates, I think it is a no-brainer! I've been to a few yoga classes and so far I've loved every single one! They are challenging and sweaty, to say the least, but there is nothing better than being guided through a really great yoga practice by an amazing teacher. Plus, the studio is stunning!

McGill Fitness Centre

For the first time in my entire life, I am a gym member! For the incredibly affordable price of $35 per semester (take note Australian unis...), McGill students can access the fitness centre. Although I am a massive gym amateur, it is a great option for when I want to get a good resistance training session in or get moving when the weather has other ideas.

Biking

Second stop on my cycling Frosh adventure - Lac Mineur
Second stop on my cycling Frosh adventure - Lac Mineur

For my "Frosh" (O-Week group activities) I elected to do the Outdoor Frosh, taking the cycling option. Thus, instead of getting drunk in a uni bar, I spent the weekend before uni commenced cycling around the wilderness surrounding Montréal. The three-day trip comprised on a 65km ride on day 1 to arrive at an organic farm, where we camped on the first night. Our group then picked edamame beans in the morning to repay the kindly farm owners, before riding another 35km to arrive at Lac Mineur (pictured above) for our second night of camping. On our final day we rode 45km back into the city of Montréal. Despite the physical fatigue (and hundreds of mosquito bites) I had a wonderful weekend, learnt lots about many different cultures and made some pretty awesome friends. A+ for the Outdoor Frosh!

CULTURE & HISTORY

Mount Royal & Lac aux Castors

Lac aux Castors
Lac aux Castors

Depending on which route up the mountain you take, you can end up at the lookout atop Mount Royal or, slightly off to one side, the Lac aux Castors (Beaver Lake). The lake has beautiful, rolling green hills surrounding it and little paddle boats that can be taken out during the day, BBQ facilities and a path around the lake for leisurely strolls. If you make it to the top of Mount Royal you are rewarded with incredible, panoramic views of Montréal. Due to the flat plains upon which the city is built, on a clear day you can see all the way to mountains of northern America. You can also admire the grand St Lawrence river that divides the island of Montréal from the rest of Québec. And if you turn around 180 degrees there is a stunning chateau perched at the rear of the terrace, overlooking it all.  With regard to its history, it was explorer Jacques Cartier who named Mount Royal after being lead up to its peak by the native people in 1535. The park at Mount Royal was also designed by the renowned Frederick Law Olmstead, who also designed Central Park, with the aim of livening up and bringing a healthier lifestyle to the city and people of Montréal.

Tam Tams

This afternoon was in fact my first experience of the Tam Tams, a must-do cultural experience in Montréal. The Tam Tams is a spontaneous, yet weekly drumming circle around the statue of George-Étienne Cartier monument beside Mount Royal that occurs on Sunday afternoons. It attracts large crowds, little street vendors and some pretty cool, hippy kinds of people who come to hang out and dance to the beat of the 'tam tam' drums. The history of the Tam Tams is interesting, not least in the fact that it was once a symbol of the counter-culture movement in Montréal that the police and government attempted to prevent. Nowadays it is a quintessential part of Montréal's culture and a fantastically relaxed way to spend your afternoon - BYO snacks and a blanket to lay on the grass.

That's all for now folks!

Love Erica x