Escaping for the weekend to Montreal

During the long weekend in October (yes my American friends down south, us Canadians do celebrate Thanksgiving much earlier than you do) me and Steven used our time off — my school gives me the Friday and Tuesday off as "reading days", per se — to explore the city of Montreal.

We started off on Friday by waking up much too early for our liking — at 4:30 to be exact, after being bothered by the handful of alarms we had set the previous night — because I had decided to book the bus tickets for 6:30 the same morning. I wanted to get to the city as early as possible in the day to have the most time to explore. But before we could head out to the streetcar to get to the bus station we ran into a couple delays: first off, I had forgotten to print off the tickets; secondly I had forgotten to pay off Steven's PRESTO overdraft so he had no money available on the card; lastly I had no breakfast food (or really any food for that matter) that we could have for breakfast.

After waking up and getting ready we had to rush to my school, which is thankfully just a few blocks away, to print off the tickets. You'd be surprised how many college students are at school at 5 am studying over notes for midterms and finishing assignments. I grabbed tokens for Steven to use on the streetcar on the way to the bus station and back, and we didn't have time to grab breakfast food on the way there so we stopped at a Tim Horton's on the way to the station.

The bus pulled into the island of Montreal around 11:30 in the morning and since traffic was quite backed up, we arrived at the drop-off location a little bit late. Most of the highways on the way to the downtown core were under construction.

The first thing we had to do was purchase our Passport MTL cards. We chose to get these instead of just paying for attractions individually because it included admission to over two dozen different attractions and a three day transportation pass, plus it would've been much cheaper than purchasing tickets to attractions individually.

However, when we first tried using our passes for the subway we found that they didn't work. We figured out that we had to go online and register the cards — even though the rep who sold us the passes had specifically told us that we didn't need to — and then were on our way to the Airbnb we had rented out (I had a $70 credit that needed to be used soon and we only paid a total of $40 for two nights in a whole apartment). We took the subway into Longueuil, where we would be staying, and had to purchase another transit pass to ride the buses there. Initially we kept getting confused on which card to use where, but after a while we finally figured it out (it doesn't seem as simple as just tapping your PRESTO or Compass card, though).

The house was nice and clean and was located in a quiet residential neighbourhood. There was a chicken coop in the backyard which intrigued us because we had never seen such a thing at someone's house in the city before.

Next we decided to go grab some supper since we had been on the bus for the last six hours and didn't have any food to eat. We searched for a while before settling on a place called Artigiani Pizzeria & Cucina in the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood of the city and headed that way. Our reservations were set for 5 pm but we had arrived a little bit early and decided to walk around the neighbourhood to kill some time. 

Dinner had finished around 7 pm and we still had time to visit an attraction. Despite both Steven and my fear of insects, we headed to the Insectarium to get grossed out. It turned out he be quite a neat place, though, and we got to see a live ant colony filled with thousands, or more likely hundreds of thousands of ants gathering and bringing back materials to their home. Some of the bugs creeped us out and made us feel uneasy too, like the tarantulas and earthworms.

Once we were done at the Insectarium, we began to head back to the subway station because both of us were getting somewhat tired. On the way back we had to make a pit-stop, however, and made a quick and successful trip to the casino. With our Passport MTL passes we got $25 in free gaming credits for the casino, which is something that both Steven and I enjoy going to occasionally (I swear I'm not a gambler!). Though I only won $15, Steven was quite a bit more lucky — he ended up winning $150.

The next morning we woke up at 9 am after I pestered Steven for the better part of a half hour to wake up. We headed on our way back to the city but first stopped at the bus station to grab a bagel and coffee for breakfast.

Our first stop in the day was at Olympic Park where we would be going to a few more attractions in the area: the Olympic Stadium observation tower, Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium and the BioDome.

Going up to the top of the observation tower was kind of scary — you have to go up in what I'd argue is called a gondola — where you can see a 270 degree view of the city while speeding to the top.

The view from the top of the tower was quite impressive and it's always neat to see something so big, like a whole city, from a new perspective. I always end up going to some sort of observation deck when I travel.

Next we headed to the planetarium which was, well, just a lot smaller than I had thought. There was one exhibit and, though it was really interesting, took us less than half an hour to get through. With our city passports we got to choose two shows to see in the auditorium, and we chose the most basic, easy-to-understand ones because we both aren't good with science. The first film I enjoyed because it was basic enough that I could understand what it was about but advanced enough to expand my knowledge of our solar system. The second film was a completely different story, and I ended up just taking a quick nap during it thanks to the dark environment and comfy chairs.

Our next stop was the BioDome, located conveniently right beside the planetarium. We had to run to it because it was raining and we forgot to bring an umbrella in the morning. We both really enjoyed this exhibit mostly because our love of zoos. There were monkeys, capybaras, alligators and even penguins! One of the penguins kept trying to steal fish out of the bucket which was hilarious to watch and there was a mother penguin laying on a egg too.

After we had seen all the attractions in the area (we were going to see the Botanical Gardens too but it was still raining when we left) we headed downtown to the Eaton Centre for a bite to eat and so that Steven could grab some new clothing with the money he won. We ended up going to the mall and then leaving within a half hour of arriving — it was nothing like the Eaton Centre in Toronto and there were barely any stores in the mall.

Hungry and disappointed, we set out for some supper and found a place called Il Focolaio which was supposed to be home to some amazing pizzas. Let me tell you, it was quite difficult to decide on what to order (their menu had over 100 different pizza options and they didn't bring us an English menu until after ten minutes of using the internet to translate different words). We both ordered broccoli pizza which turned out to be a good decision on both of our parts. During dinner there was a bird sitting at the table next to us that literally would not leave us alone. It even jumped onto our table and just sat there trying to get our food, and then some guy started throwing it bread which didn't help make it go away.

Following our delicious pizza we had a few hours to waste before we had to pick up tickets for a haunted tour through Old Montreal that we found online. Trying to waste some time, we just jumped on the subway to see where it would take us. We got off a few stops later and just started walking down the street. After we stopped into a Starbucks to grab a hot drink, we continued walking. Then we turned the corner ... and saw a guy in a giant penis costume just standing on the sidewalk across the street. What happens in Montreal stays in Montreal, I guess.

It didn't take long to get to the box office to pick up our tickets and to be told the starting location of the tour. When we arrived at the starting point for our group we couldn't find anybody else with our number and decided to just wait until the tour guides called out their groups.

The tour was really neat — the guide told us a few stories about the history of torture and ghosts in the city, which I didn't think I would be too interested in.

Before we knew it, it was Sunday and already time for us to check out of the Airbnb. We slept in a little bit and then grabbed some brunch at the bus terminal again. I got chicken nuggets from McDonald's, which is the most #ClassicRyan thing ever.

We set out for the BioSphere, which we could see from across the river. There we got to learn about space, the weather and science. There was even a exhibit about Expo 67 and an interactive game that we got to play too! It was a really large building and on the top floor there was an outdoor terrace that we could walk around.

Steven then wanted to go to the other observation deck downtown, but when we got there we were told that it was closed for the day. They didn't bother putting a notice on their website or social media so we weren't impressed by that.

I then suggested that we go to the top of Mont-Royal, and thankfully there was a bus route that went to the top because we weren't interested in hiking to the top. The top of the mountain had some great views of the city and there was a bunch of historic buildings and park space on the top. We ended up grabbing popsicles at the top of the mountain to chill off.

After heading down the mountain we found ourselves hungry and Steven found a poutine place that we took the subway to get to. However, on our way, decided to slide down the staircase on the handlebars and got a warning from the Transit Police. Then when we were getting onto the subway the doors closed right after he got on, so he accidentally ditched me at the station. Thankfully there's cell phone reception on the Montreal Metro, because we would have probably gotten further separated if we weren't able to communicate with each other (ps, always have a plan for this in a new city, something like if we get separated just get off at the next station and stay there until I arrive).

To end the night we ended up renting Bixi bikes to explore the city a little bit more on wheels, and found a huge hill that we got to race down! It was so much fun! The bikes are a really good way of getting around because you can return them to any of the "docks" located throughout the city, and it only cost $5 for a day pass which let us take a bike for an unlimited amount of 30 minute rides.

Finally, it was time for us to leave the city on the bus. It was going to be a late arrival into Toronto at 3 am, but we didn't let that spoil our fun weekend.