As I wrote last week, I went to Montreal for the weekend. Montreal is a wonderful city. It was an easy flight into Montreal: while the flight was scheduled for two hours, we only spent an hour in the air. You can’t check in online because of the passport restrictions, but if you aren’t checking any bags you zoom through the check-in process.
I didn’t spend much time in the airport. Airports tend to blend together, and this one was no exception. Customs was a breeze, but it’s a good thing I printed out my itinerary. The customs official definitely wanted to know when I was leaving Canada, and if I hadn’t had my itinerary handy I think my customs interview would have been longer and upsetting. As it is, I wish I had printed out the hotel confirmation–I think the customs official was concerned when I said, “I’m staying at some place downtown.”
I stayed at the Hotel Le Relais Lyonnais, a small but very nice hotel in the Latin Quarter. I spoke with them before I flew into Montreal, and based on their recommendation I took the shuttle bus from the airport to the bus station. It’s only $14, and the bus station was less than two blocks away from the hotel. It’s the kind of transportation I look for when I travel: cheap, convenient, and fast. Incidentally, when you arrive at Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport, keep in mind that it used to be named Montréal-Dorval Airport (or just Dorval). Some of the signs have not been updated yet.
The Hotel Le Relais Lyonnais has small modern rooms with a ton of closet space, a nice bed, and pleasant amenities. The cafe downstairs serves traditional French food; one afternoon I enjoyed a ham and gruyere galette (buckwheat crepe) with a nice cup of coffee. The front desk at the hotel is not usually staffed, and your card key opens up the front door as well as the door to your room. (There is a buzzer that summons a person to the front desk in under a minute, and the staff of the cafe also can admit people into the hotel.) The gentleman who checked me in at the hotel was warm and friendly. I’m not sure if the hotel is family-owned, but it certainly had that feel.
The person who checked me in at the hotel was representative of everyone I met in Montreal: friendly, well-spoken, polite, intelligent, and knowledgeable of current events. I had many conversations with people in parks, restaurants, and bars and invariably people went out of their way to be helpful. Montreal may be the friendliest city I have ever visited.
Montreal, as one of the major cities of Quebec, is a city with a strong French culture. Everyone I spoke with from Montreal was bilingual. When I would attempt to speak French, people would understand that my French was terrible and immediately switch to English. The Québécois people I met were proud of their culture and heritage without being arrogant or oppressed. Beyond the French and English speaking majorities, Montreal is a cosmopolitan city with a wide variety of races, cultures, and languages.
I had a wonderful time in Montreal and hope to visit again soon.
Incidentally, my cell phone worked in Montreal when I turned on roaming mode. I avoided making calls because the roaming rate was around 60 cents per minute. My brother pointed me the web page listing international functionality, and it turns out my cell phone would have worked in China, too. At over $2.20 a minute, I’m glad I didn’t make any calls from there either.