Things to do in Montreal when you're grieving.
June 12, 2016 6:29 AM   Subscribe

Tourist in Montreal for the first time, and overwhelmed by what I didn't quite leave behind. Looking for gently-paced, self-care itinerary suggestions to get through the next 10 days.

Just what it says above (plans were made before the family loss occurred). I have a secure "home base" to stay but can't keep up physically with the originally planned itinerary.

I don't want to cut the trip early--I (still) want to use this trip as time away from currently stressful workplace responsibilities, in a beautiful city, to spend time taking care of myself. (If I'm going to have to walk through these feelings, I'd rather do it here than back in my home city, and there was a considerable sunk cost in coming out here.) Budget and energy level is low, so even just suggestions about nice places to relax would be very welcome. I have reading and journaling materials on hand, and can walk up to about 5 miles a day comfortably, and am located in a downtown area convenient to the metro. If you're a native or a past tourist familiar with Montreal, what would you do here to take care of yourself under these circumstances with 10 days off from work?

Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would either hike up to or drive up to Parc du Mont-Royal and enjoy the gardens, people-watching, ducks, ambiance. The hike is up (stairs) but it's not long, or, as I said, you can drive up to it (here are various ways to access it). It's free.

Also, maybe a walk along Saint-Paul Street -- lots of European atmosphere of Montreal, shops, restaurants with outdoor seating, etc.

The Notre-Dame Basilica is a lovely Gothic church you might enjoy visiting.

Sometimes just sitting in a coffee shop, looking out at the world while processing grief and loss, is a good thing.
posted by mmw at 7:05 AM on June 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live in Montreal. Right now it's Grand Prix weekend so things are a little intense. You could walk up the Main, Boulevard St-Laurent, and look at the street fair and mural festival. It's a classic Montreal summer thing to do, there's no cost, and you can get things to eat reasonably cheaply. At the corner of Duluth there's a place called Laïka in the bottom of the big green building there, drinks and food reasonable, quiet electronic music.

Little Italy also closes its segment of the Main this weekend and there are fancy cars to look at, but also food and people and, I suspect, people not only engaged in the Grand Prix but revving themselves up for the Euro 2016 match Monday (Italy vs Belgium at 15:00).

The big library, the Grande Bibliothèque, at Berri-UQÀM metro, is nice. Open Sunday till 6, except the ground-floor periodicals section till 10, closed Monday, open till 10 Tuesday till Thursday. (There are plenty of English-language books and periodicals even if the website keeps a determinedly French face.)

The library adjoins a neighbourhood called the Quartier Latin. You don't mention what you eat or don't eat, but there's a place called Resto Végo at 1720 St-Denis, in a big old house, you buy vegetarian food by weight and find a table in a quiet corner, and nobody should hassle you for awhile if you want to eat in a leisurely way and relax. Plenty of other food/drink options right around there, and it's traditionally a student area so prices are mostly reasonable.

A classic Montreal walk is to start around the Cartier monument and walk up Mount Royal to the top for a view of the city, and then either walk back down or hop on the 11 bus to Mont-Royal metro in the Plateau. On Sunday this area will be full of people doing the tam-tams, but this thins out as you walk up. The rest of the week, there will be people around – walking, running, cycling, etc. – but no gathering at the monument.

Some of these suggestions may not be what you want in your state of mind, or belief system:

At the top of the mountain (233 m!) you can either walk down the same way you came or cross the road and walk through one of the big cemeteries up there. Mount Royal is a beautifully landscaped little valley – but it is a cemetery and full of graves. I like to walk down through it, down through upper Outremont – quiet, with big old houses – and then get down to Park Avenue for a bite to eat.

Or, from the top of the mountain, you'll notice a huge dome in the middle distance, and you could walk a little further and look at St. Joseph's Oratory, which is massive, and has some interesting grounds and things around it. Then there's the option of walking north along Côte-des-Neiges. One of the city's keenest food bloggers says the best pho can be found along there at Nguyen Phi.

Out the east end, the Botanical Garden is a wonderful stroll, although you do have to pay to go in. There are a lot of specialty gardens closer to the entrance, all potentially fascinating, but beyond them the people thin out somewhat, and you get to some ponds and then an arboretum that's just trees and space, and since they don't let dogs in, you can take your shoes off and walk barefoot here because there aren't hooligans with beer bottles either. Recommend bringing a water bottle and maybe a little something to eat: there's not a lot of food options this part of town.

Someone else mentions Notre-Dame. It's a lovely church and worth seeing. They will expect you to pay to go in. Tell them you just want to say a prayer and you can get in for free. Old Montreal in general is interesting to explore. Food and drink options tend to be inflated for tourists here, but Chinatown is not far away if you want to eat reasonably.

A walk I like is Marie-Anne from Esplanade to where it ends at Baldwin Park. It's not one of the Plateau's fancier streets but it somehow embodies that neighbourhood perfectly at every block. It's about 3 km. Gilford is another street that does this.

Then there's the Verdun boardwalk, the Lachine canal, Lafontaine Park, St. Helen's Island and many others. You're here at a prime moment for parks to look their best.

I could write a lot more on this topic – please don't hesitate to drop me a line if you have any questions. Address in the profile.
posted by zadcat at 7:28 AM on June 12, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'd definitely go the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec, a really open, architecturally interesting library. (And there's plenty of stuff in English in case French is a stumbling block.)

Beyond that, check out Crew Café in Old Port. It's a café/workspace in a grand setting.

I'd take a walk down Ste-Catherine, too, between Papineau and St-Hubert. It's pedestrianized for the summer and nice for a stroll, particularly in the morning before there are a ton of people out. There are pink balls strung across the whole stretch.

If you'd like bakery/coffee suggestions, that's kind of my thing; you're more than welcome to send me a message.

(On preview: zadcat, as always, has good suggestions.)
posted by veggieboy at 7:35 AM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would recommend the oratory.

I would also go to the island made for the 67 Expo, it's on the yellow line, called the PAr Drapeau, and its lovely and quiet and low key.

i would also recommend a walk along the canal, maybe a picnic at atwater market (lionel giroux is the closest metro), and wander down the canal until you find a nice spot.
posted by PinkMoose at 9:05 AM on June 12, 2016

The island PinkMoose mentions is where Metro Jean-Drapeau is, and as an old-skool Montrealer I referred to it as St. Helen's Island (Île Ste-Hélène). There are two islands there, connected by a footbridge. Nice visit, although it's 14° Sunday and the river tends to be breezy, so if you do go, bring a jacket.

Lionel-Groulx is closest to Atwater Market, you have to turn south* and cross a couple of fairly busy streets but it's worth it. People say Satay Brothers is one of the best casual noshes in town.

*One quirk of common Montreal parlance is that directions along the street grid are sharply skewed relative to the actual compass directions. The St. Lawrence River is taken as flowing west to east (even though it flows north or northeast past the island), so that directions along streets parallel to the river are referred to as "west" and "east," and those along streets perpendicular to the river, "north" and "south." As a result of this discrepancy, Montreal has been called "the only city where the sun sets in the north." – Wikipedia
posted by zadcat at 9:19 AM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

One of my favourite soothing Montreal spots is the Westmount Library - a beautiful public library with an attached greenhouse.
posted by ITheCosmos at 10:02 AM on June 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Alas, the Westmount Library greenhouse is closed indefinitely for repairs. The library itself, and the surrounding park, are good for this list regardless.
posted by zadcat at 10:05 AM on June 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm very fond of the Redpath Museum at McGill University. It's a low key old school natural history museum. As with the archaeology museum by the waterfront, it's interesting but not overpowering, so you'd have space for your own thoughts in the background.

In these circumstances I'd skip the Pompeii exhibit going on elsewhere (at the fine arts museum?) ; it starts out low-key but you have to pass through a room with av of a volcano eruption and distressed voices and so on.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:10 AM on June 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

zadcat: "The island PinkMoose mentions is where Metro Jean-Drapeau is, and as an old-skool Montrealer I referred to it as St. Helen's Island (Île Ste-Hélène). There are two islands there, connected by a footbridge. Nice visit, although it's 14° Sunday and the river tends to be breezy, so if you do go, bring a jacket."

It's very nice there, and I recommend it. But do not go today, unless you want to be around a very loud and very busy F1 car race.
posted by vasi at 12:40 PM on June 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had to look for this. A blogger came up with this route exploring the Plateau's green alleys last summer. She suggests cycling, but it also makes a nice walk, and you'll see parts of town most Montrealers never do. The area is residential and very safe. I know the article is in French but it's the map you want. The starting point is a little obscure: take the 14 bus up Papineau to Masson and walk half a block to meet the top of the route, and the map takes you from there.

The map curves down four times to along rue Généreux, which is really an alley serving Mont-Royal, a commercial street where you'd be able to get food or drink.
posted by zadcat at 1:12 PM on June 12, 2016

Not the 14 bus. The 45 from Papineau metro, or the 47 from Laurier metro. Mental blip.
posted by zadcat at 2:43 PM on June 12, 2016

I'm sorry for your loss. Agree with the above suggestions, especially sitting and enjoying the Park and leisurely coffee shop visits, and St. Joseph's Oratory ( I remember the night time view there was lovely. I sat in the church in a while and when it closed just sat on their steps watching the sun go down and remember that I found it really soothing.)
posted by NikitaNikita at 3:31 PM on June 12, 2016

I loved renting the bikes and cycling around the island, including around the biosphere dome.

A rollercoaster or ten might clear your mind on the island
posted by chrispy108 at 3:57 PM on June 12, 2016

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