First of all, let me define what I mean by slow travel. While it might be different for everyone, for us it means avoiding the tourist frenzy trying to see as much as we can in very short period of time. It is rather quality over quantity kind of travel: the quality of experience has so much more value than the quantity of sightseeing.
But a couple of years ago, you would find us taking as many guided tours as possible, running from one monument to the next “must-see” attraction without even knowing the purpose or history of it. We would take pictures as a proof “we have been there”. A couple of weeks later it would be hard just to remember what we had seen, what we had learned. And of course, at the end we would feel exhausted from this fast pace. Still excited, but exhausted.
For example, I happened to be in Montreal couple of years ago with one of my girlfriends. It was a one day visit, and we got to see more attractions than in a three-day visit. We took pictures, plenty of them. But guess what? I have no idea what are on most of those pictures, and frankly, I didn’t ever look through them twice.
This time, I visited Montreal with my husband and our one year old daughter. It was a beautiful and relaxing experience. I am not saying we avoided famous tourist areas, of course we have been to some of them. But we took a different, more meaningful approach – we made an experience out of it. And I really want to thank Marie-Eve from To Europe and Beyond blog. This was exactly what we needed – recommendations on where to go, what to see, and at least as important, where to eat from a city resident. Her itinerary helped us to learn about the city from a cultural, culinary, historical, and architectural standpoint in a very elegant and joyful way. Her list includes 15 things to do, but even from this list we did only 8 things. Some of them, like taking coffee breaks and walking the streets, were on repeat. However, I can tell for sure we learned about Montreal and its residents waaaay more than last time.
Where We Stayed in Montreal
We booked a very clean and contemporary 1-bedroom apartment through Airbnb in the heart of the city. Montreal is a relatively cheap city, so an apartment downtown won’t break the bank. Especially if you book it 1 or 2 weeks in advance, so you can find really good deals!
I doubt we would ever stay in the hotels. Ever. What better way to feel a bit like a real Montrealian than to live in a resident’s flat, shop the night before in the local grocery store or market, wake up in the morning and make your own breakfast and enjoy it slowly and in privacy instead of getting ready while already hungry, then going to some place and waiting in line to be seated?
What We Did in Montreal
As I mentioned before, we didn’t skip the sightseeing entirely, but we enjoyed it at our own pace. We had no particular schedule and would choose what to do depending on weather and what we felt like. No rush, no pressure.
Lots of walking, sightseeing, and eating
We would park within 10-15 minutes walking distance of the attraction and slowly walk towards it, admiring beautiful architecture and observing local people: how they talk, their facial expressions, what they wear, etc. We would get to talk to them – whether it was a security guy in our building, a waitress in the restaurant, or a person in line for freshly baked croissants. We loved to connect with people, hear their experiences and listen to their recommendations in regards to what to do in their home town. Connecting with people was a very important part of learning the city.
We strolled around Old Montreal, Le Plateau, ate delicious meals in local restaurants, took coffee breaks in very cute coffee shops. Cafe Le Moineau Masque, located at La Plateau, was our favorite from Marie-Eve’s list. Located on a very quiet street, this cafe has a wonderful interior design, delicious espresso beverages and a very cozy French terrace to enjoy your coffee outside. Montreal is an excellent place for foodies, by the way!
In between strolls and eating, we enjoyed a waterfront view, rested on the benches in multiple city parks and green areas while our toddler explored Montreal in her own way.
We really loved La Fontaine Park. Whether you go there with kids or on your own – you will enjoy it. There are some activities for kids and the opportunity to relax for adults.
Food shopping and more relaxing
Every day we would end up going to the local Atwater market to get fresh croissants for breakfast. We even felt little bit like locals. Especially when the person behind the counter would address you in their regular tone, “Bonjour, madam.” Unfortunately, I could not say much beyond “Bonjour! Trois croissants, s’il vous plait,” but most of the time I would say, “Je ne parle pas Francais,” and they would switch to English.
The market is located by the riverside. After shopping for produce and baked goods, we hung out at the picnic area which has an ice cream place with a sand playground for kids, and a lounge and picnic tables for parents. Don’t worry; you won’t need to bring your own toys, there are some at the playground already for kids to share. So parents can relax, enjoy conversations, and observe their kiddos having a blast in the sand.
When we were leaving the city, we felt like we had spent more than three days there. That one slow day equaled a week for us. We were open to the experience. We let Montreal sounds, tastes, and smells surround us and reveal its culture and story. By doing less, we actually learned more. Now that we have adopted this way of travelling, we could never go back to pre-planned travel when every activity is scheduled and there is no time for unexpected experiences. I am not insisting that it is a perfect system for everyone. No, especially if you want to stay in your comfort zone. But as a person who used to be a frantic type of the tourist, I think there is no way to learn the culture while you are occupied running around to collect documentary proof that you’ve been there.
Also published on Medium.