What if I told you, you can experience France without going to France? Right above us in Canada, is the French province, Quebec. One of the most popular cities in Quebec is Montreal. It is only two hours north of Burlington, Vermont. Settled on the St. Lawrence River and founded by French settlers in the 17th century. The whole province of Quebec speaks French, all of the road signs are French, it is pretty much another France.
Every year in May, there is a huge punk festival called Pouzza in Montreal. It lasts from Friday to Sunday. There are tons of shows hosted at venues around the city and there is one big outdoor park stage. Many popular and big-name bands participate as well as lesser-known bands from all over the place.
So here is the low-down of our weekend in Montreal from May 20th-22nd, 2016:
Insubordination was scheduled to play Friday the 20th, the first night of Pouzza. The night before, they played a show in Rutland, Vermont with a friend, Nick Grandchamp who is in a few bands there. It was an awesome basement show. They figured they might as well do a Vermont show since it is close to Canada.
Christian, the drummer of Insubordination and New Hampshire native, goes to Pouzza every year, this time bringing lots of friends along. His college pals, Nate and Emily came, and high school friends, Ben and Harley. Bryan, the bass player, brought his girlfriend Jess, so lots of people! Christian booked the room which is actually a college dorm, for all of us stay in.
The drive from Vermont to Montreal was 3 1/2 hours. We left around 9am. There were 3 cars full of us following each other. It was a sunny day and the scenery was out of this world. Vermont is so pretty. Mountains in the distance, bright green farmland with cute farmhouses and barns, trees, and cute New England towns. Every square inch of the state is adorable. The drive was mostly up, Interstate 89. The last major city/the capital of Vermont was Burlington.
Crossing into Quebec, Canada was relaxing. Many border entrances to Canada and Mexico are near bigger cities, which promotes more traffic. This entrance was not near much, just pretty fields and forests. The line to get in was short, but we did have to park the car and have the border patrol run our passports, to see if any of us had any criminal background. They do that to many people, depending on the time of day, how many people and how much stuff you have in your vehicle.
We all sat in the office for about 20-30 minutes, then we were set free to enter Quebec!
It was all vast open spaces of farmland from when we crossed, all the way to Montreal. It was very pretty. It is weird how every area looks different depending on the climate. We saw little blackbirds perched all up and down the road, that had a tiny red and yellow stripe on their sides called red-winged Blackbirds, which I had never seen before.
Before getting to Montreal, we wanted to find a place to exchange our money, so we wouldn’t have to do it at a sketchy exchange place downtown. We passed a cute general store, Magasin General on the Pike River that advertised money exchange, so we stopped there. Adorable little place! I forget how much I exchanged. It was probably $200. Currently, 1 U.S. dollar = 1.32 Canadian dollars. It changes almost daily.
The store had a big selection of wine. I got a bottle so I could drink it at our hotel room, and not have to spend a million dollars at the bars. The two other girls on the trip, Jess and Emily jumped on the wine train too. We all walked out of the store on this Quebec country roadside with bottles of wine in hand, ready to take on Montreal.
Once we crossed the border, it was less than an hour and a half drive. Like I said, it was all farms and suburban neighborhoods.
Pictured above, we were crossing over the St. Lawrence River, into Montreal.
First, we parked in the parking garage of the dorms we were staying at and went and checked in. The dorms belong to the University of Montreal, but during this time, students were moving out for the summer, so they rent the dorms out to Pouzza festival go-ers. We got in line and got our Pouzza wrist bands, as well as the keys to the room.
The guys, (Insubordination) had to get to the venue, Foufones Electriques for soundcheck at 3:30pm, so we quickly carried all of their band equipment two blocks away. The parking garage costs money every time you come and go, so that’s why we carried it all. Above is the street it is on, Saint Catherine Street or Rue Sainte-Catherine.
The festival was kicking off that night, and they were one of the first bands to play that weekend at 5pm. There are probably 20 to 30 different venues playing shows all weekend. So they went on first at Foufones, and there were about 20 people in the room, including all of us (Ben, Nate, Emily, Jess, Harley) that aren’t in the band. Emily is a professional photographer, so she took a bunch of awesome photos. It was pretty darn cool.
It was cool that they went on first because we had the whole rest of the weekend to explore, and see other shows.
Here are some photos of the venue. To the left, is the mural out front. The place has a huge patio out front by the street sidewalk, and it backs up to the back of the building like you see on the right. The bar inside opens up to the outside with no doors. I’m sure during the cold winter, it closes up somehow. The second floor has the stage, then there is the third floor so that if the second floor gets too crowded, you can watch from the third floor.
We had a drink or two at Foufones, on the left, then headed to the outdoor stage to watch Big D and the Kids Table, a ska-punk band from Boston. I had never heard of them until then, but they all knew them, being from New England. Ben, Christian, and Harley are from New Hampshire, Nate and Emily from Massachusetts, and Scott, Bryan, Jess, and I are from Virginia.
To the right is Ben, Christian, and Scott during the Big D performance. The festival was sponsored by Sailor Jerry’s Rum, so the outdoor stage had tents set up that sold Sailor Jerry Rum cocktails.
Here is a more up-close photo of the outdoor stage during the Big D show. It was a sea of punk rockers, mostly wearing black. People were smoking joints, drinking rum and cokes, I even saw people doing cocaine. It’s sort of a no-rules kind of city.
You have to have a wrist band to get in, but you could easily hang on the fence and hang out and listen.
Quebec’s most famous dish, Poutine, which is french fries covered in gravy and cheese curds, was being served up at the festival, with tents around the outside stage. On the left, Jess is trying it out (for the first time, I think). You can tell she didn’t want me to take the picture.
To the right is the gang, from left is Ben, Bryan, Emily, and Harley.
We stayed out until 2am going to shows, then came back and crashed at our ‘college dorm.’ Above, is the building we stayed at. Like every other building in Montreal, the architecture is different and wacky in some way, yet beautiful. As you can see, the windows are tinted greenish-blue and all slanted at a weird angle.
The room had a kitchen, a tiny living room, two bedrooms, and a bathroom. It was pretty cheap too, from what I remember.
It was a Saturday, and we had the day to do whatever. Scott and I showered, got ready, and geared up to explore. We had been to Montreal once the year before, so we were going to check out the areas we had not seen. So we walked from our place to Old Montreal or Vieux-Montreal, the old port area by the river.
On the way, we ran into Montreal’s Chinatown district, so we ventured a few blocks through it. We had not had breakfast yet, so we stopped in a Chinese pastry shop, that had all kinds of strange Asian pastries like Japanese tea cream-filled cakes, and stuff wrapped in seaweed. Scott got a ‘sausage and cheese’ pastry, which was actually hot dog, not sausage. It was just as cool as any Chinatown, with souvenir shops and lots of food options.
We still needed coffee, and I needed a bite to eat. We stopped in what looked to be, a dime a dozen cafe. A dime, a dozen cafe in Montreal is better than almost any coffee shop in America. I got a cappuccino which was literally made with love. The man that made it, took his time and was very nice. I got a nice, flaky croissant because it is the French thing to do. Scott didn’t know what Biscotti was, he thought it was half brownie/ half cookie. I told him it is supposed to be dipped in hot coffee then it gets soggy. He got an Iced Latte, so he couldn’t dip it. He ate the hard Biscotti, almost chipping a tooth.
With pastries and coffee in our systems, we continued our journey. We started running into super old, Gothic buildings, so we knew we were in Old Montreal. The buildings date back to the mid-17th century.
We ran into the main tourist mecca, Place Jacques Cartier, a big square where people hang out, with shops and restaurants on either side. There was a Peruvian flute band playing. Scott laughed about it because there is an episode on South Park, making fun of Peruvian flute bands.
There were a few touristy stands in the square selling souvenirs and ice cream. Scott got a sno-cone, and we kept walking.
We walked down the old streets and popped in a souvenir shop. I bought some Canada and Montreal stickers for my sisters and I. Then some clothing stores, one had a ton of furs and rugs made from wolves and bears.
I just loved these old gray buildings and cobblestone streets.
So here is the wonderment that is the Old Port. Any activity you can think of, you’ll find it there. There is a huge pirate ship amusement park for kids called the Voiles en Voiles. It’s one, big adventure course. Aside from that, there’s a big zip line that goes across the pond in the park there, as well as paddle boats which cost about $25 for an hour or so.
After seeing the price of renting a paddleboat, we decided to just sit in the grass by the water. I did have a picture of bikers going across that bridge, but then I thought this goose, and the guy juggling was cooler. We sat there looking out at the river, watching the paddle boaters, bikers, and other park goers. There were some families with their cute French babies playing with each other. It was lovely and relaxing.
After hanging out in Old Montreal, we made our way back and stopped a few times along the way. First stop was, Jardins Gamelin. It’s a park in the downtown area, off of Saint Catherine Street. It has a concert stage, cafe, and a greenhouse full of herbs of vegetables. There are also big floating colorful, wiry art installations hanging above the park. There are chairs set up in the grass throughout. Jazz music was playing, it was quite nice.
Then we stumbled into an awesome outdoor bookstore, right by the University of Montreal library. Scott bought a book of illustrations by German artist Heinrich Kley, The Drawings of Heinrich Kley. Kley was a surrealist artist from the early 1900s, who had a very bizarre style. There are a lot of drawings of animals such as elephants and alligators, portraying humans.
There were used books, old Vogue magazines, and surrealist paintings for sale. It had a huge selection of every topic you can think. The signs on the right say $4 for a book or three books for $10, which is a good deal!
Every which block you turn down in Montreal is bound to have a thought-provoking mural, like the two pictured above. The one on the left is a little girl reaching for the moon. On the right, this mural of a real looking park is an apartment building right by a big green space, so it blends right in. And the heart on the tree just makes you happy.
We made it back to the apartment and rested for a minute, before going to some shows. We went back out to the outdoor stage and watched Ray Bottlerocket from the popular punk band, Teenage Bottlerocket. He did an acoustic set of some of the band’s songs.
Then we watched another band we like, Less Than Jake. They had some radio hits in the early 2000s like ‘She’s Gonna Break Soon.’ Scott likes them a lot, so he was really stoked. There was a ton of people in the crowd, and they put on a great show. There was kind of a light show going on, beach balls being thrown around, and people singing the songs.
After the show, we went back to Foufones to meet up with everyone else. They were all upstairs watching some metal show. We sat in the bar for a while, waiting for them. Above is some of the strange artwork on the walls. Ya know French and weird go hand in hand, but I love their culture!
Once we met up with them, we went back to the hotel room to eat some snacks and drink some beers. To the left, Christian is drinking a forty out of Lays Barbecue chips bag. On the right, is the floor covered in skittles. We kind of trashed the place!
A lot of us were tired, but we toughed it out and went to another show at like 1am.
We went to this tiny little bar and watched a well-known punk band, The Copyrights. The room was packed to the brim with people. We were squished in there, some of us regretted going because it was sweaty and uncomfortable.
After a good night’s sleep, it was Sunday, our last day in the city. We were going to explore the other end of the city. But before doing so, Scott wanted Poutine for breakfast because we hadn’t had it all weekend. Here he is chowing down.
We were heading for the Mile End neighborhood. Apparently, it’s the hippest neighborhood in Canada.
We walked up Boul St-Laurent from our place. There were tons of cool shops, like this candy store called Freak Lunchbox with E.T. in the window, and fake horse heads on top of the candy.
Then we went into an unassuming looking market, which had every type of wine, chocolate, and cheese you can think of. We roamed down many side streets, like the one on the right.
Here’s some more pretty/odd-ball graffiti. This little corner store had lots of old antiques out front like type-writers, trunks, chairs, and record players.
We popped into a cafe, which happened to be… a cat cafe! Cat Cafe Montreal or Chat L’Heureux. Man, French is such a pretty language! We didn’t realize until we saw cats just laying on the couch, and one just walking around. It was a cafe/lunch spot. So cool! We did not stay because it was packed, but it was cool to experience.
Since the cat cafe was packed, we looked for another cafe and found Cafe Neve. This place was frickin’ adorable too. I loved the modern aesthetic and the lighting, and look at my pretty latte! This was on Rue Rachel in the Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighborhood. There are four other locations throughout the city, but this is the original one, which opened in 2009.
Unfortunately, we didn’t even make it up to Mile End. We were like two blocks away from it before we turned around and went back to the dorm. Scott was super tired, probably from eating a pile of fries covered in gravy and cheese curds first thing in the morning. I was bummed, I mean I could have kept walking alone, but our phones didn’t work because we were out of the country, and between all of us, we had two room keys, so I said oh well, next time. I mean we did still see a ton of cool stuff though. Lots of cute cafes and shops, and of course the street art and architecture. I think we’re going to Pouzza next year, so I will go to Mile End then!
Above is just some interesting graffiti art on a side street. I like all of the colors on a white building with a skull and some villainous women faces.
The lavender-purple house on the right, that’s like my dream home. And the peach-pink doors, and that balcony!!!! Holy smokes, you can’t get much cuter than that. Each house looks different in some way, and there are always a few trees on each street. It’s just the best.
This was just on our way back. I pulled Scott down one street, then down another, turning a corner every block, because every street has something to offer. Some more sweet graffiti art for ya.
More unique homes. Some bright red row houses on the left, and a French stone, Parisian home covered in vines, which is actually my cover photo on Facebook.
We got back to the dorm and took a long nap. I woke up and walked to a pizza place down the block, that we had gone to the night before. It was run by some ladies from India. It wasn’t just pizza, there were Indian dishes on the menu as well.
I got two veggie slices and some pepperoni for Scott. We went to a show or two and then crashed earlier than the previous two nights because check out was at 7am.
Above, is some of the aftermaths of the damage done in the dorm over the weekend. There was a whole other pile.
Leaving the city, we passed a big Bollywood movie sign, and just before going on the bridge out of Montreal was graffiti that said ‘LOVE ME,’ which I thought was cute.
We stopped at a suburban gas station for gas and waters. The neighborhood looks pretty American, huh? Lots of the houses in Quebec are made with stone, which isn’t pictured but I did see a lot of them throughout.
Before crossing back into the U.S., we stopped at the Magasin General where we had stopped when we first came into Quebec. We exchanged our Canadian money, back to U.S. dollars. I got a buttery croissant too 🙂 Then we drove past the vast farmland, that looked really pretty in the early morning.
Scott and I had ridden with Christian and Ben so we had to pick up our car at their place in New Hampshire. Then we drove all the way back to Virginia. Left Montreal at 7am, got home at midnight. We had hit lots of rush hour traffic.
If you can’t get to Europe, just drive or fly to Montreal, or anywhere in Canada!