Montreal held for them all the promise of excitement and adventure, especially to ring in a year's new beginning. The city had long been beckoning, such a short distance into completely new territory, a city holding untold treasure and charm.
It was funny to drive so little and end up in such an unfamiliar place: the curiosities of a foreign country uncovered from the comfort of their own Jeep. It made them consider what one is really looking for in a journey to a city that is not his own. And with that in mind, they set out each day, not necessarily trying to dig up hidden gems the locals like to keep for themselves, rather just allowing themselves to be drawn in by whatever might catch any other tourists' eyes: stately government buildings; ornate churches; side streets dressed in cobblestones and lights; an Olympic Park turned museum (which granted the added bonus of shield from the cold).
Montreal gave them a taste of something different, something they'd been craving; and yet it ironically made them think about home. To start the year, they were already refining the definition of that word. Maybe it changes as they change. Maybe it has always been what it is and they are growing into it. Still in Montreal, they paused to consider all of the places they have called home, other places they might one day give that name, and what they perhaps took for granted in each space. What did they allow their eyes to glaze over simply because to be awed by it was cliché or too easy? But home should be easy. Home should be a breath of fresh air.
This gloriously French city was monumental and subtle; it was impressive and comfortable. As the snow trickled through the air each day, it blanketed the town in quietness. It covered the streets with pure white and gave everyone reason to rest. What more could you want for the start of the new year?
We rented this one-bedroom flat in Old Montreal through Europa via Airbnb, and would highly recommend the space. It was beautifully furnished, immaculately clean, and a comfortable home-away-from-home (a great asset when traveling to a frigid location with small children). Old Montreal is a bit touristy, perhaps; but there were plenty of restaurants and amenities nearby and it was a quick walk around the corner to the Notre Dame basilica.
We dined-in most meals, using the kitchen or nearby carry-out spots; but we made sure not to miss Montreal's famous Fairmount Bagels and samplings of poutine. We also picked up a few grocery items and fell in love with these cookies.
We made sure to view the nativity and lights outside of Notre Dame and attend mass. Even if you are not religious, to sit and listen to the choir while taking in the intricate and gorgeous interior is well worth your time on a Sunday morning.
The 1976 Olympic Park has been converted into a museum and tourist attraction, including a biodome (that functions like a nature museum) which was geared toward families with young children. You can also ride the funicular to the top of the tower for exceptional 360-degree views of the city.
A drive to the top of Mount Royal is worth the view, especially at dusk. There are turn-offs to park and lookout over the city, which, if you're lucky and have caught a fresh snow, are also excellent starting points for a walk through frosted trees and up to the icicle drenched cliffs. The park boasts plenty of green space with designated areas for sledding, hiking, cross-country skiing, and ice skating. There is also a beautiful old cemetery off of the park.