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Top Tips from This Podcast
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- When to Go: Summer, festivals and concerts are abundant.
- Where to Stay: Instead of hotels, try renting an apartment or staying at a bed and breakfasts in Old Montreal.
- Avoiding the Heat: Try Lachine Rapids, Lachine Canal, or Mount Royal.
- Other Destinations: Explore the "Underground City" and the Latin Quarter.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.David Lytle: Welcome to the Frommers.com travel podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit www.frommers.com.
Hi! This is David Lytle. I'm the editorial director of Frommers.com. Today, we're talking with Andre Legaspi. He is the author of our day by day guide for Montreal. He started out writing lines of code during his college days at Montreal's MCGill University as a computer science student. But realizing that wasn't his bag, he's moved on to the world of travel writing and has contributed to our Frommers MTV Italy, Spain and Europe guides. He's also contributed to the blog jaunted.com. Hi Andre!
Andre Legaspi: Hey, how's it going?
David: Pretty good. How are you doing today?
Andre: I'm good.
Andre: Everything's bright and good.
David: Oh, no problem. We always love to talk to authors. To start off, tell me about your background, your relationship with Montreal.
Andre: Well, I started looking into going into school there for college and ended up choosing McGill University and I spent a good five years there, studying. Then for another year or so, I just hung around the city to take it all in and then after that I returned back to my hometown of New York.
David: A good five years there. When you think of Montreal; if you're going to go back, what's the first thing that you think that you want to do when you go to Montreal?
Andre: It's funny you mentioned that. Every time I visit there I always have -- the second I get off the train, the first order of business is to go to Schwartz's because usually what motivates me to go back to Montreal is to eat the food that I miss so much. So I make a beeline straight for Saint Laurent and I sit at the counter and I order my smoked meat sandwich and I --
Andre: I feel all right, like I'm back home.
David: Yeah, it's amazing how different destinations are anchored by the flavors and the foods that they're known for. I have to confess this; I've yet to be able to get to Montreal and so the world of smoked meats is a mystery to me, but it's always -- one of the very first things you've said and it's always on like the top of the list for things that people recommend. What's the deal with smoked meat?
Andre: The smoked meat... It's amazing food that somehow made its way from central Europe in the 19th century and since then it kind of morphed into different varieties and most Americans are familiar with it's form as pastrami, but it doesn't compare whatsoever to smoked meat. It's basically a much drier, I'd say even less flavorful version of the meat. Smoked meat, the Montreal form of it, it's become an art. At least the preparation of it, for so many years they've perfected the process of curing the meat and sort of seasoning it to perfection. That's basically the reason why so many people -- celebrities, they make the pilgrimage to the city just for a taste of that.
David: Right, exactly. When you go to Schwartz's -- I mean, is that place just jam packed with people waiting to get a seat at the counter?
Andre: Yeah, at least at the Schwartz's, but half the experience is just sort of sitting next to the people who are enjoying the same food as you. It gets kind of crazy but that's what makes it so charming, is just the unique atmosphere of really grumpy waiters and just sort of starving patrons and it's really cool. If you do get a chance to sort of take your eyes off your plate and look around, it's worth the view.
David: So you get a smoked meat sandwich with a side of attitude?
Andre: Exactly [laughs].
David: Nice. If somebody's going to Montreal, is there any concern with the language barrier?
Andre: It's funny, a lot of people that I talk to are interested in traveling to Montreal, that's usually their main concern. But for the most part, most of them are often surprised to see that despite the whole bilingual nature of the city; that no matter which language you use, whether it's English or French, most of the people are friendly enough to accommodate you. They'll make the extra effort to sort of make you feel part of the city --
Andre: By kind of either encouraging your poor French if it's not up to snuff or conversing with you in English. If it's really that bad, they'll switch gears pretty easily.
David: Did you speak French before you went to Montreal?
Andre: No, I didn't. I actually -- I took three or four years of Spanish and I took a few years of intensive French up there. Unfortunately, I didn't pick up enough. It's a very different type of French as well. A lot of my friends, they were Parisian French. It was a different kind of language.
David: Right, right, exactly. What are your favorite neighborhoods or -- not even favorite because you know, that's always sort of a cliche. You know, what's the best, what's the favorite... What sort of flavors can you give to the different neighborhoods in Montreal from this sort of -- there are different sorts of travelers so --
David: Where should they look for certain kinds of activities?
Andre: Starting off with Plateau, mainly because that's where I always find myself hanging around and I have a lot of friends that live there. It's a very young, creative sort of neighborhood that fosters kind of creative designers, artists and as a result, there's also very trendy bars, restaurants. Some of the best food, and the most innovative foods you'll find will be somewhere around the Plateau.
Andre: So if you're looking for that kind of thing, that's the place to go around Saint Laurent, [inaudible]. In a similar way, the Latin quarter just south of that is very similar to the Plateau. The main difference though is that the Latin quarter is very French. When you're passing by, people -- you'll hear them conversing strictly in French and all the store fronts and the foods that they offer have less of an English influence on them.
But parts of the Latin quarter do get slightly grungy. There's some not so nice areas but it just makes the place a little bit more interesting. It's by no means unsafe. It's a decent place to just take a stroll as well.
David: Right. I mean, every city has neighborhoods like that where --
David: I think they're less touristy but they're more genuine in the flavor of what it's like to mix with the locals.
Andre: Exactly, and there's also the downtown area which is I guess the main tourist draw for obvious reasons, but it's a very different downtown area compared to like other major cities in the east because a lot of people find that it's surprisingly easy to get around and then it's nice for just strolling. They have like wide streets and boulevards and probably the most unique aspect of it is the sight of the actual Mount Royal in the background. It's maybe five minutes walk from downtown and it's a nice backdrop to the whole environment.
David: Right. Dramatic...
Andre: Yeah, exactly. Finally, I guess my second favorite neighborhood in the city is Old Montreal. I can't even describe in words how unique this place is. It's just -- you take a step back into sort of 19th century Montreal and can almost get a feel of even just 19th century France because not much has changed down there. The whole atmosphere; the cobblestone streets, the dimly lit street lamps and --
Andre: It's a beautiful place to just walk around and take it all in and it's a very different side of Montreal compared to like the modern downtown area.
David: Is Old Montreal for residents? I mean, is it considered sort of prime real estate?
Andre: Yeah, that's probably where you'll find the most expensive apartments and it's recently undergone some serious development and you'll see some of the most expensive boutiques, hotels down there and --
Andre: Definitely the prime real estate, like million dollar apartments as well.
David: Something we all want, right?
David: A million dollar apartment... Speaking of having the two languages, English and French, there's also bits of their two cities in Montreal and it's my understanding you have the regular city and then you have the underground city.
David: Can you explain that?
Andre: The underground city, it's a very interesting area. You can't really lay it out in terms of a certain area. It's kind of scattered underneath several buildings, but it came about just because of sort of the climate conditions in Montreal where the winters can go for six to eight months of just bitter, bitter cold. So what happened was the -- a lot of the sort of underground shopping areas started connecting with each other and making these series of tunnels.
After that, like within those tunnels, they started putting in shops and restaurants so slowly but surely, it became interconnected and if you actually wanted to, you can pretty much go from one end of the city to the other end without even seeing daylight. You can just go underneath. Actually, it's even useful in the summer as well because the summer can get pretty hot and it's a nice, cool rest pit for any traveler.
David: In one sense it's sort of like Vegas where you can connect to almost every hotel without ever going outside.
David: For you, what's something that you find surprising about Montreal that you didn't expect before you got there for the first time?
Andre: I think there are two things that really surprised me about Montreal. Perhaps it was the people I had asked about it before going there and moving there, but I was under the impression that the people there would be not as friendly as expected, and that they would be almost, that they would look down upon me because I'm American. But as long as you don't go by the whole obnoxious American theme, you'll fit right in. And the people are just some of the friendliest that you'll find in the continent. It's such a great feeling when you finally do feel part of this bilingual culture.
The second thing that surprised me the most, as I sort of mentioned before, the summers can get blisteringly hot. People keep thinking of Montreal and they associate it with icicles on people's noses and just awful, awful winters. They expect the summers will be nice and cool but they are actually worse than the summers in New York, they get really humid and just stiflingly hot. So that thing definitely surprised me when I got there.
David: Are there areas of relief from the summer, a lot of waterfront, lakes, rivers? What do people do when it's blisteringly hot?
Andre: There's a couple of ways you can get a little relief. One way, which is probably the most exciting and heart pumping way, is to do the Lachine Rapids, which is not very far. And there are a few companies that'll just bring you on these furious rapids, and you'll cool off pretty quickly when you hit the first set.
Another one is, I guess, a little calmer. Just past the rapids there is the Lachine Canal, which is a really nice developed park along the waterfront, and there's always roller bladers and joggers and it's a very relaxing place to unwind.
David: A green space, a communal outdoor space?
Andre: Yeah, aside from the obvious Mount-Royal, that's probably the best place to go. Also just sort of distanced from the city, because it's about two minutes just outside of Montreal.
David: Which is your favorite season there, is it summer or winter?
Andre: I'd have to say summer, because even though I'm a huge hockey fan and I love the fact that there's outdoor hockey rinks in the winter everywhere you go, the summer is basically what makes Montreal. The festivals that come up define the city so much. The jazz festival, the Just Relax festival, even the Grand Prix, the city just doesn't get any more exciting than that time. And it's obvious because that's pretty much when everyone comes out to either sample some great jazz or take in a race or something.
David: Right. It's rare that people actually... We always encourage people to travel off-season because it's cheaper, but it's still rare that you are going to get a huge influx of tourists when it's bitterly cold. So it makes sense that summer is popular. Have you gone to the jazz festival?
Andre: Yes, I have. Actually my apartment was just a block away from Place des Arts, which is one of the main venues or locales for the jazz performances, where they'd have free outdoor concerts and stuff. The streets are brimming with action and everyone is so happy and full of life that it's contagious.
David: Did you hear the music from the festival in your apartment if you had the windows open?
Andre: Yeah, my roommates and I spent a lot of evenings just hanging out the window, relaxing, drinking a glass of wine, and taking in the music from a distance.
David: That's awesome, that's really great, something I guess other people could do only if they rented an apartment in the neighborhood as opposed to attending the jazz festival. But it's nice, as a local, to have those experiences.
Andre: There are a few hotels that are within the block area where you could do the same thing if you wanted to. The performances gets loud enough, the chatter among the people in the streets, you can definitely hear them if you even crack open the window. You can still experience it.
David: In the Day-by-Day guide, it's a small book, but it's compact, chock full of information. It's always a problem when you are having to write any sort of book, because there's a page count to it. I don't know if listeners know this or not, but we always have to cut things out, not everything can make the guidebook. What's something that you wanted in the book which you had to cut out just because of space?
Andre: Yes. One of the toughest things was to condense everything into this little book. For a city I love so much, it was almost painful to do it. One of the things we had to cut out was the Latin Quarter tour.
David: Oh, a self-guided walking tour?
Andre: Yeah, it was a walking tour for the Latin Quarter. It basically hit a lot of the points that weren't listed in the "best of." Restaurants, small points of interest that just added a lot of character to the neighborhood of the Latin Quarter. It was kind of sad that we weren't able to include it.
David: Exactly. I know authors have very personal attachments to the things they write. It's just like an actor or director having to cut something out of a film as well. The scenes are still in your head.
David: Actually, that's something we can put online if it's not in the guidebook. It's very easy to add that content elsewhere.
When somebody's going to Montreal, do you recommend they stay in a hotel; do you have suggestions for alternative accommodations? Is it easy to rent an apartment?
Andre: It's pretty easy to rent an apartment, if they want to do that. There are a few groups that will do the paperwork for you, if you wanted to that. But as an alternative to hotels, I don't know how much of an alternative this is, but especially for couples, I think, looking up bed & breakfasts would be a great idea. You'll be surprised to find really good deals in nice areas of Old Montreal, where you can stay in a very quaint, antique setting, for a few bed & breakfasts along the water. Especially if you're there for a romantic weekend or something, that's the perfect place to do it.
David: So look for B&Bs in Old Montreal?
Andre: Yes, definitely worth looking up for sure.
David: You said you were a hockey player. Just assuming because it's Canada, hockey is king there, are you a good player?
Andre: I'm pretty decent. I grew up playing roller hockey in Queens and then in high school I started picking up ice. But Montreal takes it to a whole new level. It's a religion up there and you can't help but get obsessed with the sport while you're there.
David: Is it possible for the traveler to get an opportunity to play a game or get on the ice?
Andre: Yes, it's very easy to do that. As I said before, in the winter there's an outdoor rink pretty much every two blocks and you can easily rent skates or borrow them. The hotels will most likely set you up with that if you can't find a skate rental place. And more often than not, most players have an extra stick or something. So all you've got to do is just find a rink, hop on and just hope that the cold doesn't get to you or you don't fall too hard.
David: Yeah, right. That's always my fear of getting on the ice, falling. What if you have no idea how to skate? Is there some place that travelers can go to get lessons?
Andre: Yeah, there are a few places. The first one that pops into my mind is a place in the atrium on 1000 de la Gauchetiere. It's in the middle of a mall area, but they offer lessons, also group lessons while people are shopping. It's in the middle of a shopping area so there's actual columns in the middle of the rink, which can be a little troublesome at times. But the instructors are pretty good about that and they'll get you skating in no time.
David: Cool. Or I guess the columns can be something to grab onto as well.
David: Just crossed our 20-minute mark here, typically where we wrap things up, so we're going to have to wrap it up for today. Andre, thanks for talking with me.
Andre: Thanks for having me.
David: I really appreciate it. Andre Legaspi is the author of Frommer's "Montreal Day by Day, " available on bookstores now. And I think some of our walking tours are actually online at Frommers.com in the Montreal Destinations section. Andre, thank you.
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