Montreal's Cast of Characters

Is Montreal Canada's happiest city? I have wandered a lot of streets in a lot of different cities in my life and I have never encountered so many happy surprises. Indeed the city does have a "joie de vivre" that doesn't exist in other cities, or perhaps it is just the Holiday (Happy) Season. 

After wandering the streets of the city for the past 10 days Montreal has become my happy place.  I thought Portland and Austin were happy places, but Montreal wins hands down with its crazy cast of characters and shops.  

I am not just speaking of the people, who indeed seem to be happy even in winter when it is snowing but also the many man-made characters I encountered as I wander Montreal's Rues and Avenues.  

I hope these photos will convey to you how Montreal's sense of fun and surprise combine to create a happy sense of place.

I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.    

I found this character at the Christmas Market at the Convention Centre. I believe he/she might be a costume from the Nutcracker ballet as this was Les Grands Ballets' Nutcracker Market with benefits going to the Nutcracker Fund for Children.   

These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

These fun characters sit on top of the entrance from St. Catherine's Street to Montreal's Underground City. 

Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.    They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

Found a wall of these portraits in the lobby of the Concordia University building while shopping at their pop-up Christmas Market.  They captured my off-the-wall imagination.

This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

This fun character is from the world's largest Barbie Doll collection exhibition located in Montreal's Underground City.  

This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.   

This guy was keen to ham it up when I asked if I could take a photo.  

I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans.  

I am not sure if this mythical character is throwing a football or a baseball or perhaps just getting ready to work at Jeans Jeans Jeans. 

These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

These hipster heads brought a quick smile to my face. Montrealers love their winter hats and scarfs. 

I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

I was gobsmacked by the amazing murals tucked away in alleys and the back of buildings everywhere in Montreal.  I love the DIY outdoor art gallery they create.

Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

Loved this old world sculpture and reflecting pond that looked like something from Paris or Rome in the World Trade Centre building in Montreal's International District. 

Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

Another of the fun characters at the Nutcracker Market - this time real life. 

I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

I spent a lot of time looking up at the old buildings checking to see if there were any strange characters looking down at me like this guy. FYI: In the entrance of the St. James Church there is a note saying technically a gargoyle should be a water sprout; this was news to me. 

For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

For 20 years Montreal's World Trade Centre has been celebrating Christmas with eight life-size Santa characters from around the world, including this Black Peter an evil-looking companion of Santa in the Netherlands in their lobby. 

Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

Found this guy on the side of an ordinary older building that seemed to have no historical significance at the corner of St. Hubert and Duluth Ave.  It is a good example how almost every block has something strange or surprising that made for great flaneuring.

We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

We were just wandering to a thrift store on Rue St. Hubert when I noticed a huge banner with for what looked like a contemporary exhibition titled "Workwear."  It wasn't clear if the show was inside but we decided to explore and sure enough Little Italy community centre was hosting a contemporary exhibition from Italy about fashion and workwear.  It makes us most happy when we just stumble upon something interesting - the thrill of the surprise. 

Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

Found this window while walking along St. Laurent Boulevard. Nothing makes me happier than great window displays.

Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

Loved this great use of bike as a prop for some winter greenery and summer flowers on the sidewalk in front of a florist shop. 

Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

Even in the suburbs we were able to find something to make me happy, including this modern sculpture outside the tired Plaza Cote-des-Neiges (shopping centre).

Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

Found this cast iron 1939 bank at the St. Michel Antique Market.  I was tempted to buy it, but resisted.  Spent a very enjoyable 2.5 hours exploring the market, definitely worth a visit if the "thrill of the hunt" makes you happy. 

Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Crew Collective & Cafe is located in the landmark 1920 Royal Bank headquarters building that was once the tallest building in Canada.  It made me happy the space is still available to the public and if you live in Montreal this could be your office.  Imagine going to work here everyday! We were there on a Saturday afternoon and the huge space was packed with people happily working away. 

Last Word

One the the key elements of a "happy city" in my mind is how friendly people are to strangers.  Montrealers couldn't have been more friendly to us.

From the store owner who offered to drive us to the St. Michel Market when we asked if we were going in the right direction (it was just 5 blocks away) to the couple who shared their bottle of wine with us at Les Jardins des Panos restaurant when they realized we didn't bring any wine (it is a bring your own wine only restaurant).  

Or how the young lady working at the LNF vintage store was more than willing to share her hot tips with us on where to get the best finds.  She even gave us her name, phone number and email if we wanted to contact her later. 

Don't believe people when they say Montrealers won't speak to you in English.  We never once encountered a local who when we said "Bonjour, do you speak English" wasn't willing to talk to us in our native tongue. We loved how many Montrealers said with a smile,  "You practice your French and I will practice my English!"  We loved that!

Next year Montreal is celebrating its 375th Anniversary, if you are looking for someplace interesting to visit, Montreal should be at the top of your list.   

For me, Montreal has definitely become one of my happy places.    

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Lo-Burn: Austin's Vintage District

Mid-century flaneuring always makes me happy. I think it is the cheerful colours – bright oranges, baby blues, spring greens and sunshine yellows.

If you are into vintage and visiting Austin the Lo-Burn (Lower Burnet Road) district is a “must see.”

You can't miss Top Drawer Thrift with its huge floor lamp, lime green facade and drawers on the roof.  

Lo-Burn IBIZ District

We stumbled upon this up and coming district when we entered “thrift stores” on Google Maps and saw a cluster on Burnet Road (pronounced “Burn-it” by locals) from 49th N Street to North Loop Boulevard. Conveniently, it was in the car2go home area, so off we went.

Here you will find not only three thrift stores, but two mid-century furniture shops, an antique store and an outlet designer women’s clothing boutique, as well as local eatery favourites - Torchy’s Tacos and Tiny Pies. If you walk further south there are some other places that look interesting…but who has time to eat when there are treasures to be found.

Top Drawer Thrift (SW corner of Burnett and W 49th St)

Top Drawer Thrift was the best thrift store we found in Austin by a long shot.  While it isn’t the largest it had great quality and selection of vintage clothing, home accessories and art. The displays were fun and exotic. The staff were friendly and the prices were great.  The electronic section was the big surprise with unusual items from a huge pile of vintage radio tubes (Brenda couldn’t resist adding one to her collection) to old film projectors.  I got a framed kitschy artwork with a Cowboy face and Old Made cards background.

Vintage radio tubes at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage electronics at Top Drawer Thrift

Vintage Fun

Uptown Modern (5111 Burnet Rd) is like walking into a mid-century furniture art museum.  The show room is spacious and the displays are grouped by colour.  If I was starting an art collection, this is where I would head.

Gypsies Antiques (5202 Burnet Rd) is a traditional antique store with many very interesting vignettes under glass domes.  And Vin Taj (52,000 Burnet Rd) has not only interesting furniture and home accessories, but some great paintings that we would have loved to take home.  Darn those airline baggage size restrictions!

Learn more about Austin’s mid-century modern scene

Uptown Modern has a wonderful collection of vintage furniture, home accessories and art. 

One of several glass dome pieces at Gypsies Antiques

Spring Frost Boutique (5101 Burnet Rd)

Though Spring Frost is not a vintage shop (it stocks designer clothing and shoes at deep discount prices), it is worth checking out. The staff were friendly and let me take all the photos I wanted. I love photographing women shoes – to me some are like works of miniature works of art.

Spring Frost shoe fun!

American League Alliance (4901 Burnet Rd)

Across the street from Top Drawer is a large American League Alliance thrift store, which is definitely worth stopping into. checking out. They had some great deals on cowboy boots when we were there. It is staffed by charming retired ladies who are very attentive to creating wonderful displays that give the store a vintage, grandmother-like atmosphere.

Savers (5222 Burnet RD)

Savers is Austin’s equivalent of Value Village and is just three blocks north of the Top Drawer.

American League has everything including the piano. 

Refreshments

I am told Torchy’s Tacos (5119 Burnet Rd), an icon in Austin, started with a single food cart. It now has several stores across the city.  The Burnet Road eatery’s patio is good place to recharge your batteries. 

Tiny Pies (5035 Burnet Road) - Zagat says, “The pies are just like mom used to make, only much much smaller. The petite offerings are modern twists on family recipes and include everything from breakfast pies to strawberry-basil pies, plus quiche, pie pops and mason-jar desserts.”  We loved the pecan pies after our Torchy’s tacos.

There is also a fun food truck hub village across the street from Tiny Pies. A bit hidden in the parking lot at the back, but it is worth a look with its own playground and a barbershop up front. How cool is that?

Pinthouse Pizza, Apothecary Café and Wine Bar, Pinthouse Pizza and Phoenicia Bakery and Deli south of W 49th Street all looked interesting.

Torchy's Tacos hit the spot!

Lo-Burn's food cart lot includes several food carts, a barber shop and playground. Very Cool!

IBIZ 101

Of Austin’s eight IBIZ (Independent Business Improvement Zones) Lo-Burn was the most interesting.

The criteria for an IBIZ district include:

  • At least 75% locally owned businesses (currently, all districts host 95% to 100% locally owned businesses)
  • Have 20 to 100 businesses (current districts have 23 to 90 businesses)
  • No more than one mile in walkable distance (current districts range from .4 to 1 mile)

Top Drawer Thrift fashions!

Last Word

Don’t expect a lot of streetscape improvements - banners, hanging flower baskets or street furniture – along Austin’s IBIZs.  And while the distances are walkable, the sidewalks may not be in the greatest shape (nor might there always be one) and streets are more vehicle-oriented than pedestrian-friendly.

But for the urban wanderer, these are interesting places to explore. We went to Lo-Burn twice!

Bonus: We were lucky enough to have the same car2go we’d parked 3 hours ago, still parked in the same spot we left it. 

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car2go tips for the savvy urban traveller

The savvy urban traveller today has more transportation options when s/he is travelling than ever before. It used to be the options were to walk, take transit, hail a cab or rent a car.  Now the list often includes things like car2go, Lyft, Uber and bike rentals.

A big walker, I usually just give myself enough time to walk as I often find hidden gems along the way.  And given most of my holidays are spent wandering the streets of the city centre, walking and public transit are my norm. However, I am finding more and more I want to travel beyond the city centre to find those hidden urban gems.

When researching Austin TX, I quickly discovered many of the music venues I wanted to go to and the thrift stores Brenda wanted to dissect were not easily walkable from our Clarksville neighbourhood Airbnb. 

Also quickly figuring out public transit in Austin wasn’t great and Brenda not being a bike rider, our options were quickly becoming more limited.  That was when I thought this holiday would be a good time to give car2go a try.  There had been many times in Calgary when I had passed one of their “funny little cars” and thought how quick and easy it would be to hop into one rather than walk the 50 minutes each way to a downtown meeting from our house.

So like all good travel writers, I contacted car2go, which just happens to have its head office in Austin, and asked if they would be willing give the Everyday Tourist some free minutes while we were in Austin in return for texting out about where we took our car2go.  There was no obligation (or pressure what so ever) to do a blog and write something nice about them. They were genuinely happy to simply have us tweet out how we used car2go.

They even offered – and I readily accepted an orientation in Calgary so we could hit the road “driving” when we arrived at the Austin airport.

Big Savings:

During our two-week Austin stay (Feb 25 to March 8, 2016), our car2go costs added up to $317.82 US for our 44 trips. Renting a small car would have cost us about $800 US, plus gas and parking.  The $500 savings paid for one of our airfares; that’s being savvy traveller.

Lessons Learned:

Yes, you can fit two good size pieces of luggage in the back of a car2go.  (Car2go currently has airport parking access in six of their 13 North American locations - Austin, TX; Columbus, OH; Vancouver, BC; Calgary, AB; Toronto, ON and Minneapolis, MN.)

I loved that I could reserve a car for 30 minutes on my phone and know exactly where it would be waiting for me. I even found I didn’t mind that 5 or 10-minute walk to my car as it felt I was getting some exercise – walk and ride vs. park and ride! And it sure was much nicer than walking to a nearby bus stop and waiting 5, 10 or 15 minutes. 

I loved the ability to park just about anywhere, as you need only a little space and the cars maneuver easily to park. (Caution: The parking rules are different in every city so be sure to review the parking information on their local website for the city you are visiting before you go.)

Only in Austin can it be 30 C and they still call it winter (we were there in late February and early March and it sure felt like summer). Brenda loved that the air conditioning was “instant on.”

car2go allowed us to check out off the beaten path places like Black's BBQ. Now that's a rib. 

But what we loved most is car2go gave us the freedom to quickly explore places in Austin we probably would never have done without using car2go. This can be particularly good on short vacations when time is limited. It also meant we could visit three, sometimes four, districts a day, jumping in and out of the car all day long as if we owned it.  Yes, we would get a car in the morning and often have the same car to drive home.  (Caution: You can’t assume that you own the same car for the day so be sure to take all your belongings with you at all times.)

We even used the navigation system at the beginning (we don’t have one in either of our cars) and it worked well (except we couldn’t figure out how to get it to talk to us) but by the third day we had the lay off the land, so didn’t need it.

It was great for grocery shopping as we could walk there and grab a car2go for about $4 and be back with our bags of food and adult refreshments in our Airbnb apartment in minutes.  

We also found by using car2go rather than walking 15 to 20 km a day, we were more rested and keen to check out Austin’s music venues at night.

One of the biggest surprises in Austin was that the residential streets (at least in our area), have poor or no sidewalks and lighting is minimal.  I mean the streets are pitch black (“bring a flashlight” black).  There is no way you want to walk home after dark. Car2go was the perfect way to check out Austin’s music venues, which often start with a Happy Hour at 6:30pm, then a headliner at 10pm and a nightcap band at midnight.

Sunday afternoon at Saxon's Pub was a definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We probably wouldn't have made it here if not for car2go.

Sunday afternoon at Saxon's Pub was a definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We probably wouldn't have made it here if not for car2go.

Last Word

Overall, car2go allowed us to make better use of our time and energy, and develop a better appreciation of all Austin has to offer. Using car2go and staying in an Airbnb, we really felt like we were locals for two weeks.

I can definitely see us using car2go in Calgary and when we are planning future trips. 

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Thrifting Fun in Victoria B.C.

One of our favourite things to do when visiting a new city is to check out the thrift stores.  We are regularly rewarded with discovering new and upcoming neighbourhoods as thrift stores are often located in old grocery or larger retail stores in strip malls in communities on the edge of the city centre that are being repopulated by hippies, hipsters, yuppies and artists i.e. those who love thrifting.

Probably our most surprising location for a thrift store was in Hong Kong - don’t remember the name of the street, but we were barely out of our hotel and on the street to beginning flaneuring and there was a Salvation Army beaconing us in. 

However, the best city for thrifting in our experience has to be Victoria, B.C., Canada.  Brenda says it is because the city is a mecca for older people who are downsizing and university students who are always buying things and then moving away. We especially love the great artworks we find and think it is due to those who are downsizing, as well as art students at the University of Victoria who can keep everything that they create and retirees who take up art as a hobby in their later years.

Abstraction by R. Sylvester was purchased at Super Chance, nicely framed and matted. (29" x 20" framed) $90.00  

Abstraction by R. Sylvester was purchased at Super Chance, nicely framed and matted. (29" x 20" framed) $90.00  

We love thrifting in Victoria because there are so many stores within walking or short bus ride of downtown.  We have also noted over the years the quality and presentation of goods is higher in Victoria than in other cities we have visited.  Many of the thrift stores are more like boutiques than a second hand store, especially the WIN store (no relation to WINS in Calgary) in Cook Village. 

The mother lode of thrift stores in Canada and perhaps North America has to be the Value Village in Victoria’s Chinatown.  It is a huge store (not sure if it is the biggest Value Village in the chain but it is the biggest and busiest we have experienced) that is full of clothing, housewares, books, records and great art. It is always busy and thus the product moves fast so we often will visit a couple of times if we are in town for a week or so. 

Value Village, the motherlode of thrift stores, in Victoria, BC

Art Collecting Fun

One of our goals when visiting a new city is to find a new artwork for our collection of thrift store art that now numbers 23 pieces.  I am not sure but I think this may have started many years ago in Victoria - golf fish canvas from Value Village. On our last visit in the spring of 2015 the Value Village had a least a dozen abstract expressionism work both large and small for under $100.  I was tempted to buy a large 40” by 30” piece but Brenda talked me out of it and so I finally settled on a small 10” by 8”piece.  

Usually our first stop in Victoria is to Value Village to check out the art, followed by the Super Chance consignment store (with thrift store prices) in St. James Village, which is a must visit for thrifters as it always has a good selection of art.  We are rarely disappointed.  In one case I bought an artwork by Joe Plaskett, titled “Hakim Paris” in one thrift store and then commissioned Super Chance to sell it for me. My first quick flip!

Untitled, Kimball, 1962, purchased at Kilshaw's Auctioneers for $10, (29" x 25" framed canvas)

Thrill of the Hunt

The fun thing about thrifting is the thrill of the hunt - you don’t even know what you are hunting for until you see it.   Brenda’s tastes are much more eclectic than mine, she is could spend hours searching the back of every shelf and the bottom of every bin for that special treasure that some other picker has missed. 

Untitled, unknown artist, purchased at Super Chance $60 (framed, 20" x 14")

 

 

Brenda’s finds this last Victoria trip were:

 

  • A 1950s dime holder made by the B&R (no relation) Manufacturing Co. of New York bought at WIN Resale Shop for $1.95
  • A charming 1937 cardboard“learn to type” fingering diagram that you prop up in front of a typewriter keyboard, that is very fun.  $2
  • Children’s Metal Shoe Size Measurer for $4
  • Set of 3 vintage nesting teak snack bowls circa 1940s for $3
  • Framed unused Tuck’s Postcard (printed in England) for $.99 Vintage, women’s off-white, long Max Mayers gloves for $3
  • Small, brand new, yellow Moleskin notebook $.99
  • Some of the things she will keep for a while and add to her various vignettes in her office, others she will resell at her annual vintage garage sale.

List of Victoria Thrift stores:

Downtown

  • Beacon Community Thrift Shop, 715, Pandora Ave.
  • Salvation Army Thrift Store, 525, Johnson St.
  • Value Village, 1810 Store St.
  • Women In Need, 785 Pandora Ave.
  • St. Vincent de Paul, 833 Yates Ave

On the edge of Downtown

  • Bible 4 Missions, 2520 Government Street
  • Women In Need, 1803 Cook St.
  • Super Chance, 435, Simcoe Street,
  • Oak Bay United Church, 1355 Mitchell St

Bus Ride Away

  • Salvation Army, 3934 Quadra
  • Salvation Army, 1551 Cedar Hill Cross Road
  • Pickers 3948 Quadra
  • Beacon2723 Quadra

Auction Houses

  • Kilshaw's Auctioneers, 115 Fort Street
  • LUNDS Auctioneer, 926 Fort Street 
Untitled, unknown artists, Value Village find spring 2015 $15 (10" x 8")

Untitled, unknown artists, Value Village find spring 2015 $15 (10" x 8")

Last Word

Thrifting is not only a fun way to find a unique souvenir of your visit to any city, but also a great way to find some hidden gem authentic communities to explore and not just the tarted up touristy places and spaces. 

We have even found an upscale thrifty hotel (yes, there is such a thing).  The Red Lion Hotel Victoria at 3366 Douglas St. is well located not only for thrifting, but for cycling as the Galloping Goose Trail is at the back door and shopping (Uptown and Mayfair shopping malls are just a few blocks away).

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