The new year was fast approaching and I needed a plan. As none of my nearby friends could meet anywhere for a celebration, I decided to head out on my own. For some reason, that meant driving six hours north to Montreal.
It was already cold in New Jersey when I decided on my destination. I waited a few days to book the hotel as I wanted to check on the weather and ensure it wouldn’t snow during my drive.
I thought I could handle the brutal cold in Montreal for a few days — there are plenty of cafes, restaurants, bars, and shops to duck into while walking around the city. Plus, there’s the metro system and the underground malls in which to stay warm.
Did you know most of Montreal is closed from December 31 to January 2? I didn’t. So much of my plans were wasted. But I still made the best of the situation while icicles formed on my body.
Conversation at customs on the way into Canada:
Customs Agent: Why are you going to Canada?
Me: I didn’t think it was cold enough in New Jersey.
After checking into the Travelodge City Centre and being told I couldn’t park in the garage, I got to move my car around the corner where I was somehow only charged C$32 for three days as opposed to C$22 per day at the hotel. The front desk was kind enough to recommend a nearby sports bar so I could watch Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl — and I met three other Penn Staters there. I’d say that’s a good start to a weekend road trip.
But the real reason I was in Montreal this time was to see the New Year’s Eve festivities. I had read about the fireworks show around Jacques-Cartier Pier being a spectacle and attracting a lot of people. There were probably fewer people this year as even Montrealers said it was too cold to go outside.
Equipped with my Kodiak boots that are supposed to keep my toes warm in -40F weather (along with wool socks), thermal underwear, a ski mask with an additional hat underneath, wool gloves I bought in Iceland, and my heavy Columbia winter coat, I thought I was prepared to spend an evening outside and enjoy the show. I even bought a flask of Canadian whisky.
On New Year’s Eve I wandered to Vieux Montreal. I wanted to get oriented and check out the route from my hotel. As it was sunny, I thought I might take a few photos as well.
The streets were almost empty. There was no parking because of the event in the evening and most of the shops and restaurants were closed. I had hoped to find a good lunch, but there were only a handful of restaurants open and they all looked to be well out of my price range. Instead, I ducked into a few art galleries and souvenir shops to warm up after taking photos.
In the evening, I got up the courage to go out again. I first wandered out early for dinner and drinks before heading back to the hotel to warm up before the fireworks.
In total, I spent a full hour and a half outside to watch 15 minutes of fireworks. There were bands playing when I arrived back in Old Montreal. There were vendors selling hot chocolate and apple cider — I wanted both to warm up and enjoy with my whisky, but they only accepted cash and I did not go to an ATM the entire trip.
There was one bar open around the corner from the fireworks, and I tried to get in, but they only served seated customers and there were no empty seats. So, I suffered outside longer — it was too cold to reach into my pocket for the flask of whisky.
Then the fireworks started and the crowd rushed to cross the street to the pier for a better view. I managed to find a half-decent spot to see the show, but I certainly could’ve had better if I had stayed closer to the stage as I walked around earlier.
It was a great fireworks show. Definitely better than the one year I sat in a park to watch the show at Taipei 101 (Montreal was also twice as long).
The walk back, however, was not as fun. Police did not open up the barriers to allow everyone to cross the street, and forced the crowd into narrow, congested crossings. As I knew I wouldn’t find a seat at a bar in Old Montreal, I headed back for my hotel. I still had another day to go out in the city.
Have you ever thought about heading to a colder location for the winter? Why?