8 Made-for-Instagram spots in Montreal, Canada

I visited Montreal in July 2017 for a business conference and extended my trip to incorporate a weekend stay so I could explore the area in my spare time. There’s so much to see and do in that wonderful city! I plan to write a separate post soon with recommendations for general must-dos, but first I’m excited to share my picks for some of the best made-for-Instagram spots.

Parc du Mont-Royal

Perched high above an urban park that was designed by the same landscape architect that did Manhattan’s Central Park, Mount Royal Park has a lookout point that gives you sensational views of the city.  If the weather is good and you’re in the mood for a little exercise, you can walk there from the downtown area and hike to the top. The climb will get your heart rate pumping, so be mentally prepared for that. Not in the mood to break out a sweat? No problem. Just call a taxi cab or Uber.

Montreal, I have one word for you: Enchanté!

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Vieux-Port de Montreal

The old port of Montreal is a great place to visit because there’s always something going on.  Whether you want to go zip lining or take a slow stroll along the river, eat from a food truck or dine in a restaurant, it’s all up to you. What’s more, there is a giant observation wheel there that is an iconic landmark. It gets #instalove 24/7.

#AboutLastNight

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Palais des congrès

The multi-colored glass walls of Montreal’s convention center, Palais des congrès de Montréal, are like visual beacons competing for your camera’s attention.  A striking combination of 332 colored panels and 58 transparent ones, the end result is like a beautiful kaleidoscope that creates a neat backdrop for your pics.

Notre-Dame Basilica

This jewel in Montreal’s hat serves as a parish church, and is one of the oldest examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Canada.  The interior will stun you with its ornate design and works of art that are spread throughout the sanctuary. At special times of the year, I heard you can sit in the second-floor balcony and hear their organist play beautiful pieces from great composers.

Old Montreal

Almost every street corner in Old Montreal is aglow with ‘Gram potential. Brimming with beautiful, historical buildings – many of which date back to the 1600s – this neighborhood is a thriving community and tourist mecca ripe for exploration. I particularly liked the train tracks because they gave me the whimsical feeling of old-world adventure.

The stoops

Slightly different to the wider versions seen at the front of New York brownstones, the stoops in Montreal lead to very elevated doorways that make them stand out against the flowered trellises and imposing architecture of the many lovely neighborhoods. Side note: Before snapping the photo, I’d caution you to ask permission from the homeowner before just going to sit on their stoop like I did. LOL.

Downtown Montreal is all about that stoop life.

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Saint Joseph’s Oratory

A magnificent dome church on top of a hill, this building was founded in 1904 by a man named Brother Andre who started out as a doorkeeper at the Collège Notre-Dame across the street. It is said he saved money from his tips to pay for construction on the building that is now a place of worship, art, music, and culture. I didn’t go inside, but I learned it had more than  200 nativity scenes from over 100 countries on display.

Maison Saint-Gabriel

This museum is a throwback to the 1600s, a time when Marguerite Bourgeoys set up a place to house “king’s daughters”  – young women sent from Paris to Montréal to find husbands. I suspect those that didn’t marry ended up living a not-so-easy life, because they lived off the land with not much outside help, and survived by using primitive tools and sleeping in narrow beds and drafty rooms for comfort.

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Five Things to Do and See in Toronto

When I flew into Toronto in early February the temperature on the ground was minus 22 degrees Celsius but with the wind chill factor, it felt closer to minus 40. Let that sink into every fiber of your being for a minute, will you? Allow the thought to settle and then freeze into place.

This was my first step outdoors on Canadian soil
This was my first step outdoors on Canadian soil

I’m convinced the city realized it was my first time on Canadian soil and decided to throw me – a warm weather island girl – its frostbite version of a welcome party. Hip hip, horaay? No way. But with every vapor-forming breath and crunch on day-old snow step, this chica was ready to make the most of her time in the stark-looking yet blissfully new and unfamiliar terrain.

Tuning into the local news
Tuning into the local news

These are a few suggestions of fun things to see and do in Canada’s most densely populated city.

Visit The Bata Shoe Museum

I love shoes, so needless to say, I was like a kid opening multiple gifts at Christmas as I entered each floor of this more than 13,000-strong collection. Picture me giddy and unsure where to focus first and dying to unwrap each lovely package!

Founder Sonja Bata and her team spent years curating this world-renown exhibition that takes you on an evolutionary journey into the design and production of shoes over many decades. Stiletto

There is an interactive Design-A-Shoe display, 17th century glass shoes from Holland, silk covered shoes from Korea and Barbie bite-sized footwear collection. I also saw Treccani Milanos, 19th Century Turkish bathhouse sandals, gold-leafed slippers of Asante rulers, plastic thong sandals worn by the Dalai Lama, and much more.

Tinier than really should be possible footwear
Tiny Barbie and Ken footwear
These Bata sandals, which show much sign of wear were donated by the 14th Dalai Lama in 2010.
These Bata sandals, which show much sign of wear were donated by the 14th Dalai Lama in 2010.
Hot-blooded movie star Marilyn Munroe wore these red stilettos suring a 1967 trip to Montreal and the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor wore these silver evening sandals at an event in the 1980s.
Hot-blooded movie star Marilyn Munroe wore these red stilettos during a 1967 trip to Montreal and the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor wore these silver evening sandals at an event in the 1980s.

Many of the artifacts are fascinating. If you’re strapped for time, go see Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels or the Traditional Artic Footwear sections first. They put an entirely different spin on shoes as we know it. The cost for adult entry is CA$14.

Walk through Kensington Market

Located in the heart of downtown Toronto and west of Spadina Street, Kensington Market is a multi-colored and multi-cultural neighborhood that is a mix of residences and shops that sell food, drinks, spices and clothing. Here’s another plus: its brightly painted buildings and graffiti-outfitted walls will form picture-perfect backdrops for your Instagram and Facebook feeds!

An alley in Kensington Market with walls that looked like an outdoor art gallery
An alley in Kensington Market with walls that looked like an outdoor art gallery
spices at kensington market
Nuts and spices of every type and variety

If it’s cold when you’re there and the weather gets too chilly, don’t despair. Super cozy cafes are likely to beckon with steaming cups of hot chocolate and energy-rebooting expressos or soothing lattes. After a warm-up cuppa something, tiny alleyways leading to throwback 19th century cottages that sit on close lots will entice you to explore more. There is no entry fee.

Time travel at Casa Loma

From the minute you step across Casa Loma’s threshold you are ushered into a time of no-expense spared splendor. Buildings of this size and grandeur were unequivocally the domain of the rich and indulgent. Actually, make that the super-rich and unapologetically indulgent – underlined and bolded, full stop.

It is the former home of Sir Henry Pellatt, a little known stock market investor who just happened to build a house the size of a castle then walk away from it when he ran into money problems 10 years later. It has 98 rooms and reportedly took 300 men and three years to build.

The exterior view of the "castle" that took three years to build.
The exterior view of the “castle”.

The ‘castle’ is now a much-visited museum and landmark but on occasion, it also is the place to be for private events. To get invited, chances are you must be loaded. The guard at the gate told me that multi-millionaire  Michael Jordan had rented the entire venue for his birthday party the night before for the cool fee of one million dollars.  C’mon now, why did you raise that eyebrow?  How else would basketball royalty throw a memorable shindig over Canada’s NBA All Star weekend? Of course, his Royal Airness had to have it in a castle!

The details on this bed frame were just mind-boggling.
The details on this bed frame were just mind-boggling.

Regular visitors like you and me can enjoy far-reaching views of the city from the towers, gaze unabashedly at the ornate and intricately built period furnishings or see a small antique car collection. Music lovers will appreciate the magnificence of the piping system for a 3/15 model Wurlitzer Theater organ that was added after the owner died and young kids can enjoy a bite or two in the on-site restaurant.

One of the three classic cars in the carriage house
One of the three classic cars in the carriage house

Everyone who has the luxury of life without knee pain, will be tempted to explore the secret passageways. Phew. Those stairs are not just narrow; they’re STEEP. The stables and carriage house are connected to the main building by an 800-ft. tunnel.  Entry admission is $24 per adult.

Take the required pilgrimage to the CN Tower

Imagine racing to the top of the world (well honestly, a tower) at 15 miles per hour! Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? Well, the city scenes that rush by serve as the precursor to the full-spectrum of your CN Tour experience –  if you decide to brave joining all the winding queues. There is an Outdoor Sky Terrace where the natural breeze whips through your hair minus staged Beyoncé-style fans; a SkyPod observation platform; an EdgeFloor and an EdgeWalk.

The distinctive CN Tower is sure hard to miss!
The distinctive CN Tower is sure hard to miss!

There’s also my personal favorite, the Glass Floor. Entry to this level is free if you dine at the 360 Restaurant. Made of glass that was built to withstand the weight of 35 moose, you can stand on it and see the street below you, a toe-curling 342m (1,122’) straight down.

You wouldn't believe how many people were scared to step on the glass and look down.
You wouldn’t believe how many people were scared to step on the glass and look down.

Yes, you may get a little queasy or your mind might trick you into thinking  it will crack beneath you. But it won’t. Personally, I think it is a whole lot safer than taking the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft (1.5 m) wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod. Now, that is outside at 116 storeys above the ground! (Never mind my weary heart, if you opt to try that, trained guides are with you all the way).

Ride a streetcar

Whether you think streetcars are ‘a remarkably efficient way of moving people’ or ‘as obsolete as the horse and buggy’, you cannot visit Toronto and NOT ride on this unique type of transportation. Operated on an intricate layer of overhead cables, the streetcars are an inexpensive way to see the city and the best part is, you can cover what you want to see at your own pace.

Canadian street car cables
Canadian streetcar cables.

There are 11 routes to choose from but the 506 Carlton Street Car is perhaps the most sight-seeing friendly. It travels from the eastern side of High Park and goes through Little Italy, past the University of Toronto, Cabbagetown and into Little India. If you’re on a walking tour, be careful! The streetcars share lanes with regular vehicles so both motorists and pedestrians must remain alert at all times.

Toronto Street Car (Image sourced from internet)
Toronto Street Car (Image sourced from internet)

What are some of the things you did when you visited or hope to do when you go? Soon, I’ll add a post about my three favorite food spots.

Traveling For Work: Guinness World Records Attempt Judge

Tavia Levy
Tavia Levy, marketing executive at Guiness World Records

Meet Tavia Levy, a perky twenty-something marketing executive who was born in Jamaica but is now living in New York City. With her millennial “I can do anything I set out to do” mindset, she already has a built-in formula for fun and career success but when you add an anything-but-routine job at the US headquarters for Guinness World Records to that, a life that’s already good gets noticeably better.

Tavia, please tell my readers what you do.

I work on marketing programs that target businesses and consumers.  So, for example, I promote our services to companies that may want to attempt a record to launch a new product, celebrate a company anniversary or create a once-in-a-life-time customer experience. I also design marketing campaigns to promote the Guinness World Records 2016 annual book and Gamer’s Edition.  

Okay, that sounds like you have an important role to play and clearly there is variety in your tasks but forgive me for being so candid, it also sounds very normal. At a company that verifies records like the Heaviest Weight Lifted by a Tongue and Fastest Half Marathon Pushing a Pram, some days must be extra-ordinary.

(She chuckled and chided me gently about my rush to get to the good stuff).  Well, you didn’t let me finish. Sometimes, I also get to judge world record attempts around the country and overseas.

Outside the Roman coliseum
Pinch me,Is that really the Roman Colloseum?

(Like an animated kid, I started rubbing my hands together in glee.) Yes, tell us about that, please!

My office covers North and South America and the Caribbean but the company only has three full-time judges on staff so their calendars book up quickly. When that happens, other team members get to travel to verify that world record attempts have been performed according to the guidelines.

Where has work-related travel taken you and with the range of records out there, how do you prepare for that?

It’s a steep learning curve. Shortly after I started here, I began working alongside full-time employees who have been judging record attempts for a while. By ‘shadowing’ them I learnt how to carefully review and familiarize myself with similar records. I was later sent to London for a week of intense training where I attended media training and stage presentation classes.

Many focal points in London
The budding jetsetter capturing many focal points in London

After the week, I continued to understudy the full-time judges before I could go solo. A little over a year has passed since then and already I have been to Dallas once and Canada twice to adjudicate events. I’ve also traveled to Las Vegas and San Francisco for conferences.

Enjoying Toronto's harbor front
Enjoying the sights and sounds on the harbor front in Toronto

Tell us about some of the most memorable records you’ve observed and/or officiated at.

After my London trip, I ‘shadowed’ the record for the Longest Dance Relay at MTV here in New York City, an event that lasted 24 hours. That was crazy fun! And perhaps the most unusual record I’ve observed to date, was the Fastest Time To Type A Text Message On A Touch-Screen Mobile Phone. To break the record, you had to type a sentence that had every letter of the alphabet in it.  Brazilian teenager Marcel Fernandes Filho, the guy who held the record for doing it in 26 seconds, did it in 17 instead. He was sponsored by Syntellia, a software company that designed a new Fleksy keyboard you can download to your phone.

He was so fast, it was amazing! I mean, could you type this sentence in 17 seconds? The razor-toothed piranhas of the genera Serrasalmus and Pygocentrus are the most ferocious freshwater fish in the world. In reality they seldom attack a human.

London again!
London again!

SURE I could. (Yeah, right.) Days like that sound like so much fun.  Do you get to fit any destination experiences into those trips?

Absolutely! After that trip to London, I took some personal time and extended my trip so I could visit Paris, Rome, Barcelona and Amsterdam – in a whirlwind nine days. Europe was such an amazing experience, I’ve been bitten by the travel bug ever since. In fact, I’m headed to Hong Kong, the Philippines and Thailand soon for vacation.

Do you do anything differently when you are traveling for work versus pleasure?

Well, the truth is, I mix business with pleasure whenever possible but I pack much less for work trips that’s for sure! Everything else is pretty much standard. I troll TripAdvisor for reviews; research restaurants on Yelp!; download DuoLingo if I’ll be in a foreign country ( and sometimes it can be helpful even if the mother tongue of the country I am visiting is English); and I find great map apps.

In front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco
In front of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco

What are your top two travel tips?

Become Flightdeal.com obsessed like I am. The site publishes glitch fares and is a great source of daily updates on the best discounts. Plus, sign up for an airline credit card and use it for everything you can, even your rent!

One final question because I know you will soon have to go pack for your next trip.  What would you say to that person who is sitting at home and dreaming of seeing the world but isn’t sure where to begin?

Don’t be overwhelmed; it’s possible! I’ve always wanted to travel – ever since I was little kid – but I didn’t think I could ever afford to do so. Thankfully, I landed a job with travel benefits but I’m also learning how to be resourceful about traveling on my own. Take my word for it, you don’t have to be a millionaire or work in a travel-specific role to see far-flung lands.

Look at me, I have a bachelor of science in journalism! I thought I would be writing newspaper and magazine articles or writing, editing and publishing books. Who knows, the best-seller lists and Pulitzer prizes may come at a later date but right now, I’m snapping pictures, collecting memories and relishing this chapter of my life 100 per cent.

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If your company is interested in attempting a world record, you can connect with Tavia on LinkedIn. Or if you want to keep up with her travels, you can follow her on Instagram @taviaxcx. 

To read more travel stories from Jamaican travel blogger Tommie, you can visit her blog here or connect on FaceBook, Twitter or Instagram. Just type in My Travel Stamps.