Okay, so you’ve arrived at your destination and now it’s time to find the place that would be your home for the coming days. What do you look for? Level of comfort? Convenience of location? Quality of service? Value per night, perhaps? You obviously want to make the best possible decision. That’s why the hardest part about planning this trip was figuring out where to stay. This process probably took me like, two months of comparing, contrasting, and constantly stressing over where I would stay. I scoured review sites, babysat rates and last minute deals, tried to get as many professional and amateur photos as possible, and constantly mapped out itineraries based on different hotels’ locations. And as careful as I was, as thorough as I could have been, as much scrutiny as I could subject my choices to…
At best, I was still only two for three. Hahah.
First a bit of how I travel and what I look for. When I am going to a brand new city I am not your youth hostel, backpacking, ‘give me the basics and I am content’ kind of person. I’ve got a certain level of comfort, cleanliness, and convenience at home so when I travel, that’s what I look for as well. When I went to Toronto three years ago for a friend’s wedding there were plenty of youth hostels in the city filled with young college students and their giant trekking backpacks and just…nope. I couldn’t. I stayed at the DoubleTree. I’m an all-in kinda guy, you know? If I’m enjoying the wonders and luxuries of a modern city, give me a damn modern and luxurious hotel. If I’m relaxing on the beachfront, give me a simple, open, airy beachfront shack. When I’m losing myself in the forest or up in the mountains, give me either a simple cabin or let me pitch a tent under the stars. So for me, I wanted Montreal to feel like Montreal.
Hotel Espresso Downtown, Montreal
This was the one dud of the entire trip, and fortunately it was the beginning so I didn’t really know the reality of what I was missing out on. Unfortunately, it was also the hotel I stayed in the longest. Because of that, I was a bit more budget conscious and that kind of restricted my decision. Location wise it was definitely in a prime spot in the city. There was a bus stop right at the corner of the block that I could use to go uptown and downtown, and a block away was a metro station that gave me access to the rest of the city, including Old Montreal and St Laurent Blvd, which to me is the street for good eats. On one side is Montreal’s Chinatown and further on you have the best spots for poutine, smoked meats, rotisserie chicken, bakeries, and bagels. So if you had an itinerary as packed as mine was, having access to the two major modes of public transportation within five minutes of your hotel was definitely a plus.
The downsides were, well, this was very clearly a budget friendly hotel. One that entertained a vast and diverse clientele looking to capitalize on saving on the room to spend more in the city. This meant there were young couples, families with little children, and uh…as soon as I walked out of the elevator, three rather large and tall black transsexual hookers. Uh…bonjour? There was a certain ‘seedy’ vibe that the Espresso radiated the same way a hospital built on top of an Indian burial ground definitely would feel haunted. The gift shop conveniently placed in the hotel lobby boasted a fine selection of maple syrup, Canada shirts, and condoms, lube, and adult toys. When I finally met with my Montreal friends I showed them my hotel’s location on a map and asked them ‘am I in the shady part of Montreal’ and they did point out that like, two streets away was Montreal’s red light district (not nearly as expansive or pronounced as Toronto’s though). There was also the rather frustrating matter of discovering that the first room they assigned to me a) smelled like it had hosted a low quality cigarette smoking competition and b) housekeeping never bothered to clean it. I immediately snapped the picture above to show to the front desk. Overall, the Espresso is very definitely your budget conscious traveler’s convenient repose in a great spot in the city. The room (when you get one that’s finally clean) is fairly spacious and the bed is surprisingly comfortable. You can’t quite shake the vibe of the place and you might find that the walls tell more about your fellow guests than you’d like to know. In the future if I plan on staying for an extended amount of time, I would probably play it safe and book the Courtyard Marriott or, if enough time passes, I know they are building a Holiday Inn Express and that’s always been my go to whenever I travel for work for the benefits of price, their rewards program that I take advantage of for personal travel, and the hot breakfast each morning so I have one less meal to worry about.
Hotel Clarendon, Quebec
I loved the Hotel Clarendon, and not the least bit because the woman at the check in counter was so impressed with my ‘bonjour’ she thought I was a native French speaker and went full French on me. Hahah. The hotel is gorgeous and it is also the oldest still-functioning hotel in Quebec City. It is only a block away from the large brass doors of the Basilica Notre Dame du Quebec and the funicular to access the lower parts of Quebec is only five minutes away, as is the beautiful and scenic Terrasse Dufferin that runs along the Fairmount Chateau Frontenac. The best part about Quebec is there really is no need for an itinerary or a plan. I would walk out the Clarendon’s door, choose a direction, and simply start walking. There are plenty of incredible restaurants within the vicinity, there are some great parks, and the historic ancient ramparts of when Quebec was a contested area between the French and the British still stand at certain overlooks. The bus from Quebec station stops right outside the hotel’s doors, and the bus that goes back to the station is taken at the base of the hill a block from the hotel. I was lucky enough that my room faced the Place d’Armes so I had a great view at night of the Basilica illuminated against the backdrop of the historic skyline of Quebec.
Because the hotel is as old as it is, the rooms are a bit smaller than more modern hotels. The room is kept surprisingly up to date though by capitalizing on maintaining high quality amenities. The bed was comfortable with smooth sheets and fluffy pillows. The bathroom, though smaller than anywhere else I stayed, was clean, well lit, and had nice quality soap, shampoo, and towels. Bucking the trend that most modern hotels are going towards, I kind of like that the Clarendon still has soft carpeting. The service at the Clarendon is impeccable, wonderfully friendly and eager to help staff members who are more than happy to help a foreign tourist find his way around the city. (Hint: they tell you to walk.) The Clarendon for me very clearly had the best history and story, with the most interesting narrative told simply by looking at the very building itself and the age of the bricks. Quebec is a dense city with everything within walking distance, but you have to consider what part of the hill you want to be on. The Clarendon was right at the top of the hill so the most major sites and attractions of Quebec are luckily right at the same level. The Basilica is on a lower level, but the Fairmount Chateau Frontenac, the Terrasse Dufferin, the Citadelle du Quebec, Governor’s Promenade, and Funicular are all on the Clarendon’s level.
Le Square Phillips Hotel, Montreal
I’m sad I only got to stay in this hotel for one day before taking my train back to New York. Obviously the location was ideal as I chose it because it was only an eight minute walk to the station. It’s a bit further from the restaurants and the attractions, but there is a bus stop nearby and the metro, though a bit further compared to the Espresso, is still pretty nearby. It was definitely pricey, but you get what you pay. I loved the giant full wall to wall high window that flooded the room with natural light and the view of Montreal’s few skyscrapers. There was no actual full divide between the rooms, as the wall only went up to about ten feet so the window could fill the whole room. But the small divider still created the illusion of having a dining area, kitchen, living room, and bedroom all in their own world. The kitchen was well stocked with equipment, the bed was firm, and oh my god, the bathroom. A huge walk in rainfall shower. So cool. I had so many toys to play with in this room. The rainfall shower that felt so relaxing and the space to not worry about elbowing the wall every time I shampooed. The full kitchen. When my friends had to unexpectedly cancel our dinner plans the last night, I honestly didn’t feel like going out again. But with the grocery store only a block away and the kitchen right there, it was just so much more easy to buy a bunch of stuff and go crazy cooking. Always fun when you don’t have to worry about the dishes afterwards too!
The room was so comfortable that my last day was a lot slower than I thought it would be. I was just so tempted to relax, lie down, and rest until the next day’s journey. In a room like the Le Square Phillips’s, I don’t think anyone would blame me either. It’s definitely a pricey option, but if you want to splurge for say just a weekend getaway, it’s the perfect choice.
Next up, a recap of all the things to see, hear, and do in Montreal!
Man: 291 Loneliness: 33