Roaming through Montreal and Toronto

Parc Jean-Drapeau

After the mayhem that was Miami, it was time for a more relaxing time, in total I spent a week in Canada, mostly in Montreal, a few days in Toronto and a night with friends in Ottawa. Through the wonders of television, I had a good idea what Miami would be like, this, was not the case for Montreal so it was a somewhat of a culture shock which Iwill now detail.

I am aware that the language of Quebec is French but did not know this was the preferred language in everyday use. I have a very limited French vocabulary and for the most part, people I met spoke English regardless. Being a veteran roamer, I am aware that its polite to know a few phrases in the local language and an attempt is always appreciated. I have spent time in other countries, France and Germany for example, so was used to foreign languages but I had not expected to a seemingly European experience in Canada.  Travel is about new experiences and I found my timein I found my time in Montreal very rewarding.

I’d booked a hostel in the Latin Quarter on the recommendation of a friend, this is where people go to have a “genuine” experience of Montreal, at the time I was not exactly sure what this meant however the idea had appeal so this is what I did. The Latin Quarter is the artistic, atmospheric cultural hub of Montreal full of cafes, boutique stores and student bars, it is named after the Latin Quarter in Paris. The hostel manager greeted me in French and after a broken brief conversation about being Australian and “je ne parle pas François” I was booked into my room; the hostel had no common area or other backpackers to talk with so it was time to hit the street. I went to a local bookstore, purchased a small basic French language book and walked about the local area.

Downtown Montreal mostly consists of Gothic, Art Deco and modern buildings, there is a distinct French influence, there is English influence with many street names from the United Kingdom as well as Irish bars which I chose to avoid, I spent my 3 nights in the Latin Quarter. It’s a stunning downtown area, the mix of old and new buildings, graffiti and a variety of shops. Montreal was quiet, it was explained to me the following weekend would be the Grand Prix but unfortunately, I would not be around for it. After walking around the area, I had a meal in a quiet bar, drank a few beers, read my guide and headed back to the hostel.

Outside the hostel, I heard loud banging noises and the marching of what sounded like a sizeable group of people so I headed towards it. There were thousands of people tapping away on pots with wooden spoons on St Denis street where I was staying. The “Protest” was primarily made up of students protesting anti-protest (bit of a tongue-twister)  laws being implemented by the government. This had been ongoing every night for months and I happened to witness a large group, people were adorned in Guy Fawkes protest masks and it appeared calm possibly because there were police everywhere, maybe this was the reason the bar had been quiet. I watched this for an hour or so and headed to bed.

The following day I rented a bicycle at one of the many stations that were located around the city. This is quite a common thing in 14/12/2018, but in 2012 I had not experienced this type of tourism before so I took full advantage of it and did a self-guided tour. Montreal is crisscrossed with bicycle lanes which made it easy to cycle around without the distraction of traffic. I cycled to Mount Royal which is located to the west of downtown Montreal. The city is named after this mountain and at the top is Mount Royal park which has historical attractions and a wonderful view of the city. I rode around for a few hours, had a nap in the park and afterwards went back downtown. The evening consisted of a few beers, a much quieter protest which allowed me to notice a large amount of homeless people in the area, some of them dressed in punk rock clothes. Montreal hasa large punk rock scene to which I would not experience.

As indicated I would not be here for the Grand Prix so I headed to where the race was located, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve which is located within Parc Jean-Drapeau on the Saint Lawrence River. The island is man-made and runs adjacent to the downtown area. I walked down to the Old Port of Montreal, an area built in the early 1600’s it includes many historical buildings from the time, After spending some time here  I walked towards the park. Preparation for the race was in full swing with security guards and fencing around the circuit and semi-trailers bring in equipment, it was quite busy. The park itself has other attractions so I went to an interesting building, the Biosphere from the World Expo of 1967. I purchased a ticket and entered, the building is now used for science and environment exhibitions and was full of interesting sites. After leaving I walked the parks, headed to a bar and watched the NBA finals and then to bed. The following day I was off to Toronto via Ottawa.

Walking the Old Port of Montreal

My Ottawa experience is very brief, I stayed with a Canadian mate Id met years ago while roaming aroundAustralia. This involved a barbeque at his place, meeting his wife and another backpacker mate and heading to a local bar to play pool and share a few laughs…. the following morning was a rushed ride to downtown Ottawa, a quick 5-minute tour of parliament house and then on the bus to Toronto. It was excellent fun to catch up with my friends and not focus on tourism but I know as little about Ottawa now as when I went there.

Toronto’s population, if you don’t know, does speak English and is culturally very different to Montreal, my stay involved catching up with a few more Canadian mates Id met in Australia. As you probably are aware Canadians are very friendly and when Aussies and Canadians get together a lot of drinking and laughter is usually involved. I was staying at a hostel in “Little Italy”, a quirky little area full of Italian and Canadian bars, restaurants and random art. It was my second time to Toronto so I was familiar with the area.

 My two days consisted of walking about the CBD area and along Lake Ontario, Toronto is a very modern city and similar in many ways to my hometown of Sydney, it’s on a large body of water and consists of many high-rise hotels, office blocks and shopping. Something unique is the Toronto path a series of interconnecting tunnels making up the worlds largest underground shopping arcade, its about30kms in mass and runs under the city, it’s easy to get lost. I also debated going to Niagara Falls but I went there in 2008 and did not choose to revisit, however…

 If you haven’t been there Niagara Falls is on the border Canada and the USA. It is made up of three waterfalls, in 2008 I went on a tour under the falls which takes about 45 minutes from the Horseshoe falls platform. It involved an elevator and walking through a series of tunnels to reach under the fall. Usually you would need a raincoat as apparently it’s like walking through a storm, however when I went in February 2008 the water over the fall was frozen in place, that was an amazing site like looking at stalactites in a rock cave. As indicated however my first time was enough (for now).

My two evenings involved catching up with friends at a few local bars, Toronto bars are excellent fun ,very friendly and very much like USA bars with sociable bar staff. I said my goodbyes as the following day it a flight to Washington DC and the commencement of my roadtrip across the USA.

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