After the mayhem I had encountered in Miami, it was time for something a little different, a flight north to Canada. I spent a week north of the border. There would be 3 nights in Montreal, a night in Ottawa and a few nights in Toronto. As I had spent a lot of time backpacking, I knew that Montreal mostly speak French, however it was still somewhat of a culture shock. Hope you enjoy the blog and je suis desole (I am sorry) for appearing naive, but I guess that’s what Roaming is all about.
I knew that the language of Quebec is French, what I wasn’t aware of is that approximately 95% of people living there use it (like going to Wales and people speaking Welsh or Ireland and Gaelic). I have spent a lot of time in France and have a “very limited” French vocabulary that expands to ordering a cafe and baguette and of course ordering bière but it doesn’t expand much more beyond that. As a traveler I am aware it’s received well if you attempt the language, however I just hadn’t been expecting to do this in Canada. Travel is its own reward when you head somewhere and find yourself learning about a culture, particularly when I didn’t expect to.
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. I didn’t know what this meant, however the word genuine had an appeal. I found at that the Latin Quarter is the artistic, atmospheric cultural hub of Montreal full of cafes, boutique stores and student bars, it’s 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” (no hablo French) 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. I did not think it worthwhile spending money on a sim card for my phone and I felt it was a more sophisticated look reading from a book.
Downtown Montreal is a mix of Gothic Art Deco and modern buildings. There is a distinct French influence to the architecture,, I know this as I’ve been to France. There is also an English influence with many street names from the United Kingdom and Irish bars, I spent most of my time however in the Latin Quarter. Downtown Montreal is a stunning area, the mix of old and new buildings, graffiti sprayed buildings, gardens and a variety of shops. Montreal was also very quiet for most of my stay. Someone told me that the following weekend would be the Grand Prix which is a big tourist draw card, however 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 French phrase book and headed back to the hostel. Miami had taken it out of me, and it was good to get some quality sleep.
Later I was awoken to the loud banging noises, I think it was midnight; I went outside and there were a large group of people gathered up the street I was staying on. There were thousands of people tapping away on pots with wooden spoons on marching. The “Protest” was a large group of students gathered fighting against laws being implemented by the government to charge student fees as opposed to free education. I was told this had been ongoing every night for months, people were adorned in Guy Fawkes protest masks and the march appeared calm I suspect because of the high police presence. I watched this for an hour and headed to bed.
The following day I rented a bicycle at one of the many stations that were located around the city. Montreal is is covered 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 the bike a few hours, ate a baguette, had a nap in the park, and then headed back downtown. The evening included few beers; the protesters were much quieter that night. As I walked back to the hostel, I noticed a large amount of homeless people in the area. A lot of them were dressed in punk rock clothes and I learned later there is a large punk rock scene in Montreal (that is not my kind of scene).
I would not be about for the Grand prix however I headed to the racetrack, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which is the Parc Jean-Drapeau Park 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 1600s. This includes many historical buildings from the time. After walking about the touristy historical area, I then headed for the racetrack. Preparation for the race was in full swing with security guards and fencing around the circuit and semi-trailers bring in equipment, it was busy and looked like it would be a really decent party. The park itself has other attractions, so I went to an interesting looking building, the Biosphere from the World Expo of 1967. I purchased a ticket and entered; I’d not been in a biosphere before, the sphere now houses science and environment exhibitions and was full of interesting and beautiful plants. After leaving, I walked the parks, headed to a bar and watched the NBA finals on TV and then headed to bed. The following day I was off to Toronto via Ottawa.
My Ottawa experience was very brief, I stayed with a Canadian mate Id met years ago while roaming around Australia about 6 years prior. This involved a barbie (Aussie for barbeque) at his place, meeting his wife and another backpacker mate I’d met in Oz. After the barbie headed to a local bar to play pool and share a few laughs. People from Ottawa mostly speak English and it was good to have a big night out with old friends… The following morning was a rushed ride to downtown Ottawa to get my bus. This included a quick 5-minute tour of Parliament house. After a brief look at the city I was on my way to Toronto for the rest of my stay. It was amazing to catch up with my old backpacking buddies, and I had the hangover to prove it. So I can say Ive visited Ottawa, though I really didn’t take anything about the city.
If you are not aware of this already Toronto is distinctly different to Montreal. Its English speaking much like most of Canada and has a familiar feel I was used to. Australians and Canadians mostly have the same common interests. These include the great outdoors, backpacking and travel, drinking beer and watching sport. The only real difference I guess is the kind of sport and that Canada is a lot colder than my home of Oz. Both our countries also belong to the Commonwealth and we have reciprocal working visas, so I have met a lot of Canadians within Australia. I was staying at a hostel in “Little Italy”, a quirky little area full of Italian and Canadian bars, restaurants and random graphic art.
My two days comprised walking about the CBD area, Toronto is a very modern city and similar to my hometown of Sydney. Like Sydney it sits on a large body of water and comprises many high-rise hotels, office blocks and parks and lots of shopping malls. Something I found distinctly Toronto however was a series of interconnecting tunnels making up the worlds largest underground shopping arcade. It’s about 30kms squares and runs under the city, it’s easy to get lost. As it was cold and I can’t really stand the cold, I spent my two days there mostly walking the underground mall, hanging out at the hostel and walking about Lake Ontario. I also met up with a few more Canadian backpacker mates and spent the evenings in local bars sharing a few laughs, getting drunk, and reminiscing about meeting up and travels in Australia so many years before. I very much enjoyed “Little Italy”. It reminded me a lot of my hometown of Newtown back in Sydney.
So that was my stay in Canada. I experienced an unexpected cultural difference in the beautiful city of Montreal and really hope I can get back there one day for Grand Prix. It looks like quite the party. It’s also a place I think that is worth further exploration for all its cultural quirks I didn’t get to experience. I also definitely want to go back and visit my friends south in Ottawa and Toronto. Maybe the next time around I can see more of Ottawa than the 5 minute hungover whistle-stop tour. I would definitely love to head back to Toronto and see more of the city, get out to Niagara Falls and take in a few sporting events. Anyway, I was out of time and on a flight to Washington DC, very much looking forward to seeing the Nations Capital and picking up my rental car for a Great American Road Trip across country. Hope you enjoyed the blog and as always feedback welcome.