Montreal Canada

Up close to the Biosphere

Montreal Canada

Heading for the Biosphere

Montreal Canada

Heading along the river

Roaming Montreal to Toronto – 2012

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.

French Quarter

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.

Base of Mount Royal

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).

Top of Mount Royal

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.

5 Minute tour or Ottawa

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.

Toronto at night

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.

Little Italy

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.

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.