Ah, Montreal. As much as I love living in Vancouver, I have to say that the French-speaking, festival-loving, artistic city of Montreal gives my adopted hometown a run for its money.
Where else can you enjoy free summer music festivals, amazing croissants and coffee, world food — as well as an historic old town and beautiful parks dotted through the city?
We were back in Canada for more than a week and it was easy to remember why we love this country. The people are chilled out, the days are long, and the atmosphere is lively without the drunken antics you’d experience in Brisbane on a summer’s night out.
We actually visited this side of Canada back in winter 2007, but in the summer, it’s hard to recognise as the same place. Montreal, for instance, has transformed from a -20 degree Celsius winter wonderland to a 30+ summer festival city.
We stayed for the first few days in an Airb’n’b apartment in the pretty Plateau area with friends visiting from Toronto, before bunking in with some more friends for a few days, just around the corner. Dan and Anna were our Spanish hosts and amazing tour guides, taking us to some of their favourite parks, rooftop bars, speakeasy’s and of course, the famous Jazz Festival. Thanks guys!
Other highlights included biking around the city’s many bike paths, running up Mont Royal for a great view of the city, and of course, eating way too much — from our hosts’ Spanish tapas and paella feasts to enormous smoked meat sandwiches and Portuguese roast chicken, it was impossible to go hungry.
If you ever get the chance to visit Montreal in the summer, do it. It’s hot and humid, but a lot of fun.
Before Montreal, we enjoyed some of the other sights that the French-speaking province of Quebec has to offer. In Quebec City, we rented a Parisian style apartment in St John Baptiste area, and arrived on the eve of St John Baptiste Day (Quebec’s provincial holiday) to a city in party mode. Everyone — and I do mean everyone — spoke French. Unlike Montreal, it was actually hard to find people that understood our broken attempts at French (or English, when we completely gave up). But everyone was so friendly and the free music festival – complete with an enormous bonfire — near our place at the beautiful city park, Plains of Abraham (Plaines d’Abraham), made it worth it.
Quebec City is beautiful even without the festivals and amazing food. The old town is full of winding, cobblestone streets that are lined with 17th century buildings. The Citadel is actually surprisingly interesting and we were especially impressed to see the ceremonial goat in the changing of the guard. Really.
From Quebec City, we decided to head towards Mont Tremblant National Park for some more outdoor time. There are a number of cute villages on the way to the Laurentians mountain range, including tiny Val David. A long stretch of an unused railway has been converted into a bike path called P’tit train du Nord (literally “Little Train of the North”). You can ride some 200km through the Laurentians on a relatively flat path past beautiful lakes and pretty little towns.
Camping in the national park was nice, but unfortunately, it was full of mosquitos… we were nearly eaten alive!
We also managed to squeeze in a quick stop in Toronto to catch up with friends and visit the US side of Niagara Falls. We’ve previously seen the Canadian side (in winter) and it probably has a slightly better view of the falls, but on the US side you can get right up close as the water thunders down. It’s pretty amazing. However, the town itself was like a ghost town — the only shop open in the main street on the Saturday we visited was the liquor store. Kind of depressing, really.
Our friends Byron and Jos live in the pretty lakeside area of Port Credit, in Mississauga, just outside Toronto. It really feels like a seaside town and was great to chill out after a lot of time on the road. Although we only had a brief stop in Toronto itself, it was HOT. We were pretty happy to escape the heat by checking out some local pubs, including some Sunday afternoon bowling at Ballroom.
Now we’re once again in the US and have spent the past few days relying on the hospitality of friends! I’m a bit behind on the blogs, but we’ve been lucky enough to enjoy not one, but two Maine and New Hampshire 4th of July celebrations … and from here we leave the comfort of friends’ accommodations to head south. Can’t wait!