Why Montreal might be even better in the winter

I’ve been seeing a few posts about Montreal’s never-ending winter this year on Facebook lately, and I got thinking about our time there last year. Montreal’s winter is a long and cold one, and the residents are well accustomed to hibernation. It gets frustrating, though, when the snow inexplicably continues well into spring. You can go to sleep on a beautiful, warm spring night, and mysteriously wake up with every breath a frosty cloud, desperately making a hot coffee whilst wrapped in your bedspread, while the world outside is a blanket of white and rivers of brown slush.

I thought i’d share a few of my favourite winter photos from Montreal. I love the snow, especially looking back at the pictures. That is, once you’ve taken off your wet shoes and socks, your coccyx stops aching from your ice fall, your cheeks have stopped burning from the wind, and your hands aren’t stinging and red from snowman-making. Click for close-ups. Vive la neige!

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Old Montreal: The charming centre of the city

In Montreal, there’s a place up the hill from Place d’Armes metro, where the roads devolve from asphalt to cobblestones, the street signs suddenly change from a plain white to a rich maroon with sort of ‘old timey’ calligraphy, and the skyscrapers give way to stylish 17th and 18th century colonial buildings. It’s Vieux-Montreal (Old Montreal), and it’s great!

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Making the most of springtime in Montreal

Surrounded by Montreal’s downtown city blocks is Mont-Royal, the mountain which gives the city it’s name. It’s called a mountain, but it’s more of a large hill or public park, and reaching the top isn’t really hard work. Nevertheless, from many of the main streets below it rises into view, and it’s humbling presence reminds you that Montreal is quite small, and that the natural world is right on the doorstep. Winter boots. Check.

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When to quit travelling

The flights are booked, and i’m finally coming home! I’ll be back home on the 27th June, arm in arm with Cindy, who’s excited to see Australia for the first time!

The journey took nearly 14 months. I passed through 16 countries (including Australia). I have been travelling always west and usually north, and the flight home (New York – San Francisco – Auckland – Sydney), will top off the journey with a complete circumnavigation of the globe. Now that it’s the end, it seems like no time at all had passed. In the beginning I was counting the weeks away from home, then the months, but now it’s just a big blur.

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I hope everyone has enjoyed reading my blog so far, to keep track of the places i’ve been that I haven’t been able to tell you about in person. There are still a lot of stories and photos that have been unsaid, things you haven’t read about yet, like the time I overheard an English backpacker arguing with an angry Thai prostitute in the hotel room next to mine, our car crash in a Canadian snowstorm, the Cambodian motorcyclist who stopped to pick up a gigantic python slithering across the road. Stuff I didn’t write because I couldn’t get to a computer, or because I didn’t find the time. I’m going to go back and type out the rest of it, slowly but surely (and a great way to have a written memory of my experiences!). Read more

Surfing and swordplay in Montreal

Winter was over, and the parks of Mont-Royal rang to the sound of sword fighting.

Two weeks ago, the sun was baking hot. Spring exploded into Montreal seemingly overnight, and every tree in the city bloomed with big, juicy green leaves. Even the insects sprang into action; spiders rappelled from the sky the begin their web-building and hornets buzzed aimlessly around our verandah. Twenty-five degrees and perfect, the whole of the city seemed more than eager to dust off their T-shirts and shorts (after the long, cold winter and the heavy jackets that go with it) and make their way to public places to enjoy the sunshine.

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In the park of Mont-Royal, Montreal’s central mountain, some people joined in with the Tam-tam, a shaggy, colourful drum circle. Others donned chainmail or ninja headwear and fought grand battles with foam-and-duct-tape swords and plastic shields. Tightrope walkers were out there too, practising. Most people picnicked in the sun, drank beers, smoked pot, and watched the festivities.

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Parc Omega: an illustrated guide to a snow safari

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In front of our car, a wild pig covered in black, wiry hair shuffled and snorted through the snow on the side of the road. We stopped and it waddled across the road, and looked up at Jeremy at the passenger seat. He threw it a carrot. Shapes were moving in the treeline – bigger animals were coming.

We brought a Chevrolet Grand Caravan, (a great big soccer-mum people mover) to Parc Omega, a wildlife reserve an hour and a half out of Montreal near the small town of Montebello. Like a safari for Canadian wildlife, Parc Omega allows you to use your own wheels, and drive around spotting wildlife within the park. It was unseasonably cold on this April day, with a relentless snowstorm that covered the world in a ceaseless blanket of snow. Cindy and I were joined by her brother Jeremy, his girlfriend Karine, and Cindy’s friends Elizabeth and Maleine, all visiting from Paris.

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Why Niagara Falls was a disappointment

I visited the amazing, stunninly beautiful Victoria Falls in Zambia a few years ago. A handful of walking paths passed around the site; some climbing all the way down to the bottom, through the jungle, to view the falls from below. Another crawled along the edge, leading to the lip of the falls, and the best, and wettest path led us across a narrow bridge just in front of the falls, basking in the rain-like spray as rainbows painted themselves against the furious rush of the waterfall with no end. Just epic.

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View from the lip of Horseshoe Falls, the biggest one at Niagara

So when Cindy and I visited Niagara Falls outside of Toronto with Jérémy and Karine, visiting from Paris, in my head Niagara had some stiff competition to live up to. Driving from Toronto is easy enough; it takes about an hour and a half, the highways are straightforward and you can follow the signs all the way there. We arrived and were amazed; not by the wonder on the left, but the developed monstrosities on the right… Read more

Montreal’s metro and underground

The dream

When I was first told that Montreal had an ‘underground city’, for a brief few seconds until it was described to me, my eyes widened like saucers, and all sorts of fantastical images leapt into my head. It had ancient stone tunnels built in medieval times, carved from rock and lit by flaming torches, sagging wooden beams and creaky staircases, endless chasms, skyscrapers built under a sky crawling with dripping metal pipes and concrete foundations of Montreal proper above. There were cars down there too, getting around through huge storm drainpipes. Perhaps even an underground society of mole people . If you’re a Futurama fan, picture the ruins of Old New York, combined with a sprinkling of Vietnam’s claustrophobic Cu Chi tunnels, and that underground city from The Matrix.

The reality

What the underground city really looks like is a big shopping centre (or mall), white, clean and tiled, criss-crossed and zig-zagged with escalators and lined with boutique shops and cheap clothes outlets alike. It has open skylights so the sun can pour in, and often you don’t even realise you’re in it. The underground city is called the RÉSO, to sound like réseau, the French word for network. It’s the largest underground complex in the world, and as you’ve probably guessed, is nothing like my childish fantasy-land. It connects seamlessly with 10 metro stations and opens up to the streets through normal shoppng centre doors, spiderwebbed over a massive area covering basically the whole of Montreal downtown. Within it’s 32km of tunnel, there’s over 2000 shops, 200 restaurants and 7 hotels, with 1200 office buildings connected. It’s an impressive engineering achievement to say the least, and Montrealers are grateful to have it during the hard winters!

Trying poutine for the first time

If you want Canadian cuisine (and not the Canadian habit of flavouring everything maple or cinnamon), there’s only one real contender for the crown of ‘most Canadian’. The poutine.

 

Ok, maybe ‘most Québécois’, the home state of this beloved fast food. It’s simple and weird, like something thrown together when the kitchen cupboards are almost empty and you need to improvise a makeshift dinner. What lands in front of you is a heap of limp fries smothered with gravy and cheese curd. I don’t know exactly what cheese curd is, but it’s sort of like eating strips of white rubber. It looks something like this:

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