Friday, June 29, 2012

Montreal Update

A recent visit to Quebec and Montreal reminded me how unique this part of Canada is.  With only a few days in the townships, and a week in the ‘Paris of North America’, it underscored my belief that to truly appreciate this country, a Canadian need visit the West Coast, the East Coast, and Quebec. Better still, add the Prairie Provinces to that list and you’ll get even more punch to the WOW impressions this country delivers.

French First, eh?
Virtually every urban Quebecer speaks English. Unlike Parisiens who seem to revel in their disdain of English, Quebecers will take their cue from you as to which language to engage. In Montreal, the post Renee Levesque generation flips from one language to the other with cosmopolitan ease; only in the countryside – surprisingly close to the city, are you likely to find folks whose only language is French. In one store, I actually dived into my purse for change only to despair when I found no francs. Then I realized I was still in Canada. True story!

Vin & Frommage
Meandering through the pastoral countryside is somewhat like central France but without the chateaus, small cars and stacks of just-hewn wood squatting on forest floors. Cyclists pedal the backroads, vineyards nestle against slopes, and cheese is an important item on every menu. Order steak ‘rare’ here, though, and it will be cooked pink to North American tastes, not blue-raw to French preference.

City Vibes
Quebec City doesn’t seem to change through the decades. Like Victoria in British Columbia, Quebec trades on its history, charm and quaintness all of which is emphasized with bonspiels and the world-renowned Winter Carnival complete – think ice hotels, dog sled races and horse-drawn sleigh rides.

Montreal is far sassier with culture, art galleries, museums and festivals being as much of its everyday lifestyle as commuting via the Metro. Even in tough economic times, there’s money to fund all of these ventures, which certainly gives pause for thought. Montreal has always yearned to be a significant cultural capital in North America; and its arts focus is so stridently constant, it’s as if the city is still building a case for Quebec’s independence from the rest of Canada. That said, youthful Vancouver, hard-edged Toronto, and even easy-going Halifax can’t hold a candle to what Montreal offers – and that includes its most famous export: Cirque du Soleil. The city has the rich, multi-dimensional, and historic vibe of its sophisticated European counterparts.

Old Quarter
Some of the most dramatic changes in Montreal –in just the last few years – is the revitalization of the city’s Old Quarter. I remember the area as seedy, unsafe, and with narrow, cobble-streets and alleys. The latter are still there but today, they lead to renovated warehouses; funky hotels such as St. Sulpice; hidden-away personality-plus restaurants, and designer boutiques. The waterfront, too, has all been opened up for public use with promenades and grassy parks that in summer are the venues of numerous activities. Montrealers know how to have a good time so if happenings are your thing, schedule a visit during events such as the Montreal Jazz Festival. And check out to see what’s happening at Montreal Science Centre; Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology is one of the most fun learning museum tours I’ve ever had. The Musée des Beaux-Arts Montreal is a sure bet with exhibitions that might include China’s Terracotta Army or as the latest venue for Chamber Music concerts. Pointe-à-Callière is another new, must-see museum. It is, quite literally, built on the original city foundations (some 350 years old) that you can watch being excavated.

Hmm, when you consider that Vancouver only celebrated its 125th birthday in 2011, you begin to understand the depth of Montreal.

Apprécier et bon chance

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