It felt like we spent ages in Atlantic Canada, and upon reflection, I think we did the area due diligence by staying nearly a month in the area. I had never been to the far east of the country before, so the whole area was a new experience. However, the prospect of going to Montreal in the province of Quebec, was like being united with an old friend. Besides Vancouver, Montreal is the Canadian city I know best – my dad was born and raised there and my grandparents lived in the countryside southeast of Montreal. I’ve continued to visit the city and the surrounding areas over the years, and I have to say it’s one of my favourites.
We took the overnight train from Moncton to Montreal, which was scheduled to take just under 18 hours. That time frame in itself gives perspective on how big Canada is – on the map, Moncton and Montreal are not that far away. We were not looking forward to the trip, but it was the most economical way to get there, and it actually wasn’t that horrendous, we only had a seat, not a sleeper cabin, but we made do and surprisingly managed to get a bit of rest.
Pulling into Montreal and seeing the hustle and bustle was actually quite invigorating after a month in the Maritimes. Montreal is extremely diverse and cosmopolitan, a huge mishmash of cultures, history and architecture. It easily has the feel of New York, combined with the sophistication of Europe. It has also had its fair share of problems in the latter half of the 20th century, mostly surrounding conflict between the English and the French. Again, if you don’t know the history, look it up. It’s fascinating.
The last few times I have been in Montreal I have felt a bit more a calmness in the people, and the city seems to be experiencing a bit of a renaissance. French is the dominant language, but most young people in the city are bilingual. We rented an apartment in the Plateau Mont Royal, which is one of the best neighbourhoods I have hung out in. The whole area is thriving; independent businesses sit alongside affordable housing, families crowd the pavements and parks and it is so wonderful to witness a working, breathing inner city area with people of all ages and demographics, something which sadly seems to be dying out in most major centres.
The food in Montreal is another treat – there are so many good affordable restaurants, and the quality of produce in the markets and grocery stores is superb. We went to the Jean Talon market one day and spent nearly 6 hours there, just sampling the food, eating at the food stands and buying things to take home. Then we went to Little Italy and bought more things and ate some of the best gelato outside of Italy. And then we stopped off for a poutine….
As we had reached what they call central Canada, we started to face the intense heat that summer brings to this region. As soon as we stepped off the train we were slapped in the face with heat and humidity. It was to be expected, and most non Canadians don’t understand how hot it gets in Canada in the summer. But after the temperance of the Maritimes it was still a shock to the system. You can’t walk down the street without sweating buckets. And people still think Canadians live in igloos…
Montreal would be our only stop in Quebec, which seems a bit crazy especially considering it’s the largest province, but having been to the Quebec many times before, it seemed reasonable to spend more time in the places that we have never been to. However, Montreal is an entrancing place and I wish we could have stayed longer.