Montreal: We speak French good

View all of our Montreal photos here

Montreal has at various times been the capital and largest city in Canada.  It is proudly French speaking although not at virulently so as Quebec City. Sarah had an encounter with a parking inspector that was purely French (not that we speak it).  Luckily he was a Nicole Kidman fan so Sarah’s plea of being Australian in our basic French had the desired effect.

Montreal has a beautifully preserved old town near the St Lawrence river replete with cobblestones and copper roofed chateau-style buildings.  It really does feel like you have been transported to Europe, especially after the Americanness of Toronto.  This was also the oldest part of Canada we had been in so far, with the European founding of the city in 1642.

Montreal itself is an island surrounded by two large rivers.  As you would expect it is lined with bridges on all sides.  Traffic is pretty appalling.  We crawled into town at peak hour when we arrived, partly due to the huge road construction efforts going on.  Canadians joke that there are two seasons in Canada, winter and construction.  Given the adverse climate the summer months are really the only time to work on the roads, so they go gang-busters for as long as they can, the result being traffic chaos.

In Toronto and Montreal we parked the car and took advantage of Bixi bike sharing.  There are Bixi stations all over the city with bikes for rent locked in place.  You can pay around $5 for 24 hours access and not pay extra if you take rides of 30 minutes or less.  You can take a bike from one station and drop it off at another.  For a new trip you just swipe your credit card, get a pin, then enter this next to the bike you want.  You don’t need to use a helmet in these cities which makes the whole scheme much more practical.

So you can imagine us cycling our bixi bikes through the sunny cobbled streets of Montreal, lunch of saucisson, bread, cheese and olives packed, just taking in the beautiful buildings of the old quarter.

We also had a great little French-style apartment to stay in which we found on one of the short-term leasing sites that have sprung up on the internet.  It was cheap, near the bixi and metro stations and very cute.  It gave us the opportunity to cook food for ourself as well with some lovely produce.  Fresh and meaty sausages, asparagus, and of course the North American staple, fresh corn on the cob.

Canadians don’t get a long summer but they pack a lot in.  The streets of Montreal were full of bands, buskers and street fairs.  After wandering through this on the Saturday night we intentionally ended up at a little jazz club.  They mixed an awful martini but the music made up for it with the Yannick Rieu Trio, a very slick jazz band who pulled some awesome jazz faces, especially the drummer.

It’s a conundrum as a tourist that the best places to see are riddled with other tourists.  It’s hard to get all high and mighty about this being a tourist yourself.  Making the fine distinction of calling yourself a ‘traveller’ doesn’t really exempt you belonging to and forming part of that horde that tramples through all the most impressively spectacular world scenery.  Coming through Canada towards the end of summer has made tourist numbers more bearable but I was reminded of the tousistic nature of the Montreal old town when I saw a respectable looking middle-aged woman swigging what looked like a small cup of methadone.  I did a double-take and realised that it just a wine sampler from the nearby stall.  Only tourism junkies around here.

Montreal is named after the small hill in the middle of town called Mount Royal (or in French Mont Real – real is middle French for royal).  For some reason this hill is hard to see from town.  You catch the odd glimpse through the buildings but it doesn’t dominate the skyline.  The hill is famous now for dope smoking drummers who gather there on Sundays for a session.  We took the less subdued option of walking around the hill without a map looking for giant crosses and graveyards.  It was one of those walks where the journey is more important than the destination, mainly because we got lost and unwittingly did a complete circle around the summit.  It was a beautiful sunny day with the light filtering through the annoyingly green leaves (no spectacular fall display for us).

View all of our Montreal photos here

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