Mon dieu! C'etait froid

Trip Start Jul 11, 2005
Trip End Apr 04, 2006

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Flag of Canada  , Quebec,
Monday, November 21, 2005

The most important trip you may take in life is meeting people halfway

- Henry Boye

Getting out of Ontario
Myself and Meg left Kingston and on my first trip to the province of Quebec we went to visit Montreal. With a reputation as a happening, hip amalgam of culture, style and diversity Montreal is the largest city in Quebec, a province where most people speak French as their first language. There is a unique feel to the city, the people, the food and the architecture. This uniqueness extends to the rest of the province as well and this is immediately obvious as soon as you cross over the Ontario-Quebec boarder and the signs change to French. It's almost as if the province goes out of its way to be different, if for no other reason than to be different. And it's for this reason that Quebec is often at odds with the rest of English-speaking Canada. Since the end of World War II it has periodically threatened to secede from the confederation believing Quebec hasn't received its fair share of economic growth and wealth over the years. Since 1976 two referendums have returned 'No' votes on the question of separating the province from Canada and while the issue remains alive today, it's no longer topical. The notion of an independent Quebec is less attractive to a younger generation with more global concerns. Nonetheless Québec's Francophones know who they are; they are Quebecers first and Canadians second. They have always viewed their province as a nation and as a result the parliament building in Quebec City (the provincial capital) is the Assemblee Nationale (National Assembly) and the province-run parks are called Parcs National (National Parks).

Regardless of the background politics and beliefs the unique non-North American feel and look to the city make it a lovely place to visit. It is true that it is the leisurely pace, the joie de vivre and the ineffable way of life that most touch the visitor. I'm not going to claim that with the limited time we spent in the city that I experienced all that but I was surprised, after coming from Ontario, by the francophone look and feel about the place, especially in Old Montreal. And I admit I was naïve enough to be surprised when I discovered everyone speaks French. There was very little English spoken, if any at all, in the straight-from-France café where we had lunch. Thankfully I had Meg with me and her fluency in the language negated the need for me to embarrass myself with my broken French. Or worse still; broken French in an Irish accent. Not that it would ever come to that; as a backup you can speak English. But make no mistake, the language of choice is clearly French.

Finding somewhere to stay by mistake
When we first arrived in the city from Kingston we found ourselves aimlessly driving around the city looking for a place, any place, to spend the night. Note to self: bring a map next time. We eventually found a nice hotel, Hotel Viger, not too far from Old Montreal, although at the time we didn't know exactly where we were. Gathering supplies that night I noticed beer freely available in the corner stores, something illegal across the boarder in Ontario. Didn't I say this place was different? We spent most of the following day driving around looking at some Victorian architecture, braving the un-Kingston like freezing temperatures and visiting the main tourist areas of the city; namely Old Montreal (including Basilique Notre Dame ) and Parc du Mont Royal for nice views of the city. See the photos posted here for more details.

We'll be back
According to my guidebook in the summer months you can almost make out the strains of accordion music and the sweet song of Parisienne chanteuse lilting in the breeze. Umm......will have to come back and see if that is true or not. Best get brushing up on my French and the double-cheek-kiss. Au revoir.
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