After an interminable customs-stop at the Canadian border, we finally rolled into Montréal station - clean, airy, businesslike. A friendly, uniformed porter was helping people with their bags, and was greeting every passenger with a cheery "bienvenue!". It was great to be back in Canada again!
Montréal is the capital of the province of Québec - where French is the official first language - so we both had a strange period of adjustment while we got used to the seemingly-implausible Franco-American mixture:
|The French Like||Americans Like|
|Housing||City-centre apartments||Large suburban houses|
|Cars||Small, efficient hatchbacks||Gas-guzzling SUVs and large sedans|
|Clothes||Elegant, tailored minimalism||Elasticated-waist trousers, logos, bling|
|Food||Fresh ingredients, rich flavours||Hot dogs, orange cheese|
Our first morning in Montréal was spent in a picture-perfect clone of a 1950's American diner - all chrome, posters and booths - but we ordered our pancakes and coffees in French. Mostly. It's quite amazing (and amusing) how quickly everyone can switch from rapidfire, properly-accented French to full American English drawl.
The weather was, frankly, nasty, so we did as the locals do and headed for the souterrain - the network of underground passageways and shopping malls that keeps central Montréal running during the long winter months. It was quite fun seeing how far we could go without setting foot outside, but eventually we had to brave the cold in order to explore the Old Town and Port areas.
As you can see in the picture above, the streets were perilously icy, and on more than one occasion we had to save each other from a painful and embarrassing tumble. Montréalers, on the other hand, are very adept at dealing with icy surfaces, as demonstrated by this multi-tasking mother:
A visit to Montréal is (apparently) not complete without sampling The Smoked Meat at a deli - the most famous of which is (apparently) Reuben's. We didn't really know what we were getting ourselves into when we ordered a couple of classic deli sandwiches - and we're still reeling. The key idea seems to be to cram as much meat between two slices of bread as possible (more than can conceivably fit into any normal mouth), adding mustard and other substances as throat lubricant. Quite a challenge to eat!
Our final mission was to climb the city's namesake - Mount Royal - which rises up behind the city to a dizzying 233 metres (!) What should have been a gentle stroll became quite an adventure however, as the entire park was covered in deep snow and treacherous ice. Most of the staircases resembled frozen waterslides, but we managed to reach the top with no significant damage.
Let's not mention the trip back down the hill...