Saturday, 31 January 2009

Happy Holidays! Keeping It Réal

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 LikeAmericans Like
City-centre apartmentsLarge suburban houses
CarsSmall, efficient hatchbacksGas-guzzling SUVs and large sedans
ClothesElegant, tailored minimalismElasticated-waist trousers, logos, bling
FoodFresh ingredients, rich flavoursHot 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...


J-Man said...

Ev and I felt the same way every time we crossed the border back into Canada... it just seemed more friendly and inviting. I think a lot of that had to do with peoples mentality and defiantly the treatment during US vs Canadian border crossings.

We miss Canada!

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Anonymous said...

I love your blog, but being from Canada I just wanted to mention that Montréal is not capital of Québec. Quebéc City is the actual provincial capital. Keep up the great blog!