July 26, 2009

Montreal - Paris of North America

I just recently returned to New York from a short break in Montreal. After my last trip to Canada in the autumn of 2008, it made such an impression on me that I promised myself I'd try to see more of the country as soon as I could. This time took me to Eastern Canada and to city environs, very much the opposite of my previous visit. Montreal has long been a high priority on my endless list of places I want to travel to, and with it being a train journey from NYC this seemed like as good a time as any to do it.

Being an absolute lover of train travel, the 10+hr trip was just one of the highlights. I had heard from many people that this is a spectacular journey through upstate New York through the Adironacks. It couldn't have been a more pefect summer morning as the train pulled out of Penn and I had been forearmed with the knowledge that I should grab a seat on the left hand side of the train for the outbound journey. The scenery was lovely, but I have definitely been on more breathtaking train journeys. Maybe I'm just getting old and harder to impress! The 10hrs passed by in no time. Dervla Murphy's "Full Tilt" was my companion for the trip, along with the music of Gustavo Santaoalla.

Initial impressions of Montreal as we arrived were of a very North American city - skyscrapers, shopping malls, etc., but my taxi driver obliging played the tour guide and explained that the city is divided into an old and new town. Montreal Vieux was where my hostel was situated. After checking in and dumping my baggage, I set out walking to explore some of the old town at night. On a week night, the whole city was bustling and vibrant, restaurants windows thrown open to reveal romantic couples sharing bottles of wine, jazz musicians crooning in the background, tourists snaking their way lazily along Rue St. Paul stopping to look in art galleries. With snatches of French conversation on the air all around, you could easily have been in Paris.

Over the course of 5 days, I walked as much of the new and old city as I could. Montreal has a beautiful old port, a trendy, chic nightlife, fantastic clubs and bars (I managed to catch the end of the Jazz Festival as well as the Just for Laughs festival), wide open parks and walking trails, an underground "shopping city" (because it gets that cold in the winter!), a fusion of architecture which works very well due to a respect between the old and the new, a very happening gay district, China Town, a Latin Quarter - the list goes on.

The Montrealers I met were extremely friendly, courteous, so helpful and anxious for you to experience the best of their city. One of the most interesting characters I met there was a guide I met one day on a walking tour of the city. Fiercely proud of Montreal and equipped with all the history of the city, he went almost an hour over his scheduled tour time with our group, so eager was he to answer everyone's questions and show us all the most interesting parts of the Old Town.

It's true Montreal Vieux is full of tourists, especially at this time of year, but it's very easy to see why this city holds such attraction for anyone living in North America. It's a thriving modern North American city with a lovely mix of European culture thrown in which gives it something of a unique personality!

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