All good things must come to an end and I’m sad to report that “Reading Week” (in quotation marks because except for today I have done very little book work) is drawing to a close. And may I just say, Edinburgh definitely needs to adopt a week break in the middle of second semester, as it’s a great chance to unwind and a lot of students would get to spend the time exploring Edinburgh and the surrounding area.
Anyhow, me and my friend Kylie, a fellow exhange student from New Zealand travelled to Montreal on Monday morning via bus, it took about 2.5 hours and we got to spend the rest of the day meandering around Montreal city. The city is ginormous and is divided into very different sections and neighbourhoods. We trekked our way through China Town, Little Italy, Little France and made our way to our hotel which was situated in the Latin Quarter – Arriba!! The area was lively and bustling, perfect for eating out and full of little shops.
We visited the Notre-Dame Basillica and the interior was simply stunning – gold and blue hues with ornate architecture and sculptures.
Once back outside into the bitter cold, we walked to Jean-Talon Market – a must for foodies, lots of market stalls selling exotic fruit, veg and the beautiful tantalising aroma of different cuisines to tempt your tastebuds. Also, free taste testing and sampling, mmm, a good (and cheap) way to get lunch!
On Tuesday we hiked up Mount Royal to get a panoramic view of th city and the view definitely rewarded the steep climb. At the top you could see for miles and take in the extensive Montreal skyline and see the island in all its glory. The Mount reminded me a lot of Arthur’s seat!
Mount Royal view – on top of the world!
Back down into civilization and among the French signs and babbling intonated voices of foreign-ness, we followed our nostrils for dinner. I present to you . . . .
. . . Coco Rico’s! A Portuguese Rotisserie Place – simply fantastic, spit roasted chicken with the best potatoes ever! A must stop to anyone visiting Montreal!
Nicely refuelled we continued to meander around the city. Stopping off at a free art gallery (yes, we are cheap students) and exploring McGill University’s Campus. Anyone thinking of going to McGill – the uni is situated right at the base of Mount Royal, pretty much in the centre of the bustling city. Personally, call me biased if you will, I much prefer Queen’s campus in Kingston. I think life at McGill would have been a little daunting and unrelentless, whereas Queen’s has a much more relaxed and calming atmosphere but each to your own.
Next, we explored the underground city, literally a whole city beneath Montreal consisting of a network of metros, walkways, shopping malls and restaurants. So it is literally a “double-decker” city. The idea is that the citizens of Montreal can retreat underground from both the harsh biting winter cold and the burning summer sun. Quick question, how many square miles do you think the underground city comprises? . . . . .
A. 4.6 square miles.
It was a mad thought to think that you need never go outside, as you can drive your car out from your garage at home, park in the undergound car parks and then shop or work in the underground city, before returning home at the end of the day.
Wednesday, was without doubt the best day of our trip. We booked a guided coach tour to Quebec City because it was 1. much cheaper than taking the coach or train to Quebec and then finding accommodation (yes, cheap student theme again), 2. we would get to see more tourist sights, 3. less hassle for ourselves to organise things.
We got picked up from our Latin Quarter hotel at 7.15 am and there were only 11 people on the trip – fantastic. The coach driver acted as tour guide on the journey- switching easily between french and english. It was amazing to hear the ease with which he could move between both languages. The snow kept falling on our travels and by the time we got to a service station stop there was over 1.5 feet of snow on the ground. It felt like Christmas or that we had travelled out into the wilderness. With every mile towards Quebec City it seemed as though we were driving back in time, to a previous era. The houses changed dramatically from wooden huts and timber frames to older stone builidngs, cottage-like.
On the tour we got to see the Montmorency Falls, which cascading down at 83 metres are 30 metres higher than Niagra Falls. The falls were again just as stunning as their well-known counter-part and we were the only people there. We visted the Plains of Abraham where the British Army battled the French Army just on the outskirts of the Quebec City walls. The tour continued on foot and we got to see the Parliament buildings, as well as the upper and lower town. The streets were old, cobbled, packed with local artisan shops selling handmade goods such as chocolate, pottery, paintings etc.
The town had a bustling charm and was very European feeling. A day wasn’t long enough to spend around the city as there is a lot to do. Hopefull, I will get to visit again some time soon!
The land of the Quebecois, means one thing – french language – and I have to say my French is appalling, I haven’t spoken a word since my GCSE French days (which I remember with a shudder). I tried to converse in French and use some of my well-known and rehearsed phrases i.e. “Bonjour”, “Je voudrais . . “, and most of all, the very handy, “Je nai comprends pas.” And people responded well to you trying to talk to them in French and if not they will revert to English for you but the change in language definitely made my mini-holiday feel as though I was abroad. All signs are in french, so it became quite the challenge to decipher which way to go and what kind of shop we were entering.
Overall, a fantastic trip to see two of Canada’s main cities, both of which are packed full of places to visit and things to do and once again- people were very friendly and helpful, you no sooner had to get out a map and someone would appear to offer their assistance (it was very much like rubbing the magic lamp in Aladdin – with a puff they appeared!).
In contrast, you may ask what did other people get up to in Reading Week. Well, a lot of my other international exchange friends went such diverse places as skiing and snow-shoeing in Algonquin Park, to New York, or to the hot climes of Mexico or Cuba. One of my Canadian housemates went to the Vancouver Olympics and the other to the Bahamas on a cruise! I tell you it is another world here!
In other news. I now only have 6 weeks of taught classes left, though they are going to be jam packed with work- they may play hard here but boy you have to work hard too. I have 6 essays, 3 presentations and 2 quizzes, then 4 exams! ha – easy!?! And hopefully a trip to New York in the pipeline!