|On the train to Montréal I was sat behind a couple of Canadian guys who couldn't make their minds up whether to speak in English or in French. I assumed that they were Torontonians practicing their French for a trip to Québec and going back to English when they couldn't find the right phrase in French but it turns out all Montréalians have this affectation which confused the hell out of my linguistically-challenged brain. Just as I was starting to tune into French people would slip back into English and then when I thought they were going to speak to me in English they'd switch back again. Talking of language, the Francophiles seem to pull the strings in Canada, in Ontario everything is signed bi-lingually even when not necessary - café/cafe! Yet in Québec they rarely bother with any English signage. Final language point - how come French speaking Canadians speak English with a Canadian accent not a French one?
Despite my tongue-troubles I really liked Montréal; the old town (where I stayed) was full of character and there was some really enjoyable walking in the Mont Real Park. I even managed some skiing, albeit on very short skis, about two feet - my feet! The pathway I took down from the top of Mont Real was somewhat slippery, which wasn't helped by the fact that snowboarders were using it, I felt that it was best tackled with small controlled slides but one of my controls got away and I suddenly found myself hurtling ever faster down the bank, needless to say I finished up on my arse in a heap at the bottom of the hill, picked myself up, dusted the snow off and walked off with as much dignity as I could muster and a few bruises to remember it by. I consoled myself with some local brews later on and found that Québec brews some very fine ales, the 'Boreale Blanche' wheat beer is well worth an export license.
There is one thing that binds the Anglophiles of Toronto with the Francophiles of Montréal the mole descendency, Montréal has the "Underground City", an even bigger labyrinth of tunnels and malls, again co-joined by the food halls.
I was in Toronto on the Friday which happened to be St Patrick's Day but not much happened for it, I was disappointed to learn that Montréal has one of the biggest and oldest St Paddy's Day parades but I wasn't going there until the Saturday. Then when I got to Montréal I saw posters saying that the parade was on the 21st or the Monday, the day I was leaving at 7am so I felt like I was missing it twice. Then on Sunday I was walking along Rue Ste Catherine the main drag when it was obvious that the parade was about to start. However, after all of that I didn't really enjoy it, the first parts of the parade were more of an over-patriotic Irish march and Catholic-Religious-Freak-Group rally giving me a sense of unease and a feeling that many of the participants were former IRA funders. If Ireland is so bloody good why are they all living in Canada then? Then there's the fact that many of the other half of the participants can't speak English let alone Gaelic. In Ireland they just get pissed for the day, there's nothing like being an emigrant to raise the patriotic fervour.
Rant over. My final wander around Montréal was around Rue St Denis, and it typified a major feature of Montréal which is the external staircases - apparently the city elders once decreed that all houses should have a green space attached to them, to get around the restricted use of their land they moved the staircases outside the buildings to save internal space, in a city that spends half the year with sub-zero temperatures it's a very pretty but not particularly practical idea.
So that's Canada, got the passport stamp and a few bottles of maple syrup/sirop, if I go back it will be to see the great outdoors not the cities.