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Thursday 13 Dec 2007
Montréal, Canada

And so the Canadiana experience comes to a close...

Today is my last day in Montreal, then I've got a weekend in Toronto before I'm back off home.

I'm not terribly looking forward to turning up at the airport in Toronto for the BA flight since I may have to face an impending 175 euro charge when I check-in (made when I extended my return flight time to the end of December - it was supposed to have been free.. and it would have been had I made the change earlier, but USIT didn't let me know that I had to make the change AS SOON as I arrived in Canada... so I waited a few weeks.. and unfortunately the flight I had selected for December was no longer available.. so the change incurred this hefty fee! Once again USIT have come out as completely crap - as they did when they messed up my travel insurance when I went to Australia)

Maybe I'll get a nice attendant at check-in who will overlook/ignore it... some luck! Blue

I also have a load of luggage... a large snowboard (packed with more than the allowed maximum of 'board and boots') and the monitor etc. 3 bags in total.
I printed off a page from the BA website that states clearly "you are allowed to bring a snowboard bag IN ADDITION to your allowed maximum of 2 bags".. after a BA person I spoke to said I was going to have to pay an additional 150 sterling for each bag over the 2 bag limit. Ya right!

Niki has generously offered to drive me to the airport on Monday.. and Paul said I can crash at his pad for the last 2 days. I'll have to treat em both out to a meal or something!

Yesterday I completed the last must-dos on my list for Montreal:

- Took photos of Chinatown

- Took in the rather excellent Musée d'Archeologie, which is built over the intact remains of the first settlement in Montreal. In the basement you can wander around the stone walls of the original marketplace and cemetary. Even the sewer system! One thing that struck me was how compact the first village was, the houses seemed no bigger than 4x4 metres!

The tour starts out with a film displayed on a large IMAX-esque screen hanging above the foundations of the first builiding built in Montreal. The movie gives a brief history of montreal since the europeans arrived, but I did note that it glossed over the whole British vs French battles and Iroquis sieges, rather playing out a happy-happy version showing cooperation from the off.

The real history of Montreal was to be found on the 2nd floor in a brilliant temporary exhibit they had on called "The Patriotes". Here, the entire history of Montreal rebellions was played out up until the stage where the British finally won, and the rebels were hung, shipped off to Australia and Barbados, or sometimes even let off. The story was told through displays of the original documents (including the first printed Declaration of Independance for Quebec - which was never implemented of course, the uniforms of British soldiers and a large video playing out famous battles). The Declaration of Independance is interesting since it contains plenty of progressive pledges including stating the equality of the local Indian tribes and declared their rights to vote, etc, while still remaining tribal and non-Christian.

I spent about 3 hours here!

It was interesting to note: Montreal was originally founded as a mission to convert the natives to Christianity. Not as a territorial claim by France. But of course with the discovery of the fur trade.. it quickly became a trading post, and then hundreds of thousands of French came over to live here as France declared it a colony. At the end of the 18th Century there were around 160,000 French-Canadians, and only about 10,000 aglophones in the whole of occupied Canada. This goes a long way to explain how the French retained their culture despite the British oppression.. they simply outnumbered them!

I found it an interesting fact that when Montreal was founded.. the intention was to INTEGRATE with the Indians, rather than wipe them out.. as happened in the US. Rather like a model for Montreal as it is today .. a melée of cultures, that exist without the oppression of having to conform to one-way of behaving.

The whole Patriote story is compelling.. essentially one day, hundreds of British soldiers marched on the fortified trading post of Montreal. And since Montreal was not a French military post, they had no army to fight back. So had to surrender.
Over the years, the British tried to enforce their laws, language and customs on the French. The French weren't even given representation in the local government (sound familiar? Yeah it's almost exactly like what they did in Ireland). Of course this enraged local Francophone intellectuals.. who gradually gained power among the french population.. and interestingly, the newly arrived Irish population that were escaping the Great Famine.

Predictably Britain wasn't going to give in to these new Patriote's demands, and so a war of words.. and then bullets ensued. The majority of Irish in Quebec were on the patriotes side (any excuse to fight the Brits of course!) and published papers and fought alongside the francophones throughout.

Very interesting exhibit overall...


- Finally I went to a jazz club Montreal-stylee. The place I went to "Cafe Sarajevo" in Little Italy had all the makings of a grand little jazz venue.. dark, candlelit, with great modern artwork on walls. Truly bohemian. Yet the cold weather must have prevented the local poplace from venturing out, since the place was deserted save for 3 or 4 people who all seemed to work there (and were drowning their sorrows up at the bar).
It was unfortunate since the band playing were one of the best contemporary jazz quartets I've seen/heard in a long time. They played out to their heart's content - like true musicians.. not worried about the lack of audience. The atmosphere was like having a private jazz band in your living room Cool

Nevertheless, I stayed the whole night.. savouring the cool sounds.. and got chatting with a few of the people that came up to sit at the bar. Would be an excellent place to come with a group of friends I reckon! Ah well.. next time...

And there WILL be a next time. I really love Montreal. Definately goes down as the best city in Canada.. and dare I say it, the world (that I've experienced anyway).

Here's my rundown on my favourite cities in Canada in order:

- Montreal (for the culture, people, non-stop festivals and fresh clean air)
- Toronto (for the great cheap food and great music)
- Victoria (pretty place to use as a base exploring Vancouver Island. Bit quiet though)
- Vancouver (well.. the drug addicts do make for amusing photographs)

Here's my summary of the pros and cons of Canada after my 1 year experience:

Pros...

- Brilliant melée of culture and music
- Cheap and excellent food
- Fresh clean air (except Scarborough, Toronto of course!)
- Down-to-Earth people
- Beautiful, approachable, fun-lovin girls that aren't afraid to make eye contact with you (unlike Dublin girls imho)
- The neverending choice of activities at any time of year.
- Beautiful scenery (cities in Quebec and mountains/forests in the west)
- Bloody great beer.

Cons...

- Shite TV .. altho some Canadian shows like "The Hour" are pretty cool
- Those little kids (and some adults) that go around screaming like yanks, "oh duuude that was so laaaaaaaame", etc
- Taxes not included in prices
- and.. er.. that's it


To be honest, the cons seem to consist of ideologies that have seeped across the border from the US. e.g. the crappy ads on TV, the American-ised kids, the concept of excluding tax in prices.

It's the standard of living here that is second-to-none. Plus a LOT more affordable than Ireland!

One of the best places on Earth? Oh yes. I will be back.

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