Québec remains a primarily francophone country, and this point of difference lends itself to a fierce independance felt by some of its inhabitants. To sum up a particularly sensitive and important issue in such a format won't do it justice, and so if you're interested in understanding more about the Québecois, I'd simply suggest you start here. All I will say is that it is a sensitive issue here, but one that is very interesting to an Australian - we don't have any questions about our official language, but some parallels can be drawn to the republican debate at home.
Montreal is the first city on this trip in which I knew people, and so marks the beginning of my international couch surfing experience. Eric visited Oz back in 2008, and graciously has let me stay with him for a couple of weeks. He lives in the apartment with his girlfriend Roxanne, her twin sister Vanessa, and Matt, an Australian who has come over to play rugby in Canada. After getting picked up and settled in, I set about checking out the sights and sounds of Montreal.
Matt, Roxanne & Eric (Vanessa was busy breaking her finger in a car door at the time)
As one of the oldest cities in North America, Montreal abounds with history and curiosities. But to learn this hostory, one needs a good grasp of French. The city of Montreal lies on a series of islands on the St Lawrence river, and the river (as is the case with most cities) played a large role in the early years of the city. The old part of town is a quaint, cobblestone labyrinth, reminiscent of Paris, a city it was no doubt modeled upon. The city hall and related bildings certainly remind me of similar buildings in different cities in France.
Montreal has played host to a variety of big name events, most notably the World's Fair and 1976 Olympic games. Coming into spring, Canada isn't exactly a tropical oasis atm and I was told to leave the World's fair site for a summer day. The Olympic stadium is interesting, but not for the right reasons. Apparently, it was such a ridicuolously expensive design that it has only recently been paid off, and that corruption was so rife during construction (concrete was diverted to build foundations for builders' homes), that it is already falling apart.
The Stade Olympique - a serious amount of (missing) concrete
I caught up with another friend, Bonnie for dinner one night to catch up and for me to see a bit of the town. She's always a barrel of laughs, so it was good to see her again. She lives in the gay part of town, and has offered to take me around the clubs in the area, so who knows - in the next entry I may be able to offer a look at the 'other' part of town!
One thing Montreal takes seriously is its hockey. the Montreal Canadiens (the Habs) is one of the oldest and most successful teams in sporting history. As the last game in the season was both at home and against local rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was a must-do on my list. Tickets weren't easy to come by, but I got them online in Feburary, and so Eric and I headed off to the Bell Centre to watch the Habs smash the Leafs 3-1. A few observations from someone who has only seen the game previously on tv: the puck is alot easier to follow live than onscreen, they take breaks in the game for commercials, and nothing can prepare you for 20,000 screaming, mental fans in a small, indoor arena. It was insane, and brilliant. I wouldn't say I'm a passionate fan yet, but I definitely have more of an interest now.
Beer is everywhere here. Every Depanneur (convenience store) sells beer and wine (liquor is sold through specific SAQ outlets), and the volumes. Dear god, the volumes. I recently went through (not on the same night): a 1.18L bottle of 10.1% beer, a 4L jug of normal beer, and participated in a 10L tower of beer (Mat, this has your name on it when you get up here!)! It's reasonably cheap, although factoring the returns (Québec has a container deposit scheme similar to South Australia), it is bargain basement prices all round. Good Stuff. I'm making it my duty to try them all.
Thankfully, the beer doesn't get cold quick here!