June 7, 2009
Feted festival hub
Apart from Montreal's many world-class festivals, the city's French culture serves up exciting dining choices
By Frankie Chee
IN MONTREAL WITH...
Length of stay: 10 months
Montreal, the largest city in the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, is renowned for its festivals. The highly regarded Montreal Jazz Festival and the 26-year-old Just For Laughs comedy festival are two examples.
Another Montreal icon is the acclaimed Cirque du Soleil, which was conceived here.
Based in Montreal, Canada, Cirque du Soleil performs a preview of its new show Ovo, meaning "egg" in Portugese. The show's world premiere on May 8 was in Montreal.
The city has a slew of famous churches, such as the Queen of the World Cathedral, Notre-Dame Basilica, St. Patrick's Basilica and Saint Joseph's Oratory, the largest church in Canada.
For the past 10 months, the city has been home to Ms Lynn Goh, 31, and her husband Kirk Lai, 32 (above). She is a full-time student studying French and he is pursuing his MBA degree at McGill University.
Besides the cool weather, she also enjoys lazing in a park and watching a nice game of ice hockey.
The best way to explore the city is...
By walking or using the Metro, Montreal's subway. A good start would be to stay at a hotel in the downtown area so it is easier to access the major tourist attractions on foot.
The fare for a single trip on the Metro is C$2.75 (S$3.44). This also allows you a single transfer to a public bus within two hours. Alternatively, you can purchase a one-day tourist card for C$9 or a three-day one for C$17. These give you unlimited use of the Metro and public buses for the duration of the card.
The best time to visit is...
Anytime except winter, which is from mid-December to March. Winter in Montreal is harsh, with heavy snowfall and the temperature constantly dipping below minus 25 deg C.
There are many appealing activities to look forward to in each of the other seasons. The beginning of spring in April is the best time to visit a sugar shack and enjoy a traditional meal with Canadian maple syrup.
Summer, from July to September, is filled with fascinating festivals such as the jazz festival and Just for Laughs. Autumn, from October to December, is the time to enjoy the splendour of the golden foliage.
Which places in the city excite you?
It has to be the Old Montreal (or Vieux Montreal in French), the oldest area in the city and just a few minutes' walk from downtown. When you step into the area, you will feel that you are transported back to the 17th century. It has cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages and grey stone European architecture.
The famous Notre-Dame Basilica which was built in 1642, Montreal City Hall, Bonsecours Market, the Old Port, the many museums, restaurants and sidewalk cafes all contribute to the quaint charm of this historic district.
Your favourite breakfast is at...
La Binerie Mont-Royal (367 Ave du Mont-Royal East, tel: +1-514-285-9078, www.labineriemontroyal.com). Open since 1938, it serves traditional Quebecois cuisine in a casual family ambience.
Try the breakfast set which comes with a bowl of feves au lard (baked beans with pork fat), one of the house specials. If this is not enough, you can top up the meal with a piece of tourtiere (traditional meat pie) and my all-time favourite dessert, the pouding au chomeur (poor man's pudding).
Your favourite eating place is...
Le Grand Comptoir (1225 rue du Square-Phillips, tel: +1-514-393-3295), a simple and affordable French bistro in downtown Montreal. Try their escargot, duck confit, Toulouse sausage and poached salmon. Each is served with a generous amount of salad and fries. It is packed on weekdays.
The coolest place to chill out is...
At home. Wines and beers are very cheap in Montreal, so just buy some and invite friends over to chill out over an ice-hockey match.
What do you think Singaporeans will like most about your city?
Montreal is an interesting city which offers an exquisite and unique blend of North American modernity and old European charm.
What is the biggest difference between Singapore and this city?
Besides the cool weather, Montreal is a very vibrant city with endless celebrations, festivals, music and dance performances and concerts. Celebrations and the arts are integral to everyday lives of Montreal residents who find every reason to celebrate and enjoy life.
Where is one place you always take your friends when they visit you?
Mount Royal. It is a 233m-high mountain located north of the downtown area, and open all year. Bus service 11 takes you from Mount-Royal Metro directly to the top of the mountain.
If you stay near downtown, you can start exploring the eastern side of the mountain, walking along Avenue Du Parc. You will find the Sir George-Etienne Cartier monument before entering the park. This is where crowds of hundreds can be found on Sunday afternoons, except during winter, for a tam-tams jam, which is a hand-drum performance where anyone can play and dance to its beats. You will also find joggers, cyclists and people lazing on the grass at any time of the day.
For me, I simply enjoy the therapeutic walk and the panoramic view of the city's skyline from the top of the mountain.
What is the one thing a visitor must do in your city?
Since Montreal is known as the city of festivals, you have to participate in them.
Some of the festivals not to be missed are the International des feux Loto-Quebec fireworks extravaganza (June 13 - Aug 15), International Jazz Festival (July 1 - 12), Just For Laughs festival (July 3 - 26), and Montreal World Film Festival (Aug 27 - Sept 7).
You can log on for more details at www.events.montreal.com.
What do you do on your weekends in the city?
I love to do my weekly marketing at Jean Talon Market (7070 Avenue Henri-Julien, south of Jean-Talon Street, www.marche-jean-talon.com). It is an open market where you can buy local produce, seasonal fruits, vegetables and flowers at low prices. The market is mostly frequented by the locals and most vendors speak French, hence it is a good place for me to practise speaking the language.
Other than that, either walk around to discover more of the city or take part in some of their festivals.
Where is the best place to go on a shopping spree?
If you are pressed for time, go to major shopping complexes such as La Baie (585 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest), Eaton Centre (705 rue Ste-Catherine Ouest), and Place Ville-Marie (4, Place Ville Marie). All are located downtown.
However, if you would like to discover the city as you shop leisurely, you should explore the underground city, one of the largest in the world. It is an extensive network that connects the major shopping complexes, boutiques, buildings and Metro stations.
You can find the underground city map at: www.stm.info/English/metro/souterrain2006.pdf.
What is a good souvenir of the city to buy?
I would recommend two: maple syrup and a Les Canadiens jersey. Canada is the largest producer of maple syrup in the world, with the majority produced in Quebec, while Les Canadiens is the official ice-hockey team of Montreal and competes in the National Hockey League in the United States.
Are there things to do or see outside the city?
I strongly recommend that visitors head north to Quebec City, a three-hour drive from Montreal. It is a fortified city that was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 1985.
Look out for mural walls depicting the history and evolution of the city. We went to Quebec City during winter this year and visited the Ice Hotel, (below) a hotel built and carved entirely out of ice. It was a spectacular experience.
Visit the Ice Hotel in Quebec City in winter and see an entire hotel carved out of ice.