And back to Canada I went. I arrived in Montreal late on monday evening to surf Ross´s couch. He greeted me at the steps of his apartment building with an ice cold beer which was extremely welcome and even more so cos it was ridiculously hot even at that time. For the first time on my trip I had entered a non-english speaking part of the world and it was so refreshing. I had always wanted to go to that part of Canada. Gotta love the Gallic cultural pride/superiority.
I headed off early the next morning after having breakfast with Ross´s girlfriend Emily and their little kid Avery who was a crazy little 2 year old. A definite engineer in the making. The plan was to visit Quebec City for a few days before returning to Montreal for the weekend. On arrival in Quebec I, having again left my requests to the last minute, found that I was couchless so I checked into a hostel that Martin a kiwi that I met was staying at. Cool little spot but at $30 a night I was pleased to find out that Mathieu had responded to my request for a couch for the next night.
I went out for a few pints with Martin and Hossan from Iran who was also staying at the hostel. He was a crazy genteel little fella - "I´m a leeetle beeet razist, haaa haaaaaaa" - like his president not a fan of the US, the Arabs and Israel. Interesting cat.
The minute I met Mathieu I knew it would be a struggle. A bit of an oaf and not the brightest chap I´d met on my travels. It was definitely bringing up the rear of my couchsuring experiences. Not a bad lad and pretty generous but we were both cut from different cloths. Spends his days getting stoned and playing computer games. That allied to the fact that we had a crap night out I decided to return to Montreal a bit earlier than planned.
Quebec City didnt really grab me either. Although to be fair it was more the fact that every school in the world seemed to be having their school tours there at the same time. Even still the town was a bit of a Hansel and Grettle/museum type joint. Very french but having seen many beautiful old French towns in the flesh I wasn´t especially moved by it. Also, an old historic place is a relative thing in North America. Anyway, any city that charges $7 a pint needs to have a lot going for it.
So back to Montreal I voyaged. Couchsurfed with Nicholas and his multi-national crew - Carlos from Mehico, Danna from Colombia and Adrienne from France. An interesting, diverse group. To me Montreal provided a completely different experience. While I found Quebec pretty dead, Montreal teemed with life and oozed creativity. I had a great time there and definitely my kind of town.
It possesses all the wonderful quirkiness of a french city with the energy of a North America hotspot. Also, it seemed to be populated entirely by people in their 20´s. I spent the next few days gatching around the different places. I really like the Mont Royal/Plateau area. On the saturday myself and Nicholas met up with a few of Una´s friends from college - Kate, Eoin, Stephen and Nicola. It was cool to meet them and also cos I hadnt spent time with Irish people in a while. They had all moved over and picked up architecture/planning jobs pretty easily. They had a really good set-up there and a real creative place to spend a year or two although apparently the winter is ferociously cold !
The next day I met up with them again at the Tam Tam which is a huge collection of the weird and whacky who gather every sunday in the summer for huge drum based jamming session. Very much reminscent of San Fran´s sunday Hippy Hill sessions in Golden Gate Park.
The previous night I had been chatting to them about the apparently very strong Irish influence in Quebec. Stephen was telling me that apparently a rake of them had settled there in the 1800´s, much more so than in the english speaking west of Canada, which is still very British in its make-up. I had stumbled across a little Irish Quarter in Quebec City and also a big statue of a Celtic Cross donated the the people of Quebec as a sign of our gratitude for the great support that they had given us during the Famine. Also, I was amazed, upon going to watch some traditional Quebecois music, how incredibly similar it was to Irish music, athough much of this may be from the migrant Breton population too.
Overall, I reckon I´d place Montreal up there with my favourite cities in North America, a close second to San Fran (which I really had discovered in 2003) and also a place that I´m certain I´ll revisit. I suppose Montreal was essentially the place I was expecting to find on arriving in Vancouver.