Open sea­son’s great out­doors

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - CANADA -

An­drew Fen­ton finds Mon­treal is a se­ri­ously cool city that comes out to play after the an­nual un­der­ground hi­ber­na­tion

bald­ing ac­cor­dion player belts out 1950s-style rock ’n’ roll to a huge crowd. It’s as if your dad was hired to play the main stage at Big Day Out.

Mon­treal is a stylish city but, as with their favourite dish pou­tine (chips, gravy and cheese curds), some­times there’s no ac­count­ing for taste. Mon­treal’s laid out on a 50km by 16km is­land, di­vided by Saint Lau­rent Boule­vard, which lo­cals call The Main.

The trendy west side is pre­dom­i­nately English, the more touristy east side, French. It doesn’t mat­ter where you stay though, as lan­guage pro­vides lit­tle bar­rier with 70 per cent of peo­ple bilin­gual.

While it has a won­der­ful, Euro­pean-style old cen­tre, the majority of the city is mod­ern, vi­brant and cos­mopoli­tan.

Res­i­dents like to think of it as New York’s cool lit­tle French sis­ter. “Of­ten you’ll see all the down­town street signs change to New York colours and the street full of yel­low cabs,” says Jeremie Gabourg from Tourism Mon­treal, ex­plain­ing how film­mak­ers use the city to dou­ble for the Big Ap­ple to save a few bucks.

Que­bec has a more re­laxed stance on vice than the Bri­tish parts of Canada, with lib­eral li­cens­ing laws, the aroma of mar­i­juana of­ten in the air (il­le­gal but not strictly po­liced).

Strip joints are dot­ted through­out. Even th­ese don’t spoil the fam­ily-friendly at­mos­phere. “It’s Fri­day, sir, let the sin be­gin!” the world’s most cheer­ful strip-bar spruiker says as men walk by.

Sooner or later, most vis­i­tors end up in Old Mon­treal with its cob­ble­stone streets. Place Jac­ques Cartier puts you in mind of Paris – it’s a large square full of trin­ket sell­ers and dozens of car­i­ca­tur­ists draw­ing tourists with enor­mous heads and big toothy grins. There’s a fes­tive at­mos­phere tonight, helped out by the warm weather and the oblig­a­tory pan pipes and gui­tar combo, now fran­chised in ev­ery pub­lic space in the world.

Across the road in win­ter they hold IglooFest, where thou­sands of dance mu­sic fans go off in -22C tem­per­a­tures. Tonight, the Old Port is host to Cirque du Soleil’s Ku­rios – Cab­i­net of Cu­riosi­ties, which con­tains some of the most mind-bend­ing tricks I’ve ever seen. Founded in Mon­treal three decades ago, Cirque pre­mieres all of its shows here first be­fore send­ing them out to criss­cross the globe.

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