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Chasing the Moose and Maple leaf (part 2 of 2)

Montreal, Quebec & Tadoussac

I spent the next fortnight touring Ontario and Quebec on the Moose Network bus (www.moosenetwork.com), a hop-on, hop-off service for backpackers. If you?re thinking of visiting Canada, I recommend getting an east or west pass (ideally both) and spending a few days at each stop. You meet so many like minded souls to while away the journeys with, not to mention always having a drinking partner. It?s a hostel to hostel service too, so no stumbling off a train and wandering aimlessly for two hours just to get a bed for the night.

Montreal skyline (copyright Matt Bradley / Image Quest)For me, Montreal wasn?t earth shattering. A big city like any other but with wall- to- wall sex clubs down Rue St Catherine. I didn?t get the pleasure of going into one of them, but from what I have heard, you really get your two dollars worth. My advice is head down Vieux Montreal, down by the harbour front, on a nice day. Get your caricature done, buy some lunch in one of the many eateries and watch the hundreds of roller skaters go by. If you prefer a bit more culture, go into one of the magnificent cathedrals (free entrance if you?re going in to pray). Personally, I fell asleep under a tree for an hour and a half. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Quebec City, much like the province of Quebec, is so far removed from the rest of Canada; I had a hard time believing I was still in the same country. The European influence of the ?Quebecois? culture is on every street corner. Caf?life is dominant, as in France, and the people think nothing of whiling away the afternoon hours sipping cappuccino on the terraces, watching the world go by. This contributed to the laid back atmosphere that made me fall in love with the city. Not a place for going crazy. More to recover from going crazy. This, the only walled city in North America, has the most colourful streets that side of the Atlantic and the most chilled out nightlife ever. On a mission to find a pub, my companion and I found ourselves distracted by an old couple singing slushy songs on the promenade (the romance positively dripping from every middle aged couple that walked by holding hands), juggling performers and string quartets playing on the street. Why drink when there?s all this to see? Although I admit we did meet up with friends eventually and danced the night away to an AC/DC - Beatles covers band.

The rest of the time was taken up with one-night stops at the smaller, lesser-known parts of Quebec and Ontario. Strangely enough, those were the places that I enjoyed the most. It?s easier to meet the people who live there all year round and when you do, it?s a lot more interesting talking to them than city folk. Not to mention some of the stunning scenery that you inevitably find there. Tadoussac is a beautiful village with the friendliest of people. They build a fire outside the youth hostel every night and sing strange French songs. I got caught up in one of these mass singalongs being led by a drunk man with a beard who said something to me I didn?t understand in front of the crowd. My baffled reply of ?Je ne comprends pas? was then sung back to me by more than fifty people as part of this crazy ceremony. It was explained to me that it involved me being the ?turkey?. Or something.

Wakefield Youth Hostel is situated in the middle of the countryside with a little pond beside a sauna at the bottom. It?s traditional for all the guests to gather wood for a campfire and for songs to be sung round it every single night. Then everyone gets their kit off to spend an hour or two in the sauna, followed by a midnight skinny dip in the pond. Believe me, that is one comedown you?ll never forget. And the crazy people who live in the woods made this stopover well worth remembering.

My trip to Canada was a real eye-opener. I was born there but only stayed for a few weeks. This was my first trip back. And it truly is a great nation. There is such a high standard of living all over, the Quebecois culture is fantastic, everything is so CHEAP, the streets are arranged in grids so finding your way about is infinitely easier than in Europe, the people are so friendly, the scenery is abundant ad amazing?and did I mention everything is so CHEAP? Possible downsides would be the tax system (tax is added on after you buy anything, so a $19.99 hat actually costs $22.37. this leads to change overload in your pockets), you have to tip everybody all the time, cars can turn right on red lights (where I come from, red lights mean STOP), the people can be a little American at times (whooping and cheering during movies) and the whole Quebec- wanting- independence issue can be quite touchy with some people. Clearly the many positive things Canada has to offer outweigh the downsides. My only regret is that I didn?t get to see the west, due to lack of time (I hear the Rockies are gorgeous), so I?ll just have to save that for another day. Now if you?ll excuse me, I?m off to apply for Canadian citizenship.

Matt Collins

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