It’s been a while since my previous post, but summer in Montreal has so much going on it’s difficult to find time to blog about it! Sunny days and balmy nights are made for doing things outdoors, including attractions that only operate during the warmer months, and so many festivals they positively collide. I could easily provide a list of 100 fantastique things to do in Montreal at this time of year, but here are five not-to-be-missed good times – from getting drenched by the city’s mighty rapids, to the world’s biggest jazz and comedy festivals.
The Lachine Rapids jetboat ride has become my instant summer tradition since moving here just over a year ago. In fact, it’s probably the most fun thing I’ve done in Montreal, though that’s partly because I’ve picked really hot, humid days to go – it would probably be borderline unpleasant in cool weather. The voyage takes about an hour, including a 10-15 minute zoom each way between the Old Port and the rapids, where the really cool action begins. The open boat pounds into the roiling white water of the rapids (which are category 4-5 on a scale that tops out at 6 for waterfalls). From the moment the first wave crashes over us, dumping what feels like half an Olympic swimming pool, every passenger is completely wet through. The boat bucks and lunges, the water booms and roars, and the sight of that raging, swirling water is quite awe-inspiring (even a little scary because if you were swept into it you would definitely drown, so hold on!). It’s an all-sensory, thrilling experience that’s repeated over and over as the pilot runs the boat back around for pass after pass. Wow! So if you’re in Montreal on a hot or even a warm day, check out Saute Mouton, which means leaping sheep, a reference to the leaping white water.
Cool in a different way is the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, remarkable for the breadth of its interpretation of jazz, and the quantity and quality of free shows (though if you want to pay for some really big names, that’s a plus too). My first jazz fest experience was days after I arrived: one of my favourite singer/songwriters, Rufus Wainwright, performing 2012’s massive outdoor opening concert. It was a balmy moonlit night, the show was free and fabulous – what a welcome to my new hometown! I saw several other free shows, including some infectious swing bands, who inspired swing dancers in the crowd to spontaneously show off their moves! Of the fraction of festival shows I attended this year, highlights were the smooth, genre-busting rhythms of Pink Martini (thanks, Rebecca!), the raw funk-soul-blues of Charles Walker and The Dynamites, Lorraine Klaasen’s tribute to Miriam Makeba’s African beats, and the Misses Satchmo’s smokin’ hot take on Louis Armstrong, led by petite dynamo Lysandre Champagne on trumpet and vocals. Here’s a taste!
Just a few days after the jazz festival wraps up, it’s time for more top international talent at the Just for Laughs comedy fest. I’ve been a regular at Melbourne’s fantastic comedy festival (the second-biggest after Montreal, I believe), but this is on a whole other level with galas hosted by the likes of Joan Rivers and Sarah Silverman just for starters. I went to the galas hosted by Eddie Izzard and Saturday Night Live‘s Seth Meyers, both of which made me grin and laugh until my jaw hurt! Most of the gala guests I’d never heard of, or only vaguely, but were generally outstanding stand-up. It’s difficult to pick the best, but French-Moroccan Gad Elmeleh, doing his first ever show in English no less, was probably it. Folks back home, watch out for Ronny Chieng, a Malaysian living in Australia who was also bloody hilarious! Low point was the Australian inexplicably chosen for Izzard’s ‘United Nations’ line-up – Rove McManus! My view that he is barely funny was confirmed when stacking him up against the other talent, especially given his contribution was centred on a Twilight spoof. Twilight? That may have been funny three years ago! Ten years after first seeing him in Melbourne, I also caught Scotsman Danny Bhoy’s solo show, which was a hoot – from a minute or two in, when a guy in the front row handed him a beer out of the blue. When Danny asked him where he was from, the guy said: “the Gold Coast”, as if that meant anything to an auditorium in which my beau and I may well have been the only other Australians! LOL!
So this post is getting as big as a Montreal summer, so to briefly talk up my other two seasonal favourites … La Ronde is an amusement park on Montreal’s playground one Metro station from downtown, the island of Sainte-Hélène (currently looking very different to my visit during the winter festival). It’s got the kind of scary rides found in big amusement parks around North America, but only on the Gold Coast in Australia (maybe why that guy thought the whole world knew about it!). Yes, I am not talking Luna Park, these rides are borderline crazy, some pushing 3G of force, or over 100 kph! I got a season pass, so am working my way through the scariest, including Le Monstre, a dipping, diving, bone-rattling rollercoaster, the even bigger, more modern Goliath, which descends at such vertiginous speed I felt like I was simultaneously flying and dying, and the twisty-turny, upsidedowny frenzy of Ednor.
Finally, there’s Montreal’s international fireworks competition (L’International des feux), which draws the best of the best fireworks practitioners every year as they vie for the top spot at this prestigious event. That means a truly stunning 30-minute fireworks display once or twice a week for several weeks for tens of thousands of people oohing and aahing along the St Lawrence River and Jacques Cartier Bridge – locals clearly never tire of these displays, because they are so breathtakingly good.
As for you non-locals, what are you waiting for?!