Free Montreal / Montréal gratuit

maison st gabriel

Museum Day at Maison St Gabriel: crafty ladies make traditional ceintures fléchées. Photo: Patricia Maunder

History has been a lifelong interest of mine, so it didn’t take me long to discover Montreal’s annual free Museums Day when I moved here. While enjoying the 2016 edition the other day, I was reminded what a great gift to the city it is, and also thought about the many other free things on offer. From guided walks to park life, festivals to fireworks, there is so much to do and see in Montreal that doesn’t cost a bean, whether you’re a local or a visitor. Step this way to discover some of the best.

I’m happy to pay to see cultural artefacts, but May’s Museums Day is a great way to save money and also get motivated to check out places I haven’t yet made a beeline for. It couldn’t be easier as there are regular, free shuttle buses to all the venues, where there are often special things to experience on this already wonderful day. Continue reading

Australia Day / Le jour de l’Australie

Cafe Melbourne’s mac ‘n’ cheese jaffle, and – gasp! – hot chocolate rather than a Melbourne-style coffee. Photo: Patricia Maunder

Cafe Melbourne’s mac ‘n’ cheese jaffle, and – gasp! – hot chocolate rather than a Melbourne-style coffee. Photo: Patricia Maunder

What did you do on Australia Day (that’s 26 January for all you non-Aussies)? Have a barbecue in the backyard? Laze on the beach? Watch the cricket while downing a few too many cold beers? Me, I was at Montreal’s Fête des neiges winter carnival, zooming down the big snow slides on an inner tube, over and over, and skating on the outdoor trail – which I didn’t do for long as it was -19C, -31C with the windchill, so my toes got dangerously cold in the uninsulated skates. (More about Fête des neiges at this post.)

So not typical Australia Day fun, but the day before (and technically the big day given my hometown of Melbourne is 16 hours ahead) I did indulge in some Downunder nostalgia by eating a savoury pie (with tomato sauce, of course), a lamington (sponge cake covered in chocolate and coconut) and drinking a mug of hot Milo (chocolate milk). It’s surprising how these tastes of home, which in the case of lamingtons and Milo I hadn’t cared for since I was a child, become so desirable when they’re no longer commonplace. I had a suspicion that expats’ cravings for certain products were jingoistic until I became one. Which is why I love two shops serving up a taste of Australia here in Montreal. Continue reading

Winter games / Jeux d’hiver

All set to go tubing at Fête des neiges! Photo: Patricia Maunder

All set to go tubing at Fête des neiges! Photo: Patricia Maunder

Since my previous post, when I wrote about starting my first winter in the Great White North, I have had a wonderful, wonderful time embracing the season’s snow and ice. While the temperature has been somewhat uneven, actually peeping above the parapet of zero Celsius on a few days (making snow melt, paths treacherously icy and outdoor skating unreliable), there has been plenty of opportunity to get out there and enjoy it. An invigorating walk up Mont Royal. Skating at the Old Port’s vast outdoor rink. Frolicking with my beau in the massive dumping of snow that fell at the end of December (45cm in 24 hours – a Montreal record!). Vodka shots on the balcony, poured from a bottle chilling in the snow …

With so much fun to be had at this time of year, it’s little wonder that there are winter festivals across Quebec (and Canada) that make the most of the sub-zero conditions. In Montreal we have Fête des neiges (Snow Festival), which happens over three weekends on an island park in the St Lawrence River. Anything that involves having a great time outdoors with snow and ice is gathered here: dog-sled rides; ice carvings that glisten in the sun; skating along a path with views of Montreal across the river (where I was amazed to see ducks contentedly floating among great chunks of ice!). Continue reading