Travels in Canada: Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City

By Nicole Rankine (University of Toronto, Canada)

Studying here at the University of Toronto has not only enabled me to experience a different style of education, but it has also allowed me the chance to explore many other cities, which I previously would have never considered ever visiting. This is one of the many reasons which makes me so thankful that I decided to study abroad, and that I chose Toronto as my destination.

It was during reading week that I and a friend (who is on exchange from Japan) decided that we wanted to make the most of our lecture-free schedule to go and discover more of Canada, and so we ended up booking a four-day tour that took us to Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec. A tour seemed like the best method of travel as it came complete with a guide who filled us in on the history of each destination, along with ideas on where to get good food and sight-see; perfect, considering that neither I nor my friend had ever visited the east coast of Canada before.

So, our first destination was Ottawa, but first we had to make it to the tour bus. This in itself was a massive challenge. The bus was due to leave at 6:30am, so I, in recognition of the fact that I would probably sleep in, no matter how many alarms I set up, decided to pull an all-nighter just to be on the safe side. We had left our residence at 6am, as we had found that the bus was parked only a few stops away on the underground. As it turns out, however, there were construction works blocking our passage, and after an intense 30 minutes of sprinting through Toronto with our suitcases, we made it with one minute to spare. Memo to self: Leave at least an hour before your mode of travel is due to depart.

Ottawa itself was pretty great to see, although, despite being the capital city of Canada, I couldn’t imagine spending more than a day there. Here, we spent most of our time in the market place, in which I bought myself a ‘Beaver Tail’. I should emphasise that this isn’t at all what it sounds like, but rather it is a load of carb and sugary goodness, and a tick on the checklist of ‘all things Canadian’ to do. Although we spent most of our time in the market, we did find the strength to go outside and explore the city a little, seeing sites, such as Parliament Hill. Yet, considering the temperature was -40 degrees (yes, really!) this was more of a ‘seen it, done it’ type of situation, and so we didn’t spend as much time outside as we would of wanted to had the temperature been 60 degrees warmer.

Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal

The next destination was Montreal. I had heard so much hype about this city, in that it was considered to much more comparable to Europe than to North America. So, I have to admit that I was pretty intrigued to see if the comparisons were true. I can say that whilst Montreal did feel a lot like a trip to France, I found it more similar to Calais than to Paris, and so ended up feeling a little underwhelmed. For instance, the Notre-Dame Basilica, although beautiful, was like a much smaller and overall less impressive version of the Notre-Dame in Paris. In spite of this, Montreal did have its own qualities that made it a wonderful visit. For example, one thing especially worth doing was going to Mount Royal Park, which provided us a fantastic view of the city.

Chillin' in an Ice Castle (literally)
Chillin’ in an ice castle (literally).

Our final destination was Quebec City, and never has the saying ‘saving the best for last’ been more true. Whereas Montreal had reminded me a lot of Europe, I felt that it lacked charm. Quebec City on the other hand had tonnes of it, and felt even more European than any European city I have visited so far; in fact, I had heard that 97% of its residents spoke French. The city was founded over 400 years ago and had maintained all of its old architecture, with not a single sky-scraper or cement building in sight – even the Starbucks was quaint. Plus, here we found the one benefit of doing this tour in winter; we got to go to Quebec’s Winter Festival. This was one of my most enjoyable experiences so far in Canada, as we went tobogganing, explored ice castles, and ate frozen maple syrup. Unfortunately, as this was a tour, our time here was limited, with only two and a half hours to spend, and so we were unable to do the other activities available, which included outdoor hot tubs and tube bumper cars on ice (don’t really know how else to explain it). We were given far too little time to enjoy the festival and explore the attractions of the city, but fortunately for me, my non-stop praising of the city has paid off, and so I will be visiting again in May with my family.

City wall of Quebec City
Tube bumper cars at the Winter Festival

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