•Ailsa Jones – Queen’s University, Canada•
As an exchange student at Queen’s, you quickly realise that you need to utilise your free time if you want to travel. Reading week is the ideal time to explore different parts of Canada, as the benefit of finishing in mid-April comes at the price of only having one short break.
For my reading week, a group of eight of us decided to travel to both Québec City and Montreal. Luckily, Megabus also exists in Canada, giving us a relatively cheap way to travel between the two cities from Queen’s. In both cities we chose to stay in Airbnb’s reasonably close to the centre, allowing us to wander through the outer towns in addition to the main attractions. (Just a word of advice: if it’s advertised as being suitable for eight people, it probably isn’t.)
As difficult as it was narrowing down my highlights from the two cities, there are some places in particular that I would strongly encourage visiting if you happen to find yourself in either Québec City or Montreal.
Justifiably, Québec City is known for its beautiful architecture in ‘Old Québec,’ serving to quaintly contrast the more modernised areas of the city. The day we decided to explore the Old City, we were gifted with blue skies and somewhat warm weather, which almost made me think that we had been transported to a distant European city.
To fully appreciate the beauty of the city, it’s best to get a better view that allows you to overlook both the city itself and the waterfront. Whilst most visitors chose to take the more conventional option of strolling across the waterfront, for three dollars, we took the more alternative approach of tobogganing. In hindsight, the steep incline coupled with the very casual safety instructions probably should have caused more alarm, but it allowed for an incredible view. Inevitably, we made it competitive and decided to race against each other in teams of four (if you’re wondering- my team won by a sizeable margin.) For a literal cheap thrill alongside an enhanced view of the city, it’s definitely worth taking your chances.
Just as picturesque as the Old Town, is the nearby waterfall: Montmorency Falls. Despite it being a short bus ride from the centre of the city, it’s undoubtedly worth the trip. As we struggled to locate the footpath, we were forced to encounter particularly treacherous conditions – including thigh-deep snow that probably should have warned us to turn back. Thankfully we survived and were able to look out at the waterfall just as the sun was setting, and later saw the cityscape by night.
Comparatively, our adrenaline fuelled stay in Québec City was followed by a more leisurely exploration of Montreal. Most importantly, my craving for a particular milkshake café in Manchester was temporarily subdued by sampling the delights of the Juliette & Chocolate café in Montreal. In the café, they serve chocolate in almost every form, including a brownie kebab consisting of five varying flavours which I would highly recommend. If you’re looking to fully embrace the excessiveness, the chocolate milkshake accompanied by toasted marshmallows is another strong choice.
Montreal’s Biodôme is also a definite must-visit. As you navigate your way through the different eco-systems of the Americas, you get to see animals ranging from sloths to penguins. Seeing the various birds in the tropical rainforest section was a personal favourite, probably more due to the fact that the temperature inside was 25°+, which came as a welcome change from the unrelenting winter weather.
Travelling with other exchange students during the breaks is something I would strongly urge future exchangers to do. It gives you the opportunity to discover new places with people who are just as keen as you to embrace the culture and make the most of your limited time abroad. Reading week is an especially good time to solidify friendships, particularly if you’re looking to travel with other students following the end of the semester. We’ve already begun making plans for our next trip!