|Mayank waiting to cross the road in Quebec City|
Derek Lei Xu was all this and some more.
The three-day round trip to Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City (and a drive through a 1000 Islands and Kingston) would have been exciting even without him. However, his constant presence, guidance and direction helped us understand and enjoy our first weekend break since we immigrated to Canada in July 2008.
Derek spoke in English, Mandarin and Cantonese because Tai Pan’s (the tour operator) bus comprised 80 percent Chinese and the rest a mix of new immigrants from Brazil, Palestine, Iran, India, Japan, Barbados. Their relatively new status in Canada and their economic tenuousness uniting them as they hopped skipped and jumped from Toronto to the three cities.
My impressions: Ottawa – an overgrown town; Montreal – a city of the past; Quebec City – a picture book village.
Ottawa’s main attraction is the Canadian Museum of Civilisation. I recommend a visit to this museum to all newcomers to Canada. This is the first authentic depiction of Canadian history that I saw, and it serves as a glorious introduction to Canada’s rich past – from the natives to the first European settlers.
After a walk through, I felt that perhaps the museum could do with a section on the history of new Canadians of non-European origins.
If you have seen (Capitol Hill) Washington DC and (Parliament building) New Delhi, you will not find Ottawa’s Parliament Hill particularly impressive. But it is probably in keeping with the Canadian ethos – low key, understated, unostentatious, but no less vibrant and effective.
And, by the way, I discovered that the Ottawa is a bit like Chandigarh – a city shared by two provinces (Punjab and Haryana, Ontario and Quebec). The Quebec side is Gatineau and all the road signs turn to French. We walked up to the memorial for the Unknown Soldier and took some photographs and then picked up a booklet on Parliamentary democracy in Canada from the information office opposite the Parliament Hill.
By late evening we were outside Montreal (Mount Royal), an island city which hosted Canada’s only Summer Olympics in 1976 – gymnast Nadia Comaneci’s Olympics.
It was the first Olympics on Indian TV, with daily highlights brought every night into the living rooms of the more privileged Indians. I saw it at my friend Mukesh Mistry’s house at Sakina Mansion; and all of us were awestruck by Nadia – a girl just about as old as most of us, capturing the hearts and minds of the world with her perfect 10s.
A brief visit to Montreal gives an impression that it sort of stopped growing in the 1970s. The imposing and obtrusive physical infrastructure, including the behemoth of a viaduct that runs through the city, belongs to the past.
The Olympics site is stark though impressive. Montreal is the second largest Francophile metropolitan area in the world after Paris, and has a pulsating cultural life; we’ll need another, more leisurely visit to the city to get better acquainted with that side of the city.
The night is at Holiday Inn in downtown. Nice place for the money we paid.
Next morning, we’re off to Quebec City. Nothing prepares you for the quaint charm of this first urban settlement in Canada. The petite old town is straight out of children’s story book – the small houses, the narrow lanes with horse-drawn buggies, the wooden stairs, artists hawking their pen and ink drawings on street corners –all belong to the less hurried times of the past.
Yes, time stands still in the old Quebec City and they should pass a law (if they haven’t already) not to change that. You realise you’re in a tourist place when the café charges $2.75 for an espresso, and young lad behind the counter gives it to you concoction made in Jura coffee machine in a paper cup whose size is smaller than the glass that holds a tequila shot.
To compensate for this outrageous rip off, we met with the pleasant Jean Philippe Vogel, an artist who draws pen and ink sketches of street monuments of the old city and sells them to tourist at a reasonable price (6 for $10). And while you buy his prints, he explains a bit of the city’s geographical history.
The night is at Delta. No free internet in the room.
With the sun out of the clouds, the return journey next morning turns out to be pretty enjoyable; we returned to Toronto late in the evening, after an all-too-brief stopover in Kingston.
See more photographs of the visit on my flickr page, click here: Visit