Settling in in Montreal

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”Wow, what a big city!”  Katharina is pretty amazed from the view from Mount Royal onto downtown Montreal. Nothing but high-rises, the really tall ones, that’s quite different from what she is used to back home in little town Germany.  Actually, a lot of things are different:  The buildings are taller, traffic is faster - though jaywalking seems to be the favourite occupation of Montreal pedestrians - and everything is very French.

Right in the middle of it, halfway between Mount Royal and the Olympic stadium, is the so-called plateau neighbourhood.  It is there, in the Avenue de Lorimier, that these Heinzelmanns will stay for roughly eight months, in one of the town houses dating back to the early nineteen-hundreds that are so typical for the plateau.  An external staircase leads to the front door on the second floor, from where another staircase, now in the house, continues to the top floor.  Up there, life is pretty cozy between the two balconies of the apartment - the one from Felix’s room towards the street, and the one from the kitchen facing the courtyard.  Just around the corner is in the Avenue du Mont-Royal, bordered with bars, cafés, and little shops - everything from bakery to hardware store - and teeming with life.

And that’s not all:  In the park Compagnons-de-St-Laurent, the borough council placed a public piano.  Mike takes a shot at it - after all, nobody knows him here - and plays his three favourite pieces: Lady Madonna, the Muppets Show theme and the Chattanooga Choo Choo.

What a thrilling city this is, but this also means that you have to cope with a lot of new things.  Mike, it turns out, has the easiest part.  His university - Concordia - is English.

The kids’ schools, however, are French.  But luckily, there are plenty of options for a good start.  Right at the beginning, the kids take part in two weeks of summer day camps.  During the first week, Katharina and Felix attend the local day camp on the plateau, while Franziska joins a sport camp at the Université de Montréal.  In the second week, Katharina and Felix go to a soccer camp and Franziska to a climbing camp.  Since then, important terms like pénalty (=guess what?), hors-jeu (offside), nœud en huit (figure-eight knot) und mousqueton (carabiner) enrich the kids’ vocabulary in French.  Mecki and Mike profit from the kids’ summer camps as well, because it provides them with the necessary time to run all sorts of errands:  Whether it’s buying a car and two bikes, standing in line at the provincial health insurance, the school board or Ikea, or getting insurance quotes ...   you name it, it’s all easier without the kids being around.

What else is new?   Of course, summer isn’t the worst of times for travelling.  And going to Halifax to see old friends, particularly Nancy, is the top priority.  It’s like coming home. Nancy welcomes the bunch with home-made quiche in Point Pleasant Park.  A week full of visits and short trips follows:  downtown Halifax, the waterfront, the farmers’ market, Laurie Park and Lunenburg all wait to be re-discovered.  Not by the two girls though, because Katharina prefers sticking around with her friend Erica during the second half of the week, and for Franziska, just one single week seems to be far too short to see all her friends in Halifax, anyway.

On the way home to Montreal, the discovery of the beauty of Quebec eventually starts with a prolonged side-trip through the Gaspé peninsula.  In Forillon National Park - where, as the park guide puts it, the Appalachians tumble into the waters of the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence - Felix and Mike marvel at the scores of gannets dive-bombing into the water on their hunt for fish.

Further on, in the Jacques-Cartier National Park, just half an hour north of Quebec City, two nights on a wilderness campground provide a very special experience.  No running water, but a nice campfire, a creek to brush the teeth at, and the lousily cold Jacques-Cartier River to take a more than refreshing bath.  And what a beautiful river this Jacques-Cartier River is.  It runs through a steep wooded valley more than 500 metres deep through the Laurentian mountains.  An absolutely spectacular view.  Mecki and Mike’s resolution is to definitely return to the park during their stay in Montreal.

There are no less interesting places to see right in Montreal, like the Saint-Lawrence, the old city centre, the Olympic stadium, the museums, the street musicians downtown, or Mount Royal.  Discovering the city is easy: metro, bike, and walking are all good choices.  Katharina prefers the Metro, where you are bound to see all sorts of fascinating people.  She loves to play tattoo-spotting with Mecki and Mike.  Whoever sees a grossly tattooed person first quickly winks at the others - of course inconspicuously, because you never know - and by doing so wins the game.

Franziska and Mike like to run together.  They are about equally fast  - “No way, I defeated you on last year’s Obstmeilenlauf!”, protests Franziska  - ... anyhow, they still like to run together and when doing so, they combine their work-out with sightseeing.  Their favourite route starts right at home, goes down to the Saint-Lawrence onto the Cartier bridge, across the river, and back.  The Cartier bridge is not only pretty long - more than three kilometres - it also offers a spectacular view, extending from the mighty river in the foreground, over the harbour and the marina to the city skyline in the background.  If they don’t want to run across the river, Mount Royal is an other great place for running with gravelled ways and dirt trails going up and down through the woods.

Speaking of Mount Royal, the best time to climb the mountain is at dusk to marvel at the twinkling lights of downtown.  From the park entrance at rue Peel, the shortest way to the look-off runs over a series of both steep and long stairs.  “Great”, says Felix, for whom runs with Mike have ceased to be a challenge for quite some time now, ”I’ll do that like a kangaroo!”, and off he jumps, negotiating those seemingly endless stairs with kangaroo-like jumps keeping his feet closed.  Arriving at the top, even Felix is out of breath.  But not for long.  “I’ve made it all the way up, what can I do now?”, is his question, but since everybody else prefers enjoying the panoramic view to thinking about how to keep Felix busy, he has to come up with an answer himself.  Which he does:  “I’ll start counting city lights.  That’s definitely the thing to do up here.”

School will start at the end of August.  “Other than pénalty und hors-jeu, I can’t really speak much French”, says Katharina, ”but for now, that’ll do.”

Sounds like life will continue to be interesting.  We’ll keep you posted.

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