Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Most Wonderful Time of the Year


Festive holidays were spent staying with a friend who is native to Montreal. I was treated by her family to several quintessentially Quebec experiences such as tasting Montreal poutine Рwhich Montrealers will claim as the best Canada has to offer! We explored the historic campus of McGill University, which was founded by an alumnus of my own alma mater, the University of Glasgow. We wandered around wee cafes in the Latin Quarter, explored the Mus̬e des Beaux Arts and climbed a snowy Mount Royal. The museums at Pointe a Calliere offered me a potted and comically biased history of Montreal, portraying the English colonists as morally dubious compared with the French occupants. After playing at pirates in the museum and gazing at relics from the Beatles tour of Montreal in the 1960s, we took a stroll around the frozen Old Port.

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We traveled to Toronto for yuletide and stayed with my friend’s extended family out in the suburbs. Downtown was misty and peacefully deserted in the Eastern frost, which made for some atmospheric photographs. We spied the CN Tower though the fog, visited the TIFF and over Christmas dinner I got my first taste of ice wine, a Canadian tradition.

We spent some relaxed afternoons in Kensington, an artsy neighbourhood with vintage shops aplenty and excellent tea houses, reminding me strong of East London’s Brick Lane. We meandered to the World’s Biggest Bookstore (claim unconfirmed!) and indulged our bibliophile tendencies. My time in Toronto concluded with a tour of the fascinating historical oddity Casa Loma. The estate sits on a hill overlooking Toronto and boasts plenty of curious architecture and historical tidbits.

Quebec City

I took a day trip to Quebec city to visit the famous Ice Hotel; an architectural wonder built anew every year with different designs and made from compact ice and snow. The design and detail of the buildings were phenomenal; there was a bar with ice glass cocktails, a dance floor and even a wedding chapel. Every room was filled with fur throws and fireplaces to match their individual themes.

Our tour guide gave us a potted history lesson of Quebec city and we saw a panorama of the blustery city, before heading to Old Quebec to explore quaint shops and cafes, buy maple taffy and watch carol singers.

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New York

We spent the festive bridge between Christmas and New Year in New York. It was my first proper foray into the United States, and the Big Apple was an overwhelming and dazzling as I had always imagined./p>

After an early start and lengthy coach ride, we emerged through the Lincoln Tunnel to the city rising before us. It was an overcast day that threatened and delivered a downpour that left us soaked to our bones, but nothing could dampen my excitement. We wandered down Times Square, and the buildings loomed over us with neon lights glowed dimly. We spent hours wandering the MoMA, Rockerfeller Centre, the NY Public Library, Grand Central Station and Radio City, reciting musical numbers relating to New York – there are a lot of them! We took an evening stroll to the Empire State Building and looked at the decadent window store displays. We visited the Ground Zero memorial, which was both moving and troubling for me. I believe every memorial and museum has historical bias and Ground Zero was no different, however it gave me pause for thought about how society chooses to grieve and remember.

We visited the bustling Wall St, Trinity Church and the famous Sycamore tree, and Battery Park. We took the ferry to view the Statue of Liberty and in the evening experienced a broadway theatre performance of ‘Annie’, with dinner at Jekyll and Hyde – a theatrical dining experience with moving decor and character hosts.

New Year’s Eve turned out to be a gloriously sunny day so we meandered through Central Park, beautiful despite the winter winds. We visited the collections at the Frick Museum, where I spied a lot of Vermeer, and spent hours wandering the Met. This was my favourite New York museums, and it was a joy to finally see works of art I had studied in real life.

In the evening we headed back downtown to join the mass of people swarming to Times Square. Earlier in the day we’d seen some of the floats and other entertainment, and we puttered around to a spot with a cracking view of the ball just off the Square. After some rowdy incidents as the alcohol flowed freely, we decided we’d best stay away from the madness and moved to a different street with a more obscure view. It was still jam-packed but with a better atmosphere and we got a fair view of the fireworks when the ball dropped. It was absolute madness but there was such a feeling of camaraderie as we huddled together and cheered as the new year came to pass. Probably not an experience I would choose to repeat, but the atmosphere in New York at that time of year was magical.

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