Explore Montreal, a European-style getaway in North America

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The Chinese gardens at the largest botanical gardens in Montreal.
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There are many public art installations to enjoy.
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European-style fixtures are a common sight in Montreal.
Updated 05 August 2017
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Explore Montreal, a European-style getaway in North America

Just five hours away from Toronto is a Europe-like getaway that has something for everyone, including the baby boomers and millennial siblings accompanying me on a week-long trip to Montreal.
A cosmopolitan city, Montreal is conflux of French, Quebecois and English culture, along with the more recent influx of Arab, Italian and Chinese culture. A vibrant city that celebrates and embraces diversity, it is home to a dynamic arts and culture scene and architectural structures akin to those found across Europe. These are just some of the reasons that make Montreal a must-visit destination on your next trip to Canada.
Explore the city
With most places accessible by foot and via the public transportation system, it is definitely worth spending a few days immersing yourself in the vibe of the city. Owing to the large youth population, the city has a hip and bohemian vibe that adds to the experience. Plan a visit during the summer and you are sure to witness, in its entirety, what Montreal has to offer — music festivals, cultural events and fireworks galore.
The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, held from late June to early July, brings together jazz, rock and pop artists and is touted as North America’s top music festival. The Grand Prix du Canada, also held over the summer, is one of the most anticipated and crowd-packed Formula One races in the world.
If that is not your thing, visit one of Montreal’s many roof-top cafés and, amid stunning views of the city, sample some of the best food in the country. For art connoisseurs, there is a plethora of art galleries, such as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts or the Fashion Museum.
Marvel at the city’s architectural delights
It is a city where the old and new coexist together. Montreal is characterized by narrow streets, cobblestone roads, skyscrapers and age-old cathedrals. Take a horse-cart ride around the French colonial Vieux-Montreal and marvel at historical structures like the Old Port of Montreal, Victoria Square, the Gothic Revival-style Notre-Dame Basilica or the city’s oldest bank building, the Bank of Montreal Museum. Fun fact, filmmakers in Montreal often use the area as a setting for period films and documentaries that depict Europe.
Walk further down Saint Jacques Street, a financial and commercial hub that headquarters some of Canada’s biggest banks, or visit the RÉSO, commonly referred to as The Underground City, a complete city with shopping complexes, restaurants and an interconnected transit system built entirely underground. To the northeast, the Jean-Talon Market is one of the oldest public markets in the city. It sells seasonal produce, fresh meats, artisanal cheese and baked goods and is perfect for a day of enjoying the sights, smells and tastes of products from all over Canada.
Be at one with nature
The city is home to many green spaces, parks and lakes. The Mount Royale (after which the city is named) peak and park is perhaps the most famous. Ride a bike, take a hike or plan a picnic in the beautiful surroundings. Montreal also boasts one of the largest botanical gardens in Canada, with thematic spaces, including the serene Chinese and Japanese gardens. The Montreal Biodôme showcases ecosystems, natural heritage and animal life in North America. It houses animals and birds from varying ecosystems such as lush tropical rainforests and subpolar regions. The Insectarium, the largest insect museum in North America, is an opportunity to learn about the natural habitat of insects. This summer, there is a new exhibit that curates insect delicacies for visitors to try out. So, are you feeling adventurous?
Montreal is full to the brim of joie de vivre and well-worth a visit if you are keen to explore nature and enjoy art, food and music galore.


Mariam’s journey to North Pole ‘an inspiration for Saudi women’

Crossing the unwelcoming terrain of the North Pole is not for the faint-hearted. Mariam Hamidaddin’s brave and inspirational journey to the top of the earth was ended by the threat of frostbite. Reuters
Updated 20 May 2018
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Mariam’s journey to North Pole ‘an inspiration for Saudi women’

  • Mariam Hamidaddin was one of 11 women from Europe and the Middle East taking part in the recent Women’s Euro-Arabian Polar Expedition, an initiative aimed to foster greater dialogue and inspire women to push their limits and fulfill their ambitions.
  • Two weeks later and Hamidaddin still could not feel her fingertips. She struggles to cut a steak and needs help to tie her shoelaces. Medics say it could be months or even years before she fully recovers.

LONDON: Mariam Hamidaddin was skiing toward the North Pole in temperatures as low as minus 38 C when she was advised by her team leader to give up on her dream and take a helicopter back to base camp.
She did so reluctantly. Frostbite had taken its toll on the Jeddah-born entrepreneur’s hands, but with no previous experience of such climates, Hamidaddin was unaware of the severity. Only when she was assessed by a Russian medic who spoke pidgin English did she appreciate how close she was to losing her fingers.
“The words he told me were: ‘No chop’ ... which was scary but also a great relief to hear,” said Hamidaddin, one of 11 women from Europe and the Middle East taking part in the recent Women’s Euro-Arabian Polar Expedition, an initiative aimed to foster greater dialogue and inspire women to push their limits and fulfill their ambitions. Team leader Felicity Aston deliberately chose women with no athletic or Arctic experience with the intention of demonstrating that anybody can achieve their goals with determination.
As Hamidaddin discovered, however, having an expert on hand helps. The transition from frostnip to frostbite can be a matter of five or 10 minutes, so it is essential for people in extreme weather to pay attention to their body. The tiniest sign can help avoid severe consequences.
The 32-year-old had followed all the instructions learned during training camps in Iceland and Oman: She kept moving to circulate her blood and had not removed her gloves even once in the Arctic. She felt pain, yes, but the entire team had frostnip, so why should she consider quitting?
Fortunately for her future — and her fingers — the decision was taken for her.

Mariam Hamidaddin was an inspirational member of the North Pole expedition before a doctor’s verdict cut her journey short.


“There was no proper moment where I realized I had frostbite,” Hamidaddin told Arab News after returning to the heat of Saudi Arabia. “If it was up to me, I would have wanted to continue, so I am extremely thankful that I was asked to evacuate because the frostbite gradually got worse and worse.
Basically, the team leader saved my fingers.”
Two weeks later and Hamidaddin still could not feel her fingertips. She struggles to cut a steak and needs help to tie her shoelaces. Medics say it could be months or even years before she fully recovers.
This month on her Instagram feed @InTuneToTheSound, she is posting photos of her journey in non-chronological order. The intention is to be “open and vulnerable and hopefully inspire people.” In a post, a video shows her typing at a computer using only her right pinky finger.
“There is a negative media perception of what a Saudi woman looks like and what she can and can’t do,” said Hamidaddin. “For this reason, it’s important for us to show that what you see in the media isn’t necessary a true reflection of who we truly are.
“It is also important to share our failures as well because when I see success upon success, I cannot connect with that. I am human, I have weakness and I fall, and I need to know that when I fall, I can rise again. Those stories are the ones that will connect most with people.”
With Saudi Arabia women now competing at the Olympic Games, being allowed to attend football matches at certain stadiums and the imminent lifting of a ban on driving, opportunities for women in the Kingdom are blossoming.
Hamidaddin, founder of the Humming Tree, a co-working space and community center that focuses on creativity and wellbeing, said she sees examples of strong, athletic and confident women every day.
“You can see them everywhere — women running, biking, climbing mountains,” she said.
“So we are already there. It’s just a matter of sharing these stories more. We are strong women; we know what we want and we find a way around it. We do what we need to do and we get it done. The fact that driving now is going to be open for us, just makes all that easier.”
Although Hamidaddin’s journey to the North Pole was cut short, the team’s doctor said she could wait out the expedition in the warmth of base camp and celebrate with her team when they reached their destination.
It was an opportunity that, even with frostbite, she was never going to turn down. What she found at the top of the world was a beautiful, dreamlike landscape — and, perhaps fittingly, a perpetual chase to reach her goal.
“Unlike the South Pole, which is a landmass, the North Pole is a constantly drifting landscape. It’s sea ice on top of the Arctic Ocean and it’s always moving, so you are constantly trying to catch it,” she said.
“One minute you’re on top of the world taking a photo and by the time you’re done taking it, well, the North Pole is a few miles away. You have to keep trying to catch it.”