Like a flock of birds, college students on spring break instinctively escape the frozen tundra of the northeast and head south to tropical climes. This is a perfectly reasonable, albeit lobotomized, decision, even if you take into account seasonal rate hikes and the very high probability of a Carson Daly sighting.
But those wayward geese with the urge to kick the V-formation mentality may want to consider adding a little northern “je ne sais quoi” to their break. This spring break, cross the border. The Canadian border.
Consider Quebec. Montreal to be precise. Cold? Yes. French? Oui. And with the French comes the drinking age: a wholesome 18 years. Bienvenue a Montreal!
Just a six-hour drive north of New Haven, Montreal is like a little slice of Europe misplaced in North America. Pile into your friend’s jalopy (perhaps with a mix tape of Quebecois songstress Celine Dion for some ear-wrenching mood music), take I-91 N to I-90 W, then continue on I-87 N, and after a lovely drive through the backwoods of New York, you’ll arrive in no time in the second-largest Canadian city — oh the thrill! (Those allergic to road trips may wish to consider taking Amtrak’s Adirondack train from Penn Station in New York City to Montreal. Major drawbacks include the $55 one-way fare and the 10 hour ride.)
Okay, so the drive itself is fairly uneventful (except for the inevitable revolt against Ms. Dion), but Montreal has some definite draws for spring breakers, the first of which is the Canadian exchange rate. Right now, the exchange rate is approximately 0.75 U.S. Dollars to the Canadian Dollar, meaning more bang for your buck. Upon leaving the great nation of Canada, make sure to stop at a Duty Free Shop to get a tax rebate on what you spent for lodging and other expenses.
Of course, what you spend on lodging depends on how frugal you are feeling, but the options are plentiful and diverse. In downtown Montreal, you can choose five-star hotels (with equally elegant rates) or cheap one-star youth hostels. You might consider the Best Western Hotel Europa Downtown, which offers the typical double for approximately 100 Canadian Dollars per night with an added charge of $10-25 for an extra person. Or you could go with the deceptively named “Le Gite du Plateau Mont-Royal,” a sparse hostel a bit out of the way that charges $23. Funny how French makes anything sound expensive.
As for the language barrier, no need to worry. Although French is the language of choice, the vast majority of people speak English, as well. And as a dumb American, they won’t expect any better of you.
Once in the city, ditch your car. Montreal has excellent mass transit, including a metro and a bus system. Worried about walking in the cold and rain? When the temperature drops (as it often does), Canadians tend to burrow beneath the city to the “Underground City,” a system of passageways between buildings, metro stations and shopping malls underground.
And if you’re looking for a little debauchery, mon cheri — and let’s face it, who isn’t — Montreal will keep you busy.
“It’s got this great night life,” Canadian Lev Hellebust ’06 said. “Ste. Catherine, this drag, is totally packed with tons of people.”
The city has many clubs and cafes — and no fakes necessary, as long as you did not skip a whole bunch of grades in elementary school. As www.montreal-clubs.com says: “The Americans are coming — for spring break!!! Not for our oil, but for other fine natural resources: women, loose liquor laws, and nightclubs.”
Downtown on the west end of Rue Ste. Catherine there’s the usual smattering of popular dance clubs, Irish pubs and strip joints. If you need a break from the strobe lights, the jazz scene is especially strong in Montreal, which hosts an international jazz festival every summer; “Biddle’s” club is a local jazz staple. And for those feeling lucky — and spring break would be a good time to start feeling that way — the Casino de Montreal allows patrons 18 and over to gamble it all away.
So let’s see — booze, music, gambling, strippers — filling your nights should be no problem. And if you choose to get out of bed at some point during the daylight hours, there are also plenty of attractions. Let’s face it: College students on break won’t make it to any museum or place of historical interest. But you may wish to drag yourself to see touristy Old Montreal, the city’s bustling historic center, or the Old Port recreational area. You could also ride up to the top of Montreal Tower, which was built for the 1976 Olympic Games and looks like the ugly cousin of Seattle’s Space Needle. And should you ever get above ground to notice the snow, you could drag your car out of the garage and drive about an hour to one of several nearby ski resorts.
And if that’s not enough fun for you, then you can say au revoir and take your derier-Americain back across the border.
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