Surmounting a snow-covered cobblestone street in Vans and the coat I thought was more fashionable — though considerably less warm — in Quebec City perhaps sums up a visit to Canada for spring break. Fighting wind moving at a speed that I had converted wrong from kilometers, my friends and I reached the top of the hill to see the Chateau Frontenac for just a moment, before cowering in a wind tunnel to escape the freezing gusts. It was beautiful, of course, but there was a reason we were the only obnoxious Americans exploring the Vieux-ville midday on a March Thursday: Canada is cold. It might as well have had a sign once you cleared customs: spring breakers, beware.
If I can offer any advice for going to Canada for spring break, it is not to book with Air Canada. This was my first mistake. After four (four!) flight changes because of cancellations and random unnotified swaps to flights my friends weren’t on, there was something off from the start. However, after checking into our Airbnb in Montreal, things quickly turned around: With a Hooters directly across the street, a portrait of Montreal’s apparently beloved Leonard Cohen covering our apartment building’s facade and a lot of confusing massage parlors in plain sight, things were bound to be interesting.
And interesting it was. French Canada is the closest to Europe you’ll get in North America, boasting easy bilingualism and a perfect mixture of French and North American culture all in one. The people were incredibly friendly, welcoming and understanding that my convincing mastery of “bonjour” did not always indicate that I could decipher the French that followed. Being of age meant a luxuriously legal stroll into the grocery store wine section, which was nothing like Quality Mart’s highly curated selection. The museums were filled with native art and their stories in way you come to realize is only possible outside of the United States, and there were plentiful galleries, bookshops, Roots and chocolatiers to go around.
Though beautiful in both its vaguely European influence and its snowy streets, whether it is trekking through the snow and wind with an overpacked suitcase in tow or to an arcade bar in weather-inappropriate clothing, it was clear Montreal was a city for summer travel. Spring breakers huddled into the tourist shops in the city, defrosted in Notre Dame, and thawed in creperies. This is not to say that my trip to Montreal and Quebec City was not successful: We did as tourists do, traversed Mont Royal, perused vintage shops in Mile End and consumed vegan poutine. Me and my four layers warmed up in countless dépanneurs, picked up gourmet chocolates and squandered my seven years of French for fear of committing an inevitable American tourist gaffe. In all, I knew from the start that Canada is cold. I should have done something with that knowledge, though, and skipped all the desperate for warmth loitering by going in the summer.