How to Survive the Canadian Winter

I have lived in Montreal for almost 3 years now and one of the most asked questions I get from friends and family who live in warm climates is: “How do you survive the Canadian winter?”


The key, as I have learned from people who have lived here for a while, is to embrace and celebrate winter, not just tolerate it. To make it through those cold months between November and March, you really have to find immerse yourself in winter related activities and festivities. Now that we are in the home stretch (1-2 more months!), here are some survival tips I follow during winter.

Check out the local winter festivals

When you live in a city where winter lasts 5-6 months, you find that the people have found ways to celebrate the winter. Montreal has a lot of winter festivals that make you almost look forward to winter (almost).

Igloofest – An Electronic music festival that invites fans to dance under the stars in the Old Port of Montreal. The festival lasts for 4 weekends (Jan-Feb) and features local and international dj’s pumping up the music. Tip: Dress in more layers than you think you’ll need, dance close to the crowd and drink a jagermeister shot every once in a while to stay warm.

Montréal en Lumière and Nuit Blanche – Montréal en Lumière is one of the largest winter festivals in the world which usually takes place between mid February till the beginning of March. There is an overwhelming variety of cultural activities to choose from in various Montreal neighborhoods like free live concerts, shows, art exhibitions and a long ice slide for kids (theoretically).

nuit-blanche-montreal-2014

Ski, or learn how to ski

If you already know how to ski, then you’re way ahead of the game. There are a lot of great slopes just outside the city (many of which offer instructors for beginners). Otherwise, there are plenty of winter activities you can do right in the city.

Go ice skating in the park

A few great parks in Montreal like Parc La Fontaine and Beaver Lake on Mont-Royal turn into beautiful outdoor ice skating rinks in the winter complete with music (sometimes cheesy but still fun). It’s free if you have your own ice skates but if you’re a noob like me, you can rent ice skates for about $10. Beaver lake also offers tubing, and snowshoeing.

Ice Skating in Parc La Fontaine Montreal

Plan a fun night in

My friends and I usually have a fun night in about once a week. Whether it’s a potluck, Golden Girls marathon or a game night, a fun night in is  a great way to spend quality time with friends without trudging through the snow. A few rounds of Pictionary or Cards Against Humanity will really elevate the night. Tip: Stay away from Monopoly if you actually want to keep the friendships you have.

golden girls

Keep Walking

Although it’s fun to have a nice night in, resist the urge to completely hibernate on your sofa until April. I try to walk outside at least 30 minutes to an hour every day. It does wonders for my energy level and mood.

walk in the park Montreal

Carry on

Chances are, short of drinks on a terrace, all the activities you enjoy throughout the year are still going on in the winter. Go to the movies and watch all the films that were nominated for an Oscar and see what all the fuss is about. Or just watch The Lego Movie if you’re not feeling particularly cerebral. Enjoy a drink with friends (Randolph Pub is my new favorite spot to enjoy a drink and play a fun board game). There are also cultural activities that happen year round; museum exhibits, concerts and my new favorite, Paint Nite.

cards against humanity

And remember, the SAQ is your friend…

SAQ

(img source –www.geotourisme.ca)

Unleashing my Inner Artist – Paint Nite at McKibbins, Montreal

Last night, I attended a Paint Nite®  event at McKibbins Irish pub. The event is a two hour painting party held at different venues around Montreal. It’s a great way to have a fun night and create art in a casual environment with friends and have a few drinks.

We were all given the exact same materials: a white canvas, paints and paint brushes.

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The instructor taught us how to paint the image step by step starting from a blank canvas to the finished painting. He always emphasized that the instructions were more like guidelines and we should feel free to experiment with different colors and techniques.

Phase 1

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Phase 2
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The most amazing thing is that we were able to complete the painting. What`s even more amazing is that each person’s painting was different; a unique reflection of that individual’s personality.

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I am quite proud of how my painting turned out. Of course I gave my hummingbird a mohawk!

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It was a great creative experience and a fun night out. I highly recommend it! Check out www.paintnite.com for event dates and venues. Tip: Try to get a Groupon or LivingSocial deal.

My Montreal Biking Experience

I love biking. Nothing beats a leisurely bike ride in the mountains on a nice spring day. Since I love biking, I was excited to learn that Montreal was such a bike friendly city. After all, I have seen the different bike paths, the bixi stations where you can rent a bike for the day, and young and old biking to school, work, or the grocery store. After months of searching, I found a good refurbished bike for a good price. New bikes can cost anywhere from $250 to $800 depending on the brand. I found this to be way too expensive, since in Kuwait or Lebanon you can get a good bike (new) for about $100. I have also heard many stories of thick bike locks being sawn off and expensive bikes being stolen in broad daylight.
So I decided to bike to work today and try biking as a mode of transportation as opposed to an activity you do on the weekend. I would be outside getting some exercise instead of being in a crowded metro. Google Maps assured me that it would be a 15 minute bike ride to the office. I set off with my helmet, backpack and headphones on, expecting an awesome ride.
First, there were no bike paths on my street so I had to stay on the right and avoid being run over by cars and going over pot holes. Then it started raining, heavily, with wind blowing rain in my face. I may or may not have swallowed a bug. It felt like biking through a car wash. By the time I got halfway through, I was completely drenched and freezing, my legs were on fire, and my butt was sore.  At one point I felt like I was in military boot camp, with the drill sergeant yelling in my ear, keep going soldier, keep going.
The ride back was much better. I found the street with a bike path and it wasn’t raining. Even though the experience wasn’t as fun as I hoped, it was still a nice way to get around. I just hope the weather cooperates.

Montreal Students Protest Tuition Hikes

Yesterday, over 200,000 students demonstrated against the proposed tuition hikes in Montreal. The proposed tuition hike would increase annual tuition fees by $325 according to CBC News.

Coming from Lebanon and having watched the Arab Spring, it was unusual for me to see a protest that didn’t arise from a few bombs, a dictator or an assassination, but I digress.

I fully support the students’ right to peacefully protest something they oppose.  However, I don’t feel that a $325 increase in annual tuition fees warrants a city wide protest. Quebec still has one of  the lowest university tuition fees in Canada. Students seem to forget that if the tuition fees paid by Quebec students are not increased, the universities will just keep increasing international student fees.

For example, a Quebec undergraduate student in the University of Montreal will pay about $72.26 per credit, while an international undergraduate student pays between  $485.39 to $639.97 per credit. That is a difference of over 500%. If international student tuition fees continue to increase, many international students will choose to pursue their higher education elsewhere.

The tuition fees subsidization may also give the provincial government justification to increase taxes, without having to prove that the tax revenue went to supporting university education programs.

Yes taxes will continue to increase and yes, universities may continue to spend their revenue on shiny new buildings without spending on the actual programs. But keeping the Quebec students’ tuition fees at the level they are while increasing international students’ tuition fees is not the answer. I do believe higher education should be a right for every individual, but the right shouldn’t be awarded to one group of students and not another.

What do you think about the Montreal Student Protests and why?

Zombies Take Over Montreal

If there’s one thing I learned during my first few weeks in Montreal is that this city takes Halloween very seriously. There are pumpkins and Halloween costume displays on every street and more Halloween events than you know what to do with.

Yesterday, I was surrounded by the living dead in the Plateau Mont-Royal area, who were all walking together in the annual Montreal Zombie Walk. The Zombie Walk is a day when the good people of Montreal dress up like zombies and walk around the streets moaning and groaning for human flesh for some ghoulish Halloween fun.

According to Wikipedia, the first recorded Zombie Walk took place in Sacremento California on August 19, 2001 as a promotion for an annual midnight film festival. It was held again the following year, and has since become a global annual tradition with Zombie Walks happening in several cities around the world.

Zombies and humans alike had a great time walking around the city and getting into the Halloween spirit. Below are some of the pictures I took of the Canadian zombies.

Happy Halloween!

Created with flickr slideshow.