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23rd Feb 2013 9:53am | By Helen Elfer
Montreal is freezing. Through my hotel window, I can see the late January snow is at least a foot deep already and the sky’s a blur of flakes falling on the road outside.
The picturesque Old Town is covered in pristine, pure white powder. For the moment, the scene is almost completely free of footprints or car tracks – after all, who’d be mad enough to actually go out in this weather?
Plenty of people, apparently, because if there’s one thing I learn fast, it’s that Canadians don’t stop anything because of the snow.
They know how to ‘do’ winter properly – as they well should, since the temperatures here dip under -30ºC throughout the winter.
They dress properly for a start, in the kind of lightweight, hi-tech outerwear that looks as though it would keep you warm on a chilly day in outer space.
So unlike Londoners, who wear Ugg boots in the rain and count a hoodie under a biker jacket as a winter coat, you never see Montrealers shivering, even when the wind is howling and they’re brushing snow from their eyelashes.
I pull on my thermal socks and decide I’m going to learn how to have a good time, outdoors, in these inhuman conditions over the next few days – even if it kills me.
The first stage doesn’t go too well. I stagger into the hotel lobby in Montreal to meet my tour guide, wearing a couple of long-sleeved T-shirts, two jumpers, a cardigan, coat, scarf and heavy leather boots.
I can hardly walk, but otherwise am feeling completely invincible.
When I meet Hugo, I have difficulty raising one of my chubby arms to shake hands. He looks concerned.
“Didn’t you bring any proper winter clothes?” he asks. I laugh, but quickly realise he wasn’t joking as we step outside and the wind whistles right through my layers.
Then wet snow soon starts seeping through my woolly hat. This is going to be an absolute nightmare, I think, as we bundle into a taxi – we’re off to have lunch in an igloo.
The Snow Village is open each year from January through to the end of March, and is made up of a series of huge igloos, which you can sleep, eat out, drink or dance in.
After checking out a couple, we make our way through a series of tunnels formed from densely packed snow before arriving in a huge dome – the Ice Restaurant.
Pink, green and blue lights illuminate the white walls, and it all looks a bit like Superman’s icy Fortress of Solitude (except, thankfully, with chaud cocktails, soups and hot sandwich wraps on offer).
Tables and chairs are made entirely out of ice cubes, lined with furry blankets.
I take a seat with a little trepidation, but weirdly, it’s not actually that cold.
The room holds a surprising amount of warmth inside, and so out of the wind and with the body heat of other diners, the temperature stays between -2ºC and -5ºC (that counts as positively balmy here).
Next door in the Ice Bar, a small crowd is starting to get through a fair amount of Jägermeister, which is served over an ice counter from bottles displayed on carved ice shelves.
In other words, with a hot meal and a bit of a booze jacket on, not only is this not excruciating, but this place is actually a total blast.