Civilized would be an understatement when it comes to Montreal, a city where you're not allowed to build a building higher than Mont Royal Park and where, during the annual Jazz Festival, two thirds of the (over 100) jazz, rock, blues, reggae, soul, and other bands play for free. Why free? There's a rule in Montreal that for each band charging admission in the Quartier de Spectacles, another must play at no charge. And while Festival-goers shell out Canadian bucks for the likes of Dr. John, Bozz Scaggs, and the Soweto Gospel Choir, they can also listen to Jonathon Boogie Long, the Lost Bayou Ramblers, Big Band Intersection, and scores of others at no charge.
While around 2-million visitors throng the Festival area, I always found a place to sit, stand and even lie on the grass. And Canadians might be the most polite people in the world. When a man stood up and blocked some concert-goers sitting behind him, no one screamed "Down in front." Eventually, the man sat down. The music, many restaurants, street carts and even my hotel were all within four square blocks, making getting around easy. When not dining on foie gras terrine and Montreal sausage at Brasserie T!, I chowed down on street dishes like a grilled Argentinian sausage sandwich and poutine (the famous Quebequois dish of French fries, cheese, and gravy), and specialities in Chinatown, just a few blocks away.
I am not a cool jazz lover, but at the Montreal Jazz Festival, there are 1,000 concerts and activities, including performances by such artists as Bettye LaVette (soul), Lyle Lovett (country) Chris Isaak (rock) and Jonathon "Boogie" Long (blues).
The Festival offers much more than music -- there's non-stop street entertainment such as a tango performance by a couple all a-glitter, Cirque du Soleil-type performers whirling through the air on giant hoops, jugglers, and costumed stilt-walkers. And though I was there only for a weekend, I managed to squeeze in some of Montreal's top highlights. Here are six other great things to do in Montreal in the summer:
Festivals - Montreal is filled with summer festivals including fireworks competitions, the international circus arts festival, comedy festival, LGBT events, Amerindian and Inuit cultural events, fashion and design festival, heavy metal festival, and many others. Check them out: http://www.tourisme-montreal.org
Botanical Gardens - Run, do not walk, to Montréal's Botanical Gardens' "Mosaicultures Internationales "Land of Hope" exhibition in which top botanical artists from 20 countries have created 50 masterpieces to represent their culture. The artistic sculptures, made of flowers, moss, cacti and other plants, include larger-than-life horses, a gigantic farmer and a flock of sheep, frogs, deer in the forest, a turtle standing on a piano and much more. While there, check out the arboretum and the 450-year-old Bonsai trees.
Old Montréal- Head down to the river for trendy cafes, endless restaurants, and even maple syrup ice cream. Pointe-à-Callière, Montréal's archaeological and history museum, is the birthplace of Montreal, located directly on the archeological site. Take the elevator to the top for a panoramic city view and don't miss "The Beatles in Montreal" exhibition in the museum (through March 30, 2014).
Grévin Montréal- This brand new interactive wax museum has 120 life-sized wax can-you-believe-it's-not-real celebs including Queen Elizabeth, Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods, Obama, Wayne Gretsky, Justin Bieber, and Celine Dion, plus, behind-the-scenes videos so you'll see how professional technicians not only have to insert hair strand by strand (sometimes up to 500,000 individual strands), but you'll see how they reproduce marks, beauty spots, scars and even fingerprints.
Museum of Fine Arts- Considered the 21st Century's answer to Tiffany, American artist Dale Chihuly has been creating unique blown glass sculptures for over 50 years. The exhibition is eight environments of gigantic glass flowers, balls in all shapes and sizes, and entire forests made of glass. (Through Oct. 20th, 2013). The Museum also includes works from the old masters to contemporary art.
Mont Royal Park-The Mountain for which Montreal is named towers over the city like an Emerald colossus and it's worth it to walk, run or bike some of its paths. Like Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead designed Mont Royal. On May 26, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged a "Bed-In" at the Fairmont the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, and there's a sculptural tribute in the Mont Royal Park, "Give peace a chance" written in many languages, including braille.
The Metro and Underground City - There is nothing cleaner and easier than Montreal's public transit system. Purchase a one-day, three-day or unlimited weekend pass (free for children 11 years or younger). The pocket-sized metro map includes a list of attractions and hotels for each stop. On the flip side is a map of Underground City, 19-miles of the largest underground complex in the world that has more than 200 restaurants, 1,700 shops and 30 movie theatres.