A tale of two great Canadian cities

The Montreal Botanical Gardens
The Montreal Botanical Gardens
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There’s kissing, lots of kissing, in Montreal.

That quintessential French greeting of a peck on both cheeks is one of the things that makes this part of North America so wonderful.

Parliament Hill in Ottawa

Parliament Hill in Ottawa

The bohemian attitude and focus on the arts has led to comparisons with San Fransicso. But I can’t imagine it comes close to the juxtaposition of French, Jewish, Canadian and English style I discovered there.

In the Plateau Mont-Royal every lamppost is plastered in posters for art exhibitions, plays, poetry nights and gigs and you feel you’re never far away from some sort of happening.

The list of festivals in the city is endless – and most are free.

You could spend a day checking out the architecture of the multi-coloured and Gothic houses, but the best way to take it all in is on a bicycle tour with Fitz and Follwell.

One of the stops was the St-Viateur Bagel shop. I’ve never tasted anything so delicious as the piping hot sesame bagel straight from the oven of the 50-year-old family-run shop. Washed down with a coffee from Cafe Olimpico – another Montreal institution – it was magnifique!

Gordon Ramsay recently took over the Laurier BBQ restaurant in the city and it was there I tasted poutine for the first time. The Quebec dish is a sloppy mix of French fries, cheese curd and gravy – a carb overload but delicious.

The Jean-Talon market is a must. The warm summers mean the fruit and vegetables are big, bright, plump and juicy and you always try before you buy, so you end up very full after a shopping trip. It’s a riot of colour where you can pick up rare spices and bison sausages within a few yards of each other.

Mont Royal is the closest thing to a mountain the city has and the view of the Olympic stadium’s leaning tower is awesome even if it’s not universally loved by Canadians.

Each autumn Montreal Botanical Gardens hosts the Chinese Lantern Festival.

Last year’s theme was The First Emperor’s Procession, portraying Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi and his soldiers on chariots.

At dusk, lit by candlelight on the lake, it’s so spectacular you could almost be dreaming it.

My twin city trip took me from Canada’s cultural heart to its political heart by train.

At first Ottawa feels cold in comparison, but the museums and wonderful food make up for the distinct change in atmosphere.

A ghost walk around Old Carleton County Jail was terrifying and brought rough and ready 19th century Ottawa to life. It was followed by an incredible meal at renowned chef Michael Blakie’s Le Cafe at the National Arts Centre. Don’t be put off by the rather drab building – the meal was certainly not dull on the palate.

Parliament Hill is home to the federal government and overlooks Ottawa river. The history of how thousands of Irish labourers died building the city is fascinating.

The Parliament Library is stunning and feels like it belongs in Hogwarts.

A culinary tour of the Byword market is essential. Pick up some maple syrup because you find won’t anything as good in the UK.

Will and Kate’s Canadian tour was a huge success and the public can see the ceremonial tree they planted at Rideau Hall, the home of the Governor General.

If you’re thinking of doing this trip, I’d suggest doing it the other way round though.

Ottawa is fascinating but Montreal is a true joy and really gets under your skin.