A public transport bus took me around the side of Mont-Royal to Rue Queen Mary, where I walked the couple of blocks to St. Joseph’s Oratory. Built over 100 years ago in honor of the patron saint of Canada, the imposing edifice sits atop a hill. Pilgrims climb the 99 steps on their knees. I did not do so, although I witnessed it being done (with some huffing and groaning from the faithful).
The building is indeed imposing, and I will leave my comments at that.
I grabbed another bus and headed to Mont-Royal, a large public park whose landscape was designed by the same Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park in New York City. The highest point in Mont-Royal is 764 feet above sea level (quite different from my 12,365 ten days ago!). Two stops into the park, I hopped off the bus to walk the rest of the way. The pond is under renovation, but the cinder paths were filled with people out for a late afternoon stroll/run/promenade/amble.
I’d been told that the Belvedere was the best place for a vista of the city. I was not misled. The view from there was stunning, stretching from the far east of the island to the wide plane of the St. Lawrence in the west. I took in the view for a very long time.
Then I started heading back to the hotel, descending nearly 100 meters of elevation on steep cinder walkways and steps. Once out of the park on Rue Peel, I had even more downhill walking (small steps required) over three blocks to reach my hotel. I could barely believe my eyes to see runners negotiating the steps at a run – on the way up! These were some FIT people.
I spent a chunk of Monday in Old Montreal, the historic and first-settled area of this city. Think Old Boston, but French.
The first stop after the métro ride (easy and intuitive; think New York or Chicago) was Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, the 160-year-old basilica near the waterfront. Think Mormon: ornate and gilded, this place is grandiose in a Mormon Tabernacle sort of way (but with much more ornamentation), with lots of blue back-lighting behind the altar and organ.
From there I wandered (first through a Christmas shop where I bought an ornament as a keepsake from this trip) through all sort of charming but hard-on-the-feet-cobblestoned streets of the old town. Most of the shops are either restaurants (think Soulard in Saint Louis or Westport in Kansas City) or kitschy shops, mostly with t-shirts and stuff or homemade jewelry. I did spend a long chunk of time talking to an artist, but then didn’t buy anything….
Of more interest to me was the re-use of the waterfront. An old quay has been turned into a science museum. Several are parking structures. River cruises depart from one pier. Tourists are everywhere. (Compare: Why doesn’t Saint Louis have a better waterfront??)
I did enjoy a Montreal smoked meat sandwich for lunch (think brisket without the BBQ sauce), with an absolutely adorable waitstaff who were all, obviously, children of the guy behind the counter. Even the 7-year-old was bussing tables. I sat at a sidewalk table, watching people go by, drinking iced tea with lemonade (the local way), and reading a travel magazine from 2010 (which is how I catch up on my magazine reading whilst traveling).
One of the most wonderful – an unexpected – events of the day occurred as I was walking away from Old Montreal. Just west of the tourist info center was a door with a Brazilian flag jutting out from it. I wandered in, hoping this was a Brazilian restaurant, et voila! Since it was, I ordered (in Portuguese) a guarana to quench my parchedness. This refreshing interlude was a delight!
I don’t often have the fun of speaking four languages on the same day, but I made my way without incident on Monday in French and English, gave directions in German to an old German couple who had taken a wrong turn, and conducted my Brazilian transaction in Portuguese!
One peculiarity of the day: the subway ticket machines only accept Canadian credit cards. All others must have cash. Except: at the airport, where the machines take non-domestic cards. Go figure.
I’m quite tired after a travel day, so I am calling it quits tonight in prep for a very full two days tomorrow and Monday. The hotel concierge has set me up with a plan for Sunday!
The Sofitel Golden Mile is in the prime shopping district of town, just block from the museum quarter, and a 20 minute walk from Old Montreal (walking through Chinatown to get there). I wandered around the area for a while this evening, and then plopped down in a pub for a burger and a wonderful pint of Alexander Keith’s blonde ale.
More wandering, and I’m back at the hotel for some Olympics on CTV (think Canadian cheerleading). I’ll be out soon.
I’m trying out as much French as I can, since that’s the first language in this area of Canada. My vocabulary is probably 150 words, so I’m pretty elementary.
I’d forgotten that my fries at dinner would be served with a tub of mayonnaise! And when I asked for yellow mustard, I was handed two little cafe packets of the stuff. Yellow mustard must not be as popular here as it is back home.