Ah, Montreal

Randy and I had a great time in Montreal. The weather cooperated quite nicely…and the smoke from the Quebec forest fires appeared to blow away from the city so we didn’t even notice it until we were driving back through Vermont and New Hampshire.

We made really good time driving up, even stopping in Montpelier, VT, for lunch and then to walk around after realizing how charming this state capital was. It must be the smallest state capital in the country (surrounded by forest). Anyway, a few hours later we were in Montreal and immediately set out to explore things.

I’ve been to the city countless times so despite doing a few of the traditional things (Vieux Montreal, Ste-Catherine Street, Mont-Royal Park), I wanted to explore other parts of the city, expecting things to be either hit-or-miss. So, our first stop was to an enormous art-deco church behind Mont Royal called St. Jospeh’s Oratory of Mount Royal (hit). the guidebook claims this was the second highest church dome in the world, after St. Peter’s in the Vatican. It definitely was tall, but I can’t attest to it being the 2nd tallest (perhaps it maintains that ranking since it sits on the top of the mini-mountain in the city?).

The exterior looked like a standard church. Being off-white and with the large hill and stairs in front, it reminded us of Sacre-Coeur in Montmarte (Paris), but with a different architectural style. However, the inside was art deco – a very strange combination. It can apparently hold 10,000 people.

We then walked through neighboring Notre Dame-des-Nieges Cemetery (miss) on our way to Mount Royal (hit) – the enormous 1,000 foot “mountain” park in the middle of the city island. Somewhere along the way I managed to get the strangest bug (spider?) bite near my armpit. I developed two red bumps about an inch apart (resembling vampire bites) that ended up spreading with a rash around them. Does Lyme Disease exist in Canada?

Anyway, we hiked to the chalet and looked over the skyline of the city, then climbed the stairs down to Peel Street, back to the hotel to rest.

On Saturday we took the subway out to the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve area to explore the Olympic Stadium (hit). We opted not to spend $15 to ride the funiculaire to the top of the tower (we already had skyline views the day before from Mount-Royal), and instead explored the futuristic architecture. We walked into the Olympic pool area and watched people swim and then walked along the stands. With the Olympics now over 4 decades ago, we took some humorous photos of us sitting in the bleachers…totally alone and surrounded by empty seats.

Further to the south we walked to the Maisonneuve Marketplace, expecting to be able to enter the beautiful beaux-arts building, only to find it in an apparently permanent state of renovation (miss). We still had lunch in a modern incarnation next door then walked further south to see Saint Nom-de-Jesus Church (big time miss) which was supposed to have the most impressive pipe organ in Canada. But here we found yet another abandoned building ready for renovation.

That night, we went to Vieux Montreal (hit), which is required visiting for any tourist in Montreal. We walked along the St. Lawrence River, had dinner on a cobblestone side street, then headed back to our hotel and went to a bar in the Village. Sadly, the beautiful City Hall was under renovation and surrounded by scaffolding.

Sunday was Quebec Museum Day which meant nearly every museum in the city was free. So, we went to the Musee d’Art Contemporain de Montreal (which I’d been to many times before but it always has different exhibits (hit).  Unfortunately, what you may realize has since become the theme to our trip, the exterior areas surrounding the museum were under renovation.

We then headed downtown and visited the Christ Church Cathedral (hit), an old church that was miraculously held up on stilts so a mall could be built underneath. Being downtown, we ventured into a few stores before walking to Mary Queen of the World Cathedral (hit) where a very friendly elderly man took a liking to Randy. We told him we were from Boston…he said “ah yes, I love Massachusetts – especially the Galveston and Houston area.”  Um, OK.

After an afternoon rest, I wanted to continue exploring areas I’d not yet seen. My guidebook said that an area north of Mount Royal called Outremont, specifically Bernard Street, was supposed to be a good place for shops and restaurants (miss). One block appeared to be popular, the rest was rather drab. Plus, Randy isn’t a big fan of residential Montreal architecture (flat-front dark brick buildings with staircases out front). We decided to walk along Avenue du Parc through the Mile End neighborhood (miss) – a supposedly up-and-coming area of bohemians and new restaurants/shops. Instead, we just found a sizable Hasidic population and a plethora of dentist offices.

Our death march (as Randy decided to call this 2.5 mile stroll) ended with us in the Plateau neighborhood where we couldn’t settle on a restaurant and decided to head back to the Village for dinner at a French restaurant along Ste-Catherine Street.

One thing Montreal did that we loved was close down Ste-Catherine Street in the village (hit) from Rue St. Hubert to Rue Papineau. All of the restaurants then built out wooden decks into the street, essentially doubling their dining space. All on-street parking was removed and pedestrians can walk freely down the middle of the road without fear of being struck by a car. This is something Boston ought to consider for Newbury Street and Hanover Street. It seemed to be a win-win situation for businesses and visitors (though, the decreased parking is likely an issue for some residents).

Anyway, we had a lovely outdoor dinner overlooking the parade of folks strolling the village.

Finally, on Monday we visited Parc Jean-Drapeau (miss). These are two islands in the middle of the St. Lawrence River that were used during the World’s Fair in the 1960s. There is a large biosphere (basically metal scaffolding in a dome shape) that was unimpressive (the surrounding areas were under renovation, of course). We then walked over to the other island (which houses the Casino) only to find more renovations being down to pathways and temporary structures. One highlight of this excursion was some temporary stadium seating (essentially scaffolding) that was installed. We couldn’t quite figure out why since it overlooked a roadway and small grassy area…perhaps it was a portion of an area used for motorcross? We climbed to the top (the whole thing shook, which was rather freaky) and I can’t imagine how this could actually hold thousands of people. Anyway, the top did afford one of the nicest views of the skyline that we found (and all by accident).

We  climbed down and walked a bit more – viewing some modern art here and there in the park, before going back to Vieux Montreal for some day-time pictures (and lunch). Then, it was time to leave so we hopped in the car and headed out of the city.

Now, nearly every time I’ve visited Montreal I’ve been stuck in traffic hell at the border. Driving into Canada has never been an issue, but heading back into the US along Route 89 (especially around holiday weekends) has always been a traffic nightmare of 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half  as immigrations officers inspect the trunk of every single car. But two weeks ago I read an article in the Boston Globe that mentioned a smaller border crossing about 5 miles away in farm land. There’s no highway there, just small roads. The crossing consists of a small shack surrounded by farms. Apparently, they get only about 2 or 3 border crossings per hour! Needless to Asay, we zipped right through (they didn’t even open the trunk and inspect our luggage).

I’m such a loser, but this nearly made the trip for me. I’ve always dreaded the trip home, but this was a breeze.

All in all, we had a great trip.


  1. Comment by Randy on June 1, 2010 12:49 pm

    Whew long blog entry. You could have split it up as 2 days 🙂

  2. Comment by Randy on June 1, 2010 12:49 pm

    And oh yea.. it was a fun time! and I hated coming back.

  3. Comment by Randy on June 4, 2010 10:08 am

    new post please

  4. Comment by Melody on June 4, 2010 10:47 am

    Hear, Hear Randy 🙂

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