Eight days was not quite enough.
17.10.2011 - 24.10.2011 10 °C
A three hour pleasant Via train trip from Quebec takes us to Montreal, and our second Air Bnb apartment experience (at CAD $78 per night) in the working-class suburb of Joliette. The apartment is common of typical Montreal-style architechture; several-storied units with narrow, spiral staircases. The metro system (don’t call it a subway!) is quick, efficient and cheap, and apparently the first metro to run carriages on rubber wheels. We get a weekly pass each for CAD$28 which pretty much gets us all around the city. Shopping locally we find bison and elk meat, and Weps isn’t keen to try a horse mince spaghetti bolognaise. French is king here too, as we comically try to explain our address to the shop assistant (whose English is as good as our French), to take advantage of free home delivery. We worry we’ll never see our groceries again. Fortunately they arrive an hour later. Our time in our Montreal apartment is an exercise in improvised cooking - we make it through seven days of meal preparation without a frypan. Which we find in the oven (it’s got a draw built into it underneath ???) - on our last day.
Our eight days here are really full. We visit the usual tourist sights of the Basilique Notre Dame (where Celion Dion was married), the Pointe-A-Calliere – an interesting museum with a visit to a cemetery and archeology dig underneath, exposing Montreal’s original ‘birthplace’ from hundreds of years ago. The view from the observation tower at the top is great, and we see the quirky ‘Habitat’ project across the river. Built in the 60’s, it’s made up of some 340+ cube-shaped housing units, with no unit looking onto another.
After just six weeks of travel, I’m tiring of what I call ‘manufactured’ quaintness. Where lovely, old, historic buildings have been over taken by trendy designers and retail outlets; restaurants and art ‘galleries’. The type of place with crisp white linen tablecloths, large crystal wine glasses; heavy, shiny cutlery with menus of Pork Belly and Duck Confit and Roasted Wild Mushroom Risotto. I’m not sure what I expected, but this type of tourism bores me so we don’t spend any time looking in old Montreal, but do admire the history of the place.
I love the serendipity of travel – the days when you’re just wandering around, and stumble across something unusual or interesting that you weren’t expecting. In old Montreal we discover a film set for ‘Warm Bodies’ – a zombie romance starring John Malkovich and an (unknown to me), Aussie actress – Terese Palmer. No stars spotted but a sign posted on the streets bordering the set warns that by entering, you “give(s) consent …throughout the universe and in perpetuity” to be filmed/photographed. Pretty sure my image is not going to be used on Mars, or in the year 2100, but we’ve walked through so watch out for us as ‘unpaid extras’ perhaps.
Another serendipitous discovery in the “Occupy Montreal” site. The #ows (Occupy Wall Street) movement started when we were in New York, and we watched it grow and develop on Twitter, so it’s interesting to come across the site in Montreal.
We LOVE free things, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in the Concordia University district was just that! I’m not an art person but the displays here (particularly the Industrial Design section which included some funky, unusual chairs) kept me entertained. We saw a Napoleon display including a pair of his boots, that strange hat, and a lock of his hair (cloning anyone?). Their modern art section was also amusing, strange, interesting and entertaining all at once, and I learn (and see) some of the famous and beautiful ‘Group of Seven’ Canadian artist pieces. To further our museum experiences, we check out the Money Museum at the historic Bank of Montreal building. Much smaller (and also free), it was a good learning opportunity.
We breakfast one morning at Eggspectation – a restaurant full of egg puns and with some 14 different varieties of eggs benedict on the menu.
A visit to the Biodome means we finally see some live puffins, and next door is the ‘76 Montreal Olympics stadium (the Olympics that kicked off Australia’s Institute of Sport following our dismal, national failure). Only five medals in the kitty that year - no gold, and we learn that the Kiwis beat us in…of all things…Men’s Hockey. This was the Olympics where Russian Nadia Comenici scored her perfect ‘10’, and we spot her name on the Gymnastics plaque. We also check out the nearby ‘Insectarium’ and see a massive live tarantulla, with a body the size of a tennis ball.
A stop one afternoon at the aptly named, rainbow-striped “Beaudry” metro station led us around the Le Village gai. A bit quiet and disappointing, so we walk into town past ‘crack-pipe’ park, and an odd assortment of bleary-eyed partiers outside a scary-looking Heavy Metal nightclub. Montreal is known for its massive live music and Indie-music scene. Unfortunately we didn’t see any music gigs during our visit.
On our last day, we tackle Montreal’s answer to Central Park – the park Mont Royal. Amused by some doggy-casting for a tv advert, a gunja drummers’ circle, plenty of locals running, walking and riding bikes to the top. We take what we think is a short-cut up some long, steep steps for the grand view over Montreal from the Chalet at the top. Montreal, and Mont Royal is incredibly pretty in autumn.
Onwards to Ottowa.