Here’s how you get to Montreal from Vermont. You get in a car and drive for an hour, then you wait in line at the border for an hour, show your passports, answer a few questions, and drive one more hour. Then you are in Montreal. It used to be even easier, but then 9-11 happened and you have to remember to bring your passports and answer the questions right. Like why if you live in NY are you driving through Vermont. This is not the time or place to be sarcastic about map reading skills. We answered we were visiting friends in Vermont, and got wished a lovely stay.
We followed the lady in the phone with no problems, right to the Hotel Chrome, even though she insisted it was the Days Inn. The hotel had changed names two days before, but we took our chances on the review-less Hotel Chrome, which was about $50 less than other hotels per night, and it was just fine.
We parked the hotel a few blocks away, followed the reception clerks directions through Chinatown and we were in the Old City. The port is on the Saint Lawrence River, where the French settled New France in the 17th Century. It is filled with old world style buildings and swarms of tourists. We wandered around. We watched a bunch of buskers and then we watched a movie projected on a large wall of a bunch of beavers protesting.
Its called City Memories or Cité Memoire in French. Top directors developed and filmed clips highlighting Montreal’s 375 year history. You can download an app, which explains and narrates the clips.
We found an A &W. We hadn’t seen one in the States in years. We drank root beer and downloaded the app. I’m still not sure what the beavers were protesting. We hiked up the hill and went to sleep.
The interior of Bagel Etc. on St. Laurent Street
I am always interested in the visitors to New York City who look at the map and say, oh- it can’t be a long walk from Times Square to Wall Street. No-its four miles, which is a nice stroll on a country road, but distances on the hotel’s map may be further apart then they appear. Which is all to say- I thought it would be an easy stroll up to Mount Royal. First of all, its all uphill, there is quite a bit of interesting street art, which distracted us a bit. The guidebook suggested we get breakfast of Boulevard Du Mont-Royal. We just didn’t seem to get there. We gave up finally and ate in Bagel Etc., a funky cafe with a tin ceiling and interesting decor. The egg dishes we ordered, were so large we packed up our Montreal Bagels for lunch in the park.
Carvings from the roof of the Chalet at the top of Mont Royal
We found the park long before we found Boulevard Du Mont-Royal. Mont- Royal, the park, is a series of three peaks surrounded by a park that was designed by Frederick Olmsted, who designed Central Park. We walked up, and up and then we were at the Chalet and looked out around the city. (the picture at the top is a panoramic overview). We met an interesting couple from Newfoundland, who took our picture- soon to be this year’s Facebook profile. He is a high school math teacher and she is a physical therapist who did her training in Montreal thirty years ago. So of course we discussed schools, and health care and the experience of returning to Montreal after so many years (we too had been there decades before).
We walked across, the series of three peaks, one of the other peaks has a large cross and the third has large antennas. We were debating on the best way to get down when we met a lovely man with walking poles, who took out his reading glasses to help us with the map. The way we were thinking of descending turned out to be through a cemetery or actually a series of cemeteries. He assured us it was a most lovely route, with quiet tombs ( I am not sure about the alternative to quiet tombs) and lovely trees. And we were to follow the green line out of the cemetery. All that turned out to be accurate, and again longer than it looked. At the end of the Main Cemetery were two Jewish ones, the Spanish and Portuguese—Shearith Israel Cemetery, inaugurated in 1854 and Shaar Hashomayim . Both were beautiful cemeteries that led us onto a street of beautiful big homes, many had a modern architectural style. It was like spending the morning in SoHo, then walking through a park and a cemetery and ending up in Forest Hill Gardens.
Back where we entered the park, we ate our bagels. We had a brought a dozen bagels to Wendy’s and the taste of NY bagels was not long from our tongues. Montreal bagels are not NY bagels. Neither are they an inferior version. They are their own culinary art form. One guide book said they are soaked in honey water. The taste is sweeter and crispier. Equally good – just different-a pleasant surprise.
With our blood sugar level raised and rehydrated, (we drank both large bottles of water we brought and refilled them at the park’s water-fountain) we headed out to find McGill University. I feel obligated to state at least once, we had our traditional map reading squabbles. The use of Google Maps in our phones has alleviated much of that, but without a data plan in Canada, we were forced to revert to the paper map and hence the squabbles But we did find McGill, (Eric was right), and we walked through blocks of interesting stone townhouses. We parked ourselves in front of a small green market tent, and rested. Eric asked a passing security guard where the Redpath Museum was, and he pointed out we were sitting right in front of it.
Another paper map reading success- sort of.
The Redpath Museum, named for Peter Redpath, is a good example of what museums used to look like. Lots of exhibits stashed in glass boxes, spread around three un-airconditioned floors.
A stuffed polar bar infront of Peter Redpath
One exhibit featured a giant crab shell discovered in a restaurant (-What are you thinking of ordering for dinner, honey? -I think I’ll have the giant crab.)
Perhaps the most interesting exhibit was a set of correspondence letters between Charles Darwin and John William Dawson. Darwin used some of Dawson’s research for Origin of the Species, and Darwin subsequently sent him a signed original edition of the book. Dawson was one of the founding presidents of McGill University.
We headed downhill, always a good plan, especially when you are pretty sure your hotel is at the base. We walked down Rue St. Catherine , a big pedestrian shopping mall of a street. We took the briefest of looks at the Montréal First Peoples Festival at the Place du Arts.
Festival of the
Mostly I was jealous of the kids running through the fountains.
We returned to the hotel, hot, smelly and exhausted. Two hours later, we had remedied all three of those conditions and headed back to the Old City for another night of tourist street-strolling, dinner at an unimpressive outdoor cafe and some more barely fathomable, yet enjoyable viewing of City Memory film clips projected on various parts of the Old City architecture. One series featured a famous hockey player (we know two hockey players : Gretsky and Bobby Orr and that’s the sum total of our hockey knowledge), on the perpendicular walls surrounding a parking lot. The beginning of the clip featured a family moving its belongings out of an apartment onto the streets on a Montreal winter night. The end of the clip featured a rather impressive three story high, hockey player with CH on his uniform skating right at us. (had it been baseball- we would definitely have known the back story). The second installation, we actually got, -sort of. This one was projected on a only slight urine smelling, alley way. It included a river with fish- which responded to the steps of those who walked on it, by flowing around them. We got the app to work enough so, that the cell phone narrated a First Nation creation story, while we tried not to inhale too deeply.
August 5, 2016
Okay- we got it now. Montreal is big. And it has a good Metro system, the couple from Newfoundland told us a one day pass costs $10. We purchased one each. And just like New York City, when we couldn’t figure out how to use them, some helpful stranger appeared and showed us.
We were off to the Biodome in the Olympic Park. It was pleasant, it was well done, it was crowded. Oh well- I have developed,late in life, a somewhat blaise view of animals in man-made settings. That said, there is a benefit to seeing jellyfish and their stingers close up and separated from you by a layer of glass, also we got to look some racoons straight in the eyes, without having to spend the next hour gathering up the strewn garbage can garbage. It was a pleasant experience and it got us out to the Olympic Park.
Montreal was hot, the whole time we were there. So much for going north to escape the heat. Wandering around the Olympic Park was just short of enjoyable because of the heat, but we did read a plaque of the 1976 Olympic Track and Field gold medal winners and noticed that Bruce Jenner was once famous for something other than having a sex change.
We noticed on the directional, a Jackie Robinson statue. Baseball speaks so much louder to us than hockey so we went off in search of it. What we didn’t know was that Montreal had a baseball team from 1928-to 1960 that was related to the Brooklyn Dodgers, Jackie Robinson played there the 1946 season before breaking the color barrier and joining the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Back on the Metro. The Montreal trains appeared newer than NYC, the stations modern and clean BUT, the trains were not air conditioned. A fellow rider, later that day, told us it was an environmental decision- hmph! Next goal the Museum of Beaux Arts. We got to see a bit of Montreal’s Underground City, before emerging into the hot streets. It took a little searching and the help of the fast food clerk who went and got her own personal cell phone to find the directions but we made it to the Beaux Arts Musee , the Fine Arts Museum with three gloriously air-conditioned hours to see everything. We did not nearly see everything. What we did see was a wonderful exhibit on Pompeii- complete with a room where the Volcano blows up. Two thousand years later, I still felt pretty sad viewing the volcano ash encrusted bodies, including a mother clutching her child. We took a quick look at the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit and squeezed in a visit to Partners In Design. Alfred H. Barr and Philip Johnson. This was an exhibit of modernist furniture and design elements that the two men popularized in North America. I told the docent who was managing the virtual reality glasses, that what I knew about Philip Johnson was that he designed the United States Pavilion for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. Of this she wasn’t sure. Also that he got involved in fight between Robert Moses and Andy Warhol about the murals on the building. ‘oh, yes”, she said, “that’s the same Philip Johnson.
Then I put on the virtual reality glasses and strolled through Philip Johnson’s Manhattan apartment.
Eric taking a virtual stroll through Philip Johnson’s apartment
We got ejected from the museum at 5:00 pm, closing time, even before museum fatigue could set it. Anyway, it was nap time- back to the hotel.
Before we left for Vermont, Eric had the need for a pastrami sandwich before a long weekend with vegetarians. But the one thing that he discovered about Montreal was that it was famous for its smoked meat. Another Friday night, another city , another Jewish deli. So off we went in search of Schwartz’s. Not so hard to find, we took the bus, this time up St. Laurent Street. And there was the predicted line in front. But we took two seats at the counter, which gave us time to talk to the deli man and yenta in his conversation with the two women next to us who also took the counter seats. He wanted to know if they were going to go to the Celine Dion’s concert-she was doing a multi-night stand in Montreal. They were- they had tickets for next Tuesday. Then he told them her main body guard, who she used to leave her kids with, was a good friend of the deli’s and was there the other night. Nobody recognized him since he was only the body guard.
The smoked meat sandwich was delicious and like Montreal bagels not exactly like its NY cousin. The counterman, who told us, between him and his father-in-law, they had spent 50 years working at the deli, asked us to compare the sandwich to Katz’s. We couldn’t. We can’t recall ever eating in Katz’s Lower East-side deli. We could compare it to the pastrami and corned beef from Ben’s we had the previous Friday- less salty, which, to me, made it more flavorful and softer. In Ben’s favor, there was no matzoh ball soup or diet cream soda available and poutine, a cheese drenched french fries dish was an unimaginable substitute for a k’nish.
With few hours left in Montreal we went up hill in search of Fairmount Bagel Store. It took us through the streets of Le Plateau which were hopping with a young crowd of Friday night celebrators. Loud music pumped from many open doorways and celebrations spilled onto the street. We found the bakery on Fairmount Avenue in the Mile End neighbourhood of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough. (Okay I copied the location from Wikipedia- maybe the links work)
Gone were the young people, replaced by a sprinkling of Chasids on Friday night walks- complete with the distinctive fur hats, probably a lot more comfortable in the winter months, as well as other less identifiable neighborhood residents. There was a long, long line at an ice cream store, but we didn’t avail ourselves. Our bellies were full of smoked meat and our backpacks filled with bagels. We skipped the bus ride back walked downhill to our last night in the hotel.
One of Eric’s favorite photo opps are firehouses. And Montreal provided him with a doozy. (Castle or fire station?)
Years ago, in a restaurant in Buenos Aires, a friends of a friend insisted Montreal was a two hour drive from New York City. I realized when I returned home that he had confused New York State with the city. It took us about seven hours to be back in our driveway. Not so far in the climate controlled Toyota, on summertime roads. A world away, but a place I hope to return to in the not very distant future.