While I am adapting to retired life and struggling to put some structure to my days, my beloved is still employed and struggling to make the most of his downtime. One way we can meet in the middle is for me to travel with him when his business takes him away from home. This works especially well when the business is local enough for us to travel by car.
We’re very careful to keep any expenses related to my presence completely separate, and I don’t participate in any business-related meals or activities. We don’t want anything to take this away from us. But we have the leisurely time together in the car, some evenings in fun places, and we occasionally linger at our destination an extra day or so on our own nickel, creating a nice mini-vacation.
This Fall, we’ve managed two trips to Canada – one to Stratford, Ontario, and a longer one to Montreal, Quebec. I hadn’t been to Montreal in many, many years (I was last there as a child with my family), and looked forward to exploring. During the two weekdays when my hubby was tied up in meetings, I treated myself to a hop on-hop off bus tour (gotta love Gray Line Tours), and wandered around some wonderful spots.
Part of the fun of the hop-on, hop-off tours is that each time you hop on, you get a new guide with a slightly different approach… and you can keep going around all day! I learned that most people who live in Montreal are multi-lingual. In addition to needing the national tongues of French, and English, many also hang onto the family languages of prior generations – and Montreal is a fabulous melting pot.
There is so much to see and do – there are beautiful parks, the old town, museums, a vibrant nightlife, more shopping than anyone needs, a financial center that pre-dates the one in Toronto (now larger), and an incredible history. Let me share some of the fabulous sights/sites I enjoyed with you – as I did with my beloved when we stayed through the weekend!
This building is Place Ville Marie – designed by I. M. Pei (there are little glass pyramids in the courtyard, similar to those at the Louvre.) This image shows half of the building – the footprint is an X or a cross. It’s one of the oldest skyscrapers in the city and turned 50 while we were there. Beneath this building is where about 19 miles of underground shopping begins – a whole city (everything but residences) with stores, restaurants, and offices exists under the streets.
And… across the street are the Marie-Reine-du-Monde church and the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. The church was designed to be like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. On the 14th floor of the hotel, John Lennon wrote Give Peace and Chance, and he and Yoko Ono first recorded it.
We wandered through on our way to the Old City (Vieux Montreal.)
The Place D’Armes is the first place we stopped in Old Montreal. In the plaza, there is a statue of Maisonneuve, one of the founders of the city, as well as the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. We went there again after our dinner to see the plaza at night – click on the photo and look at the shadow the lights against the statue throw onto the building behind it!
The cathedral is lovely from the outside by day or night, but nothing can really prepare you for the breathtaking colors inside. In addition to the main sanctuary bathed in blues, there is a chapel in the back of the church, with a large bronze relief behind the altar. Mark Twain said something to the effect that you can’t throw a rock in Montreal without hitting a church – and there are some beauties – but this is one to visit, if you have the chance. The carvings, the ceiling, the stained glass and artwork, the organ… wow.
I could have stayed there for hours!
However, we moved on… there’s Chateau Ramezay, a small red-shuttered house, which was the home of the first governor of Montreal – and of the administrative offices as well. It’s across the street from the old City Hall. Some of the last remaining pieces of the old city wall are behind this building. Very cool.
Just down the block is Place Jacques Cartier, where there is a statue to Admiral Nelson (smaller, but similar to the one in Trafalgar Square.) This plaza is full of restaurants and “buskers” performing throughout the day, and is the first access we had to St. Paul Street, which is full of artists and craftsman. The plaza runs from old City Hall down to the Old Harbor.
There are a science museum and archeological museum near the waterfront, and the week we were there, tall ships were visiting the harbor. There are beautiful views of the St. Lawrence River and two small islands that are an important part of the city’s recent history. Montreal was host to the World’s Fair in 1967 and the Olympics in 1976. To prepare for Expo 67, they put in a subway system – and the dirt they dug out was used to expand/create the islands where the World’s Fair was held. Only about eight of the structures from that venture remain. One pavilion became what is now a casino, and the US Pavilion (the Biosphere) remains as an ecological museum.
It’s really an interesting set of buildings!
There’s so much more… river boat rides are available, a former commercial canal now provides recreational space… Up in the new city there is fabulous shopping on St. Catherines Street, there are history and art museums, there are universities and wonderful restaurants, and of course, there is Mount Royal (Mont Real.)
There are some great things up on the mountain. St. Joseph’s Oratory is there. This is a church – but not a parish church. It’s for pilgrims. There are three staircases leading up to the sanctuary – the center one is silver and, if used, must be climbed by the pilgrim on his knees. It’s an amazing place.
There is also a large cemetery (Central Park large), a huge Cross that is lit up at night – and an absolutely spectacular view of parts of the city. From here, you can better understand that Montreal itself is a large island between two rivers. The Olympic stadium is visible, and the size of the city, beyond the downtown area, is amazing.
So… when you go to Montreal give yourself a few days to see the old and new cities, stop in to some of Mr. Twain’s churches, and hit a few of the gazillion stores. Maybe take in a museum or two, and definitely seek out a variety of restaurants.
It’s a wonderful place.