Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

Eastern Canada: Montreal

by Kathy 24. September 2012 15:59

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We knew we had crossed the border of the Quebec province when all the highway signs switched to French, which is spoken as the first language.

Montreal is the largest city in the Quebec province. We spent a few days here wandering through the waterfront historic district, absorbing the cultural diversity and laid-back vibe, relaxing in neighborhood parks, viewing colorful public art, and sampling the goodies found in local markets.

Our home base was a hostel, called Auberge Alternative—a renovated 1875 warehouse in the heart of the historic district. The front entrance:

This was our first hostel experience as a family, and it was a great introduction. The facilities were clean and the beds were reasonably comfortable. For $75 a night, we had breakfast and a private “family room” in the corner of the top (5th) floor:

I think that our room was the best in the hostel, as we had two windows, plus a fan, that promoted air circulation and gave a bit of reprieve from the sweltering August heat. We also had nice views from the windows:

Here is an exterior view of the hostel, with our two dormer windows in the front and side of the top corner:

One aspect that we didn’t fully appreciate until after we had experienced two other hostels on this trip was the bathroom configuration. On our floor were 3 bathrooms—one with just a shower, one with just a toilet and sink, and one with a shower, toilet and sink. Although we shared these (very clean) bathrooms with over a dozen other guests, the segmented bathrooms meant that we rarely had to wait.

The location of the hostel was ideal. Right outside our door were fabulous old buildings, cobblestone streets, good restaurants, and more.

We weren’t the only ones drawn to this area, however, and the streets were crowded with other tourists. Here are Genevieve and I on Rue Saint Paul:

We loved looking at all the architecture:

The modern Museum of Archeology and History stood at the site where the city was initially established in 1642:

One of the exhibits inside was a series of dioramas that traced the land’s transformation from a centuries-old gathering place for Native Peoples, to a small French settlement along the river, and then a gradual expansion and development of the city of Montreal.

This building marked the spot of the first public square of Montreal:

We bought tickets for the “Then There Was Light” show inside the 19th century Notre Dame Basilica:

The show was promoted as “the most astounding sound and light show in town,” so our expectations were high. However, the dry reality of the show left us wondering if this were the ONLY sound and light show in town. Still, the blue and gold interior of the Basilica was beautiful:

To learn more about the different neighborhoods and the people who live in Montreal, we went on a bicycle tour called “Hoods and Hidden Gems.” The starting point was a bike shop out in the Plateau Mont Royal area, about a 10 minute drive from the historic district.

Sebastian and Genevieve, outside the bike shop:

Our exceptional guide was Martin—engaging, passionate about Montreal, and an all-around nice guy:

Winters are harsh in Montreal, so when the weather turns warm, the locals like to spend as much time as possible being outdoors and enjoying the many urban parks here.

One of the first parks we rode through on our tour was Jeanne-Mance Park, named after a woman who was one of the co-founders of Montreal.

The park was at the base of Mont Royal, a mountain in the center of the city (the name Mont Royal became the city’s name “Montreal”). At the top, just visible to us in the hazy air, was a cross that was nicknamed the “disco cross” because it can change colors when lit up at night:

A distinctive style of architecture in Montreal is an apartment building with the stairs on the outside leading to the second floor:

Martin explained that in the 1860’s, Montreal passed a law that houses had to be at least 10 feet away from the sidewalks; this was to prevent pedestrians from being killed or injured by sheets of ice that would slide off rooftops in the winter. Apartment owners, who generally lived on the lower floors of their buildings, took advantage of the new space in the front yard to build external stairs up to the second story, thereby giving themselves more interior room on the first floor.

With a continuing flow of immigrants in the 18th and 19th centuries, many separate communities were established on the periphery of Montreal, and the city eventually expanded and annexed most of those areas.

The Town of St Louis-du-Mile End, with its 35,000 residents, was annexed to Montreal in 1910 and is now known as the “Mile End,” one of Montreal’s hippest neighborhoods.

The town’s former municipal building now houses a fire department and museum:

Rising above the cafes, boutiques, and coffeehouses in Mile End was the dome of St. Michael’s, an Irish Catholic church built in the early 20th century and inspired by the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul:

The Mile End is also home to the famous St. Viateur Bagels, which has been churning out hand-made bagels since 1957:

Inside the shop, we ordered some bagels to go and watched a baker slide a tray of bagels into the old-fashioned brick oven. Little has changed since the shop opened in 1957.

We took our bagels down the street to Café Olimpico, where we enjoyed them with some cappuccinos and cold drinks.

Another town that had been subsumed by Montreal was Outremont, which had remained independent until 2001:

Outremont had been established in 1905 with beauty in mind. The buildings were made from brick and stone, and beautiful parks were created in the midst of large mansions.

Outremont Park:

In the neighborhood of Little Italy, we locked up our bikes and strolled through the Jean-Talon Market, one of the largest open markets in Canada.

The chocolate ice cream at Havre aux Glaces was flavorful and creamy--some of the best we’ve ever had:

Of the many cheeses we sampled in the market, my favorite was the black-coated Tomme du Maréchal:

Back on our bikes, we pedaled along streets and back alleys, past colorful murals and graffiti art:

This bright mural was called “Lignes et Couleurs,” by artist Philippe Mastrocola:

“L'Euphorie des Sages” by artist Carlito Dalceggio:

The Manga Mural by ThaPhlash was quite impressive:

Martin then treated us to a picnic lunch in Lafontaine Park, with sandwiches from a local boulangerie, Mr. Pinchot:

At the park:

Montreal was a very bike-friendly city, with a network of official trails that extended for miles:

Genevieve, near the end of our tour:

During our stay in Montreal, we returned to Lafontaine Park so that the kids could enjoy the many climbing structures, such as this one:

On the west edge of the park we spotted an artwork called “Les leçons singulières (part 2)” by artist Michel Goulet. Curving around a large bronze topographical map of the park were 6 chairs, each with a different object underneath—e.g., a pair of shoes, a basketball, a newspaper.

Other things we liked about Montreal included the crosswalk signs with both sexes depicted:

Montreal's personality was reflected in this floral rooftop:

Our last night in the city coincided with the finale of the annual international fireworks competition. What a great sendoff!

Sebastian had a fine view over the crowd:

We hadn’t expected to love Montreal so much. With its urban artsy flair, multicultural communities, and outdoor places to gather and play, Montreal was a city that both Ben and I could see ourselves living in . . . perhaps one day . . . after we stockpile our longjohns for the freezing, lengthy winters.

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Anais Nin