Tuesday, September 04, 2007

of montréal

Saturday afternoon, after a particularly inspiring walk around Chimney Bluffs State Park, I decided to make a brief, overnight trip to Montréal. Completely spur of the moment, but I needed to get out of town for a day and I'd always wanted to visit. I swung by Barnes & Noble to grab a guide book (not a particularly helpful one, as it turned out) and booked a hotel room when I got home.

I left in the deepest darkness of 4am, zipping down 104 instead of the Thruway. Without street lights, pine forests on either side, my headlights illuminating the thickening fog ahead of me--it was like every fireside horror story you ever heard at camp. I half expected a phantom hitchhiker to appear in my back seat. The sun began to rise a while before Oswego, and the fog lingered attractively among the fields and streams before dissipating.

The rest of the drive was fairly unremarkable, although generally pretty. I needed to stop for gas about 90 minutes outside of Montréal, which proved to be quite complicated as a) I hadn't exchanged any money yet, and b) apparently pay-at-the-pump gas stations have yet to permeate the rural areas of Québec. Thankfully I ran across one that accepted cards as I approached Montréal, so an early crisis was averted.

I dropped my car off at the hotel around 10 but, as I couldn't check in yet, I took a stroll around Vieux-Montréal. Totally beautiful. My spoken French is embarrassingly rudimentary, but I can read it well enough, so it wasn't too difficult to navigate or order food, etc.

Day One

Cobblestone streets, bistros and cafés, terraces, statues, fountains, cathedrals... ah, all the things that I am a complete sucker for! Completely saturated with tourists, obviously, but totally gorgeous.

Château Ramezay
Museum of the history of Montréal, with restored rooms as well as exhibits on life in early Canada (the capital punishment room was quite interesting). There was a modest garden in the back that would have been delightful, had it not been completely overrun with the most bad-ass looking wasps I'd ever seen.

Museum of archeology and the history of Montréal, situated on the precise spot where the city was founded (so they claim). The majority of the exhibits were all right, and there was a lookout affording decent views of the city; however, the truly awesome stuff was down in the basement, where you could tour some excavations of the old city and peruse super-cool artifacts they'd dug up. Old stuff! History nerdgasm!

Place Jacques-Cartier
It tickled me that there is a huge, towering statue of Admiral Nelson in the heart of Vieux-Montréal. Apparently the English put it up back in the day, and there he still stands. Ha! It took a little bit of searching to find a restaurant that served something other than les hamburgers, but I eventually settled onto a cozy terrace for a delicious (if tourist-priced) meal of moules provençales and Hoegaarden.

The waterfront wasn't anything spectacular, but I happily strolled down Quai King-Edward with gelato in hand.

Mont Royale and Oratoire St-Joseph
My guidebook's maps were not the best. For this reason, I ended up trudging up the ridiculous hills of Mont Royale for about 45 minutes to reach Oratoire St-Joseph (turns out, I could have just walked down the road from the Metro station. Oh well). It wasn't a complete loss, I suppose, as the homes there were beautiful (kind of like a Québécois Hollywood Hills, je suppose), but my legs still ache. Eventually I reached the summit and l'Oratoire, cashing in on the payoff of gorgeous vistas in all directions. I didn't see the heart of Brother Andre, but there were a large number of pilgrims queuing up to seek healing. The basilica interior was a little too modern for my taste, I'm generally not a huge fan of mid-20th-century churches, but the outside wasn't too ugly.

Rue St-Denis
Super hipster stretch in the Latin Quarter, full of quirky independent shops and terraced cafés and bistros. I dined on moules mariniere at a small, charming terrace affording excellent and varied people watching. Everyone was good looking, even the homeless people! It was bizarre and very Stepfordesque. Did you ever see the "Arrested Development" episode where Lindsay picks up the good-looking homeless guy, who turns out to be an actor researching a role? That's all I could think about when I passed a handsome, if a little scruffy, guy sitting on a stoop. I thought he was just chilling on the stoop of his building until he asked me for change. Ha!

Day Two

Jardin Botanique
I almost skipped this on Monday morning since it started to drizzle, but after a brief stop for coffee the clouds parted. The gardens were worth every penny. I only had time to cruise through the rose garden, Chinese garden, and Japanese garden as I had to get back to my hotel across town to check out by noon, but I could have easily spent all day there. Apparently it is second only to London's Kew Gardens in size.

Marché Maisonneuve
On my way back from des jardins, I picked up a croissant and coffee at the historic Marche Maisonneuve. My guidebook made it out to be this amazing, authentic place but I have to admit... it was pretty disappointing. The only kick I got out of it was actually having to use my pathetic French "skills" to order my food. I wish I'd spent a bit more time at the gardens instead, but oh well!

I arrived home last night around 6pm, completely exhausted but so happy and satisfied with my trip. I used to do this sort of thing all the time when I was in the UK, so it was exhilarating to venture out on my own again and just... go. If I had the money I'd definitely do it more often. Now I need to start saving for my trip to Japan next year!


melponeme_k said...

Montreal is wonderful. I visited the city a few years back.

Did you visit the Montreal Art Museum? They had a great collection.

Kaskait from LJ

C. said...

I had wanted to go to the Art Museum, but it was closed on Monday and I didn't have time on Sunday. I plan on going back at some point in the not-too-distant future, though, so it's definitely on my list!