Thursday, 2nd June
A short taxi ride to Union Station and we stocked up on food and drink for the trip. For five hours we travelled past Lake Ontario viewing vineyards, green fields and waterways. There was a food trolley where we could have bought lunch but opted for tea instead. Montreal Station Centrale was an eye opener. Whereas Toronto was in renovation chaos and with only two food outlets, Montreal boasted rows of shops more like an airport. There were patisseries with pastries and cakes only seen before in France, bottle shops larger than any we had seen in North America and every imaginable variety of food. We couldn’t dally as we had to get to the Old Town. It was a slow taxi ride through traffic and when we arrived we were rather taken aback by the unobtrusive appearance of our hotel. Quite different to the Doubletree edifices!
Up two flights of stairs with our luggage and we were shown into a delightful French style room. As an economy measure I had opted for a room without a view as this is an expensive part of town to stay in. However it was light and cheery.
We asked directions from the receptionist in the foyer and found a bottle shop and a small convenience store where we bought smoked meat, cheese, tomatoes, salad and crackers. On the way back we passed a patisserie where we bought two delicious but expensive tarts for dessert. Apparently the owner is from Paris and is very famous for his creations. In the room is a coffee maker and a toaster oven plus plates, knives and forks so it is possible to make a simple meal.
Friday, 3rd June
We had a great breakfast in our room of fresh baguette, smoked meat and tiny tomatoes along with tea made in the coffee maker.
The first things to do this morning were to find where our ship is leaving from tomorrow and get a walking tour map of the area from the Tourist Information Centre. We found a white marquee near the waterfront with a picture of a ship on the side and after a few enquiries found that a shuttle bus will take us seven kilometres to the ship as the dock is currently under renovation.
At the Tourist Bureau we picked up a map and checked out some of the attractions. The Old Town is very well preserved although the waterfront is cut off from the town by a railway line and features some ugly, falling down industrial buildings. With the rate of redevelopment going on I am sure it will look very different in five years, especially as an effort is being made to retain the character of the area.
Most of the City Wall has gone but we found some behind the Hotel d’Ville. The Town Hall itself featured some beautiful stained glass windows, chandeliers and marble. The balcony is where General Charles de Gaulle proclaimed his famous “Vive le Quebec libre!” in 1967. This brought to mind John’s often told joke from an English cartoon of the time. There was a shipment of toilets of the squatting variety bound for Canada from France. De Gaulle was supposed to be saying, “That will get the French in Canada back on their feet!”
I know, I know – it’s a Dad joke.
We walked up Place Jacques-Cartier which looked very touristy. It has been a marketplace since the early 1900s and was just setting up as we passed by. The sides were lined with French style Cafes festooned with spring flowers. Our guide at the Information Centre was Spanish and directed us to a cafe called Veritas for a good strong cortado. Sometime later we saw a cafe offering flat whites but by then had enough caffeine in our system.
The highlight if the day was a visit to Chateau Ramezay, opposite the Town Hall. Built in 1705 as the Montreal governor’s residence, it was later sold on to fur traders, then became the headquarters of the Continental (American) Army, then a British governor’s residence, then a Faculty of Medicine for Montreal University and finally, in 1895, a museum. In each room, representing a different era of the house, a recording could be played from a person of that time. It reminded me of the book, “My Place”. It certainly gave a great overview of the history of Montreal including the Iroquois Amerindians. Now there’s a new word I discovered today. An Amerindian is any member of the people living in North or South America before the arrival of the European.
The cafes outside our hotel were in full swing when we returned so we had sandwiches and soup under the umbrellas in the shade. It had become a beautiful sunny day and many people looked settled in for the Friday afternoon.
We were both tired so grabbed a nap before setting forth to buy some food for dinner. The atmosphere was festive and we were tempted to enter one of the hundreds of restaurants beckoning in the Old Town. Instead we bought bread, salad and yoghurt and with the smoked meat, tomatoes, cheese and pickles in our room we washed it all down with a good red.