Montréal

 

A little geography

Montréal is an island situated in the south of the province of Québec which is one of the ten provinces and 2 territories of Canada. Montréal is said to be shaped like a sock, I prefer to compare it to a boomerang. It is 51Km. long by 16 Km. wide and has a hill in its center called “Le Mont-Royal” which is 232m high.

A little history

Jacques Cartier, a Frenchman, was the first European to visit the island in 1534. Then, in 1612, Samuel de Champlain set up a fort on it to facilitate fur trading activities with the Indians. Walls were built to protect it, around, what is now known as, the old port. You can see parts of the old fortifications in the Pointe à Callière museum. But it is really in 1645 that people started to settle here. First a French lady by the name of Jeanne Mance built a hospital and then, a few years later, another woman, Marguerite Bourgeoys opened a school for both Indian and French children. She also founded a religious order called “La Congrégation de Notre Dame”. The Maison Saint Gabriel is still standing on the lot that she bought to welcome the “filles du Roy” (the orphan girls sent by the king to marry the soldiers and settlers here and raise the population numbers).

The city grew slowly, more or less comfortably with the neighboring Indians and the clergy became more and more powerful. In 1759 a battle between the French and the British ended with the British take-over. But the day to day lives of the people did not change much. The French held on to their language and their faith, and managed to survive as a group, an enclave within an English speaking America. Montreal went through the same periods as the rest of the western world: the industrial revolution, the wars, the economic depression. There were many fires and epidemics, yet Montréal continued to grow, spreading north, away from the port and downtown.

The 1960s saw a time dubbed “the quiet revolution” when, one could say, the entire province moved up into modern times.

There have been many waves of immigration over the years, starting in the 1800s when the Italians, the Jews, and the Irish came here to flee famine or persecution or hoping for a better life. Lately, people from Asia, Vietnam in particular, as well and the Caribbean and the middle east have also joined the large Montreal community. They have all contributed to the flavor of Montréal.

Some events have shaped Montréal also, leaving landmark buildings such as the world fair: “Expo 67” which left us the French pavilion that has been transformed into a casino, and the summer Olympics in 1976 which left us the Olympic stadium and it’s mast visible for miles.

Montreal Today

I want to explain the city layout to you so you will understand where things are. The city is divided in neighbourhoods I will mention the most popular ones:

Vieux Montréal / Vieux port

These are so close that I put them together. This is the oldest area of Montreal and it has been restored quite nicely in the last few years.

You can walk along the water’s edge, you can rent all kinds of rolling vehicles and follow the cycling path along the Lachine canal.

There are many shops, restaurants and terraces in the area, at least two churches worth seeing and a couple more museums. It might not be quiet but it should be fun.

There is a metro (subway) station not too far away which will connect you to everything else in the city.

If you are good walkers you can get to China Town by foot from Old Montréal or from downtown. It is easy to spot as there are giant red and gold arches with sculptures at the entrance. China town is delightfull to walk through. There is a hidden temple to discover, many restaurants and stores that sell mysterious herbs and medicines.

The other important area is downtown (centreville), where you will find more American style hotels. The shopping is done in this area, as this is where you find the “underground city”.

You have many interesting museums and more restaurants that you can want (more on food later). Many fashionable streets, each with it’s own character: Crescent, Bishop and De La Montagne are close together and offer mostly restaurants and bars. This is a nightime place popular with an English speaking crowd. Rue St Denis is more French speaking and is longer, so it offers both restaurants, terraces and bars as well as shops of all kinds. Finally St Laurent Boulevard is the in place to see and be seen, trendy avant garde bars and restaurants. By the way St Laurent boulevard, also called La Main, divides the city between east and west. So any address with Est on it, is necessarily to the east of St Laurent.

The longest east/ west street is Sherbrooke street. It is a good reference point on a map. Just south of Sherbrooke is Ste Catherine with is the shopping street and also where the jazz fest is held (it gets closed off to car traffic for the occasion).

You will see mentioned in guide books the Golden Square Mile, it is part of downtown. This area, is bordered to the east by Park Avenue, to the west, by Atwater Street, OT the north by Pine Avenue and, to the south, by Dorchester boulevard, hence the name “Square Mile”.The Golden Square Mile’s heyday ranged between 1850 and 1930. More than 70% of all Canadian wealth was found here, in this area where the most influential Canadian families resided. Many of the homes of the Golden Square Mile are still standing. Over the years, many of them have been bought by McGill university and converted into faculties and student fraternities. This area is also called le quartier du musée referring to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

Le Plateau is a more residential area, although is surrounds St Denis street which is very active, and filled with cafés and shops and terraces. It is a French speaking neighbourhood, and is popular with artists and creators. You will see, as in other areas also, many outdoor stairs, which are typical of Montréal

Further north, surrounding the open air Jean Talon Market, is little Italy. A warm colourful area, it offers many interesting food shops. And this is the place to be during soccer finals! Not far to the south along Saint Laurent boulevard is a charming Portuguese park (with azuleros).

Each neighbourhood is different and interesting in it’s own way, be it wealthy Westmount with the gorgeous views towards the south shore, Côte des Neiges with the University de Montreal and it’s very phallic tower next to….

… the Oratory and it’s very “feminine” dome, Outremont and its very Francophone population mingling with an Orthodox Jewish community.

Pointe Saint Charles which was a workers community but is now becoming fashionable as old warehouses along the Lachine Canal are being transformed into condos…. I could go on and on….a Maison St Gabriel: One of the oldest farmhouses still standing was bought by Marguerite Bourgeoys in 1668 to welcome the “Filles du Roy”, orphan girls that were sent here by the king to marry and procreate. It is now a museum that displays furniture that was listed in the inventory of 1722.

You will notice that we have quite a few parks in Montréal, the two largest being the Mount Royal park with sits on the side of Mount Royal which is our “mountain” (more a hill) and Parc Lafontaine more to the east. There is a lot of action there in the summer. On nice sundays you have “Les tam tam du dimanche” on parc Mont Royal when people come to play music and hang out…

Another area which has a lot to offer (if not in hotels at least in things to see ) is around the Olympic park,The stadium itself offers an interesting visit with a ride up it’s tower. And Right next to it you have the biomewhere you have 4 eco systems reproduced with flora and some fauna (not to be confused with the biosphere , former American pavilion on Ile Notre Dame with an exhibit on the fleuve St Laurent ). Across the street you have the botanical gardens which offer interesting visits both inside the green houses and outside on the grounds. Finally you have the insectarium… interesting also…

The Sites

Montreal has so much to see I cannot begin to describe it all. But I will talk about my favorite sights, as I would for a friend visiting. Starting with the landmarks and then going by interests.

THE OLYMPIC PARK

The first area to visit might be the Olympic area. It has wonderful photo opportunities and offers a number of different activities. The first of which might be a visit of the stadium and a ride up the tower. There is a lot of interesting and technical information to learn about the infamous stadium. As for the ride, on a clear day you can see forever.

Next I would suggest a visit at the Biodome. It is housed inside what used to be the velodrome and it re creates four different eco systems, complete with with plants and animals. Walking into a tropical forest is always a surprise especially in the middle of winter. I like their boutique, it is filled with interesting gifts especially for kids. By the way, the word Biodome. comes from the Greek bios meaning life and domos meaning house.

Across Sherbrooke street lies the botanical garden. In the summer time I encourage you to visit the grounds either by foot or on the little train that rides through them. There are so many different gardens to see from the Chinese garden to the Japanese garden, from the monastery garden to the peace garden, from the medicinal plant garden to the poisonous plant garden, from the rose garden to the shade garden, from the flowery brook to the marsh and bog garden and the list goes on. When the weather turns cold check out the 10 exhibition green houses with their 36,000 plants.

Next door is the Insectarium with it’s 140 000 specimen. It is particularly interesting to visit during the bug eating activities. The building itself resembles a bug. There is also a wonderful butterfly house that is a delight to visit.

One last attraction worth visiting in the area, yet totally unrelated is the Château Dufresne.

OLD MONTREAL

On another day I would suggest old Montréal. This area has cobblestone streets and old buildings, it is full of cafés and boutiques. A tourist heaven. Just walking around is pleasant, if a bit Disneyesque. But it is also full of history. Predictably it grew along the port. So you are never far from the water when walking in Old Montreal. The water’s edge itself is being slowly spruced up. Interesting structures can be seen.Many old warehouses are being transformed. The waterlocks have been re-opened and a cycling path runs all along the Lachine canal, so there is a lot to see and do all along the port.

ÎLE SAINTE HÉLÈNE

Another area that is worth a day’s visit Île Sainte Hélène. This is where the 1967 World Fair was held.

MUSEUMS

Once you have seen the main tourist sites you might want to check out some of our museums

Le Musée Mc Cord, is more “artifacts” than paintings or sculptures, it is a history museum.

CHURCHES

Montreal is known as the city of a hundred steeples. It is true that we were a very religious country, like many others, and the churches are a witness to that. Some are grandiose, some are modest, some are austere, some are flamboyant, some are tiny, others are large, some offer great acoustics and are often the site of concerts.

HOW ABOUT MONTREAL WITH THE KIDS?

Here is an idea of activities that kids might enjoy in Montréal: I will go by “area”.

In the Olympic parc area: The tower itself has an elevator that takes you to the top from where you get a nice view.. At ground level, the Biodome. which is inside the Olympic installations, has recreated four climates, complete with plants and some animals. www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/Biodome.

Across the street you have the Insectarium, butterflies (loose in a tent where you can go) as well all kinds of bugs and spiders. www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/Insectarium

The botanical garden is next door, they have a little open train ride in the gardens which can be a nice rest.. www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/jardin There are tickets for each of these activities as well as combos….

In the old port: you can again take an open train ride , but you can rent quadracycles, to get around… there is a bike trail that runs along the river for 13 miles….

There is a interactive science exhibit, (they say for young and old…) as well as an Imax theater showing SPACE STATION, the first ever 3D space film. www.CentredesSciencesdeMontreal.com

There is a gigantic labyrinth, that you walk through …. that is fun for everyone

There is a clock tower: 192 steps to the top, but along the way you get to see the mechanism of the almost 100 years old clock. Once at the top you have nice view. There is a playground close by.

There are boat rides of all sorts amphibus tours, bateau mouche, old port cruises, jet boats… www.croisieresaml.com

If you have one museum to see with kids I might suggest the Sir George-Étienne Cartier historical museum, because the staff is dressed up in period costumes… or the Musée Pointe a Callière because of the audio visual presentation…. although I am not really sure how much they would be interested.

Downtown:

If you have an artist with you, you can take him to one of the ceramic cafés, he will get to choose a piece to paint and they will fire it for you… so you have a lovely memento (if you leave before the piece is ready I will pick it up and mail it to you).

For a cool break there is an indoor skating rink open all year, with rental skates available: L’Atrium au 1000 de la Gauchetière.

Not too far is the Planetarium: the screen is on the ceiling… the presentations alternate :French English This summer the name of the presentation for the kiddies is “stars in my backyard” and it is being run on wednesday, thursday and friday at 11:30. They have two other presentations for an older audience.

There is always a metro ride… many of the stations are colourful as they were all decorated by various artists…

The underground city is not really intended for kids… although the place Ville Marie which was the first part of the underground system has a fun eating place called Movenpick, where you walk from one “stall” to the next choosing your dishes.

 

On the St Hélène’s island: there are many attractions here… making it a good destination for a visit.

First the Biosphere, which is the former American pavilion (from the 1967 world’s fair). It now holds an interactive exhibit on water and more specifically the St Lawrence river…. it is informative for the grownups but there are enough “things to do” to keep the kiddies interested also. It is set amidst nice gardens… excellent for a picnic..

Also on St Helen’s island is the Musée Stewart au Fort de l’Île sainte Hélène. Apart from the museum there are displays of regiments parading in full regalia with drums and pipes etc… Impressive and a very nice setting by the water….pic nic areas too. http://www.stewart-museum.org/index.html

La ronde is the amusement park where the fireworks displays originate from. There is a kiddie part with smaller rides… some of the grown up rides are OK for kids too, like la pitoune ( the plume) and they have make up for the kids too etc. The fireworks contests are great : http://www.montreal.com/tourism/laronde.html and www.lemondialsaq.com

Odds and ends: In Laval, the Cosmodome, offers many on hands activities as well as a multi-media presentation all related to space travel, the kids can even step into a replica of the endeavor space shuttle.

The St Constant train museum has 130 train engines on display. www.exporail.org/musee/musee_MFC.htm

La pointe du moulin is a lovely spot near the water, with an old windmill and a thematic exhibit as well as animation… great for the little ones… http://www.pointedumoulin.com/page3.htm

RESTAURANTS

Here goes for the restaurants list. This is not easy as there are hundreds of good restaurants in Montreal. I have 5 different rest books in front of me, and I will try to gather a consensus as well as add my own comments. Of course it is far from complete, but I went with the ones I know… feel free to ask me about more suggestions, when I put (DT) is means it is located downtown… I know I will update it as soon as I post it but… at least this is a start I will group them by categories that I hope will be useful.

The first group would have to be the TOP restaurants. Meaning the most expensive and in SOME cases the best food and decor.

LES CAPRICES DE NICOLAS, is my favourite among the very expensive. The food is wonderful, the service is attentive and knowledgeable and the setting is lovely. (DT) 2072 Drummond (514) 282 9790 lescaprices.com

LE TOKÉ, is highly rated, very innovative cuisine, the setting is modern ( a bit cold to my taste). 3842 St Denis (514) 499 2084 www.restaurant-toque.com.

LA QUEUE DE CHEVAL, is a steak place, popular with hockey players, nice setting, but overpriced. 1221 boul René Lévesque ouest (514) 390 0090 www.queuedecheval.com

(DT) NUANCES set in the casino, is said to be very good (I have not tried it) 1 avenue du Casino (514) 392 2708 1 800 665 2274 www.casinos-quebec.com

CAFÉ DE PARIS, set in the Ritz Carlton hotel, becomes a rooftop garden in summer time, quite posh, but good food usually… 1228 Sherbrooke ouest (514) 842 4212 (DT)

LE PASSE PARTOUT, very good food in an ordinary setting , but above an art gallery and includes a bakery. A bit off the top in attitude and prices sometimes… 3857 Décarie (514) 487 7750

 

The second group are very good restaurants but at a slightly less extreme prices

RESTAURANT HÉLÈNE DE CHAMPLAIN, set on Île Ste Hélène, opulent setting, good service, honest food. Nice view on the rose garden…. 200 tour de l’Ilsle, Île sainte Hélène (514) 395 2424

BEAVER CLUB, supposed to be a great table. I find the room too somber… they used to have nice sunday brunches… Queen Elizabeth hotel, 900 René Lévesque (514) 861 3511 (DT)

LA RAPIERE, good food in a nice setting (great steak tartare and carré d’agneau) Edifice de la Sun Life 11556 Metcalfe (514) 871

8920 (DT) LES HALLES, well rated… I am not crazy about the place but it is popular. 1450 Crescent (514) 844 2328 (DT)

LES CHENETS, one of the best wine cellars in Montreal, good food, nice setting… a cigar room… 2075 Bishop (514) 844 1842

(DT) LE PARCHEMIN, is well rated… I have never tried it… let me know if you do, the menu seems very creative… 1333 Université (514) 844 1619 (DT)

 

Next category: reasonable prices , nice food and nice setting:

LE CHANDELIER, a bit out of the way but lovely setting, in an old home, honest food and pleasant service. 825 Côte Vertu (514) 748 5800

MOISHES, one of the best steak restaurants in Montreal, the decor is nothing special, it is a busy place. Only opened at night. 3961 St Laurent (514) 845 1696

ALEXANDRE ET FILS, popular bistro, in the middle of downtown, very French 1454 Peel (514) 288 5105 (DT). It has a bar downstairs.

BONAPARTE, in old Montréal… I have memories of a winter night, snow blowing outside on a deserted street… honest food, set in a nice little hotel next to the Centaur theater… 443 Saint François Xavier (514) 844 4368

CHEZ GAUTHIER, a noisy bistro, coupled with one of the best pastry shops in town, good food. 3487 ave du Parc (514) 845 2992

CHEZ LÉVESQUE, an institution, always busy, on fun Laurier street in Outremont. Good food. 1030 Laurier ouest (514) 279 7355

CLUB DES PINS, also on Laurier, sunny bistro, good food, good service. 156 Laurier ouest (514) 272 9484

LALOUX, very French bistro atmosphere, I loved the food the last time I was there… not far from st Denis street. 250 Des Pins EST (514) 287 9127

LE CAFÉ DES BEAUX ARTS, set in the museum of fine arts… it is quite good… not always open at night… 1384 Sherbrooke ouest (514) 843 3233 (DT)

LE CAVEAU , an institution, nice setting… good food… in the heart of downtown behind La Baie store 2063 Victoria (514) 844 1624 (DT)

LE MAS DES OLIVIERS, nice Provençal ambiance, good food. 1216 Bishop (514) 861 6733 (DT)

LE PARIS, an institution, crowded, very French, good food. 1812 Ste Catherine ouest (514) 937 4898 (DT)

LE PARIS BEURRE, out of the way, but one of my regular haunts, good food, bistro setting, with an outside terrace in the summer… 1226 Van Horne (514) 271 7502

LE PERSIL FOU, I like the place, honest food, at the top (north end) of St Denis street has changed hands recently… would require another visit… 4669 saint denis (514) 284 3130

LE BÉARN, a tiny place in Côte Des Neiges, the best marmalade d’oignon in town… good food..

 

Ethnic foods now:

Italian LE PIEMONTAIS, we are not talking pizzeria here, I suggest letting the chef decide your menu… 1145-A de Bullion (514) 861 8122

Chinese: LE CHRYSANTHÈME, large restaurant, very good food 1208 Crescent (514) 397 1408 (DT)

L’ORCHIDÉE DE CHINE, very good food, elegant setting 2017 Peel (514) 287 1878 (DT)

 

Japanese: KATSURA, an institution, very good food 2170 de la Montagne (514) 849 1172 (DT) SOTO , very fresh fish… great food… expensive. 3527 St Laurent (514) 842 1150

TOKYO SUKIYAKI, the oldest Japanese rest in Montreal…. a favourite with us… dark intimate, private rooms….. very out of the way…. 7355 Mountain sights (514) 737 7245

 

Thai:THAÏ GRILL, noisy, busy, delicious 5101 St Laurent (514) 270 5566

CHAO PHRAYA very good food 50 Laurier ouest (514) 272 5339

 

Vietnamese:SOUVENIRS D’INDOCHINE, well rated…. I have never tried it… 243 Mont Royal ouest (514) 848 0336

 

Vegetarian: LE COMMENSAL, is a pay by weight buffet… there is something for ever one… It is a chain, here are some of their addresses: Côte Des Neiges corner of Queen Mary, Mc Gill college. There are 4 on Sherbrooke street….

Breakfast places: DÉJEUNERS CHEZ CORA is also a chain, with colourful (if confusing) menus, anything you can think of they probably have…. open until mid afternoon…

EGGSPECTATION (another chain) serves breakfast as well as all day long, all forms of egg dishes plus a variety of other things too. Their logo is green and gold.

BEAUTYS is one of a kind… an old fashioned diner… on Mount Royal ouest…

Kids friendly restaurants: I will not mention the fast food chains that everyone knows: MacDonald, Harveys etc…

ST HUBERT is a chain, of chicken rest, with kids menus and games to keep them amused while they wait for their food. It is clean, friendly and reliable.

PIZZÉDÉLIC is a pizza chain…

PACINI, ( a chain) is Italian.. and they have grills to toast your own bread

NICKELS ( a chain) is an old fashioned diner style…

A LA CREPE BRETONNE, is a crepe place where you can have just about any filling you can imagine from asparagus to chocolate.

CHALET SUISSE is chicken..

THE WEATHER

Yes winters are harsh! We get snow! Lots of it usually, although some years are better than others. Even if the books say differently, to me February is the coldest month. And if you are looking for snow it is the safest month to find some. But we can get snowed in anytime between the end of October to well into April. Apart from the first snowfall every year, drivers and cleaning crews usually handle it well, and except during extreme storms, Montreal life is unperturbed by snow. Everything is well heated, we even have heated sidewalks on St Hubert street! But you need warm clothing and waterproof footwear if you come here in winter.
You should be prepared to hear about the ice storm we had here in …. when the ice covering the power lines got so thick and heavy that the towers holding up the lines toppled like matchstick constructions. People were without power for a long time (one week was the average but it took up to one month to get people connected back in some areas).

If you want to try our winter sports you will be better off to go visit the Laurentians, an area about one hour north of here here you will find all the wintertime sports you can want (downhill skiing, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing, dog sledding, ice skating, snowmobiling…).

Summers can get quite hot for short periods, otherwise it is sunny and warm and quite pleasant. We have many outdoor festivals in summertime:the Fringe Festival, the Jazz fest, which is really a music festival (not just jazz) and has many outdoors shows as well as paying indoors ones, the fireworks competitions, the Just For Laughs fest which offers entertainment both in French and in English, the Africa Nights festival, the Francofolies, the World Film festival and a couple more such as the Mosaiculture exhibit, which is a flowers and plants show that goes on all summer in the Old Port.

Fall is the most glorious season, when the leaves turn yellow, orange and red against a bright blue ski. The weather oscillates between warm and cool, rainy and sunny, but it is always colourful! it is hard to pinpoint the best time to see the colours as it varies from year to year, but normally, mid September to mid October are safe bets.
As for spring…. well… it is nice for us because it is the end of winter but it is not the prettiest season as dirty snow is melting… it is a good time to visit museums and see some shows.

FRENCH

Most people contemplating coming here, wonder about the language barrier. In Montreal, the majority of people speak both French and English So you can always make yourself understood pretty much everywhere. If you venture outside Montreal but within the province of Québec, you might encounter more francophones who are not fluent in English But everywhere people will do their best to help you and make you feel welcome. And it is NOT true that Americans or English speaking people are not welcome. We LOVE tourists and do our best to make your stay a pleasant one. If you want to try your hand at speaking French, here are a few words that can help you get around .

Hello = bonjour (in the daytime) = bonsoir (at night)
yes = oui
no = non
please = s’il vous plait (pronounced seal vooo play)
thank you = merci
where is? = où se trouve?
I want = je veux
I want to go to = je veux aller à…
how much does it cost? = combien ça coute?
at what time? = à quelle heure?

one = un
two = deux
three = trois
four = quatre
five = cinq
six = six
seven = sept
eight = huit
nine = neuf
ten = dix
eleven = onze
twelve = douze
thirteen= treize
fourteen = quatorze
fifteen = quinze
sixteen = seize
seventeen = dix sept
eighteen = dix huit
nineteen = dix neuf
twenty = vingt
twenty one = vingt et UN ( the only one to take the word “et” )
twenty two = vingt deux
twenty three = vingt trois and so on…
thirty = trente
fort = quarante
fifty = cinquante
sixty = soixante
seventy = soixante dix
eighty = quatre vingt
ninety =quatre vingt dix
one hundred = cent
two hundred = deux cent and so on……

washroom = toilettes
room = chambreelevator = ascenceur
blanket = couverture
towel = serviette de bain
shower = douche
soap = savon
key = clef ( pronounced clay)
breakfast = déjeuner (in France they call this petit déjeuner)
lunch = dîner, or repas du midi or lunch (in France they call this déjeuner)
supper = souper (in France they call this le dîner)

water = eau (eau plate is non carbonated )
milk = lai

cream = crème

soft drinks = liqueurs douces
beer = bière (pression means draft)

wine = vin

red = rouge

white = blanc

ham and melted cheese sandwich = croque monsieur
fish = poisson

chicken = poulet

beef = boeuf

veal = veau

pork = porc
crème caramel you already know
French pastries = pâtisseries
bread = pain

butter = beurre
vegetables = légumes

fruit = fruit
to eat = manger
to walk = marcher
to sleep = dormir
to pay = payer ( pronounced pay eeee yea)
money = argent
change ( as in giving change or loose change) = monnaie
ticket = ticket or billet

and if you need a word to express that you are not happy you can use :
merde! which is very clear (it means shit) yet is acceptable. (pronounced mare-rrr-dugh)

LINKS

Here are a few of the numerous websites devoted to Montréal.

http://www.montrealcam.com Live cam shots around Montreal

http://www.meteomedia.com Live weather updates from Montreal

http://www.tourisme-montreal.org/B2C/00/default.asp (A thorough site about Montréal)

http://www2.ville.montreal.qc.ca/mtlcarte/anglais/mtlcarte.htm (Maps)

http://english.montrealplus.ca/ (General info on Montreal)

http://meetings.sixcontinentshotels.com/destinations/montreal/photos.html (General info about Montreal)

http://www.concierge.com/montreal/resources/neighborhoodguide/ (General info)

http://vieux.montreal.qc.ca/eclair/eng/f_anima.htm (This is a fun site about Old Montreal)

http://www.canada.com/montreal/features/festivals/ (Listing of all the festivals)

http://www.cityguide.travel-guides.com/cities/mon/Excursions.asp (excursion ideas)

http://www.journeywoman.com/gfc/montrealshopping.html (Shopping…)

http://www.montreal.com/ (Calendar of events)

http://www.montreal.com/tourism/kids.html (Activities for kids)

http://www.icomm.ca/emily/how.html (A funny site…)

http://www.stcum.qc.ca/metro/mapmetro.htm (Subway map)

http://www.visitesdemontreal.com/ (And of course last but not least my work place)

Another trip story!

It is with some delay that I finally posted the story of my cruise down the St Lawrence river, up the Saguenay and around the Maritimes

before heading south along the  Atlantic coast.

This was done in the fall as those cruises usually are, to take advantage of the beautiful fall foliage.

Unfortunately this can also mean rainy weather, which we got our fair share of.

It did not keep us from visiting any of the ports of call but it did make for photos that are less vibrant and colourful.

This was an interesting and varied itinerary which goes to prove you do not need to go far to be enchanted.

Here it is.

rouge

Atlantic North-East

Eurodam Cruise 2015

It is rare that I start a cruise with a train ride but it is exactly what I did for this one! A lovely train ride between Montréal and Québec city (in first class no less, complete with breakfast and internet!). The scenery lit up as the sun came into view and there were still a lot of colors on the trees. It looked like a strange modern painting….

The train station in Quebec is called Gare du Palais and has a lovely art deco vibe to it.

We hung around for a while before heading out to the port to board our ship. The much loved Eurodam.

Our stateroom was in the middle of the ship right next to the glass elevators…. as long as we did not lean out of our balcony our privacy was safe.

We started with an overnight in port, which was a novelty for me, and a very pleasant one at that, as the Vieux Québec (Old city) is only a few steps away from the docks. We did go for a walk amid very old buildings to the Auberge Saint-Antoine Hotel where we had a drink while seated in comfy couches in front of a log fire. It made me want to go back for a weekend to try out all those great restaurants… Usually I will drive there for a museum visit or a family reunion and head right back home. *Note to self*.
The iconic Chateau Champlain was all lit up as if it was posing for photographers…

It looked just as imposing the next morning in the light of day.

The next morning we again set out, this time for the Musée de la Civilisation, where we had a lovely guided visit of their “Masters of the Olympus” exhibit. It was interesting to me because this collection comes from the Berlin Antiquity Museum that I saw on my trip there in 2013.

And soon it was time to set sail… down the St Lawrence River, towards the Saguenay. The fall colours were still blazing along the river.

Unfortunately we lifted anchor late in the afternoon so that most of the trip was done in darkness and overnight, so we did not see a lot of the scenery nor did we see any whales. We docked in Saguenay early the next morning. It was very windy and on the cool side. You could tell they had a nice set up to welcome cruise ships but because this was nearing the end of the season most of the kiosks were un manned. We did however get to experience some local flavour during show we attended called: “La Fabuleuse Histoire d’un Royaume” or, as they translated it in English: “The Kingdom of Saguenay”. This is a show that has been running for years. It is more than a musical. There are real horses on stage and canons going off and all sorts of pyrotechnics. It tells the story of this isolated region and its very tenacious and inventive people. This English version has been shortened and translated to appeal to the cruising market and although I would have loved to see the entire show, I enjoyed it a lot and was very happy to have finally seen it!

We set sail in the afternoon once again so never got to see the fjord, as we exited it nor the whales.
We spent the next day sailing towards Prince Edward Island.
We did get to see the wind turbines as we sailed by Cap Chat.

This day was the perfect opportunity to explore the ship and its amenities. It is a beautiful ship and although called the Eurodam it seemed to be dedicated to Rembrandt as there were auto-portraits of him everywhere.

Given the cool and drizzly weather the pool was covered and the outside decks not overly inviting but the bars were welcoming as always. The Holland ships are pretty much all built on a similar model but this one boasts an extra feature: an Asian restaurant and bar that offered very nice views… comfy seating and fabulous cocktails…

We finally docked in Charlottetown on the morning of October 18th.

This is the land of the potato, of red soil and of Anne of Green Gables!

We chose to discover it through its food, so we took a walking culinary tour. It was very enjoyable. We got to taste some oysters, lobster, olive oil (nooo not local but still very enjoyable!) and vinegars (like a Cinnamon pear dark balsamic).

 

We visited a local brewery, located in a very old and charming building as well as a distillery by the waterfront.
It gave us the opportunity to discover a charming town, as we walked by St Dustan’s basilica and the Bishop’s palace, with many interesting sculptures along the way, as well as a picturesque boardwalk and beautiful fall colours!

 

The next day we were landing in a different province: Nova Scotia! Thoughts of Cape Breton and The Cabot Trail, the Louisbourg citadel and Peggy’s cove come to mind. We had two days, in two different ports, to explore this area called Mi’kma’ki by the First Nations, Acadie by the French and New Scotland by the British.

Our first stop was Sydney and we chose an excursion to the Fortress of Louisbourg in Cape Breton. When the War of Spanish Succession was settled with the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, Britain was given control of mainland Nova Scotia and France was given Ile Royale, what is today known as Cape Breton Island. The French found an ice-free, sheltered harbour to act as a base for France’s interests; they named it Louisbourg, in honour of King Louis XIV. Over the years it changed hands several times and was basically destroyed by1760. It has since been declared a National Historic site and carefully rebuilt as it stood in the 1740s when it was not only a military base but also a thriving civilian community made prosperous by a profitable cod-fishery and strong trade ties reaching across the Atlantic.

 

I find it fascinating to try and imagine the life of the people in those times…there are striking differences between the garrison and the homes around it.

Life could not have been easy… judging by this pillory.

I found the presence of the ocean so close both appeasing and menacing…

That afternoon we lifted anchor and woke up the next morning in Halifax, Nova Scotia! The home of Alexander Keith’s original 1820 brewery! This time I chose a bus tour of the main attractions of the area. We started in the public gardens, that I found absolutely beautiful even if this was fall and the end of flowering season.

Next we drove up to the Citadel. As we did not go in, there is not a lot I can say except that the view is pretty from up there and the kilt clad guards seemed to be freezing….

Next we drove to one of the most photographed places in the province:
Peggy’s cove, a picturesque fishing village with a stately lighthouse.

 

On the way back we stopped to meet the author of a picture book called “Peggy of the Cove” I have no comment on the book but the man is as colourful as his house.

The next stop was definitely not as light-hearted, as we visited the Titanic Grave site at the Fairview lawn cemetery. One hundred and twenty-one victims of the Titanic are interred at Fairview, more than any other cemetery in the world. Most of them are identified with small gray granite markers with the name and date of death. Surveyor E. W. Christie laid out three long lines of graves in gentle curves following the contours   of the sloping site. Accidentally or voluntarily, the curved shape suggests the outline of the bow of a ship.

It was an interesting closing for me after having visited the docks where the Titanic was built in Ireland a few years ago.

And it was time again to get back on board as we headed for the US onto Portland Maine.

In Portland we went to see a lighthouse…the setting was nice… foliage and flowers…

The weather was not great but it did not deter these sailors.

The last northern stop on this cruise was Boston. The rain kept us from exploring on foot so we chose a trip to Salem. As this was the end of October we felt the mood would be right…. And it was: houses were decorated for Halloween everywhere.

 

Once again we visited a cemetery: the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, such sad stories.

We then visited the Salem Witch Museum, where a presentation and exhibits retraced the events and attempted to explain what caused them: a strong belief in the devil, rivalry between neighbouring towns, a recent smallpox epidemic and the threat of attack by warring tribes created a fertile ground for fear and suspicion and mass hysteria.

Underlining another time in Salem history, we later visited the Salem Maritime National Historic Site where the Friendship of Salem, a 171-foot replica of a 1797 East Indiaman, is docked. The Friendship made 15 voyages during her career, to Batavia, India, China, South America, the Caribbean, England, Germany, the Mediterranean and Russia.   She was captured as a prize of war by the British September 4th, 1812. We were told there were so many built all at once that they were short of captains and had to send young boys at the helm…

Back on board the ship we were preparing for two days of sailing southward and looking forward to some warmer weather as the ship left Boston.
Everyone was taken by surprise when a very sudden and strong wind tipped the ship 5° sending plates and glasses flying in the dining rooms and bars. In true cruise line fashion everything was cleaned up in record time and life resumed its course in time for the second seating supper albeit to a shorter menu.

After 2 days of relaxation on board I was excited to get off the ship when we got to Port Canaveral, always busy…

I had elected to plan my own excursion and had booked a wildlife boat expedition with a company called “Wildside Tours” which turned out to be lovely.
The boat was small and quiet so you felt like you were respecting the animals rather than intruding. The captain and her mate were great at spotting wild life and would stop and let us really watch and take all the photos we wanted. We saw dolphins, manatees and many many gorgeous birds.

 

I completed the day with a quick stop in a shopping mall and a nice seafood lunch by the water. This turned out to be a lovely day in one of my favourite places.

We lifted anchor for the last time as we headed for Fort Lauderdale, the end of this journey. The day started with a spectacular sunrise…

As we had quite a bit of time before boarding our plane we took one more tour. This one was called “Land and sea excursion & transfer to Ft. Lauderdale” airport. The name tells it all. We had a bus tour through the Arts & science district, the Riverwalk and Las Olas Boulevard and then boarded a double decker yacht for a journey into the Intracoastal Waterway. This last part turned out to be very exciting as the city was hosting their big boat show that weekend! We saw some impressive vessels in that port, as well as very luxurious homes! It was a fun way to spend a few hours rather than wasting them in an airport.

 

And this concludes this “Canada New England cruise” story. We did not get the best weather but we did get to see some fall foliage and a great number of lighthouses. I was glad to get to know that part of my country better.

 

 

Space coast 2015

I  was back in Florida again this year and, as always, tried my hand at shooting pelicans in flight…I am pretty happy with the results!

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Even if the temperature was on the cool side, I had the BEST day!

First of all I managed to find my way to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge without getting lost!!! (Without my GPS because wildlife refuges do not have an address it seems)

CHECK!

Then, I was able to join a guided birding tour! (I had been told there was no room but some poor women arrived late so I got their seat! They caught up with us later and followed in their car but could not hear the comments and explanations from our guide which I did!)
CHECK!
I was able to take pictures of several species!
CHECK!
Here are what I think are: a stork, an anhinga drying its feathers,  a white egret

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Here I am not as certain, but this might be a juvenile tricoloured heron, or some more exotic creature whose name I forgot,as I did for the second. The third would be a Heron.

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And these two colourfuls are a roseate spoonbill and a blue heron

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Hogepodge sightings

To conclude my nature discoveries I will include  photos of two of the numerous  and very entertaining crabs that spent their days digging holes in the sand.

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And this one “new” (to me) bird. He seems to be wearing camouflage gear.

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I will conclude with one of my beloved pelicans hovering over the (very big) waves. By the way the water was blissfully warm. Great trip!

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Turtles!!!!!

I thought the bioluminescence would be the highlight of my trip….little did I know that I would get to witness something I hade been looking for for years.

As I was returning from my morning walk on the beach, I noticed a man  studying the sand intently and writing in a note book. I walked up to him to find out what he was doing. He explained that he was surveying the turtle nests on the beach. I was surprised to learn there was a nest right in front of my hotel. He showed me the markings in the sand indicating the recent hatching and subsequent trek to the water of some baby turtles. He could tell that they had initially started in the wrong direction, obviously misled by the lights coming from the street, but had rectified their itinerary when they reached the dunes and hopefully made it to the water.

I asked if there were egg remains in the nest. He offered to check and came up with more than a dozen little baby turtles. They had hatched but not left the nest during the night as their siblings had done. They were covered in sand and  seemed confused at first, walking in circle, rolling on their back.

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But they quickly gathered their wits and started walking towards the ocean. They were surprisingly fast for such small creatures walking with fins rather than feet. We escorted them to keep the birds away.

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As they got closer to the water’s edge  it got easier,  as they shed their sandy blankets and the sand they were walking on became harder. It was fun to observe the various colors and makings.

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They soon disappeared in the surf.

Back at the nesting site I got to see some eggs that had not developed. The texture is leathery.

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The man explained that the babies will swim for 24 hours without stopping and will soon embark on a seven year circular journey that will take them north , then across to European waters, then back  down south again before crossing back to America and starting over endlessly.

They are Loggerhead turtles and measure around 90 cm (35 in) long when fully grown, although larger specimens of up to 280 cm (110 in) have been discovered. The adult loggerhead sea turtle weighs approximately 135 kg (298 lb), with the largest specimens weighing in at more than 450 kg (1,000 lb). The skin ranges from yellow to brown in color, and the shell is typically reddish-brown. The loggerhead reaches sexual maturity within 17–33 years and has a lifespan of 47–67 years.he loggerhead sea turtle is ominvorous, feeding mainly on bottom-dwellig invertebrates. Its large and powerful jaws serve as an effective tool for dismantling its prey. Young loggerheads are exploited by numerous predators; the eggs are especially vulnerable. Once the turtles reach adulthood, their formidable size limits predation to large marine animals, such as sharks.

Loggerheads are considered an endangered species  and are protected.

Bioluminescence

Yesterday I had the  most amazing experience ever!

I went kayacking at sunset on the Indian River in Cape Canaveral… saw plenty of manatees…saw the sun go down and the moon light up….I also saw plenty of lightning bolts on the horizon but what was unexpected was the bioluminescence phenomenon!!!

As darkness took over I started seeing a bright color appear in the water every time I moved my paddle…or with every drop of water falling from it…and then I started seeing fish zoom by in a flash of light! It was awesome!!! Some people dove in and produced amazing light shows…. I was content just swishing my hand in the water and watching the show going on around me.

Once back to my hotel I looked it up and here is what I found out: the word “bioluminescence”  comes from  two parts: “Bio” refers to a living thing while “luminescence” is an emission of light. Put together, we get living creatures that create and emit light! These creatures biologically produce an enzyme called luciferase as well as a pigment called luciferin. When the pigment combines with oxygen, it produces light, while the enzyme accelerates this chemical reaction. While we don’t often see bioluminescence on land, in exists in large numbers within the depths of the ocean. For example, many scuba divers know that waving their limbs about in the water during a dark night dive will cause scores of tiny plankton to light up all around them, as if by magic!
This is exactly what I discovered! An absolutely magical and awesome experience!!

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Alaska

How the West Was Conquered!

2013

I have always been embarrassed to admit I had never made it past the Rockies to the west coat, never seen Vancouver. This Alaska cruise was the perfect opportunity.
We arrived a few days early to have some time to visit Vancouver and the area. Our visit although short was very pleasant.

Stanley Park is a huge and beautiful landmark dotted with totems and beautiful trees.

The totem was the British Columbia “Indian’s” coat of arms. They were carved from western red cedar and each carving tells of a real or mythical event. They were not idols nor were they worshipped.

The park also offers beautiful views of Vancouver.

 

We took a day to sail over to Victoria, to visit Butchart gardens.
This has got to be the biggest most spectacular botanical garden I have ever seen.
It got started in 1906 by Mrs. Jennie Butchart to fill up an exhausted quarry pit near their house and it grew and grew under her hand and later under her children and grandchildren’s direction.  Nowadays, over a million bedding plants in some 900 varieties bloom from March through October.

 

We also got to spend a bit of time in Victoria itself. I was amused to see the “MILE 0” sign. It reminded me of a similar sign for a different road in Key West.

We went to the Empress Hotel in the hopes of trying their famous afternoon tea…but at $65.00 a pop we decided to skip it…

Back to Vancouver to board our cruise ship, Holland America’s Zuiderdam.

We were trying out a “new” itinerary, which includes the Yukon. This is a novelty because it was not usually part of Alaskan voyages. It is an interesting addition especially for people whose ancestors may have been involved in the Klondike gold rush. The downside is that, because of this added land portion, we did not get to see the glacier fields, which is one of the highlights of an Alaska cruise. But we got so see some amazing things nonetheless and covered a lot of ground visiting British Columbia and the Yukon in Canada and Alaska in the USA.

Heading for the Inside Passage

We see the first snow capped mountains

And our first signs of icebergs!!!

The colors are ever changing… as we unknowingly cross the border into the US

First stop: Juneau, Alaska!

We choose an excursion into the Tongass National Forest. It is said to be the largest national forest in the USA at 17 million acres (69,000 km2).
We started with a walk in the woods.

 

It was interesting to see the markings of where the glacier had been through the years.

There are many streams left over from the passage of the glacier, allowing salmon to swim up, some of them for their last voyage, which explains their reddish color.

Suddenly, we came to a clearing that opened up to the Mendenhall glacier. It is a huge mass of ice (about 12 miles (19 km) long) and the compression is what makes it look blue.

The second part of this excursion was whale watching. This was without a doubt the most exciting part of the trip for me. The whales we saw are humpback whales. One of the larger rorqual species, the adults range in length from 12–16 metres (39–52 ft.) and weigh approximately 36,000 kilograms (79,000 lb.). The humpback has a distinctive body shape, with unusually long pectoral fins and a knobbly head. An acrobatic animal known for breaching and slapping the water with its tail and pectorals. Males produce a complex song lasting 10 to 20 minutes, which they repeat for hours at a time. There were a lot of them!!
Unfortunately my photo technique is not quite what it needed to be to make memorable shots.

Having said that I must recount an amazing phenomenon that we got to witness first hand. Our guide called it bubble net feeding.
“A group of whales swims in a shrinking circle blowing bubbles below a school of prey. The shrinking ring of bubbles encircles the school and confines it in an ever-smaller cylinder. This ring can begin at up to 30 metres (98 ft.) in diameter and involve the cooperation of a dozen animals. Some whales blow the bubbles, some dive deeper to drive fish toward the surface, and others herd prey into the net by vocalizing. The whales then suddenly swim upward through the “net”, mouths agape, swallowing thousands of fish in one gulp. Plated grooves in the whale’s mouth allow the creature to easily drain all the water initially taken in.”
Our guide used an underwater microphone to pick up the vocalizing and thus knew when the wales were about to come up. Do I need to say it was SPECTACULAR to see all those huge whales coming up and out of the water at the same time?!!!!

Too soon it was time to go back to our ship en route for Skagway, (still in Alaska) where we will leave the ship to embark on a long land journey. The name Skagway is derived from sh?agéi, a Tlingit idiom which refers to rough seas in the Taiya Inlet, that are caused by strong north winds. Skagway is also part of the setting for Jack London’s book The Call of the Wild and for Joe Haldeman’s novel Guardian. A picturesque touristy port, the main street features wood sidewalks and stores that remind us of the gold rush days. It is the starting point for the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. The train ride on this narrow gauge railroad, which brings us back to the mining days, is the main attraction. Built in 1898 during the Klondike gold rush, the tracks climb 3 000 feet in 20 miles, and feature steep grades of up to 3.9% as well as cliff hanging curves of 16 degrees. It passes through and over 2 tunnels, several bridges and trestles.

 

 

After the train ride we switch to a bus…. and drive all the way into the Yukon.

We had an amazingly entertaining driver who managed to make this long ride exciting…even a stop at Carcross.

Need I comment on the scenery?

Just outside of town is a huge eagles’ nest with a couple of juveniles standing guard.

We stopped by an old log building called the Montague roadhouse, a staging post providing stables, storage, meals and accommodation, during the Klondike Gold Rush, but I was more interested by the flora that the history of the place…

We followed the Yukon River, which is not only a major migration corridor but was also the principal means of transportation during the Klondike Gold Rush.

We came across some local humour…

 

And interesting vegetation

During this long ride we heard a lot about the shooting of Dan McGrew and the cremation of Sam McGee, (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/174348), but mostly their creator, the poet Robert Service (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_W._Service).

Finally we reach our goal! Dawson city! We are at the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush at the confluence of the Klondike River and the Yukon River.

 

We are quite far north if you just consider that this photo was taken at 10h55 PM!

The city is small but quaint, flowers have been planted everywhere

The waterfront is very well landscaped and allows us to see very clearly the joining of the two rivers.

There are a few tourist attractions such as the paddleboat ride,

And a museum that recreates the life of the gold diggers.

There is also a newly built center devoted to the native culture

You can also visit Robert Service’s cabin.

One of the more questionable activities is having a drink called the “Sour toe cocktail” at the local drinking hole. This is a drink that contains an actual alcohol preserved human toe.  A little poem accompanies the ritual, as follows: “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow. But the lips have got to touch the toe.” (I did not do it.)

And it was time to leave again, direction Fairbanks, Alaska! We arrived at the airport there to a whopping 100 F!! Apparently this is not uncommon. We had very little time to spend there but did take a walk along the river.

 

The next morning we boarded the famous McKinley Explorer train en route for Denali Park! These are the two story domed cars with panoramic views upstairs and a fine dining restaurant downstairs.

 

The scenery along the way is spectacular.

 

But arriving to the park was the ultimate goal! Denali National Park and Preserve is a national park and preserve located in Interior Alaska, centered on Denali (Mount McKinley), the highest mountain in North America. The park encompasses more than 6 million acres (24,500 km²). After a night’s rest in a lodge we set out on a school bus tour in the park.

The scenery was as breathtaking as the wildlife we were able to see.

 

Reindeer

Bears, first this lonesome one and then this mother and her cubs

And this impressive loner.

This is not an area for flowers but this Columbine caught my attention:

The next day we chose to get up close and personal with Mount McKinley. The only way to do that is by plane (unless of course you are a climber).

We saw so many different landscapes in such a short time…

But the goal of the expedition was to see the top of Mount McKinley and we did!!

It seems that it is often wrapped in clouds and invisible, so we were lucky to catch it. It was an exciting ride as the pilot weaved his way around mountaintops and clouds but I did start feeling queasy near the end and was happy to get down.

Soon after it was time to board the train again, this time en route to Anchorage, Alaska.
More picturesque scenery along the way

We even rode through Sarah Palin’s town, Wasilla…but we never saw Russia…

We reached Anchorage, our last stop.

It is a lovely city with several references to the native culture.

We visited two museums: the Anchorage Museum impressed me a great deal. It is the state’s largest museum and includes an Alaska History Gallery, and the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. I found this second section, offering visitors a glimpse of the diverse culture of the Alaska Native peoples, absolutely phenomenal, both in content and presentation.
The other is the Alaska Native Heritage Center. It was more painful to watch the bad treatments the natives have endured through the years. But there was a very entertaining dance presentation that left you with some more positive feelings.

 

The one thing you cannot miss in Anchorage is the number of small airplanes. They are everywhere!! Almost like cars in other cities.

We resisted temptation when the time came to have a reindeer hot dog…

This is a very nice trip, especially for nature lovers and history buffs.

 

How the west was won!

Have you ever thought of the Klondike Gold Rush? Well I had never given it much thought.

I had however always wanted to visit Alaska. I dreamt of seeing those huge icebergs crumbling in front of my eyes in a thundering splash.

I had heard of rivers overflowing with salmon, and all kinds of wild animals roaming free.

I had the opportunity to get my facts straight during a fam trip to Alaska AND the Yukon and incidentally to British Columbia.

You can read all about it on the travelogue section.

Please note that the interactive map link has not been activated so you will need to use the drop down menu.

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