Montreal, ho!


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North America » Canada » Quebec » Montréal
July 3rd 2018
Published: July 4th 2018
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After only one afternoon in Montreal, I was already exhausted! Perhaps I should've taken it easier after I got to my hotel, but one thing is for sure: that taxi ride from the train station to my hotel was the best $15 I've spent so far on this trip.

In truth, I seldom take taxis. Maybe I should get into the Uber or Lyft mindset, but it's just such a weird concept to me, on top of the whole trust issue. Anyway, I walked around for at least 15 minutes after getting off the train, trying to figure out what my GPS was telling me to do on my phone. It had said the hotel was a 30-minute walk from the train station, which I've done in the past. But it kept telling me different directions--mainly that I was walking in the wrong direction, and so I would turn around, and then it would say I was still going the wrong way. So I decided just to take a taxi. I mean, if it was 30 minutes to my hotel, then I should've been halfway there by now. Plus the taxi had air conditioning. It turns out that there's some kind of street show going on on Rue St-Denis, where my hotel is, and so entry is blocked from all the main roads. So my taxi driver let me off at the corner, and my hotel was the third door down.

I'm staying at the Hotel Quartier Latin Montreal, which sounds fancy but not really. The reviews said it was fine to stay at, but just don't expect any frills. Perhaps my expectations were sufficiently lowered, but when I walked into my room, I was pleasantly surprised. Granted, it's quite a step down from the Lord Elgin Hotel in Ottawa, but considering I'm paying the same price for 5 nights here that I paid for 1 night there (more or less), it works for me. The main things that concerned me were reports about the noise and about the air conditioning: too much of the first, not enough of the second. After one night here, neither of those fears materialized into any cause for concern.

My first afternoon in town consisted of me purchasing a Passeport MTL (good for admission to most things I want to see PLUS all public transportation for 72 hours), walking up to the Parc La Fontaine (where I sat on a bench by the lake and overheard a very pretentious Argentinian musician in his 20s talk about how he was going to move to Barcelona and buy two apartments and only work for himself after his last experience there working with a director guy who was always "me me me" blah blah really just trying to impress this girl he was talking to), and then walking around the Plateau area back to my hotel. According to my phone's step-counting app, I walked more yesterday than I have all year. My feet concur with that pronouncement today. I was so worn out last night. The main reason I had undertaken that walking adventure was to check out the purported best poutine place in all of Montreal: La Banquise. I do love poutine, but when I got there, the line was out the door. So I popped into the mini market next door to see about getting some snack supplies for my room, and also to see if the line would be shorter when I got out. The prices weren't that great, and then when I went back outside, the line hadn't budged, and in fact was longer. So, maybe next time I'm in town, I'll check that out. I can't imagine I'll be back in that area while I'm here.

My last stop of the day was the Frites Alors! restaurant near my hotel. I had eaten at that chain the last time I was in Montreal (2009) and had good memories. I had remembered it being very fast foody, but they apparently have gotten an upgrade: wait to be seated, a server will come take your order and bring it to you, you pay at the end of the meal, etc. They have poutine, but I'll be waiting for a more specialized place for that. But since they're so close, I may get some poutine from them if I ever feel like walking across the street.

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And my first full day in Montreal is now over. I didn't walk as much on Tuesday as I did on Monday, but it wasn't much behind. Surprisingly, though, my feet and legs don't feel as bad as they did last night. Maybe they're more accustomed to it today. And the temperature was a little cooler today -- only getting up to 91 degrees. Thankfully, though, I was able to spend much of the day indoors in some form.

I took my first subway (or Metro) ride today, and I actually took several. That Passeport MTL is coming in handy. It paid for my entry to the Planetarium, the Montreal Tower, and the Olympic Stadium. I really wanted to try out the Biodome, but it is currently under renovation. My other disappointment for the day was discovering that most of the stuff I want to do that is covered by that Passeport MTL ends by 4:30 or 5 PM. I didn't get through with the Olympic area stuff until 3:30, and with a Metro ride away, there wasn't much chance I'd be able to do anything of the other things, at least not for very long. So now that I have some time and the ability to check opening and closing times, I've got more of a handle on this sightseeing thing for this week.

So yes, most of my day was spent at the Parc Olympique, where the 1976 Summer Olympics were held. The Metro station Pie IX drops you off right at the stadium, so it's easy to find. My first stop was the planetarium, where they had a combo-show at 12:30 in English. It was just after 11:30, so I had some time to check out the exhibits. Everything in there is free to check out, except for the shows. My Passeport MTL paid for one show, so that was good. I had expected something wild and crazy, or something educational about space. I guess I kinda got the last one, but it took a while. The first show was just artistic, called "Continuum," and it had space and stars and nebulae and stuff like that, but no talking. The next video was narrated by a lady in the room, from a script, showing the stars over Montreal. And then it went into the Aurora Borealis, and that was kinda cool. The whole thing was just over an hour, and being indoors in this heat, I wasn't going to complain.

Next door is the Tour Montreal, the tower attached to the Olympic Stadium. It's inclined at 45 degrees and is apparently the tallest leaning tower in the world, and the one with the greatest incline. It took 2 minutes to get to the top, but it wasn't nearly as heart-wrenching as the one going up the CN Tower in Toronto. Pretty tame, in fact. It was honestly a bit of a let down, though you could see downtown Montreal, the river, and the islands from the tower. There's not really much to do, but they do have a gift shop. After about 20 minutes, I came back down and managed to get into the group for the tour of the Olympic Stadium just in time. My Passeport MTL included both the tower and the stadium tour.

The stadium was kinda cool. We got to see how much of a rush job it was in 1976, and then we went into the competition areas. The pools were fantastic, and then we went into the arena of the opening ceremonies. It used to be where the Montreal Expos played (check that off my MLB list) until 2004, and these days it's used for various other sporting and music events. We couldn't go on the field, but at least we were at the field level. Again, all of this was indoors, so for those of us trying to beat the heat, it was a win-win.

After getting outside the Stadium, I found out about all of the early closing times, and I was a little sad. I needed something that was indoors and wouldn't be much of a walk. I could've done the botanical garden right next to the stadium, but that met neither of my criteria. But it was covered by my Passeport MTL, so if I get time later, I can go back and do it. But the early closing times meant that I was pretty much done for the day otherwise. At least as far as the Passeport MTL was concerned. So I hopped back on the Metro and headed downtown. My destination: Place d'Armes.

The Place is a plaza situated between the Notre Dame cathedral, the Bank of Montreal, and the Edifice Aldred. My main goal was to check out the Edifice Aldred, so I was one of the few people taking pictures of the eastern side of the plaza. Most people were enamored with the south side, where the cathedral is. Why did I want to see the Edifice Aldred? It's ART DECO! Plus there weren't any closing times or whatever. I got to the plaza around 4:30, at which point the line to the cathedral was out the door, but they weren't taking any more visitors if you weren't in line already. So I got to rest on a bench in the shade and do some people watching while I tried to figure out what to do with my time.

Lots of families, couples, pigeons, and a couple of musicians. One guy was playing film scores on his violin. The other was a teenage guy on his guitar, acoustic. I was actually seated on the opposite side of the bench from him for a little while. At one point, an older guy (maybe in his 50s) and his daughter came up and started talking to the guitarist, and I thought that was a bit awkward when the guy sat down next to him. Then he got out a harmonica and they played some impromptu duets. Then the older guy asked the teenager if he could play a little on the guitar. He handed over the guitar and just started walking around the square, to the fountain, etc., while the older guy played. And kept on playing and singing songs I didn't know. I thought that teenage guy was very trusting. Then he came back, sat down, and put on some headphones. I was just interested in the human drama going on in front of me. What was happening here?! Well, it turns out that the older guy and the guitarist were father and son, and the son was just hanging out in the plaza with an open guitar case, hoping for any spare change just for the heck of it, while dad and daughter toured the cathedral. Whodathunkit?

At this point, I was getting hungry. It was almost 6, and I wanted to check out the Underground City (a collection of mall-type areas underground, with loads of stores) for some food and maybe some shopping. I got the food, and I did some window shopping. I took the Metro to Bonaventure and was able to navigate the tunnels pretty easily to the Place Ville-Marie, the supposed first stop in the Underground City. Unfortunately, it was closing at 6, so I had to basically keep going until I got to the next place, Centre Eaton. In case I had any doubts, Montreal knows how to do shopping malls right. This place was fantastic, and there were a couple of other malls off to the sides that I explored too, before I headed to the lowest level, where the massive food court is. And there I found it: my first POUTINE! I got the Italian version, with tomato sauce instead of gravy (much preferred by me), and it was all I could've wanted. I'm glad I got the medium, too, and not the large. I'd still be eating that thing if I had. Then I found a place for ice cream -- so much chocolate -- and after that, I decided to look at clothes. I think I'm going to need another shirt or two (my first shirt is a little stank because of all that sweating from Ottawa), and I'm honestly looking to find some new shoes with some better arch support. But I ended up not getting anything, yet. My shirts can last until Thursday for sure, and I do plan on going back to see some of the other Underground City areas. But I've decided that I definitely need some more pink in my wardrobe.

Now I'm back in the room, and I hope to get out and about earlier tomorrow than I did today (10:30 AM, but it sure was nice to take an easy morning). Ultimately, though, it's all about how much I want to get out of the Passeport MTL. A lot of the stuff I want to see is on there, and I won't have to pay any more for it if I use it before the pass expires. But there's also a lot of other stuff I want to do that ISN'T on the pass, so I'm trying to save all of that until later in the day, or until Friday. But for now, I think I'm done for today.


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