I always enjoy learning new vocabulary words when I travel abroad, especially when they're immediately useful. But la canicule
is not one of those words I wish I had to learn. Another thing I learned from the Biosphere park today was the origin of the Humidex, something I had heard about in my previous Canadian adventures but just thought was a weird way to refer to what we call the "heat index" in the States. It was also 'fun' to find out how that whole system works--I had no idea how those forecasters got the heat index, but now I know the way it works. So, in Fahrenheit, the temperature made it up to 91 (though I saw at one point on my phone it was 95), and the heat index was 110. I'm still in shock about these temperatures, and it's sad to report that at least 34 people from Quebec have died in this current heat wave. Temperatures are supposed to get lower due to a cold front coming through tonight, but that didn't stop Montreal from setting a record high temperature for me earlier this week.
My feet and legs have been doing better since my last
post, so that's good. I also don't feel just completely wiped out every night, but the heat does a number on me, especially when I'm already walking more than I have at any point this year. And I'm old too. I've gotten earlier starts the past two days, mainly because I wanted to pack as much in with my Passeport MTL before it expires (tomorrow around 10:30 AM, if the information is correct). While I was taking the AML Cruise that was included with the Passeport this afternoon, I did some calculations, and for the $100 CDN that I paid for it, I've actually gotten $155 of use out of it. I think that's a pretty good investment. Now there are a couple of things that I definitely wouldn't have tried if I hadn't bought the Passeport, but even then, I've still come out ahead.
Yesterday was July the 4th, but it's no big deal in Canada. Of course it got some coverage on the news, what with all the recent developments in US-Canadian relations. But I didn't do much in the way of celebrating the holiday. I did manage to get what amounted to a barbecue chicken poutine
at St-Hubert restaurant at lunch, so I let some people know that I hadn't forgotten my native land.
My Fourth began with a Metro trip to the Oratoire St-Joseph, which is on the back side of the Mount Royal Park. It's one of those iconic buildings of Montreal, and on top of that, they have a chapel on the lower level that's Art Deco. So of course I had to make a pilgrimage. I got to the entrance of the park at the foot of the church grounds around 10:30 AM, and it was already hot as hell. No clouds in sight. As I made my way up the stairs, I noticed a staircase at the center of the staircase--it was blocked off on both sides from the regular stairs and had signs posted: reserved for pilgrims who wish to ascend on their knees. Sure enough, people were going up the stairs on their knees, taking time on each step to offer a prayer. When I finished with my tour, I came back outside and descended the same stairs. One of the younger guys who had been at the bottom when I arrived was now at the top, and
none of his group was with him; not sure if they finished before him or if they just gave up.
Anyway, I was dripping sweat by the time I got all the way to the top to see the main chapel. And I was wearing a red t-shirt, so it was pretty obvious how hot I was. Not a good look. Plus, the chapel that I had wanted to see--the Votive Chapel--was under construction. So I had to use a separate entrance, and there were scaffolds and workmen all over. But some of the area was looking good, so I got a few photos, paid my respects, and then moved on. At this point, I enjoyed the festive poutine for lunch.
My goal for the afternoon was to get on one of those cruises included with the Passeport MTL, but on the way I could stop by the Observatoire Ville-Marie, which is near the top of what I assume is the tallest building in town. It costs $15, so I wouldn't have done it if I didn't have the Passeport. It reminded me of the CN Tower, because you could walk all the way around the floor but
not outside. It was pretty boring, so I guess that's why they include themselves with the Passeport; I doubt many people would come to see it if it wasn't included. Maybe I'm wrong. Before I got to the Observatoire, however, I stopped by my favorite shopping mall, the Centre Eaton, to pick up a new shirt that I might be able to wear in this heat. I figured white was the way to go, so I got a white shirt from the Levi's store. While there, I noticed signs for the Grévin wax museum on the 5th floor of the mall, and thought, why not? It was air conditioned, and it was included in my Passeport. So I spent maybe an hour there. The girl at the welcome desk even complimented my Love, Simon
t-shirt (which had mostly dried by now). The Grévin took a while to grow on me; the intro film was like something you would enjoy more if you were already high (not really related to the museum at all, so I don't know why it's there), and then the wax figures were all Canadian people that I didn't know for the first few rooms. Then they
became more famous--the Queen, Trudeau, Gandhi, Einstein, etc. Then you get to the historical part, and some French explorers and native people, and then there's a room with Montreal Expos stuff, followed by a room with Justin Bieber and Mika, and then you get to the dance floor, where you see Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, George Clooney, and the other celebrities. I think Celine Dion was one of my favorites. If I had been really enthused about going there, or if I had paid separately to see it, I would've stayed longer. But it really wasn't my thing, so I enjoyed what I could and then went about my way.
At this point, I decided that some air conditioning would be the better way to go, so I opted for the Musée des Beaux-Arts, or the Art Museum. My sources said that it closed at 9 PM on Wednesdays (and it was a Wednesday), so that would give me more time to check out the stuff. When I got there, however, after the interminable line to get a ticket, I found out that the special exhibits stay open until 9, but the permanent collection closed at 5 PM, just
like every day. It was currently 3:45. And since everything else I would've wanted to do would be closed by the time I got there, I opted to just bite the bullet. I would check out the permanent exhibits until 5 and then see the special stuff after that. And it worked out perfectly, to be honest. Now, I don't know if there were other things in the permanent collections to see, but as best I can tell, I got to see all of the fun decorative arts, and then some Greek, Roman, African, Asian, and Native stuff before I managed to find myself in the crowd being whisked back under the street (yes, the permanent collection is accessible only by tunnel from the main entrance across the street, where the special stuff is located too). I noticed that it was 4:55, and I had seen all that I wanted to. So I checked out the weirdest combination I've seen: Picasso + Black Canadian artists. They tied it together with the idea that Picasso had been inspired by his collection of African artifacts gathered early in his career, and they displayed an African piece he owned next to the art
that he had made, showing his inspiration. Okay. And then at seemingly random places, they had non-Picasso-related art, which was done by contemporary Black Canadians. I got about an hour out of that exhibit, but Picasso really hasn't ever been amazing to me. I was amazed that he was still making art in the 1970s, though.
At this point, my legs were about done. I went looking for some new shoes at a place I had seen advertised, but the cheapest ones they had were over $200, so that was a big nope. I headed toward a Cinema, but my drawstring bag completely broke while I was out walking, so I decided just to head back to the hotel and take care of that. I got some food at the mall again (it was on the way, and cheap) and then made my way back to the hotel. Once I got back, it was pretty clear to me that I was done. That's the canicule
Today I had seen it would be a little cooler (and by a little, I mean down to 91 from 95 degrees), so I thought it was the time to do
outdoor stuff. My first stop was the Ste-Helene island, the home of the Biosphere. It's one of the geodesic balls that were popular about 50 years ago, and I'll admit I was disappointed from the outside (I thought it was glass, but it's just metal rods connected to each other with space in between) but thoroughly entertained inside. The first room was a science experiment! You had to look through microscopes, inspect river insect specimens, look at air quality indoors and outdoors, and then draw conclusions about which was more harmful: air pollution or water pollution. It's a trick question, since they're both equally bad. I thought it was a great way to get the point across. They also had a cool video, and then there were some other exhibits on weather, and lastly the top floor, where you could see some views of the city and check out energy sources. (I'm writing this at 10 PM and I can't believe that this was less than 12 hours ago. Seems like at least a day.)
The next two stops were so disappointing to me: the Marché Bonsecours and the AML river cruise. The market was free, and I saw
all these recommendations about checking it out, how historic it was, etc. From the outside, it's a cool building. From the inside, the only thing cool about it is the air conditioning. It's basically a strip mall, and I had been looking forward to something like a farmer's market. I was HONGRY at this point, so I stopped in at the first over-priced cafe and got a sandwich and something cool to drink. I didn't even care. I knew I needed that if I was going to make it to the cruise in one piece. And that cruise. Ugh. So not worth the $35 they charge. If it hadn't been included in the Passeport, I would've asked for my money back. I think it's mainly there to make you have to buy the food and drinks they serve. Because it was still SO HOT. I waited and waited and waited for the server girl to come around, to the point where I would've given all my money for an ice cream. But she never did. This was a 90-minute cruise, and probably right before we go to the point where we turned around to come back, I finally got up
and asked what I was supposed to do. I got myself a cold bottled water and an ice cream sandwich for $8.75 and went to sit back down. Even then, though, I was wondering why people do this kind of thing. There really wasn't anything pleasant at all about it.
So to make up for it, I made a bee line over to the Basilique Notre Dame, the coolest church in town. And yes, they had air conditioning and low lighting. It cost $6 to go in, but it was money well spent. It's awe inspiring as soon as you walk in the door. It's so ornately done, and there are stations all around the side aisles with candles set up for prayers. And that HUGE organ at the back. The outside is meant to remind you of Notre Dame in Paris, but inside, it has its own beauty. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
After the church, I walked across the street and went into the Edifice Aldred, the Art Deco building I had fantasized about a few days ago. Inside, it was even better than I imagined. Again, I'll let the pictures convey the sheer
joy I felt when I walked through the corridors.
Then I found this restaurant that had been recommended by one of my guidebooks: Eggspectation, which is apparently a Canadian chain. I don't know what the book people were thinking, but this must've been an upscale version, since I don't really think I would call it "kid-friendly." Whatever. I got some good food and managed to stumble across the Montreal Jazz Festival going on. My last stop was to go back and exchange the white shirt I bought at Levi's yesterday. I got it home and it turned out it was too small. I know I've put on weight, but I think they have smaller sizes, too. Anyway, I got that done, then decided to get some real Canadian clothes since I've got two more days and basically all of my over-clothes smell at this point. So I got some stuff on sale--some pants, a couple of shirts, and some cool socks. And I didn't fill up my bag coming up here, so the good news is that I have room for everything on the way back!
Lastly, I found Dollarama. It's like Dollar Tree in the States, but
I really wish I had found this one earlier. I could've saved so much money on food if I'd had just a Gatorade or maybe a small bag of chips in my bag. Anyway, I got some stuff now, and I've got less than 48 hours left. Assuming America is still in one piece when I start on my return journey on Saturday.
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