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Published: December 25th 2017
Geo: 45.5075, -73.5587
10th - 14 May 2017 Montreal and Quebec
After returning to the UK in early April we carried out the usual tasks, habitation check and engine servicing for Astrid, dentists, opticians etc for us as well as visiting friends in various places. The first weekend home the weather was amazing, reaching 20 plus then it changed for the worst and we had a very cold 5 weeks.
We had accumulated warm clothes for our upcoming Canada/Alaska trip but found we needed to wear them all the time and in fact we had difficulty taking them off to wash ready for the trip. It was that cold. Astrid is cosy and warm at night but during the day it was bitterly cold so we were reluctant to do much walking. Travelling in Astrid allowed us to spend time on sites near Gilli and Anna as neither have space for a Motorhome outside their doors.
We squeezed in a visit to the David Hockney Exhibition which was worth seeing apart from one room displaying some later works and there the colours were so garish, fluorescent, dazzling and HUGE that Gilli and I had to move through quickly as it honestly
hurt our eyes and brains so much that it was triggering headaches. Apart from that brief moment of potential swooning it was fascinating to see the pieces which reflected his whole career to date, 50 years I think! The influences of the colours and climate of California, his parents, clients and the changing values of society were reflected in styles and experimentation through the years. There did seem to be a very large number of male backsides on display but they were beautifully executed!
The bluebells were just appearing and we saw plenty of them in Essex when we visited a few days after the birth of Pauline and Colin's new granddaughter. We love being home for the spring but wish it could be warmer.
Then on 10th May we set off on our travels again, flying from Heathrow to Montreal. An uneventful journey was followed by 3 nights in the Hotel Dauphin in the old town, a much better hotel than we would normally choose but it was all part of the flight ticket so we enjoyed it while we could.
Montreal is a strange mix of North American modern city and French architecture which, with
it's many turrets, at times borders on 'Disneyesque'. Notre Dame Cathedral, a Gothic Revival church, was opened in 1829, having been designed by a New York architect and Irish Protestant, James O'Donnell. He converted to Catholicism so he could have his funeral in the Basilica and be buried in the crypt. The Cathedral can accommodate over 3,000 worshippers.
Walking around looking at the mix of archictecture is a real pleasure particularly as the different styles and periods blend together harmoniously, much more than in London and other European cities. Having said that both Jim and I felt that there was a general greyness everywhere. It might have been the season as although mid May, spring had certainly not sprung and most of the trees were totally bare without any evidence of buds. More like January and February in England.
However, there are lots of lovely restaurants and bars, with many shopping malls and walkways below ground as the winter here is so severe that the protection for shoppers and walkers is essential.
We had booked a day trip to Quebec City by coach, something we try to avoid normally but in this case it was much easier than independent
travel. Thank goodness we had made that decision as Jim's back has been troubling him for a couple of weeks and is still painful. The coach made the journey possible for him and we managed to see all the main places of interest without causing too much extra suffering.
The old town is wonderful, divided in two, the Old Upper Town on the top of a granite cliff and the Old Lower Town. All of the Old Town has been undergoing renovation and, as Roger our guide kept saying, it needed it as 20 years ago it was a slump! I was unsure whether he meant it was a slum or it was experiencing a slump, but his feelings were clear, things are much better now. The City sold old warehouses to developers on condition they renovated the buildings to agreed standards and style. So the City received the purchase prices and as these buildings now house reasonably wealthy people, extra tax revenue has been generated too.
The most famous landmark, is Le Chateau Frontenac, a fabulous creation with turrets, gabled roofs and over 600 rooms perched on the top of the cliff overlooking the Lower
Town. It was completed in 1893 by a New Yorker, Bruce Price and named after the Count of Frontenac who ruled New France in the late 1600s. During World War II the Quebec Conferences involving Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt and the Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King took place there. Since then it has been the haunt of the wealthy and famous. However some years ago the City Council decided to purchase it from the owner as it was not being well maintained. Then they restored it and since then it has prospered. The whole Old Town has risen from neglect to a new found glory to such an extent that this year over 200 cruise ships will visit, requiring an enlarged port and new international airport. I am not sure what impact that might have on the Old Town but as Roger explained it is bringing millions of dollars into the City and creating a very affluent society.
Despite feeling like a film set it is a fascinating area to walk around and explore aspects of history, as this is where in 1759 New France came to an end when General James Wolfe defeated General Louis-Joseph Montcalm on
the Plains of Abraham. The French had built a huge fortification on the top of the cliff surrounded by walls mounted with guns as they knew the English would attack at some time. Wolfe worked out a plan to land as many men as possible in a small bay below the walls and then move them quietly up the hill ready to attack. He managed to get 5,000 men to the top and surprised the French. The battle was over in about 35 minutes, as was New France.
Soon it was time to leave Montreal and fly to Vancouver on the 5pm flight. When we booked the tickets last August the agent could not book seats on this flight but said we could do it shortly before departure. We downloaded our boarding passes but found we could not book seats so when we arrived at the check in I asked why we had not been allocated seats. The check in lady said it was because the flight was full and we were on standby because we had booked late. Then she saw the booking date and said that it did not make sense but as the flight was full there
was little she could do. Then Jim asked if the 2pm flight was full. She said it wasn't but it was about to close - it was 1.15pm! The wonderful woman not only managed to get us on to the flight, escorting us through a quick route in security to where the plane was boarding, but also gave us seats with extra legroom - bliss! So all worked out well. We had left the hotel at 12.15 and were in the air by 2.05 - a record for us!
Now we have arrived in Victoria on Vancouver Island and we have four nights here before we we meet up with Pauline and Colin for a cruise from Vancouver to Seward in Alaska. Hopefully there will be more about that in the next blog.
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