A cold day in Montreal
Day 12: Montréal, QC. 3,359.1 km.
It was a cold, windy day in Montreal today: -14 °C, with a 40 km/h wind giving a windchill of -26. So, of course, we decided to leave the car parked and go for a walk!
We started the day with the breakfast buffet, which was pretty good, though maybe not quite as elaborate as I had pictured in my head. Still, nothing to complain about: we had coffee, tea, juice, toast, croissants, and fruit, which isn't a bad way to get going. And the atmosphere of the hotel is nice: the breakfast area feels more like a small bistro than the crowded noisy room you get in a lot of hotels.
We bundled up, got outside, and learned that Montreal is a giant skating rink. The roads and sidewalks are sheets of ice everywhere — walk carefully! We went to the car to get a couple things that we forgot to bring in last night (like Ali's hat), and in the blink of an eye Ali's legs shot out from under her! She managed to hit her elbow, head, and wrist on the way down. Thankfully, nothing major, but her wrist is pretty sore and swollen now. She's been putting ice on it and we hope it's not badly sprained or anything.
We started off by heading to the street we saw last night that looked like it had a bunch of shops on it. It was, unfortunately, less interesting by the light of day. Yes, it was all shops, but it was things like a drugstore, a dollar store, some inexpensive clothing stores, and so on. We walked for a few blocks, taking in the neighbourhood, and stopping into a few places to warm up, but soon decided that this probably wasn't the best way to spend our limited time here. We had a warm drink in a coffee shop (a nice place, but nothing special; kind of like a Starbucks), and headed back to our hotel to get some advice.
At the hotel, we learned that the most interesting tourism areas are Old Montreal, and Mont-Royal, aka “the mountain”. We booked a bus tour for tomorrow that will take us to Mont-Royal, Olympic Stadium, and a couple other places, and then walked over to a (somewhat) nearby Metro station to catch a metro train to Old Montreal (a short six-minute ride on a crowded train).
In Old Montreal, we explored, once again popping into shops for warmth and window shopping. You can definitely tell that the area is the older part of the city: narrow streets, cobblestones, different architecture, and so on. Our first order of business, though, was lunch, and we got that at a brewpub, Les 3 Brasseurs, where we sat right next to the glass walls separating the dining area from the guy working on actually brewing the beer they serve. The food was great, though ordering was a bit of a challenge: we managed to pick one of the only restaurants, it seemed, without an English menu. We got it figured out though.
Actually, I've been surprised by the ubiquity of French here. Of course I expected to hear and see mostly French, given that this is Quebec. What I didn't expect, though, was an almost complete absence of English. I heard almost nobody speaking English today, and of the three English speakers I did notice, two of them clearly weren't locals. A few places, particularly in the more touristy areas, do have English signs (and menus), but certainly not all…and what really surprised me was the number of people we spoke to who aren't particularly fluent in English. We've been able to speak with everyone we needed to, but there were multiple occasions when the speaker was stuck for a word, or mispronounced something.
Not many of the shops we went to stand out, but there was a fantastic artists co-op, l'Empreinte Cooperative. It had all sorts of really neat artisanal creations, ranging from art (original and prints), to toys, handbags, carvings, jewelry, everything. It was all very unique, and really nice; there were tons of things that that we would have loved to take home. No photos allowed, unfortunately, so I can't show you…you'll have to trust me!
Our big tourist attraction of the day was Notre Dame cathedral — impressive! Contrary to what I've heard before, it was not based on the cathedral of the same name in Paris…though parts of its interior decoration were inspired by a different chapel in Paris. We learned this on a fairly minimal guided tour that we took, and almost missed…for some reason, it didn't meet at the appointed starting place, and we only caught it because Ali overheard the ticket-seller telling someone else where they needed to go.
It's a huge church: a capacity of 3,500 “comfortably seated” people in the main church, with another 350 fitting into the smaller attached chapel. A few decades ago they regularly had attendance of 7,000, but that stopped when fire code regulations said they weren't allowed to have people standing int he aisles anymore. And apparently 11,000 people attended the inauguration!
After our visit, we walked and shopped our way back to the Metro station, and rode the (rush-hour) train back towards our hotel. On the walk balk to our hotel, we saw a small place called “Le Petit Fourneau”, which, according to the sign, was a “Patisserie and Chocolaterie”, to which we said “Yes please”! We ordered a raspberry tart, a chocolate croissant, and a couple expensive-but-VERY-chocolatey hot chocolates, which we enjoyed on the way back to the hotel.
At the hotel, we grabbed another snack from the kitchen, and were planning to go out for dinner, but the cold weather and lack of any really attractive nearby options meant that we just stayed in the hotel and watched Despicable Me (it's always nice when the hotel wifi is good enough for Netflix!)