Whew, what a day! My feet are still aching from all the walking we did. I am regretting the fact that I said we just had to go to the top of Mount Royal! That’s the problem with reading about cities – you pick something that sounds interesting, but you pay for it. Plus, there’s so much to do, we can’t fit it all in. We usually pick one or two things that we think we have to see, and then leave time for all the fun stuff that happens along the way. Like that dang red winged black bird! But that was later in the day…
We started out by exchanging US currency for Canadian at our RV Park. We were planning to take the bus into Montreal, because even though we were only 22 miles out, we were told the construction and traffic was horrendous, and not to spend the time sitting in traffic. The International Jazz Festival was going on and huge crowds were expected. We had to have exact change for the bus – $6.75 each.
Dan drove to the bus stop with no problem, and we took our little copied bus schedules from the RV Park to the actual stop. Then we tried to figure out what was going on… in French! Easy to read the times, but still hard to figure out.
In the 1970’s, the province of Quebec had a big bru-ha-ha over the use of French and English. The majority of the population wanted to remain a French speaking area. Only about 50% of the people speak English today, and it has made our tourist plans a little different than Niagara Falls and Toronto, but I like it because it finally feels like we are in another country. My 3 years of French from over 30 years ago just isn’t enough, however. And we don’t have cell service so we can’t look up translations quick enough for what we need. Oh sure, we could have gotten a translation book, but where’s the challenge in that?!
With the help of a kind stranger, we thought we had the bus schedule figured out and hopped onto a small shuttle. I started to pass the money to the driver, and he said, “no, non, the kids are free”, so I had to stand there in front of 8 people waiting to get on and fumble for the exact change. Their money is beautiful now. The bills are in a vibrant blue and green, with plastic at the 1/3 mark. (Now that would be hard to counterfeit! Wish we’d had that when I had a branch.) There are no $1 bills, so my purse was heavy with the coins.
The ride into Montreal took about 30 minutes. It was relaxing to have someone else drive so we could enjoy the scenery and talk about it without running off the road. We were a tad perturbed that the traffic wasn’t as bad as we were told, but parking wouldn’t have been easy; we didn’t see a parking lot until late in the day.
The first funny part of the day was that there were no tourist maps in the bus station. I went walking around and happened upon a huge display – all but one brochure in French. The tiny map I already had didn’t cover the whole area we needed, the most important being the location of the station. Everywhere else we’ve been, there are maps all over. The bus driver tried to tell me, but I didn’t understand enough of what he said. He kept saying the same thing over and over – and I just kept smiling. The roads he was naming weren’t the ones we thought we should be on. It was before 10 am, so there was no one else in the station. Finally another man walked by, and I asked him where we were on the huge wall map… and he laughed and said that map shouldn’t be there – it wasn’t of Montreal, but another island to the south. No wonder we couldn’t figure out our location! (The map was there for the subway station below us.)
We decided to head to the visitor center a few blocks north – but then couldn’t get out of the bus station! We couldn’t go out the drive that the bus used. It was above the subway, so we couldn’t go down. It was below a huge mall and ice rink – that wasn’t open yet. We finally went up an old, dirty staircase that wasn’t signed “sortie”– and found a door out. We took pictures of the street where we were so we could get back to it later.
The city was just waking up. The traffic was starting to fill up the streets, and people were finally out and about. Great people watching and listening to all the different languages made me smile. It was already hot and the humidity was horrible. It was in the high 80’s with 75% humidity. The streets were wide, with architecture that varied from block to block. Some was old and beautiful, but some was obviously concrete from the 1970’s. There was a ton of new construction. The People’s Congress building was ugly concrete, but on the entire back wall were huge “plastic” colored panels – gorgeous in the sun.
We stopped in to see the St. George cathedral and obtain a little much needed restoration. From the outside, it was another gothic English church, and there was nothing special about the inside other than the peace and quiet and a few moments with God. That made the rest of the day even better.
The visitor center off Peel Street was a zoo. Packed on the inside with brochure racks, it had only been open a few minutes and we had to take a number to get our questions answered. #37 was quickly called. The double decker bus tour company was in the same building and we briefly considered not doing the trek we had planned, but we resisted. The only dorky double decker tourist bus we want to take is in London!
We quickly found out why we were having such a hard time with the maps. Not only was everything in French, but also places have several names. I gave him the list of places we wanted to see, and it even took him awhile to find them. Street names that we walked past were different names than on the map. In all the cities we’ve visited, we’ve never experienced anything like it. We can get lost on our own, thank you, we don’t need any help. When we gave our zip code, the visitor center guy couldn’t believe we were so far from home. Sometimes we can’t believe it either!
Our first goal was to visit the Redpath Museum on the McGill University campus. We had read that it was one of the best in the city, and I was craving a few new brain cells. But it was closed. The kids and Dan were so happy! McGill had major construction going on, but not many students around. It’s rated the number one college in Canada, but it didn’t look like it. With a $1.2 billion endowment, you’d think they could fix all the broken windows. Neither of the kids wants to go there.
Next was a hike up to the top of Mount Royal Parc. It’s a huge park in the middle of the island, with 3 hills, (they call them mountains) and the views were supposed to be spectacular. Years ago, it was known as Mount Royale. And Monte Royal. Which became Montreal. So cool how history, different languages, and time changed the name. There were supposed to be 500 steps to the top, but Dan only counted 493. It started easy, with nice wide stairs and trees for shade. Then it got brutal. We weren’t the only crazy tourists going up. There were plenty of people running it for exercise, and none of them looked as sick as I felt. I thought I was going to throw up, my arrhythmia had my heart not beating in rhythm, so I rested on a bench with another family who were as red-faced as me. We had water, so I sipped, and then we went the last little way.
The views were worth the hike! We could see for miles, even with the humidity haze. The buildings are huge. The St. Lawrence was beautiful. The gardens I wanted to visit on another island south of us looked green and inviting and too far away for our hike. There was an old piano on the main plaza, and anyone could play it. (We saw 4 others around the city; fun idea.) I asked a man to take a family picture, and when he said he was from Iran, he apologized for it. We’ve met so many nice people from around the country and the world, but never has anyone apologized for their country. Interesting.
We hung out on the plaza for awhile, but all the scenic markers were in French, so we couldn’t learn anything. There was a huge building that reminded us of Timberline, with paintings around the inside and a large wall plaque describing each painting. In French. It was a nice cool spot to relax and get more water. The kids picked out a postcard for the rig bulletin board.
The hike down was quick, but we were all very careful not to fall. I felt so sorry for all the people going up in the heat. Women in heels! Little kids with pacifiers. One old man had a cane. They all probably went up faster than me, but then, they probably weren’t recovering from their birthday party at the pool the day before. Haha.
We hiked south to St. Catherine’s street, which is major shopping for the city. There were small shops, huge department stores, and of course, Starbucks and McDonalds. We couldn’t find anything to interest us again, and I think that when there’s that much stuff to buy, it’s so overwhelming, none of it looks good.
The loop we had planned to hike took us directly to the Jazz Festival grounds. Located in the area around the concert hall, there was a nice open space with a water feature on the ground that kids were running through. Similar to the one in Redmond, but much longer. I had to get my feet wet, and it helped with the heat.
We had gone through a small checkpoint to get onto the grounds, but it wasn’t that crowded. I expected a lot more people, so it was nice to be able to move. Earth, Wind and Fire wasn’t there until later, darn. We listened to a couple different acts, and then went out the back way to Chinatown. There was no security on this street at all! So all the people who got turned away at the checkpoint could have walked 8 blocks and gotten right in. With their full backpacks and luggage. Security?!
We found Chinatown easily, but didn’t see any fortune cookie makers. We’ve been looking since San Francisco and we’ll keep looking until we find one! We walked down the street that was about 8” lower than usual – they had scraped and emptied it all out. We couldn’t tell what they were fixing. The water mains and other covers were sticking up and it was slow going with all the people who also wanted lunch. We ended up at a buffet, because I saw that it had outdoor tables and tons of people going in and out. Both a positive. The outdoor tables filled up, and we ended up near a TV that was playing the Brasil soccer match. Perfect. Dave had told us to watch, so we saw a little of it. The food was cold, we were at the end of the lunch rush and before they refilled everything. Even more disappointing – the desserts were gross. But at least we got to eat quickly!
We hiked to the old port area next, and it was packed with people on bikes and horse drawn carriages. If one had come by empty, I was going to nab it. We wanted to go into the Basilica, but there was a huge line to get in because they had a special exhibit from Napoleon. We didn’t think it would be good enough for the long wait. The buildings in this old area were spectacular. We could live there, if we wanted to spend $500M for the 2-bedroom condo I saw for sale. Each block had flowers hanging from the front, with the same color for each block. The boutiques and restaurants looked like the kind of places we’d like to visit frequently and the music playing outside was good.
We had an hour until we could catch the bus back, so we sat on the grass in the shade and watched the people go by. One huge guy ran for over 2 blocks to catch up with the pedi popsicle man – he must have really wanted a handcrafted popsicle! Unfortunately, we choose the wrong spot to sit. A huge red-winged black bird did not like that we were there. First, she shook the water off – on my head. I was glad it wasn’t something else or Eliza and I would have lost it. Next, she berated us. Loudly. Continually. She kept cleaning her feathers, and little stuff was falling down. Nate and I tried to move, but each time she went to the branch above us.
Finding our way back to the bus station was easy, and we got to watch the last of the Brasil match. Go Brasil! We also saw news of the Jazz Festival – and it was wall to wall people. The bus ride back was quick, and there was tons of traffic going into the city – more than that morning. Glad we rode the bus and had such a memorable day!