Thursday, July 07, 2005

HELLO MONTREAL




When my mom asked me on which city we can go to visit in Canada that’s interesting my first thought was the French district of Canada. Since we’ve been to Toronto a long time ago I did not think of going there to see it again. So after some research I concentrate my goal into 2 cities, Montreal and Quebec City. To make it easier to digest I will divide into 2 entries. Hello Montreal and Hello Quebec City.


Old and New buildings stands next to each other. Posted by Picasa

So let me start on how I plan my trip. First I was surprise that it took a long time from Vancouver to fly to Montreal. Over 5 hrs! So I decide to do this by just calling a travel agency to arrange all the accommodations from tickets, hotels and car rental. It much easier that way plus the time frame when I am going to go there is the busiest time for Montreal because it was the same time with Montreal Jazz Festival. The biggest Canadian Jazz Festival of the year.

Then for Quebec City, the week when we were there was the week where there was a big convention in the city and most of the hotels are full.

My first impression on Montreal was… jeez… they do only speak French here!!!! I love it! I mean, I am still in North America but I felt like I am in a different country! And I don’t even have to exchange my money into different currency! Talk about convenient!


Beautiful old building always has an amazing details on it. Posted by Picasa

Driving here was hard though because all of the street’s names, signs are all in French. Plus they have a completely different rule about turning right when the light is red. You can’t and this is pure French system! So watch out!


Walking around Sherbrooke road. Posted by Picasa

The difference between vacationing in French and Canadian French territories, well Canadian is twice more friendly and more helpful than those people in French. I know this by personal experience. The people we met are so nice and so polite. They do the extra mile to help us with what ever we needed.


Montreal has many statues. Posted by Picasa

When talking about dining out in Montreal I don’t feel much different than with any other cities. Sure they have lots of French food but we can easily get any other type of food here. Well…. except Asian food here is not as plentiful like in Vancouver or Toronto! Even if you find them, their menu will be in French language… imagine try to order dim sum in French???

French style dining in Montreal. Posted by Picasa


Italian appetizer of sweet melons with thin slices of Prosciutto de Parma. Posted by Picasa


Enjoying Montreal's heat in summer. Posted by Picasa

Most Asians I saw are from Vietnamese descendent, I guess because they are the only country in Asia who has been colonized by French. And also there are a lot of Africans immigrants too since a lot of Africa countries has been colonized by French too. It’s kind of cool to hear Asian speaks French.

My suggestion if you come to Montreal is take the city tour first. You can take the longest one or you can divide them into 2 days if you feel too tiring to go on city tour for 6 hrs or more.

On my 3 days trip there, we went with the city tour for 2 days. The first one was only for sight seeing and it only took 3 hrs. After that we go to explore the city on our own.

HOTELS

When booking hotel, try to get one in downtown area where the fun is. My hotel was Midtown Holiday Inn in Sherbrook. Sherbrook is like Montreal Fifth Avenue to New York. If your travel agent asked you if you rather stay in the old town of Montreal, well it’s up to you but I would rather stay in the new downtown area. I heard that it’s expensive to stay in the old town and plus since we are going to go to Quebec city that has older town, I might as well spend my money in there than here in Montreal. Because the best place to stay in Quebec is in its old city!

GETTING AROUND

Montreal is a city built for walking. The center core is small and the downtown are, with it’s interesting architecture, handsome churches and green spaces dotted with trees and statues, makes it a pleasant place to stroll. When your feet get tired, a Metro (subway) station is never far away.

My first mistake here was renting a car. Driving in this city is a bad idea. One, the traffic is just a nightmare. Second, they have a very good public transportation that can take you to every attractions area.

This city is also the best city in North America for bicycling, they have 750 kilometers bicycling side road long.

ATTRACTIONS
There are really many attractions places here. If I have to separate them into categories I would say like this:

1. Historical and Museum
2. Shopping and dining
3. Sight seeing
4. Amusements and night life

HISTORICAL AND MUSEUM


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First place you’ve got to go is Notre Dame Basilica . It doesn’t matter if you are Catholic or not, you have got to see this church! The breathtaking interior of the Notre-Dame Basilica is magnificent with rich colors and striking design. The organ is one of the largest in the world and the main pulpit is hand carved. The east tower encases a 10-bell carillon. The west tower holds a monster bell weighing 11,240 kilograms, a distinctive sound when calling the faithful to prayer. The basilica is a Mecca for music lovers who come to listen to the many concerts staged in the church. Notre Dame’s wooden interior creates outstanding acoustics. Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, recorded his popular Christmas concert here. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra (MSO), which has many CDs to its credit, has also recorded in the basilica. Every winter, the MSO performs Handel’s “Messiah” to a packed house. I came twice to this beautiful basilica just to take more beautiful pictures. My plan of just sit take on the sight was never happen because my fingers are ready to shoot more pictures!


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Saint-Joseph’s Oratory of Mount-Royal, one of North America’s most visited shrines.


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It attracts over 2 million pilgrims annually, who come to pay homage to the father of Jesus. The copper dome is the second largest in the world after St. Peter’s in Rome. I even took picture of 2 pilgrimages that went up the stairs on their knees.


Look at the couple who crawl on the middle stairs. Posted by Picasa

Second place you need to see is Old Montreal and the most popular Old City Square is Jacques Cartier that was originally opened as a market place back in 1804. Tourist and residents both flock to this enchanting place to feel and experience its cobble stone streets, outdoors cafes, vendors and historic buildings – it’s like traveling back 200 years in time.


Old Montreal main area Posted by Picasa

Still at Old Montreal, on rue Saint Paul are the Bonsecours Market and Notre Dame de Bonsecours Chapel, commonly known as the “Sailors Church”. Old Port is also a great place to take your kids because they have some amusement building for family there.

Mary Queen of the World. Posted by Picasa

Mary Queen of the World Cathedral is a true replica, on a smaller scale, of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. When I went there the place is already closed so I can only take a picture outside it.


Outside of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Posted by Picasa


Inside of Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Posted by Picasa


McCord Museum of Canadian History showing how Montreal children grew up in the past century or more. Posted by Picasa


The good think about this museum is there is always a spot where children can sit and made their own arts. Posted by Picasa
Montreal has many interesting museums. Since I only have 3 days in here, I can only go to the museums near my hotel. Even on the same road with my hotel on Sherbrooke I can see 2 out of 3 museums. I only have time to see Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which is the oldest museum in Montreal and McCord Museum of Canadian History near McGill University, that document Quebec’s past. If I have more time I would go to see The Chateau Dufresne, or the Musee des Arts decoratifs de Montreal. Built by the Dufresne brothers in 1916 . Once built, the brothers divided the house and then each filled his half with furniture, art and other items of the time – their goal was to live in style. Today, the house holds the largest Canadian Collection of International-style 1940s and ‘50s furnishings. The Redpath Museum, which is on the campus of McGill University, was built in 1883 in Greek Revival style. It has Canada’s second largest collection of Egyptian Antiquities and the displays include such oddities as shrunken heads and a mummy in a glass case. For museum lovers I will make a list of other museums that you can visit:

· The Point-a-Calliere Museum of Acheology and History
· Museum of Contemporary Art
· Chateau de Ramezay Museum
· Stewart Museum
· Canadian Centre for Architecture

SHOPPING AND DINING

The main drag is Ste-Catherine Street, a colorful, noisy, east-west thoroughfare lined with restaurants, department stores, bars, clubs, fast-food outlets, cinemas, boutiques and souvenir shops. Street vendors sell a variety of goods, from flowers to imported jewelry. Ste. Catherine swings until the wee small hours and traffic jams at midnight are not all uncommon. I was surprise when my son told me that outside our hotel window he saw traffic jam at 11 PM! I thought he was kidding.


St. Catherine Street, the busiest street in downtown Montreal. Posted by Picasa

Modern shopping malls accessible on food or by Metro, add to the bewildering choice of consumer goods available to visitors. Shop until you drip ( the city has over 7,000 stores) at Eaton’s, Ogilvy, Place Bonaventure, Complexe Desjardins, Les Promenades del Cathedral or the elegant and pricey, Cours Mont-Royal on the east side of Peel Street.


Underground shopping scenes. Posted by Picasa

Place Ville-Marie, with its 100 retail outlets, was the first building in Montreal’s Underground City, a network of shops and restaurants designed to protect shoppers from the worst excesses of winter. In the 30-plus years since it first opened, the Underground City has expanded to include several hotels, thousands of offices, a couple of dozen movie theatres and more than 1,000 boutiques, connected by 18 kilometers of walkways…. Yes, you’ve heard me right!

Since I did not have a lot of time to explore their restaurants I could not make any specific suggestion on where to eat. I do encourage you to try their local specialty food or French food. One thing for sure, in this city, you won’t have a hard time to find good restaurants because even without any tips on which restaurants to go, we manage to eat well all the time we were here.

But for your information I can tell you that among more unusual places to eat is on a Bateau Mouche, one of the glass-topped sightseeing boats that ply the harbor. Leaving from the Vieux Port ( Old Port in Old Montreal ), the Bateau Mouche takes diners around Montreal’s waterfront, sailing past Ile Saint Helene, Ile Notre Dame, and under the Jacques Cartier and Victoria Bridges, affording the passengers spectacular views of Montreal’s glittering skyline.

Ben’s Deli and Restaurant is a Montreal landmark that has been in business since the beginning of the century. Ben Kravits who started selling smoked meat sandwiches based on a recipe given to him by his Lithuanian mother opened it in 1908. Smoked sandwiches and hearty, mostly Jewish, fare are still standards on the menu.

For people who just can’t live a day without eating Asian food, you can always goes to Chinatown.

chinatown Posted by Picasa

SIGHTSEEING


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One of Montreal’s prime attractions is the Botanical Garden
and Insectarium , in the heart of the city. The Botanical Garden, which is considered to be one of the best in the world, is not only a tourist attraction, but also an important research center. It’s also the place where they grow all the plants that the city needs.

14 Posted by Picasa Because of it’s size, I suggest you take the train that will take you around it first before you decide which area you want to pay more attention. For people with children like we do, a trip to the Insectariums is a must.


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Near the Botanical Garden, there is another excellent place to take your kids to, The Biodome .

biodome Posted by Picasa
It’s a cross between an educational establishment, a zoo, an aquarium and a museum. It’s a “world” in miniature, representing 4 environments – the St. Lawrence Marine Ecosystem, The Laurentian Forest, Polar World and the Tropical forest. Visitors walk through a man made kingdom of trees, plants and animals, along a 500 meters path which is lined with interpretive plaques.


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The mysteries of space are revealed at the Montreal Planetarium, a museum on Saint Jacques Street.

AMUSEMENT AND NIGHT LIFE

Montreal is the party city of Canada. Since I had a young child, there is no way I can see it myself how the people here party all night long in the clubs. But I can tell that the streets here are always so busy even until the wee hours.

For amusement park, there is La Ronde
, it has many spine-tingling rides, at the northern tip of the island. Open only during the summer, the amusement park, which attracts over a million visitors annually, is also the venue for the Benson and Hedges International Fireworks Competition. The fireworks competition runs from mid-June to mid-July, and it features spectacular, themed displays of light and sound, representing different countries and cultures. Because our time is so limited, I could not take my son to see La Ronde.


View of La Ronde from helicopter. Posted by Picasa

Year round, tourist and locals alike flock to the Montreal Casino, housed in a building which served as the French Pavilion during EXPO’67.

To sum it up, Montreal is a city where old and new is blend into a very lively city that just refused to sleep. What ever your preference is, this city is surely can accommodate it. You may have not heard of Montreal but I bet you have seen the TV shows called Just For Laughs, now you know that Montreal is where they started the shows and where every year they have The Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal is the largest such festival and has been since it started in 1982. All the fun and laughs take place, annually, during the last 2 weeks of July. Just for Laughs is so like Montreal it self. It’s a magnificent city where the people there always have their sense of humor even in the dead of winter.


Biodome view from Mt.Royal. Posted by Picasa

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