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Montreal, Canada: The charming one
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
It is the largest city in Canada's Quebec province. Itís set on an island in the Saint Lawrence River and named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill at its heart. Its boroughs, many of which were once independent cities, include neighbourhoods ranging from cobblestoned, French Colonial Old Town to the very modern and chic.
Our flight from Quebec City to Montreal was scheduled at 2:30 PM. With confirmed boarding passes on hand, we reached the airport well in time. However, at the check-in Air Canada would be trying their best to send us through. With boarding passes in hand, we waited. And waited. Eventually, we were told that none of their flights for the day had any spare seats. The next best option (instead of staying back and taking a chance with the next day) we opted to go by train. Of course, they gave us the train tickets and the taxi fare to reach one of the smaller, but near to the airport, train stations. Here's a tip (at least when flying Air Canada): Whilst on-line check-in, make sure you get a seat number... just a boarding pass is no guarantee that you have a seat... it only means you are waitlisted!
As fate would have it, even our train got delayed by 30 minutes. Long story short, we finally departed at 6:30 PM and arrived at Montreal Central Station (Garre Central) at 9:30 PM. The only solace was that the station was in the basement of our hotel - Fairmont Queen Elizabeth. We dragged our bags to the reception and were in our room at around 10 PM. Had we taken the flight we would have got a few hours to see around. Anyway, that's travel.
When we woke up the next morning, our room window opened up to the majestic Cathedral Marie-Reine du Monde (Mary, Queen of the World Cathedral).
The cathedral is a minor basilica and the seat of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Montreal. It is the third largest church in Quebec after Saint Joseph's Oratory (also in Montreal) and the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupre east of Quebec City. The building is 101 m (333 ft) in length, 46 m (150 ft) in width, and a maximum height of 77 m (252 ft) at the cupola, the diameter of which is 23 m (75 ft). Instead of the statues of the 12 apostles on the facade of St. Peter's, the front of the cathedral is topped by statues of the patron saints of 13 parishes of Montreal who donated them, including St. John the Baptist and St. Patrick. All of the statues were sculpted by Olindo Gratton between 1892 and 1898.
Now with only a full day on hand the best way to capture the spirit of the town was a visit to Mount Royal and walking the Old Town.
We took an Uber and drove up Mount Royal.
First opened to the public in 1876, Mount Royal Park (Parc du Mont-Royal in French) was designed to provide ample green areas to locals and visitors alike. Designed by the famous American landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted (who designed New York's Central Park), Mount Royal has always presented visitors with awesome view of the city below and the river beyond. With acres and acres of walking trails and paved roads, Mount Royal is indeed the lungs of Montreal and indeed a must visit location.
Years ago, a funicular railroad carried people to the top of the mountain. It ran from 1885 to 1918. These days, a road bisects the mountain, so most visitors to the park drive up or may walk the many trails that lead to the top.
Lookouts were constructed around the turn-of-the-century and numerous monuments were added to the park, paying homage to famous Quebec citizens. The large cross at the top of the mountain, which is one of the premiere attractions at the park, was erected in 1924. Standing 103 feet high, the cross is lighted each evening.
The years that followed saw the addition of a recreational lake, a theater, the Smith House and The Chalet.
Smith House, is a charming stone farmhouse. Built in 1858, this example of neo-classical rural architecture was once the home of a wealthy merchant and businessman. It was acquired by the City on Montreal some fourteen years later for the creation of a park, and went on to serve as park superintendent residence, art centre, and hunting and nature museum. Today, in addition to offering welcome services, such as visitor information, a cafe, a gift shop and a permanent exhibition that highlights the history of this iconic natural landmark, Smith House is home to the offices of Les amis de la montagne, a non-profit organization that protects, improves and promotes the sustainability of Montrealís Mount Royal.
Mount Royal Chalet was inaugurated in 1932. The walls of its spacious interior are decorated with pictures tracing the history of Montreal, including many painted by famous artists. The Kondiaronk scenic lookout in front of the chalet offers a striking view of the downtown area and the St. Lawrence River.
We had walked for a couple of hours on the mountain top and it was time to turn back. Uber dropped us at the hotel. After a quick lunch at Madras Curry House (great place to savour South Indian cuisine) just a few blocks away from our hotel on Rue Mackay, we entered Garre Central using one of its many passageways- introducing us to Montreal's famous Underground City.
The RESO or Underground City keeps Montrealers safe and warm during the cold winter months. It is home to numerous shops and restaurants and is connected to subways, train stations, hotels, etc. When the Metro was built in 1966 - in time for Expo '67 - more subterranean malls began appearing and tunnels adjoined the subway stations with important locations around the city - like office buildings and hotels - eventually forming what would be the central segment of the underground city, now known as RESO (a homonym for the French word "reseau", meaning "network".) As the years passed, more underground segments were added to RESO. The underground city now stretches for 32 kilometers (20 miles) and covers 4 million square meters.
Of course, exploring the entire length was not possible. Though we could have walked all the way to Old Town (Vieux-Montreal), we preferred to take the cab and save time. By 4 PM we were at Place d'Armes.
This old square in the center of Montreal reflects styles from more than one hundred years of French Canadian history. The area dates back to the seventeenth century. Locals would come to this part of town, near the Rue Notre-Dame, to watch the members of the military engage in maneuvers. That accounts for the name eventually given to the square, which was established in the 1800s after the old Notre-Dame church was torn down and replaced with a new basilica.
We negotiated few streets of the old town before reaching the Old Port on the banks of River Saint Laurent. As luck would have it, an aqua-bus tour was scheduled to depart at 6 PM. Costing $39 a seat, this 60-minute ride would drive us through old town and also get into the waters offering views of the city from the 'other side'.
Though the neighbourhood has diverse architecture from different era, the focal point of the square is the stunning Notre Dame Basilica. Built during the nineteenth century, this neo-Gothic masterpiece was said to have so moved its Protestant creator that he converted to Catholicism before he died. The basilica is in high demand for couples to get married in. I was told the waiting time is about 5 years!
Montreal's first skyscraper sprung up along the square. The New York Life Building, completed in 1888, was a whopping eight stories tall and boasted the city's first elevator. Designed by architects Babb, Cook and Willard, an ornate clock tower added another three stories to the building. Sculptor Henry Beaumont enhanced the ornate exterior.
Steel skyscrapers appeared around the Place d'Armes in the second decade of the twentieth century. The Royal Trust Bank and Duluth skyscrapers were clad in stone and both boasted ten stories.
In 1929, an Art Deco was built on the square. The Aldred Building is an excellent example of the style and reflects one of Montreal's interesting architectural rules of the time, which stated that skyscrapers should all have "setbacks", designed to ensure natural lighting for the streets below.
In 1967, yet another skyscraper - this one indicative of post-war architecture - was built along the Place d'Armes. The National Bank of Canada Tower remains the only example of this style of architecture in the entire city.
At 7 PM we were back on the shores. We walked back to the hotel and preferred having our dinner at the same place where we had lunch; just a proof that we were happy with the cuisine they served.
Just a day is surely not doing justice to this charming city. Thereís so much to see and do. Well we had just 2 weeks on hand and Canada is a big, big country.
The next morning we would leave for Banff.
Montreal Image Gallery Photo viewer
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