This week, I had the chance to revisit one of my favourite Canadian cities, Montreal. It’s one of the older cities in Canada and has lots of history. It’s also a modern city with a great arts scene, impressive shopping, loads of multicultural neighbourhoods and food, sports and tourism. I find the atmosphere and vibe of Montreal to be far more exciting than, say, Toronto.
I had a specific reason for spending a couple of days in Montreal in the middle of July. Otherwise, I would have avoided it because the summers there can be stinking hot! That’s the one drawback of Montreal, it can be very hot and humid in summer and very, very cold in winter. We got really lucky this time, weather-wise. It was showery and overcast when we arrived and it was humid! The day we flew out, two days later, was the same but the one full day we spent there was gorgeous! Sunny, warm, a nice breeze and no humidity at all. It was perfect for walking the streets and we did!
We arrived on Sunday evening and purchased a three day transit pass at Trudeau airport. It cost $18 for the three days and includes the “747” bus to and from the airport which is a 10 dollar ticket each way. Just using the smart card based pass for the airport run makes it worth while. They have some really good transit passes including a weekend one and one that gives you unlimited transit in the evenings only. (more transit information here ) The bus has a direct route through the main core of the downtown area (along Blvd Rene Levesque) to a major transit hub, the Berri-UCAM station.
We stayed at the Novotel Montreal, located one block from the Bell Centre one way and Rue St. Catherine the other way. The Bell Centre was the reason for the visit. I and two friends had tickets to see Queen + Adam Lambert!!! I won’t gush too much. Queen is my all time favourite band and this is a bucket list concert. But first, we have some free time in the city.
Sunday evening we found an Indian restaurant (Devi) to enjoy and a bright cafe for breakfast the next morning (Vasco de Gama), a short walk away, near the Peel Metro station. We had a full sunny day to fill before the concert so we headed out first to Place des Arts, in hopes of seeing the Museum of Contemporary Arts there.
Coming out of the Metro station there are many cool art installations inside and outside the station and underground connector tunnels which are part of the whole underground “city” in Montreal. Normally, you’d come out onto Rue St. Catherine but a long block was closed off to traffic for the Just for Laughs festival that’s on this month. There were food and drink booths and stages set up for the evening performances though nothing was going on in the daytime, unfortunately. We had a look around, posed for photos with the little green creature that’s the JFL logo/mascot and pulled on the door of the Museum. Stuck. Locked. Ah, Monday is the day they’re closed. Rats!
We wandered over to Blvd. St. Laurent and into nearby Chinatown, having a look at some of the neat shops chock full of Oriental tat, dishes and such. We tried Dragon Beard candy which really was a power hit of sugar but interesting. It’s got kind of a cotton candy outside with something chewy inside, nutty. Unfortunately, we’d carried the rest of it around all day and it melted together into one lump. Doh.
We were going to find a place for coffee but decided to head over towards Old Montreal, the historic district by the St. Lawrence River. We walked along Rue St. Urbain and stopped at Starbucks for a drink and a sit down in the shade outside. Off into the historic district and the first stop, just at the top of the little hill was Notre Dame Basilica. We decided to pay the $5.00 and go in. I’d been there a few years ago but Kelly had not been in it and it had been some time since Shirley had visited. It really is a beautiful place, subdued lighting with blue and gold everywhere. There’s a light and airy newer chapel in the back as well.
There was actually an exhibition on Napoleonic items but we didn’t take part in that. We browsed in some of the really unique shops that were along the street beside the Basilica on our way down to the cobbled streets lined with stone buildings. Shirley wanted to browse the art galleries and Rue St. Paul has a couple of blocks that have almost nothing else but galleries. We went into a few of those and saw some really gorgeous art and paintings. Oh, to have the Lottery win in the bank and a lovely loft type apartment or condo to put them in!
Old Montreal is quaint and picturesque with old French style buildings but it’s also quite a tourist attraction so it’s always busy. There are lots of places to eat and drink in addition to the shopping and galleries. The main square is Place Jacques Cartier which flows below the grand City Hall at the top down to Rue. St. Paul. It too is lined with the patios of the restaurants with a few little shops. There are artists set up in the square and there are buskers performing for the crowds. We picked a restaurant and settled in for lunch and people watching. We ended up having a long conversation with an elderly man who had walked by, too. Good times!
From there, the time was starting to move on closer to the evening hour so we thought we should probably go back to the hotel to change and freshen up for the concert. We walked up and over to the nearest Metro stop and zipped back. Shirley did a slice of power shopping along the way, so as not to waste any time! We were anticipating meeting up with some of Kelly’s friends, all Adam Lambert fans, at what we thought would be the restaurant/bar at the Bell Centre but we couldn’t find them there and she had some trouble finding a way to contact them. In the end it turned out they were in a pub around the corner. Kelly went to find them and we stayed at the Bell to get a look at the concert merchandise booths, a successful quest.
The concert was everything I had hoped for and was probably the best thing I’ve ever seen. I guess it’s hard to beat when it’s your favourite band ever and they put on a spectacular show. Queen used to be fronted by Freddie Mercury but he passed away in 1991. They have brought 31 year old Adam Lambert along now to sing for them and he has done a fine old job. The show was everything I wanted it to be and more. My full review is here and there’s a link to photos at the end. Kelly met her friends afterwards, Shirley and I bought some snacks and drinks to have at the hotel since we’d missed dinner. We listened to Queen on the iPod while I uploaded my photos to my laptop and relived the night, far too wired to go to bed just yet.
The next morning, the weather was grey and threatening again. We had a late start. My feet and legs were killing me from the nearly three hours standing on the cement floor by the stage last night! Kelly and I and hobbled up to Rue St. Catherine to find breakfast while Shirley went shopping. (Well, I hobbled, Kelly was fine!) We ate some wonderful omelets at a deli called Reuben’s which specializes in Montreal smoked meat though that wasn’t on the breakfast menu. It did look like anything on their menu would be good and very filling.
We checked out of the hotel, put our bags in the luggage room. I stayed in the lobby lounge and read while Shirley ran back up to a couple shops and Kelly headed out to another hotel. She is staying another night to attend a Katy Perry concert. Shirley and I went down to where the airport bus stopped, just at the end of the block where the hotel is and returned to the airport. We ate the rest of the sandwiches from last night with a coffee before our flight and finally got back to Halifax by 7 p.m.
It was a quick visit, but thoroughly enjoyable. It might have worn me out, but I’d do it again! It wasn’t even all the walking that did my legs in, it was standing for three hours in one place! Never mind, floor seats close to the stage were more than worth it! I really would like to go back to Montreal for another visit again soon. Maybe Queen will tour again!