A Montreal Quickie – 1

It’s been a pretty stressful summer at work for me so far. It came to pass that I needed to get away from everything for a few days – and staying at home for a long weekend wasn’t going to cut it. I was going stir crazy, and just had to get out and go somewhere.

But where? Where was far enough to make traveling there a worthwhile break, but close enough so I could do it in a few days?

Why not drive up to Montreal? I’d been there before (a couple of years ago), so I knew what it took. A seven hour drive (with rest stops and the border crossing), so it could be done in one day, and you don’t need much in the way of special preparations….

Since I was just there for two days and three nights, I’m not going to have that much to say about the place. But I did hit a few museums, and get in a pair of walking tours.

One thing you notice when driving to Montreal from New York is that once you emerge from the Adirondacks, the land is really flat. And boring. So when you spot a sign saying “Circuit du Paysan” on the shoulder of Quebec’s Route 15, you actually notice it and think, “What the heck is that about?” I looked it up. It’s a network of area hiking / biking trails that will get you to a lot of “agrotoursim” spots in the area between the border and the St. Lawrence River. You can visit specialty farms, arts and crafts places, and local restaurants. It’s a nice idea to promote local tourism in a region that’s otherwise a “pass through quickly” place. Maybe some other time….

I don’t want to spend more time writing this than I did visiting “The Paris of North America”, so I’ll skip the details about my hotel and the general layout of the city and just stick with the attractions I visited.

I tried my luck at the Montreal Casino. Located on an island that’s been turned into a park and recreation area, it’s very different from most casinos in that there’s no hotel associated with it. Also, it has a very small “footprint” on the ground. Instead of being spread out over acres and acres, it’s a vertical casino, with five (small and cramped) floors of gaming. Two of the three buildings in its complex are leftovers from Expo 67, the Montreal World’s Fair. It’s also interesting to note that it’s operated by a subsidy of the Quebec Lottery – essentially making it a government-owned casino.

Another building that’s a repurposed World’s Fair pavilion is the Biosphere Museum. It’s totally devoted to environmental sciences and ecology. Even before the Arctic started melting, Canada has been a pretty “Green” country. Exhibits of note cover how weather works, and how to make a metropolis (like Montreal) more environmentally ‘sustainable’. A neat exhibit was a photo essay “Water Frontiers” on how Canada and the US manage their joint water issues. Think about all the lakes and rivers that cross the border, and remember that nature doesn’t acknowledge the lines we draw on the map… The Biosphere is in the middle of Jean Drapeau Park – excuse me, Parc Jean Drapeau – which is it’s own island in the St. Lawrence, and is one of the major recreation areas in the city.

Rue Ste. Catherine is the main drag in downtown Montreal. It’s Canada’s entry in the “World Class Street” competition – like Fifth Avenue (NYC), Hollywood Boulevard (Los Angeles), Le Champs Elysees (Paris), etc. If you’re looking for nightlife, it’s the place to go. It’s great for strolling or people watching, except that right now, there’s a heck of a lot of construction going on as they’re ripping up a section to replace the sewers and underground cables and things, and then rebuild it into a much more pedestrian-friendly and environmentally sustainable place. They happened to be having a “Giant Chess Tournament” in one of the pedestrian-only blocks while I was there – giant chessboards were laid out in the plaza, with knee-high pieces to play with. Looked pretty fun – and serious.

The rest next time.

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