Thursday, June 7, 2012

Canada 2012 –Day 2
We woke at 5:30 am, to streaming sun rays coming through the open window of our flat. Groan! Fortunately we managed to go to sleep again, and didn’t get up until a more civilized 7:30 am. We need to adjust our sleeping patterns to the tremendously long summer days of higher latitudes.

After a quick breakfast at the hostel we took to the streets, because there was much too see. First we walked down the Quartier Latin, which is where students like to hang out after a hard day at school. Of course it was nearly empty when we went through at 8 am, but we saw it later on the way back, and can attest that it is indeed a lively place. Afterward we turned west unto Rue Saint Catherine, well known for its shopping potential. Not to be left out of the fun, Annie took the opportunity of buying a new pair of hiking boots, because the ones she was wearing were hurting (they will be left behind at Montreal).

Our next stop was McGill University, which is as close to Hogwarts as you can expect anything to be. The different schools are housed in small castles set around a grassy square, where no doubt doubles the lacrosse and quiditch matches take place. The students were wearing their dress robes, but clearly flying brooms was not allowed while muggles were on the premises.

We had a delightful lunch in the terrace of a sandwich shop, where we both had baguettes with ham and brie cheese, and salads of artichokes, pasta, and cucumbers. It felt like we were in Paris!

In the afternoon we visited the underground city. This parallel universe is a vast system of modern catacombs below the downtown shopping district, where people escaping snow and rain can have the luxury of buying from the finest establishments, dining on pizza, or just taking their clothes to the dry cleaners. It was a glorious, sunny day outside, however, so after a while playing zombies we reached for the nearest exit, and came face to face with St. Patrick’s Basilica. This remarkably beautiful church was built between 1847 and 1885, to provide a place of spiritual solace for the many Irish that had by then immigrated to Canada. Another remarkable feature of this church is the Relicts Chapel, which includes tiny bits of memorabilia from a few dozen saints, a sliver from the crown of thorns, a replica nail of the cross (but a replica that touched one of the real nails), and a most prized bit of bone from St. Patrick himself.

Our wandering took us through Chinatown (which is quaint but …), and finally Montreal Vieux. As we learned when we visited the Archaeology Museum, before the arrival of the Europeans Montreal was a little Iraquoi village at the confluence of a small stream and the St. Lawrence River. When the French came in 1650 they first established a small trading post, then a fort in the mid 1660’s, and finally a settlement named Montreal (1750). In 1800 Montreal probably had no more than 9,000 inhabitants and was limited to the footprint they now call Montreal Vieux, but by 1850 the population had skyrocketed to 50,000, and from then on the city has been expanding unto the surrounding country side.

Highlights of out tour through Montreal Vieux included the Basilica of Notre Dame (established in the late 1660’s, but rebuilt and enlarged in the early 1800’s). It is a beautiful spiritual tribute to Mary, and has played an important role in the development of this handsome city.

We were dragging a bit by this time, so we headed to the river front, where we found a charming sidewalk café, where I enjoyed a cold beer, and Annie OD on sugar with a “castor tail” covered with caramel and apple slices. The café turned out to be almost in front of the Archaeology Museum, where the visit is largely a below-street-level tour of the foundations, walls, and water conveyance structures of old Montreal. A very fine museum that every visitor should see!

We needed to get back to the hostel, both because we were tired and because we had arranged for the purchase and delivery of two bicycles at 7 pm. We thus followed the waterfront, and then attempted to cut through Montreal Vieux by the shortest route. Unfortunately it was not the most expeditious route, because Annie saw a street fire-breathing performer, and had us stop to see. Next thing I know I am up in front, imitating a stomping lion to the accompaniment of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”, and Annie is almost peeing with laughter. She got some good footage of my performance, which I know she will be happy to show you when you ask.

We did get back to the hotel with half hour to spare, so we went to our little flat, opened a bottle of wine, and sat in our very own balcony enjoying the experience of being in a most charming French city.

Our last hurrah was the purchase of two bikes, from Stephan Lapointe, a bike enthusiast who makes a living selling bikes via the internet. You go to his website, where all his bikes are photographed, chose what you like, give him a call to discuss your choices (he knows the land better than you, so there is a good chance he will recommend a different bike based on your height, expertise level, and route to be traveled), settle the deal, and then wait patiently until he brings the bike to the hotel in his “Velobus”. Once he got to us he promptly installed the seats we had brought with us, adjusted the height of the seat, changed one tire that was less than perfect, collected his money (only $130 for each bike!), and … voila … we are now the proud owners of two reliable bikes on which to pursue our adventure!

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