Friday, July 11, 2014

Montreal-Quebec-Nova Scotia Day 2. Around Montreal

Another glorious day. I had breakfast at the hostel, and then called United to find out about my suitcase. The automated service advised me that the suitcase had left the airport and was on its way to the address in record. So I sat with my computer, writing a paper review, until finally at 10:30 I gave up, annoyed to wasting my time in Montreal. So I rented a bike for $20 for the day, and off I went.

I came down the hill to the St. Lawrence River, right to the old port of Montreal. Like in San Francisco, the wharves have been converted into more gentrified uses. The one that caught my attention was the Science Museum, which was advertising a special exhibition of the cave paintings of Lascaux, in the Dordogne region of France. So I parked the bike, paid the entrance fee, and was transported into one of the most interesting museums I have seen. The first part dealt with the discovery of Lascaux in the late 1940’s, and with the development until the 1960’s, when it was discovered that the influx of tourists was damaging the paintings. First the visits were restricted, but the people kept coming in droves (and were quite unhappy when they were turned away), so the French government created a copy of the cave (with narrow passages and all), and had an army of artists reproduce the marvelous paintings. Fast forward 50 years, and now they have the technology to create computer models, and quite precise replicas of the walls of the cave, and that is precisely on display at the Science Museum. Before they let you into the “cave”, however, you get to see all sorts of cool displays and films about the techniques used by the Cromagnon artists who painted marvelous herds of reindeer, bulls in battle, horses running through the country, and a large black Aurochs cow. It is only after you are steeped in admiration for the techniques and details that you walk into a hall where the individual walls have been recreated, and where the paintings jump out of the rock at you, that you realize the magnificence of the art created 19,000 years ago. It was a fabulous experience.

After that I followed the river for a while, but I had it in my mind that I wanted to find a Target store, where I thought I could buy a cheap pre-paid cell phone, and that took me back into downtown. I did find a Target, but they didn’t have anything and sent me further into downtown to a cell phone store. At the end I found that yes, I could buy a phone for the month I was here, but the price tag was too high, and I don’t have anyone to call anyway, so I finally gave up.

I went back to the river and started going on the opposite direction, intent on crossing the bridge Jacques Cartier over the St. Lawrence River to get to the Ile Sainte.-Hellene and Ile Notre-Dame, two small islands in the middle of the river, who are one of the big recreational spaces of Montreal. Getting over the river was tough, because the bridge rises and rises to a high point before coming back down to the islands. Great views, though. Once in the island I went to visit the Stewart Museum, which occupies the old munitions depot of the British when they took over the French possessions in the 18th century. The museum had a great exhibition about the history of discovery and conquest of French Canada, from the first nations all the way to the formation of the two Canadas (French and English), and the final consolidation of the country in the mid 19th century. I was lucky enough to have a guided tour of one, and kept up with my Quebecois guide for the first half. But then other people joined us, and he started speaking so fast, and using Quebecois accent and words, that my poor brain went blank. Very nice young man, but boy could he speak fast!

I spent the rest of the afternoon touring the islands, and I plan to go back tomorrow because they are having an International Festival, with booths from all over the world. I forgot to mention that Ile Sainte-Hellene was enlarged for the World Expo of 1967, so there are all sorts of interesting buildings, left over from the Expo. A very interesting one is a geodesic dome that hosts the Museum of the Environment. It was too late to visit it, but I may give it a go tomorrow.

Back at the hostel I fell in conversation with a fellow from New Orleans, who had just arrived and was planning on spending two weeks in Montreal. We exchanged stories and he mentioned that he was planning on buying a bike for the two weeks. Well, I told him, I happen to have a friend who is in the business of selling or renting bikes, and he is coming to deliver me a bike in half hour. So he came down with me, and together we waited for Stephane (Stephane Lapointe-VELO-BIKE  He arrived in good time at 8:30 pm, as we had previously arranged, in his van, which is actually a fully equipped bike shop. He took his time showing me the two bikes he had brought for me, and it just so happened that the one I didn’t choose was just right for Jordan, so we both got to do business. I cannot emphasize enough that Stephane is a bicycle wiz, and very knowledgeable about routes and the best way to enjoy a bicycling vacation in Quebec. If you ever come this way, he is your man.

At the end I bought from him a great aluminum-frame bike, fully accessorized with fenders, rack, basket, trip computer, lights, and spare inner tube for $350, which was a total bargain. Now that I have my expeditionary vehicle the adventure is ready to start!

P.S. United delivered my suitcase without a hitch, but now that I look at all the stuff I brought I am beginning to wonder how am I going to carry all that stuff in a single bike!  

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