This is our saddest post yet, but if we start with that part we’ll just cry through the good parts. So we’ll address it at the end, where it happened.
Back when we spent our summers in Phoenix, we tried mightily not to spend the summer in Phoenix. Coronado for the Fourth of July was awesome. There’s something special about small-town parades where people put Uncle Sam hats on their dogs and the sporadic fireworks are over in less time than it took the sweaty families to lug their lawn chairs and coolers and sparklers from the station wagon to the park. At the same time, being stuck in, say, Philadelphia for July 4 wouldn’t be too bad either. The point is, as a result of what in hindsight was short-sighted planning, we stayed in Montreal because of two huge holidays. Which also was awesome. But first, here’s a bit about Montreal.
The city of Montreal is on Montreal Island*, both named for Mount Royal, which would be easier to see from atop the Ferris Wheel if all the buildings weren’t in the way.
Yes, we’re tourists. Plus, we’re in a no-drone zone. So we rode the Ferris Wheel.
Tumbleweed is down there on the far end. From a distance where we can’t pick her out, she looks just as clean as the sparkling Canadian boats.
Montreal is Canada’s second largest city, which isn’t all that much interesting but is a fact. Montreal has a “beach,” which is interesting but isn’t all that much of a fact.
Montreal has the third-most French speakers of any city, behind only Paris and some place in Africa we’ve never heard of. Many important people came from Montreal, including Daniel Greysolon, Sieur du Lhut, who in 1679 invented what later became Duluth, Minnesota. Which is odd because we haven’t found any restaurants in Montreal that sell lutefisk, although lutefisk is a staple food in Minnesota. Also, lutefisk may be the the only food more disgusting than poutine, which is a staple food in Canada.
The Molson brewery sits just around the corner from the yacht club, and—as the oldest such place in North America—has been pumping out beer since 1786.
Every time we see it, one of us recalls that time famous Canadians Doug and Bob McKenzie heroically saved the Elsinore Brewery from Max von Sydow’s evil scheming.
The Montreal Metro is everything public transportation should be but generally isn’t in the United States. Clean. Bright. Uncrowded. On time. Safe. Artsy.
We bopped all over the city during our extended stay. The train sure beats walking.
That said, one of our favorite things about Quebec City—aside from meeting No Drama of course—was the fun and educational walking tour. So we figured a walking tour in Montreal with Brent and Karen would be fun and educational as well. Presumably whoever coined the aphorism “Good things come to those who wait,” however, didn’t wait until he arrived in Montreal to schedule a tour. Every tour in town was sold out for days. At the time, we didn’t plan to be here long enough. Grrrr.**
Although unguided, we commenced exploring with our guests. To be honest though, most of the exploration seemed to involve eating or looking for places to eat. We won’t detail all of our meals, but the food in Montreal is legit.
PSA for anyone eating out in Montreal: pick a restaurant and get seated at least an hour before you’re hungry. Meals are a process, not a moment in time. In fact, sometimes it makes sense to order tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s breakfast all at once.
Between meals and rain storms, however, we did manage to see a few non-food-related sights. One of the Old City’s highlights is the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal—Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal to people from Arizona and Texas—which supposedly was the largest church in North America until one of those TV guys started doing his fund-raising ministry from a basketball arena. Cha-ching.
We painstakingly signed up and paid for the online tickets to go in. Very ornate. Very old. Very cool. Home to state funerals and weddings involving celebrities, if you consider Celine Dion a celebrity.
We even got a surprise concert from whoever was playing the impressive Grand Casavant Organ, which has been piping since 1891. Very cool indeed. We also were surprised by the huge number of credit card machines tucked into nearly every holy nook and cranny. Insert your card, and an electronic candle will light up for some period. Cha-Ching. Taking the whole “worshiping remotely” thing to another level, you even can do it in your pajamas from home.*** Cha-ching, cha-ching.
In addition to old churches—and we saw a few—Montreal is home to one of the oldest Chinatowns not in China, although in China they probably just call them “town.”
Mostly we walked the streets of Chinatown looking for what was advertised as a colorful awe-inspiring mural. Hmmm.
The piece is titled “May an Old Song Open a New World,” but in French or Chinese or some combination of the two. We think it’d look a lot better without the bus stop, but it indeed is colorful.
The day it rained, we figured it to be a great time to explore Underground Montreal. We’ve been to Underground Atlanta, which essentially is a den of tattoo parlors and shops that are a notch or two below Spencer’s Gifts, with random junkies hanging about. If Sherman had any decency at all, Underground Atlanta would’ve been the first thing he burned on his way to Savannah. Underground Montreal, on the other hand, promised to be a vast array of connected subterranean walkways leading to shopping districts, restaurants, and other similarly appealing destinations. So we went.
The first difficulty was finding an entrance. But once we got to one, things looked promising. We even passed a chunk of the Berlin Wall, which to our knowledge is something we’ve never passed before.
From there, however, we entered a warren of tunnels that seemingly led only to dead-ends. The periodic “maps” weren’t at all helpful. PSA to cartographers who design maps of human Habitrails: Always include a “You are here” dot. We ended up backtracking out the place we went in, but everything worked out because we found a nice spot for lunch.
Speaking of food, Rue St. Paul is as flush with awesome restaurants as Joel Osteen’s bank account is with cash. We love Rue St. Paul. Which, incidentally, has exactly nothing to do with RuPaul.
Now to our poor calculations. We knew that June 24 is Jean Baptiste Day, the most significant provincial holiday in Francophile Quebec. In 1908 the Pope identified John the Baptist as the patron saint of French-Canadians, and as a result, French-Canadians celebrate with bonfires and parades and—this is the part we didn’t know—by clogging our planned route to Kingston via Ottawa.
So we made the courageous decision to extend our stay at the Montreal Yacht Club. Which was good, because Montreal was hosting a World Triathlon, not surprisingly drawing competitors from around the world. A kid from France won the junior division.
The only downside to the triathlon was dealing with all the autograph-seekers from around the world who understandably thought that Doug and Brent might be world-class triathletes.
After a fun-filled ten days, Brent and Karen headed home. We don’t get to see them as often as we’d like but have a great time with them when we do.
Anyway, we missed them immediately after they packed, said goodbye, and Ubered off to the airport. Well, Karen packed. Despite complaining that his suitcase had gotten smaller, Brent only half-packed. We didn’t laugh at all when Dana discovered a drawer full of shirts he forgot to wear or take home. Ok, maybe we laughed just a little. Or a lot. For a long time.
Last Saturday was circus day. We don’t have any idea whether the kid with the trapeze in his yard ever made it to Cirque du Soleil, but we did. Although we’ve seen their shows in Las Vegas and San Diego, the Montreal tents are home base, where every new show debuts. Excellent performance.
The only downside to Cirque du Soleil was dealing with all the autograph-seekers from around the world who understandably thought that Dana might be a world-class acrobat.
So after the post-Saint Jean-Baptiste Day weekend festivities, we should be good to head on to Ottawa and the Rideau Canal, right? Right. Except that July 1 is Canada Day. We knew that July 1 is Canada Day, of course, and from experience in 2018 we know that every Canadian with a boat will be gumming up every marina, lock wall, and anchorage between Montreal and Kingston, although mostly it’s the Anglophiles who celebrate Canada Day because it commemorates the joinder of four provinces into a British confederation, which is something the Québécois who identify with the French don’t find worth celebrating.****
Anyway, Loopers tend to be in a hurry but this time around we’re not. So what the hell, we decided to stay in Montreal for another week. Plenty more things to see.
St. Helens Island is famous as one end of the Jacques Cartier Bridge and as home to a giant amusement park left over from the Montreal World Expo of ‘67. Saturday nights they launch a massive fireworks show, for which our bow provided primo seating.
Miss Lily and Pamet joined us for dinner before Pamet headed out. If Jeff and Sue ever master Nebo we’ll try to catch up down the way.
Seemingly every town we visit has what everyone says is an amazing Farmers Market, which almost always is limited to one day a week and that one day almost always is not the day we visit. Jean Talon Market, however, is open every day. And is massive. And the vendors only offer picture perfect wares.
Vegetables, cheese, flowers, fruits, and such are fine, but what if one also wants to see an exposition of Barbie dolls, coiffed and dressed and accessorized by the biggest names in fashion? Yup, Montreal also has one of those, this one having the distinction of being way more impressive and interesting than it sounds.
Another must-stop stop is the Jardin botanique de Montréal, which turns out to be world-class for real.
The most amazing thing is that the 190 acres of plants from every corner of the globe are cleared in the winter, because the ground is covered by ten feet or so of the snow that Montrealers get to enjoy during the nine months of non-boating season. The various plants go into greenhouses specially designed for the appropriate climate. Then an army of what must be millions of workers put it back together. Crazy.
On our way home from the botanical garden, we passed by Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Olympics. Montreal Tower—which holds up the stadium roof—supposedly is the world’s tallest leaning tower. And 45° is a lot of lean.
The 1976 Olympics are famous because Montreal is where Bruce Jenner won a gold medal and set a decathlon world record before he found even more fame by marrying Bob Kardashian’s ex-wife and then becoming Caitlyn Marie.
Mostly we skipped Canada Day, although we managed to find the park where Mounties were shooting off very loud cannons.
So that’s Montreal. We did and saw and learned a bunch of other stuff, but this already is the longest post in history so we’re skipping over it. The travelogue portion of this post started with a photo of Mount Royal, so it’s only fitting to end it with a photo from Mount Royal, which we took after hiking to the top.
Although we’ve loved Montreal, not everything about Montreal will be a happy memory. So now the sad part. Today we said goodbye to Oscar, who has been an important member of the family since we adopted him fourteen years ago. We’ve been crying messes on Tumbleweed and the girls have been crying messes in California. On one hand we could write multiple posts about our last baby, but on the other it’s hard to put our profound sense of loss into words. This one will be very difficult to get over. Goodbye Poopy. You were the best dog.
*The aforementioned Coronado claims to be an island. It isn’t. It’s an isthmus, an extremely handy geographical fact when you’re in Coronado and desperately want fish tacos from the Tin Fish at the end of the Imperial Beach Pier.
**Fortunately we were able to schedule a walking tour of Old Montreal after deciding to stay awhile. Dana enjoyed it immensely and picked up several of the tidbits found in this post. Doug unfortunately had to meet a service guy about a niggling issue with the boat. Grrrr.
***We vaguely recall the biblical story about Jesus using a whip to drive the pilgrim-fleecing salesmen out of the temple, because it was a place of worship, not commerce. How times have changed. Hopefully they’ll start selling Indulgences again. One of us could use a few.
****In fact, Canada Day in Quebec more often is called “Moving Day,” because most leases begin and end on July 1. On this matter the whole French versus English conflict thing is too bad, because from a logistical perspective it would be quite efficient if they coordinated, so as to put Moving Day right after Boxing Day.