a six hour transatlantic flight from New York City to get
a French fix in Paris or, if you're more Chevrolet set than
jet set, you can hop in the car and drive six hours to get
your Franco fill right here in North America.
seen much of the USA in a Chevrolet, we decided to swing
by New York City to grab our daughters, The Piglet and Decibel, and head
north for a whirlwind foreign adventure. The plan -- even
plan is no plans -- was to fly The Boy up from college to meet
us for his 19th birthday celebration. It came off without a hitch.
is très French without being in France, in fact, it
is the second largest French speaking city in the world following
After rescuing The Boy from the airport and a quick clean
up from the drive, we ventured into the heart of the former
capital of Canada. Trailing behind the young 'uns, we walked
a couple of blocks from our hotel to the clean, fast subway.
When we popped up from underground we
were surrounded by music.
luck! To our delight we hit town during the 30th annual Jazz
Fest. The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is one
of the world's most renowned festivals, attracting two and
a half million people. The Guinness Book
officially named it the world's largest jazz festival back in 2004.
This year's fortnight of music featured 3,000 artists from thirty
performing more than 650 concerts.
Two thirds of the shows were free outdoor performances that completely
filled the downtown streets with summertime revelers. We were
swept along from stage to stage with the crowd that had become
an organism unto itself. After chasing the gleeful The Piglet, Decibel and
The Boy from concert to concert, we ducked into a Vietnamese restaurant
for a late dinner and decided to call it a night to rest up for
the next day's adventures.
a beautiful sunny summer day, the waterfront is the place
to be in Montreal. The Vieux-Port (Old Port) is alive with
activity. Several attractions are there along
the river... cruises, jet boats, The Science Center and the original
Cirque du Soleil.
opted to skip the famous circus but were treated to a free
show by the acrobatic troupe 7 Fingers just outside
at the Quays of the Old Port. This troupe is comprised of
clowns and acrobats trained at Montreals National Circus
School that have performed with Cirque du Soleil, the Cirque
Eloize, Teatro Zinzanni, the Pickle Family Circus and Cirque
Knie. They were performing their amazing feats of strength
and agility combined with satire and humor thoughout the summer
as part of the
Circus Arts Promenade. We were all completely mesmerized by these
much walking and gawking, we needed some nourishment. The
choices on the riverfront are endless. From elegant dining
to casual walking around food. We were looking for a quick
bite that involved chairs to rest our tired dogs. A British
style pub fit the bill perfectly. It was here that we were introduced
to the famous Québécois creation, poutine. French
fries, turkey gravy and fresh cheese curds layered upon each other
in an artery clogging
parfait of tastiness.
filled, we heard the call of the water. Montreal is and always
has been a river city. The St. Lawrence is one of Canada's
busiest and most important port connections to the Atlantic
for both passengers and cargo. We wanted to see it up
close and personal... which, according to The Piglet, called for a ride
on a Duck. Guided tours are not normally part of our "low
to the ground" travel style, but we had to admit that a
Duck ride sounded
Ducks are amphibious buses that begin by touring the historic
downtown area, then drive into the river and with a splash
become boats. The tour took us by the Notre Dame Cathedral
where Celine Dion was married. The tour guide was very excited about this fact,
it must be a Montréalaise point of pride, so we smiled and
nodded and told her we just LOVED Celine -- especially with long
and scented candles -- lest we were unceremoniously kicked
off the Duck. We continued on past the old parliament building that
now serves as a mall, The Champ de Mars and the City Hall where
Charles De Gaulle made his controversial Vive le Québéc
libre! (Long live free Quebec!) speech from the balcony.
thing we knew we were driving along tiny back streets among
the warehouses and docks, then right off the edge into the
St. Lawrence River. As a boat, the duck feels unwieldy and
awkward, like it might go down any minute, but it was worth
the scare (and the goofy embarrassment) to be right next
to the giant ships
and see Montreal from the water's perspective.
The short cruise took us along the shores of Ile Sainte-Hélène
for a view of the La Ronde amusement park and the site of the 1967
World's Fair, Expo 67,
with the stunning Biosphere and Habitat 67.
Habitat 67 is a series of cubes built as a master thesis project
by Moshe Sofdie. It was designed as a '60s example of futuristic
economical urban living but, ironically, now each cube goes for
$250,000 and must be bought in groups of at least five consecutive
cubes. Looks like it caught on!
on dry land, we decided to seek some more serious sustenance.
Vieux Montreal, the old town along the port, is filled with
fantastic restaurants, many featuring the finest French fare
this side of Paris. We stumbled upon Le Bourlingueur on Rue
St-François Xavier and could not have been more pleased. The
menu is la table dhôte, so the incredible food is served
without serious wallet destruction. Plenty of reasonably priced
wonderful wines are also available to wash things down.
meal and relaxed atmosphere were an ideal segue to a night at
the Casino de Montreal. The Boy, now of legal age to partake in
gambling and drinking in Montreal, and The Piglet and Decibel wanted to be a
part of these rites of passage. Mom and Dad only had to wait about
a half hour before all three kids lost their shirts. Ahhhh...teachable
moments. No one got drunk and we were in bed by midnight.
The next morning
we dropped The Boy at the airport and decided to squeeze in a
couple more tourist activities before heading for the border.
We happened upon the fastest go carts ever created and, to make
it even more intense, they're indoors. All of the girls, Veronica,
The Piglet and Decibel, have always been suckers for go-carts and Kart-O-Mania
certainly didn't disappoint. Loud, reeking of exhaust and right
on the brink of dangerously out of control on a slightly oily
and slick concrete track and the wild-eyed euphoria on The Piglet and Decibel's faces was well worth the entry fee. What more could one ask
from a go-cart?
survived the races, with a touch of helmut head, we took in
the more sublime St. Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal. Towering
over Montreal's west side, this is Canada's largest church
and features the third largest domed basilica in the world.
It didn't begin that way, in 1904, Brother André Bessette
built a small chapel
that soon proved too modest.
church was completed in 1917 to accommodate the ever growing
number of pilgrims in search of miraculous healing. This
was still not large enough so, to honor St. Joseph whom
brother André credits for all of the healings, the
basilica was constructed from 1924 through 1967.
of crutches line the walls as testimony to the cures. The
believers can also garner new strength by viewing brother
Bessette's disembodied heart on display upstairs or with
one of the blessed bottles of cooking oil available for
purchase in the gift shop. Small
for $10.00 or the grande for 25. Ever the uncouth one, Decibel decided
to sneak a dab out of a bottle to rub on some dry skin. Nothing
like some blessed Wesson to clear up the chapping.
2 million visitors a year pass through this stunning structure,
but to us perhaps the most striking thing about it was it's
age, or lack thereof. The style is conspicuously modern when
compared to the famous churches of Europe, especially on the
inside. It seemed odd at first blush, but we all soon came
to agreement that things need not be ancient to be very cool.
the course of our tour we were privileged to be treated
to a few songs from the magnificent pipe organ during a
rehearsal. The majestic
instrument, built by German master organ builder Rudolf von Beckerath
in the late 1950s, was brought in from
installed in 1960. With 5,811 pipes, it is considered one
of the finest organs in the world. The huge sound reverberating
through the basilica's stone walls was nothing short of spectacular.
As we headed south and back to the English speaking world,
the echoes were still ringing through the dome. They probably
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com