blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy-go-lucky Montreal

Nighttime view from the hotel
The ride from Ottawa to Montreal in the business class coach of a ViaRail train is fun. We were served a hot meal supplemented by a series of treats including alcoholic beverages and leant back to read our books and magazines by lamplight as the dark, snowy scenery flashed by and the moon rose. Once at Montreal's central station, we had the luxury of being able to glide up the escalator from the station straight into the lobby of our hotel, Le Reine Elizabeth (I assume the masculine article denotes the gender of the hotel, not the Queen) which once again had offered an inexpensive deal for the last two nights of December; to take advantage of it, we'd booked the rooms in November. This is a tastefully decorated, sensibly organised hotel, with soft beds, good quality coffee machines in the rooms, and the bathroom fittings in ergonomically suitable places, which is more than you can say elsewhere. I have slept in 20-something different hotels during this last year, so I appreciate such details. At the Q.E. they give you enough towels, they remember to replace the used shampoo bottles and the bedroom windows can be opened: more plus points. The management also saw to it that our neighbouring room was uninhabited from Dec.31st to Jan. 1st after the previous occupants had woken us up noisily by partying at 4am, the previous night.

Morning view of Place Ville Marie
It might be my imagination, but the citizens of Montreal seem more relaxed than the people who live in Ottawa or Toronto. The massive snow clearing job Montreal needed last weekend (le déneigement following a record snowfall of 45 cm "... 2 cm de plus que le record établi en mars 1971") had been left uncompleted; the sidewalks still deeply covered on Sunday night and Monday morning, so that it felt like slipping up and down sand dunes, even along a main thoroughfare like Sherbrooke Street. This is because Quebec snow-clearing crews stopped work after reaching their official overtime limit, and so they should. Nobody seems to mind.

Gateway to Montreal's Chinatown
My leg muscles are still feeling it, though, because we stumbled through the snow for quite a distance on our sorties from the hotel. First to breakfast at Nickels Deli on Ste. Catherine's as on previous occasions, then east to UQAM and the Place des Arts, then down the hill through the red light district and Chinatown, up the hill to Vieux Montréal and down again to the waterfront (ice front, rather). I got snow down the back of my boots from climbing on a berm to take a photo of some extraordinary graffiti decorating the wall of the "Mission Old Brewery."

Horses pulled calèches trundle along the streets, which looks romantic, with furs and blankets provided for the passengers, but I feel sorry for the horses (this sort of tourist attraction has recently been banned in London and Paris) who wear blinkers, jerk at their harnesses and probably suffer greatly from the cold wind and the present conditions underfoot.

Calèche, Old Port

Place Jacques Cartier, daytime

Rue de la Commune by the Old Port

Towers of Notre Dame Basilica
Christmas shoppers on rue Ste-Catherine, seen from Les 3 Brasseurs

On Monday afternoon we stopped at another brewery, jam packed with customers, Les 3 Brasseurs, for lunch; Elva and Carol had a Flammkuchen between them, like the one I'd eaten a few weeks ago at Stuttgart airport, and the rest of the gang shared two-thirds of my quesadillas. After that I repaired to the hotel for an hour or two of precious oblivion before setting out for supper, 25 minutes' walk away in the Old Port at Le Bourlingueur for a New Year's Eve supper, viz (my choice):
Verrine de saumon et avocat et coriandre
Soupe au cresson
Pétoncles rôties sur lit de poireaux
Tarte tatin aux pommes et sa glace vanille caramel fondant 
New Year's Eve in Montreal: Place Jacques-Cartier at 11pm
Notre-Dame angels
The restaurant was a cosy place with an Alsatian theme, with a metre thick stone walls and little windows overlooking the horses on the rue St-François-Xavier. The waiters and chefs were from France (eg. from Corsica and the Auvergne). No background music whatsoever was playing. Hooray for that; the seven of us could have a proper conversation. At the end of the meal we were enticed along the rue St-Paul by the attractive old buildings and Christmas lights. By 11pm a huge crowd of revellers, waiting for the New Year fireworks, had already gathered in the Place Jacques-Cartier to be entertained from the animateurs and animatrices on stage there. What a noise. The amplified music made the whole body vibrate. It was envigorating for a few minutes but we old fogies didn't fancy standing there for an hour in the cold to wait for the climax, so we ambled back against the opposite flow of the arriving crowds to the comfort of our hotel, passing the front of Notre-Dame with its three blue Christmas angels and other photogenic sites.

On our way back to the hotel
Our corner of the hotel lobby with its palms and poinsettias and leather armchairs was so quiet and comfortable (especially after Carol had contributed a bottle of ice wine to the occasion) and Chris' Predictions for 2013 quiz so enthralling (!) that we missed the Turn of the Year altogether. Suddenly somebody looked at his watch and said, "It's gone midnight!" Oh well, never mind.

Happy New Year!

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