No trip to Montreal is complete without spending time along the Old Pier and roaming the Old City. Once a bustling wharf area along the St. Lawrence River it has evolved into a city park with walk/bike paths, museums, IMAX theatre and cruise ship port. On the other side of the street are cafes, upscale shops and photo ops galore. The old city has a special lighted route to walk at night so you can enjoy the buildings bathed in a golden glow.
Having done our version of a “marathon” walk the day before we opted to tour Old Montreal via the Amphibus, a land and water vehicle. We called to make reservations for the 4pm tour and asked about parking. We were told there is “lots of parking at the wharf.” We planned on an hour of travel. That was until we were detained for over 30 minutes in construction traffic. No way we’d make it on time so we called and moved to the 6pm tour. Later we learned that the 4pm tour went directly into the sun when on the water and no one could take any photos. A lucky break for us. Finding parking turned out to be a challenge. The “plenty of parking” was all in garages. One we entered was tall enough but the turns were so tight we almost got stuck. Off we went on an open lot hunt. With our very limited French we read a sign that allowed parking at a business on weekends. This put us about a half mile away from the tour kiosk. We took note of landmarks so we wouldn’t repeat our wanderings from the previous night. After checking in for the tour we had almost an hour to wander the wharf area. So much to see and do. Another trip or two for sure.
We boarded the Amphibus and set off through the streets of downtown Montreal. The tour guide was excellent. We learned that Montreal was located at the point where the St. Lawrence River current made it too difficult for explorers to continue upriver. They landed here and continued overland. Originally called St. Mary’s the city was known by it’s landmark of Mont Royal. Gradually the name morphed into Montreal. The tension between English speaking and French speaking populations dates to the early years in Montreal. The French lived on the east side and the English on the west side. Other immigrants not wanting to take sides developed Chinese, Portuguese, Italian and Greek communities along the dividing line. Today Montreal is a modern city benefitting from the contributions of this multicultural population. You’ll find just about any type of restaurant here. Who’d have guessed Montreal has it’s own Chinatown? As a hub of commerce the city also became Canada’s banking capital and one time capital city. After the Great Depression the banks and political seat moved to Ottowa. The beautiful buildings remained. Then we headed for the harbor. Into the river for a waterside view. We stayed in the calm waters but you could see where the swift current met the harbor, as if a line had been drawn on the water.
Coming back on land we passed an abandoned industrial site that the guide said was often used by Hollywood. Can you name a famous Kirk Douglas movie that was filmed here? Hint: It involved Romans. OK, we won’t make you wait… the movie was Spartacus.
By now we were ready for dinner. Restaurants, restaurants everywhere. How much to eat, how much to spend. This stop had been pricey so we opted for one of the Poutine places. Poutine? What’s that? Never heard of it? Neither had we until Steve tried it in Halifax. It’s a common “fast food” for Quebec. The dish consists of french fries, a modestly spiced gravy and cheese curds. Then you can pick a meat topping. I ordered another local specialty known simply as smoked meat and Steve had Italian sausage. It may not sound good but it is and very filling. We started talking with another couple who were from Connecticut. Montreal is one of their favorite places and they visit 2-3 times a year. They mentioned a fantastic art glass exhibit at the Art Museum. We thought perhaps we’d have time to squeeze it in the next day but time and energy were both limited quantities.
Then we walked the Lighting tour route. Not wanting to drag tripods with us we weren’t sure how our pictures would come out. We were pleasantly surprised. So join us for a quick look at this touch of Europe just over the US border.