Two Weeks in Canada: Day 10 – Fleuve et Montagne

Well this is our final full day in Montreal, so it was a bit of a jam-packed itinerary. Even though we removed the Museum of Beaux-Arts since it was closed today and allowed us more breathing space.

Lots of walking on the docket which came via one of the sponsors of this trip (oh I wish): Tim Horton’s. Finally found a place that carried the steak and egg biscuit and it was just okay. Like I don’t know what I was expecting, but their sausage biscuit is the way to go.

As part of our continued donut watch, we tried out the plain cake donut and the apple fritter. The plain cake shows off what is the fundamental of a good Tim Horton’s donut, but without a glaze it was a bit on the dry side. On the opposite side, the apple fritter was a bit of a wet donut. It was delicious and may be the best of the trip so far, but it fell apart a bit.

To start off the day we headed towards Mt. Real itself, whose presence would dominate the Western sky if it wasn’t for the tall buildings. Going with the mass TripAdvisor good words, we started the day at St Joseph’s Oratory. The exterior is stunning and one of the largest church domes in the world. As with a lot of things, it is in the middle of a massive construction project set to finish in 2024 – so the immediate impact of the white steps was lost.

Now, I am writing this paragraph a day later which means a lot of my feelings have since cooled but – this Oratory was not it. Not only was it a massive disappointment because the gardens, greatly advertised on the website, were closed for the season (not that you’d know from their website) but so much of all of this felt heavily commercialised. I was keenly aware of all the places that they were trying to get money.

On the plus side, the main basilica was massive and very modernly decorated. It made for a contrast with other churches on the different itineraries which are more Gothic Revival. The Votive Chapel was also interesting, if only because as a non-believer I found this almost the concept of lighting votive candles to the extreme conclusion as you might see in the sets for a game like Bayonetta.

So I was seething that we had lost time, but turned that rage into action. We spent less time at the Oratory than we had expected, so it was a mission to get a good view of Montreal from high up in the park. Also allowed us to walk through some fancy neighbourhoods where realtor company’s are Sotherby’s auction house and the Halloween decorations are excellent.

We did some initial wood walking in the Summit Woods where we appreciate the more yellow colours of the surrounding trees, then eventually got to the main park area with Beaver Lake. Slight chill in the air, the fiery leaves and a warm maple flavoured London Fog in my hands – this is definitely autumnal living.

Eventually we arrived at the Kondiaronk Belvedere viewpoint and the views across the city were worth the hike and worth the fake-out of the Oratory earlier. The way that the red leaves almost framed the bottom of the cityscape no matter where you looked was incredibly special. The views continued as we walked down the many steps and exited the park on street level.

Next was the question of how we, now we’d been in Mt Real Park, what would be the best way for us to get to Old Montreal. By some coincidence, the place we’d exited was also the start of a tourist walk called La Promenade Fleuve-Montagne. The sole purpose of which seems to be just this, whilst also taking us via some local landmarks like the impressive buildings for McGill University and Phillip’s Square.

Rather than follow the route all the way, we took a slight diversion on a suggestion of my husband. He knows that if we’d had more time here, I would have wanted to do an ‘Underground City’ walk like we did in Toronto with PATH. It wasn’t a long stretch and probably wasn’t the best example of it, but hey we at least tried.

Finally we arrived in the old town and at Place d’Armes. This is one of the very few times where I got the feeling I had been here before as I had a real spark of recognition of the statue in the centre of the square, especially the bronze of the the First Nation man. Actually nice to not feel like I’d completely slept-walked through that trip 16 years ago.

Now, what do I say about the Notre Dame de Montreal. This is the big thing to see in Montreal’s old town. It is a beautiful Gothic Revival basilica and one of those things that would have absolutely crushed me if we’d been unable to see it.

The interior is beautiful, especially the roof whose decorations were done with inspiration taken from the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. It was also interesting how the floor sloped down towards the alter at the front. On some level I assume it helps to give a better view and engagement for attendees sat at the rear, but it also really draws you in. Looking forward to seeing how the Quebec City Notre Dame matches up.

Time for a late lunch and something my husband has been wanting since we got into French Canada – crepes. Between us we tried two very different offerings at the Creperie Chez Suzette. First was the one I ordered that was filled with brie, ham and spinach then covered with a béchamel sauce, then there was my husband’s order of a goat’s cheese, honey and almond crepe. Both rich, both delicious and it was almost like we’d gotten dessert thanks to the sweeter one.

Fuelled up, we did some more exploring of the Old Town by going down St Paul’s Street. We revisited the old harbour area from out first night in Montreal, only to realize it is infinitely more fun once the sun goes down and everything is lit up. Also paid a visit to the Marche Bonsecours, which is a palatial looking building on the inside and has some shops and restaurants on the inside.

Our final stop in the old town was Chateau Ramezay. They have it on a lot of their information that this house was included in a 1001 historical sites to visit book. Felt like a no brainer to go inside, once we’d finished going around the period gardens at the rear which were free to take a turn about.

I think that if we’d not already been to the Canadian Museum of History this might have hit a bit differently. So much of the history was already covered there and in a more up-to-date fashion that didn’t completely shy away from the Europeans being terrible. It was interesting to get some of the city-specific history, but this wasn’t the highlight I was hoping it would be.

That was it for the old town, which still feels like I am walking through Belgium rather than Canada. We had to get back to our accommodation to drop of our bags as we had tickets to watch an NHL match that evening. We took the chance to take some chill time before having a pre-game burger at A&W (today it was the Papa burger and this may be the final time we get one in Canada).

So this was my second time seeing a league ice hockey match. When I was 12, I saw one in Prague – so over 20 years ago by now. At least this time I’d heard of the teams: Montreal Canadiens and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The atmosphere was everything I was hoping for: full of energy and ultimately incredibly friendly. It was also so cool to see the classic tropes of North American sports in person. Like, the middle-aged woman actually playing the organ on site – including covers of ‘Karma Chameleon’ and ‘Something Stupid’. The tambourine sounds? Actual tambourines being played by in-audience cheerleader-types trying to keep the energy up. Also, for some reason, a live-DJ sponsored by Monster energy drink. All a bit mad in the best possible way, like their furry orange mascot.

It was a bit of an insane set of scoring in the end with the Canadiens winning 3-2, coming back from a two goal deficit and clinching the decider in extra time. The rapture when the Canadiens scored a goal was like nothing I’d every experienced before and, I guess, I now have an NHL team to favour as well as a new hat for when it gets cold.

Post-game was had at Dunn’s Famous where I finally was able to get my mouth around a Montreal smoked meat sandwich. The plate was massive. I decided to swap my fried out for latkes and it was exactly the right decision – to the point where I regret trading one of mine for some of my husband’s fries because of some longing looks. The coleslaw was also fresh and crisp with only a dash of vinegar needed.

Somehow there was room for dessert and I ended up with the best slice of cheesecake that I have had for years. It rivaled cheesecake I’ve had in New York it was that good. Sadly it’s pieces like this that have ruined UK cheesecake for me as we just don’t do it the way I like it. At least not in our restaurants where the filling is too homogenous and the base is too thick.

That’s it for our final full day in Montreal. Tomorrow’s is a long travel day to Quebec City so fully expecting the post to be rather short compared to this massive blog post. It’s the homestretch of my Canadian adventure and am already thinking what my West Canada adventure could look like.

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