We awoke on Sunday, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to see what else Montreal had to offer. I mapped out our day, targeting outdoor places to take advantage of the sunny day since Monday was predicted to be rainy.
One advantage of being near the metro is that it’s cheap and convenient. We took the metro at Peel St. station headed toward Honore-Beaugrand, got off at Pie-IX station, walked 6 minutes and were at the Botanical Garden.
We arrived just as the garden opened and there was already a short queue at the ticket booth. On that day, the ticket staff informed us that our ticket included a free visit to the Insectarium and we could bundle a visit to the Biodome since it would be cheaper to purchase it today. After he processed the transaction, he realized that Monday was a public holiday, which meant the Biodome was closed and that the Biodome was free today. Quick refund and we were set.
We debated between going to see the Biodome first or to tour the garden. I wasn’t that keen about the Biodome so we spent the morning touring the garden. Since spring was still on its early legs, the roses hadn’t bloomed. We were treated to rows of bald cutting and little placards of rose names.
The Chinese garden was also closed for renovation but we did manage to see portions of the pavilion construction. The First Nations and Japanese gardens were beautiful. We even managed to see a family of raccoons clawing their way up and down the trees.
The garden was enormous, 75 hectares in all (or the equivalent of 185 American football fields). We weren’t able to tour everything. Before our feet got too tired, we headed over to the Insectarium where we saw all manners of insects.
The Insectarium wasn’t that big; it was a two-storey building which could be toured in 30 minutes, longer if you’re into insects and other creepy crawlies.
By the time, we decided to go to the Biodome, there was a long queue outside of the garden. The staff at the gate who pointed us to the direction of the Biodome, warned us that the queue might be long. We shrugged our shoulders. Eh, how bad could it possibly be?
It was bad. The queue snaked several times over. It was as if the entire Montreal decided to descend on the Biodome that day. Since that was scratched, we proceeded to go to the Basilica of Notre Dame.
The cathedral was located in Old Montreal district. I’m going to quote Wikipedia here since it vividly captures the beauty of the Cathedral.
Built in the Gothic Revival style, the church is highly decorated. The vaults are coloured deep blue and decorated with golden stars, and the rest of the sanctuary is decorated in blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold. It is filled with hundreds of intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues. Unusual for a church, the stained glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary do not depict biblical scenes, but rather scenes from the religious history of Montreal. It also has a Casavant Frères pipe organ, dated 1891, which comprises four keyboards, 92 stops using electropneumatic action and an adjustable combination system, 7000 individual pipes and a pedal board.
We still had to queue for about 20 minutes under the blistering sun, but we consoled ourselves with the thought that the sun was better than the rain. Also, there weren’t hordes of tourist cutting through the queue. They were immediately led to the exit doors and shown through since they pre-purchased their tickets. Tickets cost CAD6.
*An aside. The first time I had to pay to get inside a church, I was surprised. I’ve always thought churches were open to the public until I realized that even churches needed money for the upkeep. If there were no congregation giving tithes or donations, the churches and cathedrals wouldn’t survive. The same is true, I suppose, for temples and other religious and spiritual structures.*
We were just in time for the 1 pm English tour, although it wasn’t really a tour since the audience sat or stood in one area as the guide gave a brief but colorful history of the Cathedral.
From the Cathedral and after lunch (a disappointing affair at Les Pyrenees), we explored other parts of Old Montreal where we stumbled upon another queue going inside what looked to be a small building. Seeing as queues tended to lead to somewhere notable, we decided to join the queue, besides, buildings meant shades and possible air-conditioning.
The structure turned out to be the Chateau Ramezay, right across from Hotel de Ville.
Wikipedia says, it was built in 1705 and was the residence of then-Governor of Montreal, Claude de Ramezay. After changing owners several times, the building was bought by the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Montreal and converted to a historical museum.
The museum staff were dressed in period costumes and entertained the waiting crowd with the history of the building. The best thing was it was free! Yey for us.
From the chateau, H wanted to see the Old Port. After 11 years of marriage, I realized he likes sea ports. How’s that for being clueless? I knew he liked light houses but it was when we kept going around New England visiting ports that the knowledge hit me. I do admit, there is something calming about walking the boardwalk, comparing the yacht sizes, and listening to the waves but I’m not as enamored with the salt-sea smell as he is.
In this case, the Old Port was a long stretch of garden, wide bike path, and the Montreal Science Center. There were tons of people biking, walking, and picnicking along the grassy boulevard, but to H’s disappointment, we didn’t see any yachts or boats.
As it was mid-afternoon, it was time for tea. We gorged on 4 pieces of pastries at Maison Christian Faure, because I wanted to taste as many as I could. The staff brought sample of the pastries to the table, which was great so I saw what they looked like. The pastries were colorful and sweet but they were average. I guess my expectations were too high based on the high ratings. What I didn’t expect was when I went to pay and gave them bills, since Amex wasn’t accepted, the staff gave my change in coins. Those were a lot of coins, more than 20% of the bill. I declined and told them to keep the change. Not sure if it was a practice to do that so the staff could keep the money.
Unsurprisingly, we both didn’t have any appetite for dinner but I still had a hankering for Japanese food.
We found Sakura, which was highly rated, but which turned out to be slightly disappointing. The service was really slow; however, the staff were really friendly. The food was average at best. Based on the menu, they specialized in sushi and sashimi with a little bit of Japanese food thrown in. The tuna didn’t taste fresh, while the crispy crab was too salty. Lesson learned, we need to scrutinize the menu in the future before going.
In terms of food, Sunday was a dud for us. Good thing Monday was a whole lot better.
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