Thursday, July 11, 2013

Xingxing's Bus Tour of Montreal

The brochure promised a City Tour that would touch on 200 points of interest of Montreal.  That seemed like a bit of hyperbole to me.  But what the heck?  Xingxing remembered bus tours from our last trip, and could hardly wait to scamper up the steps.
Guess what? It wasn't hyperbole. Our driver started talking as soon as we started rolling, and didn't stop for three hours.  I am sure we hit at least 200 points of interest.  Maybe more.  If you like lots of information -- and I do -- the Grayline City Tour of Montreal provides a really good introduction to Montreal, and were also completely comfortable with the idea of having a Service Dog on board.
Montreal is an island.  I didn't know that.  It is the largest city in the Canadian province of  Quebec. The official language is French.  It has the most restaurants per capita of any city in North America.  The colony that eventually became Montreal was founded in 1611 by Samuel de Champlain, which makes it one of the oldest cities in North America.  All sorts of things were invented here, including Imax theatres and Reader's Digest.
Actually, Montreal was first "discovered" (if that's the right word to describe a place where non-Europeans -- specifically, the Iroquois -- had been living for thousands of years) by Jacques Cartier in 1535, but an earlier attempt to establish a French colony foundered when the appalled colonists packed up and went home after experiencing their first Canadian winter.
Modern Montreal is a city of lovingly preserved old buildings, tastefully constructed new buildings, parks, neighborhoods (anchored by churches) and history.  We made several stops, but my favorite was Jean Drapeau Park, named in honor of the Montreal mayor who was responsible for persuading 69 countries to participate in the 1967 Montreal World Fair.  (He also built the Metro, and an Opera House) Set in impossibly lush, green gardens are the Biosphere, the Botanical Gardens and the amazing Montreal Tower, built for the 1976 Olympic Games. It's the world's tallest inclined tower and soars improbably into the sky,  looking like a modernistic, white water tap.
We finished up at St Joseph's Oratory at Mount Royal, where the basilica dome is second in height only to St Peter's Basilica in Rome.  Thousands of pilgrims come here every year, and there is apparently great benefit and blessing to be derived by climbing the long flight of stone steps leading up to the basilica -- but we only had time to take photos.
Afterwards, Xingxing and I had a late lunch at our hotel.  I ordered what they call a "smoked meat" sandwich. Smoked meat is a speciality of Montreal.  It is sort of like pastrami, except for its texture, which is velvety rather than stringy.  Also, it is not nearly as fatty.  It was delicious and we both enjoyed it.  And the beautiful frites that accompanied were purely divine.  Why can't we do French fried potatoes the way the the French do them?  Is it the potatoes?  Is it the oil?  I'd kill to be able to make French fried potatoes like the ones I had in Montreal.
Another Montreal specialty is bagels, but I wasn't so crazy about them.  They're smaller, and the texture is different.  I don't think they boil the dough before baking it.
Finally, we waddled out for another walk in the park, and Xingxing again tried to climb the trees and catch the squirrels.  All in all, a delightful day.

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