Montreal is like no other city I have visited in Canada so far. While most of what I have seen in and around Canada is about order, cleanliness and hygiene Montreal provided contradictions. The work underway in many parts of the city made it dusty and dirty. To top it, local authorities washed the roads by dumping water, which made the dirty streets dirtier. Vehicles went by splashing water even on hapless pedestrians. Then there is the case of begging unlimited. The number of people seeking alms is like I have not seen in the rest of Canada. Only saving grace is that they are seldom aggressive. I do not know if it’s the weather, the number of nut cases on the prowl is also high. People shouting, ranting and violently gesticulating is not unfamiliar in the city. Despite all this, Montreal has a charm that most others don’t have. Maybe it’s the Europeanness of the city, maybe its the internationalness.
The cleanliness and hygiene of the hotel left quite a bit to be desired. The whole night the walls sounded like a cascading waterfall. When I asked ta the desk I was told that the old buildings have their plumbing in such manner. It would have been a major nuisance had it not been for the sound sleep I normally enjoy on my travels. The hotel provides continental breakfast with its tariff. Going by the large number of people in the pantry the hotel seemed to be doing brisk business. Continental breakfast consisted of just croissants and muffins – huge ones, bought wholesale, undoubtedly – coffee and other cold beverages. I thought they should have at least provided some cereal and milk too.
Having to rely completely on Google Maps in this unfamiliar city and paying heavily for parking I decided to take a daily pass for C$10 and explore farther parts of Montreal. That turned out to be a good decision in the end. The Berri Ugam metro station is barely five minutes’ walk from the hotel and is a major intersection for the four networks that crisscross the city. The efficiently run metro network took me wherever I wanted for the day. It is very tourist friendly as it issues one or three day passes as well as a weekend pass that afford unlimited access to its metro trains and buses.
I took the first metro train to Pie-Ix station for Parc Olympic. I bought a combo ticket for a tour of the Olympic stadium and the Tower of Montreal funicular. Jean Christophe, the guide, took a small crowd around to explain the features of the stadium and other tit-bits. The stadium was not even physically completed before the Games began in 1976 - the tower to hold the roof in place was completed 11 years later! The roof and other structures are already showing signs of weathering. The logo of the Games had three parts to it - the five rings signifying participants from the five continents, the letter M for Montreal and a large inner elongated ring to signify the 400 metre running track, which is no longer there.
The stadium with seven swimming pools and current seating of over 56000 is let out for dirt biking, shows and exhibitions, which keep it booked for over 200 days in a year. The Montreal Olympics was known for the exploits of Nadia Comaneci, the 14 year old gymnastics wonder, who became the first ever to score a 10 in a gymnastics event at the Games. A special square named after the super athlete in the Olympic park commemorates that miraculous effort. Also a star of the Games was Bruce Jenner who outperformed the rest of the field in decathlon and was known as the greatest athlete in the world at the time He later on went on to become Caitlyn Jenner. Canada became the first host nation never to win a gold medal at a Summer Olympics.
The Tower of Montreal is a Guinness Record holder for being the tallest leaning tower in the world at 165 meters and a 45 degree inclination. A two storey funicular that can carry 50 passengers took me to the top of the tower in two minutes. It is reportedly the only funicular in the world that operates on a curved and inclined structure. From the observatory of the Tower I got the most panoramic views of various parts of the city. During clear weather the views extend to more than 80 km! Free viewing scopes are also placed there for identification of important landmarks.
The Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium is an excellent place for children and enthusiasts with shows going on in two theatres at intervals on various facets of astronomy and space. It has many interactive centres and an excellent section on meteors and samples collected from all over the world.
The Jardin Botanical Garden was a waste of time because the garden was not yet out of the grip of winter. Charging a steep entrance fee for an almost non-existent 'garden' was a bit below the belt. The garden reportedly hosts over 22,000 species of plant life with various themed gardens and greenhouse exhibits.
A similar experience awaited me at the Biosphere, which is touted as a must see for it's exhibitions, sensitisation as eco-citizens and environmental issues. The centre was closed abruptly and visitors were asked to leave.
The Saint Joseph's Oratory at Mount Royal was an astounding experience. One of the most visited Pilgrim sites in the world it's construction began in 1904 in honor of the Carpenter father of Jesus Christ. The shrine has a majestic building whose dome at 97 meters is the second largest after St Peter's in Rome. It has many chapels, a crypt and gardens if the Way of the Cross. The Basilica can accommodate over 2000 worshippers at a time with top of the line organs. Besides the spiritual experience, the 6th floor of the Oratory affords magnificent views of the neighbourhood. I found pilgrims climbing the steep steps to the Oratory in their knees! Such is the stuff of faith.
The Centre for History of Montreal shares the development of the city from the First Nation's time to the present though audiovisual aids and immersive podcasts. Pointe-à-Callière is where Montreal was born in 1642. The museum that gives an underground tour is built on the most archaeologically important site in the city. Both the sites were closed for the day when I got to them that I could only enjoy them from the outside.
Ravenous hunger overtook me, thanks to the many restaurants in the old city area with their outdoor seating and mouth-watering aromas. I enjoyed Cream of Chicken soup with rice and a portion of chicken wings with BBQ sauce in one of the restaurants.