Poutine Central

Trip Start Jun 12, 2012
Trip End Oct 18, 2012

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Flag of Canada  , Quebec,
Thursday, August 23, 2012

Howdy folks,

Having exhausted ourselves touring the offical buildings of the national's capital in Ottawa, we had to drive just over 200kms and cross the border into Montreal, Quebec. Steffi jumped into the front seat and Steffie took the backseat to work on her Sudoku pizzles which she loves. We eventually found the Trans-Canada Highway and journeyed east until we reached the border where we stopped at the information centre at Rigaud. This is an interesting part of Canada because it is where French Canada and English Canada combine. Most peoples first language here is French and not everybody speaks English so you have to assume that its going to be a hard time. Most of the signs are in French and if you are lucky they will translate it in small writing underneath although not always. Effectively its like going to another country which is a first for me as I have only been in English speaking countries until this point. Quebecois are fiercly independent and at one point almost suceeded from the confederation.

Anyways, we drove a bit further to checkout some outlet stores and had a look at some electronics stores, not realising I was tempting fate. From there it was a straight drive across the bridge to Montreal Island, past the airport and to St Josephs Cathedral which sits high on a hill near Mont Royal. After taking a picture from the carpark, we started walking up the many steps and I pulled out my camera to take a photo. It tumbled from my hands and onto the hard marble below and landed on the lense rendering it useless. After a few attempts to fix it I had to accept the inevitable: my beloved Lumix was broken.

Inside the cathedral was pretty plain with high concrete walls and the second highest dome in the world. It was unfortunate that such an impressive building was so plain, empty and modern looking inside. I've certainly never taken an escalator inside a church before! Feeling dejected, I walked back down to the car uncertain of what to do next. After all, what is a tourist to do without a camera?

Nearby was the mountain park for which the city is named: Mont Royal. it is more than a hill at just over 200m high, but still the centrepiece of the island. We did a circuit hike that took in the sights of Chalet du Mont-Royal, Croix du Mont-Royal and viewpoints over Montreal. It took around an hour and once finished we were ready to head downtown to our hostel. Getting stuck in Montreal traffic isn't a joy, but we eventually found it in the Latin Quarter near Rue Sainte-Catherine. This is one of the best hostels listed on Hostelworld.com with an average rating of 95% and it was certainly a big improvement over the one in Toronto. Basically it is run like a hotel with completely updated furnishings, an ensuite in every room, a bar downstairs and continental breakfast, but with the difference that the rooms have 3 bunk beds instead of a queen size. We definitely weren't complaining.

In the morning we got up for some of the biggest crossaints you have seen in your life, which kickstarted the day for us. With so many things to do in Montreal and only 2 full days it was hard to pick a handful, but we decided to start by walking down Rue Sainte-Catherine into the middle of downtown. This is one of the main streets and goes by many shopping centres and some of the main attractions including the Museum of Contemporary Art and a few churches. Needing a new camera, I had spent the previous evening comparing models and settled on a Canon SX240 from The Source which is like a Dick Smiths. It was my most expensive camera recently at $300 plus tax although it was on sale. The SX240 is similar to my Lumix being a type of camera called a travellers camera.With a 20x optical zoom and the ability to take HD Video, it also rendered my failing Samsung Video Camera useless as well. Combining 2 into 1 seems like a smarter way to go.

We walked all the way along until we got to the Information located near a nice park and the huge Sun Life Building. On the other side of the road stood the impressive Cathédrale Marie-Reine-D-Monde  Unfortunately midday mass was in session, so we went off to have lunch and came back when it was finished. It was by far the most impressive cathedral I've been in and it was styled after the St Peters Basillica in Italy. Being the biggest Catholic church in a mainly Protestant area, it was really nicely finished with towering high ceilings, classical artwork, huge dome and a black, twisted pillar altar. Certainly a good place to come to reflect on life.

Passing the gathering protest crowd at the Place du Canada park, Steffie wanted to have a look at the Bell Centre where the Monteal Canadiens play ice hockey. Not wanting to walk all the way back to the hostel, we headed for the subway where the unusual carriages ran on rubber wheels like the O-Bahn instead of tracks. When they built the subway in the 1960s, they excavated so much dirt that they decided to build Notre Dame Island which is home to the Canadian Grand Prix.

After a few hours relaxing, we took a walk to the Old Port via the City Hall, Place d'Armes and the Notre Dame Basillica. The battery on my camera charged so quickly that I was able to take it along and try the settings, although it was hard to get used to a Canon camera again. All the features were different, so I settled on using the Auto function until I read the manual properly. Walking through the streets of old town there were a few horse drawn carriages and the Old Port was a hub of activity. The protesters we had seen mingling at the cathedral before were marching through the streets wearing red, waving Quebec flags and making lots of noise with the riot police watching at a distance. Apparently they were protesting the high cost of university fees although we weren't exactly sure with everything being in French.

We walked past the piers housing the cruise ships, ferries and the Science Centre and after the protesters had thinned out, we crossed the street and headed for home. With a big day and lots of walking, we settled on buying a few beers from the local IGA and found the biggest bottles I've ever seen. Each bottle held 1.18L and were only $6 each, much cheaper than drinking in the pub. Not only that they also had 7.5% and 10% versions for the alcoholics that were cheaper than the regular ones. Given the warm weather, they were still demolished in just over an hour and we went back for one more like the cheap drunks we are.

Needless to say, we had a lazy morning before our brains kicked back into gear. With one more full day, we settled on checking out the Botanic Gardens across the road from Olympic Park. The gardens are one of the biggest in the world with an insectorium, bonsai trees, Chinese and Japanese gardens. We spent most of the day walking around and the girls tried to teach me how to take a photo the old fashion way by adjusting the ISO, exposure and apeture. It was interesting to learn how each aspect combined, but I'm still a slow learner. It is much easier in this day and age where you can see on the screen how each setting is different rather than just shooting and hoping for the best. Our favourite part was definitely the huge koi carp in the Japanese garden who were just sitting in the shallow water waiting to be fed.

Across the road was where the Olympic Park was situated. The giant UFO looking stadium was built for the 1976 Summer Olympics. The focal point of the stadium is the huge 45 degree inclined tower that hangs over the side and just doesn't look structually possible. Unfortunately the place looks like it hasn't had much maintenance in the last 36 years and is a shadow of its former glory.

After walking around in the sun all day, we were keen to just stay in the hostel for the evening. Our one venture out was to find a vantage point to see the Cross on Mont Royal, but it was too far away. The area where we were staying in seems to be full of vagrants and gay people so we weren't too keen to stick around especially after seeing some guy obviously on drugs throwing his bag around and unable to walk straight. Still it was an interesting time that we've had here and my last day as a 28 year old.

RIP: Samsung SMX-F30 and Panasonic Lumix FH25
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