Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Nostalgic Visit to Old Montreal

Well, we finally made it to Montreal for the weekend. We've been talking about going "home" for a visit for a while. I've posted about some of our previous visits. This post proudly shows all the wonderful bread and pastries I avoided since we were early into the South Beach Diet . This one mentions our trip by train and the fabulous marche in the train station - something we really need here in Toronto. Why should "train" food be miserable? - but I digress. Another post highlights our usual Montreal rituals (which we didn't neglect this time either). This time around, since the weather was fabulous we were able to also spend some time in Old Montreal with all the other tourists, mostly to see if it had changed in the 15 years we've been gone and I thought I'd share our trip down memory lane.

This is a view from Place Jacques Cartier, the heart of Old Montreal or Vieux Montreal which was the heart of the city back in late 1700's and early 1800's. Here's an indepth link if you're really interested. The large building (if you click on the photo, you'll get a bigger, better shot) is the Hotel Nelson where Charles Dickens (one of my favorite authors) stayed in the late 1860's when he made his first series of public readings in North America. I always pointed this out whenever I gave a "tour" of Old Montreal to visitors. My daughters would roll their eyes and make fun of me, but it still makes me feel warm just thinking about those days.

Place Jacques Cartier is closed to all but foot traffic and is lined with restored buildings that now house lovely shops and fabulous restaurants.

Now THAT'S al fresco dining that's really reminiscent of Europe. In fact, just about every building that lines the square is a restaurant with a fabulous terrace and delicious food.

The central portion of Place Jacques Cartier is home to buskers and vendors. This mime gives free hugs and is quite the local celebrity.

Off the main drag are little ruelles or lanes with more shops and vendors. You can see some of the street artists selling their works here. In fact, it's where my cousin Sheldon started his career as an artist. He's now on to more impressive work which includes many international awards, but as an art student he created beautiful batik paintings in our basement (it's messy work) and sold them there one summer. A walk down these ruelle always reminds me of him.

Montreal is filled with beautiful churches, but this one was the favorite of both my daughters. It's called the Chapelle Notre Dame de Bon Secours - roughly translated Our Lady of Good Assistance or help. In the late 1600's this is where sailors came to pray for safe voyages. There's an old model of a ship suspended from the ceiling in the chapel and a great creaky circular stairway to the look out tower that you can almost see just under the statue at the top. That church was the high point of any trip to Old Montreal for both of them.

Les Filles du Roi (The King's Daughters) was one of the "special occasion" restaurants I used to go to and it's still there. I'm not sure how it ranks against all the other restaurants in Old Montreal, but it did make me smile to see it's still around.

When I was little, this market Marche Bonsecours was a bustling, vibrant market where one could buy local produce, fresh eggs, honey, flowers, cheeses. Of course the smells were quite memorable, and not always in a good way!

See all those windows? The were open and everything was set up in stalls in front of them, including live chickens - just a little too "fresh" for me, thanks, but it still is the first image I have when I think of the market.

At some point, the powers that be decided it was too unsightly and no longer in keeping with the restoration of Old Montreal and the market was closed and later reopened with the intention of being a cultural center with theaters and restaurants. We didn't go inside, so I don't know what the current status is, but when we moved to Toronto in 1991, it was used as offices only.

This is the marche as seen from the Old Port. You can see the cobblestones . When doing the restoration of Old Montreal, they actually dug down to the original cobblestones.

A better view of the marche from the rejuvenated (and very touristy) Old Port. It was hard to walk around - tons of pedestrian tourists, as well as those on a variety of bikes (some even seat 8!). Of course there are the horse drawn carriages festooned with flowers, if you're in the mood for a guided tour of Old Montreal. No pictures because, frankly, it's just like any other touristy port and nothing like I remember.

It was hot and I was getting cranky, so we found a terrace by the water (one of many)for a drink and some people watching.

What a better way to end the tour than with two good friends - Stella & Keith. Now it's time to head back to our cousins for the ritual of Chinese Food & a video...Stay tuned for Sunday's adventures and a trip to the best market I've ever been to and miss soooo much living in Toronto where there's nothing like it.

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Dianne said...

Montreal looks such a lively, vibrant place ... I've never been to Canada, but these pics are making me want to plan in a visit!


Anonymous said...

Hey! The city has more sights han I remember! Thanks for a kick in the pants for me to go exploring my Montreal.And that's a lovely "click" to know more about Sheldon Cohen. I'm going to try to google him and see what else he's done.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Thanks for the interesting post! The old Montreal looks very nice. I would love to visit Canada!

Sara said...

I agree with everyone - what a beautiful looking place. I'll have to add it to my list of places to go someday.