Montreal Canada's City Of Churches
As Australians, Adelaide is often referred to as the city of churches. We also call it Sadelaide and I've also heard it called Slowelaide but regardless of your attitude toward Adelaide it is indeed a City Of Churches.
Montreal however puts Adelaide to shame.
It seems that it doesn't matter where you go, at any one point you can see a spire. I'm sure outside the immediate city centre its maybe not like that, however in the downtown/old Montreal area, at one point I could spin on the spot and see five. It is indeed a very catholic city.
Everyone had also told me how beautiful Montreal was and that was also true. It is so very European (the french should have been a dead give away I guess) and while the French Canadians are very proud to be offshore Francophones, English is spoken everywhere and its very easy to get around.
I stayed at Celebrities Hotel which is a budget hotel right on the edge of downtown and very close to Old Montreal, China Town and the shopping on Saint Catherine street. It did have some less than glowing reviews on booking.com however I think those people may have been expecting the Hilton on a motel 6 budget. The rooms are small but they are clean. The property is old but very cool and the staff are incredible. I loved it. It was so great to get out of the hostels and it was the only affordable place I could find so close to everything. So close in fact that I got on the bus once in Montreal and that was when I walked around 15kms and ended up at St Josephs Oratory and just couldn't be fagged walking the 7k's home.
Montreal is a great day out. I wandered around, went to a few galleries, an exhibition on Agatha Christie (which was actually really good) tried the famous Poutine (not really a fan) and visited the Notre Dame basilica of course.
The cobbled streets do encourage you to stroll and while there doesn't seem to be heaps of things to do, it is a great way to spend an hour or two. I would have done a walking tour but I didn't think of it until the day before and being at the end of winter, there were limited options. I could get in the day after I wanted to but I was also planning a trip to Quebec City so I just did Old Montreal myself. There are even Ghost Tours which looked really fun.
If you have your stair legs on, head down to the Old Port Clock tower and head up the 192 steps to get a great view of the harbour and river.
Saint-Paul Street is the main thoroughfare and most tourists tent to gravitate toward this main drag. There are lots of trendy restaurants and art galleries but they were a little to expensive for my budget so I found a cute little patisserie and grabbed a toastie and coffee and sat in the sun down along the promenade.
City Hall in Old Montreal reminded me of the Chateau in Quebec. Obviously very different if you are an architecture connoisseur but for this Australian with no idea at all, I could really see the similarities.
The Basilica Notre-Dame
The Notre Dame Basilica as build in the middle of the 19th Century and was the largest church in all of North America. While it no longer holds that title, is still ranks as one of the most stunning examples of a Gothic Revival building for sure.
Located in the heart of Old Montreal the exterior, while impressive, doesn't allow you to grasp just how incredible the interior of this church really is. The elaborate woodword inside the church was created in the 1870's and it is hard to imaging that the gold leaf has stood the test of time so very well. The stained glass is beautiful and combined with a 7000 pipe organ is one of the most impressive church interiors I'd ever seen.
The Hike Up To Mount Royal Park
If you've been following me for a while you know I love to walk so after waking up very early one morning I decided to walk up to Mount Royal Park. It was only around 3.5 km's from my hotel to the start of the hike up the hill which added about 1 kilometer I would have thought. I didn't realise but the path on google maps is actually a set of stairs (about 400 I later heard) so it ended up being a bit of a heart pump for around 15 minutes which was an added bonus.
Once you get to the top there is a pavillion which is this HUGE open space inside and has some oversize Adirondack chairs out the front, which I was lucky enough to score a seat on. The view over Montreal is great, however I was there in March so no greenery as yet.
Don't let the switchback stairs leading up to Mont Royal put you off. There are lots of places where you can stop and rest and fake the need for a photo if you have to!
Saint Joseph's Oratory
After spending an hour or so chatting to a lovely women at the top of Mount Royal, I collected myself and headed back down the stairs to the city. I did plan to visit Saint Joseph's Oratory however I didn't realise that it was just over the other side of Mount Royal. I didn't check my map beforehand so once I got home and realised I felt like a goose for not even thinking about it.
So the next day I decided to take in Saint Joseph's Oratory via Bois-de-Liesse Nature Park. A local guy had recommended this nature park to me a few days prior and seeing as the weather was holding out I figured it would be a great side trip. I actually really enjoyed it and felt like I was back on the trail (it is a nature park) so after finding a little local place for lunch, I headed to St Josephs.
I was surprised to learn that Saint Joseph's is one of the world's most visited pilgrimage sites in the world and receives over 2 million visitors every year. The original church was build in 1904, however what you see today was finished in 1967. It is an immense church with a basilica, the original chapel, a crypt and a votive chapel. The Museum of Saint Joseph's Oratory holds some incredible art works from not just Canada but also overseas. Apparently you can even stay here, but I didn't investigate that. I didn't want the church to cave in!
It is so very different to Notre Dame Basilica and I didn't expect such a modern facility based on the exterior. I wasn't inside more than 5 minutes when a local nun who was visiting took me under her wing and walked me through the entire church. I don't know what I put off that always encourages people to take me aside and give me free guided tours, but I hope I never loose it.
Thank you Sister Patricia.
Would I Recommend Montreal?
Most definitely. I loved it. Somehow I got super lucky with the weather and it was cool but not too cold, sunny almost every day and the end of winter sales were on at the Thrift shops which enabled me to replenish my clothing for Palm Springs and Central America.
I spent 6 days I think, one of which was a full day tour to Quebec City and while you could definitely condense it, I thought that 5 days was a perfect amount of time.
Before I go…. I did see a few things that really tickled my fancy in Montreal. The snow signs are so strange to me and I always look for them now. This one really made me laugh. The other image is stilettos on roller skates. Huh??? It was in a shop window I was walking past and it did make me wonder how much damage we could have done to ourselves with these about 30 years ago!
High heeled roller skates – now that IS an accident waiting to happen!
You don't just have to watch for cars in Montreal, you have to watch for snow falling on your head too!