Off to Mount Royal…
As we only left Quebec City late morning, we did not stop anywhere along the way except to stretch legs and visit washrooms. We reached our hotel in Montreal just before the mid-afternoon check-in. As we hadn’t eaten lunch, we dropped our bags in the room, drove up the road to park the car in a parking station (not paying the fees for valet!) and strolled around the corner to have a meal and glass of wine at a restaurant recommended by the hotel.
As we ate, we watched the rain come down, happy that we were not outside in it and little knowing what we would be in for later. Later in the afternoon, as we ventured further afield into the old town area of Montreal, the heavens opened! After sheltering in a souvenir shop for a while, we stupidly headed outside again, only for another deluge to hit. Luckily we found shelter under a portico with a streetside view of the torrent of water and flashy show of lightening until it passed.
A bit about Montreal…
We were surprised when we realised that the city is centred on the Island of Montreal. It is the most populated city in the Canadian province of Quebec and the second-most in Canada. Originally called Ville-Marie (City of Mary), it is named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the heart of the city.
Our hotel…..named LHotel Montreal… http://www.lhotelmontreal.com/default-en.html
We had booked our accommodation in Montreal through a website where you get a good price but don’t know which of the four hotels listed you will be staying at. Actually, that’s not entirely true – with a bit of deductive reasoning, it doesn’t take much to work out which one it will be. In hindsight, we couldn’t have wished for better – it was by far the highlight accommodation of our three month stay in Canada (apart from time with family and friends of course!). We do tend to prefer boutique hotels to big chains, so that in itself was a plus. But apart from that, it was just a special place. The staff were amazing – from the concierge who was always there to greet with a smile, through to Nick, the General Manager, who gave us fabulous tips on things to see. One day when we bumped into him in the street, he even guided us to the bagel shop we were looking for!
LHotel is full of pop art – a private collection of the hotel owner and founder of the Guess brand. The rooms themselves are almost shockingly different as they have high ceilings and are decorated to match the historical style of the building which is an old Bank (as we found out when we visited the gym and saw the door to the vault).
Even the outside of the hotel had huge pieces of artwork outside. We had to ensure we took photos in the morning before all the visitors staying elsewhere walked past – it was a popular spot for snaps.
Probing and investigating…
Each morning was spent at a little café we had discovered on the first day. It was a quirky little place that did a roaring trade serving fresh pastries and good coffee – in addition to a number of gift and specialty supermarket items.
As we usually do anywhere we go, we spent many hours walking around the city, hitting the touristy areas and many of those places where few dare to tread. One of the more popular destinations, in spite of the long staircase to get there, was the viewpoint at Mont Royal Chalet at the top of the hill. It presented us with lovely vistas of the city.
We also enjoyed lovely views of Montreal from the opposite side from “La Grande Roue de Montréal” (the Big Wheel of Montreal) where we shared a gondola with a lovely young French-Canadian couple.
Le Centre de commerce mondial de Montréal (World Trade Centre), was just across the road from our hotel. Inaugurated in 1992, it includes several old buildings that have been renovated and connected by a huge glass roof. It houses an Amphitrite fountain and black granite basin and even contains a fragment of the Berlin Wall, donated to Montreal on its 350th birthday. There was a guide pamphlet available that allowed us to identify the unique characteristics of the individual buildings that had been integrated into the single shopping and business space.
Also not too far form our hotel, opposite the Notre Dame Basilica, was the original building of the Bank of Montreal (BMO). On entering the building, we thought it looked very similar to the old Westpac building in George Street in Sydney. We soon discovered that would make sense as BMO was founded in the same year as Westpac, namely 1817.
Between the BMO Head Office and the Basilica is a square with two statues on each corner. The are titled – ‘The English Pug and the French Poodle’.
A dashing looking English man, holding his pug, gives a superior stare at Notre-Dame Basilica, symbol of the religious influence on French Canadians. A short distance away to the northern corner, a woman in Chanel style suit, poodle against her, shoots an offended look to the Bank of Montreal’s head office, built in 1845-1847 and symbol of English power. With their masters oblivious to each other, the two dogs on the alert already sniffed out the opportunity to unite.
An evening to remember…
One of the things that Nick, the GM from LHotel had proposed we see was the light show at the Notre Dame Basilica Montreal, less than 0.5km from our accommodation. What a recommendation it turned out to be! Whilst LHotel was memorable in terms of lodging, “Aura” was an experience that we will not forget in a hurry.
The Basilica is a well-known church in Montreal, being the home to weddings of many a famous person, including entertainers and sport people. Celine Dion was married there in 1994 and sadly for her, her husband’s funeral was in the same place a couple of years ago.
The experience took place in the heart of the Basilica. It began with a path of lights that we walked around, revealing the Basilica’s wealth of exquisite works. Following that, we sat down and were immersed in a sonically and visually captivating display of light. Light orchestral music and grandiose architecture combined to create a unique, three-act multimedia spectacle.
Our last night in the city…
One of the reasons we had decided on the exact timing of our Montreal visit was the fireworks competition that was taking place. Every Wednesday and Saturday evenings for the month of July, various countries were competing in the world’s largest and most prestigious fireworks competition. We had chosen not to book grandstand tickets to see the show – which turned out to be a good thing as the location was a challenge to get to – but there were plenty of vantage points along the river.
We booked dinner for a nice looking restaurant around the corner from our hotel and relaxed over some good food and wine for a couple of hours. After heading back to our room to change into more comfortable clothes and shoes, we joined the rest of the population of Montreal going down to the waterfront to watch the US team take to the skies at 10pm. A fun night!!