Montreal is Canada’s second largest city and, as far as I’ve observed, the most vibrant one because of the harmony of cultures that make up this French-speaking city of Quebec. After taking the rail from Toronto, which took about 4 hours, we started to explore Montreal. Even in the rail station, you can see the diversity of the city’s culture, French bakeries, Italian coffee shops, Greek restaurants, Palestinian kebabs, and rows and rows of shops that sell just about anything you need. A map of Montreal in English was the first thing we purchased to figure out what sights to go to and see. We made our way to the Underground City, with its myriad of shops and restaurants, and with a quick call to our local host, we finally located a storage area for our heavy bags on the side of the fast-food area of the Eaton Centre. Off we go above the ground and explored the Queen Marie’ Dela Reine Church. Astonishing architecture preserved through the years, the church was a sight to behold. The murals painted on the ceiling, the gold-and-black altar, and the statues of saints: we tried hard to remember that this is a sacred place and pictures must be taken discreetly.
After offering a brief prayer for the success of our journey, we explored more of Montreal’s commercial district and made our way to the front of McGill University. Downtown Montreal is like a European city mixed with modern buildings. French signs may confuse first-time visitors, but getting lost in this dynamic city is not a problem at all. Montreal is still a part of Canada, and the friendly and well-dressed locals speak English.
Continuing our exploration, we found ourselves near the Mc Cord Musee, which houses a collection of native artifacts. Too bad it was only 30 minutes before closing time; it would not be enough to go around the museum and look at their vast collection of Canadian artifacts. Finally, it was time to go back to the Pacific Centre to get our bags and meet our host for this trip.
On the second day of our journey, we took the bus no. 106 to the Angrignon subway station, found the green line, and changed to the orange line, which goes to the place called Old Montreal. Cobblestone streets and old buildings add to the charm of Old Montreal.
The Notre Dame Basilica with the full regalia of a Catholic church was amazing. This Gothic Revival church is more of a tourist spot than a church, as evidenced by the entrance fee of $4 for a quick 20-minute tour. The inside of the basilica was dimly lit all throughout but it does not obscure the spectacular view from just about any angle of the church. The magnificent gold staircase, altar, floor, and ceilings are truly works of art in this old church. We took our pictures and proceeded to the Sacred Heart Chapel on the side. Curious on why the people go to one side of the church and stay there for a while, I was enthralled by what I saw inside. With gilded and carved wooden interiors, the chapel boasts a charm of its own.
Outside at the Place d’ Armes, we did not miss the opportunity of having our picture taken in this historic district of Montreal. Place d’ Armes has an excellent overview of all the periods of Montreal’s history. Just by looking around 360 degrees we saw the city’s oldest building, the huge church, the headquarters of Canada’s first bank and first skyscraper, and the New York Building. Souvenir shops abound in Place d’ Armes, and we had our fill of the souvenirs that would remind us how enjoyable it was to be in Old Montreal.
Lunch came and went, until our stomachs grumbled and led by our foot, we walked a few blocks to Chinatown. Chinatown is more like Oriental Town, there were more Vietnamese restaurants and shops than Chinese-owned establishments. We settled on one Chinese restaurant that had a bilingual menu displayed on its glass doors, and, being Filipinos, we really had to have rice on our plates to satisfy our hunger. Lingering on the quaint Chinese interior of the restaurant, we had our late lunch and coffee. The restaurant’s owner had a small chat with us and asked about if we are enjoying the sights of Old Montreal. He then gave us a bonus plate of sliced oranges and several pieces of fortune cookies to cap our delicious meal.
Back in the streets of Chinatown, we explored Vietnamese food markets and a strip more like a pedestrian mall where little shops abound selling Oriental lucky charms and peculiar souvenirs. Towards the main thoroughfare of Old Montreal, we followed our line of sight to the old buildings just a few blocks away. The façade turned out to be the City Hall, a wonderful architectural structure full of history. Farther along, we saw Marche’ Bonsecours, which served as Montreal’s city hall until 1878. It was restored and houses some excellent designer boutiques and craft shops owned by locals.
After our tour of Old Montreal, our host showed us one of Montreal’s most-visited shrines, The St. Joseph’s Oratory atop Mount Royal. The Oratory’s huge dome reaches 97m, and, as decreed by law, no vertical structure may surpass the height of this church as a sign of respect. We then drove and passed the Latin Quarters. True to the saying that Montreal never sleeps, this bustling district, composed mainly of sidewalk cafés and bars, contributes to the relaxed atmosphere that Montreal projects. Around 5pm, locals start to fill up the tables and bars to enjoy a drink and unwind after a long day’s work. As for us, we still have a lot to explore in this vibrant city of Montreal.
On our third and last day in Montreal, we went back to Place Ville Marie and the Underground City and satisfied our curious palates as we sampled a Palestinian fare of kebabs and rice with a Mediterranean salad, which we ordered to-go for our train journey back to the English-speaking, Toronto. There is a lot more to see and experience till our next journey to Montreal.