Our initial plan upon arriving in Montreal on the afternoon of New Year's Eve,
was to go somewhere scenic, have a look at the city and get our bearings.
That somewhere was likely to be either Mont Royal Park atop the mountain Montreal
is built on, or the tower of Olympic Stadium. When we landed in Montreal, the
ceiling was about 25 ft (8m) and the visibility was remarkably close to zero.
So we modified our plans and went to the Biodome instead.
The Biodome is also found in Olympic Park as it was once the velodrome used for the
cycling events in the 1976 Summer Olympics. Now it's an indoor zoo of sorts with
several partitioned areas. Some of them, like the St. Lawrence Seaway are not particularly
impressive, especially considering it can be experienced in person by walking south
for about 10 minutes. Others like the Tropical Rainforest are worth the price of
admission though. This is the top view of a capybara from said rainforest.
No this picture isn't a refugee from our Costa Rica pages, it's actually Montreal
although several of these trees are fake. Somewhere in there are sloths, tamarinds,
macaws and so forth.
Something more typical of Montreal would be Notre Dame in the center of the old
town. The exterior of this rendition of Notre Dame is really not all that interesting.
It was finished in 1841 so it isn't even particularly old. The inside is more
interesting but alas, we have no pictures of it so you'll have to go and see for
Here's a typical street in the old town of Montreal. On it you'll find a goodly
number of tacky tourist shops selling anything Canadian. Generally, 'anything
Canadian' is usually distilled down to maple syrup, stuffed moose and mountie
hats. Among these stores are a few actually unique and interesting sorts and
if you hunt around a bit you're sure to find at least one good creperie.
On prior trips to Old Montreal this area had been crammed full of street performers
and people watching them perform. This building is the Hotel de Ville (city hall)
which overlooks all the chaos. On the morning of New Year's Day it was rather
quiet. That may have been a direct consequence of the festivities the night before
which seem to have continued on well into the morning.
Since the old quarter was so quiet we headed up to Mont Royal park. Montreal
sits on an island in the St. Lawrence river and the center of that island is
Mont Royal (really just a big hill). There are spectacular views of Montreal
from the park, as well as sleigh rides (in the winter at least), ice-skating,
sledding runs and even a mini ski hill for kids. This view to the east is
dominated by Olympic stadium which is billed as the world's tallest inclined
structure. That is just silly. It is rather neat looking though and you can
ride up on the outside of it if you're willing to ignore all the major engineering
fiascos that have occured thoughout the history of Olympic Stadium.
To the south across the buildings of downtown you can easily see the northern
extensions of the White and Green mountain ranges into Quebec. After tapering
off just across the Canadian border, there are a series of oddly distinct lumps
stretching up towards Montreal. Several ski resorts are visible from here in
both directions. To the north, the Laurentian mountains can be seen along the horizon.
Another building which dominates part of the city is St. Joseph's Oratory.
Of course, you have to be on the right side of the mountain to see it. If
you're making the trip from downtown or the old town we recommend a scenic
route along Mont Royal park. If the park itself or the views aren't worth it,
consider the expanse of cemetary that stretches for miles (literally) along the
west side of the mountain. The oratory was started by Brother Andre who
started with a small wooden chapel and apparently went a bit overboard from
there. The basilica has quite a lot in common with Sacre-Couer in Paris, not
the least of which is the number of stairs you have to climb to get to it.
The drive from Montreal to Quebec City can be very scenic if you're willing
to take the slightly smaller river roads (although the autoroutes on the north
shore are not far from the river). In the winter, the size of the ice fishing
villages is staggering. We saw several that not only had roads, but electric
street lights along the roads, restaurants, and even specially designated
parking lots. This is a picture of the St. Lawrence taken at dusk from a roadside
rest area along the way.