Colorful Québec – Mai Tai Tom’s 2019 Journey to Montréal & Québec City
CHAPTER SEVEN: SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST IN MONTRÉAL
Day Five – This Is Only A Drill, Stunning Interior, Why Didn’t We Bring Mittens?, Are You Sure The Show Tonight Is Here?, Magnifiques Jardins, Trying To Find The Stadium, Lighting The Torch, The Penalty Box For Obstruction & Elbowing, A Jardin All To Ourselves and A Light Show For The Ages
As the darkness of night faded into dawn, we were awakened with the pleasant sound of pneumatic drills tearing up chunks of cement and pavement in front of the hotel. Fortunately, the fearsome foursome had intended to arise early so we could go see a famed Montréal sight, hopefully containing less crowds than a few nights before. Temporary deafness, however, had not entered into our plan.
After regaining most of our hearing, we witnessed first-hand the concrete evidence of the early morning noise as we walked the short distance from our hotel to Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, where we had attended the mesmerizing AURA light and music show on our second night. We arrived a little before 9 a.m. to beat the crowds (which we did) and paid $8CAD to enter this gorgeous basilica.
The spot where the basilica is located (across from Place d’Armes) is the site of the oldest Catholic parish (1656) in Montréal, while the 19th-century basilica (built on the old site in 1829) is the first Gothic Revival church constructed in Canada. Similar to another Notre Dame we know and love, this church was devastated by fire in 1978 (arson destroyed the Sacré-Cœur Chapel on December 7, 1978).
Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal was rebuilt by 1982 (using old photos and drawings), and in that same year Pope John Paul II elevated the basilica (try that David Copperfield) to the rank of a Minor Basilica. Walking inside, it is the interior that dazzles!
The astounding altarpiece is the first thing you notice upon entering the basilica.
“Montreal architect Victor Bourgeau designed the high altar, choir stalls and reredos (altarpiece), with statues sculpted in pine by the French artist Henri Bouriché.”
At its center, the altarpiece shows the Crucifixion, with Mary and St. John standing at either side. Mary Magdalene kneels at the foot.
When standing near the front, turn around to look at the gigantic, 7,000 pipe Casavant Frères organ.
We peered through a glass door to Chapelle du Sacré Cœur (closed as undergoing repairs) located in the northwest corner of the church. Lots of weddings (including Céline Dion and René Angélil in 1994 … his funeral was also here 22 years later) are performed in this chapel. There is a large bronze sculpture inside, which garners mixed reviews.
Old Testament prophet Ezekiel sits at the bottom of the pulpit.
This sculpture is of Sister Marie-Léone Paradis, an early 20th-century sister beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1984.
Even if you attend Aura, we recommend coming back to see the breathtaking Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal during a quieter time.
One thing not quiet at this moment was our stomachs. It was also quite cold, much colder than weather prognosticators had forecasted for our time in Canada (the weather served as foreshadowing of the even colder climate we would experience in Québec City).
We found some pastries (healthy eating was not in our plan, it seemed) at a place near Marché Bonseours.
Tracy and I decided to return to the hotel to find some more appropriate freezing weather clothing.
We were then going to hit Montréal’s botanical gardens before re-connecting with Kim and Mary (who wanted to check out Atwater Market) for a couple of events we had scheduled on the afternoon and early evening.
A little before noon our Uber driver dropped Tracy and me at Jardin botanique de Montréal. Later that evening the four of us were scheduled to come back here for the Gardens of Light Chinese Lantern Festival, which runs from early September to late October. After paying $20.50CAD to enter, we asked the ticket taker where we should meet for the festival. She replied, “Well, that show is not here. It’s at the other gardens.”
Other gardens? What other gardens? We hurriedly called Kim and Mary (who had purchased the tickets and also had them in their possession), and they confirmed we were at the right place. A gentleman at the information booth concurred. What the lady at the ticket counter was talking about, we had not a clue.
Since it was early October, we didn’t expect to be overwhelmed with the flora and foliage. It’s amazing how many times we are wrong with our assumptions.
The Montréal Botanical Garden was founded in 1931 and “is the work of botanist Brother Marie-Victorin and landscape architect Henry Teuscher.” Altogether, there are 22,000 plant varieties here. With only two hours, we decided not to try and see them all.
Before we could say, “This place is for the birds” …
… we were in the Jardin de Chine (Chinese Garden).
The setting was spectacular …
… and they were all set for the evening’s extravaganza.
For centuries, the Chinese have been known for building artificial mountains. To build these, it took 3,000 tons of stone taken from the St. Lawrence River to construct just this one. The stones are the only non-Chinese architectural element in the garden.
Fast as a rocket, a squirrel scampered ahead, letting us know we were heading in the right direction. There was no sign of Bullwinkle, however.
Sure enough, we had made it to the Japanese Garden, replete with lanterns.
We read that “lanterns in a Japanese garden symbolize the light of knowledge, dispelling the shadows of ignorance.” I really needed a lot of lanterns while attending the Harvard of the West (San Diego State). The Koto-ii Lantern (below left) has a leg in the water and a leg on land. It denotes the “interdependence of these two milieus.” Having attended SDSU for five years, I had no idea what a milieu was, so I moved on … ignorantly.
Next, we decided to promenade over to the Jardin de Promenade, which “offers visitors a variety of natural scenery, including the magnificent pond with its colorful carps, its smalls islands and waterfalls.”
I didn’t see any carp, but I didn’t carp about it, and it was a lovely and tranquil part of the garden.
I also didn’t see any frogs yelling, “Hey, come over to my pad!” at the Aquatic Garden.
Still, it was a ribetting experience.
Now it was time to munch some lunch in the garden at the Jardin Botanique Restaurant. Although cafeteria style to order your food, you can take your meal out into a garden setting with a giant fountain. The creamed carrot soup, ham & cheese panini, and an incredible brownie with marshmallows and a jam crumble hit the spot.
After sipping a little wine I proceeded to go into my now annual “Vacation Anthony Bourdain Moment of Zen.”
Tracy would have none of that, so it was time for a dazzling array of flowers.
There were many colorful dahlias, however …
… no Black Dahlia.
Since Tracy is the “Pollenating Queen” (I suppose I should have worded that slightly better), loves bees and loves taking photos of the little stingers. I’m sure she would have loved Aunt Bee.
While Tracy loves bees, I love Star Trek, so when I saw this moment to recreate a scene from the episode “The City On The Edge of Forever,” I couldn’t help myself and jumped through this arrangement in an attempt to go back in time. As you can see in the photo, the gentleman seated behind me was enthralled with my performance.
Although my time traveling attempt proved futile, and Joan Collins would once again have to die, we were able to beam over to this shed where Tracy said she wanted to attempt a “Kim artsy shot.” It was an excellent effort, but Kim is still the “Ceiling King.”
I thought this was a strange place for a small outlet of Home Depot, but we did buy a rake and a hoe.
I decided not to attempt sitting in one of these chairs for fear of not being able to extricate myself.
We meandered (I don’t think I’ve used that word for a few chapters), over to some ponds.
In this Judy Collins moment (no relation to Joan), Tracy photographed clouds from both sides now.
It was a nice place to take a load off our fannies for a bit, but we were supposed to meet Kim and Mary for our next daily adventure.
Throughout the day, we kept seeing this large tower looming over the trees. It would be our next stop.
We met Kim and Mary in the parking lot of the botanical gardens, where Kim took this lovely picture of a tired couple. We were soon to be more tired.
Across the street from the Jardin Botanique is the Stade olympique, home of the 1976 Olympics. Our first goal was a seemingly easy one … find the entrance. Key word … “seemingly.” Occasionally while traveling, the four of us walk aimlessly to our next destination before properly plotting our path. Sadly, this was one of those times.
With the stadium located adjacent to us (and not too far away), we began walking to what surely must be an entrance to enter the grounds. Finally, after what seemed like miles, we found three set of steep stairs that lead to an empty parking lot. We collectively thought, “This can’t be correct.” So, of course, we started walking down the stairs anyway, which for a guy who was about to have knee replacement surgery (moi) was rather uncomfortable.
A random person we met in the parking lot devoid of other people pointed us in the right direction, and in about ten more minutes, we were at the entrance to the sports museum and weird elevator (we also wanted to visit the Observatory Deck with its view out toward Montréal and surroundings).
Before entering the small museum, we bought a ticket ($45,25CAD) for the “inclined elevator,” which would take us to the Observatory Deck of the Tour Olympique in about 15 minutes.
Not many people remember that it was Mai Tai Tom who lit the torch for the 1976 Olympics, but I have the photo (and the scars on my fingertips) to prove it.
We also saw photos of ’76 Olympic stars Nadia Comaneci and Caitlyn (“The Decathlete formerly known as Bruce”) Jenner.
In the Musée des Sports du Québec we came upon the jersey of Montreal Expos’ (among others) great Rusty “Le Grande Orange” Staub, dubbed that for his orange hair.
We stopped by some other display booths …
… and checked out the Olympic pool. Up to now our little self-guided tour was going swimmingly.
We got to the elevator line shortly before a large tour group. The one-of-a-kind elevator transports 76 passengers, who stand on two levels. More than 500 people can ride on it within an hour’s time. (Photo from internet.)
We were content to let other people get in front of us for photos on the way up, although we managed a couple.
At the top, the observatory tower ironically became part of our infamous “Elevator List,” a vacation list of sights you can skip, which we started on our Spain trip in 2015 (see how the elevator list came about in this post). The view was fine, but it’s not worth the money, in our opinion.
After about 20 minutes, the elevator returned back for the ride down. This time we scored the first row …. well, at least for a few seconds. After Tracy was practically cross-checked into the glass, and Mary nearly trampled by an overzealous tourist, we moved away before any of us were put on the Injured List. I swear one of those tourists was carrying a hockey stick. Where are the officials when you need them?
A humorous side note about the stadium. It is nicknamed “The Big O” for its name and doughnut-shaped roof, but many Montrealers refer to it as “The Big Owe” due to its large cost, and the fact that the city didn’t finish paying for the stadium until 30 years after the Olympics. Later, Tracy received her gold medal for putting up with her husband’s jokes for 25 years.
It was time to walk back to the gardens, and thankfully we found a much shorter route. Unbeknownst to us earlier in the day, you are allowed early access with a Lumiére ticket. So into the gardens we went, first stopping in the Chinese Gardens.
It was still a little early for the show, but Kim and Mary were already impressed with what they saw.
We didn’t know how far we could explore in the gardens with the ticket …
… but since no one checked our tickets, we guided Kim and Mary into the gardens to show them a little of what they missed on our visit earlier in the day.
The gardens were still colorful.
The ponds were still peaceful.
And both couples were still old (but feeling young).
As sunset approached, we took one last pond picture …
… and headed back to the Chinese Garden, just as the twilight colors were showing up.
Mary ran into a couple of old friends …
… while Panda-monium was taking place nearby.
There were luminous lanterns and animals …
… while a fisherman was hoping for great net results.
The back paths were illuminated by lanterns so people like us (ok, me) didn’t trip.
Each moment brought a more vibrant aspect to the event.
The lake in the Chinese Garden was beginning to pop.
Nighttime brought even more magic.
Kids and adults were having a blast taking in these scenes.
After walking through the Japanese Garden, which really didn’t have the same visual effects of the Chinese Garden, we returned for one more look …
… at this spectacle as night fell.
At about 8 p.m. we had to leave to make it to L’Express for dinner (see Chapter Six).
Walking back to the parking lot to get our taxi, the ever-present tower still loomed overhead.
Tomorrow, we’d take an early train to Québec City, where we would spend four nights. Québec City would provide us with an even greater French vibe. On our first day in Québec City, we’d walk up a steep, steep hill and, what do you know, we found a few churches to duck into and stay out of the rain.
We’d also stop into a famous hotel bar to check out is bar with a view, find the funicular and enjoy a potent potable at a quaint little pub. We’d then dodge the cruise ship mobs as we strolled old Québec City. For dinner, it was just a short distance back to the old town where we’d enjoy what turned out to be a delectable meal … in any language.
NEXT: CHAPTER EIGHT – FEELING FRENCH IN QUÉBEC CITY
Day Six: On Track For A Good Day In Québec City, Hotel Excellence, The Walk Of Hell, Thank Heavens For Popcorn, I Thought We’d Already Seen Notre Dame, Are We In London?, A Mysterious Chapel, Never In Doubt … Seldom Correct, Drinks At A Grande Dame, Now We Find the Damned Funicular, Pub Crawl, Quaint & Crowded, Umbrella Policy, Looking For Ancient Drink Artifacts, Dining At The Fort, Oh Deer! and How Many Languages Do You Speak?