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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

MONTREAL: Est ce que "Je me souviens.."? Part 1

1) Hotel Saint Paul & Rediscovering the city:

My BF and I went to Montreal together in September 2009 and had a gorgeous time in this vibrant,youth filled little city with a heart of gold. The fact that we chose to return so soon should have been a deterrent but while I was well aware that we could not relive the same experiences,I was convinced that there would be enough the second time round for us to enjoy this city once again. But Montreal isn't London,New York or Paris and what you saw the first time,is what you get the second time...with a change of season,wardrobes and window dressing.
We had no problem with the dry cold or the wind that gave me brain freeze whenever I forgot my hat. What we did have a problem with was that the area in which we chose to stay in: Old Montreal with its art galleries,cobbled streets and quirky restaurants was dead calm in November. I had specifically chosen the modern,minimalist Hotel Saint Paul on Rue McGill in order for us to discover another area in Montreal. I foolishly thought that it would have the same vibe as Soho in NYC.... Forgedabboudit. The deadly calm spread up and around Square Victoria making it blatantly clear that this was very much an area that came to life during business hours Mon to Fri and that during the weekend it is tumble weeds and echoing silence. We soon  discovered for ourselves that the only crowd we were going to come across were at breakfast in the hotel. 
The hotel itself was everything we expected it to be.The free standing fire place encased in marble is a welcoming vision in itself and sets the scene for the lively weekend crowd that dine and huddle around the bar at Vauvert: the in house restaurant and bar. It draws a lively crowd and with the DJ spinnin' his tunes, I heard that the tables are pushed back for the crowd to let loose and bust their moves. We didn't bust anything other than our backs schlepping backwards and forewards to and from our hotel and civilization. Come Sunday the whole thing grinds to a halt and the place attracts a quieter crowd of diners and travellers here on business.
Our room on the 8th floor was spacious and the view was on the river and Rue McGill with a window seat to watch the world go by or not..as the case may be. With all the minimalism going on someone forgot the basics : a decent chair to sit in and that horse hair and metal contraption that requires a winch to extricate you from and a visit to a local osteopath was hardly the winning ticket although it looked very nice we stayed well away from it and its deadly jaws.  The hotel was generally quiet,no rowdy revellers nor major traffic starting up at 6.00am...other than our bell boy thwacking down the newspaper outside our door and every other door on our floor...thwack,thwack,thwack...You'd think he was bush whacking his way across the jungle!

In our bid to discover new areas, we had read that the Blvd St.Laurent was the place for boutiques and restaurants.We now knew the Rue Saint Catherine and its companions by heart and could walk them blindfolded and don't get me started on all the interconnecting malls..we were up for a challenge. It was a sunny Sunday and we had all the time in the world..before the shops opened at 11/12am. We walked up its entire length from the old town all the way up to what they refer to as the "real" Montreal:the Plateau Mont Royal,an artsy,fun area that we had visited on the last trip and loved. But I felt nothing but disappointment as we walked the Blvd St Laurent, we passed seedy strip clubs,abandoned lots with winos out for the count huddled in empty doorways. There were a handful of interesting boutiques that were either closed or not yet open.... but not enough to keep me interested after having walked several hours to the promised land only to find it lacking. My 8 year old self soon surfaced and reared its ugly head:" Are we there yet? Wherever "there" may be? 'cos it sure as hell isn't here!"
My BF lost his patience: "Is shopping the only thing that interests you? Can't we just walk and visit the area without spending money?"
By then we had reached a residential area on our quest to find "The Mile"where outdoor cafes,bookstores and mythical boutiques were to be found. It would have been perfect had we found it before a rumbling truck drove by us on the main road and subsequently belched up a cloud of black smoke all over my BF.
"I think it is time we turned back,don't you?"
And we soon found ourselves in the green oasis of the park beneath Mont Royal and its breathtaking view over the city. And that was worth the schlep.
"What do you say we walk up the mountain?"
"Are you nuts? Do I look like I can climb Mount bloody Everest when I can hardly put one foot in front of the other?"
We did go up a few days later but like civilised tourists ,taking a metro and then a bus up the mountain to stroll over to the spectacular view that overlooks the entire city...spectacular.