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Day 16, Friday, July 26 Exploring Montreal

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After suffering through another room service breakfast, we set out for the hop on/off station and took the bus to the first stop, Notre Dame Basilica. The bus tour had not done justice to the city on our ride yesterday, since we could not even see this remarkable edifice from the bus stop.

Notre-Dame Basilica is in the historic district of Old Montreal. It is located next to the Saint-Sulpice Seminary and faces the Place d'Armes square. The church's Gothic Revival architecture is among the most dramatic in the world; its interior is grand and colorful, its ceiling is colored deep blue and decorated with golden stars, and the rest of the sanctuary is a polychrome of blues, azures, reds, purples, silver, and gold. It is filled with hundreds of intricate wooden carvings and several religious statues. Unusual for a church, the stained glass windows along the walls of the sanctuary do not depict biblical scenes, but rather scenes from the religious history of Montreal. It also has a Casavant Frères pipe organ, dated 1891, which comprises four keyboards, 92 stops using electropneumatic action and an adjustable combination system, 7000 individual pipes and a pedal board.

In 1657, the Roman Catholic Sulpician Order arrived in Ville-Marie, now known as Montreal; six years later the seigneury of the island was vested in them. They ruled until 1840. The parish they founded was dedicated to the Holy Name of Mary, and the parish church of Notre-Dame was built on the site in 1672. The church served as the first cathedral of the Diocese of Montreal from 1821 to 1822.
By 1824 the congregation had completely outgrown the church, and James O'Donnell, an Irish-American Protestant from New York, was commissioned to design the new building. O'Donnell was a proponent of the Gothic Revival architectural movement, and designed the church as such. He is the only person buried in the church's crypt. O'Donnell converted to Catholicism on his deathbed perhaps due to the realization that he might not be allowed to be buried in his church. The main construction work took place between 1824 and 1829. The cornerstone was laid at Place d"Armes on September 1, 1824. The sanctuary was finished in 1830, and the first tower in 1841, the second in 1843. On its completion, the church was the largest in North America. It remained the largest in North America for over fifty years.
Because of the splendor and grand scale of the church, a more intimate chapel, Chapelle du Sacré-Cœur (Chapel of the Sacred Heart), was built behind it, along with some offices and a sacristy. It was completed in 1888. Although another fine example of the excess of the Catholic Church, it is a beautiful structure. More importantly, we were introduced to Old Montreal which we really had not seen on the bus tour yesterday. After leaving the Church, we were entertained by a jazz/blues guitarist who was playing in the square in front of the church. He was so good, I bought his CD.

Next we were off to the Pointe-a-Calliere Museum of Archaeology and History. The Museum is set on top of the birthplace of Montreal and an authentic archaeological site, Pointe-a-Calliere, Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History leads visitors through six centuries of history, from Indian days to the present. The attraction begins with a multimedia show, Yours Truly, Montreal and the two permanent exhibitions, Where Montreal Was Born and Montreal Love Stories. The Museum also presents two national or international temporary exhibitions every year on historical or archaeological themes, as well as many cultural activities. In 2013, the temporary exhibitions are The Beatles in Montreal and The Tea Roads. After the multi-media show, which was excellent, we were led down to the basement of the museum where portions of the cemetery and other city walls have been preserved. We were also somewhat forced into a tour which was led by a rather smug young man who led us through an archaeological version of Jeopardy...not what either of us wanted. In fact, had we not left and had to listen to one more of his smug questions, I might have smacked him!! We proceeded to the Beatles exhibit and, man, did that make me feel old...when the most important band of your generation has become a Museum exhibit and there are things on display such as a princess telephone, transistor radio, 45rpm record and the thing we used to play it on...to think what today's generation must think of such archaic toys. One of the allures of this exhibit was the promise that there was a karaoke room where you could sing along with John, Paul, George and Ringo...much to my chagrin...and Margaret's delight...it was not there!

We then walked along the waterfront, stopping at one of the many outdoor cafes and had a beer and our first crepe of the trip...good...but not as good as my world famous Swedish pancakes. Then we walked along Rue St. Paul which is quintessential Old Montreal with its cobblestone streets, Victorian street lamps, pedestrian only walkway, outdoor cafes and artists. The street leads to Place Jacques Cartier...an entertainment center with street artists, roving entertainers, face painters and caricaturists. One young man had a crowd of hundreds of people captivated by his sword juggling, fire eating, humor and other feats of stupid.

We returned to the hotel for a little R&R and decided to find a fondue restaurant for dinner and we ended up at the Creperie Chez Suzette. Wanting only a light meal after last night, we ended up ordering the four course menu which began with salad, then onion soup for me, escargot for Margaret, followed by a very nice Gruyere cheese fondue with bread, apples and grapes to dip...topped off by crepes Suzette which was wonderful. Across the street from the restaurant we noted Le Piano Rouge which I had researched earlier and learned it was a piano bar which featured different types of music. We paid the $10 cover and a young African American woman was singing with a pretty loud band...she was even louder and, quite frankly, I couldn't tell if she was singing in French or English, or what she was singing. Margaret claimed to have enjoyed it...I was not unhappy to see the set and the evening end.

Posted by stevencavalli07 14:30 Comments (0)

Day 17, Saturday, July 27 Au Revoir Montreal

sunny 82 °F
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After breakfast we took our first trip on the Metro and got our first look at Montreal's underground city, the set of interconnected complexes (both above and below ground) in and around Downtown Montreal. It is also known as the indoor city, and is one of the largest underground complexes in the world. Not all portions of the indoor city are underground. The connections are considered tunnels architecturally and technically, but are air conditioned and have lighting as good as any building's liveable space does. Many tunnels are large enough to have shops on both sides of the passage. With over 20 miles of tunnels spread over more than 4.6 miles, connected areas include shopping malls, apartment buildings, hotels, condominiums, banks, offices, museums, universities, seven metro stations, two commuter train stations, a regional bus terminal and the Bell Centre amphitheatre and arena. There are more than 120 exterior access points to the underground city. Each access point is an entry point to one of 60 residential or commercial complexes comprising 1.4 square miles of floor space, including 80% of all office space and 35% of all commercial space in downtown Montreal. In winter, some 500,000 people use the underground city every day. We headed out to the Botanical Garden which is near Olympic Stadium, the site of the 1976 Summer Olympics and former home to the Montreal Expos.

The Botanical Garden can best be described as "spectacular". The gardens occupy 190 acres of thematic gardens and greenhouses. It was designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2008 as it is considered to be one of the most important botanical gardens in the world due to the extent of its collections and facilities. It contains a greenhouse complex full of plants from around the world, and a number of large outdoor gardens, each with a specific theme. The garden was founded in 1931, in the height of the Great Depression. It serves to educate the public in general and students of horticulture in particular, as well as to conserve endangered plant species. The highlights are the plant/tree sculptures of animals, fish, humans and many other objects. Hopefully there will soon be photos which do not really do these sculptures justice...they are truly works of art and we observed their keepers meticulously trimming and maintaining them by hand.

Next we headed to the nearby Biodome. The facility allows visitors to walk through replicas of four ecosystems found in the Americas:
The Tropical Forest is a replica of the South American rainforest.
The Laurentian Forest is a replica of the North American wilderness.
The Saint Lawrence Marine Eco-system is an estuary habitat modelled on the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
A polar area that is divided into Arctic and Antarctic.
This place was mildly entertaining, primarily the monkeys that did their best to hide from the tourists, and the penguins, all of whom had likely been retirees from March of the Penguins.

Remarkably, we found the Metro, got on the right train with no assistance, and made our way back to the hotel. I had been intrigued by a highly rated restaurant, Mahdavi, which touted the fact that they had a jazz singer that performed during dinner. I called to make a reservation and was told they had nothing until 10:15pm. I had the concierge call and we got a reservation at 8:45. The food was very good but we never heard the jazz singer, although there appeared to be some music coming from upstairs. After dinner, we made our way down to the waterfront. We had been told that there is an international fireworks competition in Montreal in July and that, this night, it was Montreal's turn. Serbia was last weekend...and it goes without saying how tough the Serbs are when it comes to explosives. Well the fireworks went on for at least an hour when we decided we had enough pyrotechnics. On the cab ride home we continued to hear and see snippets of the continuing show. This is how our last night in Montreal ended...a fascinating city...as it turns out. Next stop...Quebec City.

Posted by stevencavalli07 03:51 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 18, Sunday, July 28 Off to Quebec City

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With a 9:00am train departure, we were up early for our coerced room service breakfast...but not nearly as early as we would have been if we were flying. First, the train station is ten minutes from the hotel. With business class, there is no need to be at the station until a half hour before departure, which is boarding time. Still, we arrived in plenty of time to have coffee in the business lounge. The train ride to Quebec City was a little over three hours. Shortly after we left, the meal service started and there were several choices for breakfast...our second in a few hours...oh well, we walk it off every day, logging several miles. Margaret opted for some fresh fruit and cereal...their Saran Wrap must be really good here because, when she poured the milk on her cereal, it just bounced off the wrap...oops!! Once again the
ride was quite scenic and the time flew by...we actually arrived about a half hour early.

Our hotel is the Auberge Sainte-Antoine which I booked once again through the Chase Luxury Collection. In addition to the miles, you get a reduced rate, breakfast included, a room upgrade if available (we were upgraded to a luxury king witha river view and a terrace) and a $100 food/beverage credit. According to one publication, the Auberge Saint Antoine integrates three historical buildings from the 18th and 19th century and new construction into an ultra chic boutique hotel. Starting with the acquisition of a derelict warehouse in 1990, the Price family (descendants of the founders of Abitibi-Price pulp and paper empire) undertook a three stage restoration of the property. The hotel opened in 1992 with 31 rooms. In 2003, the hotel was renovated and enlarged to the present 95 rooms and suites. Features include a fitness centre, business centre, a private screening room and six conference rooms. The Panache Restaurant was opened in the former 19th century Hunt maritime warehouse in 2004. The restaurant incoporates the original stone walls of the warehouse and massive wood beams from a wharf originally located on the site. The history of the property began in 1687 with the granting of shoreline lots to two fur traders who erected a wharf in 1699. In 1704 the Battery Dauphine was built on the wharf. By 1725 the battery fell into disuse and Jean Marlous, mason and King's architect built a house which survived until 1759 when it was destroyed during the seige of Quebec. The surviving walls were used in the construction of a large warehouse constructed in 1822, presently home to the Panache Restaurant. By the 1840s, the Hunt warehouse as it came to be known was one of the busiest in Quebec harbour. From the 1880s the warehouse was largely used as a trading centre for merchants of glasswear and tableware. During the restoration of the site over 5,000 archelogical artifacts were uncovered. Over 700 of these artifacts are on display in the hotel. Each floor of the hotel features artifacts telling the story of successive periods of time in the history of the occupation of the site. Every modern convenience has been incorporated into the rooms, and we were quite happy with our room.

As is our wont, we got tickets thru the concierge to the r, hop on/off bus. It was a fairly cold and windy day, so we opted for the lower, enclosed deck...only to find it a little stuffy after about 15 minutes when we moved to the top. Rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast and we had been pretty fortunate to avoid almost any rain since New York.

Quebec City could be almost any fairly large city in France that is on a large river like the St. Lawrence. Because the old town has such narrow streets, the bus cannot traverse them. Quebec City is a natural fortress with walls on three sides and the St. Lawrence river on the other. Our guide was obviously fascinated with the war history of the city, and the tour was largely focused on the places that historical battles took place.

Quebec City is one of the oldest European settlements in North America. While many of the major cities in Mexico date from the sixteenth century, among cities in Canada and the U.S.A., few were created earlier than Quebec City (St. John's, Harbour Grace, Port Royal, St. Augustine, Santa Fe, Jamestown, and Tadoussac). Also, Quebec's Old Town (Vieux-Québec) is the only North American fortified city north of Mexico whose walls still

French explorer Jacques Cartier built a fort at the site in 1535, where he stayed for the winter before going back to France in spring 1536. He came back in 1541 with the goal of building a permanent settlement. This first settlement was abandoned less than one year after its foundation, in the summer 1542, due in large part to the hostility of the natives combined with the harsh living conditions during winter.
Quebec was founded by Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer and diplomat on July 3, 1608,mand at the site of a long abandoned St. Lawrence Iroquoian settlement called Stadacona. Champlain, also called "The Father of New France", served as its administrator for the rest of his life. The name "Canada" refers to this settlement. Although called the cradle of the Francophone population in North America, the Acadian settlement at Port-Royal was established three years earlier. The place seemed favourable to the establishment of a permanent colony.

In 1665, there were 550 people in 70 houses living in the city. One-quarter of the people were members of religious orders: secular priests, Jesuits, Ursulines nuns and the order running the local hospital, Hotel-Dieu. Quebec city was the headquarters of many raids against New England during the four French and Indian Wars. In the last war, the French and Indian War (Seven Years War), Quebec City was captured by the British in 1759 and held until the end of the war in 1763. It was the site of three battles during Seven Years War - the Battle of Beauport, a French victory (July 31, 1759); the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, in which British troops under General James Wolfe defeated the French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm on September 13, 1759 and shortly thereafter took the city; and the final Battle of Sainte-Foy, a French victory (April 28, 1760). France ceded New France, including the city, to Britain in 1763.
At the end of French rule in 1763, forests, villages, fields and pastures surrounded the town of 8,000 inhabitants. The town distinguished itself by its monumental architecture, fortifications, affluent homes of masonry and shacks in the suburbs St-Jean and St-Roch. Despite its urbanity and its status as capital, Quebec City remained a small colonial city with close ties to its rural surroundings. Nearby inhabitants traded their farm surpluses and firewood for imported goods from France at the two city markets.

Our hotel is in old town Quebec City and, after the bus tour, we set off to discover the parts of the old city that the bus could not visit. Quebec is very hilly and the old city is divided into the upper and the lower cities. There is a funicular a couple streets above our hotel that takes you about 1000 feet to where the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac Hotel sits. This is an amazing architectural structure that sits high above the entire city. We noted the funicular and put it on tomorrow's agenda, just after my therapy session for acrophobia. So we walked and walked along the cobblestone streets of the lower city. Margaret and I have distinctly different ideas of sightseeing. She is much more into what I call "shopseeing"!! She will spend hours looking at cute toys for the grand kids or all varieties of maple syrup goods...while I am "suggesting" the museums that we will not likely get another chance to see.

On the bus tour we did pass by the area near the Plains of Abraham where Celine Dion had a concert last night for 40,000 of her closest friends. It was entirely in an outdoor setting that had to be set up and the only concert she will do this year outside of Las Vegas. We saw several hundred workers on Sunday who were taking everything down. We also learned that the unemployment rate is 4.6% (considered full employment) and that Quebec City is the 2nd safest city in all of Canada...next to Guelph.

The weather was quite cool and windy so we decided to eat at the hotel bar...L'Artefact...this is not the fine dining restaurant but a very comfortable lounge with very comfortable chairs and pillows where we quickly used up the $100 food and beverage credit. I had my first burger of the trip. We ended the evening with only our second game of dominoes on the trip...I'm 2-0. Returned to our room and found the A's vs. Angels game on TV...thank goodness they have not televised any Giants games on this trip.

Posted by stevencavalli07 08:26 Comments (0)

Day 19, Monday, July 29 Old Quebec By Foot and Funicular

overcast 73 °F
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Breakfast on our package is in the fine dining restaurant, Panache. We both had Annabelle's crepes with maple syrup and fruit...there is a picture...absolutely to die for...but not quite to the culinary excellence of crêpes suédois de Steve!! Look it up! After breakfast we began to wander through the hilly streets behind the hotel which constitute the lower part of Old Quebec. Could have been any charming, quaint town in France. Cobblestone streets lined with outdoor cafes with baskets of colorful flowers and plates of steak frites. Old buildings and churches dating back to the 16th century. We then took a funicular up to the high city. The funicular leads you to a square in front of the Fairmont Frontenac, a monstrous structure, beautiful architecture. We learned on the bus tour yesterday that the copper roof was just replaced last year at a cost of $6 million. We went inside the hotel and the interior is equally beautiful with carved wood and polished brass everywhere.

The views looking out over the St. Laurent river were fantastic. We wandered the streets and shops, Margaret executing "shopseeing" at its highest level. She found a tiny beaver with a hat with the Canadian flag which would be a gift for Kate. We finally happened upon a Pharmacy which we had been seeking out for more than a week. Margaret needed a new toothbrush and i needed a couple of other incidentals which I placed in my backpack...the first day I had brought the backpack which contained umbrellas and ponchos...it had poured during the night and the forecast was for thunderstorms in the afternoon. We gazed at artisans' art for a couple hours. We settled in at St. Patrick's Pub for a beer and we split a ham and cheese croissant sandwich.

Furthering our shopseeing we walked to the Marche on the waterfront. This is an extensive farmer's market featuring just about every type of food imaginable...from cheese shops to butchers to fish merchants. If you were a resident or renting a house or an apartment it would be a perfect place to shop. Most of the produce and wine come from the I'le d'Orleans, an island in the middle of the St. Laurent river about 20 minutes from Quebec. I waited for Margaret outside on a bench in a little plaza. We then caught a cab back to the hotel. When we got to the room, I gasped and probably uttered an epithet or two. I had left the backpack, first I thought, on the bench where I was waiting. I immediately hopped a cab back to that place and there was nothing. I then realized I had left it in the cab. There was nothing of value in the backpack, just the little animal Margaret had purchased, two umbrellas and ponchos which we, fortunately, have not needed on this trip, and the stuff we bought at the pharmacy. I was still ticked off and the hotel staff made calls to all the cab companies to no avail.

That night we had dinner at a very modern Italian place near the hotel, Matta, which was excellent. I had lasagne and Margaret had Papardelle. We returned to the hotel and retired to L'Artefact lounge for a thrd game of dominoes. Despite a close match, I remained undefeated in Canada.

Posted by stevencavalli07 08:09 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

Day 20, Tuesday, July 30 Montmorency Falls & Cirque

overcast 78 °F
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We decided to take a 5 hour guided bus tour which would take us to Montmorency Falls, I'le d'Orleans, St. Anne de Beaupre Basilica and other assorted throw ins where I am sure the bus tour gets a kickback for dropping such a captive audience off at the Chocolate factory, the copper shop and the bakery where you can buy a slice of bread with maple butter for only a buck and a half CAD.

The first stop was Montmorency Falls which is a large waterfall on the Montmorency River. The falls are located on the boundary between the borough of Beauport, Quebec City, and Boischatel, about 7 miles from the heart of old Quebec City. The falls, at 275 ft high and 150 feet wide, are the highest in the province of Quebec and 98 ft higher than Niagara Falls. The basin at the foot of the falls is 56 feet deep. The falls are at the mouth of the Montmorency River where it drops over the cliff shore into the Saint Lawrence River, opposite the western end of the Île d'Orleans. The falls were given this name in 1613 by Samuel de Champlain. He named them in honor of Henri II, duc de Montmorency, who served as viceroy of New France from 1620 until 1625. There are staircases that allow visitors to view the falls from several different perspectives. A suspension bridge over the crest of the falls provides access to both sides of the park as well as a spectacular view. There is also an aerial tram that carries passengers between the base and the top of the falls.

We opted for the tram...when you see the photographs of the stairs you will see why...there are more than 450 of them. There is a lesser falls called the Bridal Veil Falls which are a couple hundred feet from the main group. The Montmorency Falls are pretty awesome to view and presented a definite challenge to my acrophobia. They are not nearly as majestic or powerful as the Niagara Falls. Next stop on the tour was I'le d'Orleans. Île d'Orléans is located in the Saint Lawrence River about 3 miles east of downtown Quebec City. The island was one of the first parts of the province to be colonized by the French, and a large percentage of French Canadians can trace ancestry to early residents of the island. The island has been described as the "microcosm of traditional Quebec and as the birthplace of francophones in North America." Settlement of the island dates to the early 1600s. There are some very old homes and many beautiful new ones that are waterfront properties. Much of the produce that is sold in Quebec City comes From farms on the island.

After a stop at a bakery and a copper factory, we proceeded to the Saint Anne de Beaupre basilica...a church that was totally unexpected, being really out in the boonies amidst tiny 350 year old homes which used to house tiny people by comparison to today's giants. This church is huge and majestic and magnificent and yet further evidence of the Catholic Church flexing its muscles with all of the excess. It has been credited by the Catholic Church with many miracles of curing the sick and disabled. Check out the pictures of the canes and crutches that are strapped to one othe church's pillars...presumably testament to the disabled folks who were miracleized! It is an important Catholic sanctuary which receives about a half-million pilgrims each year. The peak period of pilgrimage is around July 26, the feast of Saint Anne, the patron saint of Quebec. We were 4 days late for any possible miracle. The basilica dates to 1876 and there are many other religious structures in the area, including life size versions of the stations of the cross. Just in case, I lit a few candles...you never know.

On the way back to Quebec City we encountered a rain storm. Cirque du Soleil has been putting on a free performance at the Old Port...it is an outside show...and we were concerned about the weather and the lack of umbrellas and ponchos which were still in the missing backpack. Although the show is free, I purchased tickets for $20 a few months ago and was not quite sure why. We stopped into the hotel to pick up one of its umbrellas and then walked to Cafe St. Malo where we had 6:30 dinner reservations. We were about 10 minutes late to this charming little cafe whose outside tables had been vacated because of the earlier rain. It was still warm outside. The seating at the Cirque show was first come first served which is why we were eating so early. The food at this little cafe was outstanding, as was the service. Margaret had "one of the best salads ever" and duck...I was locked into wonderful onion soup and the steak frites which was also wonderful but more than I could eat. We finished dinner shortly before 8 and then walked the few blocks to the venue. The weather was beautiful with clearing skies colored by the reds, oranges and yellows of the setting sun. I picked up the tickets I had purchased at will call and we still were not certain what they got us. There were thousands of people already in long lines for a 9:15 show, with doors opening at 8:45. We kept circling the venue looking for section D and there were no signs. Margaret went to inquire and we were directed to a much shorter line. When the doors opened we were led into an area that had long tables and padded stools. Now I knew what the $20 bought...a shorter line, a guaranteed seat and some comfort. Others who sat were sitting on bleachers. There was another large contingent of people that were actually allowed to stand in the pit area where the performance took place. The show was only an hour, but it was typically beautiful Cirque with a live band and a crane that lifted acrobats 30 feet off the ground. The setting could not have been more beautiful. We were treated to our first night time view of the Fairmont Frontenac Hotel high up on the hill overseeing Quebec, beautifully lit up. It was a perfect evening...they say "perfect" a lot up here.

Posted by stevencavalli07 13:45 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

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