Montreal is not as compact and quaint as Halifax, but it is more diverse and vibrant, full of shopping centers, restaurants, historic sites and other diversions. The old center is picturesque and, though not as closely resembling a European capital as Quebec, it is nonetheless filled with old and interesting buildings, quirky boutiques and cobbled streets.
We took a walk from our hotel to the center and around the piers and—in that relatively small area in a short amount of time—saw the preparations for the Jazz Festival, a raucous street party featuring a mini Mini rally and some loud music, two wedding parties, some lovely old buildings and one stunning church. If we had more time (we\’re leaving tomorrow morning) we could visit Mount Royal, the World\’s Fair locations and go on a river cruise. It is definitely a city that merits a second look.
And it is, by golly, a clean city. The Canadians are a tidy lot and very proud of their country, and it shows in the way they don\’t use it as a communal litterbin, like they do in Britain.
It\’s also a very polite city. A brochures we read featured a humorous list of ways to blend in with the natives and one of them was, \”Strike up conversations with complete strangers.\” And it is true; if we happen to remain in the shared proximity of a local for more than, oh, five seconds, they start talking to us. This makes queuing at shops, waiting at pedestrian crossings or making eye contact with the couple at the next table in the restaurant an illuminating experience.
The one unfriendly encounter we had was in a boutique in the historic district. We went in, as is our habit, with my wife leading the way and instructing me to feel this or that item and holding up different outfits for me to assess, when a short, perky lady appeared at our side.
\”Let me tell you how this store is operated,\” she said, then launched into actual instructions regarding the browsing methodology they apparently employed in their particular boutique. It wasn\’t startlingly unique, and it made us wonder why we needed training. It also made us leave the store.
The bums—my litmus test of a city—are plentiful, but polite. Mostly they just stand unobtrusively next to the buildings holding out a hat or a cup. They rarely say anything, but there are more than there should be in a city so outwardly prosperous.
Attractive as the downtown area is, the ring around it is heavily populated by high-rise concrete structures—no doubt hastily constructed in preparation for the 1976 Olympics—that would look more at home in a former Soviet Republic. Our hotel is one such building but, thankfully, the communist-inspired architecture is only skin deep; the inside is elegant.
Our room is up on the twenty-first floor. It has a spacious bathroom, a kitchen, a dining area and a sunken living room complete with writing desk, coffee table, sofa and chairs. It also has a balcony, which has allowed me to engage in an activity I like to call \”Extreme Herfing.\”
Both my wife and I are afraid of heights. She stepped out onto the balcony once and refuses to do it again, but I love a challenge, so over the course of our stay, I moved a comfy chair out there and managed to smoke a cigar while teetering on the edge of terror.
I don\’t know how many of you share this particular phobia with me but being separated from a 300-foot drop by nothing but a railing produces a feeling similar to a low-grade electric shock running continuously through your bowels. It was strangely enjoyable to engage in my traditionally relaxing ritual while, at the same time, having my nerves stretched tight as banjo strings.