Our visit to Montreal is over and, for us, not too soon! That's one place kicked off our 'places we might want to live' list. Mainly it just wasn't a place to take kids.
We left our nice 'not really very near the' Airport Hotel in a taxi far too small to fit all of our luggage. We had ordered a taxi-van (people-carrier) but apparently there weren't any around – we were on the outskirts of a major city but it was clear that not only did they speak the French language, but they also inherited the French attitudes and approach to life. After squeezing into the taxi the driver asked for our destination:
“Rue St Denis Sil Vous Plait” elicited a strange look.
“Where on Rue St Denis?”
“I don't know, I've never been, the hotel is called Castel St Denis” : blank look
“Do you know what number on Rue St Denis?”
“No, but we have the address in a bag somewhere at the bottom of the car boot if you need it”: angry look.
The taxi driver set off whilst making a phone call to find out where our hotel was; surely a taxi driver should know this city centre street.
After only a couple of miles we turned onto Rue St Denis. For the next seven miles we watched the street numbers tick down from over 8000 to 2099 – Castel St Denis. Our request was equivalent to getting in a taxi at Guernsey airport and telling the driver we wanted a house in Guernsey called Harambee.
Hotel Castel St Denis turned out to be a good find – very central location, basic but with plenty of space to sleep a family of five and priced to suit our budget. If there was one thing we would have added it would have been air-conditioning. The weather was HOT, high 20s to low 30s for most of the day.
On our first day in Montreal we wandered down the street and rode the metro downtown. Because it was Labour Day in Canada pretty much all of the shops were closed and the place was pretty quiet. We didn't cover much ground due to the heat and the need to keep stopping for shade.
On Tuesday we took the metro up to Mont Royal and started to climb “the mountain” (actually only 233metres). It was another hot day with temperatures in the 30s by mid-morning and progress was slow, with Joseph in particular dragging his heels. We started off on the long path which loops round to the top but switched tactics to take a shorter and steeper route (including a climb of 260 steps – which Joe miraculously found the energy to bound up). We made it as far as the Chalet which has magnificent views from the viewing platform out the front. We laid out our picnic in the shade of the trees behind the chalet where we were joined by some hungry squirrels. After lunch we decided to head back down the mountain rather than hitting the summit – this time taking the most direct route and descending what had taken us three hours to ascend in less than 30mins. We then headed down to the port area of the city “Vieux Montreal” where we cooled off in the iMax cinema which was showing a 3D film about Grand Canyon (in French).
By Wednesday we thought we were getting used to the heat so headed over to Ile-St Helene to spend the morning in the outdoor pool. Discovering the pool was closed we had to make do with a small playpark which still kept the kids happy. We then headed up to the Biosphere (photo), a huge dome build for Expo 1967 which now houses a conservation exhibition. The boys spent several hours, before and after lunch, splashing in the water based exhibits and browsing the other rooms. The highlight for the adults was the spectacular views from the fifth floor viewing platform. Later on we took a hike over the bridge to nearby Ile Notre-Dame, home of the Canadian Grand Prix (the Circuit Giles Villeneuve) where the heat almost killed us and we quickly retreated to cool off in some dancing fountains back on Ile St-Helene.
Thursday was a relatively quiet day. Luke and I set off from the hotel at 9.30am to pick up the hire car and arrived back three hours later, having first followed the Google Maps directions to the wrong address, then arrived at the right address only to discover that Dollar Car Hire had moved out three months ago and forgot to let us know. The irony being that the new office was only five minutes walk from our original start point at the hotel!! We squashed and squeezed our bags and children into the car and headed west out of the city. We had originally planned to stay longer in Montreal but we didn't really relax in the city and there wasn't much more we really wanted to see – we did at least get a flavour of the place. With a late lunch stop for some fried salt and lard at pizza hut we arrived in Ottawa just before 5pm. We are staying over here with a university running/swimming friend Chris McCarthy.