Travelog Part 8 – Montreal

The Hotel d’Elysee is blue with a red awning. It is located in a row of hotels and apartments, all virtually one building. Former row-houses. Three steps down lead to the door lead to a door below street level and several steps up lead to a double glass door, this is not the entrance. The entrance is the one below the street. Inside the lobby is small, painted a wheat gold. There is a small leather couch, a coffee table a chair on the left of the entrance. To the right are two café tables with chairs upended on them. The front desk is separated from the lobby proper by a wall with a cut-out that is so large that the wall may as well not be there. The hotelier says Bon Jour, we reply with a cheery hello. Immediately he switches to English. We get signed in, find out where to park our car—just back it up a few feet. It’ll be fine until Tuesday when we must move it to the other side of the street.

Our room is on the third floor. No elevator. The stairway is narrow, just room for one person at a time. We have two keys, one for the lobby door and one for our room, 302. This is a very small room. Just big enough for the double bed, a night stand and a small round table with two slender iron chairs. There is a private bath. The room is painted a pleasant orange-brown, the bed is comfortable. We get our things situated in the room and head out to explore. Our primary concern is some supper and we are keeping an eye out for an internet café. We find a place called Creative Vegetarian Restaurant. It is Taiwanese. It doesn’t look very big at first, but then I notice that there is a store in a room off of the back of the room we are seated in and when I go to the toilette, I pass through a room similar in size to the one we are in and then through another, larger room where the tables are low and there are cushions for seating. The food is exceptionally good. We ordered inari, sushi, and what we have always called sushi, but they called it something else.

After we have watched Law and Order in French we turn off the TV and snuggle down. I comment that it is certainly quiet. Why did I do that? Duane is off snoring and I’m pretty close to sleeping when I smell cigarette smoke. I gave up smoking years ago. This I don’t want. I get up and get a towel from the bathroom and stuff it under the door hoping to block the smoke. It does cut it down. Our smokers down the hall are listening to TV and wrestling around. This goes on for a long time. Then they are quiet for a little while and I sleep some. Then they start up again laughing, giggling. Finally, it must be 5 am, it is getting light out, I get up and go to their door, “So are you ever going to go to sleep?” I ask. “Sorry.” and they quiet down. We sleep.

The next day we walked to “old Montreal”. Near the water, old Montreal is a section of town that has been preserved from the wrecker’s ball and modernization. There were other tourists, but it was not really crowded. The buildings are stone. The walls quite thick. All restaurants and shops. We weren’t interested in buying anything so we just strolled, took photos and poked our noses in where we could. We encountered an archway through which a grassy courtyard could be seen. It seemed to be unoccupied so we entered the archway. The structure is U shaped with the arch in the center of the bottom of the U. Thick vines cover the walls. It felt very old. A plaque indicates that most of the rooms are occupied by professional offices, lawyers and so forth. There is a restaurant facing the street and next to the arch. It felt like we had stepped out of the 21st century into a much older time. Even the presence of another couple who came in after us did little to dispel the feeling.

Our walk took us to the waterfront. This is a canal and a small port. A ferry dock, I think, with some shipping. There is a customs facility. The most amazing thing we encounter here is a fantastic apartment complex on the far side of the wide canal. At first we have no idea what we are seeing. It looks like a ruin or a long low pile of stones. Then we get it. This is an apartment complex. Somehow reminiscent of Mesa Verde, yet not at all like it. The apartments seem independent of one another, but stacked on each other, but offset so that they all have some roof and most have skylights, sunrooms. There are large openings scattered throughout where the sky can be seen as if the building is built around the opening. These are holes in the building. It is organic in appearance. At first, I am repelled, but now looking at the photos I realize that it is probably a really great place to live and that it looks like a pile of boulders is actually a plus.

There are so many cathedrals in Montreal. Every few blocks another concrete and stone cathedral. Not a single one is Notre-Dame de Montreal. Duane’s grandmother’s family attended that cathedral and we want to find it, but we never do. We do find a catheral that is morphing into a modern brick and glass building. At first we think that the cathedral is behind the brick building, but no it is combined with it. It really does look like the building is in the process of transforming into something else. Like it was a cathedral, but it wants to be an insurance company, but it still serves a parish so it has kept its spires and its front door and façade, but the sides are all boxy and brick and glass and definitely insurance company. Later, I realize that this building epitomizes Montreal for me. The old was being consumed by the new to the point of being nearly obliterated, but late in that process of consumption someone said hold on we can’t tear it all down. People like this stuff. We have to keep some of it. So old Montreal sits there near the water with cobbled streets and quaint old signs swinging from iron lanyards and all around her the city is in love with modernity. Some of the ugliest buildings I have ever seen are in Montreal. Still everywhere are pockets of lovely old buildings sitting like grandmothers hiding their bewilderment behind simple graceful dignity.

She’s a bit dirty, too. At least in the Latin Quarter, where our hotel is located. Lots of paper floating around the streets. A prostitute or two discretely plying their trade on St Hubert. If there is any drug activity it is more subtle than the streetwalkers. There is a greyhound bus station just down the street from us and this is like most big-city bus stations in that among its customers are some of the less law-abiding citizens, as well as alcoholics, down on-their-lucks, and the country kids come to the big city drawing the usual predators.

This night, the kids from the night before have left and we have a quiet night.