A Week in Sunny Montreal

After leaving the Bitnorth Conference last week, we spent a few days in Montreal looking around the city. I had not been there since I was a kid: Every few years our parents took us back to the old country on vacation and we traveled from Montreal to Nova Scotia. I didn’t remember much about Montreal and I’m sure the city is very different now than it was when I was small so we started with an Old Montreal Walking Tour.  We began doing walking tours even before I became a Boston By Foot docent, because they are a great way of finding your way around a new city and learning about history at the same time. We have toured cities from Anchorage to London and find them well worth the investment of time and money.

Basilica of Notre Dame

Basilica of Notre Dame

Our tour began at the Basilica of Notre Dame, a large church in old Montreal’s Place d’Armes, and continued along Rue St. Paul, taking in the charming old buildings as well as the Hotel de Ville (city hall) and other municipal buildings in the Place Jacques-Cartier. Our tour guide, Catherine, did a great job—especially as she can give the tour in both French and English.

After that we headed out on our own and we roamed far and wide around our Courtyard Marriott Hotel on Boulevard René Lévesque, which was ideally located in Centre-Ville. We explored the city’s eclectic architecture, several of the many churches (The Catholic Directory lists 26 in Montreal), the Underground City of shopping malls and concourses that make shopping easy in the winter, the Vieux Port (old port), Little Burgundy, and the Quartier Chinois (Chinatown). We also sampled the excellent menus at a variety of bistros, cafes, and restaurants.

Morning at the Museum

We spent Tuesday morning at the Musée de Beaux-Arts de Montreal, which had mounted an exhibit called Fabulous Fabergé: jewelry, bibelots, and objets d’art from the Russian workshop of Carl Fabergé, jeweler to the Czars and the royal family. The exhibit included a quartet of the famous Fabergé Eggs, which were Easter presents from the Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II to the Czarinas Maria Feodorovna  and Alexandra. Each piece n the exhibit is exquisite, whether it was made to wear, for personal use, for the table, or as an extraordinary gift.

Carl Faberge, Faberge Egg, Czar Peter the Great Egg, Musee de Beaux-Arts Montreal, Fabulous Faberge

Czar Peter the Great on his sapphire “rock”

The craftsmanship of these objects is amazing, as is the choice of raw materials: gold, silver, platinum, jewels and gemstones, and enamel. In addition to the quantity of precious materials, there is the size. The miniature statue  of Peter the Great that is the “surprise” in the Peter the Great Easter Egg, for example, stands on a single sapphire carved to look like the plinth of the original statue.

We also toured the museum’s regular collection of paintings and sculpture in one of the museum’s four buildings–the newest one designed by Architect Moshe Safdie. The work included enormous scale models of four of Europe’s great cathedrals, including the Duomo in Florence. Each one is located in a room dedicated to the art of the period.

More to Come

I’ll do a couple of posts on the churches and the food of Montreal, both of which deserve more space than I can give them here.  We had a good time, the weather was warmer than predicted, and the sun was shining.  It was a pleasure to walk around the historic district of this beautiful Canadian city and not feel rushed to go somewhere else or do something different. After one particularly strenuous day, we were happy just to sit on the hotel’s eleventh-floor terrace and read in the sun for a while. Oh, we also did some shopping and our grandchildren should be happy with their gifts.

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