Driving through Montreal the day before to reach our campsite, we had encountered an unpleasant morass of traffic due to miles of road construction. So we opted to take public transportation for our day of sightseeing. Armed with a map, tourist book and subway guide, Manny and I headed for the nearest metro stop, Longueuil, only about 18 miles away.
Unfamiliar with the parking system, we couldn’t figure out how to get the gate barrier to go up. We kept feeding our credit card into the indicated slot, but nothing happened. We pushed the help button on the entrance pillar. To understand spoken French is difficult enough when the person is right in front of you, but trying to comprehend the French of a disembodied voice through the metal grate of a speaker box was impossible. Fortunately, a kind gentleman took pity on us, hopped out of his truck and came to our assistance.
Finally inside the gigantic station which is a terminus for both buses and subways, we found our metro line. We purchased our day pass; but again, when we slipped the card into the slot, the machine rejected it. Good thing Manny and I aren’t paranoid. A helpful student showed us that the card is placed on top where it is scanned by a magnetic card reader.
Without further incident, we arrived in the heart of Vieux Montreal. The weather was ideal: a sunny brisk autumn Sunday. We were awed by the gothic Notre Dame basilica and enjoyed the street performers in Place Jacques Cartier. We window-shopped in the heart of the old city, then strolled through Montreal’s Chinatown.
We decided to rest for awhile at Le Marché du Vieux, one of the city’s warm, inviting outdoor cafes. I truly felt like I was in Europe. We settled into our wrought iron chairs and contentedly sipped our flawless espressos. Although out of Perrier, we satisfied ourselves with sparkling Pellegrino.
Manny is on a perennial quest for the perfect —and so far elusive— croissant au beurre. Naturally, he asked our friendly waiter, Adrien, where he might find excellent croissants. Adrien thought long and hard but couldn’t come up with a local bakery that could satisfy Manny’s request. Manny chided him in French, “No Perrier, no croissants, what’s going on?” Adrien smiled, “Oh, we have croissants here; but you asked for excellent croissants; ours are only good!”
After a full day, we headed towards our metro station. As I consulted our map, a local woman approached us, asking if we would like to see something not in any of the guide books. A bit skeptical but open to adventure, we said sure.
She led us into the Centre de Commerce Montreal, an upscale building with high class office suites and trendy boutiques. There was no one around and the lighting was dim and subtle. The kind of place where you find yourself speaking in a whisper.
Then we saw it. Inside the posh center was a magnificent reflecting pool complete with a sculpture of the Goddess Amphitritis, wife of Poseidon, the likes of which we had never seen. Expensive chandeliers, chic lighting and quiet opulence, the perfect Europeanesque experience to end to our day.
Before leaving, Jacinthe made a comment that made a lasting impression on us: “Wouldn’t it be nice if all of us showed a visitor just one thing about our city not in any guide book?”
A great idea, Jacinthe! One that we will be sure to pass on.