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Montreal in a Weekend

Copyright 1998 Victoria Brooks.Chére Éditrice


Thursday afternoon I decided I wanted to get away from Ottawa for the weekend. Montreal seemed as good a destination as any, so I asked one of the French editors at the publishing company where I work if she was going home. She agreed to give me a ride, so I set off Friday afternoon with only my wits, a guidebook, a change of cloths and a map. I had no idea where to stay, what to do, or how to get home. And I must admit I speak not a word of French!

During the journey, Julie (the editor) and Myriam (another editor) took a liking to me and invited me for dinner at her cousin's crepe shop for a true French experience -- and a good introduction to Montreal. The restaurant was superb; they served every type of crepe imaginable. The same friendly service we enjoyed was extended to anybody who happened to wander in. This is a good place to go for a meal or just to experience dessert.

Copyrighted image - used with permission.After closing and a quick visit to their typically Montreal-style apartment, I set off at 1 a.m. in search of a place to stay. (Not advisable during peak seasons or in the winter). Montreal was alive with people. Every street I walked on was crammed with bars, cafes and clubs. Montreal is a remarkably safe city even at night and I easily found a place.

Copyright 1998 Victoria Brooks.A Royal Tour of Montreal

The next morning I decided the best way to see the city was through a tour. I hopped aboard a Royal Tour bus that left from Dorchester Square. First stop was Basilica Notre Dame, a beautiful church with a massive main cathedral and the little Sacred Heart Chapel in the back.

A few stops later we came to the Botanical Gardens -- the second largest of its kind in the world. The displays are amazing. There is a little something for everyone and a lot for most. Make sure you see the green houses; the orchids are spectacular. The ferns growing along a waterfall and river are gorgeous. Keep an eye out for the Tasmanian tree fern (one of the most majestic ferns). The cacti are amazing. They even have a frangipani (stop and smell the sensuously fragrant flowers if you can). The economic plants were educational and cleared up some mysteries about where stuff on our grocery shelves and medicine cabinets really come from. All these plants brought back wonderful memories of all the places I have been. Then I encountered the outdoor gardens. The highlights (for me) were the greenhouses and the Chinese garden (the squirrels seemed to be out of place). It is the largest Chinese garden outside of China, complete with a miniature mountain and lagoon. Also worth noting are the marsh and bog gardens and the vegetable garden, which had every kind of crop imaginable and then some. The lotus flowers with their layers of delicate petals were fabulous. So much to see so little time.


Next on the same grounds is the Insectarium, a nice collection of mounted bugs and some live critters. The glass beehive filled with live bees had to take the cake as the most captive display. Across the road a short walk or free shuttle bus away is the Biodome.

Copyrighted image - used with permission.Biodome

The Biodome was an Olympic bicycling stadium. It is now a habitat for various critters and plants. You start by touring through the tropical rainforest. It really is tropical and it feels a bit like getting off a plane in some steamy, exotic locale. Watch for animals everywhere -- you never know what you might see. Next was the Laurentian Forest, a cooler more local landscape. It was followed by the St Lawrence Seaway biosphere characterized by rather ugly, large and very unique fish. Last but not least is the Arctic and Antarctic display.

Copyrighted image - used with permission.Everybody loves the penguins but I have a fondness for the rather silly looking puffins. One, a very comical fellow, was scared of heights and took ages to hop into the water. Once in, he paddled around pathetically then dove and began to fly underwater. It has to be one of the strangest and most graceful sights you will see. He played in the water until he got hungry, then hopped out to gobble up some fish.

The Biodome was a wonderful experience but the cardboard cutouts of the little naked Amazonian kid holding a kingfisher was a bit disturbing. He was everywhere. He would stand with his cutout family in front of an exhibit and he kept on appearing among the trees and animals of the tropical forest. Always the same pose, always precariously placed among the live trees and animals. It was a bit odd. The funicular, a ride up the world's tallest inclined tower was also a hoot.

Running the Lachine Rapids

The next day, feeling a bit too relaxed and too rested, I decided I needed a good adventure tour. I choose Lachine Rapids Jet Boating and Rafting Tours, situated in old Montreal. They specialize in jetboat trips and I decided I wanted to run the Lachine Rapids in one. After a meal of smoked meat sandwiches at Ben's Deli, I went down to the clock tower pier for my tour. Following a short video and lengthy introduction, we were told what to expect and what to do. We donned the clothes provided. They recommend you take off everything you don't want to get wet. (They highly recommend that you bring a change of clothes.) We were then given an army issue sweater, warm but slightly damp, a full body rain suit, a life jacket and a rain jacket to top it off. Lastly we were given wet diving booties dipped in warm antiseptic water. Feeling fatter and slightly foolish I tromped off to a flat bottom jet boat which looked something like a World War II landing barge. This was going to be quite a trip.

Copyrighted image - used with permission.Out on the water we got a quick tour of Montreal before arriving at the rapids 15 minutes later. Once there, we were made to put all waterproof cameras away and take off our glasses -- which we were assured would be ripped off by the first wave. The driver seemed like an excited little kid eager to play in the waves. These were Class 4 rapids, the kind that can eat your lunch even in a raft and we were in large aluminum boats. We hit the first wave and a wall of water rolled over us, soaking me down to my underwear. This was white-water rafting with twin turbo diesel jetboat engines. It would be perfect on a hot summer day, and it was still a lot of fun in the cooler autumn. Even the little old lady in the back had a huge grin on her face.

Alas, it was now time to go back to Montreal and then find a way back to Ottawa. I hope you too can get to Montreal one day!

With all appropriate affection,
Tyson Brooks.

For more information, visit Infotouriste, located at 1001 Square Dorchester Montréal (Québec) H3B 1G2 ; or call toll free at 1-800-363-7777

Lachine Rapids Jet Boating & Rafting Tours can be called at (514) 284-9607.

For the Biodome go to www.ville.montreal.qc.ca/biodome/ebdm.htm

For the Royal Autocar Tours go to www.autocarroyal.com/

For constantly updated camera shots of Montreal go to