Montreal, Day 2

Fri, 18 Apr 2008 02:21:31 +0000

Montreal Index Montreal Day 3

A nice relaxing day today, where for the first time I managed to combine eating reasonably with some light exercise. Go me!

I started the day with a bagel with cream cheese and fruit from the hostel. I do like a good bagel. How come you can't get them outside North America?

The only real touristy objective today was the botanical gardens. Unfortunately there's still no hint of spring in Montreal, so the gardens themselves are something of a blasted wasteland. But the greenhouses are pretty marvellous, with an astonishing collection of bizarre specimens. I've never seen "living stones" before, for example. The collection of bonsai plants was also excellent. They even have a wollomi pine.

The temporary exhibition du jour is their butterfly enclosure, which was very nice, even though packed to the rafters with a glacially-moving queue of screaming school groups. Absolutely huge butterflies, gliding a path around the visitors in smooth arcs, very unlike the way ordinary butterflies move. There's also a separate insectarium, which wasn't huge, but did have some pretty cool exhibits. I especially liked the big leafcutter ant colony, which used perspex chambers to show every aspect of the work, from source plants to fungal growths to the midden for dead ants.

Having done that in the morning, and absolutely starving, I thought I'd wander through the "underground Montreal" complex of arcades in the centre of town. For some reason this kind of thing really appeals to me: similar warrens exist in Perth and Sydney, allowing you to travel quite a long way without venturing above ground. In Sydney this helps you stay out of the rain; in Montreal it helps you stay out of the cold. And in fact it goes a good way to explaining why the streets are so empty: it's at least reasonably bustling underground. As a place to live, Montreal is really starting to appeal to me.

I went back to the hostel to fool about on the Internet for a bit (Viarail very kindly agreed to refund my money for the train ticket I mistakenly booked from Montreal to Ottawa instead of from Toronto). And then I planned to have dinner in the latin quarter, so I went on a long walk through Montreal. The latin quarter is somewhat picturesque, and the external staircases to the upper flats are cute.

The place I was going for dinner was a diner called "La Binerie", apparently a prominent feature of a book and movie called "Le Matou", which I'm unfortunately not familiar with. They had books and DVDs for sale, which is kinda lame. Nevertheless, wikitravel assured me that it's a good place for hearty Montreal stomach-filling. I ordered the house special, which consisted of big chunky carrots, mashed potato, meat pie, and meatballs with thick gravy. Not a lot of flavour to it, but definitely what I was after. There was also a side-dish of their famous "feves aux lard", rather less exotically described as "baked beans" on the menu. Things really do sound better in French. Definitely a lot more lardy than anything Heinz will give you. And then, since it was proferred at me, I had some blancmange. I certainly felt well-fed after that lot.

Back at the hostel, I found myself chatting to an Australian and a German/Nigerian, the latter of whom had just returned from a stint with Medicines sans Frontiers in Uganda. It was fascinating to hear his stories of LRA raids and emergency hospital dashes. Despite the hair-raising adventures, he insisted that Uganda is pretty safe nowadays. I considered it still a little dodgy to include on my itinerary, and I don't really have time anyway. But he made me regret that.

Montreal Index Montreal Day 3