Late start to the day — SURPRISE! — the Bestie woke up sick. I try to avoid sick people when I can, but then the sickie is your BFF AND you have to share a hotel room in a foreign country, you’re low on options.
As a die-hard foodie, the Bestie REFUSED to skip our morning tour, so I snatched up some cough drops for her and we moseyed along. We met our guide, Carolina (and ran into our guide from the beer tour the day before), and prepared for our walking food tour of the Mile End. Let me just say that I LOVED this particular tour group. The nicest and friendliest people you will ever meet. A group of friends from Alabama/Kentucky entertained me with stories about RV-ing through San Francisco (a brave feat IMHO) and highly recommended I visit “Que-beck City.” Carolina is a fantastic guide and definitely knows her food and Montreal history. In addition to the food stops, she showed us around residential neighborhoods of Montreal, with a side note about peddlers who sold women’s lingerie out of alleys, and took us on a side trip to a neighborhood theater that has been gorgeously kept.
SIDE NOTE: I’m thinking the Mile End has a lot of daycare centers around because I kept seeing children harnessed together and led around by people I assumed to be their caretakers. As we circled around Carolina in front of our first restaurant, a chain-gang of children (escorted by their handlers) proceeded to pass through our circle and high-five everyone around. One little boy then proceeded to high-five one of our male group-mates right in the crotch.
Anyways, the Mile End Montreal Food Tour is a great way to explore some smaller, local restaurants away from the buzz of downtown Montreal. The tour includes stops at six restaurants/food establishments, with samples of food at each one. Be sure to check the link or Google them for more information and a list of stops on the tour. The legendary St. Viateur Bagel is one of the stops on this tour, and I was surprised to find we were able to sample a WHOLE sesame bagel, not just a piece. Sorry NYC, but I did appreciate the outside crunch of this bagel. But I definitely needed my own packet of cream cheese. And a vacuum cleaner for all the sesame seeds I dropped in my hair and down my shirt. My favorite stop on the tour was Drogheria Fine, just because I LOVE Italian food with lots of red sauce. The fact that it was flipping delicious helped also.
The Bestie was feeling a lot worse after the tour, so I decided to head to the Pointe-à-Callière Museum solo. My favorite part about this museum was the archaeological crypt (where I spent a good two hours). The foundations of the original buildings that once stood on the museum property are exposed and put on display. I found it so interesting to literally see the different layers of the centuries past. On display were also various knick-knacks found amongst the layers, as well as representations of what Montreal looked like during different periods in history. SPOILER ALERT: When you’re looking at the different “layers” of foundation in the center exhibit, they all pretty much look the same — dark brick. The exhibit has highlighted layers from different periods in different lights so you can tell the difference. Of course, the skeptic in me thinks that they could have just pointed the lights anywhere and made up the different layers, but that’s why I’m not an archaeologist.
The next building attached to the museum housed the “Pirates or Privateers?” exhibit. Although it seemed to be geared more towards children, I still enjoyed it. No lie, my favorite part of the exhibit was the small display that tested your “sea legs.” Didn’t feel anything like being on my last cruise ship — it was really hard to stay on that square.
The temporary exhibition on display at the time of my visit was titled “Of Horses and Men.” Unless you really like horses or Hermès, this exhibit probably isn’t for you. I made my way through it in less than 20 minutes, and all I can really tell you is that people have used horses for hundreds of years and they had lots of accessories.
I ended my visit by watching “Yours Truly, Montreal,” a short video summarizing Montreal’s history (pretty much a summary of the display in the basement). The video does offer several language options through headphones, so don’t fret if you don’t understand French or English. SPOILER ALERT: You’ll be facing part of the old cemetery as you watch the video. Don’t worry, the narrator will point it out and shine a nice light on it.
I decided to drop into the Notre Dame Basilica next ($5 entry). Sound familiar? Celine Dion got married here on 1994 (also where her husband’s funeral was held). Most people don’t notice it if you don’t go on the tour, but the basilica is actually two parts — the main and more famous basilica in the front and a smaller chapel in the back (where my guide said “normal people” get married). Despite its beauty, if you’re like me and overheat easily, know that the main basilica is NOT AIR CONDITIONED. I was sweating bullets sitting in those pews, and then I had the genius idea to fan myself noisily with an information pamphlet.
I was able to make the last English tour of the day (tour times are posted outside in the front, also given in French), and I would recommend taking it. It’s free with paid admission, and I felt that it was really informative. I really liked the basilica tour — it was a lot of history of Montreal and some obscure facts about the church (like the fact that the altar used to be a huge window, but they ended up covering because parishioners were being blinded by the sun). After spending the first part of the tour in the main basilica, the guide led us to the smaller chapel in the back (which was air conditioned, thankfully). The smaller chapel has its own interesting history, including being destroyed by arsonist, then rebuilt to include two stained glass windows that once adorned the altar of the main basilica. Did I mention that the whole thing is made out of wood? I forgot to ask whether there’s some sort of fire retardant on the wood, because I feel like arson is something they’d like to avoid again. Plus the main basilica is lined with probably hundreds of candles. I feel like the fire marshal would have a field day out here.
After the tour, I decided that I had left the Bestie alone for long enough, so I met up with her for dinner. I found out that she only rested for about an hour after I left her at the hotel, and then got bored and decided to wander Montreal. She rolled her eyes at my disapproval of her infecting all of the nice Canadians with her cold germs, but her misbehavior was not without punishment. The Bestie seemed upset at the fact that she was often stopped by strangers on her walk, then complained about how I never get stopped in the same way. We then ended our dinner with a debate about why people will more often approach who frequently smile, versus those who do not (thank you RBF).
I know this is a lot of information about only a few things, but believe me when I say that it was hard to cut down on words. Have comments or questions? Let me know.