Thursday, June 11, 2009

Five Days in Montreal

If you have extra time, and you have a nice place to stay, and you need time to heal an injury, Montreal is a wonderful place to be. The few days we gained by taking the train from Toronto to Kingston extended our planned stay in Montreal. The first order of business was to schedule a physical therapy appointment at the McGill University Sport Medicine Clinic for treatment of my Achilles tendonitis. We slipped right in for a morning appointment and we headed right over a few blocks to the clinic. My therapist Amelie evaluated my leg, layed her healing hands upon me, bathed me in warm whirlpools and cooled me off with ice, ran ultrasound waves and electrical currents through me, educated me on stretching, and advised me to take it easy. We visited my healing angel two more times for treatment, an investment to try and salvage the cycling part of this trip.

Montreal is a city alive with activity. From our base station in the heart of the downtown red light district, we could venture out in any direction to explore the many neighborhoods. Fortunately, it is a very small and tame red light district. Ironically, within two blocks south is a fancy shopping mall, two blocks east is Chinatown, and north is the Latin District full of restaurants and shops, and west the subway and McGill University. Our hotel was over 100 years old, and well restored, clean and comfortable. The entrance was sometimes obscured by people gathered looking in the window of the sex toy shop next door or on the way to the tattoo parlor. But we liked our room with the original distressed floors, high ceilings, and brick walls.

And no problem finding a place to eat -- there are over 6000 restaurants in the city, of any price range and ethnic variety you desire. I kept checking Chowhound for options. We ate well on Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Middle Eastern, and a vegan buffet. We went one night to a vegetarian buffet that charges by the ounce. In the pursuit of carbohydrates we skipped breakfast one morning and left the hotel early and hit the subway. It was raining when we got off, and we we walked in the wetness to Fairmont Bagels, the oldest bagel factory in Montreal. We expected perhaps a bakery with tables coffee, but when we entered the shop it was crammed with racks of bagels and sacks of flour. Behind the counter the various stages of bagel production were ongoing -- dough being mixed, someone stoking the fire in the wood-burning oven, a guy wearing an iPod and forming bagels by hand from a huge hump of dough in an efficient and mechanical way that comes from the practice of forming thousands of bagels. There was barely room to turn around in the entrance, so we took our liitle warm paper bag with our purchase and walked to the coffee bar down the block and ate our bagels with a cappuccino and looked out the window at the rain coming down. And we repeated the adventure again two days later to visit the other bagel factory in the city, minus the rain . Also all handmade and baked in a brick oven, we preferred St Viatuer, which tended to have a more chewy texture like a classic bagel. But I would walk an hour again for either one, anytime.

We walked the city every one of our five days, taking a different route every day. We visited the botanical gardens, Old Montreal, and did most of the 33 kilometers of the underground city. The contrast of the old and the new was everywhere throughout the downtown. Overheard conversations were generally in French, sometimes in English, and sometimes both. The city has a definite European feel, and it was nice being a regular, anonymous tourist without a fully loaded bike to attract attention. And staying in a hotel when it is raining, sleeping late, and having clean sheets and towels every day ain't too bad, either...oh, oh, John, better get back on the bikes, quick.

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