Got to Montreal and found my hotel easily.

What a dump!

It was the Casa Bella, with 50,000 stairs. The girl at the reception desk didn't speak a word of English. We'd agree on one word and then instead of slowly going from there, she would take off, blah-blah-blah. I clearly asked in French if there was a restaurant nearby and she started to tell me there was a store across the street. "Restaurant" in English = "restaurant" in French, capeesh?

I walked around and found a giant food court across the street and downstairs from the Arts Center, which was a few blocks down-mountain. Whew.

The hotel had no clock (other than a faded LED display on the wall phone next to the door). No wakeup calls. No kleenex. No hair dryer. The toilet was nothing to write home about. There were no room temperature controls.

It was $300.00 for 3 nights, $60 more than what they'd quoted me. Still, I was unpacked and tired and didn't want to trudge three doors down to the frigid Holiday Inn Midtown. But where's a Microtel when you need one?

1 October

mun-tree-ALL = English
mo(open o)-ray-AL = French

Casa Bella's website talks about the fresh croissants that they bake in their ovens every morning. Can I be serious here? This was the deciding point for the hotel as the list narrowed down in the planning stages. I imagined waking to the delicious bakery smell every morning and crunching into a crisp croissant for breakfast. Instead what they served was a warmed-up, soggy, store-bought standard-o croissant like I could have gotten at Burger King as part of a croissandwich.

Had the usual English/French battle with the girl at reception. A guest was there who spoke NO French and I actually had to translate! "Someone will be here in a few minutes who knows English." Yeah right, pal.

Thought the Museum of Fine Art was closer than it was. Reception girl said oh, very close. Four rest breaks later, I got there a few minutes before they opened.

Lovely show! It was landscape artists in Provence. I had spotted the advertising banner as I came into Montreal the first time. The cubists and pointillists spoiled it as they always do, and the early guys were zzz classical. But the others—! They had 2 or 3 Van Goghs to draw in the tourists and a bunch of Cezannes, a Monet and a Renoir, which was blurry. That guy HAD to have had eye/focus problems, I tell you!

Loved one Cezanne in particular - WOW! When I got home I found a lousy black and white shot of it in my college History of Art book. There was another guy I'd never heard of who was TERRIFIC, as well as Felix Z____, who has his own museum. He painted like he had three balls — very dynamic and assertive! You'd be going through the paintings and say to yourself, "Here's another really great one. Hey, it's that's Z-guy again." After a couple I could point him out from a distance. I'll have to look up his museum someday.

I wanted to buy the show book, but it was $50 and weighed about 30 pounds! It would have never fit in the luggage. I just bought it via the Net. Ow, the postage! The show was called "En Provence" or something like that.

Got a Metro pass and zipped over to InfoTouriste. There the guy at the #3 station assured me with a snort that a hotel clerk in Montreal who didn't speak English was IMPOSSIBLE. Jerk. Then when I asked about pretty sites to paint, he starts giving me the tourist bit: largest building in Montreal, most astonishing technology in the city, etc. Jerk. Finally got through to him (I think) about ART and he suggested a bus route to Westmount.

Always before the people at InfoTouriste have been charming and helpful. Don't know whose cousin this guy was.

Square Victoria Got panini for lunch and was feeling like I wasn't getting anything done. Square Victoria had bad light. (I faked it for the painting, can you tell?) (That's called creative license.) Went down 1 stop, asked which direction Notre Dame was in — the land sloped UP in both directions outside the subway — though I thought the correct direction was to the right. I knew it had to be down, as in towards the river.

Was directed to the right, came around the building — and there it was, front and center. Duh. Bad light again, so I wandered down to Vieux Montreal.

Millions of people! Dozens of entertainers! Everyone was out on this sunny, warm day. There was a guy with a knife act — he climbed a ladder with blades as steps and juggled fire, then swallowed same. He was cute and funny, but had an obstacle in having to say everything twice, bilingually.

Chinese lionAnother Bolivian-type band played. There was a Chinese dragon — two guys in a costume — who did acrobatics. Très amusant!

the carboat
Actually did a sketch of Bonsecours. Not bad. Strolled around the skating rink/paddle boat moat, took pics of the Geodome and those block apartments they did for Expo. Saw a car rigged as a boat cruising up the river. They never waved at everyone watching and pointing at them. What's the point in having a car-boat if you don't waaaave and raise a glass of champagne to the adoring peons?

The huge cruise ship docked a little ways down blew its horns as if it were taking off or giving final warning, so I sat down to wait to see if it would do anything. Instead, Notre Dame began to ring bells. It was a tremendous cacophony for five minutes, though the time was about 4:15. Wha—?

Then the ship blew its horn again. Nothing.

I reminded myself that I'd come on vacation to RELAX, so I did so on my park bench and people-watched on this wonderful afternoon.

There were LOTS of brides getting pictures taken at various places around Vieux Montreal. Just outside of City Hall the limos were lined up for pictures, each with a different bride and groom inside, each waiting their turn.

After tooling uphill at a good rate of speed, I turned a corner and almost ran down a security guard parked next to a light reflector. Seems someone was filming a movie. One of the few spectators mentioned that some star was just about to exit the storefront, but I didn't get either the star or the movie's name. You'd think they'd have had the security perimeter set up just a tad larger so crazy tourists would be unable to interfere with all their careful lighting.

I had a poor supper at Mikes (a chain) in the Place des Arts food court — or is that part of Desjardins (which is indeed, to answer a question from an earlier trip, across from Place des Arts)?

On the way to find muffins for breakfast, I found a copy of one of Emilie Rose's books in French, Passion d'été. She got a hoot out of it; she'd never seen foreign copies of her stuff.

Have I mentioned what a STUPID idea it was to found a northern city on such steep slopes? Quebec, too. How the heck do they do it here in winter? These streets are 30-plus degrees, maybe even 45 degrees at some points.

2 October

The news said they fired cannons on top of Mt. Royal today to indicate the new troops coming in and old ones going out, but I didn't hear anything. They had a Run for the Cure on Rue Peel, but I only saw 3 women in the tee shirts on the Metro.

I was treated to the sight of a man on the subway applying deodorant. Such savoir faire!

Saw an interesting commercial: two good-looking seniors are in bed, kissing passionately. The man says, excuse me, goes into the bathroom and calls, "Can I take your last Polinex?" Woman says, "Go ahead, I only use it once a week." He mutters, "Yecch," and takes the Polinex. Next shot is them in bed, resuming their makeout session.

What a great campaign! It hits on so many levels - and it shows sexy seniors!

Got out around 9:30 and went to Outremont to maybe sketch that church I'd seen. It was a bit down from the University Metro station. So I started walking — bad news when the streets don't go "down." Kept the mountain to my back and asked 3 or 4 people who didn't know about any church. Finally spotted a "down" street and decided to go that far to check before turning back.

There it was, a block away. I thought it had had a park across the street, but no. So I took pictures instead and decided to try a bus to the Metro since from here everything was suddenly and seriously "up."

Waited. And waited. There was a shiny small building at the top of the hill that I could see that looked like a subway station, but this was Montreal and they hide the Metro inside other buildings, so it couldn't be it.

After church let out and another long wait, the bus finally came. I asked if it went to the Metro. The bus stop sign said it did, to Eduard Montpetit, which on my map looked a long way off. The driver looked at me funny and said yes, it went to Eduard Montpetit.

Yeah, you guessed it. That shiny building was the Metro station. I slunk off the bus. D'oh! At least those people will never see me again!

Found a food court at McGill, or was it Peel? Station. Went to a fast-food creperie. They had four big, round heated griddles, about 18" across. The woman poured measured batter onto the first, spread it around with a window squeegee, and when it was done on 1 side, flipped it onto the second griddle where it received filling. After it was done on that side she folded the sides in, then ends, and flipped it onto the third griddle. When that was done she flipped it onto the fourth for final browning, I guess.

It was okay for fast food, a bit like chicken pot pie with a very thin crust. It came with iceberg lettuce and dressing, zzz. The chocolate-banana-strawberry crepes looked interesting. They really piled on the fruit!

Went to gothic McGill U. and took pictures. The sun was mostly in the wrong place. Lots of people of all ages strolled about. I climbed a bit, would see something up ahead, climbed to see what it was, saw something up ahead, climbed, etc. My map showed that I was near the Parc du Mont Réal. Maybe there'd be something there to see, but by the time I got up there I was exhausted.

I asked some people coming down if there was anything just a LITTLE farther up and they said that there normally was, but it was under construction and unavailable. They told me to go all the way to the top to the observation area that had a snack bar pavilion. (I think that's the place that's in The Whole Nine Yards.)

But the top was too far. Didn't feel like circling down to Ste. Catherine, hitting a subway to the Mont Réal station and then transferring to the #11 bus to get there.

When I looked around I discovered it was a very nice patch of park right where I was, so I painted that. After a weak start, well, it didn't turn out badly. Got a few of the values right, and got a complement from a passer-by on the sketch. (Had fun doing the oil version.)

Parc du Mont Real photo
painting of the Parc





Went back down the mountain, which was a LOT easier and faster than going up (what DO they do in winter?), caught the #24 bus which InfoTouriste said would take me out to Westmount, where they had interesting houses (to the south of the bus route). Didn't feel like exploring. Sherbrooke St. in Westmount is much like Sherbrooke St. in centreville. There are blocks of 3 and 4-story townhouses jammed together. There seemed to be some side streets where townhouses were separate.

Came back — Villa Maria station was NOT surrounded by a nice Italian business neighborhood that I could see, so no Italian dinner — and finally found a reasonable cafe across from Place des Arts. Sat outside to watch the crowd, which seemed to be the entire city, strolling past. A man came up from the sidewalk and plunked himself down on a table (you can do that?) (no wonder the staff looked at me oddly when I came in the front door of the restaurant next to the "please wait to be seated" sign and waited to be seated. Rules! Rules!) and got served. Then when some other diners left he grabbed their table, which was nearer the sidewalk, causing the waiter to have to clean an extra table. The guy chain-smoked in the non-smoking area. Jerk!

Returned to my room, packed and was astonished that everything fit.

It had been warm in Montreal, getting warmer every day. 24, 26°. Should be 28° by the end of the week. Hoped it was cooling off back home.

3 October

Finally -- an English-speaking guy at the front desk! Too little, too late.

The gas station across the street had gas for $1.89/liter. Toronto gas was $1.05 or so. People on my tour were talking about post-Katrina gougers in the big cities and Quebec in general, so I guess this was proof.

The cabbie made a U-turn on busy main street Sherbrooke to pick me up and then another U-turn to go to the airport. In a 70 kph zone he went 100 kph, in a 100 kph zone he was going 130. No one else was anywhere near that fast.

I hung on and watched him miss the exit. Good thing the fare from downtown to Dorval/Trudeau is a flat, regulated $31.00.

Customs in Toronto took forever to get through and then they shuttled us off to a temporary outlying terminal. At least it had good bathrooms. I'd been picturing a little gray shack on the runway for all the America-bound passengers, with maybe an outhouse of some kind in the back. I'd gotten lunch in the main terminal, thank goodness.

All around I had good flights. I'm getting better at flying. The guy sitting next to me from Toronto to RDU kept fidgeting the entire time and had horrible, reeking breath. Bird by Bird kept me entertained.

Home again! Obi wasn't sure it was me, but all cats seemed glad to see me. They've been sticking close ever since.

Now all I have to do is finish painting all this stuff!

PS: boycott Sears!