Monthly Archives: November 2011

Vieux Port De Montreal

I suspect I could find enough to write something about old Montréal every day for a year, it’s so full of character and history, with a multitude of things to see on every corner.

I didn’t spend too much time at the Old Port itself, mostly because it wasn’t quite what I’d expected. In my mind I was thinking it would be more developed for the tourist industry, with bars, restaurants, shops etc. But that wasn’t quite the case. This former eyesore has apparently come quite a long way though, over the past couple of decades, and it does house the huge Centre de Sciences, as well as an IMAX theatre, and it seems that in later winter months it comes alive with ice skaters on the rink on one of the quays, as well as ice sculptures.

But it was certainly busy, and in addition to the folk heading for science or IMAX fun, it was also abuzz with cyclists, passers-by, and numerous folk just out for a gentle stroll on a sunny afternoon. And despite it being different to what I’d envisioned, there was still plenty to take in.

There were plenty of old buildings on the quays, some with some interesting, colorful graffiti.

And across the quays you can catch a glimpse of the Biosphère, Montréal’s museum dedicated to the environment.

At the eastern end of the port you come to the Quai de L’Horloge with its impressive clock tower. Originally built between 1919-1922 and used as a hangar for trans-Atlantic oceanic merchant ships, the Clock Tower is now a monument commemorating Canadian sailors lost during the First World War.

Walking alongside the old port, you also get to soak in the views just across the road in the Old Town. More splendid architecture in the form of the silver cupola of the historic Bonsecours Market, as well as nearby Notre Dame de Bonsecours Chapel with its prominent green spire and statue.

Walking back toward the Old Town, it would have been easy enough to think I was meandering around the streets of Paris. So much charm to soak up.

The Old Port is definitely worthy of investigating if you’re in the Old Town. I wish I’d had a few more hours to spare to visit the Science Centre especially. But for sure I’ll make that a priority on my next visit.


Vieux Montreal

It seems that no trip to Montréal  would be complete without a visit to the old town.  Vieux Montréal  is a real treat to experience, the true historic center of town. It’s where Montréal  was born in 1642, and is the city’s second oldest public site.  As a history buff, I can never get enough of anything with a story, and there were plenty to be had here, that’s for sure.

I started out at Place d’Armes (well actually I started out at a nearby Starbucks, but I felt the fuel was necessary), where all the eras of Montréal’s past are gathered.

Place d’Armes gained its name because it was a site of military manoeuvres, and the central Maisonneuve Monument is dedicated to the city’s founder, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve. It commemorates his defense of the young French settlement against the Iroquois, against whom his allies the Hurons were fighting.

Its surrounding buildings not only span historical eras, but also architectural forms. La Basilique Notre Dame may be the city’s most famous building, dating back to 1642. The red Scottish sandstone building on the left is the New York Life Insurance Building, built in 1888. It was Montréal’s first “skyscraper” at 8 storeys high! Next to it is the Aldred Building (1929), with an Art Deco style designed to emulate the Empire State Building.

I just loved Notre Dame – what a beautiful building. Who couldn’t love that Gothic Revival architecture? Very dramatic. Contrary to the old tourist tales, however, the basilica is not modeled on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. It does lay claim to the weddings and christenings of the rich and famous in the city though, and Celine Dion actually had her child baptized here back in 2001.

Opposite the basilica, across the square, is the Bank of Montréal, Canada’s oldest bank. It’s a grand, colonnaded building that is modeled on the Pantheon in Rome. More amazing architecture, located on the road that was formerly known as the Wall Street of Canada!

A little way along from Notre Dame is Rue de l’Hopital which was named after a hospice set up there by nuns back in the 17th century. No nuns there now, but it does house the Lewis Building, former head office of the Cunard Shipping Lines. Its front is adorned with all kinds of mischievous gargoyles!

Just down the end of that road you run into the magnificent Montréal Stock Exchange Building, yet another Roman-style edifice in the town, with lovely stately columns – no longer the Stock Exchange, but instead home to the Centaur Theatre.

Just a block south you run into the Old Customs House on Place Royale, the square where the city’s first settlers supposedly landed. Its design is very neoclassical, and the building apparently connects by tunnel to the nearby Musée d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de Montréal, Pointe-à-Callière.

Today it serves as a gift shop for the museum, and I loved the stark contrast in design between the old classical design of the Old Customs House, and the strikingly modern appearance of the museum.

So there you have just a taste of some of the fabulous architecture and heritage of Vieux Montréal. I was lucky that the weather was a wee bit warmer for this part of my trip too, and the sun even made an appearance for a short while! Although I love snowy skies for adding some drama to photographs, you can’t beat a blue sky!



Le Plateau Mont Royal

Plateau Mont Royal is one of Montreal’s cool neighborhoods, being previously voted as one of North America’s “hippest” areas. It’s well known for its brightly colored homes, ornate architecture, and bohemian atmosphere. And the wintery weather just seemed to add even more character to the place.

I particularly enjoyed Carre St. Louis, a colorful square, even in the snow. A monument to Octave Crémazie, the littérateur of Québec City, sits at one end of the square, and a statue of a French Canadian soldier lies below Crémazie’s bust, with an inscription of the words “Pour mon drapeau je viens ici mourir.” (For my flag, I come here to die). Crémazie (1827-1879) was a Hellenic Turk poet known for his patriotic work.

So much color inside the square, and out!

Loved the classic Victorian fountain in the center.

And how could you not like these colorful townhomes around the square?

Walking west from the square, there was still plenty of color to be seen.

And some beautiful architecture to be had too. I loved the little silver cupola of L’Institut des Sourdes-Muettes (Deaf and Dumb Institute).

And it was quite a treat to find the armory of Les Fusiliers Mont Royal, one of the oldest surviving units of the historical Black Watch. What an amazing building!

And last, but not least, another little squirrel on the hunt for dinner! And this one even invited a friend along!

Definitely a neighborhood worth investigating if you’re in the Montreal region!

Thanksgiving, Mont Royal-Style

Well this morning I remembered why I don’t normally drink more than one glass of red wine…..the headaches. As delicious as it is, I have my limits, and last night’s almost-three glasses tipped me over the edge!

But after some painkillers and a session at the gym, I was ready for my first day in Montreal! One of the areas on the To-Do list was to head to Parc du Mont Royal, the city’s largest green space, and the site of the mountain that gave Montreal its name.  It’s more of a big hill really, at 764 feet, but it’s always been called a mountain. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed New York City’s Central Park, and was inaugurated in 1876.

It was really only a handful of blocks from the hotel to the foot of the Mont, but the last few involved a steep incline. And that was just to bring you to the foot of it! Next there was a never-ending set of steps to climb to get to the top,  and in full winter gear, that was no small feat. But once at the top, it was all worthwhile.

The view over downtown Montreal from the Kondiaronk Belvedere is second-to-none.

The Kondiaronk Belvedere is a semi-circular plaza that forms a lookout area in front of the Chalet du Mont Royal. It was built in 1906, and is named after the Huron chief Kondiaronk, who signed a major peace agreement with the French regime in 1701.

And despite the winter weather, there were still some lovely colors to be seen around the chalet.

The chalet was beautiful inside too, and I loved the contrast that the natural lighting produced.

More lovely colors throughout the park, too.

And the snow certainly wasn’t keeping the wildlife from finding lunch! I watched Monsieur Le Squirrel for quite some time as he scuttled around foraging and digging!

Not sure when my knees will forgive me for all the climbing, but I certainly enjoyed the visit!

Eternal Flame

Managed to leave work shortly after noon today to head north for a few nights in Montreal – yes, a kind of non-Thanksgiving! For those of you in the northeast region, I can wholeheartedly recommend heading north on Thanksgiving Eve! After braving Thanksgiving travel in this country since 2000, I can honestly say that this was the most stress-free time I’ve experienced.

Clearly the New Hampshire-ites and Vermonters don’t leave the house at Thanksgiving, because the roads were just wonderful to drive on.  Or more likely they’re just heading in the opposite direction! Either way, it was a very smooth drive. Unlike my drive home last night from my USO volunteer shift – my usual 50 minute drive took me two and a half hours. Seems that lots of folk decided to get a head-start on their Thanksgiving travel because we were forecast to have high winds and rain today.  Since I’d partaken in three XL Dunkin’ Donuts coffees over the early evening, I was concerned when we began to grind to a halt on the interstate. Would I last until we got to the gas station? Thankfully yes, but only just!

Anyway, I digress.

So yes, due to the uneventful drive north, I’m pondering on making Montreal the official Thanksgiving trip from now on!

En-route I stopped off at a rest stop on I-89 N in Sharon, VT. By chance I happened to spot something interesting as I was leaving the building – turns out their claim to fame is that they are home to the VT Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It’s the first government sanctioned Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the USA, and was dedicated at on October 30, 1982. And they have actually held an all-night vigil there on Memorial Day eve every year since the dedication. Very touching.

It seems a random site for a war memorial, but apparently it was chosen for a few reasons: Seemingly the summer scenery aroundabout is reminiscent of Highway One in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. It also happens to have been the highway taken by draft evaders as the most direct route into Canada, and so stands as the “road less travelled” by Vietnam veterans. And strangely, it is closest to the 138 mile marker from the Canadian border, representing the 138 men whose names appear on the Vermont granite.

Quite symbolic, I thought.

It’s a very beautiful and impressive monument, and the names of all 138 Vermonters who made the ultimate sacrifice during that war are inscribed on its wall. They will never be forgotten.

Thanks to all who serve and help to keep us safe.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Stay safe over the holiday, and eat well.

Holy Rants!

On and off this past weekend, and today, it’s been a little frustrating. I live in an apartment complex and it seems I have new downstairs neighbors, as of about a month ago.

They are ridiculously noisy. “Teenage boy and his friends” noisy mostly, lots of woots and screams from inside the apartment, as well as a lot of noisy hanging out in the hallways, and yelling outside (like right now). In addition they have a small dog who sadly seems to have separation anxiety, and barks non-stop for an hour or more when they leave him. I’m a veterinarian, and I recognize the poor little guy can’t help this, but in an apartment complex, they’re going to have to find some way of dealing with it so they don’t end up being evicted!

And then there’s another set of neighbors – these ones are on my floor. They constantly leave four or more pairs of shoes outside their door – this irritates me, but wouldn’t impact me if it wasn’t for the fact that their door is adjacent to a communal door that I have to go through to get into the hallway where my apartment is. And they leave their shoes right where this door opens. On Friday I had a last straw moment when I tripped over the latest four pairs.

I’m very tolerant, and have lived here for 6 years, and have never complained about anything to our leasing office. But today I’d had enough, so I spoke to the office and they said they’d get onto both issues. Amazingly nobody has yet complained about the noisy folk below. I’m flabbergasted!

Anyway, tonight I came home and all the shoes have disappeared, but the Clampetts downstairs are still causing chaos even now. Not sure if that will ever be resolved.

What else? Oh well on a non-neighbor front, there was the small issue of the GPS map download. Last year I downloaded maps of NZ & Australia onto it & it was an effortless exercise. Took me all of about 10 minutes from paying to completion. Yesterday I bought an online download of a Canada map. Only to discover that there wasn’t enough space on my GPS for the new map.

After messing around for about 40 minutes last night, I gave up on it all, for fear of jettying my beloved Mac out of the window. This morning I resumed with the mission. I managed to find some online forum comments about freeing up some space by deleting all the extraneous languages. So I got rid of everything except English, but still didn’t have enough space. Then to add insult to injury, I couldn’t install the new Plugin initially. Then I just tried a different server and it was ok. But now I couldn’t log into the website. For some reason it kept telling me I was using the wrong username or password. After repeating the madness about 15 times, I decided it was time to call in the big guns.

So I called Garmin and was put in a queue for customer service that was apparently going to make me wait up to 35 minutes. Thankfully I was able to just switch my office phone to speaker while I went about my work as I waited!

Finally I spoke to a very helpful young lady who reset my username and password, and then told me I could just use a digital camera-style SD card to download the map onto, and then just keep the card permanently in the device. Bingo. And as luck would have it, I had a spare card at work, so I managed to eventually get the whole thing accomplished. Only took  about 3 hours of my time all in all!

But the good news is that I got to strike quite a few things off my “to do” list for today.

I’m currently celebrating with a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with gingerbread. Ah, life on the edge…….



A Newport Kind of Day

We had another beautiful day today here in Massachusetts, and I just couldn’t bring myself to not take advantage of it. It’ll be the depths of winter here soon enough, so once again I felt compelled to get out and take advantage of it. It was actually almost 60 degrees, and beautifully sunny.

So after the gym & a wee bit of work that I had to catch up on, it was off to Newport, RI for the afternoon. I just love wandering around the town – no purpose required. And it’s never more perfect than on a sunny day. And now that tourist season is out of the way, it’s even more of a pleasure to be there since there’s no competing for sidewalk space with the visitors!

One of the things I love is just how colorful the town is. They have some very quirky, and interesting buildings, and in the sunshine they just seem to shine. So inviting!

One of my favorite places to go in the town is Fort Adams State Park. I’m happy even to just grab coffee and a sandwich and hang out there by the bay, just sitting in my car listening to music. If you’ve never visited Fort Adams, I’d highly recommend it if you’re in Newport.

Newport is a stopover point for some of the cruise ships – here’s “Crystal Symphony” of Nassau Cruise Lines, anchored in Newport for the day. Quite the floating palace, isn’t she!? The cruise schedule detailed this as the final leg of their 10 day cruise – looks like they started out up north in Montreal, headed south along the east coast, en route to their final destination of New York City. I’ll have to add that little jaunt to my “to-do” list!

My Newport day-trips used to last longer, but our shorter daylight hours tend to put an end to my walks at around 4:30 pm now. I was lucky enough to catch some more lovely colors as the sun was going down though.

This was the scene at Fort Adams itself.

And this is how it looked along Ocean Drive as I left the park and headed homeward bound again.

Another lovely weekend anyway.

Now for another busy few days in work in the run-up to the Thanksgiving holiday!

Old Glory

Today I caught up on some Christmas shopping. Now I hate shopping in general, so that thought never makes me feel happy! But the good thing is that I no longer buy Christmas presents for all and sundry like I used to do. In previous years, as Christmas approached, it was a nightmare for me. I’d be shopping for so many friends here & their kids, as well as family and friends (& more kids) back in the UK. As if the shopping alone wasn’t stressful enough for me, having to find boxes to mail everything within this country as well as internationally, was just ulcerating. Not to mention the ridiculous cost involved.

So two years ago I reached boiling point, I’d had enough. I’d have to start my holiday shopping in October so I could collect everything in advance, and I was beginning to grow into the world’s biggest humbug. So I contacted everyone (except for my sister and parents, and one close friend here), and alerted them to the fact that I was no longer going to be sending presents, but instead would be donating.

I tell you, it was a huge relief, both psychologically and financially. Now my holiday shopping is relatively stress-free.

So today I spent a couple of hours collecting the majority of the gifts that I needed for this year, so I think I’m all set now – just have to wrap them and package them up for mailing. In addition to gathering some presents for my sister, I also collected her some Christmas decorations to send her in advance. She loves the holiday stuff that we have over here this time of year, so I picked up some fun things for her to decorate her home with.

Afterwards I celebrated by hitting the nearby Dunkin’ Donuts to grab a coffee! I never need an excuse to go for coffee, especially this time of year while their seasonal pumpkin and gingerbread flavors are out. I just can’t get enough of those in my coffee, and they’re especially delicious in lattes.

And it was such a beautiful afternoon that I decided to take my coffee on a little jaunt around nearby West Boylston. I love the Old Stone Church there, an old baptist church. It sits on Wachusett Reservoir in the town & dates back to the early 1890s when it was built to replace an earlier baptist church that had been destroyed in a fire.

Only 10 years later, it had to be abandoned for the reservoir. But because it was built of stone and was clearly an attraction, the townsfolk persuaded the commonwealth to let it stay.

It stands alone on a point of land by the side of the water, & was eventually declared a National Landmark in 1973. This wall of the church faces the highway & its huge flag highlights its presence in no uncertain terms to passing drivers. I’ve never been able to find any information regarding the history of placing the flag here though. But it’s quite a sight to see.

With the shorter days on board now, it wasn’t long before the sun began setting. The sky had started to cloud over mid-afternoon, and as the sun was setting, it cast some lovely texture into the sky.

A perfect end to a productive day!

Giving Back

How do you make a servicemember happy? How about making him or her feel appreciated! Some free seats at a Boston Bruins game might be just the ticket!

I’ve been a USO volunteer for a few years now, and I have to say that it’s been the single, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. If I was independently wealthy (or actually just “financially able”, I wouldn’t have to be wealthy), I’d give up my day job and just volunteer for the rest of my life.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the USO, it’s the United Service OrganizationsA non-profit organization that in a nutshell aims to boost the morale of our servicemembers and their families. Most of the time I do regular shifts at Boston’s Logan airport USO lounge – this is a hospitality lounge at the airport where servicemembers and their families can rest and relax in between flights, or if they’re waiting to collect someone arriving at the airport.

Our lounge is only small compared to some airport USO lounges, but that’s mostly because Boston isn’t a military hub. Places like Atlanta and Chicago, for example, have huge numbers of military numbers in the region, and tend to be major hubs for incoming and outgoing military flights. Not so with Boston, so our needs are served by our small lounge. Well, except sometimes in the winter when the snowstorms shut down flights and folk get stranded….then we’re sometimes in trouble!

But I digress…….Occasionally I help out at USO events too. I’ve packed care packages to send overseas, helped our wounded warriors at a Military Paralympics event, and represented the USO at many Yellow Ribbon events. And another event that I help with each year is another really fun one – Military Appreciation Night, courtesy of Boston’s sports teams.

The Bruins and Celtics in particular tend to hold these nights every year, and they are very popular, as you can imagine! They take a lot of organizing and volunteer support to pull them off too. Our USO New England office only has 2 full time staff, and they are always ridiculously busy even without an event like this. So it can be bedlam when a big event gets thrown into the mix.

Anyway, last night was this year’s Military Appreciation Night, courtesy of our Stanley-Cup-holding-Boston-Bruins! We had hundreds of free tickets to dispatch to those lucky servicemembers who managed to get access to them, so I spent all afternoon and evening with a number of other volunteers as we organized everything, getting tickets ready for collection, and then giving them out in the crazy couple of hours before the game.

It was a bit hairy at times, but the overwhelming majority of folk were extremely nice, and were very pleased to be able to get free tickets. These three Marines, for instance!

What a fun night. Despite being a little nuts, it all went mostly smoothly, and everyone who came to collect tickets, thankfully managed to leave with tickets! And some extras arrived too – they hadn’t made the original quota, but we always have tickets that go uncollected. People always sign up for them, but for some reason don’t turn up on the night, so we tend to have extras left over. All we can do in those instances is have folk waiting at the office ready to take them at last minute. It was great to see a number of people be rewarded for happily waiting in the wings last night.

In case any of you are wondering, the Bruins pulled off a superb 4-3 win against the NJ Devils, making it an extra special night for our military servicemembers who were fortunate enough to make it to the game. Go to the “Military Thanks” tab under the video box to listen in while some of the Bruins members extend their thanks to our military.

The Bruins also made a local couple very happy this past Veterans Day weekend, surprising them with a visit from their son who was secretly home on R&R from his deployment in Afghanistan. Very sweet!

All in all, a fantastic evening last night though!

Sleepy Hollow

Today I headed out to Concord for an afternoon visit. We’ve been lucky enough to have had some lovely bright, sunny days over the past couple of weekends, especially after the snowstorm 3 weekends ago. So I’ve been trying to make the most of the opportunities to be out and about.

Concord is beautiful, and also a very historic region in general – and that includes literary history. It’s just outside Boston, and takes me about 40 minutes to drive there, so it’s easy enough for me to get to. Today I hit Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in the town. No relation to Washington Irving or “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” though!

Sleepy Hollow is Concord’s largest cemetery, designed in 1855, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The cemetery houses about 10,000 graves that have local, national and international interest.

One of its most visited areas is Author’s Ridge, and that’s where I headed today. This hill is the final resting place of some real literary giants – the Hawthornes, Thoreaus, Alcotts, and Emersons, as well as the lesser-known poet Ellery Channing. Interestingly, it was actually Ralph Waldo Emerson who gave the dedication speech at the cemetery’s inauguration ceremony in 1855.

I think Louisa May Alcott is my favorite of the authors, mostly because I remember reading her book “Little Women” at school, so it was quite surreal seeing her grave. Apparently she was also a Union Army nurse during the Civil War, something I hadn’t known before today.

Emerson’s gravesite is quite stunning – the marker is a huge, uncarved quartz boulder!

Something that I found interesting was that there were many family lots, including those of the Thoreaus and Alcotts. And I’ve never seen just “Father” or “Mother” inscribed on headstones before now – that was a first for me. Very simple dedications on many of the stones around the cemetery.

Even though there were a few other visitors to the Ridge while I was there, it was very quiet overall. Quite a peaceful experience just meandering around looking at the interesting stones.

And the colors were just lovely too – very “fall in New England”!

It was definitely well worth the trip to Sleepy Hollow, and for any of you who are bibliophiles, or even if you just love a bit of historical interest, this place is a “must” if you’re in the Boston region.

And who couldn’t love the name of the place!?