Sunday, 3 November 2013

Thoughts on Montreal...

It was good to be back in Montreal as I like the city, mainly because the traffic is far less intense than over here in Greater London, meaning that riding a bike is not life-threatening. Some days the roads are empty and, as you can witness from my last post, it's possible to stand in the middle of the street and take a photograph of the bike parked against the kerb.

Room 535, Hyatt Regency, Montreal – a bit corporate.
The other good thing about Montreal is the way residential houses can mingle with the urban constructions of the city centre; you don't have to ride far before you find what look like affordable places to live. Now you could say that London's like this: get off the train at Victoria and you're only a walk away from residential property bang in the centre of town, but in London, of course, it costs a small fortune and for this reason the place is populated mainly by rich foreigners. "London is full of Arabs," as Elvis Costello once warbled.  Whether Montreal is the same, I don't know, but I doubt it.

The only thing there seems to be a lot of in Montreal is tramps and, oddly, they're mostly astute, young people, sitting there on the streets with pieces of cardboard explaining their predicament to passers by.

Montreal as seen from room 535 of the Hyatt Regency hotel
The last time I was in Montreal I walked a fair way along Sherbrooke and not once did things deteriorate. This time, on the Rue Sainte Catherine, things did deteriorate at either end, with the shopping area of the city somewhere in the middle. Carry on beyond it towards Cabot Square and things get a little dreary. In the other direction there's a couple of sex shops and a few sleazy establishments mingled in with pawn shops and other lower grade retail outlets.

I was staying in the rather corporate Hyatt Regency (room 534 on the fifth floor) which afforded a pleasant enough view of the city. What was quite impressive was the Complexe Desjardins, a kind of subterranean shopping mall with plenty of food outlets and a pleasant fountain as a centrepiece. I say 'subterranean' because to reach it from the hotel I had to take a lift down from the ground floor to the 2nd floor (starting from the 6th floor, which was odd in itself because the 6th floor of the lift near the bar was effectively on the ground floor). In other words, from the ground floor there were lifts going up to the rooms and down the the shopping mall.
Street theatre in front of a Bixi bike docking station, Montreal.
It was possible to walk through the mall and into the Chinese quarter of town, which I never got to explore even if I did promise myself another ride on the Bixi bikes later on (I had a 24-hour pass, which meant I could ride a bike, dock it, do something, pick up another bike and so on until my 24-hour period elapsed. Still, you can't have everything and I was there to work.

The shops were impressive – a woman's dream, no doubt, as there was Zara, Banana Republic, all the big brands you expect to find in an international city. My favourite shop was called Roots, mainly because of a fantastic bobble hat ($38) that boasted tea cosy proportions and would be ideal for the cold weather we're expecting here in the UK any time soon. I say 'any time soon', but let's assume that the early months of 2014, which are now weeks away, will be characterised by extreme cold, icy roads and snow. These days it seems that we never escape it, although a white Christmas is never, ever on the cards.

Montreal has much more severe winters than we do in the UK, but it goes without saying that the Canadians somehow cope without having to shut everything down. As I write this, it's minus 3 degrees in Montreal and there are clear skies. Here in London it's 11 deg C and partly cloudy. In fact it's mildly blustery too, but refreshing.

I was in Montreal for five nights and six days. I flew out British Airways on Saturday 19th October and flew back the following Thursday on a night flight. Both ways the flights were good, thanks to Morrissey's Autobiography, which I've probably mentioned before. The flight to Montreal is not long – only six hours – and it goes by pretty quickly as the service is good (if you fly BA). On both flights I had an exit seat (for more leg room) and apart from about 20 minutes of turbulence coming back, the flights were smooth and I seem to have conquered my mild apprehensiveness towards flying. This, of course, is fairly natural when you consider how often I have to fly these days...but I'm not complaining.

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