Bike Odyssey
North America 2004

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Journal for 7-August-2004 : Montreal

Bused into town, and played tourist. We were treated to the grand tour of Montreal (which is an Anglofication of the original French pronunciation of Mount Royal).

I found Montreal a surprisingly (this is North America after all, even if they do speak French) beautiful city, but a number of quirky things impressed me. Firstly, their subway system is entirely underground to allow year round operation. But it is also very well patronised by people traveling as little as a few blocks, as they might in winter even though our visit was during a humid sunny (well mostly) summer. To my Australia eyes it seemed and extraordinarily old city, with lots of buildings more than 100 years old. I'm sure it will look positively new compared with Europe, but still impressively historic compared with Australian or the cities of Western North America. But one thing Montreal really has lots of is public space. The old canal and locks area had been completely renovated ala Sydney's Darling Harbour, and is a popular venue for markets, outdoor concerts and the like. Security is very tight. No-one is allowed to bring any beer into the concert venue that was not provided by the official sponsor.

In the middle of the St Lawrence river is a huge island that once hosted the World Expo. Readers from Brisbane make remember Australia's feeble effort at hosting such an event, that took up the space once occupied by just a few old warehouses. The Montreallers built an 8km long island in the middle of the one of the world's great rivers. The also built a thing “Habitat 69” or something. It was hailed as an architectural masterpiece of it's time: an accommodation, office and retail centre where every home has both a river view and a patio on their neighbor's roof. The analogy with Sydney's Blues Point Tower dosn't end there. It's just as ugly. Think of the mess made by a toddler's upended lego box, just two thousand times bigger.

Finished cleaning the cottage. A job started yesterday but after we'd been there a week no-one could *ever* do this properly in a mere 24 hours.

Cycled through the Laurentian mountains over some delightful, and at times genuinely Quebec roads. “A Quebec road” is local parlence for a poorly maintained road with a badly fractured surface. At times there were more cracks than road!

The Laurentian mountains are reputedly the oldest in the world. The highest of them is under 1000m above sea level, and they are round and bulbous rather than tall and pointy. They (like most of Canada) and decorated with an uncountable number of glaciated lakes which makes for very pretty cycling.

Bananna snack by a wier in one of a thousand magical little towns. Got bucketed on by passing front which brought with it thunder, lightning and a series of heavy storm cells we spent the rest of the day dodging.

Interesting break as we watched the locks at the Hydro dam fill to allow recreational boats access to the upper Ottawa river. A very impressive facility, raising and lowering the boats by 20m at a time.

Crossed the Ottawa river by barge ferry. These are un-powered, and have their own miniature tug boat to lug them across the river, and nudge them into the landing terminal (a few planks of wood on the beach).

Cycled past the most impressive of Montreal's homes. There is no culture here enforcing a uniform architectural appearance on dwellings. Each looked radically different from their neighbours, with the exception of the pointy roofs. Well that was my observation, but no sooner than I made this startling insight than we passed three houses with totally flat roofs and reinforced walls.

We are graciously being hosted by Monsieur and Madame Mezei while in Montreal.

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