Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Fall Colour

Dave & I just returned from a trip to Montréal and Ottawa, to visit our respective aunts. Dave's aunts live in Montréal; one of my aunts and number of cousins and aunts of my mother live in or around Ottawa. We arrived mid-October, and while the weather hadn't co-operated for a crimson blaze of colour, I was very happy with the beautiful range of gold through red with green interspersed that was on display.

We stayed on Nun's Island (Ile des Soeurs) just across the river from the main city of Montréal, which was quite convenient in some respects, but a little challenging in others. Our first day was spent wandering all over old Montréal, the Quays, the Latin Quarter, the small Chinatown, and finally ending with a brew pub dinner with a friend on St. Denis. We visited the Museum of Archaeology, and while it was quite interesting, as you are wondering under old Montréal through an excavated site, through layers of history back to the original settlement, we felt that some of the displays lacked information. There was nothing, for example, on the actual process of archaeology, and we felt a little let down by that. We wandered down St. Paul and found a print atelier which we spent a good amount of time browsing through. Mostly, we just walked and looked, and got some interesting impressions of some of the neighbourhoods around Montréal.

Getting back to Nun's Island was a bit of a trick. We found the Métro to be great, and took it to Lasalle station in Verdun (a neighbourhood of Montréal not too far from Nun's Island). We knew that there was a bus that left from there to Nun's Island, so we figured we'd catch the bus. Unfortunately, it's more of a commuter bus, and the service stops at 7 pm; we were there at 830. No problem, I thought, we'll just call a cab. Well, I asked for a pickup at the Lasalle station. You'd think would be enough of a unique landmark to get the cab in the right general area. The dispatcher asked for the address. Now, if you were standing at a SkyTrain station in Vancouver, you would NEVER find a street address, nor would you need to! They're all pretty unique in name and location (just like the Métro stations!). So here I am frantically running around trying to find out what street the Métro station is on, and I did see a street number on the station, but wasn't 100% sure that it was a street number, so I looked for the number of an apartment block across the street and gave the dispatcher that. Feeling pretty pleased that I'd managed to figure out that information, the dispatcher then asks me where in Montréal that is. As in what district. I am a tourist, who has only been to Montréal once in my life, and very briefly at that. I have NO idea what district we're in. I repeat to the dispatcher that it's the Lasalle Métro station; how much more information can I, as a tourist, possibly figure out than that? So the dispatcher informs me that it's really important to know what district that I'm calling from, otherwise the cab can't find me. For goodness sake!! If I knew where I was, I'd probably be able to figure out an alternative bus route and not even bother with a cab!! Anyway, eventually the taxi came, and it was literally a matter of less than 5 minutes to get to Nun's Island from where we were. We could have walked that far, but we weren't sure if there was a pedestrian walkway over the bridge we'd need to cross (turned out that there was). We did make it back, but not without some extreme frustration on my part!

We went to Atwater Market beside the Lachine Canal the next day, and it was like being transported back to France. The food!! Although the pastries aren't quite as good, the fresh fruit, veg, beautiful cheeses & charcoutrie meats were fantastic. We stocked up on picnic goodies for our train trip to Ottawa the next day.

So we are on a roll with unsuccessful transportation options. We thought we'd rent a car from the train station in Ottawa (which is way out beyond hell's half acre from the centre of the city, go figure) and drive to my aunt's in Nepean, thus having transportation for the rest of the visit. Nope. No car rental. No obvious indication that car rentals are even available in Ottawa, from all the information available at the train station. Sigh. I suppose if you take the train, you can't drive and have no need of a vehicle.

We visited the Agricultural Museum in Nepean (quite good: tractors & animals; how can you go wrong!), wandered the footpath along the Ottawa River towards Parliament, I took a ridiculous quantity of photos of the stone carvings in the various buildings around the Hill, and then visited my mom's side of the family that afternoon. The next day was spent wandering all over Ottawa (including walking past and across the locks at the Rideau Canal as it joins the Ottawa River) and into Gatineau across the river. We figured we walked about 15km that day! But it was gorgeous; 23C weather, sunny, and the foliage was, if not spectacular, then lovely. And the scenery was nice: we walked part way up into Gatineau Park. We were happy to have the opportunity to sit for five and a half hours on the plane home the next day!

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