Day two in Montreal, Yen and I walked down to Old Montreal to have a look around. We tried to go to the Marché Bonsecours. This famous indoor market is supposed to open at 10am and it was ten past when we arrived, but I’m guessing the sign outside really ought to say something like “10ish” or “whenever we get here.” Weekdays in the wintertime are clearly not prime tourist periods for Montreal. We were practically alone as we wandered the very quiet streets, doing a little lèche-vitrine (literally, window licking) in the galleries and cheesy souvenir stores. I was amused to come across the very same window of paintings I had laughed at the last time I was in Montreal three years ago!
We also attempted to check out Notre Dame de Montreal, but it costs $5 just to go in. I feel very strongly against charging tourists to enter a church. I wouldn’t mind paying to light a candle or buy a postcard once I’m inside, but paying for entry just goes against everything the church should stand for. (For the record, most of these pay churches have signs that say “true pilgrims” are allowed to go inside and pray for free, but who’s going to be the jerk who goes up to the ticket counter and demands to be let in for nothing?)
So we decided to hop on the Metro and take it to Île Sainte-Hélène. Montreal is trying to winterize the city in an environmentally friendly way. This means that instead of using (proven effective) rock salt to treat the streets, they’re using a gravel-like substance that doesn’t so much melt the snow and ice as much as make it gravel-covered snow and ice. So most of Île Sainte-Hélène was sheets of ice and the rest was giant puddles of dirty runoff. Neither Yen nor I had worn appropriate footwear so our time on the island was like a giant game of Don’t Step on the Lava.
We went to the island to visit the Biosphère. The Biosphère is really cool to look at from the outside. It’s a big sphere (duh), a lot like Spaceship Earth at Epcot. But the Biosphère is not a ride. It’s a museum. And it turns out, it’s not the museum we thought it was. We were looking for the museum that’s a replica of the four major ecosystems of North America. But that’s not the Biosphere. That’s the BioDOME. Oops. How many people make THAT mistake every year? And who’s brilliant idea was it to put two museums in the same city with practically the same name? Well, unfortunately the Biosphère is not very exciting. It’s actually a museum about environmentalism and water conservation. This place is definitely not meant to be a wintertime activity. The outdoor observation deck on one of the upper floors is supposed to be closed this time of year, but somebody forgot to lock the door! Downstairs, the most popular section of the museum was an interactive water exhibit apparently designed to get you as wet as possible. Yen and I stayed far away and watched as soaked kids ran around performing various soggy experiments. There was a row of those industrial strength hand dryers on the back wall, but I’m not sure how useful they’d be on someone who looked like they just jumped in a pool fully dressed.
When we left the Biosphère, we almost gave up on Île Sainte-Hélène. The afternoon sun had turned the puddles into small lakes. We were on our way back to the metro station when we decided to follow the one relatively clean path we came across. We could hear music and the sound of other people, and as we crested a small hill we saw an igloo. That piqued our curiosity. “Well, we really should check it out,” we said to each other. “We can’t just ignore an igloo.” The closer we got, we realized that it actually wasn’t an igloo. It was a whole city of igloos! “We definitely can’t just ignore a whole city of igloos!” It turns out that we had stumbled upon the Village des Neiges, the Snow Village. The Snow Village is, at its base level, an ice hotel, but there’s also a restaurant, a bar, a spa, and even an ice chapel where they offer wedding packages. Gives new meaning to the term “white wedding,” huh? Normally it costs $13 just to go explore the Snow Village, but that day they were offering a 50% off “weather discount” to accommodate the fact that the Snow Village was melting around its guests. Yen and I made it there just in time. They closed early the following Sunday even though they were scheduled to stay open until the end of the month.
The Snow Village was pretty cool (literally and figuratively) even if it was on its last legs. I’d love to go back again and see it (or stay there!) in peak season, when I’m better prepared. Yen and I kept laughing at ourselves, wondering what the locals (in snowpants and boots) must have thought of us (in jeans and sneakers). I’m pretty certain we were the only people who ended up at the Snow Village by accident. Poor Yen bit the dust once on our way into an igloo, trying to avoid a nasty puddle. I managed not to fall at all, something I falsely credited to my experience “being a northerner,” but it was really just because I did a good job of waddling around like an old penguin. I did come very close to taking a dive while trying to take a picture of our lunch.
Mmmmm yellow snow!
Actually, this is tire sur la neige, a Canadian delicacy! It’s maple syrup poured on snow. After it congeals a little, you wrap it around a popsicle stick and eat it like a lollipop. It’s a little messy, but how can you say no to pure sugar on a stick!
It was only 3pm when we finished exploring Île Sainte-Hélène, but it seemed like we had made a whole day of it. We were both physically exhausted from trying not to faceplant every time we took a step, so we just went back to the hotel. I was content to watch a little Quebecois television. They sure do love game shows up there which is awesome because I LOVE GAME SHOWS! I finally got a chance to watch Privé de Sens, a show I heard about a couple of weeks ago after stumbling upon this Montrealer’s blog. It’s a fabulously goofy show that’s all about words and phrases. It’s a great language tool because they do a lot of charades and synonyms and stuff like that. Unfortunately I don’t think you can watch it online. 😦
I tried to search for someplace nice to have dinner that night, but eventually I gave up. The food in Montreal is kind of poutine and chicken wings on one end and creative uses for pig parts on the other, with not much in between. Yen took over the search and managed to find what turned out to be a fabulous suggestion, Les Deux Gamins. It was an adorable little bistro, like something straight out of Paris, from the decor to the glass bottles of water to the delicious bread. I ordered the confit de canard with sarladaise potatoes. I had no idea what sarladaise potatoes were (until I came home and Googled them) but they were delicious. I was very tempted by the dessert menu (crème brulée and profiteroles and tiramisu, oh my!) but it was late and I wanted to make sure we had enough time to swing by the hotel and unnecessarily drop off our coats before the show. Next time, Les Deux Gamins. Next time.
Our seats for the Isabelle Boulay show night two were technically not as good as the previous night because we were about four seats further to the right. But the front row is still the front row, and maybe it was my imagination, but it seemed to me that Isabelle played to the side of the stage much more than she had the night before. I’d like to think that maybe she recognized us, but really I think she has just mastered the technique of making everyone in the audience feel like she’s singing to them.
The crowd the second night was much more boisterous. Thursday night I had felt very self-conscious about taking pictures at the show, but Friday night I could see flashes going off everywhere. Isabelle, herself, was much more together that night, no more “black curtains” coming down on her. I’ve never seen an artist in concert twice in a row like that before. She told all the same stories, nearly word for word many times, but the great thing is that it gave me the chance to make out certain things in French that I didn’t understand the first time around. Strangely enough, the second night’s show went by faster. I guess time flies when you expect what’s coming.
The next morning I grabbed some coffee and a chocolatine at the cafe across the street. This wasn’t your ordinary pain au chocolate. It was filled with a creamy, chocolate and hazelnut concoction, thinner than Nutella but just as yummy. The outside was glazed and covered in sliced almonds and chocolates nibs. Mmmm… I could really use another one of those right now.