Montreal, Part Trois: I found the fat people!

083007 Montreal (1)Inside Cafeo, our favorite cafe-et-wifi stop on Rue St. Denis.

Phew. Milling among the trendies on Ste. Catherine and Rue St. Denis had me a bit worried, but they DO have fatties here. Repeat: there are chunky folk in Montreal. Of course, they may all be American tourists, but still. It brings one some degree of comfort.

The kids have some crazy fashions rolling here. I feel qualified to judge not because I have a natural flair for fashion but because I have absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever. You could put me in an $8,000 designer gown and within minutes I'd somehow look like I tumbled out of the drier. My hair would be bendy, my skirt wrinkled. My purse wouldn't match and it'd be less than five minutes before I spilled something down the front. Thus, I feel that I'm particularly well-qualified to recognize fellow fashion disasters when I see them. And there have been many. I have no pictures to show you because I don't want people to hit me. You'll just have to trust me.

Non sequiter: Chris thinks there should be a midnight half-price tart shop where all the pies at day's end go on sale. He's worried about all the pastries going to waste when they could be in his belly, preferably at rock-bottom prices. (He really, really likes saying "tarte tatin" over and over again in a French accent.)

083107 Montreal (4) Christ Church Cathedral Guess which one's old and which is new? Hint: the old one is Christ Church Cathedral on Ste. Catherine.

Okay...where am I? Where have I been? Ah, yes, Montreal. So...if you happen to like gorgeous old buildings, then Montreal's the place for you. I do indeed, and there are some stunners -- particularly from the Victorian era -- just about everywhere you look.

Today we played touristes and checked out Vieux Montreal, the Old Port area down by the, well, port. It's pretty touristy fare. We started out from our hotel on Rue Sherbrooke, headed back down Ste. Catherine to St. Laurent which took us, essentially, right into the heart of Old Montreal. Along the way, we passed from high street shopping to a slightly seedy few blocks of sex shops through the gates of Chinatown (or Quartier Chinois, as they say here.)

083107 Montreal (17) Quartier Chinois

The weather has been unbelievably gorgeous, perfect for strolling the lovely cobblestone streets of Vieux Montreal, dodging schlocky gift shops and overpriced restaurants aimed at tourists.

083107 Montreal (21) Vieux-Montreal

We grabbed a bite to eat then wandered to the main square, at the top of which the stunning old Hotel de Ville sits.

083107 Montreal (28) City Hall

Chris had to dash off for a business meeting, but I stuck around and wandered down by the waterfront, snapping a few shots along the way.

The Old Port waterfront area (more familiar to Blades of Glory fans when completely covered in ice):

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Place Jacques-Cartiers, the heart of Vieux-Montreal, complete with wacky street performers and tons of tourists buying overpriced schlock.

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This street performer, apparently out to lunch. Tragic for all those needing hugged. In two languages, no less!

083107 Montreal (29) Place Jacques-Cartier

The rather daunting silhouette of Notre Dame de Bonsecours, overlooking the waterfront:

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The famed Bonsecours Marche where, I suppose, one can buy stuff:

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Then I headed through the less-trafficked streets west of Old Montreal's main square and gazed in the windows of art galleries. Were it not for the cars, there are moments when you could feel completely lost in time. After a while, I wound my way back in the general direction of our hotel, past the mini-Parthenon exterior of the former stock exchange (now a theater), and emerging at the Plaza des Armes and the Notre Dame cathedral. You can't spit without hitting a fantastic cathedral here. And you probably shouldn't be spitting anyway, what with Americans' bad image over here.

My very favorite way to experience a new place is to wander around the streets, watching people and taking photographs. Montreal's the ideal place for it -- it's relatively safe and somewhat compact, plus there's something truly lovely to look at at every turn, whether it's an old church or a Victorian building now housing boutiques or studio flats. And unlike many American cities, there are people everywhere, going about their business, but also just sitting and enjoying their environs. Outside one of the churches, people spent their lunch hour sitting on the steps or curled up in a corner reading. Locals grab a coffee and hang out on street benches, chatting or reading the paper. Montreal is a city that feels cared for, belonged to.

I'd been debating trying to find my way around the other Montreal, the underground city. Below the streets of Montreal, a series of tunnels connect Metro stations and shopping centers -- in the harsh days of winter, you can access miles of commerce and much of downtown without ever stepping outside. I knew it was down there. I knew it was massive. I just didn't know how to get to it.

083107 Montreal (13) Place des Artes Place des Artes

So I stayed above ground and made my way back to the Place des Artes, where the Montreal Film Festival is taking place. Like a local, I took a place on the steps outside the Contemporary Art Museum and just hung out for a bit. Then, of all things, my phone rang. It was Chris, calling from a payphone to say that his meeting had been canceled and so he was hoping to catch me somewhere in town. Turned out he was right across the street. Too cute, eh?

Okay, so on with the show...even though my feet were killing me (I ALWAYS walk too far the first day), we decided to brave the underworld. Man, is that a trip. There were a ton of people snaking their way through the netherworld of Montreal, moving from mall to mall, Metro station to Metro station, eating at giant underground food courts. Now it makes sense how Montreal's sidewalks are pleasantly busy but not overcrowded. The unruly youth are underground eating frites!

Perhaps tomorrow we shall discover something equally new and fascinating. If my feet don't hurt too much to move, that is!