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Canadian Cruise 2012

Updated on August 21, 2017

Boston Skyline

Thursday, September 20,2012 – Destination: Boston

We left the house at around 8 am and headed to IAH. Jay sat next to a native Bostonian who gave Jay some tips on the Boston area. Upon arrival at Boston, Jay encountered a man with a Holland America (HA) sign at baggage claim! He was there to pick up people who had purchased the pre-trip extension in Boston thru Holland America. He gave us some helpful tips such as not to arrive at the cruise terminal before 2 pm. We chose not to use the HA pre-or post-trip offers as we used Starwood points to purchase our airfare both ways.

"No Name Seafood" was excellent

We located the freebie Silver Line bus at Boston Logan Airport. The Silver Line took us to the World Trade Center stop. We walked across the viaduct and voila, there was the Westin Boston Waterfront. We checked in and then decided to go to “No Name Seafood” for dinner. Jay’s seatmate on the plane had recommended it. It was a pleasant 10 minute walk from the hotel over to the Liberty Wharf where “No Name” is located. We were glad we had taken some light weight jackets as there was a bit of a nip in the air during our walk.

We shared a cup of chowder and the broiled seafood platter. The chowder was not the typical thick, creamy base with a lot of potatoes; instead, it was stuffed with clams. The base was a thin, seafood broth. Yummy! The platter was also excellent – scallops, scrod, salmon, shrimp and swordfish with coleslaw (not a mayo based dressing which made Jay very happy) and fries. Feeling stuffed, we took a slow stroll back to the hotel and settled in for the evening. We were both tired.

Boston harbor with sailboat

Friday, September 21, 2012 – Boston

Our plan was to take a hop-on, hop-off trolley for the day. So, after grabbing a breakfast sandwich and yogurt at Starbucks in the lobby, we caught the trolley at the Westin. We rode the entire circuit around the city. The trip took approximately 2 – 2.5 hours.

Our trolley driver, Mr. T, was an older gentleman and he was an excellent guide. He described battles of the revolutionary war such as The Battle of Bunker Hill, actually fought on Breeds Hill. The battle was named for the highest hill in the area (Bunker Hill) as was the custom of the British military. Mr. T said there were 1,400 dead at the Battle of Bunker Hill with most of the casualties on the British side. The British finally won the hill, but it took three charges. Therefore the battle was considered a victory by the revolutionaries. Jay wondered if the deaths in the revolutionary war were really worth it.

Boston view from trolly

Trolley ride

During our trolley ride we went past an old molasses factory. The driver pointed out a large brick building which used to contain vats of the syrup. An accident occurred which caused the vats to burst and make a flood of molasses run out into the street. The theory is that someone overfilled the tank in order to produce rum and the tank burst due to the expansion involved with the fermentation of the molasses. This happened in 1919, right before Prohibition. Twenty one people died and 150 were injured from the flood of molasses. This trolley driver also taught his passengers to speak Bostonian. Drop the “R” in your speech. “Bar” is pronounced “Ba”, like the sheep. This is actually easier to pronounce.

The North End

We hopped off at the North End when we came back around and crossed over to Hanover Street. This Is the Italian section of town. We looked at a few menus for restaurants and ended up at Café Venezia. Cheryl had spaghetti carbonara (the sole reason for choosing the restaurant was that the carbonara was $5 less there!). Jay had tortellini filled with meat tossed in a marinara sauce and we shared a salad. Yummy meal – Cheryl said it was the best carbonara she had ever had. We had a small world experience as we were catching the headlines on the CNN news on the TV at the bar. Cheryl saw something about Texas and exclaimed out loud. The couple at the next table asked if we were from Texas and we said yes. It turns out they were from McKinney and he works for the McKinney parks department.

Leaving the café, we headed over to Faneuil Hall. Cheryl had spotted an Aveda spa earlier and they had openings that afternoon. So Cheryl got a trim and a facial while Jay hopped back on the trolley and visited the USS Constitution.

The USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned naval vessel in the world. Jay began the tour by going through security. Security is fairly tight since this is a national historic site and a naval base. The Constitution was in 33 naval engagements and won each time. It got the nickname,”Old Ironsides,” when a crewman observed cannon balls bouncing off the hull. The crewman exclaimed the cannonballs are bouncing off like we are made of iron. The hull was made of 25 inches of oak. There are three layers; a live oak layer is sandwiched between two white oak layers. It was the live oak middle from Georgia which gave the additional strength needed to withstand cannon shot from short range.

During the USS Constitution tour Jay learned there were only seven commissioned warships on the American side against about 1,000 British warships. The U.S. Navy docent explained that the reason the Americans won was that the British were preoccupied with fighting the French. The revolutionary war was well timed.

Jay wondered how many people were killed in the revolutionary war and whether it was all really necessary. With time and a population shift, might the colonists have acquired voting rights by petition?

Meeting back up near the spa, we headed back to the hotel. The trolley stopped running by this time so we decided to walk back and it took us about an hour to make the trek. Not a bad walk at all in the cool air.

Back at the Westin, we headed to MJ O’Connor’s for dinner. Jay had sirloin tips in bbq sauce with green beans and mashed potatoes while Cheryl had roasted tomato soup with basil (no cream) and a toasted mozzarella, tomato and basil Panini. These were all quite good but the best item was the Boston cream pie that we got to go. When we opened it in our room, it was the biggest slab of Boston cream pie we had ever seen and it was also the BEST we have ever eaten!

Departure: Saturday, September 22, 2012

We easily made the trek to the Black Falcon Terminal only to be told that the ship had a major outbreak of giardia (gastro-intestinal ) virus on the cruise that week. Therefore, they were performing a deep sanitation and boarding was delayed until approximately 3pm. We were offered the opportunity to cancel the trip for a full refund if we wished but decided that since they were doing a deep sanitization, we would go ahead and take the cruise. It did not appear that anyone was taking them up on the refund offers. We finally boarded around 3:30 although our room was not ready until 4. It took several hours for all three pieces of luggage to make it to our room. We had the 4:30 scheduled emergency procedures briefing and the ship left the dock around 6:15, only slightly later than the scheduled 5pm departure.

We explored the ship layout and Jay discovered the shops and managed to snag four raffle tickets for the raffle at 10:30 that evening. We also purchased a new watch for Cheryl. Her Timex Explorer, which she purchased in May, had stopped running on Friday for the fourth time since she bought the watch. She was disgusted with it. Now she has a beautiful black faced Citizen eco-drive watch! After that, we settled into some comfy chairs and listened to a string quartet play some classical music.

A wonderful string group played abord ship.

Dinner and a show

We had signed up for the 8pm dinner seating in the main dining room. Our dinner companions were Ann and Claude X from Naples, FL. Claude is originally from Montreal! He is a native French speaker and had a delightful accent. He worked for a number of years for Haskins and Sells (now Deloitte) in the pension/insurance consulting area. Cheryl especially enjoyed hearing stories about his career with Haskins. Poor Ann does not like cruising as she said she always gets sea sick. She left dinner earlier as she was not feeling well at all. Claude enjoys cruises and they were going to spend some time in Montreal visiting his daughter and granddaughter who live there. Ann mentioned that they were originally going to do a river cruise in Europe (she has no illness issues with them) but that Claude had just completed chemo and they felt they needed to stay closer to home and to take time to see his family. We never asked but that would explain the sparseness of his hair and his very gaunt appearance. We thoroughly enjoyed Claude’s tales of his career.

After the meal, we headed out to the Showcase at the Sea theatre. On the way we participated in the raffle run by the shops. There were about seven prizes and while we did not win any of the raffles, Cheryl did answer a question correctly and won a big bottle of Crown Royal! It pays to listen to the ramblings of the announcer because when he asked if anyone could tell him 3 of the 5 reasons he gave as to why you should buy at the shops, Cheryl answered yes. She rattled back all 5 reasons and therefore won! Cheryl waved the bottle around excitedly and then handed it to Jay. Jay was now set for liquor for the trip!

We went to the showcase theatre and the show was, “Listen to the Music.” Each of the ship’s entertainers sang solos and they also did group songs. The music ranged from pop songs to classics to show tunes.

Bar Harbor Main

Sunday, September 23, 2012 – Bar Harbor, Maine (pronounced “Ba Haba” in Bostonian)

After sleeping though the alarm, we got up and dressed and went off to breakfast. We dined with a couple from the Toronto area and another from Edmonton, Calgary. We were the foreigners at the table! Brian, from Toronto, had been a high school history teacher, so we, Jay especially, enjoyed learning some of the history of Toronto, Quebec and Montreal. After a wonderful breakfast, we headed out for our shore excursion.

Step one was to take the tender to shore. We were anchored away from the port so they used the lifeboats to ferry people to/from the ship and shore all day. It was interesting to learn that the lifeboats are used as tenders. We noted that the capacity for each boat said “Tender use 90 people, Lifeboat use 150 people”. We guess when disaster looms, it is more important to cram people in and get them to safety than to worry about their comfort while in the boat!

We arrived onshore around 9:30 and had some time to wander around before we boarded a tour bus at 10. Bill was our tour guide. We drove through Bar Harbur and then we went to Acadia National Park. We spent the next 2.5 hours taking the park loop road and, since the weather was clear, we were able to go to the very top of Cadillac Mountain! The park is absolutely gorgeous. Cheryl can now tick off another national park visited from the list of national parks.

Acadia National Park

Up the mountain in Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park seacoast

Bar Harbor

Descending from the top we made our way back into the town of Bar Harbor. Bar Harbor in the late 19th century was a playground for the rich and famous from Boston, NY, Philadelphia and D.C. In 1947 a great fire destroyed most of the cottages in town. Bar Harbor has been rediscovered in recent years as a vacation spot.

Bar Harbor

More of Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor, harbor

We noticed that docked next to the Veendam (our ship) was the Norwegian Dawn. That ship is MUCH bigger than our ship! We were following the same path as them up through Quebec City. Also on the same path was the Crystal Symphony, slightly smaller than the Dawn. They ended at Quebec City.

Our little ship was on the left.

New table at dinner, then a show

Back on board ship we showed and changed as this was formal night for dinner. Our table had been changed and to our surprise Claude and Ann had been changed to the same table. We were joined by Hillary, her daughter-in-law, Jennifer and Erin, a long time friend of their family. They were all Canadians. Erin’s husband is a mining engineer and they have lived all over the world as his company has transferred him many times. It was interesting to hear stories about where they had lived. Claude also was transferred many times so he and Erin had that in common.

We had noticed people on the ship with lanyards saying they were part of Monumental Tours. This was the day Cheryl learned about that group. They were with Kirk Cameron (the actor from the sitcom “Growing Pains”) and his company. This is an evangelical Christian group. They had lectures and private tours all week. Cheryl and one of Kirk’s daughters (he has 6 kids), Bethany, as well as another kiddo from the group, Anna, became buddies. The girls were 12 and 13 years old and Cheryl enjoyed bumping into them throughout the week. They were having a blast with the teen activities on board ship.

After a delicious dinner, we went to the theatre for a show based on Broadway hits. All performers had experience on Broadway and put on a good show. After a quick exploratory tour of the sports deck, we headed back to the cabin and bed. It was a restless night. We both had problems getting to sleep.


Monday, September 24, 2012 – Halifax, Nova Scotia – Partly Cloudy, 59 degrees - Calm

We woke up in the morning in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We took an excursion in the morning by ourselves on the off and on excursion bus. This bus runs around the city and the highlight was the trek on the bus to the top of the Citadel which is a fortress based on a pattern developed in France.

Part of the Citadel

Fairview Cemetery

After a quick lunch aboard ship, we boarded a bus for our afternoon excursion. The first stop was at Fairview cemetery. This cemetery is where the majority of the bodies recovered from the Titanic are buried. Most of the gravestones have no name as many of the bodies were never identified. The tombstones are laid out in a 3 row pattern that forms the shape of the bow of a ship. This was a very eerie experience.

Fairview Cemetery holds the Titanic dead.

Peggy's Cove

Back on the bus we proceeded to Peggy’s Cove. This is where our friends, Bob and Hazel got married September 2011! This is a very small fishing village and the area is covered with large granite boulders. At the Visitors Center, Jay discovered a trail through the low berry bushes toward the sea. He scrabbled downhill to the rocks by the great Atlantic. He then climbed back up to a ridge and followed it into town. Jay must be part mountain goat – he is very agile at climbing on rocks and such.

Peggy's Cove in briar patch

The meet up at the lighthouse

Meanwhile Cheryl hiked up the road toward the lighthouse. She climbed up the granite boulders and made it to the lighthouse. She then followed the boulder path around the lighthouse and along the coastline towards the path Jay took through the heather. We finally met up in the parking lot where we reboarded the bus and headed back to the ship. We were tired.

Cheryl at the Lighthouse, Peggy's Cove

More of Peggy's Cove

Rest, Dinner and Show

After a rest, we headed to dinner and then to the show theatre. Tonight’s show featured the 4 men of the group singing a program called “Street Singing”. This had lots of oldies from the Beach Boys, Franke Vallee and the Four Seasons, the musicals “Hairspray”, “Age of Aquarius” and “Saturday Night Fever”. It was great. We slept well that night.

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 – Sydney, Nova Scotia – Partly Cloudy, 59 degrees – Moderate Breeze

The town of Sydney is very small. We chose to do our own tour today and we started off by walking through the area near the port. We visited several historic churches and enjoyed looking at the homes as we strolled through the town. The most interesting thing about Sydney was the vast influence of the Irish and Scottish immigrants on the area. Sydney is the site of an international annual bagpipe competition each October. There is a huge status of what they call “The Fiddle” at the port celebrating their musical heritage. Who knew we would see such Scottish and Irish influence on Cape Breton Island!

"The Fiddle" Sidney, Nova Scotia

Relaxing in the pool

Back onboard the ship, we ate lunch and then hit the pool area. The hot tubs and pools had been closed until now due to the cleaning that had been done as a result of last week’s virus. The health authorities cleared the pools and they were back in action today. Finally all operations of the Vendeem were up and running! We did our aqua aerobics and soaked in the hot tub also. We lounged around the Lido deck, resting and relaxing.

Dolphin sculpture in the Veendam pool

Prince Edward Island

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 - Prince Edward Island – Partly Cloudy, 64 degrees – Strong Breeze

We docked in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. We decided to venture out on our own. As we went to the parking lot of the terminal we noticed several tour guides, one of whom told us a couple was looking to share a tour. We went back into the terminal, found the couple (from Seattle, WA) and negotiated a deal with the driver. The four of us (plus Paul the driver) piled into the Chevy van and off we went. We discovered that the husband of the couple we were with (Ray) is an ER doctor employed by Holland America and this was a working week for him. The wife (Noel) is a professional wildlife photographer and Ray was getting more and more involved in photography also. So we had a photo-intensive tour!

We started north and along the way stopped to see mussel farms. Mussel boats are like tug boats with a winch and boom attachment on the front. Mussel farms have rows of buoys in a grid pattern holding up socks containing the growing mussels. These buoys are aligned in a grid pattern in the water; that is how you can tell you are looking at a commercial mussel operation. According to Noel and Ray, this is very different from the way mussels are farmed in the Seattle area.

We continued north to the coast and arrived at Dalvay-By-The-Sea National Historic site of Canada. This is the house where Will and Kate stayed on their first trip together to Canada. The house is a classic Queen Ann style and dates from 1896. The house is currently a hotel. Since our furniture is in the Queen Ann style we would be quite comfortable living there.

Dalvay House

Along the coast of PEI

Going west along the coast we entered the Prince Edward Island National Park. This park features a rugged coastline with red rocks. This park covers a large portion of the northern section of the island. We had no idea that Cheryl would get to check off another national park from her list, even if it is a Canadian one! We continued driving west and stopped at several bays and fishing villages. In the town of North Rustico we saw several old wooden churches. Outside North Rustico we saw flocks of cormorants sunning themselves on the rocky shore. Paul told us stories of his childhood spent with family picnics every Sunday at the shore during the summers. The areas they call beaches are very different from the beach at Galveston. Ray said it looks exactly like Cape Cod.


Heading West on PEI

Continuing west we west to the Green Gables Visitor Center and snapped photographs of the Anne of Green Gables house. Further along the road we saw the house where Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of the Anne of Green Gables, lived.

We then stopped at St. Mary’s Church in Indian River. This is a grand wooden church dating from October 1900. The steeple is an octagonal spire with a band of arched niches at its base containing statues of the twelve apostles.

St. Mary's Church

Turning South, past rolling green hills

Now East, Scarlet and Gray Church


Back to ship

We continued east back to Charlottetown. The total tour took four and a half hours. We got to see much of the island we would not have seen on a regular tour.

In town we visited St. Dunstan’s Basilica. We passed the Canadian Red Cross office and took a picture. We also saw Trinity Church, founded by a friend of John Wesley. We stopped by the Visitors Center where Cheryl bought Anne of Green Gables miniature dolls as gifts. We returned to the ship tired but happy.

At about 5 p.m. the ship left port and passed under the Confederation Bridge at about 7:45 p.m. This bridge cost about $1 billion dollars and is the largest span over frozen water in the world. The funnels of the ship barely cleared under the bridge. Our guide Paul had told us about the controversy that was generated when the bridge was built. The older generation was satisfied with the ferry service to the mainland while the younger generation wanted quicker access. It was shocking to learn that the toll (paid as you leave only) is $44.75 Canadian! The ship passed under the bridge around 7:45 pm. It was fascinating to be up on deck watching as the ship barely fits under the bridge. It was quite breezy and chilly that evening.

Dinner at the Rotterdam was, as always excellent and then we saw a Las Vegas inspired show featuring songs from the Rat Pack era. Later we went to the dessert extravaganza featuring chocolate on the Lido deck.

Cheryl and Jay separated for a while and then Jay was kidnapped by three beautiful women and taken to the piano bar. Hilary, Jennifer and Erin (our dinner companions) released him after an hour or so without any ransom being paid!

Thursday, September 27, 2012 - At Sea – Mostly Cloudy, 48 degrees – Strong Gale

No port calls today. We awoke and went to the Lido deck for a quick breakfast and then participated in the aqua-aerobics class. The instructor, Nicole, had the management close the retractable roof because it was cold and, after all, we were in the North Atlantic. After an energizing class in the pool, we started laundry, saw the rehearsal for the nights’ show and attended a foot pain seminar in the Spa. In the afternoon, we attended Dutch Tea.

The Dutch Tea was wonderful.

At sea, breezy

The weather today was very breezy and chilly. Walking outside was quite an experience and we did not do much of that! According to the captain, we were heading into winds that were near Hurricane 1 force in strength! Surprisingly, the passage was extremely smooth and you had no idea of the wind and cold unless you went to one of the outdoor areas. Cheryl used the time on ship to explore the Explorations Café and Lounge area and to play around with her pictures. There were tables set up and people playing bridge and other card games. There were at least 2 jigsaw puzzles in process all throughout the cruise and she spent some time each day putting in some pieces. And lots of folks spent time just reading and dozing in the chairs and on the sofas. Several women were quilting and Cheryl enjoyed chatting with them. She decided this was her favorite area of the ship. She found soul mates here!

Arriving at Quebec

Friday, September 28, 2012 – Overcast with bursts of bright sun – 55 degrees – Gentle Breeze

We woke up as we entered port area for the city of Quebec. During the evening and overnight, the captain informed us we picked up harbor pilots who steered the ship through the various areas of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River. After a slight delay in getting clearance from customs, we were off the ship, ready for our adventures in Quebec City!

One of the first things we noticed was the sheer number of people. All along the cruise, we had been following the Crystal Symphony and the Norwegian Dawn in each port. Well, today we were joined by the Queen Mary 2! It had just arrived from England so there were a lot of those passengers joining the throngs in town.

We boarded a bus and headed to the Isle of Orleans. This is a very beautiful, small island that has retained the charm of its’ New France heritage. We visited the home of one of the original settlers of the island, Francois de Laval, a surgeon.

Francois de Laval house on Isle of Orleans

The Sugar Shack

From there we went to the Cabane de Sucre, the Sugar Shack, where the owner (9th generation!) explained how they tap the maple trees and make maple syrup, maple taffy and maple butter. sample We got to some of the maple taffy; yummy!

Pouring and eating fresh maple syrup

On to the Falls

We learned some interesting facts about the Isle. Apples (pommes) are a major crop. Cheryl saw a man raking up piles of apples in his yard that had fallen from the trees! There is a lot of agriculture, including the maple and apple crops. The land is very lush. The isle will never have any more homes constructed. If you want to build your dream home on the isle, you have to purchase an existing home and raze it. They are very strict about not wanting to over-develop the area.

Back on the bus, we headed to Montmorency Falls. What can we say but WOW! The falls plunge 84 meters to the earth, 30 meters more than Niagra Falls. You can do the math to figure out how many feet that is!

Montmorency Falls

First stop was at the visitors’ center, in and of itself a very nice building. We went to the top floor where we had morning tea. What a great way to start the visit; hot tea and a slice of light chocolate cream cake.

Finished with our tea, we climbed up the stairs to the suspension bridge and walked across the bridge to the other side. We then crossed back. Yes, both Cheryl and Jay made the climb. And it was worth it to see the fabulous views!

Suspension bridge from below

View from suspension bridge

Quebec City

Exhilarated from our climb and the views, we then headed back to the cruise terminal. Next stop, old Quebec City!

Off we went, walking towards the Old City. Quebec City is perched at the top of Cap Diamant, 94 meters high. Our goal was to get to Chateau Frantenac, which is now a hotel that sits at the very top in what is called the Upper Town. There is an elevator that you can take to the top but somehow we ended up climbing the stairs! Huffing and puffing, we made it to the top. We explored the lobby of the hotel and then, being hungry, we discovered a small grocery store (Richard’s Grocery) and bought some sandwiches, chips and a drink. Locating a comfortable bench in a nice park-like setting, we had a little French Canadian picnic. This area is the Plains of Abraham.

General Wolf defeated General Montcalm and won Quebec for the British. General Wolf directed his British troops up the mountain side in single file at night and assembled on the Plains of Abraham. By doing so, General Wolf captured the large cannons that protected the harbor. Once general Montcalm learned he had lost his cannon, he surrendered the fortress (The Citadel) and Quebec to the British. Jay wondered whether the war between the British and French could have been avoided with diplomacy.

We walked around the Upper Town and spent time walking on the Dufferin Terrace, a boardwalk on top of the wall around Upper Town with great views of the river and the Lower Town. We headed back down via the fairly steep sidewalks and wound our way back to the cruise ship terminal. Somewhere along the way, Cheryl twisted her foot. The city is full of cobblestone streets and the walk down especially was very uneven. Here’s a picture of the citadel at the very top of the city and a picture of the historic Chateau Frontenac, currently used as a hotel, smack in the middle of Upper Town.

The Citadel

Chateau Frontenac

Last night on Veendam

Back on ship, we were in time for afternoon tea. We were seated with Donna, a missionary from Alaska.

This was our last day on the Veendam. Dinner that evening was filled with saying adios to people we had met during the week and then the packing up of our belongings. We enjoyed watching the ships at port that evening; check out how the QE2 is lit up at night – nothing like having your name in lights!

QE2 lit up at night

There was a set of 2 bridges that the ship had to pass under just outside Quebec City. We were delayed in leaving as we had to wait for low tide or the ship would not fit under the bridges. It was amazing to watch us pass under the bridges. Some of the passengers who are frequent Holland America travelers said they had heard that this season was the last one for the line to go to Montreal due to the difficulties in maneuvering under the bridges. That makes sense. The captain had announced on the intercom that we were in a holding pattern and had to wait for the river level to go down so we could fit under the bridges. It was only about a 45 minute delay but we can see how this creates problems for the ships.

Saturday, September 29, 2012 – Montreal – Cloudy – 48 degrees – Gentle Breeze

After a delay due to one passenger, (named Dr. O’Brien!), who was not either a US or Canadian citizen not reporting to the appropriate place at the appointed time to clear customs, we were allowed to disembark. We hopped into a cab and went to Le Westin Montreal. After unpacking and getting oriented to the hotel (locating the pool, the fire escapes, etc), the concierge arranged a 3 hour Grayline tour of the city for us. Waiting for the tour, we strolled around the block and found a pizzeria and had some lunch. We were joined on the tour by the daughter and son-in-law of the woman that Donna (from tea the day before) was traveling with! They had been on the Veendam along with both sets of parents. Small world!

The tour took us through downtown, old town (especially Notre Dame Cathedral), Chinatown, the Olympic park area which includes the botanical gardens and the insectarium, Little Italy, the University of Montreal, Mont Royal. We saw a LOT of Montreal. The guide, Francois, did the tour in both French and English as many of the people on the bus spoke French. We’re going to have to get used to French for the next few days. We are a bit used to it as Quebec City was primarily French speaking also.

Montreal is an interesting mix of old and new. The architecture is fascinating. Our hotel is only 3 blocks from the Old Town and the major feature in that section is the Notre Dame Basilica.

Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal

Sunday, September 30, 2012 – Cold and Rainy

We took a walk through the old town section today. One of the highlights was that we attended the last 30 minutes of mass at Notre Dame Basilica. It is still in use as a parish church and has been for 350 years. What a great way to visit a historical church even if we had absolutely no clue what was being said!


Statue in plaza of Notre Dame Basilica

Note, he is holding a cocker spaniel.
Note, he is holding a cocker spaniel.

Sidewalk in Montreal

Monday, October 1, 2012 – Cool and partly cloudy – about 62 degrees

After sleeping in to almost 10 and then fueling up at the breakfast buffet, we headed out to find the underground city. Montreal has an entire city located underground. It covers approximately 70 kilometers. There are shops, apartments, offices all connected to this city. In the winter, it is possible to never go outside! It looks like you took the Galleria Mall (all levels) and put it in the tunnel system in downtown Houston. We walked from the hotel over to The Bay (Le Baie d’ Hudson) store which has an entrance to the underground city. Jay bought Cheryl a muted red patent leather Coach purse for her birthday. When Cheryl opened the backpack to pull out the wallet, the clerk noted she had several Coach accessories and said “oh, you’re a fan.” Outside the store is a pretty square which is a good example of the mix of architectural styles. There was a bicycle tour at the square. One thing we noted is that Montreal is a bit hilly and also it has been cool and windy each day. Not what we would consider ideal biking conditions! Note the spire of the cathedral. We discovered when we went underground a detailed explanation of how that section of the underground city came to be. The land was owned by the cathedral and they partnered with developers to expand the underground. Note how the entire cathedral had to be supported by piers while they dug out below. The cathedral operated on their normal schedule during this entire project, an engineering miracle!

Street scene with Cathedral in background

Tuesday, October 2, 2012 – Warmer but breezy at times and partly cloudy – about 70 degrees

We decided to try out the transit system. We walked the couple of blocks to Square Victoria, went underground and purchased an all day pass, good for both the subway and the bus. Hopping onto the orange line subway, we headed to the north. Our goal was Petite Italia but en route, we decided to get off at Mont Royal since it was a clear day. We exited and immediately saw a cute little market as well as a church.


Church/ Monastery

Since we were headed up to Mont Royal, we bought a sandwich and a drink to take for a little picnic. We also stopped in at the church/monastery. Jay saw a black robed monk pass by.

To the Mount

The next step was to figure out how to get to the top of the mont. We took a city bus up to the very top. We had a much better view than we had on our Saturday our. We had our little snack and then Jay climbed up the steps from where we picnicked to check it out. He said you really couldn’t see much because of all the trees!

We then walked back down to where we caught the bus and went back to the metro stop and boarded the subway. We rode it north and east to Petite Italia.

Again, the first thing we saw when we exited the subway was a church. They are at every third corner or so it seems! This time it was an Eastern Orthodox Church. Jay went up and it was closed but he found Father Mark who opened it up and let us in. He was a very nice man and gave us some history of the church. It was established by Syrians and Lebanese immigrants.

Father Mark was kind to show us around.

The Church

The church sponsors refugees fleeing the war between Syria and Lebanon. Both Orthodox and Islamic refugees are helped to find homes and jobs. Cheryl asked whether the Syrians and Lebanese got along in this parish together and Father Mark said they did.

Jay thought it is better to move from a war torn area than to stay and become a further victim. It is also better not to choose sides. Jay asked Father Mark whether the RC and Orthodox churches reconciled on some points. Father Mark said they had not. Jay wondered why the two churches with such similar histories and practices refused to reconcile. After all, a fact is a fact and if it is not a fact it is opinion. If the churches have different opinions why not simply say they do not know the answer. Churches may reconcile by saying, “I do not know.”

Leaving the church, we got thoroughly lost and ended up walking in a big circle around the area. We did find a nice restaurant and shared a plate of fettuccine carbonara for a late lunch. Trying to find our way, we strolled through a very residential neighborhood which was fun to look at the homes. An interesting fact we learned about these homes relates to the outdoor staircases. When these buildings were originally constructed, they were single family homes. The families were quite large and in order to maximize living space inside, all stairwells were built outside the homes. So to go from floor to floor, you had to go outdoors! However, this made it very easy to convert the homes into multi-family dwellings as they are today. Sitting on one of the staircase porches surveying its’ territory was a big fluffy grayish white kitty. How do you say “cat” in French? And do they meow in French? The kitty let us pet it and was very friendly. Continuing on and still being lost and apparently looking like we were lost, a very nice young woman asked if we needed help and gave us clear and concise directions back to the metro stop. That was very nice of her as we might still be wandering around lost without her!

Six hours later, we made it back to the hotel. Cheryl’s foot had been bothering her all day and it was throbbing by now. We sure walked a lot again on a day we planned to do mainly by the transit system! Now we have to pack as we leave the hotel by 6:00 in the morning to start our journey home.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012 – Cool

Up and at ‘em early, we left the hotel and walked to Rue Rene’—Leveque to catch the bus to the airport. We got settled in on the bus and arrived at the airport with plenty of time to clear customs and immigration. It was an uneventful flight to Newark except that we had to circle for 15 minutes as air traffic was backed up due to weather. And then we had almost a 3 hour delay for our flight to Houston. The time was used to work on this journal.

Jay came to the following conclusions.

War and violence will be with us always.

We are to avoid war and violence even if we are provoked.

We should move rather than participate in war and violence.

We are to assist victims of war and violence.

Churches can reconcile if they say, “I do not know,” on matters they dispute.

We should update war memorials to say, "It is better not to fight at all."

We should teach others of these conclusions.

Heading home


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