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Walking Across the Jacques-Cartier Bridge

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Built in 1930, the Jacques Cartier Bridge connects the Island of Montreal to both the Île Sainte-Hélène and the mainland shore of Longueuil. It’s one of Canada’s busiest bridges, on which traffic comes to a standstill during rush-hour, but a separate lane for pedestrians and bikes provides an incredible view of the city’s skyline.

Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal

Plenty of bikers use the Jacques Cartier Bridge, but we were the only walkers when we crossed on a Friday morning. It wasn’t really a surprise: crossing the bridge by foot isn’t a practical solution for people who need to get places. Its total length is almost three kilometers, and the subway is more convenient for almost every conceivable situation.

Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal

But if you’re looking for a different view of Montreal, the bridge is an excellent option. With a maximum height of 104 meters (341 feet), you’re far above the water, allowing you to look over Île Saint-Hélène, La Ronde theme park, the Molson Brewery, and across to downtown Montreal. And although the noise of the traffic is aggravating, you might find that the photo opportunities are worth it.

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Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal
Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal
Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal
Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal
Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal
Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal
Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal
Jacques Carier Bridge Montreal
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June 18, 2016 at 9:58 pm Comments (0)

Habitat 67

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Perhaps the most iconic piece of architecture in Montreal is Habitat 67, designed by Israeli/Canadian architect Moshe Safdie for the city’s World Expo. The brutalist interlocking system of identical concrete living cubes still seems as outlandish and visionary as it must have in 1967.

Habitat 67 is what might happen if you were to give 354 identical blocks to a six-year-old, and ask them to create a building. I’ve chosen the age “six” deliberately. A five-year-old would make a mess of it, while a seven-year-old would come up with something more classically elegant. Habitat 67 is what a six-year-old would design: weird, chaotic, and just possibly stable. (You’d look at it for half-a-second, and say something patronizing like “Wonderful, darling.” But later that night, you’d consider the structure more carefully and wonder if you don’t have a little genius on your hands.)

The 354 blocks which comprise Habitat 67 are indeed identical, although the apartments found within the building are not. There are a wide range of apartment sizes and layouts, because the blocks can be purchased together and then interconnected. Safdie’s intention was to create a model for affordable, low-income housing… but that hasn’t exactly turned out to be the case with Habitat 67. In fact, it’s been quite the opposite. This bizarre structure has become a recognized architectural landmark, and the prices of its apartments are astronomical.

Habitat 67 is always visible across the river from the Old Port, and every time my eye falls upon it, I think either, “My god, is that building ugly!” or “God, it’s so cool!” We couldn’t resist getting a closer look. Standing right in front of it, we were able to verify the wealth of the people who call it home… almost every single plain gray-brown concrete block had some fancy work of art displayed in the window. As if to pronounce, “Yes, I might live in a hideous container, but look at the ostentatious art I can afford!”

If you don’t have a car, it’s not easy to reach Habitat 67; it seems close, since it’s just across the channel, but you have to walk or bike a long way before arriving. So as long as you’ve made the effort, make sure to walk around the back of the building. You’ll find a little path along a chain-link fence that eventually leads down to the river. Here, the water hits a small set of rapids, creating an ideal “standing surf” spot. It’s popular among surfers and kayakers, as it allows them to ride an endless wave.

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June 15, 2016 at 10:44 pm Comments (0)

A Night at the Casino

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Housed in the former French Pavilion from the 1967 World Expo, Montreal’s state-run casino opened in 1993, and has become one of the most popular spots in the city. This is the largest casino in Canada, and is as memorable for its unique architecture as for its rollicking atmosphere. We were invited to check it out on a Saturday night.

Montreal Casino

The last couple casinos we’ve visited haven’t been so great; sad, dingy places with chain-smokers joylessly feeding machines and lifeless tables, where you leave feeling bad about yourself even if you happen to have won. But I’m happy to report that Montreal’s Casino is not like that. This is the fun type. It’s the kind of place you go to have a good time, and where gambling is almost an afterthought.

We started enjoying ourselves the moment we stepped inside. Just past the entrance, a band was rocking out in front of a large crowd, most of whom were dancing. The bar area was packed, the machines were ringing, the noise level was insane, and everything was lit up by a massive LED-backdrop the size of a tennis court which extends from behind the stage all the way up to the top floor.

Montreal Casino

Unlike in most casinos, there are plenty of windows and a real sense of space; in Montreal, they’re not trying to confuse you with a maze of slot machines, or make you forget the time of day. The floors of the casino are interconnected by an open central atrium, so that even from the top, you can look all the way down to see the band jamming. And the views are beautiful… the casino is mostly surrounded by water, and the skyline of downtown Montreal is visible in the near distance.

The main building of the casino is the former French Pavilion, built for Expo 67, and it’s also connected to the neighboring gold cube of the Quebec Pavilion, where you’ll find yet more floors of games, as well as the poker tables. This was perhaps the only place in the casino that I would characterize as “quiet.” The people seated around these tables were concentrating so intensely, it was intimidating. If we hoped to one day be able to take a place here, we were going to need some lessons.

Montreal Casino

Luckily, we knew where to go. Jonathan Duhamel, a world poker champion, was on-hand at the casino to give free lessons. He’s a native of Quebec and often makes appearances. The game we learned with him was three-card poker, a variation which I’d never heard of before. We played a few hands and, within fifteen minutes, went from total newbies to totally overconfident. Time to hit the tables!

Montreal Casino

We wandered over to the a room called “The Zone”, which was unlike anything I’d ever seen in a casino. This was more like a dance club, with a set of four DJs on the stage. Except, instead of dancing, we were sitting at terminals playing blackjack, and instead of spinning records, the DJs were flipping cards over. Everyone in The Zone was playing the same hands, and it was all live-projected on the screens behind DJ Croupier… so if he busted, everyone won.

After playing there and at a couple more traditional tables, we gathered up our winnings and went to the casino’s restaurant on the top floor. Even though it was late at night, this place was packed, and for good reason: the food is excellent and the prices are surprisingly reasonable. Plus, from so high up, you get a great view over the city.

Montreal Casino

We had an awesome night out at the Montreal Casino, although I’m not sure that’s good news. Our last casino experiences had been so miserable, that we had started to lose our love of gambling. But now it’s been rekindled! Even as we were leaving the casino, I was plotting how to justify a return trip.

(Later that evening, as I was getting ready for bed, I discovered twenty dollars worth of chips still in my pocket. “Oh my, I forgot to cash these in. We’ll have to go back at some point.” Jürgen regarded me suspiciously… I’m not sure I fooled him. And I’m not sure I care!)

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May 30, 2016 at 8:11 pm Comment (1)

The Parc des Rapides

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As the St. Lawrence River winds its way from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean, most of its journey is smooth sailing. However, just before it reaches Montreal, the river hits a rough patch. Jürgen and I hiked to the neighborhood of LaSalle to check out the Lachine Rapids.

Parc de Rapides Montreal

We started our day at the Parc Arthur-Therrien, across from the Île des Souers (or, Nuns’ Island), so-named because of the Sisters of Notre-Dame who owned it for 250 years. From this park, it would be a five-kilometer trek south to the Parc des Rapides. There’s a popular bike path running along the the St. Lawrence, but we stayed on a smaller dirt trail closer to the water, and enjoyed the riverside walk.

The path stretches along the base of a tall embankment, behind which Montreal’s buildings were hidden from view, and we found it hard to believe that we were still in the city. The weather was beautiful, and our only companions during the journey were birds, reeds, trees, and the occasional jogger. The five kilometers went by in a flash, and soon enough we could hear the rumbling of the rapids.

Parc de Rapides Montreal

These white water rapids have long been a source of adventure for Montrealers. As far back as the nineteenth century, thrill-seekers would pack onto steamboats to navigate them. Even the Prince of Wales, Edward VII, wasn’t able to resist a ride during his visit to Canada in 1860. While in the park, we saw a few rafts full of modern-day adrenaline junkies trying their luck. These rapids aren’t the world’s most treacherous, but they look like a lot of fun.

Less adventuresome are the hoards of people who visit the Parc des Rapides for birdwatching. This is a sanctuary for migratory birds, most importantly the great blue heron. There were dozens of birders in the park, equipped with cameras and gigantic zoom lenses. While they were watching and identifying new species, Jürgen was watching them, jealously identifying their expensive photography equipment. If they’re “birders”, I guess that makes Jürgen a birderer (a word which, incidentally, seems to be impossible for Germans to pronounce).

The Parc des Rapides isn’t large; it’s about 800 meters in length, on a narrow strip of land which lays between the rapids and a tranquil inlet. You can walk up and down the entire thing in about twenty minutes, and we recommend you do so. The further south you go, the less crowded the park becomes, since not many of the birders bother to carry their heavy camera bags all the way to the park’s end.

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May 26, 2016 at 8:46 pm Comments (2)
Walking Across the Jacques-Cartier Bridge Built in 1930, the Jacques Cartier Bridge connects the Island of Montreal to both the Île Sainte-Hélène and the mainland shore of Longueuil. It's one of Canada's busiest bridges, on which traffic comes to a standstill during rush-hour, but a separate lane for pedestrians and bikes provides an incredible view of the city's skyline.
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