Oh La La
I once knew a Canadian (in Kansas) who liked to talk about his country. (Who doesn’t, when they’re marooned far from home?) If the conversation turned to Montréal–and it often did, because he made sure of it–his face took on a languorous expression, his lips pursed, and his shoulders and hips rocked teasingly while he purred, “Oh là là.” Now that I’m older and wiser, I know this man was probably an alcoholic and his sensual wiggle was meant to illustrate the city’s nightlife. But, still, it pleased me to learn that we’d be visiting Montréal on our recent summer Velo Vacay. Bars and clubs aside, the city has quite a reputation for art and culture. And, I learned, for being bicycle friendly.
Montréal is only a 90-minute drive north of our friend’s home in Burlington, Vermont. Her daughter studies at McGill University and wanted us to come up for a quick visit. We drove through hilly terrain along Lake Champlain until crossing the Canadian border, where the landscape took us by surprise by changing abruptly to flat and agricultural. We drove past many fields, tractors and silos, thinking we might well have been in Kansas but for the French road signs. The traffic picked up as we approached Montréal, and soon we were driving up a tall, wide bridge spanning the St. Lawrence River. The bridge curved downward on the other side of the water and–boom–we were in downtown Montréal.
Canada’s second largest city, Montréal is shoehorned onto islands flanked by the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers. It’s a pentimento drawn on an island canvas–old neighborhoods overshadowed, but not erased, by modern skyscrapers. The city definitely has a vertical profile; even now, months later, I remember crooking my neck to see the building tops. The city’s compactness makes it easy to manage on foot or by bicycle. In the 24-hour period of our visit, we walked everywhere: Old Montréal, Chinatown, McGill University, Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, Notre-Dame Basilica, Mount Royal Park, Schwartz’s Deli. What we did not do was bicycle. We might have leased bikes from Bixi’s stalls, but decided instead to maximize the short visit with our friends by strolling and talking, talking and walking.
That plan didn’t stop me from photographing bike-related sights in the city–an interesting rack outside the Redpath Museum at McGill, sturdy rings for bike locks at the downtown parking meters, the Bixi bike share stations near the university, and impressive divided bike lanes downtown. Generally, I’m not a fan of large cities. I’m overwhelmed by the aloofness of the people and the relentless energy. If I lived in a city like Montréal, though, the intensity would be balanced by a bicycling infrastructure that could serve as a model for other urban places. So much can be accomplished with commitment, interest and, of course, money. Oh là là, indeed.
Other posts in the Velo Vacay series:
- Niagara Falls (Bike New York)
- Erie Canal (Bike New York)
- Covered Bridges in Vermont (Bike Vermont)
- Champlain Islands (Bike Vermont)
- On the Burlington Bike Path (Bike Vermont)
- Great Allegheny Passage (Pennsylvania Bike Trails)