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The flavour of Montreal

Montreal. . . if it pleases you

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CANADIAN HIGH: (left) Montreal skyline seen across St Lawrence river;basilica of Notre Dame

My introduction to Canada started long before I boarded my flight to Montreal. My late Uncle Dalbir Bindra, a professor at McGill University, and his wife Jane Stewart, a professor at Concordia University, visited us in Delhi every few years since I was little and gave me an early taste for maple syrup and all things Canadian.

So expectations were high when I finally landed at Montreal's Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport last month. We drove to Jane aunty's beautiful Ave du Musêe home in Montreal's 'Golden Square Mile'. The following morning, at the crack of dawn (the sun was as bright as the noonday sun in Delhi), we climbed up to Mount Royal Park, up the mountain that gave the city its name. From the top, there are wide-ranging views over Montreal and the St Lawrence river plain beyond. While walking through the parks, we stumbled upon a public art piece by Linda Covit and Marie-Claude Sêguin entitled 'Give Peace a Chance'. A commemoration of the John Lennon and Yoko Ono song, it has grey limestone panels with the famous phrase engraved on it in 40 languages including several Indian scripts. It was unveiled in 2010, in memory of the couple's famous Montreal bed-in. Other sights included a pretty lake which transforms into an active skating rink during winter.

A return to home base, quick shower and breakfast later, we sped out for a rapid car tour and covered the Old Montreal and Port area, Outremont and Westmount which offered spectacular views of the city and St Lawrence River. The Atwater Market, a farmer's market, is a great place to snack and stock up on gourmet meats, cheeses and other delicacies. A visit to a beautiful small church at the old port (La Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours, "Our Lady of Good Help" ) completed the tour for the day.

The city has a predominant stone architecture though over time it has acquired more contemporary materials and lines, and today's landscape offers an interesting amalgamation of both. It's quite easy to get around in the city. Though French is the official language and sexy accents can be heard in bistros, English is widely spoken too. Interestingly, bicycling appeared to be an almost 'national transport system'. One can hire a Bixi bike at any of the docking stations in the city and surrender it at another. There is a station just around the corner and abundant cycle paths. Bixis have become so much a part of the Canadian DNA that people rent homes near stations.

Day two saw us speeding northwards, past green slopes which transform into ski slopes in winter, a reminder of the diversity of colour that defines the Canadian landscape through seasons. A couple of hours later we arrived at the quaint village of Saint Marguerite de Lac Massonin, which is in close vicinity to Jane Aunty's old summer cottage on the edge of a placid lake amid a profusion of flowers. The haunting call of the loon, a water bird, is almost the only thing that intermittently disrupts the stillness. A lonesome seaplane glides through the sky, as we chomp on the most delicious homemade chicken sandwiches. Two months down, I was told, the landscape would transform to a vibrant red, followed by a gradual change to brown and then snow white.
Back in Montreal after a coffee break at Val David, a charming little village, we hit the road again. This time we are on foot, traversing Sherbrooke Street and the base of The Golden Square Mile, through a profusion of art galleries and art installations, A prized piece of shopping is a piece of Inuit stone art. The evening was complete with delicious Greek food at Molivos.

Next morning was very special for a personal reason for it included a visit to McGill University where I was shown the "Dalbir Bindra Undergraduate Lab", named after my late uncle.

Day three saw us in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, where we passed by the Parliament buildings and then headed straight for the National Gallery of Canada, an architectural marvel in itself. This was followed by a supremely delicious lunch at Domas Cafe in the Byward Market area, known to offer the freshest and best produce. En route, we passed a stand selling BeaverTails, a fried pastry covered with chocolate cinnamon and cream. This is the same kiosk where President Obama stopped for a taste. After a short rest, we found ourselves at a restaurant next to a lock on the Rideau Canal. We dined in style and headed to the National Arts Centre for an evening of ABBA music by a Finnish ensemble.

Early next morning, we hit the highway to Montreal and by evening I was checking in for my return flight, with lots of happy memories and maple syrup, of course.

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