Montreal Cycle Tours

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Today was an incredible day. End of story. Or the beginning of a very lengthy one, but all-in-all it was amazing (You don't really need to read anymore but if your interested there's lots more). $55 dollars, 4+ hr. tour including croissants and lattes, plus lunch with beer.

After a not so solid night of sleep in part to my 5 other suite mates coming in at 1, 2, 3... and what seemed like every hour of the night taking showers, I awoke to my alarm at 6:30 and got ready for the day. I took advantage of the complimentary breakfast including fresh croissant's and relaxed before heading for towards the meeting point for my tour.

When I decided I was going to come to Montreal I wanted figure out some things to do since my main attraction for coming, the Pro Tour cycling race didn't start until 12PM on Sunday. Turning to my trusty old friend Google I typed in "Things to do in Montreal?" The first hit was TripAdvisor.com which listed 220 attraction in Montreal. #1 on the list Montreal Cycle Tours, huh...bikes and an amazing city, plus the number one rated attraction; how could it get any better?

I headed the short 1.6k walk over to Parc La Fontaine (very proud I didn't get lost on the way there) and waited as others slowly trickled in for the tour. On my way I saw this awesome White/albino squirrel (No he was not old or gray, but actually white!) who stopped just long enough for me to get a shot.

WHITE Squirrel!

A cool piece of artwork along the side of the park, the objects below the chairs included a soccer ball, binoculars, book, newspaper, and some other stuff I can't remember.

Cafe across from where we met. La maison des cycliste (House of cyclists).

A quick not about the cafe above: attached to the cafe is Velo Quebec, a non-profit that schedules bike tours across Canada, had a large part in establishing the cross Canada bike trail, La Route Verte, and helped establish the Bixi bike program (more about that later).

I met David, our tour guide at the corner of Rue de Rachel and Rue de Brebeuf. We were informed to meet at 9:30 so the tour could start at 10 (I got there around 9 so I had plenty of time to observe), after the last few stragglers rolled in we walked over to the garage where we met Shea (the owner and founder) and were fitted for our bikes and had an opportunity to test them out and make sure they'd work. The group was very diverse with some folks who were relying on the "once you learn, you never forget" principle and others who could hold their own. The idea of the tour was that we would bike and then stop and have something explained to us, bike some more, stop eat, bikes some more etc.

My ride for the day.

The group. David (red) and Shea (white, closer to the tree). Two couple's from Boston (which is apparently only a few hours drive), a couple from Brooklyn, a guy from west of Boulder (I think Jamestown...maybe), a few folks from Canada, Sweden, and some others.

We didn't make it very far before our first stop, well actually it was only about 2 blocks but we had arrived at our first location, Mr. Pinchot Boulangerie (bakery).

Bakery which smelled super delish!

David grabbed 2 dozen baguette's loaded them in two of our baskets and we headed off again. Shortly after that wee stopped by a rack of bikes along the side of the road called Bixi bikes that I mentioned earlier. The program is modeled after a Paris program that began in 2006. It promotes bike travel throughout the city with the use of over 5000 bikes, and now includes the outskirts at some metro stops. You can pay $5 (CAD) to rent the bike for a day (in no longer than 30 minute increments), or $28 a month, or $78 a year. Awesome! Granted the winters are brutal but it's a super cool program that is now being used to model similar bike systems in London, Boston, DC and a bunch other cities. The idea is grab one, travel to your destination and put it there for someone else to use. In addition to being sweet it also has helped the economy since the bikes are manufactured, assembled, and serviced in Canada.

Bixi bikes, we saw them all day long all over the city. Duh! There's 5,000 of them!

We hit Avenue Duluth. David explained that their are some amazing restaurants that are Apportez Votre Vin (bring your own wine) and some featured chefs cooking Fois Gras meals.

Avenue Duluth. Fois Gras is liver from a duck or goose that has been especially fattened.

Next we went through a neighborhood that had some really interesting architecture. The "Plateau" neighborhood was a an up and coming area in the late 70's early 80's. To maximize space the designers wanted to build up to the road, maximizing space inside and adding room for an alleyway behind the homes. Shortly after the city passed an ordinance that force all building to be constructed a minimum distance from the road. The designers got creative and proposed to move the stairways outside to maximize space, the city didn't like it, so instead they proposed the stairways outside were to reduce energy losses from heating stairwells which the city LOVED. So in the plateau region the walk up apartments have their stairs on the outside.

A shot on the road in the Plateau neighborhood.

Unfortunately a terribly dark photo of the Plateau neighbor hood and their walk-up exterior stairs.

Schwartz's restaurant has been serving for over 80 years, EST. in 1928, their specialty is smoked meat. Word is on a weekday during lunch the line can take over an hour to get a seat inside with the line wrapping all the way around the corner. I returned here later in the evening for an amazing dinner. A carry-out was added 2 years ago to help reduce to line during peak hours.

David talking about Schwartz restaurante.

Apparently graffiti in the city has been a problem, with enforcement officials resorting to hiding in alleys to catch artists in the act and fining them, evening going as far as fining the parents of individuals not of age. The city decided to allow certain artists to decorate parts of the city in an attempt to reduce the graffiti. Below David showed us graffiti that was new since last week and a piece that had been done by a city approved artists that hadn't been tagged over out of respect even after 1o years in existence.

Some new mediocre graffiti. Definitely no Banksy. Hooligans!

I believe this one has a Spanish influence with the spirit of life.

Right before we reached our first stop we had a cool shot of Mont Royale and the cross atop it. The mountain is featured in tomorrows Pro Tour race, and while only 764 ft. (233m) it's going to be a brutal 16 laps.

A view of Mont Royale in the distance.

Finally we reached the cafe in the plateau region where we had the opportunity to sit and enjoy our croissants and drinks of our choice. Of course I chose a Cafe Latte which was delicious. It was a great to learn a little more about the people we were riding with all day.

A sample. Half of a almond power and half butter croissant. Both were super tasty!

Cafe Latte.

After a nice little break we got back on the road toward Parc du Mont-Royale, the largest park in Montreal and where the Pro Tour race was centered around. Mont Royale was named by Jacques Cartier on an expedition in 1535, names as being Royal after King Francois. The name Montreal is derived from this mountain Mont Real from middle French (I actually did learn all of this on the tour and remembered most of it, I'm just citing my sources in case you're interested).

A better view of Mont Royale and the cross that has fiber optic lighting which can only light colors other than white for 24 hours due to special occasion.

**Neat fact about the park at the top of Mont Royal, it was designed by Fredric Law Olmsted, most popular for designing central park in New York City.

After a nice descent through the park we McGill University. One of two English or anglophone universities in Montreal. A few guys came down from McGill during their spring break to train in Blacksburg with the cycling team, I completely didn't put two and two together until I saw one of their cyclists riding around kitted up. When James McGill died he left his estate and with it $10,000 (CAD) which at the time (1813) was a ton of money, with a clause that university be built in his name within 10 years or his wife would receive everything. The university was established 8 years later in 1821. A statue was built in his honor and placed on campus, with a purposeful gap in between his hand and hat that perfectly hold a Molson beer who Montreal may hold more dear than James McGill.

James McGill statue...and part of David's back that got in my shot.

The group used its size and claimed an entire lane in downtown Montreal with motorist not minding at all. Montreal is super bike friendly if you couldn't tell by the bike program, obscene amount of bike trails though the city (elevated and separated), and ridiculous amount of people on bikes...oh did I mention they're hosting a Pro Tour bike race this weekend? So riding downtown wasn't a problem.

DT Baby!

They stopped and talked about this building but I don't remember much as I had to pee, very badly and couldn't really focus.

Downtown sites that I didn't get pictures of that were significant include a Metro entrance as a gift from Paris for the 67 expo/world fair, Canadian WTC, and statue of Victoria, the longest reining Queen (....I think, unless Elizabeth lives another 5 years).

The Fleuve St. Laurent (Saint Laurence River) meets the edge of downtown. We made a right at the river and hopped on the bike trail that runs along the locks that are now a historic landmark.

Grain silos that I snagged a bunch of shots of on the way back. It closed in 1996 has sat empty since, the city is debating whether to make into a hotel, apartment complexes, or an art musuem but can't find an investor willing to take on the massive project. It is solid contcrete after all.

Picture perfect day. Yes.

After a good ways we stopped and got this picture perfect shot of the skyline. I was finally able to focus and came away with what I thought was a pretty sweet shot.

Montreal skyline and cool reflection.

I was really impressed with David and Shea's knowledge of the city and pretty much any question I asked them. I was curious if they'd had much problems with bike lane graffiti. They had a famous guy who got caught and was taken to the court, now he works for the city as an artist...that would NEVER happen in the USA.

A quick stop at a closed sugar factory and then we headed to lunch. The closed sugar factory has now been turned into apartments with a rooftop garden.

Closed red sugar factory now apartments.

The newly renovated locks that are used for personal boats. To think big BIG ships used to use this.

For lunch we stopped at one of the two markets in town. I'm not sure which but it was sweet!

A shot of the market from the outside.

The purpose of this image isn't the performer but the obscene amount of bikes behind her. This was all over the city.

A performer down by the market, who's talent was not appreciated. I considered paying her to go away but decided against it since she may think I really liked her and wanted her to continue.

For lunch Shea and David took us into the market and allowed us to choose what style pizza we wanted. We then headed down the way to a local store and hit the beer cave where they recommended some local favorites. Definitely have to be careful as most of them were +8%. I choose a local micro-brew St. Ambroise Pale Ale and delicious basil, mozzarella, and tomato pizza.

The market, tons of great looking produce. I'm sure customs wouldn't like it.

Les Pommes

Sweet dude selling stuff at the market.

The beer cave. Une bier of our choice.

Tomato, basil, mozzarella pizza!

The ride back was much quicker, possible in part to the beer. We only made a few stops on the way back including a couple piers. We stopped at the old location of the Cirque du Soliel where you could see a really neat apartment complex. The complex was a thesis project of an architecture student at the time. Originally designed as low income housing, the apartments were modular, assembled like Lego blocks which is especially cool because you can see right through the building in some places. The project became too expensive and was eventually abandoned. Pretty sweet though for only 24.

We could also see the biosphere, not to be confused with the Biodome which is also in Montreal (however it's near Olympic park about 7k away). The biosphere sits on an island that was man made, the interesting thing about it is the where the dirt came from. The Biosphere was part of many attractions built for Expo 67, the Worlds Fair that Canada hosted in 1967. The city of Montreal opened the metro in 1966, just in time for the world fair. The city used the dirt from the metro to construct the island and join it to an existing island, this island was used for all Expo 67 attractions. Most of the exhibits were temporary and torn down since they couldn't handle the harsh winters, however some are still standing including a piece of artwork from France, a roller coaster (now theme park which is owned by Six Flags, and the biosphere (the American exhibit). The island now has a casino and man made beach.

Five Roses Factory.

More grain silo.

A cruise ship in the port while we were there.

The sweet apartments designed by a 24 year old architecture student.

The man made island and you can barely make out the transparent Biosphere in the background. The reason it's transparent is because it burned down, but they left the frame erect.



The route for the most part. I forgot to turn my watch back on at the cafe, you can see the straight line where we obviously didn't go straight across the blocks, but you can get an idea of how much of the city we saw.


We did hit one small undulation on the way back to Parc La Fontaine which was probably the most strenous part of the ride.

All-in-all: The ride was awesome, probably the best excursions/tour I have ever done including Europe and last summers trip.

Pros:
Very very knowledgable about almost any question we threw at them and very informative tour. Lots of history learned as you can tell by my boring Montreal encylopedia post. Croissants and lattes were really tasty as was lunch from the market, a great value for $55 (CAD)(when booked in advance) and they gave me restaurants to eat at for the rest of my duration in Montreal.

Cons: The shirts they had were super cool, look like they had been screen printed and had three sites we saw on the tour on them, but they were $30. I really wanted to pick one up for someone back home but I had just given them a $10 tip and didn't have enough cash on me and no card was accepted. Shirts are free advertisement, Shea - you should eat some cost on the shirts or just not make profit because you'd benefit from the advertisments they'd give you. Disappointed about that, maybe I'll try to buy one over paypal (or two) if you contact me.

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