As Day 3 began, we had started to tune out the cold much in the same way that someone who lives next to a train line doesn’t hear passing trains. It was white noise and bundling up before going outside became second nature. Our entire trip was cold, and our morning spent on Ile de Helene visiting the Musee Stewart and Parc Jean Drapeau was no exception.
The Quest for Breakfast
The first task of the day was to find breakfast but there were only two restaurants within walking distance of our AirBnB. One had a wonderful gourmet ham selection which appeased me but not my vegetarian girlfriend. The other was closed despite a giant sticker in the window reading “OPEN” (actually “OUVERT” but you get it). So we formulated a new plan: find food on the way to the Ile de Helene.
That wasn’t simple, either. We hopped off the train at Berri-UQAM and found two options that looked decent on Yelp. When we arrived, they were closed not for the day or even the week between Christmas and New Years, but for a month. This was emblematic of one of the largest problems we ran into on our trip: many businesses in Quebec close for long periods of time in the winter. Maybe it’s because there isn’t as much business in the bitter Canadian winters, but it’s something to consider if you’re thinking about going in December.
Eventually, we settled on an A&W because we were both getting hangry.
Arriving at Ile de Helene
As we exited the train station and headed toward the Biosphere, a gaggle of tourists walked ahead of us and kept absentmindedly getting in my pictures by trying to take group selfies. I don’t mind people taking pictures (because that’d be hypocritical), but taking a selfie with a monument in the background is where I go full “Get off my lawn” and I can’t explain why.
To avoid going full curmudgeon, we decided to skip ahead and see the Musee Stewart first.
Built by the British in 1824 to protect against an invasion by those pesky Americans, “Fort de l’Île Sainte-Hélène” (“Fort St. Helen’s Island”) is now a museum dedicated to the history—military and otherwise—of Montreal.
According to the Wikipedia page, it’s much more lively in the summer—not unlike most of the city.
Inside the museum lived artifacts from those who had first settled Montreal…
… as well as statues and busts.
One exhibit detailed how locals celebrated Christmas throughout history. I’m not the most Christmas-friendly person in the world, and so you can imagine my excitement when I saw the title of the exhibit and heard Christmas carols.
All in all, the Musee Stewart is a place worth stopping if you’re on the Ile de Helene or near Parc Jean Drapeau. Speaking of the Parc…
Parc Jean Drapeau and Tour de Levis
Developed as part of the 1967 World’s Fair (or simply “Expo 67”), Ile de Helene and Parc Jean Drapeau has facilities for all kinds of outdoor activities including swimming, rowing, the aforementioned Biosphere, an F1 race circuit, and an amusement park.
During the winter, it’s a ghost town.
However, in the middle of the island lives a tower called Tour de Levis. Originally the tower acted as a water tower and wasn’t part of the Victorian fortifications of the island Today, you can go up inside of it. When it’s open. Which it wasn’t when we went.
So far, the island was shaping up to be a bit of a bust. But we made our way to the iconic Biosphere. It used to be covered by an “acrylic bubble” but that was damaged in a fire in 1976, leaving the steel skeleton with a museum inside.
This is an attraction Sarah was excited about seeing, and our afternoon of cold would be validated.
… except was closed for the month.
Rest & Recovery
After our mid-morning/afternoon stroll in the blowing snow and cold, we decided now was a perfect time to sample Montreal’s “cafe culture”, as dubbed by the Lonely Planet guide. An afternoon of reading and green tea helped heal our cold and weary souls.
When we wanted dinner, we decided to just stop at some place that looked good instead of searching for some place and having it be closed. Enter Fameux Viande Fumée Et Charcuterie. Because who turns down a greasy spoon?
The quality of food was on part with a greasy spoon diner in the States. And in no way, shape, or form was it healthy. I had a hamburger with poutine…
… and Sarah had a grilled cheese with onion rings.
It was the dinner of champions: good, cheap food in a casual environment that completed the afternoon of Rest and Recovery.
And we needed the calories. The next day, we’d be climbing a mountain.
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