So far I’ve had two fabulous days in Canada with Caiti. We’ve walked until our feet are sore each day and certainly got our money’s worth out of our travel cards (unlimited travel on the buses and metro).

We began our explorations in the old city, which is by the riverside. This is where Montreal began in 1642. Our first stop was the Basilique de Notre Dame (Our Lady’s Basilica). This is an imposing but very plain-looking building from outside. But inside… wow! It was originally built in the seventeenth century and had bits added on over the years, but by the mid-nineteenth century, despite a capacity of 3,000 it was too small for everyone on Sundays and people got fed up being stuck at the open doorway or outside, especially in winter when it goes down to minus 40 degrees C. They had a genuine grievance. So a bigger, better basilica was built, and it was designed by an Irish protestant. Now this is a Catholic church so at the time there were a few raised eyebrows, not to mention slightly stronger reactions too. Anyway, he did a good job on the whole, although light coming in through the huge east window behind the altar blinded everyone so it had to be blocked off and decorated by ornate sculptures instead.

canada notre dame1

But now, of course, it was gloomy in the church. So rose-shaped windows were added – in the roof! The basilica was the first church in the world to have glass in its roof. This was possible since it’s a wooden structure. And being wood means it’s a very warm building. It also means it can burn and the chapel at the back of the church burnt to the ground in the 1970s but has since been magnificently rebuilt. There is some blue lighting behind the altar now too, which looks beautiful.

Very close by was this lovely Christmassy looking shop.

canada christmassy shop

After our guided visit we pottered around for a while, resorted to McDo’s for lunch – I needed to see what a Canadian one is like. Important research. I had poutine there, which isn’t something you’ll find in any other country’s McDo’s. Poutine is chips, cheese curds and gravy. It may not sound it but it’s rather tasty, if a little salty.

canada bon secours

We carried on wandering around the old town, and visited Bons Secours market which is a very striking building with a metal dome. It started to  snow.

canada caiti in snow

There are lovely arts and crafts and, naturally, maple syrup products for sale there, clothes, Inuit handicrafts and so on. We walked along the Champ de mars with the foundations of the old city’s fortifications visible, close to the huge Chinese gate on St Laurent, and then dived underground into subterranean Montreal. There are vast networks of tunnels with shops, hotels, offices underground.

And a wonderful teddy-bear Christmas tree.

canada bear christmas tree

We pretty much walked ourselves into the ground but enjoyed every minute. And we hadn’t finished. After an hour’s respite at Caiti’s cosy flat, we hit Walmart. I walked around with mouth open at the incredible variety of food on offer. Now, a lot of it is refined and full of sugar but it looks so delicious. It’s surprising that Canadians aren’t all enormous, what with all this tempting calorie-laden stuff available so cheaply. Caiti admits she went a little crazy to start with and based her food shopping on novelty rather than nutritional value, and I’m no foodie but even I was wandering around thinking, oh, I bet that’s nice, and I wouldn’t mind trying that. I’m also pretty sure Tobi and Nessie would have liked trying the peanut butter flavoured dog food. It was remarkably hard to walk past the many various combinations of chocolate and nuts on offer, my two main weaknesses… But I did!

Back to my hotel and to bed about 8pm. End of my first full day in Canada. Brilliant!

A closing photo – most houses have these snow shelters over their driveways. Here’s the one outside Caiti’s flat.

canada cait flat outside