Tag Archives: Old Town

The Nelson Column

Saturday 24 September 2022 – As expected, Jane had formulated A Plan for the day – a walk in the Old Town, followed by a stroll beside a canal which led to the Old Port.  Accordingly, we hopped the Metro to Champ-de-Mars (because we’re seasoned users of the public transport now, you see), and attempted to follow a self-guided walking tour that Jane had found on the interweb. This part of the day, overall, was not a success, partly because the route given by the website was either not very good or incoherent (possibly both) and partly because Montreal Old Town is, well, not really very interesting.  Perhaps it would have been more rewarding if we’d been able to organise a guide to regale us with fascinating historical and contextual nuggets, but, as it was, we didn’t find much to wow us.

There are some prominent buildings there, such as the Bon Secours market building, with its distinctive silver-coloured dome, which I assume is a tin roof with big ideas.

It looks like the sort of building that should house something monumental or religious, but actually inside it is a modernish market, with boutiquey shops.  Even the tourist tat is done quite nicely.

Other major buildings of interest, such as the Town Hall and the Basilica of Notre Dame, are shrouded in scaffolding and other paraphernalia of reconstruction, which renders them less easy on the eye.  Next door to the market building is the Notre Dame de Bon-Secours Chapel,

inside which, we were delighted to find, was a chamber trio playing at the far end – rehearsing for a concert, we guessed.

The chapel dates from 1771; it was a popular place of worship for sailors coming to port from the St Lawrence river and it became widely known as the sailors’ chapel. It has a lovely interior

with replicas of ships hanging from the ceiling as a reminder of this heritage.

And, er, that’s it for the Old Town, really.  We wandered about the rest of the area trying, and, we eventually realised, failing, to follow the self-guided tour.  It had one lighter moment when I spotted an illusion that the figure on top of the chapel was trying to operate a punt,

but beyond the Wheel and the Clock Tower (with the geodesic dome of the Montreal Biosphere museum, designed by Buckmaster Fuller for the US pavilion at the 1967 Expo, visible in the distance)

we couldn’t find anything particularly to detain us beyond this general kind of street scene

It was at this point that we found out that the “Galleon” by the Wheel was a kids’ adventure park.

Having exhausted what we could see of the entertainment possibilities here, we decided to go for Part 2 of The Plan – the Canal.  To do this, we hopped the Metro again, to Place Saint Henri, and then walked down to the Lachine Canal, which connects Lake Saint-Louis to the Old Port, our target for the walk.  The canal gets its name from the French word for China (la Chine). The European explorers sought to find a route from New France to the Western Sea, and from there to China and hence, optimistically, the region where the canal was built was named Lachine.

Jane had read that the canal had been the subject of some gentrification (not unusual for waterside locations with an industrial history).  Initially, there wasn’t much evidence of this, but before too long we saw the unmistakeable signs of what would once have been a warehouse or similar.

This turned out to be Merchants Manufacturing, a mill which has a reasonably chequered history, including being expanded to be the second largest cotton factory in the country.  Further investigation showed that it was now a very substantial and not unattractive apartment complex.

The canal then displayed signs that we were approaching another nexus of civilisation

and then we found ourselves at Atwater Market, which is quite substantial and was quite busy.

Just as Jean Talon’s market had introduced us to aubergines and cauliflowers of unfamiliar colours, this one showed that squash can come in a variety of colours

as well as the more common orange of the pumpkin.

Every year I’m astonished by the ubiquity of pumpkins in this season.  Surely you can only eat or carve so many?  What happens to all the rest?

As we went back to the canal, we passed a “flowerbed” which actually contained only edible plants – a nice touch.

We passed another suburb which had a canal-side chess den

and seemed to be preparing for some kind of local festival.

Evidence of the industrial past increased as we neared the city.

We passed one of the hydraulically-operated locks

which, I was pleased to note, was being kept clear of leaves and other debris by the lock-keeping staff,

something which I wish could happen in the UK, where the appearance of many otherwise charming locks is spoiled by accumulated crud, both natural and man-made.

We also discovered that the canal path was part of the Trans-Canada Trail, the scope of which is absolutely vast – 

28,000km in total, meandering all over the vastness of Canada’s interior.  To give this some context, the circumference of the earth is just 40,000km.

Further evidence of previous industrialisation mounted as we carried on.

as well as of the gentrification process which is making this walk so much more pleasant.

There is a clear cycle path which is sometimes separate from and sometimes on the same ground as the walking path, thus requiring vigilance on the part of pedestrians wanting to cross the path e.g. to take photos.

The landscape clearly shows what a massively industrial area this once was.

Looking left, we could see the part of the city where our hotel is – you can just spot the dome of its next-door neighbour Basilica among the tower blocks.

There’s a boat converted into a spa

and a clearer view of Habitat 67, a project designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and built for Expo 67, a World’s Fair held here from April to October 1967.  It comprises 354 identical prefabricated concrete forms, arranged in various combinations and divided into three pyramids (I’ve only shown two here because there was a stack of containers in the way of the third).

Safdie’s goal for the project to be affordable housing largely failed: demand for the building’s units has made them more expensive than originally envisioned.  Good old market forces, eh?

And then, there we were, in the Old Port

which gives some views over the city

and even makes the Old Town look reasonably attractive.

By this stage, it was nearly 3 o’clock, and so we decided that an early (for us) lunch was the order of the day.  There’s a square in the Old Town, Place Jacques Cartier, which features several restaurants, so we headed there, and Jane suggested we try Jardin Nelson, a restaurant on the ground floor and courtyard of the erstwhile Nelson Hotel – all of which, I suppose, take the name from the version of Nelson’s Column which stands at the top end of the square.

This turned out to be an inspired choice, as we were led to a table in the flower- and greenery-bedecked courtyard

which allowed us to hear the really very good jazz trio who were performing

without being overwhelmed by their volume.  We had an excellent poké bowl lunch and then tottered back to our hotel, once again via the good services of the Metro.

And that was it for Montréal, really – a city whose undoubtedly charming scenes just fail to overcome the downside of the scruffiness, graffiti and quotient of beggars and derelicts of the place. It occurs to me that we visited these eastern cities in the wrong order, largely as a consequence of our itinerary evolving over the space of three years, getting modified every time the trip was rescheduled.  Our route (you’ll remember, because you’ve been paying attention) has been from Ottawa to Québec City to Montréal.  I think a better (and more logical) route would be Ottawa – Montréal – Québec City, where the charm of the final destination might erase the less-than-distinguished memories from its predecessor.

Tomorrow sees an interruption to our eastward peregrination, as we head back to Winnipeg as part of ticking an important tourist box.  It involves an early start. To find out more, please join us over the next few days.  See ya later!

Québec Quests

Wednesday 21 September 2022 – Our second and final day in Québec dawned fine and sunny (according to the UK Met Office) or at least not raining (according to looking out of the hotel window). Given that it’s such a historic, individual and photogenic city, we felt we had to get out and explore; Jane had some specific sights she wanted to see as part of any wanderings on our part. To aid us in our quest to find out more about the place, we joined another “free” walking tour, this one led by Sam

who described himself as having a beard and a sense of humour – accurate in both cases, as it turns out. He was full of knowledge and amusing ways of putting stories across, often referring to the city’s official motto – “Je me souviens” – I remember.

To start with, we had to find Sam. The appointed meeting place was the fountain by the national assembly building

to reach which we walked up Rue St-Louis, which is an attractive street

containing the city’s oldest house

and its own city gate.

(not the original one – Sam explained that originally there was a much narrower opening, as befits a gate designed to restrict city access. After the British defeated the French here in 1759, they bolstered the defences in order (successfully) to resist the subsequent French siege. The city walls were saved from destruction in the late 19th century by the then Governor General of Canada, Lord Dufferin, who was enough of a visionary to realise the value of future tourism and so had the walls preserved and the gates widened to open the city to visitors). The fortifications, along with the rest of Old Québec, were designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985 and remain the only intact fortified colonial settlement in North America north of Mexico.

The National Assembly building has several statues in niches all over its façade. Sam identified two of them.

On the left – General Wolfe, the winner of the British fight for Quebec; on the right, the Marquis de Montcalm. History is written by the victors, and it’s unusual, and rather refreshing, to see any recognition on historic buildings of the people who came second. I think this is possibly a reflection of the thoughtful approach that Canadians seem to take to many aspects of life.

Sam is obviously a film buff, as he referred to a couple of films during his tour. One of them was “Catch Me If You Can“, a caper in which Tom Hanks tries to nab Leonardo DiCaprio as he blags his way across the world. The other was an Alfred Hitchcock thriller called “I confess“, about the dilemma facing a priest who receives confession from a murderer. Sam showed us the actual house where the “murder” was committed, something other guided tours don’t cover.

The current occupant of the house is clearly familiar with Sam leading tours past his house, as he came to the window and waved to us all.

Our tour then passed between two libraries – a modern one housed in an old French church and an old one housed in a more modern building which was originally a gaol.

Passing the Clarendon hotel, a building on a site with history that goes back as far as 1685, and is thus far older than the ancient-looking Chateau Frontenac

our next stop was at the Town Hall.

It’s a very imposing building, and doubtless Sam dispensed some interesting nuggets about it; but I became fascinated by its fountains.

After this, we headed (past a building with a very bizarre artwork attached to it)

towards Old Québec,

which is (a) historic, (b) photogenic and (c) contains many of the things Jane wanted to see. These included the “Breakneck Steps”, the city’s oldest steps, so called because they were once rather rickety as well as steep;

then round the corner to this:

which, presented as above (with some photoshoppery), looks like a city scene, but is actually the Québec city mural, telling the story of Québec;

indigenous artwork in a street off Place Royale;

and another wonderful building-side mural

(again, here, with image manipulated – it really looks as below).

The whole area is desperately photogenic

and gives what Sam asserts is the best view of the Chateau Frontenac – and who am I to argue?

Trees in the above photo actually hide the Funicular, which people can use to travel up to the hotel square if they are prepared to pay the 4 CAD fare.

The Place Royal features the outline of where the first building in Québec stood

and Sam pointed out that this was where Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio actually stood during the filming of “Catch Me If You Can“. Just round the corner is the ultimate Selfie Spot,

where one can ruin a perfectly decent city scene by appearing in it, on the Old City Centre Swing. There are any number of photo opportunities around this part, and the place really, really feels like Paris.

It isn’t, of course, but is often used in films to portray France. In the above, the piano accordion is actually an electronic instrument and you can’t move far without the smell of popcorn pervading the air – giveaways that you’re not in France after all. (Another one is the ubiquity of tin roofs; in France, lead is more commonly used.)

That ended Sam’s entertaining and informative tour, so we headed back up to the hotel up the

172 steps you need to climb.

For once, instead of eating at the hotel, good as its meals are, we had booked an early dinner outside, at a place recommended by Ian Burley called Le Hobbit. The restaurant is in Rue St-Jean, which gave us an opportunity to walk to it past the Observatoire de la Capitale, which is on the 31st floor of a building next to the National Assembly. So once again we headed up Rue St-Louis, pausing to take a photo of Churchill and Roosevelt

(these sculptures celebrating their meeting here in 1943 to plan the D-Day Landings) and found our way to the top of the Observatoire building. One needs to book, and, helpfully, there’s a QR code on the ground floor for paying one’s entrance. But we didn’t have internet access, and it needed help from a sympa young chap who was guarding the Observatoire on the top floor to help us pay our entrance fees. That achieved, we had a few minutes to wander the four sides of the Observatoire, looking at the views of the city around us.

Then we crossed to Rue St-Jean, which is jolly picturesque,

includes the Church of St. John the Baptist which gives the street its name

and has some interesting shop windows.

We had a very good meal at Le Hobbit (thanks, Ian). Then we wandered back to the hotel in the gathering gloom, via the Old Town, to see if it was as picturesque at night as it is during the day.

This signalled the end of our time in Québec, as we had to be ready to catch an earlyish train to Montréal the next morning. It would have been nice to have had more time to explore – a lesson learned for future holidays of the pith and moment of this one – but it was lovely to have seen what we did. Jane thought that maybe it was just a little bit too picture perfect, but I loved the place. Maybe we’ll be back; who knows? But tomorrow is onward! to Montréal, so please come back to see what we made of things there.

Day 2 – In the Amman City of Jordan’s capital

Monday 16 May 2022 – A shorter day beckoned, although you’ll see from the number of photos in this entry that the intensity didn’t diminish much from yesterday.  However, we didn’t have to get under way until 10am, when we met our driver, Saeed (since we now have his card, we know how to spell his name properly; but I’m not going back to correct the joke), and our guide for the day, Marwan, and set out to explore Amman. As it turned out, we did the itinerary in the reverse order of what Audley had described in our literature, but since we hadn’t really read that, it didn’t really make much difference.

Our starting point was the Citadel of Amman, the city’s historic and archeological centre. Marwan gave us a long, detailed and complex run down of the cultural influences that have formed Jordan and Amman.  The highlights are summarised on some monoliths just by the Citadel entrance, which trace the naming of the city as the various cultures came and went:

  • Rabbath & Ammon – Iron & Bronze Ages and the Greeks
  • Philadelphia – the Romans and the subsequent Byzantine period when they converted (Christianity, rather than North Sea Gas)
  • Amman – the arrival of Muslims and the Ottomans.

(Round the corner on this patch is a stone dedicated to, inter alia, the British influence which started after World War I.  Several of the key letters have fallen off this one, so, for example, it would appear to start with the “itish Mandate” from 19AD – 1946AD.)

The cultural roots of Jordan are utterly bewildering, as wave after wave of nationalities have washed over the place and left some influences and picked up others. Arabs of many persuasions, Muslims, Turks, Kurds, Bedouin of all sorts of nationalities, and even Gypsies (of three different types, apparently) have come and either gone or stayed and this makes Jordan a real melting pot.   The Citadel, however, displays principally its Graeco-Roman roots.

It being a Citadel, it’s on top of a hill to maximise its defensive chops, and so you can get a great view over the old city of Amman – “old” in this case meaning from about the last century.

There’s an obvious exception to the “last century” tag bang in the middle of that picture – the Theatre – and we’ll come to that later.  But Marwan did educate us on one point of subtlety about its construction which gives away its Greek roots.  When Romans built theatres, they made them self-contained, stand-alone constructions, whereas the Greeks tended to build them based on and incorporated into natural features such as a hill; you can see this is the case with Amman’s Theatre.  We visited it later so there are more photos below.

A couple of other things about the old city of Amman.  Firstly, its colour, or, rather, lack of it. The buildings are of a uniform sandy colour, and this is mandated. The idea is that it should not differentiate itself too much from the hills upon which it is built.  Secondly is something you might not even notice until someone points it out, and then you can’t unsee it: white tanks on top of all of the buildings.

These are water tanks, and the reason they’re needed is that water is only pumped to any one area of the city on one day a week. So each building gets to fill its tank, but this has to last for seven days.

Our route round the Citadel took us past the Temple of Hercules

and then further on past the remains of an episcopal church.

Marwan pointed out that this was a view over the religious history of the city from pagan to Christian.  The site also had a palace from the Ummayad period (8th Century), which had a stone roof until an earthquake did for it; a team of visiting Spanish archaelogists (there’s a strong connection with Andalucia as this became part of the Ummayad caliphate) subsequently built a wooden dome clad in lead.

The varied cultural roots of Jordan continue in the details of the decoration of the stonework inside the building.

If you look carefully, you can see a cross between the two arches, betraying Christian influences.

As we walked outside, we were distracted from all this cultural hoo-hah by the appearance of a lark

and, delightfully, a hoopoe.

The next stage on the journey round the Citadel was the museum, which contains all sorts of historical artefacts from all over the Arab world. I’m not, frankly, much into the detail, but a couple of things stood out.

Lovely bowls, yes, but – Tupper ware?  If someone reading this knows any credible historical reason why this is not a mis-translation, please answer in the comments section. There were some striking clay coffins

seen here with the alarm sensor that Jane triggered when gesturing to a detail on the coffin.  But the minders let us off with a mild beating and we went on our way.*

We returned to the car and Saeed took us on a short drive so we could see the old town, which is exactly as colourful, hectic and chaotic as you would expect from having seen how they drive over here.

We actually started this part of the tour by going to the Theatre (behind us in this shot) but simply getting across the road was an act of derring-do.

The Theatre.  Ah, yes, the Theatre, originally built between 138 and 161 CE, during the rule of the Antoninus Pius.  It’s massive – seats 6,000 apparently.

Marwan, ever a source of intriguing nuggets, told us that one of the ways that historians calculate the number of inhabitants of a Roman city was based on the size of the theatres.

Before we got to clamber up all those steps, we looked into the two small museums on the Theatre site, the Jordan Folklore Museum and The Jordanian Museum of Popular Traditions.  In the latter of these, we had a bizarre encounter with two young Arab ladies who spotted what a big camera I had and wanted me to take their picture with it.  Trouble is, they spoke no English.  Jane got Marwan to translate and even he was struggling to understand what they wanted, since they originally wanted Jane in the picture as well.  That was a non-starter.

It turned out that they wanted to be photographed with a tourist so they could show off their cultural credentials, presumably to their mates on Instagram; but they couldn’t grasp the technicalities of transferring a picture from my Nikon to their phones and for some reason didn’t want to use either of their phones (both iPhones, I might add, so would have been perfectly capable of providing a picture). So, here they are, immortalised on a platform that will be read by literally one or two people. Probably Jane and me.

After we agreed that we couldn’t (wouldn’t) help them, we looked around the rest of this museum, the folklore one,

which included a model of a chap selling a liquorice drink, which Jane found rather fetching.

For myself, I was taken with a display that included music instruments.

Bottom left you see implements for grinding coffee, which was a rhythmic exercise, thus often done to music.

The other museum had some examples of mosaic work and also further models of costumes, including a Bedouin Police Uniform

designed, apparently, by the British.  I never satisfactorily understood how that happened.

And so to the Theatre itself. Of course we had to climb all the way to the top.  There were many, many steps, not all of them completely safe.  But the view from the top was quite something

and then all we had to do was to clamber down again, a process which would sting quite badly if one got it wrong.  Happily, we made it to the bottom unscathed, and carried on our walk into the bowels of Amman Old Town.  Again, crossing the road to get there was far more dangerous than anything we’d encountered on the Theatre steps.  It’s a vibrant, colourful area.

Marwan took us on a small detour through a fruit and vegetable market, which was exactly as noisy, crowded and exotic as you might expect (I never once found a position to stand where I wasn’t in someone’s way within five seconds) with all sorts of fruits and leaves and spices the like of which we knew not.

The final part of the tour, and continuing the cultural induction aspects, was lunch. This was taken in a restaurant called Hashem which seemed to span several properties, but had a very simple offering: pitta bread accompanied by salad and pickles and any or all of falafel, fava beans and hummus.  Tea, coffee, coke or water were the available drinks, and everything was served on a plastic sheet with no cutlery or plates or luxuries like that.  Basic, it was. Delicious, it was.  I even took a photo of it, but it’s more than my life is worth to share it here. After that, Marwan took us for pudding to a shop which is part of a chain called Habiba sweets.  The menu is largely incomprehensible, even the bits in English.

Znood set, anyone? Marwan ordered us something that turned out to be coarse kunafeh – shreds of pasta on a cheese base, topped with syrup and ground pistachios. It’s the second from right in this picture

and was, you guessed it, delicious.  Vastly calorific, but, hey, we’re on holiday.  The shop also sells sweets and has a beautifully-crafted display.

And that was it for the day.  Saeed took us back to our hotel where we promptly fell into a siesta, only waking in my case to write about the day before all the details got lost.  Quite a few of them did, but I hope there’s enough in the above to have entertained you thus far.

(Later: having slaved over this blog entry, we went down to the hotel bar for a couple of drinks


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and ended up having a very enjoyable chat with the bar staff – some compensation for the extraordinary price for the drinks. You can drink alcohol in Jordan, but it’s not a cheap pastime.

Tomorrow we leave Amman for the next stage of our holiday here.  We go to Petra and I hope that the prospect of reading about that in these here web pages will keep you coming back for more, to learn how we got on.


*  I’m joking. A chap poked his head round the corner and then went away again.