Montreal: Lost in the Jazz

I arrived in Montreal late Thursday night and checked into my hotel after 12:00am. I walked into an elevator full of musicians, each holding a musical instrument. They obviously knew each other and got off the same floor – one floor below me - except for the one guy who apologized for holding up the elevator. He said he was just saying Goodnight to his friends. Guess what I saw and heard when I turned on the TV? It dawned on me that I just had an elevator ride with one of the famous bands that had a hit song in the ‘90s, the name of the band was mentioned in the news relative to the cost of concert tickets. My trip to Montreal coincided with the biggest Jazz Festival in the world – The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. The hotel that I stayed in was in the Complexe Desjardins mall downtown, the core of the festival.

It was past 9:00am when I stepped out of the hotel to explore the city when I noticed lots of people walking in front of the Jardin complexes, towards the stage behind me, there was another stage in front of me and another one two blocks away, enclosed in an area closed off to traffic.  I walked through the streets following the direction that the hotel concierge gave me to find the Hop-on-Hop-off bus stop. As a side note: when visiting a city for the first time, I’d like to hop on a Hop-on-Hop-off bus to familiarize myself and survey the place and decide later where and how to get to a point of interest that I want to spend time in. The Hop-on-Hop-off bus stop was supposed to be three blocks away from my hotel. I waited in the area that the hotel concierge directed me to go, but there was no bus. Thinking that I was not in the right place, I walked farther. I walked the grounds of the Quartier des Spectacles, reached McGill University and kept going back and forth to the bus stop.  Finally, I went to the nearby hotel to ask for direction. They gave me a map with the time schedule. It was only then I realized that the hop-on-hop-off schedule was between 10am-4pm. By the time I hopped on the bus, I was already familiar with the Quartier des Spectacles surrounding area that the guide was narrating about.

Not far from McGill University we passed the Museum of Fine Arts. A beautiful modern glass sculpture could be found just outside the museum, which the guide described as a Chihuly glass sculpture that cost the art commission millions. Another piece of art found outside the museum was a totem pole – called Residential School Totem Pole – that tells the story of how the carver, Joseph, found himself again after surviving the horrors of a residential school in the area. 

I decided to get off the bus at St. Joseph Oratory when I saw a massive ground and hundreds step leading to the main basilica. I figured it would be a great opportunity to get my work out for the day while exploring the whole place at the same time.

The next stop was the Mont Royal Park, where I got off and walked for a couple of miles to the lake and the lookout area with a spectacular view of the city.

It was almost four when we reached the final bus stop, so I had to transfer to the last Hop-on-Hop-off bus to return to my original destination. I did not get off the bus, only listened to the guide narration as we passed some points of interest like the Notre-Dame Basilica, Place D’Armes, Place Jacques Cartier, the Gay Village, and a park where another type of festival was going on: the circus festival. Our guide announced that we could go and watch some circus acts at 7:00pm for free. 

Walking back to my hotel, I passed stalls selling tickets to multiple concert and venues hosting shows. But there were free musical programs taking place across different stages. I wanted to grab a quick bite from the many food courts and restaurants connected to the underground mall but got distracted by the music performance taking place inside the Complexe Desjardins mall. Instead, I stopped and listened to a couple of songs before going up to my hotel room. After freshening up, I went out and followed the crowd toward the direction of the big stage where young musicians started to perform. I went to sit and ordered some snacks and drink at a pop-up bar and watched a succession of young performers performed for younger audiences, families and all music lovers.

Later that evening, I did not have to go outside the hotel to watch another performance. There was a bar outside the hotel terrace looking over the core stage of the jazz festival. I watched the whole performance that featured Hannah Williams in the comfort of the hotel terrace. I had a great view of the enormous’ Place des Festivals’ where I saw the crowds fill up the stairs by the fountains and sculptures of Place des Arts and the Montreal Contemporary Arts Museum. Behind Place des Arts was the Promenade des Artistes, a narrow stretch of street and public space linking Quartier des Spectacles. 

The following morning, I wanted to get an early start and explore the Old Town and do my workout routine (walking) at the same time. I was told that it was a 10-minute walk from the hotel. I headed down St. Catherine Street that was closed off to traffic, it was lined with food trucks, pop-up bars, and merchandise vendors. I missed the wrong turn and ended in the area with blocks and blocks of hanging colorful balls. I found out later that it was the Gay Village

I thought that following the direction to the old Church steeple would lead me to the Old Town, but it led me to the Latin Quarter. Needless to say, I was lost again.

I was literally doing a walking tour of the city on my own, passing China Town, Palace the Congress.

Finally, I arrived at the magnificent splendor or the Notre-Dame Basilica, the landmark of Old Town Montreal. Typical of a big tourist attraction, I found musicians, street performers and lots of tourists at the Notre-Dame Basilica plaza.

In my travels, I always try to visit a famous religious structure or church for it was inside a religious structure where I saw some of the most amazing works of art. Most of the big churches in a big city normally open to the public, but when I tried to make my way to go inside, I noticed a long line. I had to get in line and pay $6.00 to go inside and see “Aura”, an innovative art project that literally sheds light to the history and architecture of the Basilica as well as the art that can be found within its walls. It was truly spectacular, and unexpected, to see the light and the work of art and architecture and to hear the orchestral music. I was not only captivated by this unique ‘luminous experience’ inside the church, but by the city of arts and culture.


All photos by the author



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