Fourth of July in Montreal

I had a great Fourth of July weekend. Two friends — one new, one old — and I embarked on a trip to Montreal. Laura LaCascia, a new friend from Connecticut, and Rob Woods, a long-time friend from Lambda Chi Alpha’s staff (who is currently an IBM intern in Vermont), were my companions.

On Thursday after work, I picked up Laura in New Haven and began the drive to Burlington, Vermont, where Rob currently lives. On the way, we pulled off the highway to look for a place to eat. At the time, we didn’t really know where we were, only that we were in Vermont. It was just becoming dusk.

After avoiding a near-collision with another driver who was not paying attention (another story), we found a busy ice cream store where we could stop and ask a local for directions. Little did we know we were just minutes away from downtown Montpelier (Vermont’s capitol), which was about to begin its fireworks show.

So we drove into town, had no problem parking, grabbed a few hot dogs from the street vendors, and enjoyed a 20 minute show. Though Montpelier is the capitol, it truly remains a small town — having only a few stop lights. After this great break, we headed back on the road and made it to Rob’s by midnight.

Friday morning, the three of us were on the road by 10 a.m. From Burlington, Vermont, the drive to Montreal took us less than two hours. Rob had been there before while traveling for Lambda Chi Alpha. But for Laura and I, this was our first time to this city.

I was surprised how big it was. I also didn’t know it was an island, surrounded by rivers.

We arrived to Montreal around lunch. After grabbing a quick bite to eat in the pavilion in the underground mall located below our hotel, we took the Metro to the Biodome de Montreal. Once an arena for the Olympics, the stadium was converted into a Biodome in June 1992. It now features four natural ecosystems: the tropical forest, the Laurentian forest, the Saint-Laurent marine environment, and the polar world.

Nearby, we found the Montreal Botanical Garden. Established in 1931, it is considered to be one of the world’s major botanical gardens. It boasts more than 21,000 species and varieties of plants. The Chinese and Japanese Gardens were the best, for they offered exotic landscapes. It was also nice to just sit and enjoy the scenery after a good afternoon of walking.

We then returned to the hotel to get checked in, cleaned up, and ready for a night of partying. Our hotel was the epicenter of the Montreal International Jazz Festival. With 500 shows that involve more than 2,000 musicians, the Festival attracts 1.6 million spectators annually, including more than 250,000 tourists — which explains why it was so hard for us to find a hotel room. But what a room we found, for at the base of our hotel were two stages and another four were located just blocks away. We were right, smack, dab in the middle of it all.

After a few drinks in the hotel lobby, we hit the streets. Search for a place to eat, we asked one of the restaurants with tables outside how long the wait would be. To our surprise and unbelievable luck, we were seated right away. Our table was just 50 yards away from the main stage. We had a direct view and were the envy of the 100,000 standing folks in the street. Needless to say, we stayed there the rest of the evening.

The show ended at midnight, so we were off to find some nightlife. What we found was the Jello Bar. This place rocked! They had a great band, diverse patrons, and fun disco/lounge atmosphere. It made for a great ending to a long and fun day.

I’ll write more about our Saturday and Sunday adventures when I get the chance.