Walking tour of Old Montreal

Vieux Montreal is a safe and lively neighbourhood tucked away between the St. Lawrence River and the center of town. It dates back more than 350 years and is the city’s birthplace. The area has a long and interesting history and it helped shape the Montreal of today.

Since the best way to know a place is on foot, here is a walking tour that will take you along quaint streets and show the highlights of Old Montreal.

One of the many gorgeous streets
One of the many gorgeous streets

What better than a hearty breakfast to start the day? Head to Olive + Gourmando (351 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest) It opens at 8 and by 11 it’s already jam-packed. It’s closed on Sundays and Mondays, so plan accordingly. Their delicious cafe au lait and moist chocolate and banana brioche will fortify you for this walk and leave you begging for more. If you must inevitably take this tour on a Monday, start at the museum and then have your cafe au lait at Creme de la Creme (21 rue de la Commune, it has another entrance on the corner of Rue St-Paul and Rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste), a more traditional local cafe.

As you leave the cafe, walk down Rue St-Paul to your left as far as Place Royal. Turn right and head towards Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal’s Museum of Archaeology and History. The museum was built on the very site where Mass was held on May 17, 1642 to celebrate the funding of Montreal. Its underground archaeological exhibition covers six centuries of history: from the time the First Nations lived there to the present. You can also see the first man-made structure associated with the founding of Montreal: the city’s first Catholic cemetery discovered as recently as 1989. In the archaeological crypt you’ll find an interactive installation that showcases scenes of daily life in 1750.  There are free guided tours every Saturday, both in French and in English.

The cupola of Bonsecours towers over the street
The cupola of Bonsecours towers over the street

Walk back to Rue Saint-Paul. Amble past overpriced souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Soak up the European atmosphere. As you approach Rue Dizier, look out for Les Chuchoteuses, a bronze sculpture of three chubby town gossips by Quebecois artist Rose-Aimee Belanger placed right on the corner.

A few blocks further up Rue Saint-Paul you’ll see the Bonsecours Market on your right. It was built in 1847 and went through many reincarnations until the present one as headquarters of the Conseil des metiers d’art du Quebec (Quebec Crafts Council). The market houses art shops, boutiques and cafes, as well as free exhibitions of arts and crafts. Its building is considered one of Canada’s ten finest heritage buildings.

OldMontreal1
Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours

Across Rue Bonsecours is the church of Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. It was built in 1771 over the ruins of an earlier stone chapel. It is also known as the Sailors’ Church. Sailors have left carved wood replicas of sailing ships as tokens of thanks. Take time to visit the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum next door (closed on Mondays, opening times vary throughout the year, adult admission fee $12) dedicated to the founder of the  Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal and pioneer of Montreal. Through the crypt you enter an archaeological site where you can see remains of the foundations of the first stone chapel, traces of the First Nations people’s everyday life 2400 years ago, as well as artifacts that trace the history of this site. Climb to the top of the tower, the highest point on Montreal, for fantastic views of Old Montreal, the river, the Old Port and beyond.

Chateau Ramezay
Chateau Ramezay

Now walk up Rue Bonsecours as far as Rue Notre-Dame and turn left. One block over, on your left, is the Chateau Ramezay Museum (280 Rue Notre-Dame Est). A former governor’s residence built in 1706 in the French Regime style; its displays show economic and social life in the 18th and 19th century Quebec.

As you leave the museum, walk along Rue Notre-Dame to your left. You’ll see the Hotel Ville (City Hall, 1872-1878) on your right and next to it, the Vieux Palais de Justice (Old Courthouse, 1856). Almost across from the City Hall is the Place Jacques-Cartier, a pedestrian street that slopes towards the waterfront. It is lined with cafes and restaurants, park benches, artists selling sketches and paintings, and lots of flowers in the warmer months.

The amazing altar of Notre-Dame basilica
The amazing altar of Notre-Dame basilica

Return to Rue Notre-Dame. A few blocks further south west is the Notre-Dame Basilica. It was built in 1824-1829 and its interior design was inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. The nave is kept relatively dark so that the brightly lit altar stands out in all its grandeur. There is a $5 admission fee. It was built by an Irish Protestant architect who converted to Catholicism before the church was finished, undoubtedly moved by this powerful work of art.

Across the street from the basilica is the Place d’Armes. At its center is a monument to the founder or Montreal, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve (1612-1676). Old Montreal is a real gem well worth a visit.

Place Jean Cartier
Place Jacques-Cartier
Sources
Pointe-à-Callière
Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum 
Chateau Ramezay
Notre-Dame Basilica
Frommer’s Montreal & Quebec City 2009
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Self-guided walk of Old Portsmouth

I have been to Portsmouth before, on a previous visit to my in-laws. They live half-way between London and the south coast, so it’s easy for me to jump on the train and head south to Portsmouth for a day out. I’ve been to the Historic Dockyards but this time round, I visited the old town and saw a different aspect of this interesting city by the sea.

The main attraction of the city of Portsmouth is the Historic Dockyards, where visitors can see such iconic ships as Nelson’s HMS Victory or the remains of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s ship. However, there is more to Portsmouth than the Dockyards and the Spinnaker Tower.

I’m going to share what I saw and learned on my walk from the Portsmouth & Southsea railway station (1) to the seafront.

Portsmouth & Southsea station opened on 14 June 1847
Portsmouth & Southsea station opened on 14 June 1847

As I left the station, I turned left and walked under the railway bridge towards the Guildhall. The imposing building is now used as an entertainment and conference venue. Across the plaza from the Guildhall is the City Council, a concrete eyesore in my opinion.

The interior and roof of the Guildhall were destroyed in the 1941 air raid. The walls and tower suffered great damage. It was rebuilt and reopened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.
The interior and roof of the Guildhall were destroyed in the 1941 air raid. The walls and tower suffered great damage. It was rebuilt and reopened by Queen Elizabeth II in 1959.

Farther on, the conspicuous Isambard Kingdom Brunel pub marks the start of the Guildhall Walk. Along the street, shops, more pubs, people going about their business, a vampire or two. Wait! What? It was Halloween and some people wore costumes all day. The New Theatre Royal, a pretty Victorian construction, is located at the opposite end of Guildhall Walk.

The start of Guildhall Walk. The Isambard Kingdom Brunel in on the right hand corner.
The start of Guildhall Walk. The Isambard Kingdom Brunel in on the right hand corner.

I didn’t have a map with me but, as it turned out, I didn’t need it. There are very helpful and easy to follow maps of the area in important intersections. I walked down Cambridge Road/A3. There are many University of Portsmouth buildings here. The atmosphere in the street was a lively one with students milling around. I continued past the University Library to the next roundabout and turned left onto Museum Road.

University Library

The building of the City of Portsmouth Museum (2) is a Victorian beauty, especially the back. Here, I learned that Arthur Conan Doyle worked as a doctor in Portsmouth for many years and this is where he started his writing career. However, the Scottish author wasn’t the only famous writer with a local connection: Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth. There’s a Charles Dickens’ Trail on Old Portsmouth. I picked up a leaflet and tried to follow it.

The back facade of the museum
The back facade of the museum

I walked back to the roundabout and down High Street in Old Portsmouth. The street is lined with low buildings, many Victorian but many look more recent. I later learned that Portsmouth was attacked with incendiary bombs in 1941 during World War II. Many buildings were destroyed, 930 civilians died and about 3,000 were wounded in the blitz. So were many of the buildings on the Dickens’ trail.

High Street - Old Portsmouth
High Street – Old Portsmouth

I stopped at the John Pounds Memorial Unitarian Church. Charles Dickens is said to have befriended and admired John Pounds. Pounds (1766-1839, voted Portsmouth Man of the Millennium), was a crippled cobbled who taught destitute children to read and write and also fed and clothed them. He is acknowledged to have set in motion the movement towards universal free education in England.

Replica of John Pounds workshop
Replica of John Pounds workshop

Pounds’ legacy continued in the Ragged Schools movement in the United Kingdom and the US. The chapel where he worshipped was destroyed in the 1941 blitz and was rebuilt in 1956. A very kind member of the congregation showed me the replica of Pound’s workshop, told me the whole story and asked me to spread the word.

I stopped at a Co-op to buy something to eat. I took mi picnic across the street to the cathedral green and sat in the golden light of autumn to enjoy my sandwich.

The cathedral
The cathedral

Portsmouth Cathedral has a long history. The building developed from a medieval chapel built in 1185, which is now the quire. A very knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteer took around and explained everything there is to know about the cathedral.

The medieval nave
The medieval nave

I went on to the end of the streets and the seawalls. Portsmouth was a walled garrison town until the 1870s under constant threat of invasion. The Square Tower, right at the end of High Street, is among the oldest fortifications and it dates to 1494. The sun was setting and its golden light bathed the stone walls. A fisherman was packing up at the end of the pier, a couple of lovers whispering sweet nothings on each other’s ears. Time to turn round and go back home.

portsmouth14

I continued on Battery Row, where people were taking a quiet dusk stroll, enjoying the salty air. I had a look at the Royal Garrison Church (3), built in 1212. The nave lost the roof in the air raid of 1941.

Royal Garrison Church
Royal Garrison Church

Back to High Street, then on to Guildhall Walk and the station.

Battery Row
Battery Row
(1) Those interested in visiting the Dockyards should take the train to Portsmouth Harbour station.
These lines connect Portsmouth with other English cities: the First Great Western from Cardiff Central, the South West Trains from London Waterloo and Southampton Central and the Southern from London Victoria, Littlehampton and Brighton.
(2) Opening Times: April – September: 10.00am – 5.30pm. October – March: 10.00am – 5.00pm. Open Tuesday-Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays. Closed on Mondays (except Bank Holidays). Admission is free of charge.
(3) Open from April to September from 11am to 4pm.

A guided history walk of Guildford

The first time I ever heard the name Guildford was in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father, with Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma Thompson, which I watched in Buenos Aires. The movie is about the Guildford Four, a group of people wrongly convicted of the 1974 IRA’s bombing of two pubs in Guildford, England.

In a surprising turn of events, I first visited Guildford a decade later with my now husband, who grew up in the area. I’ve been back many times in the intervening years, whether for sightseeing or shopping. Only recently did I become interested in local history, which spans from Anglo Saxon times to today. After a little digging, I came across the Guildford Town Guides, a group of voluntary guides that take visitors on themed walks around the city, free of charge. They encourage visitors to donate money, which each guide gives to the charity of their choice.

High Street seen from the bottom
High Street seen from the bottom

On my recent visit to my in-laws, I chose to do the Historic Guildford walking tour. The meeting point was under the Tunsgate Arch on the High Street. The arch was built in 1818 on the site of the demolished Tun Inn to protect sacks of corn from the rain, as the corn market took place on the High Street outside the Guildhall directly across the street. Guildford had been a market town since Saxon times and a market is what distinguishes a town from a village.

Our guide, Jennifer, met us there. The tour started at 2.30 on the dot. We started with a little history of the High Street. This is one of my favorite spots and I never tire of admiring its gentle towards the River Wey.

The High Street seen from the top
The High Street seen from the top. The Tunsgate Arch is on the left, the Classical looking construction with the columns.The clock on the right hangs from the guildhall’s wall.

The village of Guildeforde, such was its Anglo Saxon name, ran along one street, the present day High St. At the time, they used ditches as boundaries between town and country. The present-day North Street was known then as Lower Backside (cue giggles) and Sydenham Street was known as Upper Backside. There are still passages between houses that run from north to south to the countryside. One such passage is known as Jeffries’ Passage, named after a chemist. Our guide said, rather cheekily, that it was an unfortunate name. Would any British reader kindly enlighten me as to why?

Jennifer told us a little about some of the buildings there. For example, the site of the local branch of Lloyd’s Bank was Guildford’s first bank. The original shop sold silk and other expensive goods. It was so secure that other merchants started to leave valuables there for safekeeping. The silk merchant then came up with the idea of starting the town’s first bank. A couple of doors down from the bank is Russell House, home of portraitist John Russell (1745-1806.)

The former silk shop
The former silk shop

In the early 17th and the beginning of the 18th century, Guildford was the centre of the stagecoach era thanks to its strategic position between London and the south coast and the west of England. There were many turnpike inns along the street, such as the Angel Hotel, a posting house and livery. The oldest part of the building dates back to the 13th century. The black and white front is beautiful.

The Angel Hotel and Posting House
The Angel Hotel and Posting House

Another historic building on the High Street is the Guildhall, where a medieval guild used to convene. Two charters, one from 1259 granted by Edward III and one from 1488 granted by Henry VII, allowed the town to be governed by a mayor and “men of good repute” (merchants.) Thus, 13 men and a mayor ran Guildford until elections became mandatory in the 1830s.

The bottom part of the building dates from 1588 (the year of the Armada) and was used for committee meetings and trials. The original coats of arms on the windows are those of Elizabeth I, Anne of Denmark and Guildford. In the right hand corner is a set of original Elizabethan official measures. The other extant set is in Winchester.

The meetings room of the guildhall. The judge sat with his back to the window, the witnesses to his left and the accused to his right.
The meetings room of the guildhall. The judge sat with his back to the window, the witnesses to his left and the accused to his right.

The top part of the Guildhall was built in 1683 and housed the council chambers. It has the only source of heat in the building, a 1633 fireplace salvaged from a demolished house. The insert (metal bit) is Regency. The floor is askew because of old age.

The photographer was not tipsy, the floors are slanted.
The photographer was not tipsy, the floors are slanted.

The landing was added in the 1900s and was –I believe it still is- used as changing area for councilors and judges. This is where the robes are kept: red for aldermen, black for councilors and blue for honorary freemen. Each robe has a tag with the name of its wearer.

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Red robes for the aldermen

At the top of the High Street is Abbott’s Hospital (1619-1622.) George Abbott, a Guildford native, attended the Royal Grammar School and went on to become an Oxford don, bishop of London and Coventry and archbishop of Canterbury. He was grateful to his hometown for the education he received and founded this hospice for the poor. It was modelled after Oxford colleges with a quadrangle (yard) in the centre, a warden and a porter.

The quadrangle at Abbott's Hospital, which is not an actual hospital but a home.
The quadrangle at Abbott’s Hospital, which is not an actual hospital but a home.

Although men and women slept separately, there were common rooms for meals and a chapel. The place was financed by rents coming in from farms owned by the hospice. The building still functions as a hospice; an extension was built on the original garden in the 1980s. Prospective residents have to meet one or more of these conditions nowadays: having lived 20 years in Guildford, having served the country or have nowhere else to go.

Abbott's Hospital at the top of High St.
Abbott’s Hospital at the top of High St., opposite Holy Trinity church

We ended the visit in the Undercroft. This one dates from the 1290s and is located under a croft (Scots for house) near the bottom of the High Street. In the Middle Ages, undercrofts were used for storage: dairy in the north end because it was cooler and animals at the opposite end. This undercroft was thought to have been used as a shop, possibly selling wine from France. The borough rents the undercroft from the shop above and is open to visitors on Wednesday and Saturday afternoon from May to September.

 View of the undercroft.
View of the undercroft. Robert is wearing 13th century clothing. Guildford was a wool town and has a blue dye named after it. Guildfrod blue was made with local yellow flowers and urine.

There were people from all walks of life and ages in my group: locals who were interested in the town’s history, as were a couple of pensioners, tourists and university students (I was the only non-European, though.) I thoroughly enjoyed the walk and I sincerely recommend it.

London’s Little Venice

When I think of canals, I think of Venice or Amsterdam. But I recently discovered that these aren’t the only cities crisscrossed by canals. Good old London has them too!

View of the canal towards Edgware Road
View of the canal towards Edgware Road

London’s (and Britain’s) canal system was a child of the Industrial Revolution and its demand for cheap transport for goods and commodities. It may sound odd to modern ears but the boats were horse-drawn and the horses walked along the tow paths. One horse could carry thirty tonnes at a time. Nowadays, water buses transport passengers to and from Camden Town.

The horse-drawn boats are long gone but the canals still remain and became part of a lifestyle. The area known as Little Venice consists of a pool of water where the Grand Union and Regent’s canals meet. It is sought after as it provides a posh postcode on the (relatively) cheap, as this is where houseboats can be moored. It is a lovely, quiet area surrounded by mainly elegant Georgian houses along tree-lined streets.

Tow path chock-a-block with plants
Tow path chock-a-block with plants

Regent’s Canal lies just north of Central London. It is 8.6 miles (13.8 km) long and was built in the early 1800’s as an alternative way to transport goods to Paddington Station. Some sections of the tow path are open to the public and some are for residents only. I walked along Regent’s Canal for a while on a sunny spring day. It was a very pleasant stroll and it provided a glimpse into houseboat life.

Home sweet home
Home sweet home

There isn’t much space so every nook and cranny is filled with stuff. The small kitchens -or should I call them galleys? –  were very functional and luminous. Many boats had a table and one or two chairs on deck to take advantage of the fine weather, as well as potted plants and even gardening implements. As far as I know, some moorings (hopefully all) offer full facilities: showers, washers and dryers and the like, as well as connection to water, electricity and phone services. There were well-tended patches of garden along the tow path brimming with spring blooms.

Sit down for a cuppa
Sit down for a cuppa

It seems to me that living on a houseboat fulfills both the desire to own a house and the freedom to take it with you, as some British narrow boats are capable of navigating the European canal systems.

I’m not sure I could live on one permanently. Could you?

To visit Little Venice, take the Bakerloo Line to Warwick Avenue station and then walk down Bloomfield Road.

The architecture of Downtown Dallas

I met Penny, from Adventures of a Carry-On, through social media first and in person last week. She’d published an article on the architecture of Downtown Dallas, I commented on it, and then we continued the conversation on Twitter and finally exchanged phone numbers. Since we both live in Dallas, we arranged to meet for lunch and a stroll.

Our meeting point was outside the Wilson Building, on the corner of Main and Ervay streets. The Wilson was built in 1903 and its design was inspired by the Grand Opera House of Paris.

The Wilson is now dwarfed by modern high-rises
The Wilson is now dwarfed by modern high-rises

Main Street was given its less-than-creative name by John Neely Bryan, the founder of Dallas. The area became the financial and commercial centre of the infant city and still remains so. It had periods of growth and decadence and now it’s experiencing a kind of revival, with new businesses, hotels and old office buildings being converted into lofts and apartments, like the Kirby.

The Kirby Building (1509 Main St.) was built in 1913 in the Late Gothic style by Adolphus Busch, he of Budweiser fame. Originally, it housed offices and a department store. The lobby reminds me of a church with the decorative ribs of its ceiling and the marble staircase. The views of Dallas from the 18th floor terrace are spectacular, including that of the red Pegasus.

The Kirby
The Kirby

The red Pegasus is a symbol of Dallas. The original is on display inside Dallas Farmers Market and used to be on the roof of the Magnolia Building. Magnolia Petroleum (now Exxon Mobil) built their headquarters in 1922 in the Renaissance Revival style. The red Pegasus was its emblem and was placed on the roof in 1934. Nowadays, The Magnolia is a high-end hotel (1401 Commerce St.)

The Magnolia seen from the Kirby's terrace
The Magnolia seen from the Kirby’s terrace

There are a handful of landmark buildings in this area, like The Adolphus, on the corner of Commerce and Akard. This splendid hotel was built by Adolphus Busch in 1912 in the Beaux Arts style. It must be wonderful to have a luxury hotel built and name it after you. How does the Ana Hotel sound? Not very grand, I’m afraid.

Two other historic buildings are being redeveloped: the Merc (the Mercantile National Bank Complex – Main, Ervay, Commerce and St. Paul streets), built in 1943. It was the tallest building in the city at the time. The 1931 Lone Star Gas Co. building is an Art Deco gem located on 301 S. Harwood St

Lone Star Gas Co. Building
Lone Star Gas Co. Building