Where we went, and who was coerced into going:
While we were in Montréal, we enjoyed utterly perfect weather – warm, sunny, breezy. It framed the city in such a favorable light, it was difficult to imagine the brutal winters which settle early on this island. In 1966, a major initiative began to build an underground network to connect downtown buildings, and allow the city’s weather-beleagured residents to get in out of the cold.
Today, the world’s largest underground pedestrian network, known as RÉSO, is 22 miles of malls and shops, office buildings, 14 hotels, three universities, the World Trade Centre, The Bell Centre hockey stadium, and16 Metro stations.
We found ourselves in and out of the network several times during our trip, although it was never really our true and final destination.
WHY did you go there, exactly?
Did I mention malls? That was reason enough for me to check it out. But when you avail yourself of Montréal’s wonderful Metro system, RÉSO is almost impossible to avoid.
I wasn’t expecting it to be a big hit with the kids, a hunch corroborated by the friendly mom blogger behind I Spy Montréal. Her blog is a wealth of information about family activities and events. I asked her, as a local, to suggest points of interest underground. She told us that Place Montréal Trust, one of the shopping centers within the network, has an Indigo bookstore on the top floor, with a nice kids’ section.
Okay, what was so cool about it?
For one thing, being down there brought back fun memories of my first trip to Montréal as a college junior, when a group of us visited my friend Linda, who was studying at McGill University for the semester. Unfortunately, she chose the winter semester, so our February trip forced us to explore underground. It was the first time (but hardly the last) I shopped at The Body Shop, and discovered my favorite beauty product of all time, Passion Fruit Facial Cleansing Gel. Every time I open a bottle, the sweet smell stirs up the same memories.
That trip also involved a nightclub called Zanzibar, a legal drinking age of 18, and an ill-conceived MC Hammer-esque outfit. The rest is banned from public mention in accordance with The Pact. (p.s. Montréal in February? COLD. To this day, I have never been colder in my life!)
On this trip, most of our exploration inside the network happened before or after the storefronts opened or closed for the day. (10am to 6pm most days). One night, Matt and I went out ourselves to check out the section near Gare Central, the main train station.
At 8pm, it was quiet but not desolate, with a few eateries still open. A few hours earlier, we would have had quite an extensive selection from which to choose. But it wouldn’t have mattered. I saw this sign, and made a full stop:
Can I get a show of hands … who else likes fried potatoes?
Not only were these fries “super,” they were served up as poutine, which means smothered with savory brown gravy and cheese curds, which get all melty and delicious. I didn’t see any defibrillators hanging on the nearby walls, but took a chance anyway. I selected the dish with smoked sausage, and Matt chose an Italian version (think pasta bolognese, with fries substituting for ziti.)
I did not take photos of my poutine, so eager was I to get noshing. If you want to see what a good poutine looks like, check MontrealPoutine.com. Ours didn’t look like that.
I’ve heard many people rave about poutine, and always wanted to try it. My poutine epiphanies were staggered over time. My first, immediate reaction was “mmmm…,’” then “salty…where’s my drink?,” then “this would be the perfect hangover remedy.” Several hours and ten TUMS later, the realization: “maybe a delicacy best NOT consumed at a fast food joint.”
A little background info about the place:
The name RÉSO was derived from the French word réseau, or network. RÉSO is a connected series of over 20 miles /32 km of heated and air conditioned tunnels spread over more than 4.6 square miles / 12 km. There are more than 120 exterior access points to this underground city, which has inspired Montréal’s nickname as the “Double-Decker City.”
How it rated on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = snoozefest, 10 = add to your bucket list):
Matt suggests a sliding scale ranging from 4 to 7 to rate the underground network, based on the weather and your desperation to escape it. As a shopping smorgasbord, I give it a 7.5.
Hey YOU! Go BIG:
Tourisme Montreal, 1 877 BONJOUR (266-5687)