Saturday, 27 October 2012

Montreal Underground

Montreal is home to one of the largest underground complexes in the world. It is truly an underground city. Maybe that explains why there are so many hipsters here. This becomes highly practical during days of shitty weather, or more importantly, during the sloppy Montreal winter weather.

Bitch, please!
We had underground complexes before they were cool

A couple of weeks ago during the weekend, I wanted to go out and about and run some errands. One of which includes buying new comics from 1,000,000 Comix on Pierce Street near Concordia. I got myself another Walking Dead (collected issue #6) of course and I was going to get the #2 for a new series I started called Criminal by Ed Brubaker an Sean Phillips, but he didn't have it. He was fresh out. Instead I picked up another crime noir type comic called Fell : Volume 1, Feral City, which is the story of detective Richard Fell who, after getting in trouble in the big city, had to be relocated to another police department across the river in an area called Snowtown. The artwork is so freakin' amazing. Detective stories are always cool, but coupled with this artist's drawings, you really get the feeling that Snowtown and its inhabitants are dirty, gritty and insane.

Walking eastward along Sainte-Catherine, it started to rain pretty hard. I didn't want to get my new comics all wet so I quickly went for the nearest underground entrance, which is at Les Cours Mont-Royal. I really wanted to walk that day, but the weather turned pretty bad, so I decided to stay underground and revisit the entire underground complex. All in all, I was able to get from the corner of Peel street and Sainte-Catherine, all the way to Place Des Arts. A feat I never accomplished before because I could never find the links between certain buildings. But, this time I succeeded. And I took some pictures to give you a tour at the same time.  So here goes.

First, Les Cours Mont-Royal, where I started. That mall is one of the poshiest shopping centres in the city. There are many brand-name haute couture stores there. You can tell it's swanky by all the chandeliers everywhere.

From there I took a tunnel and crossed over to the Carrefour Industrielle Alliance, home of the Scotia Bank theatre, a few stores, the biggest being Simons and a great food court.

Passing through that building, you eventually end up into Place Montreal Trust with it's multi-level mall. During the Christmas Holidays (read, starting November 1st) there is a HUGE Christmas tree that takes the place of the fountain in the middle of the plaza.

Now I've been heading east all along, following the green metro line, or Sainte-Catherine street. Finally, I get to the heart of the underground city: the Eaton Centre. The biggest mall downtown. In this area, you will find the McGill metro station which connects the Eaton Centre to the Complexe Les Ailes de la Mode, the Promenades Cathédrale and The Bay. So you get three huge shopping malls coming out of one subway station: McGill.

At the bottom floor of the Eaton centre there is another tunnel that goes south and connects to the Place Ville Marie shopping area and the central train station. I hate that tunnel because there are a couple of fake nails places that smell horrible. Probably the chemicals they use or god know what, but it mixes with the smell of a pizzeria and its disgusting. Think of a pizza with varnish as the sauce and fake nails as a topping.

It didn't take too long before I reached place Ville Marie. That place is another posh mall. Well, maybe not as posh as the Cours Mont-Royal. Most of the stores there sell mostly suits or office clothes and accessories. But, it was already past five so all the stores had closed down for the night.

From Place Ville Marie, I moved on to the central train station. That area has a neat food court with tons of great little kiosks that sell some very good food, as far as food court food goes.

From the train station I walked on to the 1000 De La Gauchetière through the underground. The 1000 is a really cool place, mainly because it's got a skating rink. Get it? God that was cheesy.

From the 1000, I walked down to the Bonaventure metro station. That station connects the 1000 with the Bell Centre, the old Windsor train station and the Place Bonaventure. Even though it's a dead end, I decided to go there, just for the extra walking distance.

 By the way, the Windsor station used to be an working train station, but now the place is just a large room that people pass through to get to the subway or that is used for private events and festivals. Such as private corporate Christmas parties, charity balls or the Montreal Beer Fest. The place also has some old pictures of the place and some artifacts from the time when this station was in function such as books, tools, telegraph machines, etc.

From there I back tracked to the metro station and took the tunnel in the direction of the Place Bonaventure, heading east along the orange metro line and Notre-Dame street. Place Bonaventure has a large centre that contains offices, shopping areas and a large area for exhibitions. Lately this area has been used for technology exhibitions, job fairs and my favourites, the Montreal Auto Show and the Montreal Comic Con. But, just like everything else on this side of the underground, after business hours, this place is dead. Also, at this point, I may be just a stone's throw away from the Palais des Congrès (congressional centre) at the surface, but I'm going to stick to the underground maze because my feel are still wet from walking in the heavy rain about an hour ago.

This portion of the underground has to be the most confusing area and the hardest to navigate. the tunnels don't go straight and are all at angles and there are very little signs to tell you where you're going. It's also kind of creepy because you sometimes go through these long white halls and there's not a soul in sight. These halls will take you from Place Bonaventure to the Place de la cité internationale all the way to Palais des Congrès.

The place de la cité internationale leads to the Square Victoria metro station which connects to the much better looking tunnels of the Palais des congrès. But, that tunnel splits and another branch leads to the Centre de commerce mondial, or the world commerce centre. Those tunnels are often used for photo shoots because of the modern underground look it has, like some kind of futuristic secret complex.

Even though it leads away from the path I'm supposed to take, I decided to head to the world commerce centre because it's a really beautiful area with something special. The place is really classy and has some signature clothing stores for suits clothes and accessories. There's a beautiful fountain there with the sculpture of a woman that reminds me of the old statues you find in Europe. But, the most impressive in my opinion is a memento from the fall of communism in Germany. An actual chunk of the Berlin wall! So I went and snapped some pics.

After a brief halt in the building, I returned back in the tunnel to reach the Palais des congrès. It wasn't that far off so I got there within minutes. The Palais des congrès mostly has rooms used for exhibitions, but on the ground floor you find restaurants and a few shops. One of my favourite places there is the NooBox because they serve take out Asian food in those little cardboard boxes like you see in movies. Yeah, that's special here because Asian restaurants here serve take out in styrofoam containers. I've never seen any other place serve take out in cardboard containers. But, the containers don't make the food right? NooBox has some really good food. One thing I really enjoyed eating there was the beef in black bean sauce with broccoli. Actually, their menu is this sheet of paper where you check what you want and they'll make if for you. Or they have pre-made matches that they'll prepare for you. The portions are pretty good too!

Anyway, when I emerged in the complex, I noticed there was a piece of art that was set up. Something that truly represents Montreal: a wall of orange cones. When you looked through a cone's tip, you'd see different shapes. It would've been cooler if each cone had a scene from a different construction area around the city. And with the amount of cones on there, I don't even think every construction site could be covered.

Now here's the thing. I've known these tunnels for a long time, but I never found the connection tunnel between the Palais des congrès and the path that leads to the Complexe Guy Favreau and Place des Arts. So I looked around and searched for a place that leads underground. As I was walking along one of the glass walls, looking outside in the street, it hit me. It's not under ground. It's over the ground! There was a sky bridge that crossed over to a building on the other side of the street! I walked up some stairs and I found this passage on the side that lead to the bridge and sure enough, after I crossed the street, I was heading back underground! The passage is where you have the escalators to go to the upper floors. There's a door on the right side and that's where the passage is. For the first time ever I was going to complete the entire circuit. Eventually I came out in the Guy Favreau complex. This building doesn't really have anything special. It has a few Chinese shops in the lower level since one exit leads to Chinatown. Other than that, there are mostly government offices there.

I headed straight for the tunnel to the Desjardins Complex, the last building to go through before hitting Place des arts and the metro. The Desjardins complex is an office building with a shopping area and a big fountain in the middle. The food court is pretty decent as well. There will be events from time to time there, but it's not very frequent. Overall it's mostly business people going about their day and nothing more. They've revamped it a bit lately to look a lot more modern and added a few lights and colours, but it makes a big difference.

Once, when I was around 10 or 11, there used to be a video game complex in that building with super advanced computers where players could participate in multiplayer games and people could watch the games on tv. The place was called simply Virtual World and the games they had were advanced for that time, when people were still playing Super Mario world on the Super NES and simple 3-D games like Doom on the PC. You had a choice of playing either BattleTech, a MechWarrior type game where you pilot giant armed robots that fight against each other or Red Planet, a space-age anti-gravity hovercraft racing game in the likes of the old Wipeout series on Playstation. It was pretty expensive though, like 20$ a game and it would last just about 15 minutes. It was really fun though and the graphics were super advanced for that time. Here's an example of what it was like.

So, I marched on and crossed Sainte-Catherine street underground and went over to the Place des arts complex. This place is a big concert hall and performing arts centre. A lot of theatrical plays are presented here along with classical music concerts by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and others. It's basically a really artsy fartsy place. You will soon realise this while walking through it. But, it's one of the many entrances to the Place des arts metro station.

Finally, I was at the metro station and I headed back home. Overall I walked around 4.5km (almost 3 miles) all underground. Here's an approximation of the path I took.

As you can see, this covers pretty much all the downtown core. It's a shame though there isn't a way to walk from McGill to Place des arts directly. That would close the loop and would be very practical. Maybe it'll happen in the future, who knows. But for now, there's enough construction going on in this city so lets leave it at that.