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Underground City
Directly under the heart of the city, 19 miles long, the Underground City is probably the most famous aspect of shopping in Montreal. It is a web constantly growing, linking many major buildings and multi-level shopping malls in the area, and a shopper's paradise in any season.

Thousands of boutiques, major hotels, restaurants, universities, dozens of office buildings and attractions are all linked together by brightly lit, scrupulously clean passageways. The "city" is definitely the Montréal of Montrealers offering to more than 500,000 people every day a connection to work, shopping, dining or entertainment.

One major section is reached via Peel and McGill metro stations on the green line, and another via Bonaventure station on the orange line. Safe and sheltered from the elements, the Underground City offers a huge range of goods and services as well as a handy way to get from place to place without weather or traffic problems.

After an enjoyable late lunch at Mañana and after learning about the interesting life story of its owner, Angel Broncales, I was ready for enjoying a little bit of afternoon relaxation and right across from Mañana is a beautiful urban park called Square St. Louis. Its history goes back a long way, all the way to 1848 when the City of Montreal installed a water reservoir on top of a hill. 31 years later the reservoir was taken down and the entire site was converted into a public park.

The centre of the park, situated in Montreal’s popular Latin Quarter neighbourhood, features a classic Victorian fountain, surrounded by a large number of benches that attract local residents, university students, artists and tourists in search of a shady spot to relax. Someone had brought a guitar and was strumming folk songs, children were playing, and a dog was swimming in the water of the fountain. A peaceful atmosphere imbued this urban green space. Surrounding the park is a collection of eclectic Second Empire townhouses and some people say that this square might be the closest thing to a European neighbourhood square.

As I was sitting and just taking in this picturesque environment, a young man sat down next to me and we started chatting. He said that he is originally from Antigua and grew up in Oakville, Ontario, just outside of Toronto. He went to university in Virginia, did his graduate degree at McGill in Montreal and finally a PhD at Cornell University. He told me that today he runs a biotech company located in Boston and occasionally he has to travel up on business to Montreal.

Since he lived in Montreal while taking his graduate degree, he had a chance to get to know the city up-close and says he loves Montreal, especially because of its bohemian character and its European flair. He actually lived around the corner from Square St. Louis, and he is always drawn back to this neighbourhood whenever he comes back to Montreal.

Curious about his experiences studying in different parts in the United States, I asked him what his experience was like, particularly as a visible minority. He indicated that issues such as race, religion and sex are taken much more seriously in the US than they are in Canada. He added that Montreal is a very relaxed place and racial background is not much of an issue. In his opinion, language is a much more important topic in Montreal.

As we chatted, two young ladies, one from California and from Washington, D.C., came by and requested us to take a picture. We chatted for a while and they told us that they were visiting a friend who lives here in Montreal. The atmosphere in Square St. Louis was so open and relaxed, people just felt comfortable approaching complete strangers to sit down and chat. I was having a great time.

Shortly after, the young man said goodbye and I continued my exploration of the Latin Quarter on foot. Montreal’s stone townhouses represent a very unique and beautiful architectural style that you will not find in any other city. As I got ready for my next item on the itinerary, a visit to Montreal’s Islands and the Casino de Montreal, I relished this neighbourhood encounter between total strangers, inspired by the serene surroundings of Square St. Louis.

Susanne Pacher is the publisher of Travel and Transitions (www.travelandtransitions.com), a popular web portal for unconventional travel & cross-cultural connections. Check out our brand new section featuring FREE ebooks about travel.

photo credit-www.travelandtransitions.com

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