|The 19th century Basilica|
"I think you should attend this," my journalist friend Alan C. Robles wrote me. He was referring to the 4th World Conference of Science Journalists to be held in Montreal, Canada.
I did. And I was glad to do so. I was able to meet some of the world's most famous science journalists and had the opportunity of hobnobbing with some of well-known scientists. But most rewarding was the chance of visiting Montreal, Canada's second largest city (after Toronto).
Montreal takes its name from "Royal Mountain," a scenic backdrop to the city's downtown core. With the mountain as its back and the stately St.Lawrence River around its shores, Montreal is one of the country's most scenic urban centers.
Home to over 3.2 million people, it is the largest French-speaking metropolis in North America. While strolling the streets or shopping malls, in restaurants, attractions and on the subway, you will find that French is the prominent language throughout the city. But many other languages like English and Spanish are spoken too.
The city has won accolades around the world especially since hosting two major events - EXPO '67 and in 1976, the Olympic Games. Both events were followed by a myriad of international festivals - among them the acclaimed Jazz Festival, Juste Pour Rire/Just For Laughs (a bilingual comedy fest) and the Benson & Hedges Inc. International Fireworks Competition -colorful celebrations which have become annual fixtures in Montreal's social calendar.
But there's more to Montreal than festivals, however. The city has many historic landmarks and its museums rank among the best in North America. So, we - Linda Lim, a science journalist from Singapore, and myself - went to an information office and asked places we can visit.
He suggested Mount Royal Park as the first stopover. For them, it is as important a landmark as Rio de Janeiro's Sugarloaf Mountain, Sydney's Opera House or Edinburgh's imposing castle. The front terrace of the Mount Royal chalet lookout is a popular spot for city residents as well as tourists. The location provides a wonderful view. The chalet itself has a historical exhibit and hosts many receptions and concerts. Beaver Lake, which lies within the park's grounds, "is a great spot for sunbathing, boating, and picnicking in the summer months and an equally great spot for skating and skiing in the winter," says a Montrealer whom I interviewed.
At the southeastern end of the Mount Royal Park is St. Joseph's Oratory. It attracts over two million pilgrims annually, who come to pay homage to the father of Jesus. The basilica, whose copper dome is the second largest in the world after St. Peter's in Rome, was started in 1942 and completed in several years later.
Next stopover: the Old Port. This is a 2.5-kilometer-long recreational and tourist park and offers a variety of outdoor activities for every taste, from cruises to excursions, exhibitions, events and entertainment. And then there are all the indoor activities, especially at the Montréal Science Centre (where I had the opportunity of winning one of the recent Ig Nobel Prize winner).