Whenever I hear Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” I think of Old Montreal.
After a not-too-early wake-up call on the 34th floor of the Marriott Château Champlain, I admire the views of leafy Mount Royal through my suite’s enormous curved windows and then make a bee-line for Tommy — a gloriously light-filled and high-ceilinged cafe next to the Place d'Armes square — where a cappuccino, fresh-squeezed OJ, and Montreal bagel slathered in cream cheese and smoked salmon await.
I rent a Bixi bike from a nearby docking station and pedal north up the Main — a.k.a. Boulevard St. Laurent — to Schwartz’s Deli. Visiting this culinary icon is almost a cliche, but I couldn’t care less: One bite of the signature smoked-meat-on-rye sandwich — the medium cut is my go-to — and the “Perfect Day” earworm returns with a vengeance.
Returning to Old Montreal via Rue Berri, I roll past wall after wall of striking street art, and then stop for a not-especially-well-deserved flight of Quebec microbrews on the sunny patio of Pub Brewskey in the silver-domed Bonsecours Market. The refreshments convince me that I’ve also earned a visit to the Scandinave Spa Vieux-Montréal, the fourth and newest outpost of the sybaritic chain. First I hit the eucalyptus steam bath, then the Finnish sauna, and then the cool plunge pool to complete the invigorating hot-then-cold circuit. A few repetitions later I kick back in the beanbag-filled lounge before finally succumbing to a 60-minute deep-tissue massage.
I emerge squinting into the daylight, and wander the meandering cobblestone streets until my blissed-out brain again turns its attention to sustenance — this time, in the form of a heaping shrimp poke bowl at Venice MTL. I wash down the herbaceous, coconutty blend of rice, noodles, shrimp, veggies and peanut sauce with a bourbon lemonade (or three), which prolongs my meal and practically forces me to order a double chocolate brownie.
It’s a good thing there’s a 9pm showing of Aura, the dazzling new sound-and-light show in the nearby Notre-Dame Basilica.
During the 20-minute introductory walk-through, dozens of projectors enhance the Basilica’s abundant Christian iconography. Christ’s radiant heart is compelling enough in an oil painting, but when it starts glowing, and then beating — complete with audio effects — my own pulse kicks into gear.
As with any visit to this Gothic Revival masterpiece, my gaze keeps returning to the illuminated high altar, choir stalls and altarpiece, what with all the saintly statues, decorative woodwork and soaring vault festooned with angels and stars.
But all this is nothing — nothing — compared with what follows. After taking a seat in the pews, my attention is directed to the ornate sanctuary in front of me where, basically, the Basilica goes off.
It starts quietly enough, with spotlights falling on various works of art and animating the statues. As the orchestral music swells, the vault suddenly morphs into a giant glass dome mottled with falling leaves and dancing snowflakes. The rain, thunder and lightening of spring dramatically conclude the seasonal second act, with rising waters appearing to inundate the Basilica and then shatter the virtual glass high above. My head feels like it’s on a swivel when dozens of laser beams shoot out from near the altar toward the back of the nave, where the 32-foot-tall Casavant Frères organ dutifully unleashes its 7,000 pipes upon me.
The sensory pleasures of this perfect day aren’t finished just yet. On the way back to the Marriott, I can’t help but notice a lineup forming outside the Place Ville Marie. I join the queue, and am eventually rewarded with an elevator trip to Les Enfants Terribles, a stunning new restaurant on the skyscraper’s 44th floor.
I grab a Moscow Mule from the buzzing bar and make my way out onto the enormous glass-walled outdoor patio to conclude the evening with head-spinning views of the glittering Montreal skyline. Then, in my mind’s ear, I hear it:
“Oh, it's such a perfect day
I'm glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on…”