Open to Surprise When Traveling

Storybook Dollhouse at the Thomas Hughes children's library

The best part of travel is always the experience that is unplanned. The thing that you think will be great is never the thing that is most memorable. (Like, it’s not the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but the pizza vendor near the tourist attraction!)

Yesterday, the kids had the most fun of their lives sliding in their winter coats on some long wooden couch/bench at the Hilton Hotel lobby. (I did my usual thing of walking away from them, muttering, “Whose kids are those?”)

The sliding bench in the lobby was almost as fun at the dollhouse tucked into the children’s room at the Harold Washington Library.

We met my mother in the airy atrium on the top floor of the library and she took us on a tour. She could be a professional tour guide for the city of Chicago, unlocking secrets hidden in plain sight. She showed us site-specific

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The Mother of All Churches — Full of Surprises

At the Baton Rouge restaurant in Montreal, our waiter Sebastian was rattling off nearby tourist attractions. He said, “The big cathedral past Chinatown is very nice. Celine Dion was married there.” I’m not usually going to churches based on a celebrity endorsement, but what the heck, I was on vaction.

We walked up the hill towards Old Montreal. The church was full of surprises – the first of which was the cost — $5 for adults and $4 for kids just to enter. $22 later, I was hoping that it was worth it.

It was worth it. The church was a riot of color and as pretty as rainbow sherbet. I was in love with the light of the ceiling and altar — a Robin’s Egg blue.

We joined the English-speaking tour group. We heard about Montreal’s origins –  to convert the heathens.

The next big surprise was the chapel. I imagined more of the same — a Neo Gothic church/wedding cake — frills, curliecues and gold stars. Not at all.

Walking into this chapel, the woman behind me gasped. It was full of light.

The massive bronze altar sculpture showed three archways representing childhood, middle age and old age (death). It was not all crucifex-y and literal like some churches. It was symbolic –The symbols

of the trinity were a sun, a dove and a kind, smiling man. It was all bright and yellow (almost as pretty as the Louise Nevelson church, one of my faves!)

The artist of the Sacré-Coeur chapel for Notre-Dame Basilica, Charles Daudelin (aka ‘genius’) created this masterpiece after a fire in 1978 destroyed the Gothic chapel. So there’s an inspiring lesson:

Sometimes a devastating turn of events can lead to some great modern art.

I dug the nativity scene in the modern chapel because the women figured so prominently. This was the church of Mary and I do appreciate churches that celebrate women.

The tour ended and my daughters got in a fight. See, to light a candle and make a prayer, you had to pay a dollar. I only had one single. I gave the dollar to Charlotte and told her to “Share a prayer. Or light two candles. It doesn’t matter.” But Catherine felt if we lit two candles, “We’d be lying in a CHURCH!”

Charlotte eventually resolved the bickering by telling Catherine that she’d put two dollars in the collection box. Catherine was appeased and lit her candle. Then Charlotte told her twin she had been lying and she’d only put in one dollar. The fighting began again.

I told the girls that this is part of the history of Christianity. “I think the Holy Wars were fought over this. The Reformation was about not having to pay to pray.” I told them, “God hears the prayers of the poor as equally as the prayers of the rich.” They didn’t care. They just wanted to light their damn candles.

This is how sibling rivalry goes. They ebb, they flow. They lie, they fight. They pray. They light a candle. They’re hungry and they want to leave this stupid place. I, meanwhile, enjoyed this church very much.