Mission To Montreal

I found myself recently in extreme upstate New York on business with a few days left over before I had to return home, so I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to see Montreal. Being a relatively self-involved american, the sum total of my knowledge of Montreal was that it was in Canada. I did read a Nancy Drew book when I was 14 that was based there, but I had forgotten most of that. So why did I go, you ask?

Because it was there. And besides, I did have a friend there Id known for years over the internet that I hoped to meet. My friends in NY dropped me off on the American side of the border in Cornwall. They declined to cross over into Canada since apparently someone with a similar name did something very bad in Kentucky and well they didnt feel like going through the mill again and I didnt blame them. Unfortunately this left me hiking about 2 miles across two enormous bridges over the St. Lawrence river in 32 degree weather. But hey, part of what makes my kind of travel fun is being uncomfortable. It sounds strange but it works for me.

Customs was relatively simple, although I was insulted by customs. An otherwise nice customs official asked me if I had any weapons to declare. I informed her of my swiss army knife. She snorted contemptuously and said that wasnt a weapon, it was a utensil! I guess it is just as well that I decided to smuggle my lethal charm into Canada undeclared.

As I hiked across the bridge into Canada, still reeling from the affront to my beloved swiss army knife I peered over the guard rail and saw something quite poetic.

As my first sight on Canadian soil in 10 years, it just seemed to say Welcome to Canada!. Dont miss the phrase on the right as well. This was to protect a yard that, except for the worthless junk you see in the picture, was almost entirely empty, and was under a bridge in what must have been an extremely low traffic area (I had to hike another mile to get past the 10 foot fence covering the bridge!)

After crossing into Cornwall proper I was greeted by the ubiquitous wal-mart and a grocery store. I had wal-mart at home so I opted for the local food establishment. Which brings me to my first tip in this post: never shop when you are hungry. This is particularly important when everything you own must fit into a small backpack with your clothes and other necessities. And especially before you have to take a 2 mile hike across town to catch a train.

Anyway, that lesson learned I hiked across town, caught my train (60$ round trip to Montreal, an hour each way, Viarail) and finally relaxed for an hour. Arriving in Montreal I came out of the train station into an enormous station. I took the exit sign that looked like it went where I wanted, and wound up wandering through a number of alleys, all part of the same building – or so I thought. Finally found a few wall maps, each of which seemed to be missing landmarks that I found on the others and eventually ended up in what felt like a huge mall.

Each side of the mall was lined with electronics shops, food courts, chic clothing stores, and all things mally. I walked through blocks and blocks of the mall before finally coming out into an enormous food court area that went three stories high, each of which had more mall on it – and at the very top I discovered something that I had not noticed was missing until now – windows. I had been hiking for the last thirty minutes through Montreals enormous subterranean city connected by metro tunnels and walkways.

Apparently, this connects to all the major downtown buildings, all subways, and many apartment buildings, so that people who live in Montreal can exit into the basement of their apartment to the subway levels, walk to the grocery store, go out to eat, buy a new CD player, go to work and come home, all never going above ground!

I was quite impressed by the place once I realized the magnitude of what it was. I had intended to meet my friend in the big three-story food court but I was delayed by customs (actually the guy in front of me was delayed, and I had to wait for him) and so I missed my train and missed my friend by, I later learned, 10 minutes.

Well, now I was in a quandary; I had written down the locations of two promising hostels the night before, so I knew where I was going to stay. But I really wanted to meet up with my friend. I knew he was a Teachers Assistant at UQAM, the University of Quebec, so I decided to try and find him. Unfortunately I didnt know what class he was teaching, what building he was in, what subject he was studying, and I dont speak French.

That made my task harder.

So I went to the UQAM building. I asked around. No one I accosted knew him. So I found a computer with free internet access at the campus cafe so I got on the internet to see if I could find any hint in his communications to me of what class he was teaching. Well, he never had told me but I found something from 3 years ago that said he was thinking about studying actuarial sciences. That was a starting point, and since I knew that involved math I started on the math floor. Actually three floors of an enormous building were devoted to math classrooms. And I didnt know what actuarial sciences was in french, which didnt help.

And of course, I had walked at least 8 miles by this point in the day. So I was tired. I couldnt stop thinking that this was exactly what Nancy Drew had to do when she was in Montreal. That thought spurred me on since I wasnt about to be bested by a fictional female!

So I stopped, I am thinking over a hundred people on the campus, asking if they knew him, knew where this class might be, etc. Finally after about an hour and a half of this I caught a break: I stumbled into the math departments coordinating office. They found his name on a piece of paper and informed me that he was in ANOTHER building all this time! They gave me the number and the name of the class and I headed for the class. I had plenty of time left and I was feeling pretty good about my detective work (and a new respect for Nancy Drew).

So I arrived at the room and it was empty. At this point began to lose heart. But not yet defeated. I asked people up and down the hallway if they were in this class, knew anyone in it, etc no luck. Finally I had to admit defeat. I found the class he was teaching but it turned out, as I later learned, that he had finished up early. Haha. Isnt that always the way. Well, I set out for the address of the hostel – another 1.5 mile hike as it was starting to get dark. On the way I passed this statue, and I thought Buddy I know how you feel

Well, I found my hostel and finally was able to relax for the night. Not bad at 20 dollars a night. Went out for some nice Thai food (I was in a part of town that was pretty nice and quaint and I was starting to enjoy this trip in spite of how it sounds).

Came back to the hostel and caught an episode of Stargate in French (fortunately I remembered the episode!) talked to a couple of nice people from Algeria who loaned me their laptop to check my Email. I managed to make contact with my friend from Montreal, Phil, and we set up a definite time and place to meet the next day. I spent the rest of the evening taking advice about what to do in Montreal if you have only one day from my hostelmates, a girl about my age from Germany, a guy from Columbia and a guy from British Columbia. The guy from BC was my roommate and we stayed up late talking. He was about 30 or so and had traveled to Morocco, Thailand and was on his way to Costa Rica to take a trip down into South America. Basically all the places and things I wanted to go and do so we had a lot in common :)

It turned out he was originally from Montreal and so he gave me some interesting advice which I wound up following; hike to the top of Mont-Royal and see the city from above and then go down to Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) and make a circle.

We exchanged travel stories for hours. I woke up the next morning and found a map of Montreal with my name on it under the door. He must have gotten up before I did and gone out and bought me a map first thing in the morning. I was very touched by it.

He left Montreal that morning and so I never got a chance to thank him, but it was an experience I will always remember; someone Id known for a handful of hours was thoughtful enough to spend his money so that a near-stranger could enjoy their trip, with a certainty of never getting anything in return.

I will always hold that example up as the definition of the spirit of a true traveler.

2 Responses

  1. Philippe Coulombe Says:

    You ought to put them pictures we took so that people can see what unique McDonalds we have :)

  2. Natnee Says:

    I finally got it done in part two now Im going to Ecuador to take more pictures of strange McDonalds :)

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Posted on January 7th, 2008 by Natnee and filed under Canada |

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