Flying to Montreal to visit friends

I honestly couldn’t wait for 5:00 to come this morning.

Today is the start of my first break longer than a long weekend in almost a year. I’ve been working away on my job, barely taking time off, slaving through one of the hardest Christmases I can remember, and wondering whether anyone’s really noticed.

I won’t even mention my lengthy list of non-work activities.

I’ll be quite happy to leave my job, my house, even my life behind in Calgary for a week and forget for a while that I’m Geoff Sowrey and have any responsibilities whatsoever. I’m so looking forward to this.

I arrived at the airport just after 6:00 and immediately got into the WestJet check-in line. Despite all of Air Canada’s attempts to shut down the smaller airlines, WestJet continues to pack ’em in. Some people were off to Vancouver, some off to Edmonton, and some off to Toronto. Others to parts unknown. Me? I was off to Montreal.

Why Montreal? Well, as you might recall, my friends Therese and Stuart moved there a few months back. Since then, they’ve established themselves, bought a home, and prepared for the arrival of their first child (currently monikered “Kicker”) who appears at the end of March.

The flight was easy. I’ve flown far too much for my own good. I’ve flown around North America, across the Atlantic, and across the Pacific. After a flight to Japan, flying a few hours to Hamilton and a bare hour to Montreal after that is practically a milk run.

I spent most of the flight (both legs) reading. Normally, it’s magazines, specifically my favourite — Wired. This time was different. This time, I was reading Clan of the Cave Bear, loaned to me from Kristen. It’s a fascinating novel, describing the life of a cro-magnon woman who comes to live with neanderthals, and the differences they face with the integration of the woman into their clan. I’m not sure how accurate it is from an anthropological perspective, but it is still quite an interesting read.

But then, I’ve always been a fan of science.

I arrived at Pierre Trudeau International Airport (previously known as Dorval Airport) about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, despite running late coming into Hamilton. As soon as I was out in the lobby, past security, I pulled out my cell phone to let Stuart know that I was in town, and was in the process of finding my way downtown. Dorval is on the isle of Montreal, but is quite some distance from the downtown core.

Finding the bus stop for the #204, and finding the change I needed for bus fare ($2.50), I awaited the arrival of the bus to take me to Gare Dorval. There, I would either switch to another bus (the #221) or to an AMT train, either of which would take me into downtown Montreal and the Metro system.

Dorval Station is a bare kilometre from the airport. You can see it clear as day, and it looks like you can walk from one to the other (it’s a little difficult because there are no sidewalks that I can see, and it’s mostly highway in that area). It took me a few minutes to figure out what my best options were, but luckily for me, it turned out that the train was the fastest way to get downtown. And the system allowed me to upgrade my bus ticket with a mere $0.75 addition ticket.

If only Calgary were that intelligent.

Montreal is an interesting place for languages. It skates the thin line of the two official national languages, and incorporates countless others. It is without a doubt the most multicultural city in Canada, at least in my opinion.

What brought this into clear view was when I was trying to buy my new ticket. It was because a man at the top of the stairs, awaiting the train, suddenly asked:

“Excuse moi — quelle heure et il?”

For those of you who don’t know French (or even the Quebecois dialect), this is how you ask what time it is. This beckons back to my days of taking French in school. And despite many years of not taking French, I was able to immediately reply:

“Deux heures et huit minutes.”

I was beside myself. How the heck was I able to do that? How the heck was I able to even remember how to interpret what he’d said? Either way, I wasn’t about to object, because it meant that for a few precious moments, it meant that someone who spoke only French thought I could understand them.

Hey, it happens.

The train arrived about 30 minutes later. Montreal’s AMT system had originally inherited most of its equipment from GO Transit — the locomotives and the original passenger cars. To be honest, that’s what I expected to see. So needless to say, I was a tad disappointed to see a Genesis-class locomotive, and a set of somewhat flashy passenger cars.

I boarded the train and took a set along the bench (the car has seats of two on one side, and a long bench on the other), with the six other people on the car. At that time of day, the train was mostly empty.

I was reminded of my last train trip into Montreal when I was with the CBC. I even tried to spot landmarks and figure out where I was. But before long I realized that I wasn’t on the rail line I thought I was on. VIA trains run on the CN line, whereas AMT trains seem to run on the old CP line.

Before long, the train reached Gare Lucien L’Allier, which is the terminus for the AMT line I was on. From there, I would have to turn to the Metro. But first, I needed to find a bathroom, which proved a lot more difficult than I had thought — the one near the station was closed due to renovations.

I ended up walking through the Bell Centre, the new home for the Montreal Canadiens in search of a toilet. The path wound around the south side of the Bell Centre and then down a hall that looked like a walled-in side of a railway station. Funny that, because it was a railway station — Gare Windsor.

Windsor Station was CP’s Montreal hub for 100 years. It was where countless thousands started their journeys west into fame, fortune, ignaminy, and/or poverty. Today, it is little more than a room attached to the former headquarters of Canadian Pacific (some offices are still there, but there is little else), and trains haven’t arrived at that station since Lucien L’Allier took over at the terminus of the line, and the Bell Centre severed the corridor connection.

Returning to Lucien L’Allier, I found my way deep into the labyrinth of stairwells to the Metro tunnels. My instructions, having arrived in downtown, where to go to the Peel station, and find a way to kill time for a few hours. I love the Metro, and I love riding it, but killing that much time isn’t easy.

Reading. After patrolling the stores of three malls that interconnect downtown, that’s pretty much all I could find to do in the last hour of waiting. Don’t get me wrong, that’s fine with me. But I did feel a little peculiar sitting on a bench while the security staff walked by, wondering what I was up to.

Stuart called about 17:15, letting me know that he was on his way to pick up Therese, and would be picking me up not long after. I gathered my things and headed up to the Famous Players theatre (on the upper floors) to await the call. I would meet up with them across the street, throwing my bag in the back seat of their Jetta, and taking off down St. Catherine into chaos of downtown Montreal.

We chatted about my trip in, but before long settled into the regular banter that has defined the last 15 years of our relationship. We continued this as Stuart weaved in and out of traffic, and through neighbourhoods until we arrived at their townhouse, in the Point St. Charles area of Montreal.

Their home is a new development, built in a two-unit construction to look and blend in with the older units on either side. It’s exceptionally nice. Two storey, plus basement, three bedroom, two bathroom, all open-concept on the main floor. The basement has a den/office, and a workshop the previous owner used to completely rebuild the interior (for example, all the doors, while standard-size, are custom-built). The decoration is immaculate. I have to say, I was envious. I wish my place looked that good.

Therese is eight months pregnant at this point, which was a huge part of the reason I wanted to come out. I wanted to see them one last time before they become parents. I needed to have that moment with them, and just them. This far along in her pregnancy, Therese gets tired a lot more easily (when you pack on 40 pounds of kicking parasite, let’s see how well you do). This evening, Therese felt well enough that we could go out and explore a little.

We ended up in the Verdun area, which is “west” of where Stuart and Therese lives. We were scooting along Wellington St., looking at the various restaurants that Therese and Stuart had eyed for a few months, but hadn’t had time to visit. So finally, we ducked into one place, which we discovered was Peruvian, and endulged ourselves in food and conversation.

And it felt good. Not just that I got to eat for the first time in hours, but because I got to spend time with my friends, whom I love dearly.

Not ending the evening too early, we headed over to the local video store and rented Spellbound, which is a documentary of the American spelling bee championships (an odd thing to have, to be sure). A couple six-packs of beer certainly made Stuart and I feel a lot better.