Even though I’ve only been in this hotel for the past 2 nights it was already beginning to feel so normal to wake up here that it just felt like any other weekend when I opened the curtains. The bright light flooded the room revealing a bright and sunny day with the overcast clouds of the past couple days banished to the far reaches of the horizon. Still Canada’s fast approaching winter made sure that any heat gained from the sun was quickly swept away by a crisp westerly wind leaving us just a little warmer than the day before. It wouldn’t matter too much today though since we were going to downtown Montreal to do some shopping and to soak in a bit of the local culture.
After driving around looking for parking we finally found a place that wasn’t too far from Laura’s old university. She regaled us with stories of the different places and how they’d changed over the years. One of the buildings we went by was newly built by her old university for the engineering department. Seeing it made my heart soar as it reminded me of how the University of Canberra shut down its engineering department due to lack of interest. If such a magnificent building was only just erected it meant that the engineering profession was alive and well here, and had the funding to go along with it.
As usual our late rise from slumber put our first meal of the day firmly in the lunch category and since we were near Laura’s old haunts we eventually settled on a crepe house that also did all day breakfasts. The food was cheap but surprisingly filling leaving all of us pawing at the remains whilst we finished off our coffee. I have still yet to find a place that does anything resembling the coffee I’m used to (and was spoiled with on my last trip to Melbourne) so downing the rest of the brown liquid was more for the caffeine than anything else. We started to head down towards the main shopping drag which contains Montreal’s Underground City, a large shopping complex with multiple subterranean levels.
We wandered around the place for hours checking out all the local and chain shops that made up this giant underground maze. It had 4 different areas that all had their own distinct architectural style to them, ranging from giant multi-floor underground atriums to densely packed strips of shops where no space had been wasted. The christmas flair had already been brought out as well with ornaments dotting most of the shops and a giant tree in the middle of one of the large atriums festooned with all sorts of mechatronics that puts anything I’ve seen in Australia to shame. After trying to find a few items and failing we decided we should begin making our way to our dinner spot since it was booked for a rather early 6:00pm.
We arrived there with about an hour and a half to spare so we hit up one of the local cafes to burn a bit of that time. Their coffee was the closest thing I’ve had to what I’d call proper coffee since I left Australia over two weeks ago so it was refreshing to say the least. After stealing their wifi for an hour we ducked out to grab a couple bottles of wine before going to grab our seats. Interestingly enough the wine here is extremely cheap with most bottles going for under $20. Couple that with the fact that it’s considered unusual to charge corkage and the number of bottles that adorned our table was close to one per person, a queue for what the rest of the night would entail.
Laura’s friend from work had arranged this dinner for us and she had also brought her husband and another couple along for the night. Usually my innate shyness would take over here and I’d sit quietly at the end of the table, enjoying the food and being happy with just listening. However since we’re strangers in a foreign land the conversation flowed with topics of comparisons between Canada and Australia, with subjects from the trivial to the enthralling. Even though I didn’t have a terrible amount in common with these guys I still felt like we hit it off well, especially considering we kicked on at a local irish pub. There I was introduced to 2 new drinks: the black velvet and the irish car bomb.
The Black Velvet is half a pint of Guinness on top of half a pint of cider. It’s an interesting mix with the smoothness of the Guinness first hitting you with a clean cider aftertaste. The Irish Car Bomb is half a pint of Guinness with a shot of Hennessy and Baileys on the side, drunk in Jaeger Bomb fashion. I’m a bit of a gun when it comes to drinking these sorts of drinks and promptly beat everyone to the bottom. There were a few misfires and with this particular drink there’s really no second chances since the Baileys will curdle very quickly on contact with the Guinness.
It was around midnight when we retired back to our hotel after saying goodbye to our newfound friends. We did make a quick stop at the local McDonalds to get some poutine before heading home, revelling in the novelty of ordering this localised fast food. It had been an exhausting day and we all collapsed on the main bed, dozing off to one of the movies I had brought along with me. Our plans for tomorrow to visit the cultural heart of Montreal, Old Montreal, were far from our minds as we lay down to rest, our bodies thankful for the peace after our day of shenanigans.
A dull light crossed my bed, illuminating the room with a subtle even glow. It wasn’t the blazing column of heat that usually woke me whilst I had been staying down in Florida telling me that something was definitely different about the weather. Looking outside I saw a thick cloud coverage going from horizon to horizon, muting the sun and causing the temperature to drop to more reasonable levels. Almost instinctively I fired up my computer to see what the status was on the Discovery launch: scrubbed until tomorrow just as everyone had predicted. I set about the task of readying myself for the flight out of here since my flight was only 4 hours away and I had a few things that needed to be done.
After filling up the Mustang (which drinks fuel in comparison to the Corvette, strange I know) I returned it to whence it came. It was a decent car but it felt pretty cheap, with all the components being plastic and resembling those of parent’s 1992 Commodore. Still it was a very comfortable and quiet ride so I can’t fault it as a car to get around in, apart from the startling amount of fuel it used to do just about anything. After dropping it off I went to check my bag in so I could go about hunting down some breakfast, thinking that being here so early I would’ve beaten the rush.
That didn’t appear to be so since the line for checkin took 15 minutes clear and the security check point line took well over an hour to get through. Still it was a pretty easy going experience even though the libertarian in me was screaming again about civil liberties and security theatre but my rather blasé mood managed to quell him without too much trouble. Once I was through I settled in with a light breakfast and my novel, blasting through a couple chapters before it was time to board. The flight itself was quite smooth once we were above the cloud tops. I can see why NASA would be concerned about them since they were quite thick and the shuttle could have easily triggered a lightening strike or worse, stripped the heat tiles off the orbiter.
Once I had disembarked from the plane I was struck by how new everything in the Montreal airport looked. It had obviously just been renovated with modern accents adorning every corner and multicoloured LED strips lining the walkway to immigration. The airport itself was a model of efficiency getting nearly half the plane cleared before the baggage even started to arrive on the carousel. After picking up my bags and just simply walking out (I was expecting an Australian-esque customs shake down) I was then greeted with two smiling faces: my wife Rebecca and her best friend ever Laura. I was greeted with a bear huge of epic proportions and I returned in kind, revelling in the human contact I had been missing for so long. I was looking forward to this moment for quite a while and the relief I felt was unimaginable.
Tonight we were to dine at the FireGrill, a Canadian steakhouse chain that apparently put on quite a spread. After navigating our way through the tail end of the rush hour traffic we went and picked up Laura’s boyfriend Marc before starting the walk there. It wouldn’t have been so bad walking there but it was steadily raining the whole time there, drenching those of us who hadn’t come prepared. It made for a few entertaining moments at the start of the night when I was mopping up my hair to avoid dripping water all over the menu, especially when I thought I got it all only to have another drop embarrassingly make its presence known with a loud splat. The food there was delectable and the wine I had selected (a French pinot noir) was a good compliment to the steak I was having. It was particularly pricy though but it was definitely worth it, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone else.
I have been told, in no uncertain terms, that tomorrow I am having a bro date with Marc and possibly one of his work colleagues. Usually this would weird me out since I hate forced social situations but I’ve already taken a shine to Marc and since we share a profession I figure that worst comes to worst we can bitch our respective work places without boring each other to death. I know I’ve had more than a few shared rolleyes when I get my real geek hat on and start talking about the various implications of technology X or why someone is an idiot for not using Powershell.
Thinking back over the day I was still somber from the emotional thunderstorm I put myself through yesterday right up until that first moment when I spotted my wife waving me eagerly over to her. It was a great comfort and the company that she’s been keeping over here in Canada made me feel like this was a home that I had somehow managed to leave behind. Suddenly I realised that I had been missing that key ingredient that really makes travel worthwhile: that human connection. Visiting far away places is all well and good but without that connection to someone else, whether it be a travel partner or those you meet whilst over there, the experiences feel quite insular. I have less than a week here but I can already feel the experiences that I’ll take away from here will be that much richer thanks to the people I’ll be sharing them with.