It’s been about three weeks now since I came home from Mongolia, but it still feels like I’ve been constantly moving about. These past couple of weeks I’ve been snaking my way back and forth between the New York countryside and the city via train. This past weekend, my mother and I also hopped aboard Amtrak and darted through upstate NY straight into Montreal for a short 5 day getaway. While I was exhausted from constantly traveling, when I arrived in Montreal it quickly became one of my favorite cities in the world. Here are some ramblings about what I did on this trip.
Day 1: Traveling via Amtrak
The trip from Poughkeepsie, NY to Amtrak took 10 hours. I must admit that I definitely did not enjoy sitting still for that long, but I suppose that it’s good for productivity, and if you’ve never seen upstate New York before it’s a nice way to enjoy the scenery.
My 60 year old mother booked an AirBnb in the Gay Village. Not sure how much she actually thought about where she booked, but either way it turned out to be awesome. The apartment was clean and spacious with a small balcony that overlooked a green garden. It was also fairly quiet. We were greeted by sex toy shops and posters of nearly-naked men plastered all over the main street, Rue Sainte-Catherine.
We had a nice meal of tapas that first night. Good beer as well.
Day 2: The Cathedral
The subway was one of the cleanest in the world. We headed down to midtown and walked around a bit, ate at a couple of restaurants on the Rue Saint Paul, browsed a couple of galleries.
My mother did not want to enter the cathedral. I’m not particularly religious, but I really wanted to see what the hype was all about. I don’t regret going in.
After, I read on an online guide that the Pointe à Cailles museum was highly recommended. Perhaps if you’re a history buff you might enjoy it.
I like history enough but in general just don’t find North American history to be engaging. I did enjoy the experience of walking through a lit-up former sewer, though.
Day 3: made a mistake and hiked a mountain to compensate
In Montreal, there’s the Biosphere and the Biodome. The latter is the famous one that everyone recommends.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this and took us to the Biosphere. The building is a sight from the outside, but I can’t really recommend going inside as the exhibits are mostly geared towards children.
After this fatal mistake, we decided to go visit McGill University. It was a surreal experience, in a way, as I had been very intent on trying to go to a foreign francophone university throughout my college process. McGill was one school I’d coveted but in the end could not apply due to its lack of financial aid. However, stepping foot on the campus and seeing all of the students beginning to return from break reminded me what could’ve been.
As the summit of the Parc du Mont-Royal was so close by, I left my mother to be babysat by the college students and ascended 500+ stairs to get to the top (only 400 if you start simply from the Rue Peel, but I started all the way at the bottom of McGill’s campus).
It reminded me of going up to Zaisan for the first time. 612 steps, panting, to find the world blanketed beneath your feet. Only this time, I was alone in a crowd of tourists.
I reached the top in 10 or 15 minutes, and then bam – there was Montreal, its tall buildings scattered along the fringe of the river, bits of greenery spangled in between skyscrapers like constellations.
There was a familiar face in the crowd.
Day 4: Making children cry
We tried to visit the Biodome the next day. Turns out that it’s closed until 2019 due to renovations.
However, we were close to the Starcite cinema and wanted to watch a French movie. My 61 year old mother and I, not really interested in watching horror or action films, decided to watch Winnie the Pooh.
Every time I go traveling with my mother it seems that she has to face a crisis concerning the reality of her age. The girl at the ticket booth rang us up and gave her a “65+ ans” discount without even asking how old she was. This greatly amused my mother and she forced me to take a photo of the screen.
She then wanted to grab something to eat, so we went to the pretzel stand. We were standing on line and were behind a young mother with her brown hair in a bun half-falling out and a little girl with a bowl cut, bangs, and a black frock.
When they went up to the cashier to buy snacks, the little girl’s mother stepped away to let her daughter order. The little girl was so tiny that the top of her head barely touched the edge of the counter. She was holding a bunch of coins in her hand and had stopped walking to count them.
The cashier looked down at the little girl confusedly, then made eye contact with my mother. She stepped forward and started rattling off her request.
This prompted a shriek from the little girl. She started wailing at being ignored and threw her change. It went scattering across the floor.
Tldr; two Americans, a “65+” year old woman and her 20 year old daughter, went to a French-speaking cinema to watch British Winnie the Pooh in French and made a child cry.
The movie was just okay. We had more beers that night.
Day 5: Journey home
At least the border crossing process was much quicker on the way back. I still can’t stand traveling for longer than 2 hours at a time unless I’m the one doing the driving. Even that’s pushing it.
Montreal is now my new favorite city. Something about it is just chaleureux. The people are smiling and friendly and bilingual. It’s clean. It’s filled with great food, night life, and cultural events. Though predominantly white, there is plenty of diversity. It’s got a good amount of greenery mixed in with both modern architecture and quaint European-style houses. It’s almost like it isn’t really a city, but rather a demonstration of how man and nature can, indeed, coexist with harmony and grace.
Perhaps it’s also been a bit of a repose for me. I spent two months in Ulaanbaatar, a rugged city with lots of adventure and fun. I spent a couple of weeks in New York City, a more familiar, glitzy hub of activity and sleeplessness. And I spent 18 years of my life in a small little countryside village in New York, all repose and calm and no adventure or activity at all.
I still feel like after 3 weeks I haven’t recovered from jet lag with all of this moving around. But after this little escape to Canada I’m on the move yet again. Next up is three months in Japan combined with two weeks in Southeast Asia. Then, I’ll be back in the States in December – in my little countryside village for a week, then to Boston to see my friends back at school, then NYC to see my sister, then back home for Christmas week.
I’m hoping after that to see Iceland and a little more of northern Europe before I go off to the south of France. Who knows what the future will hold after that.
“Look adventurous,” my mother said as I tried to lock the front door to our apartment.