We were about ten minutes out of Toronto when I first noticed CN Tower in the distance. It was not quite sunset, but the orange of the sun was starting to wane into an inky haze which melted into the night sky. I had seen the tower before but not like this. Pointing to the heavens, its needle cut through the thick balls of cloud as they floated above the city while night lights beaming at me through the coach window. It almost made the journey bearable – almost. I must admit, I do not know if I can ever again spend two hours wedged in the back row of a coach next to a bathroom that had evidently not been cleaned for decades. I have never appreciated polluted city air more than when I stepped off that coach – anything but the smell of that coach… anything!
Anyway, so we were on our way to Montréal, a journey that I think we all assumed would be easier than it was! Canada is big – and I mean, BIG. It took us two hours to get to Toronto by coach followed several hours later by an overnight coach to our destination which took just over six hours. All I can say is I am so grateful to Toronto for putting their Nando’s close to the coach terminal – I do not know if I would have made it had I not found the bottomless frozen yoghurt machine.
As I said, the coach was six hours long and it felt like that. The further north we went, the foggier the air became until our only view from the window was the orange smudge of the road lights over thick white mist. Eventually, the fog was flushed out by the rain and at about five o’clock in the morning, we finally saw Québec – not that there was much of it. In fact, the whole journey consisted of highway until we eventually entered the city of Montréal. Tired, cramped and sleepy, we tumbled out of the Megabus and onto the pavement in French Canada. You do not know relief until you have stretched your legs after six solid hours of sitting upright.
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And so, travelling done for the day (even though it took about twenty hours), we sat in a Tim Horton’s for a while before we could check into our Airbnb. This was my first experience with Canadian French which is actually not massively different from European French despite what everybody has said to me. I am not amazing at French but I like to think I can speak the basics and have a conversation with somebody. I had no trouble whatsoever ordering my café noir grand, s’il vous plait and I found it fairly easy to read the French newspaper. So, either I have learned European French wrong or the language is not that different on this side of the planet. Either way, I am not complaining – I love speaking French! I just wish the people would not respond to me in English, having clearly understood my question in French.
ME: Nous devons trouver le Métro pour acheter des billets.
“FRENCH” PERSON: Sure I can help you out with that…
SPEAK TO ME IN FRENCH, S’IL VOUS PLAIT!!!
So when the time finally arrived, we hopped on the Métro towards our Airbnb where we could finally ditch our luggage and recline on something more comfortable than a coach seat. I had never really appreciated the freedom of stretching out on something flat until then. Who knew sitting down could be so hard, right?
After a few hours of lounging and napping, we hopped back on the Métro to Places Des Arts, the stop next to McGill University – that place I was not clever enough to get into (I am not bitter at all, I swear it). And wow, what a beautifully vibrant place downtown Montréal is! I could tell within about five minutes how brilliantly diverse the people were – some speaking French, some speaking English, others speaking French in a Canadian accent or speaking English in a French accent! I wonder where the Mancunian accent fits in, though…
In all seriousness – my god, what a place this must be to live! I do not think anything I say can really do it justice but I will try my best. You would have thought it would be unattractive to see a huge glass skyscraper next to an grand old cathedral or museum – you would be wrong. The city is a wonderful balance of cultural heritage and modern efficiency. Nothing is to too far away and if it is, you can hop on the Métro which is remarkably good considering how cheap it is to use. The city did everything that English cities try to do without being unreasonably busy and expensive. We should be more like Montréal. London, take note and sort out the smell of warm ham in those tube stations, please?
So, the first day was essentially a bit of a mooch – we were still tired from the lack of sleep and none of us were in the mood for sight-seeing. We just ended up shopping and I found myself being dragged through H&M, LUSH and almost Sephora (thank god it was almost)! Thankfully, we discovered a shop called Tour Des Jeux which is frankly one of the coolest shops I have ever set foot in. It was basically a shop dedicated to selling board games and funky puzzles. Me being me, I opened my empty wallet and managed to produce $40 that I did not really have to spend so I could get some cool metal and wooden puzzles. I will just not eat for the next few weeks, it is cool guys! I will have my puzzles to take my mind off the hunger!
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Having slept in an actual bed, we all felt a little more rejuvenated when we woke up on the second day of our trip. We decided to visit the Olympic Park… well, no. We decided to go to the Natural Science Museum, which just happened to be in the Olympic Park so we took a few photos of the Olympic rings, naturally. It was at this moment that my camera decided to inexplicably put sepia tone over every photo so enjoy this slightly darker version of what the rings actually looked like!
We ended up in the Biodôme which was basically the Eden Project on steroids – sort of. You had these neat little biomes to walk through, each displaying the different kind of animals that live within them.
My personal favourite was the Laurentian Maple Forest purely because the raccoons I saw were beyond what I would describe as cute. They were gorgeous and fluffy and hilarious and when they starting digging with their little claws I nearly died – they were so cute! Just look into those beautiful little eyes! In fact, I took so many photos of my little animal friends – one of which I am convinced was Neil Patrick Harris disguised as a duck (but nobody else could see the resemblance). Anyway, I digress. We should move on from the duck-humans now…
So, following the Biodome, we had some more time to explore the city. We did so not by looking at the beautiful buildings nor engaging with the variety of cultured people – no. We actually just went bowling which, in all honesty, was some of the best fun I have had in a while – even if I was terrible at it! It killed some time before it was acceptable to whip out the $8 wine and settle down for a night of playing the board games that Cath had purchased at Tour Des Jeux – it turns out I am not the only one with a spending problem! Once the Foodora man had come and given us our delicious burritos, we were set…
I would like, however, to just take a moment to complain abut something – Starbucks. What on earth do you guys think we British drink? I stepped into a big Starbucks on Rue Sainte-Catherine to find this odd English beverage called a London Fog. I was intrigued, okay, so I figured I would try it out. You can imagine my dismay, therefore, when I spent $5 on a cup of Earl Grey with some slightly frothy milk in it… FIVE DOLLARS FOR A FROTHY EARL GREY? And why on earth is it called a London Fog? Nobody in England does this! You have got us all wrong! To the people of Canada, do not think bad of us – we do not drink this crap!
Okay, rant over.
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So, we were out of the Airbnb by half past ten on our last day and we had a good five hours to kill before the bus back to Toronto. Our initial plan had been to find a storage area to leave our luggage before some last minute exploring. The only issue was that there was literally nowhere to leave our stuff. I was okay because I had only brought one backpack but almost half the group were incapacitated with cases that would not have been pleasant carrying. In the end, we split up and left the over-burdened in a shopping centre while the rest of us went to the Musée Des Beaux Arts. The museum (or art gallery, I have not quite decided yet) lies a little outside of downtown but the area is beautiful. The road is embellished with different flags flapping in the wind and there are sculptures dotted on the pavements (or should I say sidewalks?). I feel as though Rue Sherbrooke Ouest really epitomised the freedom of identity within the city – anybody can be anything or anyone they want to be regardless of who they are or where they are from. Montréal felt like a real community in that sense – I think that is what I am trying to say.
As for the museum-art-gallery-thing, it was awesome! We managed to get in for free and had a good look at the stuff being exhibited. I must admit that I often find it difficult to understand modern art but there were a few pieces that really stood out to me. The bottom floor was mainly contemporary sculpture and the sorts of things that artists do on one afternoon and then sell for a million dollars or whatever. One piece, I kid you not, was a canvas that had been painted yellow and then slashed twice by a knife because… yeah? But think about the emotion, the rage, the passion – the artist’s very core, stretched on a wooden frame for the world to see. Yeah, no – I do not buy it, sorry.
There were some very impressive pieces of note but I will not bore you to death by naming them and explaining why I liked them. Just believe me when I say, the Musée Des Beaux Arts is certainly worth a visit if you are in Montréal.
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And so 3pm reluctantly arrived and we had to shuffle our way back across town to the bus terminal where our Megabus would be ready to take us back down to Toronto. The trip was short but sweet and I felt so lucky to have captured a little snapshot of the city I might have lived in (had my first year grades been better). I am not bitter though, I am a Badger now, not a… whatever McGill’s mascot is – yuck!
I fear that this blog post has gone on for too long and I promise that it is almost over. I could go into detail about missing our connecting bus and breaking down in the Toronto bus terminal because the next bus was in eight hours time and we were a hundred kilometres from home. I will not, though. Just know that we made it home safely in an Über that surprisingly did not cost an arm and a leg – it was $150 instead.
Looking back at Montréal now, my god it was beautiful and I would love to live there but I cannot help but feel in my heart that St Catharines is exactly where I am supposed to be right now. We may not be as big and as diverse in St. Kitts but we have it pretty great and I love Brock with all my heart. McGill can suck my hairy badger nu-
and there you have it, Montréal. I was as brief and concise as possible but if you did make it all the way down here, congratulations! I hope you enjoyed reading all about my travels! I cannot promise that next week will be as exciting but I will be back on Saturday for another post!
Have a good one, folks.