Friday, April 18, 2008

QUEBEC - Chapter One: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

So back on April 2nd I flew to Quebec. I felt the 'everyday' simply closing in and 'routine' was getting the best of me. I was looking for something new to do, and figured I'd found it. I got up early and went about my day which included going to my Histoiographic Metafiction class. I slipped out early in order to have the extra time before my 1:00 AM flight. Terri and Emarie gave me a lift to the airport at 10:00, and I was off.

The adventure began when we were all seated on the plane, ready to go. The captain introduced himself and informed us that we would be delayed because of a change to our flight plan that required us to take on 600 litres more fuel. Also, with the weather conditions the way they were, if we departed on time we would be early into Montreal. Montreal, apparently, has a noise bylaw that does not permit landing at Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport prior to 7:00 AM. So, my adventure began by, in essence, not beginning at all. We were delayed 20 minutes.

I was amazed at how efficient and easy to navigate the Montreal terminal was. I stepped off the plane, went directly to the luggage carousel and claimed my bag - no waiting! I as much as turn around to head for the nearest exit, and what do I see?

You got it! The highlight of my breakfast was the hottest cup of coffee I've EVER had at any coffee shop! I could barely hang on to the cup! Oh, that and I was greeted at the counter bilingually with "Bonjour, hello..."

While sitting at breakfast I eyed an Internet kiosk so I decided to send a quick email to Terri to let her know I'd arrived safely. Those kiosks are coin- or credit card-operated at 10 cents per minute. The crazy keyboards are anything but standard, with hammer-touch buttons spread so far apart you cannot possibly 10-finger type. Talk about slow. There's gotta be a money-making angle there!

My next stop was the Via Rail station. I grabbed a cab. The fellow who drove me preferred to speak in English which suited me just fine. He was puzzled why I'd requested a ride to the train station when there was one directly across the road from the cab stand. All I knew was that the agent who booked my flight and train had indicated that the train was "just downtown". There was no indication on my reservation which station I was to leave from, but when I told the fellow I was going to Quebec City, he figured it was the best bet. He didn't know if there were lockers big enough for my suitcase, but I had to ditch the thing if I was to spend the day in Montreal before my 5:55 PM train to Quebec. I entered the station, not quite sure what to expect. The budding was amazing, and my photos don't do it justice, but this is what I saw:

It looked to me to be something of "Grand Central Station" - even though I haven't been to New York. Funny... it's actually called the "Grande". I must have had something of a tourist look about me, sporting my bright red backpack, toting behind me my monster suitcase - clearly I'd over packed! A porter approached me and asked in English if I needed a hand. Perfect guy to ask where I could ditch the bag, I thought! He told me that I could pre-check my bag because the schedule I was on had a baggage car. Perfect. I approached the ticket counter to exchange my voucher. There was no baggage car on my schedule. Instead, I was told that I could leave my bag with a porter, give him a bit of a tip, and he would ensure that my bag would make it on to the luggage rack at the end of my car. Oh, and there would be a surcharge for overweight. I tracked down my porter friend who seemed surprised that there was no luggage car. He agreed to care for my bag, we weighed it and sure enough it was ten pounds over. He said, " Don't worry about it - I'll take care of it." Great! I asked him where I might change a large bill since I had only a $100.00 on me after breakfast and a rather expensive cab ride. "No problem, I'll change it for you." He took my bill and returned within, literally, seconds sporting an array of bills. I peeled the top few bills and handed him a healthy tip - more than the $5.00 the ticket vender suggested was customary, but less than the $30.00 overweight fee. I figured my porter friend made much of his living looking out for tourists with cash! He did me a great service, was efficient, and scored himself some coin. Win/win, I'd say.

My plan was to tour Montreal. The cab ride in from the airport had run me close to $50.00 after a modest tip, so I figured I needed an alternate way around. I started with a tour of this Grande station. It was full of bakeries, restaurants, pubs, coffee shops and gift boutiques. Literally, you could get lost it it all! The airport aside, I was to learn, Tim Hortons no longer ruled the roost. Here in Montreal, it's Second Cup. And the train station has a huge one - also sporting this...

I loaded my Tim's mug with some Second Cup coffee and headed off to buy a map, then outside to check out the streets...

The corner of University Drive and Rene Levesque Blvd.

After a bit of a tour on foot, I returned to the station to sit and relax. Pouring over my map, I discovered what would lead to the bulk of my adventure for the day. On the reverse side was a map of the Montreal Metro. A day pass is only $9.00, and what better way for a train buff to see Montreal than... by train?

My day pass and a Second Cup coffee cleverly disguised as a Tims!

What I didn't bank on was the number of stairs a fellow has to descend to reach the Metro level! 88 to be exact...

Here's a map of the system...

I figured it would be impossible to go topside at every station and still make my 5:55 PM train, so I decided the objective would be to visit the ends of each of the four lines, go upstairs, snap a photo and proceed.

I did just that, but I will spare you most of the photos as they all look pretty similar. Here, however, is one that I found unique, and I'll tell you why:

This is the one stop I made along the blue line. It is the Universite de Montreal. What's unique in my mind is the fact the the door on the right is the entrance to the station. The door on the left is the entrance to the University.

Here in Calgary, our Univerisity station is clear across campus from any building - a cost-saving measure the City invoked, apparently at the last minute since the original line was to run straight to our MacEwan Hall Student Centre.

Four neat things about the Metro trains:

They're fast - couldn't find the stats, but I felt like I was flying
They're frequent - no more than 2 minutes between trains
There are electronic signs in the trains that display the upcoming stop
(Of which I have a photo, but it wouldn't upload)
The trains run on rubber tires! (Our metal-disc C-train is still a smoother ride though)

I'd mentioned the stairs, but I haven't mentioned the people. I must have seen thousands of faces while visiting 68 stops on 41 kilometres of track. Two incidents remain quite vivid in my mind. At one turnstile, there was a tall Afro-American fellow ahead of me. He bought his ticket and proceeded through the gate. I showed my pass to the attendant and continued through. Half way down the steps I realize this fellow was behind me. Strange, I thought. As we approach the platform, he seems anxious. The train was just pulling away as we set foot on the platform. He squeezed past me, gave me a dirty look that I needed no translation for and uttered some mono-syllabic grunt as if to say, "Idiot... we missed the train!" Wow, I thought... does 90 seconds wreck your day, man? I suppose it didn't bother me since I wasn't on a schedule, really. That, and in Calgary I've been known to wait upwards of 30 minutes for a train in off-peak times. To wait 90 seconds at any given point in the day is downright silver-service to me! Oh, and the fellow made a point of stepping on to the car ahead of the one I did. He obviously wanted nothing to do with me!

The other occurrence of note was at the one stop where I cheated and took the escalator instead of the stairs. Ahead of me was a girl who smelled absolutely delicious. "Welcome to Montreal", I'm thinking to myself. I was in the habit of looking around and happened to glance backwards down the escalator. There was a couple not four or five steps behind me, making out as they rode up the escalator. Eyes front, better to take in the aroma than the sights, as I said to myself, "No pictures, Turtle, no pictures..."

By the time I returned to Bonaventure station on the orange line, it was 4:30 PM. I had experience the sardine-nesss of full-on rush hour on the Metro. It was time to return to the Via station and head for my train to Quebec.

I have this to say about Via Rail: the train was filthy. The outside coated in mud, the windows so dirty it made picture-taking useless. The inside was relatively clean, but old and worn. The service? Absolutely amazing. The fellow serving our section was friendly and prompt, and made everyone he served feel attended to.

From my seat on the train

On the platform at Quebec City

The train was on time at 8:50 PM, so to recount the previous 24 hours, I'd been to the University of Calgary, driven to the airport, flown to Montreal, driven to the train station, rode all over Montreal, visiting the University by train, then to Quebec City by train and picked up by car. A most impressive adventure inside 24 hours, I dare say!

Chapter 2 to follow... Quebec City in pictures!


ipm said...

looking forward to seeing the city!

the Tube in London was good, and the subway in Barcelona as well. very efficient way to get around!

even with all those stairs... :)))

Janice said...

Hi Dave,

It sounds like you had a great day, inspite of that one fellow.

I hope the rest of trip is just as good.


megz_mum said...

Cool! What a great adventure!

doozie said...

I thought Tim Hortons was seafood?

Dang, you put a lot of work into this post.

One time my shoelace got caught in an escalator and my entire leg was ripped off. Later on they put the leg back on and ever since then I walk with a limp

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Calgary, Alberta, Canada
English student, Pottery enthusiast, Yoga novice and lover of all people. I make friends over a warm handshake and a beverage. I discover, every day, someone willing to help me along my path.