Day 54, 55 & 56 Going French in Montreal

Trip Start Jul 01, 2008
Trip End Sep 27, 2008

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Flag of Canada  , Quebec,
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Heading out of Boston proved a much easier deal than finding our way in, and we set off in search of Phil George's home to collect some mail. We had a really fun visit with him and his family; our kids finding instant rapport with Kyle & Grace, and they would have happily set up camp in their garden for the next week. But we had an appointment with Montreal, Canada, and had to get on with it as it was a 5-6 hour drive. Just over the border from New Hampshire into Vermont, a little voice from the back started up with that all too familiar chant, "I need to do a wee", and so began the search for a pullout. Nothing forthcoming and with the voice getting louder and more insistent, Matt did what any loving father would do. He pulled over on a State Highway. Privacy being an issue with Aviva these days, she spent a good minute or so outside the car working out how best not to be seen by oncoming traffic, all the while Matt and I insisting she just get on with it because Daddy hadn't parked in a safe spot. And then there it was, the dreaded flashing lights and the police car siding up behind us. Uh-oh, now Tom wanted to pee, so carrying him toward the police car, I explained we had desperate children and he was pleasantly accepting, turning his attention instead to Matt the driver. The usual license and registration checking ensued (Janice, you will remember this process but happy to report that this time I knew the difference between insurance papers and an interim license slip), and then all documents returned without a ticket and a cheery send-off back to California. Phew, 10,000 miles down and Matt's driving record remains in tact.
Thanks to a tip off from Phil, we enjoyed dinner at Burlington amongst a decidedly eclectic crowd before hitting the very basic border control at dusk. Asked if we were carrying any dangerous weapons or explosives, Matt replied 'just a rocket' which I thought was brazen, but he was just being incredibly honest... Daniel received a toy rocket that launches 100 ft into the air for his birthday.
Driving through Canada felt oddly comforting, despite being in near total darkness and the signs all being in French. Might be the connection with a fellow Commonwealth country, or more likely the surprise at seeing the temperature in Celsius and the speed limits & distances in kilometers.  Once again we had used Hotwire to find a room in Montreal, these Saturday night bookings at late notice are killers! We ended up with the Holiday Inn at the airport, which was full to bursting, but able to accommodate a switch from Smoking to Non Smoking. Except we had to settle for a King and a rollaway bed, which makes sleeping arrangements a challenge with the three kids. The arrangement changed overnight, as it often does in our roadtrip game of Musical Beds, but at 3.00am we had Tom on the floor with the rest of the bed space occupied some how or another with bodies and stuffed animals. Suddenly both Matt and I were woken by somebody trying their keycard in our door, unsuccessfully. Then at 3am came a phone call from Front Desk, saying that the previous guest had left something in the safe and needed to retrieve it and he was coming 'round to let them in. Panic - 5 in a room exceeds Hotel Regulations and here we had bodies covering all available bed space AND floor space. So we let them in, but said they couldn't have the lights on b/c we had sleeping kids and this was most inconvenient. Poor guest couldn't see a thing - perfect - so I had to help him with his secret code, but mission completed; Tom unseen, no kids woken and Night Watchman profusely apologetic and offering a room discount. Well, room discount was not given voluntarily, or without a fight, but Matt was superb in his negotiations and accepted nothing less than a 100% discount. We immediately booked ourselves into the downtown area of Montreal and enjoyed this city from a lovely vantage point rather than our previous scrappy location under landing jets.
We wandered around the Old Town of Montreal and were fortunate to find the city hosting an open air cultural market that is only scheduled once a year. There were numerous stalls offering food and wine samples, historical re-enactments with periodic gun-firing which alarmed the crowd and plenty of fun activities; the kids wrote their names with a quill pen and did their own tapestries (a very slow process with three beginners that ended with Matt and I doing 'speed-tapestry' which I'm sure goes against the very principles of tapestry). All good fun and it was amusing to watch the kids listening intently to a wood-carving demonstration conducted in French, which inspired Aviva and Daniel to learn Oui et Non, and Sortie.
Somewhere we had read of Montreal's sophisticated 'underground city' wrapping some 30 km around the city, so we headed out to explore, only to discover it was no more interesting than Pitt Street Mall coming out of Town Hall Station. But we were directed to the Latin Quarter for dinner, and being at the furthest point in our travels from Mexico, it felt right to enjoy fajitas & tacos. San Diego not really being a 'commuter' city - or at least where we live, the kids are still excited by Metro systems, so we treated them to a ride back to the hotel. Following on from our wanderings in the downtown area the day before, we headed out early for a 'french' breakfast of croissants, café au lait and ouefs. We noticed that although French is the first language of Montreal, there is no pressure for us to remember anything we learned in high-school, as the Montreal-eans are just as competent and willing to speak in English. So, none of those somewhat humiliating public demonstrations of charades that Matt and I remember from travelling through France. It wasn't much of a day in Montreal - the weather noticeably cooler than anything we've experienced so far - so we bought some new school books for the kids and did an hour of lessons, Canadian curriculum style. Driving out of Montreal we stopped first at Parc-Royale to enjoy the view over the city, and then got our bearings for our next point of interest: the Olympic Tower. A few snaps of the leaning tower and a stop off at a playground before loading up on groceries for the drive ahead.
The drive to Toronto was too long for us to want to do it in one hit, so we opted for a KOA campground about an hour and a half out of Toronto, but as it was just to be a sleeping spot, we didn't want to set the tent up, so we booked a Cabin.
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