Montreal, Toronto & Niagara Falls

I found Montreal to be an interesting and culturally diverse city. More French is spoken there than in Toronto but once they realise you are a tourist they speak in English and seem to appreciate even the smattering of GCSE French that you can remember. We only had one day there but were able to squeeze in a lot of the sights, including Mount Royal, with its stunning views over the city. Later that evening we caught the firework display from the Portugal team competing in the World Fireworks Competition. It gave a real sense of holiday to our trip. The next day we took a wander round and spent an hour or two at the Musee de Beaux Arts, which had many exhibitions. My favourite was the contemporary arts portion. I think it’s because I don’t understand it and I enjoy struggling with the notion of what art is and why it works so well. I didn’t enjoy the religious exhibition because I pretty much have no interest in religion, painted or otherwise. The Napoleon portion was interesting, especially the death mask of the man himself. He appeared to have a Doherty nose and I’d be interested to see if we are at all related way back down the line. (www.mbam.qc.ca)

There was a family fun day further down Saint Catherine and we enjoyed wandering through the stalls and marquees. We caught the end of a jazz brass band, who were very good and held the audience in the palm of their hands. The songs were in French but this mattered little to me as I could enjoy the tunes and the atmosphere that the five musicians created.

I found Montreal easy to get around in, even with the language barrier. The Metro pass we bought for $16 saved us a fortune and made things a lot easier. (http://www.stm.info/english/tarification/a-1a3jours.htm) We were able to hop on and off busses to get to the top of Mount Royal, a journey that would have taken over and hour on foot. (www.montreal.com/parks/mtroyal.html)

We were lucky enough to have our cousin as a guide. She is at college there and has her finger on the pulse of cool places to go and interesting things to see. We had pre dinner desert in Juliette & Chocolate, (www.julietteetchocolat.com)  we wandered down some interesting streets and sat and people watched from balconies during happy hour. She also made suggestions for places to eat the next day and things we absolutely must do during our very short stay in her city. As always though there wasn’t time to do everything and I do hope to be able to visit again some day.

I feel this way about every place I visit. There is never enough time to soak up the atmosphere of a place. I spent three days in Toronto and could seriously have spent months there. I enjoyed the vibe of the city so much and man do those Toronto ladies wear good shoes! I feel Toronto is a city I could easily function in and I did think about work opportunities there. I found it easy to get around and there was so much to see and do.

The CN Tower was quite close to my youth hostel, I didn’t walk up it because I had other things I wanted to focus on getting to see but I did walk down to appreciate the size and scope of the building. I also enjoyed the Rodgers centre and the interesting sculptures that are hanging out the side of the building. On my last night there I sat in a coffee shop, watching a storm roll in as dusk settled and the CN Tower light up in gentle waves of pretty colours. I think the view from the top that night would have been quite astounding. And yes, it’s another one that goes on the list of places that I MUST visit again. (www.cntower.ca)

I took a day out to go and visit Niagara Falls. I couldn’t come all this way and not see and experience the roar of the falls. I decided not to take the  tour organised by my youth hostel but to use the MegaBus so I could be a wee bit more flexible with my day. It worked out cheaper also which is a bonus when it comes to travelling on a budget. (www.megabus.ca)

I took a trip on the Maid of the Mist (www.maidofthemist.com) which was an amazing experience. The first Maid of the Mist was launched in 1846 as a ferry service but by 1854 had become the tourist service that we know and love. I was so excited to have this experience, not just because of a long running gag between me and my brother involving Jim Carrey’s epic meltdown aboard in the film Bruce Almighty, but because it I was pretty sure at some point the experience would scare the shit out of me..…..which it did. The boat sails up into the curve of the Horseshoe Falls and rests there for some time. I was lucky enough to be right at the front of the boat on the upper level. The roar of the falls is almost deafening and the spray is flung all around. Those little blue Dory fish ponchos do a good job of protecting you though. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming sense of panic I got while standing there. I was looking into the water, at it churning, watching it violently crash and fight with every other drop there, and thought if this boat goes down there’s not much hope for us. I had a real powerful sense of awareness, about my own mortality; about my hopes and dreams for the future and how lucky I was that I had the kind of life where I could experience this. If you ever get the chance you should visit the Falls and take the boat tour and see what it does to you. Let me know, ok?

The Ocean Train – From Montreal to Halifax.

There was 836 miles of breathtaking scenery. That much I’m sure of. The 836 miles begins at Montreal, travels through Saint Lawrence, through the Matapedia Valley, across New Brunswick and into Nova Scotia. Each cabin has a leaflet with information on the stops we would be making and interesting features of each town or area. Although in all fairness it was just a joy to stare out the window and watch the world go by.

My brother and I shared a sleeper cabin, with shower and meals included. This was a very good idea. I don’t think I could have hacked 800 odd miles sitting upright in a train seat. The cabin is small but comfortable. The seats fold down into two bunk beds and I had a surprisingly relaxed nights sleep. I don’t know if it was the gentle rocking motion of the train or the two vodka’s on board (or the three pints of beer beforehand) but something worked a treat. The meals on board are delicious. I was expecting plane food, in tiny foil packages that had been microwaved and flung at you. What we got were three course meals that would put any restaurant to shame.

Showering in the tiny bathroom was a comical experience. The shower head was micro thin and had to be twisted to point at the opposite wall, otherwise the water trickled pathetically down the wall. Keeping it twisted in the right position was difficult and it kept slipping back. All in all though it was easier than I thought to have a shower and I managed not to slip and do myself an injury.

The staff on board are friendly and welcoming, slipping in and out of French and English at ease. There are also talks on wildlife and the history of Acadia and a wine tasting. Free champagne when you first get on board and complimentary tea and coffee during the day in the viewing cart was also a huge bonus.

The fact that the train did not have wifi was, at first, a shock to my system. I spend huge amounts of time each day plugged in and switched on to the virtual world around me. However it turned out to be a blessing. This enforced period of connecting to reality, talking to other travellers onboard, staring out the window looking at the scenery was the best thing. It was the most relaxed I’ve been in such a long time.

I thoroughly enjoyed the train as a way to travel. Sure it takes a long time, sure it is expensive but I feel it’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences. This is Canada’s longest running train. It’s been in operation since 1904. This is one unique way to see the country. This is one of those once in a lifetime journeys that people talk about. This is one of those experiences that I should be able to draw on in the future. It’s a journey that leads to wondering. Some of those stretches of land must have remained pretty much the same since the trains first journey. I wondered had they ever been stepped on. I wondered about the lives of the people in the little towns that we passed though. What worries are they experiencing? How is the recession affecting them? Is there a recession over here at all? What is it like to live your whole life in a tiny house or farm beside the railway track? In fact I feel like I should be writing some sort of a lost in the wilderness type novella whilst on this journey. A Kerouac “On The Road” for my generation. Better get on it then.

www.viarail.ca/ocean