International Crossing #1: NY to QC

Downtown Lake PlacidAfter sleeping in a bit, we awoke this morning in Lake Placid NY to a beautiful sunny day. It was a nice change from the rain we’ve had for the past two days. We watched a bit of the Athens 2004 Olympics before heading back to the site of the 1932 and 1980 Olympics. Dave didn’t have his camera with him last night when we were skating, so we went back to take a few photos of the rinks. We also got a chance to watch some figure skating practices, as well as some women (girls? hard to tell with all the gear on) hockey players either practicing or doing some kind of tryout. It was almost as cool as the night before – it was cool to see people who can actually skate using the rinks, but it was awesome having the place all to ourselves last night. This time, though, we got to sit on the U.S. bench in the 1980 arena before fleeing to avoid getting hit by pucks slapped by female hockey players.

Then we walked up and down the main street of the town a bit, to take a few more pictures, enjoy the beautiful weather, and take a look at the lake in the sunshine.

After running a few errands, we headed out of town, this time on a different road than the one we drove in on. The Adirondacks are really beautiful. The route we drove (Route 86, for those keeping score) goes past Whiteface Mountain, where it looks like the ski slopes are actually vertical, and then follows the Ausable River all the way back to Interstate 87. We ended up behind a car from Ontario that was taking its time, so we did too.

Finally we got on the interstate and headed north. We stopped for a bit to have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at a rest area, then zoomed toward the border.

US-Canada borderThen stopped. For half an hour. At the border. I’m sure it could have been worse, so I’m not complaining. Some Asian tourists a few cars ahead of us actually got out of their car and took some pictures, then the person in front of them got out and took a picture of the both of them. It was amusing.

Of course, once we got to the border guard, it was hard to know why it had taken so long. The nice young lady asked me about five questions, then told us to enjoy our stay in Canada. *shrug*

Immediately the signs switched from English to French, and from mph to km/h. There was actually one sign warning drivers that everything was now in kilometers instead of miles. (Imagine thinking the speed limit is 100 miles per hour! Zoom!)

While Dave edited photos on the laptop, I pondered as I drove.

Being in a country where you don’t speak the language is little like being slightly drunk. Things – words in particular – seem familiar, and you feel like you should be able to make sense of it all, but there’s nothing you can do to make yourself understand. And maybe the drunker you get, the more you’ll understand… or at least, think you understand.

That’s what I pondered.

Since neither of us knows French, I’ve been a little apprehensive about going to the province of Quebec, Canada’s only officially French-speaking province. I guess I shouldn’t have been. French is close enough to Spanish that I can read signs and get the general idea. I was more worried that nobody would speak to us in English. That has turned out not to be a problem in Montreal, which is quite bilingual. All the signs are in both languages, and everyone greets you with “Bonjour – hello!”. We haven’t had any problems.

That is, other than the fact that Montreal, like any large city, is rather overwhelming if you don’t know where you’re going. Coming from Lake Placid, which basically has one road, I was a little nerve-wracked driving into the city at rush hour, not knowing even the address of the place we were trying to find. But somehow we managed to find this little bed and breakfast that headquarters the Montreal Bed & Breakfast Network. A nice young man named Serge booked us a room on the west side of Montreal and we drove down there to find it.

The woman who runs this bed & breakfast is named Belva. The license plates on her van indicate that she’s from Maine, and she certainly is a native English speaker rather than French Canadian. She’s helpful in an overwhelming way, but her dog Dixie is cute, and the place is clean and nice.

Olympic Parc, Montreal
We stayed just long enough for Belva to explain the parking situation, the shower situation, and the breakfast plans. Then we headed to the Parc Olympique. This is the home of the Montreal Expos, though you’d never know by walking around it. Unlike every other ballpark I’ve ever been to, which are typically oozing with team pride, there is only one tiny sign that says “Expos”. The stadium is a crumbling concrete structure with no outer adornment whatsoever. No wonder they’re trying to move the team.

What we did there was cool, though – above the stadium is a tower, and you can take a cable car up the tower to an observation deck. From there, you can see the whole city, the rivers that surround it (Montreal is actually on an island), and a good chunk of Quebec if it’s less hazy than it was today. It was a worthwhile trip.

Then we went back to the B&B to park our car across the street (no parking until 5:30!), then hopped on the Metro and went to Old Montreal. I wish we could have gotten an earlier start there. For one thing, the main destination I wanted to see was the Basilica of Notre Dame. It had closed by the time we got there, but they do a “sound and light show” at 6:30 and 8:30, so we decided to get dinner and then come back for the later showing.

We walked in the direction of Bonsecours Market, which seems to be something like the Faneuil Hall / Quincy Market area in Boston. I’m not sure we ever saw the actual building of Bonsecours Market, but there are lots of restaurants, shops, and street artists in that general area that quickly distracted us. We could easily have spent a couple of hours just walking around looking at the different things going on in this area of the city. Instead, we walked around just a bit before we found the perfect restaurant for dinner. It was called “Jardin Nelson” and served what seemed to me to be French food. We ate brie with pesto, and crepes for entrees. The crepes, unlike the dessert crepes I’m used to eating, were more like omelets only with batter instead of eggs. They were stuffed with things like chicken, cheese, asparagus. They were very yummy. Dave was glad that it turned out to be enough food to make us full. Crepes don’t automatically sound like they will be filling.

We finished dinner just in time to head back to Notre Dame for the show. We were SO glad we went! It’s very hard to describe, but basically there was a 3-D narrated light and video presentation explaining the history of Montreal and of the church. The coolest thing about it was that the second half really featured the church instead of the video. There was a spectacular moment when the screen in front of the altar, upon which was projected a picture of what the altar used to look like, was removed to reveal the current altar, backlit and featuring particular statues and pieces. They proceeded to highlight various parts of the church and to explain both their historical and religious meaning. In many ways it was a better way to experience the church than simply walking through during the daytime. We were pleased.

Afterward we tried to visit the “Underground City”, which is a series of shopping plazas and walkways that are all underneath the streets of the city, mostly near McGill University. We wandered around a bit but the malls and everything were closed, so it seemed really pointless. So we emerged onto the street, walked a bit there and went into a couple of stores, then headed back to our room for the night. Bon soir!

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One thought on “International Crossing #1: NY to QC

  1. Hey! If you get a chance, visit Mount Royale. It is an amazing park that was designed, if I remember correctly, by the same architect that designed central park in NYC.

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