We had a very convenient flight schedule on Saturday that allowed us to get up at a normal time, clean the house, and then roll our suitcases out of the building and to the train station. (Moving to a building right on the light rail is one of the best decisions we ever made). We rode to the airport, went through security – where there was a slight delay due to a tiny pocketknife I didn’t even remember having in my purse – and then went to go get some brunch at Surdyk’s Flights.
We boarded our plane and were off. I got a lot of knitting done, and we had a spectacular view of New York on the way to LaGuardia.
We’d hated LGA on our previous visit there, which was only about 8 months prior. However, something happened in the meantime – it became nice. Like really nice. We picked a pizza place with iPad ordering near our arrival gate. (Yes, I was Googling “your mom”.) Service was quick, and we were on our way again.
At our next gate, we went down a ramp out onto the tarmac, where we boarded buses to the plane. This was incredibly exciting to me, since I’ve only ever done that at much smaller airports. On the tarmac at LaGuardia! Awesome.
We boarded our much-smaller plane, and then sat there for an extra 20 minutes because the intercom in the back of the place was broken. The plane was small enough that the flight attendant could’ve just yelled up to the front and be heard easily, but apparently Delta is all about following rules. We weren’t really delayed much, though, so we couldn’t complain.
The flight to Burlington was about an hour, and it was apparent how pretty that part of Vermont was as we approached the airport. That’s Lake Champlain in the distance.
On the ground in Vermont, we waited for our bags and then called Thrifty for the rental shuttle. BTV is a gorgeous little airport, with northwoodsy decor, rocking chairs, and art everywhere. We liked it quite a bit.
The rental shuttle was sitting there waiting by the time we exited. We were the only ones using it. The driver took us a few blocks outside the airport property, and we hopped out and went to get the car. We ended up with a little Prius that was small enough that only one suitcase fit in the trunk and the other on the back seat, but I prefer driving that kind of car anyway. Plus we’d heard gas was expensive in Canada.
The most interesting car quirk was that the odometer was only in kilometers per hour. Matt’s second task, after looking up directions to the border, was to figure out what 60mph was in kph. The fact that it didn’t have cruise control made it a little challenging to drive, too.
We left Burlington around 8pm and figured we had about a 90-minute drive to Montreal. I didn’t love driving in the dark, but we didn’t have that far to go. When we got to the border crossing, we had to sit in a line of 3-4 cars for a bit. The border agent was a big burly man with a hilarious accent (sorry, Quebecois) and the usual border-guard sense of humor, i.e. none. He asked us a bunch of questions and then directed us over to a parking spot behind the building, where two other agents were waiting. We were nervous, but figured it was probably normal since we’d been through three cities and just picked up a rental car that evening.
The agents directed us to turn off the car, leave the keys, and go sit on a bench. Then they proceeded to search. We noticed that the very brightly lit area was absolutely swarming with mosquitoes, since it was probably the only bright light for miles, and the building was equipped with a couple of gigantic bug zappers that ran constantly.
It only took about five minutes, even though they searched our suitcases and everything. Another car full of Americans pulled up next to us and got started with the same thing, so we felt a little less weird about it. The agents thanked us politely, and we were on our way.
It’s not exactly a direct route to Montreal once you cross the border, which seemed a little strange. They were mostly sizable highways, at least. Once we got within 30 miles of Montreal we could see the skyline, which was pretty amazing. We found our way to our hotel, across the river from the city in Longueuil. It was a really large business-oriented hotel called the Sandman, and we were instantly happy with our decision. We had a big, modern room, a view of the St Lawrence and Olympic Park, there was a very friendly lady at the desk, and it was next to the Metro station.
It was after 10 by the time we got situated, but we didn’t want to go to bed without seeing some of Montreal. We walked over to Longueuil station (which seemed to contain not just the Metro but a ton of bus lines, even Greyhound-style ones), and figured out how to work the pass machine. A three-day unlimited ride pass is $18CA, which is a really excellent bargain. Then we went to wait for the train.
We were staying on the yellow line, which was incredibly easy to navigate. Longueuil was one end of the line, there was a stop in the middle on the island for Parc Jean-Drapeau, and the end of the line was the third stop, Berri-UQAM, where two other Metro lines crossed. The Metro runs very regularly, as often as every 4 minutes during rush hour, and at most every 15 minutes late at night. The last train is between 1am and 1:30, and if you miss that, they have night buses that run the same routes. So basically, you have zero excuse to drive in Montreal.
The trains are pretty dated and have hilariously large wheels. My favorite part was the “mouvement collectif” tagline on the side, a concept that would not sit well with many American rednecks. SOCIALISM!
I was glad that I’d made the effort to learn some French this time around. We’d been to Paris, Tunis, and Brussels with basically no knowledge of French, and it was a pain. Even the little we knew was definitely enough to help us with road signs and other navigation, and to be polite enough in shops and restaurants. It was already much easier than it had been in those places. (And while it’s true that the vast majority of people in the service industry in the touristed parts of Quebec are bilingual, the signs are definitely not. Learn yourself some French before you go!)
We rode the Metro to Station Mont-Royal, and walked over to Poutine La Banquise. Matt had chosen it because 1) it was open 24 hours and 2) it advertised vegetarian poutine. It seemed like the best possible introduction to Montreal. We were a little nervous because there was a line out the door (and we were starving), but it seemed to actually be moving pretty quickly. It helped that there was a carryout and eat-in line, too.
We waited in the eat-in line for probably 20 minutes at most, and then got a table. The place was absolutely packed, with tables crammed everywhere. And everywhere you looked there were people drinking beer and eating gigantic portions of poutine. It was everything I’d hoped Quebec would be.
And they had vegan poutine on the menu, called La Veganomane. I decided to go for that, fake cheese and all, and it was amazing. Matt had the Obelix, with smoked meat. We both got the small portions, since the large ones were unbelievable. We had a couple local beers as well, and then we paid our loonies (ok, it was more than a few loonies) and headed out again.
Speaking of loonies, the exchange rate was $1CA to .80US, so we were feeling like high rollers in Canada.
It was 12:30ish by then, so we walked back toward the Metro station. We looked around a bit for a shop that was open to buy some beer to bring back to the room, but everything seemed to be fermé. As the train arrived at Berri-UQAM, we realized we were approaching last-train time. It ended up being a good thing we didn’t find an open store, because we’d probably have missed the last Metro on our first night in Montreal.