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Montreal 2003: Day Six
Added: August 17 2004

Monday, August 18, 2003.

Back when I started hunting for airline deals, I noticed that staying until Tuesday dropped the price a good bit. At the same time, I figured that if I were going to be in another country, I might as well snag at least one day to be a tourist.

So Monday ends up being that day.

It ends up starting early. The tournament director I'm staying with has to head back down (with another TD) to Saint-Jean to pick up various items that are still at the fields, so she drops me off at the closest Metro station around 8:30am. In advance, I've learned about a day-pass that will give me unlimited Metro use for the day. That sounds like the right plan. She and I decide it's worth me taking my tournament cell phone so that we can figure out the arrangements for later in the day, and so that I'm available should they need something.

It turns out to be a rather small Metro station. I walk inside, and the only other person there is a woman cleaning the floor. There's a ticket booth, but nobody in it. Eventually, I work up the nerve to ask her about it. She comments that the ticket guy should be back in a few minutes.

After what seems like forever, an older gentlemen arrives and enters the ticket booth. I ask for a day-pass, and he tells me they don't sell them there. He tells me that he can sell me a week-pass. I'm not sure I believe him (about not having the day-pass), but, at this point, I'm frustrated enough that I've blown twenty minutes at the Metro station that I go ahead and buy the week-pass. (In hindsight, I could have saved some money by buying a single token and hitting one of the main Metro stations. But it was probably worth paying the extra just to get the day started.)

I don't have a specific plan for the day. Several people have mentioned Old Montreal, the Underground City, and the shopping area around Sainte-Catherine. The only thing I specifically want to do is buy a copy of Matthew Good's Avalanche. I decide to start at Old Montreal.

Still trying to get my bearings, I overshoot the Berri-UQAM station to transfer to the south line, and end up at the Saint-Laurent station. Just out of curiosity, I exit the station, and immediately have a moment of tourist panic. Walls sprayed with graffiti, trash laying around, etc. I flip around, though, and am surprised to see something familiar. Namely, the Holiday Inn. From the hotel room that weekend, I had stared out the window towards this spot. I pull out my disposable and snap a pic, then scamper back down to the Metro.

View of Boul de Maisonneuve. The Holiday
Inn is the green building at center.

From there, I head back to Berri-UQAM, make the appropriate transfer, and hop off at Champs-de-Mars. I exit the station, and make my way to an open area with cobblestone streets and shops. Just as I'm entering the plaza, I'm surprised to hear my phone ring. It's the other TD. They're looking for the other Head Observer, and aren't sure where he stayed last night. I relay what I know. They tell me that they're just getting started on their way to Saint-Jean (it's now about 9:30am).

I wander around a little, then head toward the Old Port area. There, I wander up and down the piers, eventually heading into a tourist center.

Realizing that I'm down to my last twenty, I decide it's worth pulling out some extra cash. I spot an ATM, swipe my card, punch in the amount, and wait for the cash. It tells me it's giving me cash, then proceeds to spit out a receipt that says "SYSTEM ERROR". I'm stunted for a few seconds, and wonder if it's just pulled money out of my account and given me nothing. I wander over to a customer service desk nearby, and the woman behind the counter says that the ATM's been broken for weeks, and that I've got nothing to worry about. I'm still uneasy from my tourist paranoia, but I figure there's nothing I can do about it here; I'll just have to wait and see what happens when I get home. (It turns out fine.)

There are a lot of cool things to do in the general vicinity of the Old Port. There's an IMAX theater, several exhibits, etc. The problem: most of them are more than I want to spend for something I'm not sure I really want to see.

From there, I wander back toward the area with the cobblestone streets. Old Montreal is neat: it's got narrow streets and packed together buildings, much like what you'd find in many places in Europe. I start thinking about buying souvenirs for my family, but, as I wander through the shops, I can't help but feel like I'm seeing the same items over and over again. Figuring I have plenty of time on my hands, I decide to wait and deal with that later.

As I approach Victoria Square, I see a few signs pointing towards the underground, and decide it's worth investigating. I wander into the shopping area in Place Victoria, and stop in the Couche-Tard (a convenience store) to buy a bottle of water.

One neat aspect to Montreal is the Underground City. Basically, there's a complex built underneath much of the area that's interconnected. It allows you to travel from building to building without going outside. (Incredibly useful, I assume, when it's snowing and 12 below.) But there are all kinds of shops down there as well.

Before I get to Place Victoria, I pass through a set of glass doors. As I approach, a gentlemen opens the door for me. I offer my thanks, and continue onward. Not until I'm past him do I realize: he's holding out a hat. As I wander down the walkway, I turn around and notice a steady stream of folks walking through the door and dropping change into his hat. Having grown up in Atlanta, I've been more or less trained to not give money to "bums" (please insert a more pleasant word there), so it's a little bit of a surprise to see so many people giving out change. And, as I hit the more populated areas of the underground, I see a lot of people handing out a lot of change. In some ways, it's a little bit of a culture shock.

I felt bad about blowing past that guy, but hoped that my very American sounding "Thanks!" signalled that I wasn't a local.

As I'm heading up the steps to exit the underground, there's a guy standing at the top with an acoustic guitar. He's playing Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry". Well, sort of. He's strumming a D power chord over and over and singing the lyrics. I laugh to myself: I'm pretty sure Marley wrote the song with more than one chord.

I wander back east and south to the street adjacent to the river, and end up at a museum that's having an exhibit on the Dead Sea Scrolls. My father loves that kind of stuff, so I go inside to check it out. It ends up being somewhat pricey (and something I'm not quite so interested in myself), so I look for a souvenir. All I find is an eight-page booklet that costs way more than it's worth. I wander back outside and take a picture of the building.

Montreal Museum of Archaeology and History.

From there, I continue down Rue de la Commune, and find what appears to be a topiary exhibit. (It turns out to be Mosaicultures Internationals Montreal 2003.) There are some really neat looking examples out front, and it piques my curiosity. As I approach, I notice that there are tickets for sale for the exhibit, and, once again, it's more than I'm willing to spend. So I step back and snap a pic.

Mosaicultures Internationals Montreal 2003.

At this point, I feel like I've exhausted my interest in the Port area, and decide to head up Rue McGill in the general direction of Sainte-Catherine. I start heading north, then wander back into the underground near Place Victoria. I head down the same walkway from earlier (where hat guy is holding doors) and come across a guy playing an acoustic guitar and singing songs in French. Okay, this guy is pretty good, spades better than one-chord-guy. There are a few people there listening, and a few people throwing some change in his guitar case. At that exact moment, I almost wish I could do that - be in a place like that playing songs, even without the change. I can't help but love the way the music wafts through the echo of the underground.

As I head toward the Metro station, I take another look at the map, and realize that I'm only a couple of blocks from Sainte-Catherine, so it's probably not worth hopping on the train. I wander back upstairs and finally find an ATM that works. I then turn and head up Place Phillips, and, a while later, I'm on Sainte-Catherine.

I turn down Sainte-Catherine, and am amazed by how many stores there are. Literally, the street itself is like a mile-long mall. On top of that, there are little mini-malls underground. If you love shopping (though I don't particularly), this is the place for you.

In advance, I poked through the phone book and found out that there's an HMV on Sainte-Catherine, and that's one of the places I want to make it to. But I'm not sure where it is. I turn right and head down the street. I decide to head into a store called "Future Shop", which, on the inside, looks like a smallish Best Buy. I poke through CD's - they've got MG, but not the one I'm looking for. They do have the Canadian version of the Police's Greatest Hits, though, which appeals to me since it's got several songs (including "Synchronicity II", which is my fave of theirs) that the US version lacks. But it's pricey, so I leave it.

As I wander down Sainte-Catherine, I find several other record stores. Same story: they've got MG, but not the one I'm looking for. Eventually, I arrive at Place-des-Arts, which looks like a giant museum. The 2003 Montreal Film Festival is taking place, so the area is all decked out.

I head down into the underground at Place-des-Arts and stumble across a store called Archambault that slightly resembles a B Dalton or Waldenbooks. Here, I finally find Avalanche. Mission accomplished.

From Archambault, I jump back on the Metro and head one station west (rather than walk back where I came). I wander through the mall around the station, then exit at street level and wander west down Saint-Catherine.

I decide to stop in BK (given the positive experience at the airport). During the course of the trip, I've had this quiet goal of having a complete conversation in French without the other person reverting to English. I've failed miserably. I stroll up to the cashier and order "un numero huit" with a convincing accent. She asks which drink, I ask for a Coke. She asks in French, "for here or to go?" and I blank. In the time it takes me to parse the words in my head, she asks in English, "for here?" Dammit. I respond with a dejected, "Yeah." (My only "success" the entire weekend was my purchase at Archambault, where I was mute for the bulk of the transaction, save for a meek "Merci" at the end.)

I head upstairs and start munching. While I'm there, I decide to check in with the TD to see how the schedule's looking. When she answers, I'm stunned when she says that they've only just arrived at Saint-Jean. It's now after 1:00pm - it's taken them more than three hours to make the hour-and-fifteen-minute drive thanks to an accident on Autoroute 35.

I leave BK and finally make it to HMV. While there, I spot an Everclear import single for dirt cheap. And, by sheer chance, I stumble over a copy of Soundgarden's Down on the Upside for dirt cheap. The best part: unbeknownst to me, in Canada, they press Down on the Upside in a jewel case rather than the annoying digi-pack that I've been avoiding for the last seven years.

After leaving HMV, I spot Centre Bell (where the NHL Canadiens play) in the distance and start heading that direction. As I near Centre Bell, I get the impression that there's no reason for me to make it all the way (it looks like something's going on), so I turn back to the east and pass through Dorchester Square. There are people hanging out there; it's nice.

I decide that I'm ready to move on from the shopping world and do some sightseeing. Parc Jean Drapeau looks like an appealing place to start. (Radiohead played there the previous Thursday, and, in the back of my mind, I'd hoped I'd be able to go. Granted how Thursday went, it was a good thing I didn't try.) So I hop the Metro at Bonaventure and head that direction.

Parc Jean Drapeau is an island just off of Montreal. There's quite a bit of stuff there. I wander into the Biosphere, which is a remnant of Expo '67. (I chuckle and think of They Might Be Giants' "Purple Toupee": "I shouted out / 'Free the Expo '67' / till they stepped on my hair / and they told me I was fat".) There's a whole exhibit there (about water) that looks somewhat interesting, but is again more than I want to pay for something I'm not sure I want to see.

Our hotel keycard had a picture of the Casino de Montreal, which is adjacent to Parc Jean Drapeau, so I figure it might be worth scouting out. As I near the bridge that heads there, I notice that there's a gate and a guardsperson. The walkway looks open, but I chicken out and head the other way. Instead, I wander back toward where the Radiohead concert had taken place, and find myself facing the city. It's a really nice view, so I snap a couple of pics.

Montreal from Parc Jean Drapeau.

After spending about an hour at Parc Jean Drapeau, I hop back on the Metro, and get off at McGill. I do a little bit more wandering around Saint-Catherine, and, after hearing the Police's "So Lonely" in my head for the previous hour, decide to wander back to Future Shop to pick up that Police CD.

Knowing that I've still got some time to spend, I hop back on the Metro and head east towards Olympic Stadium, where the Expos play. The Expos played the Giants that afternoon, and I thought about going (since I've never seen a major league game outside of Atlanta), but Barry Bonds wasn't playing (because of his father's death) and I wasn't sure I wanted to waste my afternoon on a game.

I wander into the visitor's section of the stadium, and scroll through the souvenirs. I feel like it's the same old stuff all over again. I think about buying a Montreal photo book for my parents, then notice the 1996 copyright date. Everything else looks hokey. I notice that there's a tour of Olympic Stadium available, but, for the umpteenth time, it just doesn't seem worth the cost. Anyway, at this point, it's past 4:30pm and I'm starting to run out of time.

I wander out behind the stadium into a park. People are hanging out and working out. I walk up to the highest point of the park and snap a pic:

Olympic Stadium and Velodrome.

(It's odd to me that Olympic Stadium almost looks like a plastic model in this picture.)

From there, I figure it's time to start making my way back towards the city. The Metro station I arrived at is a good ways away on the opposite side of the stadium, so I decide to walk towards the next station to the east. Oops. Somehow, I hadn't paid enough attention to the map, and wind up skipping twostations. Naturally, it's a much farther walk than I've anticipated, which is not entirely appealing to me granted how much I've walked already. (In hindsight, I bet I walked a total of fifteen to twenty miles this day. Which is particularly surprising, granted how burned out I was from running during the tournament.) Gracefully, I finally end up at Cadillac station.

While waiting for the train, I give the TD a call to get an update. They're at Molson loading up more stuff, and probably won't be ready for another couple of hours. I decide to head back to the city.

I opt (for some reason or other) to head back to Place Victoria. When I arrive there, I'm surprised to find the mall closing.

I head back upstairs and start wandering south and east, passing by La Basilique Notre Dame, then turning north, passing by the rather colorful Palais des Congres. (I'm not sure what it is, but find out later that it's a convention center.) As I'm wandering, I start feeling guilty about not being able to find souvenirs for my family. I decide to head back to Sainte-Catherine. I'm tired enough that I opt not to walk. I wander into the Palais des Congres and take the Metro from Place-d'Armes to Berri-UQAM.

Palais des Congres.

I head down Sainte-Catherine. I wander by Musique Plus (the French-speaking version of MuchMusic, Canada's answer to MTV), and chuckle at the videos flashing on the TV's out front. I stop by a Pharmaprix and pick up a bottle of Orange Crush. I end up poking through a couple of street-level stores, and eventually arrive at a bookstore. I find that same blasted Montreal photo book and reconsider buying it. Just then, my phone rings. It's the other TD. She asks me where I am, I tell her a bookstore on Sainte-Catherine. She asks which one, so I put down the book, walk outside, and read her the name (Indigo). She then asks me if I'm done for the day. I think for a second and decide that I am.

She tells me to hang a left outside the store. Phone in hand, I'm running. Next intersection, she tells me to turn right. As I'm running down the street, she tells me that I should see the truck parked on the side of the road. Lo and behold, there they are.

Once inside the truck, I continue to feel guilty for not buying any souvenirs for my family, but figure that I'll have plenty of time at the airport the next day to check out the stores there.

I assume we're heading back to the apartment, but it turns out that there's a good bit of work that needs to be done. All of the stuff in the truck has to be unloaded. First stop: the head tournament director's place. Naturally, he doesn't live on the first floor. So there we are porting boxes up a metal staircase.

After dropping off the other TD, we head back to the apartment. More boxes, more unloading. Her apartment was already pretty full of tournament stuff before, now it's just packed. Last night, I unfolded the sofa to sleep on it. Tonight, that's not an option.

The TD says that one place she likes to take visitors to is a deli called Schwartz's. It's apparently world-famous for its smoked meat sandwiches. On the way, we swing by a Pharmaprix to drop off my disposable camera to get the pictures developed. (I'd heard that you shouldn't take undeveloped film through an airport scanner.) Sure enough, when we arrive at Schwartz's, there's a line out the front. But, damn, it's worth it - it turns out to be a seriously good sandwich.

From there, we end up wandering around a little bit, passing by an ice cream place, then heading back to the apartment. She decides to turn in pretty early again (no surprise, granted the three hour drive to Saint-Jean and all of the loading and unloading), so I throw in her copy of The Ultimate Trip, a dvd that features one guy's trip around the world playing Ultimate. I spot a couple of Atlanta players during segments about a beach tournament in Rimini, Italy and 2002 Worlds in Hawaii.

The highlight of the dvd for me has nothing to do with the video itself. During one segment (about Southeast Asia, I believe), a song comes on. What catches me is that the voice is eerily familiar. I've been a big fan of Talk Talk's "It's My Life" since my youth, and it sounds kind of like that. But, for all I know, it's Brian Ferry. I scroll through the musical credits on the disc, and it turns out to be "Life's What You Make It" by Talk Talk. Strangely, it becomes my theme for the end of the trip.

I turn it off and hit the sofa, with that extra touch of sadness knowing that the trip is all but over. I assume tomorrow will be uneventful. Just a short drive to the airport and a flight home.

You know, if I'd written these journals when I was there, I might have had some warning. Has any part of this trip been "uneventful"?!?

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Montreal 2003: Day Five
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