Montreal has a very pretty, ultra-modern airport. The Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport is clean, spacious, and filled with labor-saving machines and high-end stores.
So it was a bit jarring to walk into the men’s room and see one of those condom-for-sale vending machines — a vending machine which also, mysteriously, sold chewing gum. I’m not quite sure how the two products are related, but I’m guessing that gum sales were depressed by being placed between condom dispensers, especially when one of them is touting vanilla-flavored lubricant, improbably has a drawing of an ice cream cone on the front. and describes itself as “delightfully delicious.”
Sorry, Montreal, but I associate condom-vending machines with the crappiest, filthiest gas stations you can possibly imagine — the kind that have a fat guy with an oil-soaked ballcap and cut-off sleeves sitting behind the counter, rusting gas pumps, and bathroom keys that are chained to a dirty piece of wood the size of a baseball bat. The mere presence of the machine caused my impression of the airport to plummet drastically and made me wonder: “What kind of airport is this, anyway?”
We’re leaving Montreal today, and as we passed through each stage of the travel process at the United terminal of the Pierre Trudeau International Airport I was struck at how much of our lives has become automated and self-directed.
We used the standard ticket terminals to check in, entering our confirmation numbers and scanning our passports and credit cards and retrieving our boarding passes from the printer slot at the bottom. The agent directed us to an automated baggage loading machine, where we scanned our tickets and input information into a terminal, hoisted our bags on a conveyor belt, then watched while a laser scanned our bags and a machine lowered them into the vowels of the airport. It’s the first time I’ve used one of these machines, but the instructions are easy enough to follow and they are bound to discourage travelers from overpacking super-heavy bags. We went through all of the security scanning devices, then moved to Customs. There we found another machine on which we scanned our passports and had our pictures taken — they were unflattering, of course — before talking to the Customs agent and passing through to our departure gate. It’s the first time I’ve encountered one of those machines, too. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before we see all of these devices in the U.S.
Science fiction has long forecast that we would enter the age of robots and machines. I think it’s here, now.
The Old Montreal section of Montreal is a very pretty area. One of the more lovely spots is the square facing Notre-Dame Basilica, which also features some graceful statuary. It seems to be a popular destination for tour groups, and when we were there yesterday a lone trumpet player entertained passersby with selections from Handel’s Messiah.
The historic district of Montreal is called, aptly enough, Old Montreal. We walked its streets today on an absolutely perfect day, weather-wise, with temperatures in the mid-70s and a bright blue sky. The district is filled with scenic Old World vistas, cobblestones, and quaint brick and stone buildings. Mix in the fact that most of the people here are speaking French, and you begin to get the idea of just how exotic and wonderful this little corner of Canada is.
We walked to the Old Montreal part of town for lunch today. A colleague recommended Jardin Nelson, so we ended up there. We had an excellent meal, enjoyed the charming, flower- and umbrella-filled interior that gives the place its name, and listened to a two-piece jazz combo that was playing the standards.
Jardin Nelson is famous for its crepes, so I had to try one. I got the lapin — rabbit — crepe, and it was wonderful, with tender chunks of meat, a delicate gravy, and mushrooms, too. I felt no guilt, either, about consuming a cute, furry, hopping woodlands creature. Sorry, Bugs! I’m with Elmer when Wabbit Season rolls around.
Kish and I learned a valuable lesson today. If you are traveling to Canada and can’t get a direct flight — which is the standard reality if you are flying from Columbus — make sure your transfer is in the U.S.
Why? Because if you have to go through Customs as part of the transfer, forget it. We’re on our way to Montreal through Toronto, and we encountered (1) a walk of at least three miles from plane to Customs and then to security, (2) a misdirection by airport officials that sent us to an even longer security line, (3) a security team even less motivated tO move people through with lightning speed than the TSA, and (4) a hyper-efficient flight crew that gave away our seats and closed the doors even though we arrived at the gate 10 minutes before departure time.
Fortunately, there are frequent flights from Toronto to Montreal, and we’re on a 3 o’clock flight. So, for now, we’re cooling our heels in the Great White North. Hey look! They’ve got Canadian t-shirts!
Yesterday we drove north on I-87 and crossed the border into Canada.
Crossing the border was no big deal, which I found mildly surprising. You drive up to the customs checkpoint and border crossing and wait in line. (Interestingly, you wait behind a painted line, just like there are when you go through customs in airports. There must be some kind of uniform painted-line rule among the brotherhood of international customs officials.) When it was our turn we drove up to the booth where the customs official sat, he looked at us, he examined our passports, and he asked us a few questions. The questions were pretty basic: Where are you from? Where are you going? When was the last time you were in Canada? Are you carrying any firearms? Why are you coming to Canada? Our answers must have been acceptable, because he waved us through.
After we crossed the border into the province of Quebec the road number changed, and the signs were, for the most part, entirely in French. We followed the instructions of our GPS, looped around the outskirts of Montreal, and then headed due west to Ottawa.