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Went on a little trip last week. B was driving up to see C and Montreal, and I went along. First time in Quebec, second time in Canada as an adult not counting changing planes in Toronto, third time in Canada ever ditto. I had fun. Subways are better than Boston's, I got a taste of the underground pathways (they're not too exciting, lots of shopping, but you could indeed get around much of downtown in the winter without going outside), it felt like a taste of French culture but where everyone knows English too.

Friday: drive up. Lots of green hills. Customs check fairly fast and easy. Downtown looks a lot like Chicago's skyscraper skyline. Parking hard, but then we found a space on a half block that was totally free, though the other half needed residential permits. Walked around with C on some closed-to-cars street -- Rue Prince Arthur? -- but restaurants do indeed mostly close after midnight.

Saturday: the three of us walked to Old Port. Dense area. Quartier Latin or Ville Marie. We passed some cosplayers in a city plaza, who turned out to be spillover from Otakuthon. We went in and gawked at cosplayers in the public area; this included a small dance group in the hallway, doing first an extended Suzumiya dance and then Caramell Dansen. Bit of a dance performance thing in an auditorium too, but then we left. Old Montreal, a recreation of the first colonial market, bike path by the riverside. First subway experience. A friend of C's took B and me to Parc du Mont Royal, but we got there late and eaten by mosquitoes.

Sunday: B and C went on a bike ride around the time I woke up. I walked around on my own, finding the duller areas north of where we were. Ate table d'hote brunch at a very relaxed slow cafe nearby. Then the three of us went back to the Parc, now in daylight, full of people. Couple of drum circles, one more hippieish than the other. Reminded me a lot of Golden Gate Park. Bunch of people doing circus training, too. Then B drove back; I'd decided to stay a couple days, but last minute Airbnb reservations didn't work so I ended up in a nearby hotel. A kind of crappy hotel with intermittent A/C, and adjacent to a strip club with leaky bass. Walked around late at night, found Chinatown (tinier than Boston's or maybe LA's), Place d'Artes, Place d'Armes.

Monday: lots more subway and walking. North, finding the Olympic area and Botanical garden, then downtown proper. Started feeling down.

Tuesday: learned of the Biodome, four indoor 'natural' environments, and that the gardens are among the biggest in North America. A goal! Spent 7 hours between them, including a bit at the Insectarium (less exicitng to me.) Biodome (not in any way dome-like, different etymology) had a tropical rainforest, a Laurentian forest (cool temperate), a Saint Lawrence estuary, and a polar exhibit. The rainforest is probably biggest, and also very humid. The polar is smallest, it's basically two tanks of birds, but I learned for the first time that convergent evolution has applied: one tank is northern birds like puffins and others, which look pretty much like penguins apart from the colorful puffin beak. Same black and white coloring. The other tank has actual penguins.

The gardens, lots of stuff, I didn't even get to see it all. I lingered in the Japanese garden (decent, I've seen bigger and better) and the Chinese one (I think Portland's is classier, but it was still interesting, especially the "stone boat".) Spent a lot of time in the Native American 'garden', which is forests and placards about plant use, though a lot of that time was trying to get out again. Alpine garden, shade garden. A lot of time in the greenhouses, which are fairly extensive, and there's like 7 different types.

Lots and lots of bonsai. Or rather, the Japanese garden had a bonsai room, then the Chinese garden had a penjing area, penjing being the Chinese root of bonsai, then one of the greenhouses was devoted to more penjing. Between this and the Brooklyn gardens, it's been a big bonsai year for me. Multiple signs said "it's about how it looks, not how old it is" but I can't avoid being impressed by a penjing over 200 years old.

Wednesday: so, driving pretty much is the best way to get there from here, apart from the horrors of being in a car for five hours. Buses are overpriced (but see below), train isn't direct and connections are bad and even the NY train is slow, planes are expensive -- it's about the same to fly to San Francisco as to Montreal. Still, I had to get back. I was tempted to take Amtrak anyway: 11 hour ride, overnight in NYC, up to Boston. Slow and expensive (mostly for going to Boston, which would cost more than Montreal-NYC, actually). Alternately: train to Rensselaer, taxi over to Albany, bus to Boston; still takes 8+4 hours plus 3 hours waiting in between. Direct Greyhound was $79. A friend kept urging a crazy plan of train to Port Kent, ferry over Lake Champlain to Burlington Vermont, Megabus home.

Researching Burlington is when I found the bus prices are funny: Montreal-Boston is $79 (and $89 the other way), but Montreal-Burlington is $18 and Burlington-Boston is $17. So you could get off the bus, then turn around and get back on the bus with your other ticket, for less than half the price, unless that violates some obscure policy and the driver stopped you.

Or, if you've never been in Burlington, you could explore for a few hours and get on a later bus. Except, Greyhound is now in the airport, 3 miles from downtown, and Burlington's buses are half-hour ones.

So I ended up taking the crazy route, except planning to take a later Greyhound to explore Burlington a bit; downtown is right by the ferry terminal. Amtrak was pleasant, especially in my rear car -- front cars had a lot more people, I'm guessing going all the way to NY. Customs mean officers boarding the train, though they made half my car get off (not me). I'm guessing non-citizens? Only one came back, I hope the others sat down elsewhere, rather than being stranded.
Between deep recline and generous legroom, I realized you can almost go horizontal in the seat. First class experience, in coach!

Port Kent is tiny and mostly houses. Lots of American flags and old people.

Ferry was decent fun. Hour trip. First boat of the year?

Burlington was okay. I did find a pedestrian market street. It's like a smaller Bloomington. The library requires a library card or photo ID to get a bathroom key, which is the sort of thing that pisses me off on principle. Bloomington and Cambridge main libraries don't have that, they just have public bathrooms. (Central Square library does make you ask for a key.) Took city bus to Greyhound. You can take 1E to a 10 minute walk to the airport, or transfer to the 12 at the mall and get dropped off right by Greyhound. I worried, but the transfer seemed timed. $1.25/ride

My friend's crazy plan would not have worked. Train was late to the first ferry, and I would have been late to Megabus.

First Greyhound in years. They have power outlets by the seats now. Nothing makes a bus more comfortable than 10% occupancy. Even so, people yakking on phones got annoying. Train seats are still way, way, nicer.

Montreal food: hmm, don't remember that much. Had some good stuff on the Saturday walk. Did not get around to trying poutine.

Subway: pretty good as a subway. All the stations look a bit different. Doesn't seem handicapped friendly. Expensive at $3/ride, but a day pass is $10, three day is $18, month might be $70.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 31st, 2014 09:00 pm (UTC)
My Amtrak and Greyhound experiences are similar. The buses are much improved by the use of modern computer chair technology and elective arm rests, not to mention outlets and WiFi, but still not something I would choose to ride over the train. Amtrak +Wifi would be nirvana since I habitually book the lower deck with my fellow gimps, but I have to get by with cell tether. It might be more efficacious in the denser East, but my typical Dallas-Texarkana commute is a tour of swamps (no cells) and the butt-ends of East Texas small towns (usually close enough to a highway for 1-2 bars).

However, watching my slow but visible progress on the smartphone's Map like I was in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER is worth the price of admission alone.
Sep. 1st, 2014 12:23 am (UTC)
Oh yeah, I've had terrible luck with travel wifi. I think Megabus was half on half off. Coast Starlight said they were weak, like only in lounge or sleeper cars. This trip was very weak signal and I think I couldn't actually get DNS resolution -- Greyhound ditto. So T-Mobile all the way.

Which reminds me, I was able to use T-Mobile roaming in Canada after adding some money, but Rogers never gave me data.

I've done the "watch me move" thing. Once very practically: where I stayed outside Amsterdam had no landmarks and the bus announcements were erratic, so my phone's GPS told me when to get off the bus.

This Greyhound also had seatbelts, which I don't remember from my Greyhound days. I didn't use it.

Edited at 2014-09-01 12:25 am (UTC)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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