As the first stop in my Great 2012 Mileage Run, my little CRJ-900 plane from JFK landed in Montreal’s Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) on Thursday morning, February 2nd, and went through customs. I had about 8 hours to kill on this layover, before I continued on to Europe. Though eight hours seems sufficient enough to go into town, see a few sights, and grab a bite to eat, I wanted to leave enough time to get back to Montreal Trudeau and go through security.
Upon arrival at Montreal airport, I had 8 hours until my next flight departed for Amsterdam, to connect me to Warsaw. I decided to go into the city and catch a glimpse of downtown while I was in Montreal. I was told of the new 747 bus which picks up at the airport and has many stops downtown. The bus is quite a bargain, at $8.00 CAD, and provides unlimited use for a 24-hour time period. Another option is available, which costs $16.00 CAD for a 72-hour (3 day) period, which is even better for those with a weekend stay. When purchasing the ticket in the ticket vending machine, the wording (or rather the numbering) may be a bit confusing; there is the option to choose between options “11” and “22.” Basically, option “11” is the 24-hour unlimited usage, and option “22” is the 72-hour option.
As I stepped off the bus and started walking around Peel St., I became quite fond of the French language spoken by everyone around me. It hit me then that, though Warsaw was going to be the main chunk of this 4-country, 5-day tour/mileage run, I had bookended the trip with 2 full-day layovers in great French-speaking cities: Montreal on the way into Warsaw, with 8 hours between flights, and then Paris on the way home to JFK, with a full 10 hours until the evening flight from when I arrive in the morning from Amsterdam.
I made sure to stay aware of where René-Lévesque Boulevard was in relation to me, as that is the majority of where the 747 bus runs up and down. This didn’t become a problem, as there were many nice shops and cafes around which kept me occupied.the Though French is spoken by more than three-quarters of the population here, English is spoken by more than half, so communication was not a problem.
The city was quite clean, though the snow was messy. It was quite nice to see almost every public entrance to a shop or eatery have an ashtray mounted on the door beam, and I tried not to flick my cigarettes on the ground like an irresponsible New Yorker. I had to schlep my backpack and carry-on with me, because I had nowhere to store it for those layover hours if I wanted to explore; the snowfall from the day before, which left a few inches of white, made dragging around my wheeled luggage a pain in the ass. As I dragged the bag behind me, it would plow snow with it (the tiny Samsonite wheels had no clearance) making it difficult to pull, until the snow piled into a mound large enough that my luggage would hop over it and start shoveling its next mound of snow. To make matters worse, even if I came across a section of pavement that had been properly salted, many of the streets and sidewalks seemed to be brick, wreaking havoc on the wheels of my luggage.
I stumbled quite accidentally on Montreal’s Underground City, called RÉSO, a homophone of the French word réseau and sometimes referred to in French as La Ville Souterraine. The Underground City is a maze of tunnels below the streets, stretching over 20 miles (32 km), filled with shops, restaurants, banks, museums, and even an amphitheater and arena. Many apartments, hotels, and offices also have entrances down under the street, perfect for walking around during the cold winter months (the day I was there had just had a light snowfall); going outside in Montreal doesn’t necessarily mean what it means most other places.
Changing money in the airport turned out to be quite expensive. At the time of this writing (2/15/12), the exchange rate between USD and CAD is about even, dollar for dollar. I had $35.00 USD cash on me, which I decided to exchange for Canadian dollars. The currency exchanger charged a flat $4.95 CAD fee, on top of their exchange rate, which left me with $27.40 CAD.
French is the official language of Montreal, and it is the second largest city after Paris with French as the primary language. According to the 2006 census, French is the language spoken at home by 60.5% of the population in Montréal proper, followed by English at 21.2% and 23.4% speaking other languages. It favors the French language even more so when considering the entire Montreal metropolitan area, where 70.5% of the population speaks French at home, and only 18.5% speak English.
Montreal was a great little time for me, short but sweet. I learned a lot while I was there, and the cold weather coming from the mild winter in New York would help me acclimate to the bitter Warsaw cold which I would encounter the following day.