North American Adventure: Part Five – Montreal

The train goes through that very narrow gap in the rock

The final city visited in my North American adventure was Montreal, Quebec, Canada. And this part of the adventure turned out to be most unexpectedly different from everywhere else.

The train from New York City to Montreal takes around 11 hours but is much cheaper and much more scenic than flying. And I deliberately caught it because of my love for trains. The train travels for a few hours out of Manhattan following the Hudson River and up to the state capital Albany. After being allowed to stretch the legs for about 10 minutes in Albany the train travels through farmland in Upstate New York until it reaches the Adirondack Mountains. Travelling through the Adirondack’s the train runs alongside Lake Champlain and finally up to the border of the USA and Canada. From the border it is another few hours through farmland and city outskirts to Montreal.

Old Montreal

Arriving in Montreal at 8pm on a Sunday night was an interesting experience. Before arriving I was aware that French was the primary language in Quebec, but my friend who lived there told me that you can survive fine without it. I knew once I got off the Amtrak that I needed to find my way to the metro and catch one train, then connect with another to make my way to my friend’s house. The first part of doing this was to find my way from the main train station to the metro station through the maze of underground tunnels that link up all the buildings in the CBD of Montreal. Once I found the metro station I then had to work out how to use a ticketing machine that was talking to me in French! Finally I made it to my friend’s house after getting a little lost trying to figure out where the street he lived on was in relation to the metro station – note: Google maps isn’t always 100% accurate.

One of many Montreal churches

My mate whom I was staying with is more of an outdoor junkie than I am. The next morning he hands me a bike and, despite having not ridden in a few years, I proceed to ride up the biggest (and only) hill in Montreal. The view of the city from Mont Royal is certainly worth the climb and afterwards we descended into the suburbs of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal and Mile End looking for bagel shops. In the afternoon I went into the city to explore, finding that Montreal is interesting in the number of large old churches and other buildings it has. More so than anywhere else on my adventure has the original settlers tried to emulate Europe.

That evening we went to a local park where an outdoor cinema was screening and ate “world famous in Quebec” Poutine – fries with cheese and gravy. The following day it was back on the bikes and for an even longer bike ride. This time out to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve where the annual Canadian Formula One race is held. When the circuit is not used for racing it is open to the public as a cycling track. After cycling around the circuit we headed to the Old Port area of Montreal where we had lunch. We then spent the remainder of the afternoon cycling around other suburbs of inner Montreal before returning home.

My final day in Montreal was spent tourist shopping for family and friends and sending many postcards to a variety of different countries around the world. In the late afternoon I caught the bus to the airport where I started the very long journey back to Sydney. In total I was away for 21 days. Over two full days of this was spent getting to and from Canada. I spent seven days in Toronto, four in New York City, two in Baltimore, two in Washington D.C. and three in Montreal and another day travelling from New York to Montreal. Writing this final blog seven weeks after returning to Australia the trip is already starting to feel like a dream. But it was truly one of the highlights of my life so far.

Cycling around the Canadian GP Circuit

North American Adventure: Part Four – Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Baltimore Inner Harbour

After spending three days in New York with two other colleagues we parted ways and I caught the Amtrak from Penn Station to Baltimore. The train ride down was a highlight of the trip. On the three hour journey we passed through five states: New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. I was a little disappointed to not get off the train in Philadelphia as in early planning for the trip I was going to spend a few days there but as it turned out I saw more than enough other places in my adventures.

Lincoln Memorial

Upon arriving in Baltimore I checked into my hotel and proceeded to explore the Inner Harbour area looking for dinner. The Inner Harbour area of Baltimore reminds me a lot of the Viaduct Basin area of Auckland. There are a number of restaurants, attractions, and shops surrounding a very small marina.

The next morning I woke up late and came extremely close to missing the last commuter morning train to Washington D.C. a 45 minute journey. Arriving in Washington D.C. I was surprised by lack of visible police and how close you could get to some of the buildings. Whereas in New York you couldn’t walk anywhere without seeing police cars and officers, here you could walk around, and yes they were visible, but much less so I expected.

White House South Lawn

Over four hours I walked around the National Mall, starting at the Capitol Building, and down past the Washington Monument, various war memorials, the White House and down to the Lincoln Memorial. In 35c heat I managed to get myself well sunburnt. While I was at the Lincoln Memorial I was lucky to have the President’s Marine One helicopter fly low and nearly directly overhead.

During the afternoon I explored the Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Natural History. Air and Space is one of the most visited museums in the world and the day I visited was no exception. The museum is basically MOTAT 2 supersized. All the space exhibits got the inner kid in me excited, but also working with autonomous systems got the adult in me excited about the variety of autonomous aircraft. On a whim I also decided to visit the Natural History Museum – the highlight being their collection of dinosaurs.

Air and Space Museum

I spent the next day exploring Baltimore, which was a lot smaller than I expected. I discovered there was a train museum a few kilometers away and walked there. The B&O Railway Museum was certainly worth it, they have a large collection of restored Civil War era steam trains and a collection of more modern diesel engines – some of which you were allowed into the cabins of. I spent the afternoon exploring a bit more of the Inner Harbour area and learning about various pieces of the civil war – it turns out Baltimore was one of the key areas in the war. Finally, I discovered a large outdoors equipment store which I got lost in for an hour or so and walked out with new shoes and a t-shirt.

B&O Railway Museum

I returned to Washington on the following day. In the morning I visited Arlington Cemetery which was an unexpectedly busy tourist attraction. I spent longer at Arlington that planned due to the shear size of it, as in the movies, there are row after row after row of plain white tombstones. There are also a variety of memorials to different wars and past presidents – in particular John F. Kennedy. In the afternoon I met up with a friend whom I used to study with in Sydney.

The final morning in Baltimore was spent visiting the “world famous” Lexington Market. After spending a little bit of time working out exactly where it is I walked in one door and straight out the opposite. The markets themselves were run down and did not seem like an attractive or safe place to stick around. In the afternoon I caught a train back up to New York for night and then the next day onwards to Montreal.

North America Adventure: Part Three – New York City

Times Square

After AAAI finished two friends and I travelled from Toronto for a few days visiting New York City.

We flew into La Guardia at midday on Saturday and caught the bus from the airport to Manhattan. Our first bit of fun came when, in a little bit of traveller confusion, we failed to get off the bus at the right spot to change to the subway. So before we know it we are a little bit lost in the middle of Harlem.

Central Park

After, finally finding our way to our hotel we set about getting lunch. And either we were really hungry, Gramercy Cafe makes the best food, or both – I have never had a better banana smoothie! After lunch we headed off and played tourist at Wall Street, Staten Island, and Ground Zero. Finally, at night, to get the complete NYC experience, we visited Times Square.

Sunday started off slower than the previous day with a two hour walk through Central Park. I then spent the afternoon exploring Midtown and going up the Top of the Rock. In the early evening we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and spent the evening at Coney Island, where an 85-year old wooden rollercoaster tried to kill me. Monday was spent visiting the United Nations, having dinner at Google, and explored the High Line. And finally, Tuesday morning was spent walking around Downtown before catching a train to Baltimore.

Overall, despite the quick visit, NYC was everything I imagined it would be. It was big, noisy, smelly and dirty – which in a way is exactly its charm! I couldn’t imagine living there, but I know others who do and love it.

Manhattan from the Top of the Rock