Marc and I had been living in New Hampshire for almost four months, and most of it was cold, snowy and remote. The apartment we had was a tiny attic, with a hellish neighbor below who screamed if either we or the ghost, which was also living with us, made any noise.
There was not a town near us that had more than a few thousand people, and we were desperate to be in a bustling city. We both grew up in one, and that’s where we feel comfortable. I know it seems insane to go even farther north to even colder weather, but to us it was an adventure. We had four days off and, since it was winter, hotels were at a bargain in Montréal. Besides, it was only a three-hour drive away, which was nothing compared to some of our other family road trips.
Marc was so excited about the journey that he had the car packed and got Boots and Button ready to go by the time I got home after working the night shift. The kids must have sensed our excitement because they were perfect angels in the car, quietly sitting in their seats and watching the scenery go by, or sleeping. We crossed the Canadian border without much hassle; although, they did ask us to roll down the windows in the back, so that they could get a better look at the kids. They were only weeks old when they had their passport pictures taken.
The drive through Montréal was entertaining for all of us, full of people and traffic amid wintery conditions. This might cause a nervous breakdown for some, but for us it was exciting. We felt as if we were home again and thrilled to be in a different country.
We briefly let our GPS lead the way to our hotel (okay, we had a little trouble locating it), and found a parking spot right in front of the entrance. Marc checked us in, and before I knew it we were upstairs in our room. This was not a normal room, either. Somehow, we had booked a suite, which had a large bedroom with two queen size beds, a bathroom that could serve four people comfortably, a huge living room complete with two plush sofas, a flat screen TV and a full-sized kitchen with a table for four. It was at least double the size of our apartment in Lancaster. We let the kids run wild while we stared mindlessly at a TV show, and there was no bitchy neighbor to complain; it was pure heaven. Alas, we were getting hungry, and we decided to head out for a nice evening dinner. Moreover, the kids were out of milk, and it’s unwise to travel with kids and not have plenty of it with you.
Stay on Target
We found out we were just blocks away from a mall, which had with a grocery store and food court. I wrapped the kids up like little burritos, while Marc got the two strollers from the car—we were off to get an introduction to Montréal!
Seconds into our walk, it hit us how freezing it really was. Though there was no snow on the ground, it was frigid, the coldest I had ever felt. A man stopped next to us at a traffic light and noticed us shivering. He said that the cold was a sign that a storm was coming. Well, what more could you expect?
Two blocks later, we eagerly entered the mall. It was absolutely full, which made it difficult to maneuver around with the strollers. However, it was just what we had been looking forward to: crowds. We stopped by a few stores, but nothing piqued our interest. Then, a red, round glow caught my eye. Could it be? Was it, really? Yes, a TARGET store—it was the mother ship calling us home.
I wanted to break into song, like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, but I managed to contain myself. We entered through the doors and instantly took in the familiar sights, sounds and smells that are so distinct to TARGET. Although we just wandered through the store and pretended to shop, there was a calmness that came over both of us; this alone was worth the trip. Yet, all good things must come to an end, and we thought it best to get dinner.
We went to the food court, nothing too special. They all look the same no matter what mall you visit. Marc was eager to speak French again and ordered in that language of love at a Chinese restaurant. Upon rattling off his order, the staff blankly stared at him. Then, they asked him in broken English what he wanted to eat. Apparently, they didn’t understand his Parisian accent. Crestfallen, Marc walked away with his plate brimming with compow chicken and one, broken fortune cookie wrapped in plastic—bon appétit!
After filling our tummies, we headed on to the grocery store, which to our surprise was pretty big, considering it was in a mall. Once coming to terms with the high prices in Canada (we are so spoiled in the States), we indulged a bit and returned to our hotel. The rest of the evening was just a blur. I wanted chill in front of the TV, but most of the channels were in French. Marc was in heaven, me not so much. Though it didn’t take much until we were all sound asleep after an hour.
A Winter Wonderland!
Who needs a hotel wake-up call when I’ve got my little angel. Button has been pretty consistent at rising around 6 a.m. every day for the last two years. I can’t remember the last time I was able to sleep in past 7. I gave her a bottle of milk and then opened the window to see what was going on. Old Man Winter blew in with a fury and woke up Marc and Boots. The man we had encountered on the street was right. A storm barrled through the city during the night and dumped a ton of snow.
After breakfast, we walked to the subway station, in order to take the train to the old town of Montreal. The city had already cleared the sidewalks, but to our astonishment there were no escalators or elevators to reach the platform. We had no choice but to schlep the strollers all the way down. Once boarding the train, we reached our stop in 20 minutes. Yet again we had to haul the strollers up the steep flight of stairs to leave the station.
It had already started to snow, and we often got stuck on the sidewalk. Of course, the kids loved the falling flakes and enjoyed the slow-moving ride. Though it was a workout for the biceps to keep the strollers under control, I highly recommend not pushing one through busy, snowy streets—it’s exhausting! I was sliding all over the place and holding onto the handle for dear life. Button merely giggled in amusement. Marc was slipping, too, but he’s more stealthily agile in these situations. I’m kind of…not. I just look crazy and drunk.
Finally, we were by the old port, but there wasn’t anything to see but a snowy haze that connected the ground to the sky. We wandered along the streets of the old town among the locals, but the sidewalks had become narrower and more difficult to maneuver with strollers due to the growing accumulation of snow. Scrupleless drivers sped past, disregarding the fact that they were pelting passers-by, including children, with copious amounts of snow. All I can say is “karma.”
Despite all of this, we managed to admire the old town and stumbled upon the beautiful Cathedral of Montréal. We stepped inside, where the air was thick with incense. This is the most beautiful cathedral I’ve ever visited in Canada. People quietly strolled around, admiring the architecture and stained-glass windows, while others sat praying. Boots, however, broke the silence and started to belt out his ABCs, so that God could hear him, I guess. His voice echoed off the walls as we moved through different parts of the cathedral, and Button didn’t hesitate to join the resounding chorus, either. It created a bit of a buzz among the visitors, and one older man approached the kids and started to sing along. Bless his cotton socks. We lit some candles and said a little prayer, then left before anyone became irritated and could complain about the kids’ timeless duet.
Snow was everywhere, and we found ourselves sliding on the sidewalks with the kids crying because of the cold. We soon popped into a restaurant before the situation could get worse, and we hoped that kids could regain some strength and warm up. Surprisingly, our two little angels were calm and in a good mood while eating their lunch. It was just what the doctor ordered.
An hour later we hit the streets and that arctic blast. We gave Boots and Button some warm bottles of milk and made our way to the “Centre des Sciences.” This was the best idea to escape from the cold and have a fun time with the kids. We spent two hours watching, walking around, and contemplating some science projects, artwork and the architecture of the building. Before we left, we asked someone how to get to the subway station, so that we wouldn’t have to meander for miles looking for one.
Yet again, there we no elevators or escalators to reach the platform when we found it. We carried each stroller down 30 steps, taking a breaks along the way so that we could retrieve the other one 15 stairs up. Marc and I were wiped out, but the kids were enjoying the show. It was fun for them, but a nightmare for us. We kept a smile on our faces, but surprisingly no one bothered to help us. A part of me didn’t care, but was this a way the city was trying to keep handicapped people and strollers away from stations?
When we reached the platform, someone asked us if we needed help. Really? We smiled, and it was clear he was a minute too late. The train arrived, and oddly enough we managed to get the strollers on the packed train. Though it was a fun ride, we had to step out at each station and let people off. By the time we made it to our stop, we were pooped. After another adventure on the snowy streets of Montréal, we entered our hotel room and collapsed on the comfy couch. Our little bundles of joy, however, had secret energy reserves and considered our suite the perfect jungle gym to let it all out.
The next morning was a day of sleet. Regardless, we were determined to go for a long walk. Instead of taking the strollers, I insisted we put the kids in their backpacks and leave at around 9 a.m. Marc, on the other hand, wanted to use the strollers. In the end, he followed my lead (it just makes life easier for him), and we set out to discover more of the city with our coffees to go. Despite the cold, it was busy. People were in layers of clothes from head to toe, but not us. Strangely, however, we didn’t feel the bitterness in the air this time. We were just happy to be out about and see that there was little snow on the ground. Marc and I read each other’s minds, and we wondered if we should have used the backpacks yesterday and taken the strollers today. Well, hindsight is better than foresight.
We headed to the Montréal Tower, which is the tallest, inclined tower in the world! Its 45-degree angle is awe-inspiring. We also passed through busy squares, trendy pockets of the city and markets along the way. The kids were nice and calm sitting in their lofty perch and taking in the view. Later, we stopped at a nice restaurant, and it was a relief to remove the backpacks. Tired and aching, Marc and I slumped into two chairs at a table, while Boots and Button were already sound asleep in their backpacks. That itself was like having desert before the main meal.
The trip to Montréal in the dead of winter also taught us that it’s another story to carry kids in a backpack and make one’s way along slippery, narrow sidewalks. I’ve become the queen of sliding and landing on my ass (I have the tiara to prove it), whereas Marc just fell face forward, with the hope of landing in soft, white snow. In the end, we learned to be careful where and how we placed one foot in front of the other.
Although it was hard for me to find some gluten-free dishes, we had a chance to eat peacefully and enjoy each other’s company. Once paying the bill, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel—it was time for the kids to have some play-time. You’d think that after a day of sightseeing, running around the hotel room and splashing in the hotel’s indoor swimming pool, the kids would conked out early that evening. Such was not the case with them. I stayed up later than I wanted and amused them as much as I could, but sleep took us over, marking the end of a long day.
The next thing I remember was waking up early in the morning to my faithful, little alarm clock, Button. Marc and I stumbled out of bed, fed the kids and packed the car up to leave this beautiful city in Québec. It was a great mini-vacation for us; to see a new city and get lost among the locals. When we reached the US border, the officer told us that another snow storm was looming our way within a few hours—lovely. I’m sure you can guess who was looking forward to more snow again!