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I brought a notebook and kept a pretty detailed travel log during this mini-vacation. Largely because I thought it would have helped me be in the Now. Here. This. of the vacation. And I think it did.

(Thank you, Now. Here. This. for the inspiration for savoring the present moment. Also, thank you, [livejournal.com profile] gr8twhiteway for the awesome suggestion to take a train trip to Canada.)


    5:45am: I wake up after having gone to bed around 2:30am, scared that I was going to sleep in past my alarm. I rarely sleep well before going on trips, as my mind is always racing with things I still need to do and things I should have done already. On top of that, I see [livejournal.com profile] revyrie's tweet that simply says, "RING. THEM. BELLS." and I laugh hysterically. I reply and decide to get up, rather than going back to sleep for another hour, to get an early start and not have to rush.

    One of the things I realize at this point is that I had not done ANY shopping for food to take along on the trip. I would be on a train for 10 hours straight, and while Amtrak has a café car where one can buy food, I want to minimize my expenses during travel itself. I am also still on my gluten-free trial at this point and want to keep going with that (making drastic diet changes during a trip ... not recommended), so I think about what I can take with me from home. I grab two apples from my fridge (peeling off the stickers and washing them), the bag of cashews I had bought from bulk a couple days before, and a Clif Builder's Bar (which I discover then is gluten-free). I also grab as many Kind Fruit & Nut bars that I can find laying around in various bags/purses. I find five.

    7:00am: Leave the apartment. Check briefly to see that [livejournal.com profile] tamoshan is still asleep on the living room couch, and walk down the block to the subway station. Even at this hour of the morning (or because of it), other people in the subway station get on my nerves. One guy walks down to the end of the platform (thankfully away from me), while peeing on the platform. A woman with a cold keeps repeatedly trying to clear her throat so loudly that it echoes throughout the station. Another guy is rapping to himself.

    The subway ride, thankfully, is quiet, peaceful, and uneventful. None of those people got on the car that I did.

    7:23am: Arrive at Times Square. The 3 train I was on was terminating there anyway (weekend construction?), but I want to get off there and get myself a coffee from Gregory's before going to Penn Station. Times Square is hauntingly quiet. Even 6th Avenue is a stark contrast to most other hours of the day when it's packed with cars and pedestrians everywhere.

    7:30am: Get an iced nonfat latte from Gregory's, a bottle of Smart Water (because I forgot to bring my reusable water bottle), and then the barista who sort of knows me offers to sell me a banana because 80% of the time she has rung me up in the past, I happened to be buying a banana. I say, "Sure, why not?"

    7:39am: Make it back to the Times Square subway station. I get down the stairs and see that the next downtown train isn't for another 13 minutes. I can literally walk faster to Penn Station, so I do just that. It is a little on the chilly side, especially since the sun is not up high enough yet to peek over the tall buildings. But I've dressed prepared for the slightly colder Montréal weather, so it isn't a big deal.

    7:47am: Penn Station. Go to Duane Reade inside the station to find more snacks to take with me. I buy a bag of lightly roasted almonds and three more Clif Builder's Bars. Good source of protein (20 g per bar).

    7:52am: I make my way to the other side of the station where the Quik-Track machines are and print out my train tickets for both legs of the trip. I look up at the board and see that train 69 to Montréal has already started boarding and it was at gate 7W. I make a quick run to the restroom before getting in line.

    7:59am: Standing in the rather long line to check-in. There is a separate line for people going to Canada, as they have to see your passport and get tags for any bags you are checking in or carrying on. They stamp my ticket "CANADA" and let me go through, down the stairs to the platform. A staff member asks if I'm going to Montréal and when I say yes, he directs me to one of the last two cars of the train. (I'd read that they put all the Canada-bound passengers in the last two cars so that it is easier for customs officers to go through everyone.)



    8:06am: Finally on board. The train is quite full and there are no open rows in either of the last two cars of the train. I've gone up and down both cars to check. I find a woman who is sitting on the aisle with no one sitting in the window seat, in the second-to-last car. She gladly lets me sit in the window seat. I get settled and am glad that I am on the left side of the train, as a couple websites suggest to do on the northbound trip, at least to Albany, NY.

    8:15am: Impressed that we leave on time.

    8:26am: Tickets taken. The lady next to me is getting off at Albany, and the ticket-taker mumbles something how she should have been sitting in the front two cars, but lets her stay where she is.

    8:30am: Enjoying the views of the Hudson River. I take out my digital SLR camera and start experimenting with how to get decent pictures from inside a moving train. It takes some time and lots of trial and error. Also very grateful that the train has functional power outlets so that I can freely use my phone until we reach the Canadian border. The wi-fi doesn't seem to be working, though.



    8:35am: Arrive at the Yonkers Station.

    8:57am: Arrive at the Croton-Harmon Station. Pretty much the entire time since we left Penn Station, the lady in front of me has been consistently yammering on her cell phone in Spanish, just loud enough that is a little annoying. I can tell the woman sitting next to me is a tad annoyed, too, although she herself is bothering me a bit because she's playing games on her iPhone with the sound turned ALL THE WAY UP.

    Whatever. I try to tune the noises out and enjoy the greenery along the Hudson River. No doubt that it is now spring. Not every tree has fully turned green, but most of them have.

    9:38am: Arrive at Poughkeepsie Station.

    9:54am: Arrive at Rhinecliff Station. Somewhere between Croton-Harmon and now, the lady in front of me had gotten off her phone and was quiet, but now she starts chatting away on her phone again.



    10:01am: Suddenly realize that the stabilizer switch on my camera lens has been in the "off" position for who knows how long. Possibly weeks.

    10:15am: Arrive at Hudson Station. I fall asleep for about 20 minutes.

    10:43am: I wake up and realize the seat next to me is now empty. We've arrived in Albany, NY, and we are scheduled for a short rest break. I opt to stay on the train and snack on my cashews as I'm quite hungry now. (I'd nibbled on some cashews earlier and had a piece of a Clif Builder's Bar.) It is only a 20-minute stop, and then we are moving again.

    11:30am: Arrive at Schenectady Station. Decide to use this time to make a LiveJournal post about the Now. Here. This. closing performance the night before. Still have warm fuzzy feelings about it and the stage dooring, too.

    12:23pm: Arrive at Fort Edward Station, and I notice that we didn't stop at Saratoga Springs even though it was supposed to be one of the stops. Or maybe we stopped and I didn't pay attention? I don't know.

    12:55pm: I take a couple videos of the scenery on my phone and attempt to upload them to Facebook, but the cell phone reception is terrible at this point, and the upload fails despite five or six tries. Will have to try when I get home.

    http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=10100828477650977

    12:59pm: Arrive at Whitehall Station. After this point, there is no reception at all on my cell phone. I also glance with a bit of jealousy to the other side of the train because they seem to have some stunning views of Lake Champlain, while I am staring at more trees - which are pretty, but I want to see the lake. There are times when there is some water on my side of the train, but not to the extent of the right side. (The web site I'd found suggested switching to the right side of the northbound train after Albany, NY, but there were no open seats to move to. Otherwise, I would have switched.)



    1:34pm: Arrive at Ticonderoga Station. There are many trees that are colors other than green - many that are yellow, orange and brown. Feels like a hint of fall, and I make a mental note to see about coming on this train ride again in the fall when the leaves are changing colors.



    There are parts of this stretch where we run parallel with a two-lane highway, which is empty at times. It's actually rather inviting, making me wish I had a car to drive on it (although, not enough to want to give up the luxury of being on a train without the worries of traffic, gas, directions, getting lost, etc.).



    The thick forest is peaceful. There something exquisitely calming about nature: the trees, green grass, the lake. Water is especially a calming visual for me, probably because it represents movement, fluidity and change. It is because of water (in the form of rain and rivers) that a landscape never stays the same, which is something that has fascinated me for years. (It is one of the few things I took away from the very boring physical geography class I took freshman year of college as GE elective.)



    Here, there are scattered homes, each with lots of land and space between them and neighbors. In the backdrop, rolling hills make up the mountains to the west.

    1:57pm: Arrive at Port Henry Station. I am sleepy. The reception on my phone is spotty, and despite this train having been advertised as having wi-fi, I still haven't been able to connect to it.

    The train is moving more slowly at this point, just enough that we're traveling quite smoothly along the tracks. Until now, it was a tad bumpy and the car would rock side to side a bit. But now, it's like we're gliding. There's still a lot of open space, some of which are used by ranches and some with horses.

    2:18pm: Arrive at Westport Station.

    2:30pm: Train conductor comes through to hand out blank customs declaration forms for us to fill out. At this point, I realize that the banana and apples that I have with me may be restricted from entering Canada. I am not sure what the exact rules on that is, so I eat my banana in case it isn't permissible across the border. I may have to do the same with my apples soon, too. I am hoping that they don't confiscate my cashews either because the customs form makes you declare if you have nuts, too.



    Around this time, the Spanish-speaking woman in front of me tries to find out from the girl sitting across the aisle from her where the train is going to stop in Montréal. The girl and her friend are most likely from the Montréal area, as I'd heard them speaking mostly French during the train trip, but occasionally speaking English. The girl at first tries to speak to the woman in very rudimentary Spanish, and I could tell it was hard for her to switch from French to Spanish. She wanted to say things automatically in French. Finally, the woman speaks in English and they settle on that. The girls are indeed from Montréal and had gone to New York for the weekend for vacation.

    3:00pm: I spend a good chunk of time trying to find out from Google whether my apples will be allowed across the border. From what I can tell, it seems apples that have U.S. state stickers on them are fine. Unfortunately, I'd peeled off the stickers when I washed my apples. So even though I wasn't really hungry at all at this point, I forced myself to eat one of the apples. It makes me feel a bit ill because now I'm too full. But they can take the other one if they want. They just can't take both.

    3:24pm: Arrive at Plattsburgh Station. The conductor announces that they will be closing the café car shortly for customs inspection. It's a good thing I won't be hungry for a while. He also announces that restrooms will be off-limits during the inspection, "so use them now if you must".

    3:38pm: We come to a complete stop, but not at a station. The conductor announces that the automatic train detector failed to work so they have to stop and do a manual inspection of the train. It doesn't take long, though - only about 4 minutes.

    4:12pm: Arrive in Lacolle, Quebec just on the other side of the border for customs inspection.

    4:20pm: Customs officer comes by and questions me. He asks where I am coming from, where I am going, how many days I'm planning to stay in Montréal, if I am meeting up with anybody, and then where it is that I am staying. I say, "At a hostel." He asks, "Which one?" Shit. I don't remember the name. I attempt to say "Le Gîte ... something ..." as I attempt to dig up the full name of it on my phone. He lets it go. He sees that I checked off "yes" for the question on the customs form asking if I had fruit, nuts, or meat and asks, "What meat do you have?" I clarify that I have nuts. I show him the zip-lock bag they're in. He asks if I bought them in New York, and I say yes. He lets them go and doesn't question any further. All clear. He didn't ask if I had fruit. I didn't volunteer.

    I wait while the rest of the people on the train are questioned. The customs officer speaks both English and French easily, and speaks French to passengers who speak French. There are a couple other customs officers in the rear car and another in the café car, I believe.

    I'm tired again. I'm sleepy and actually really want to lie down in a bed now. My back is starting to hurt from sitting in the train seats, which are comfortable enough, but still ... sitting for what was 8 hours now was enough.

    5:30pm: (or thereabouts) We finally leave the customs inspection stop. I fall asleep for much of the way between here and the next stop, Saint Lambert.

    6:30pm: Arrive at Saint Lambert Station. A good chunk of passengers get off here.

    6:40pm: Arrive in Montréal, at Gare Centrale (or Central Station in English). I get off the train and stop in front of the gate, trying to get my bearings and also try to get onto the wi-fi that I know is available in the station so I can figure out where I am going and how I can best get there. I know that I need to find the subway entrance to Bonaventure and that I need to take the orange line to Sherbrooke. Finally, I realize I should just ask the station staff member who is going around asking people if they need help.

    He is very helpful and friendly. He gives me a Metro map and tells me how to get to the Bonaventure station, which is connected to Gare Centrale. Easy enough.



    Now, I took French for four years in high school, and then one semester in my senior year of undergrad. Undergrad was about 10 years ago. I know I still remember basics that should at least get me around Montréal without too much trouble. But as I exit Gare Centrale and get to Station Bonaventure, I come to my first French stumbling block. The door says, "Tirez." Try as I might, I cannot for the life of me remember if this means "pull" or "push". I don't want to come to a complete stop to figure this out, so I go with my gut instinct and pull. Thank goodness, I am correct. "Tirez" = "pull". Noted.

    7:02pm: Find a ticket-dispensing machine for the Metro. I use it in French first, and I actually didn't have that much problem understanding it, but I couldn't figure out why it wouldn't take my debit card to buy a Metro ticket. So, I try again in English to see if that helps with something that I missed. Nope, it still doesn't want to charge my debit card. I try yet again, instead having it charge my debit card as credit. Still no luck. Luckily, I have enough Canadian cash so I buy two tickets (it is a flat per-ride fare, not by distance) because I know I will need at least another for Tuesday morning.

    7:15pm: Get on the Metro train going toward Montmorency. First thing I notice about the Metro trains here: they don't come to a complete stop before the doors open and people can get out. There's about a second where you COULD step out of the train and it is technically still moving. Weird. The automated announcements are also not very clear. They're muffled, which makes it more difficult to understand when you're not all that comfortable with French. The woman's voice announces "Station XYZ" when you arrive. And then when you start moving to the next station, she announces, "Prochaine station ... XYZ".

    (I think I read and write French better than I can speak and understand it spoken. So while I don't have too much trouble reading signs and whatnot, trying to understand what people are saying when they speak conversation speed is MUCH harder. And I am very much out of practice with me speaking it.)

    7:27pm: Arrive at Sherbrooke Station. I try to find the exit that is in the direction of where I need to go. I think I succeed, but then I realize I don't have my bearings and don't know which is north/south/east/west. I know I need to walk east and I don't even know what street I'm on exactly. So, I just start walking and see the street I come to next. It takes a while for me to figure out on my phone's offline map where I am and which direction I have been walking.

    Of course, I've been walking in the wrong direction. I was going west. I turn around and walk east to Rue Sherbrooke. While I am walking, a guy with a handful of pens starts talking to me in French. I don't understand exactly what he is saying, but I can tell he wants to sell me a pen or two so he can get some money for food. I tell him I don't understand him, and he attempts his spiel again in English, which is very difficult for him. I tell him that I'm sorry, that I don't have any money as I've only just arrived.



    I head south on Rue Sherbrooke and find the hostel a few blocks down. Check-in is rather easy. The receptionist is friendly, asking how I am and how my travels have been. She asks for the money in cash up-front, which includes a $5 deposit for the key, which I will get back when I check out. She tells me that I can use the kitchen to cook dinner in the evenings if I like. How to get on the free wi-fi. That there is no curfew. I then ask if they provide towels, and she says they rent out towels for $1. Having not brought one with me (I was trying to travel light, and I knew they provide towels), I asked for one.

    I go upstairs to room 202 and there are six bunk beds, three of which are already occupied. I choose one where both the top and bottom bunk are unoccupied and pick the bottom bunk. I put down my stuff and try to get settled.



    At this point, I reply in French to Heidi's comment to me that was in French. I realize that I am starting to do something that I remember doing when I was taking French in high school: THINKING in French. I actually still know just enough that I can think basic sentences in French. Cool. But again, saying them out loud is an entirely different matter. Even when I was taking French, I was never very confident about my pronunciation, although I'm pretty sure it's better than the average American.

    8:19pm One roommate comes back into the room. I say hi, but she doesn't say hi back. Okay, that's fine. (I've stayed in hostels before where I've shared rooms with strangers. They're usually at least friendly enough to say hi back to you. I've even engaged them in conversation so we can at least learn each other's names. I mean, we are going to be sleeping in the same room and all. But whatever.)

    We go about our own business. I am on my phone and try to decide what to do for the rest of the evening. I COULD go out and explore the city in the evening, but I am rather tired. I only slept a little more than three hours the night before with a little bit of napping on the train. The best thing to do would be to go to bed early and wake up early tomorrow to get in a full day of being a tourist. I decide to do that.

    I spend some time on Twitter and Facebook on my phone. I attempt to use my Netbook, which I brought, but there aren't very many electrical outlets. Actually there are only a couple that are 3-pronged. There are quite a few extension cords snaking around the room, but the outlets for those are all 2-pronged. I can plug in my phone, but I can't plug in my Netbook and I don't want to drain the Netbook battery too much.

    9:30pm I finally decide to go to sleep. I'm the first of my roommates to do so, and it turns out that I am the last of my roommates to get up the next morning. Yeah, I apparently was tired.



All photos located here: https://picasaweb.google.com/108956861203166366163/MontrealTripViaAmtrak4295112

( Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 )

July 2016

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