90,000 Miles to Me

30,713 Miles • Tribulations In Quebec

I crossed the Canadian border from Maine at Saint-Augustin-de-Woburn after giving a curious customs officer a tour of the van.

A helpful sign clarified that:

  • 90 kph is 55 mph
  • 70 kph is 45 mph
  • 50 kph is 30 mph

A few hours later, I made it to Sherbrooke, Quebec, a small city about two hours east of Montréal. I was tired and stiff from driving most of the day and so took a riverside stroll through downtown, which helped me feel better.

A blueberry muffin at a Tim Horton’s gave me license to use their Wi-Fi to try to find a place to spend the night, as well as make other traveling arrangements. The muffin was tasty and ended up being most of my dinner.

I also had to sign up for Verizon’s TravelPass to talk and text while in Canada for “the very low price of only five dollars a day.” I’m not looking forward to my next bill.

Reviews of the Walmart in town were not favorable to overnight parking, and none of my other city dwelling backups were working out, so although it was late by the time I gave up, and I was tired and hungry, I ended up driving another hour west to the closest Walmart that allowed overnight parking, arriving at 10:20 pm.

Since I knew I was heading to Montréal, I also looked up the Walmarts there and none of them allowed overnight parking. Instead, I lined up two Boondockers Welcome hosts for the next few nights, and both couples turned out to be very friendly.

On a less stressful note, I was enjoying all the signs in French, though I realized I would need to brush up on my French a bit more if I wanted to talk to people the next day, as even ordering a blueberry muffin was mostly gestural. 

The road signs and directions were, for the most part, close to what I was familiar with, and after only a few hours I was already used to converting kph speed limits to the mph units on my odometer.

  • I wish I had gotten a picture of this sign: sushitaxi.net

The next morning I attended liturgy at Saint Nicholas Orthodox Church in Montréal.

I had looked up over a dozen parish websites, trying to find a liturgy in that would be in French, and failing that, a parish that would exist at all—I drove by three addresses that turned out not to be churches. The Antiochian Orthodox parish I ended up at conducted liturgy approximately half in Arabic, half in English, with a bias toward the Arabic, and some Greek thrown in for good measure. That’s not unusual for an Antiochian parish, however I found it odd that during liturgy the hushed conversations I overheard were mostly in English and occasionally Arabic, but after liturgy they were all in French.

A few fractured observations about Montréal:

Gas cost me 129.9.

Um, can you say heart attack?

Turns out, that’s cents per liter.

Which worked out to be about $3.79 per gallon USD at the current exchange rate, plus the international transaction fee because my Discover card, which doesn’t have foreign transaction charges, isn’t working even though I put a travel notice on it, so I had to pay with American Express, which does (have foreign transaction fees, and work here). That’s a high price, but not heart attack high.

All the Quebec license plates bear the motto “je me souviens”. “I remember”. What are they memorializing? My Boondockers Welcome hosts didn’t know. I looked it up later, and apparently no one in the country knows for sure.

There are a lot more bicyclists here than in any city in the States, and a corresponding increase in services for bicyclists and awareness of how to drive near them.

A public work stand with tools to repair bikes and a tire pump.

Signs are much more graphically intricate than in the states.

Translation: Watch out for our kids, they could be yours.

There are pay phones all over the city. The local phone carrier here is Bell, and my phone is now on the Bell network through Verizon’s TravelPass. Did I mention that’s costing me an extra five dollars a day?

In the countryside, the air seems more clear and crisp, the colors more pronounced, even in stormy weather. Maybe I’m idealizing the situation. Maybe there’s actually less pollution.

This was nifty:

Early Monday morning, I set out for the Montréal Science Center, situated directly on the shore in downtown Montréal.

Crossing the Pointe Victoria was a real nailbiter. The bridge is not solid but a metal grate, which required a little more effort to keep the van straight because the tires kept wanting to fishtail. To the right was a low railing while to the left was a huge trestle for the train, and the discrepancy between the two views felt like I were about to slide off the right side the whole time.

I arrived quite early, expecting that downtown parking would be in limited supply in the heart of tourist central, but absolutely all street parking was by permit only for a good swath of the downtown area. There were several large parking structures, charging $25 a day, and even if I were willing to pay that, my van was too tall to fit.

A couple miles or so from the shoreline, I started seeing metered street parking—all with a two hour maximum, but it would take almost that long to walk back-and-forth from the museum to keep it charged. I kept driving farther and farther away, until street parking would be impossible because I couldn’t walk to the museum before the meter went out. Few businesses provided parking, and when they did it was only one or two spaces that seemed to be closely monitored.

I was frustrated by the situation and getting more and more overwhelmed driving through the hectic city, with its dense traffic, horns blaring, delivery vehicles trying to do multi-point turns in the middle of narrow streets, police whistles directing cramped traffic around road construction, pedestrians running across the street at inappropriate times, and was seriously thinking of skipping the museum and driving on to Ottawa.

I eventually started finding residential areas with, again, permit parking, and then eventually residential areas that did not have restricted parking. With help from my GPS, I found a Home Depot with a large parking lot along a direct street to the museum with a bus route connecting the two.

I was thinking of taking the bus to the museum, but was still feeling overwhelmed. I decided to go into Home Depot and get a couple things I needed for a van improvement I’ve been thinking about trying, and hope that the change of pace and familiarity of working on the van would calm me down.

Which I did, and it did, and then I spent a while cleaning up after the intended “improvement” went badly, fortified myself with some lunch and was finally feeling well enough by 12:30 that I decided to set out for the museum after all.

But first I had to figure out how to get change for the bus. Home Depot could not give me change because I had no Canadian currency for them to make smaller, they would not accept American bills, and my credit card would not give me cash back.

A couple blocks away, I found a convenience store where I bought an orange mango juice for two dollars, gave the proprietor American cash and he gave me Canadian change and helped me with exact change for the bus ride there and the ride back. He was very nice and I was grateful for his help.

It was about a 40 minute bus ride because I was so far from downtown. Finally, at 1:30, about five hours after I first drove by the Montréal Science Center, I walked inside. So much for a full and carefree day at the museum.

The science center was really well done and I liked it a lot, but it was very noisy. I handled that rather better than I have in the past, but was still glad for my noise reducing earmuffs.

They had a variety of interactive exhibitions on all sorts of things. One of the larger ones was on the human body.

I learned that as an average sized adult, my muscle mass weighs more than my skeleton. My average daily feces weigh more than my brain. And just sitting around without doing any exercise, the average adult perspires about a liter each day, reinforcing for me why it’s so important to drink a lot of water.

And apparently I am the same height as Yuri Gagarin, which amuses and delights me! I read a lot about him this spring at the space museum in Kansas.

They had a brainwave game, where two players face each other across a table and each put on a strap that goes around the forehead and Velcroes in back, and between them is a ball in a tube (so you can’t touch it). The computer registers your brain waves and the object is to concentrate on moving the ball toward the other player. The computer will move it towards the player whose brain waves are most aligned with frequencies of concentration. I played it against a girl of about 10 or 12. The first time I easily won, and the second time I started out ahead, but then started thinking about how I was thinking about the ball, and she took it over and beat me.

There was a room with a wide variety of tools and materials to design and build your own simple devices. They had five different stations set up, each with a different challenge, like ‘build a craft that will move across this six foot pool of water’, and ‘build a thing that will travel down these parallel clotheslines’, and ‘build an illumination device to light up our dark room’, etc.

There was a cool demonstration of a tornado, where they used air columns and water to create a visible vortex. There were four vertical tubes around it, each blowing air through several holes facing inward, and depending on how many holes you covered with your finger from which of the pipes, you could get the vortex of air to grow or dissipate or lose form completely.

Downstairs, their featured exhibit was all about spiders.

A live Davidbowie orange huntsman spider curled up on a leaf.

I got back to the van about 5:45. The bus ride back was smooth and I got off at the right stop. Yay!

Oh, in case you were wondering about my van “improvement” project at Home Depot…well, please keep in mind that this has been an extremely hot summer. As in, 90°+ heat in Maine and Canada. Unrelenting heat. For weeks. Please think generously of my heat-addled brain.

Van Tip: How NOT to Cool Your Van in the Heat!

Fiberglass has a cool sounding name, but remember that it is still fibers of actual glass, and little bits of it can burrow in the skin like hundreds of tiny splinters. So if you see a tip on YouTube about how to keep cool in the summer, and decide to try out spraying a fiberglass AC filter with water to put over your fan for simple evaporative cooling, don’t look at the filter and think, ‘this is too thick, the air will have a hard time going through, so maybe I could pull the layers apart to make it thinner.’

And for the love of all things you value about your skin, do not, under any circumstances, absolutely ever, perform this operation on your bed, even if that is where the vent is and it is your primary workspace for most other projects. Forgo convenience and do this ill advised project somewhere where you will not be sleeping in shards of tiny glass. Better yet, forgo this project in its entirety and leave the thing intact.

Now go throw away that piece, be thankful that they came in a three pack, and vow never to alter another one again.

And no matter what you do next, don’t make lunch. No matter how many times you washed your hands and how much you shook out all of the bedding in the Home Depot parking lot, and how much you vacuumed at the car wash down the street, it won’t have been enough. Those dust-sized shards of glass have already gotten everywhere.

Just face it, you’ll be living with this one for a while.

* * *

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1 thought on “30,713 Miles • Tribulations In Quebec

  1. soounds llike you are having fun and learning at the same time… good tips about the fiberglass. where else did you go in canada? the time I was in montreal in the 80’s, we went to see a play called the king and I…very nice. I remember it was winter and there were flowers blooming in the the square in front of the theater. there was an underground heater under the flowers. it also sounds like you are becoming more comfortable with uncomfortable situations. bravo!!! also you have found ways to work with situations so as to not miss out on what you want or need to do. fantastic!!!!! love you, Aunt georgetta

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