The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

My Long, Rambling Review of the Montreal Trip

Last week, when I first mentioned that I’d be visiting Montreal over the weekend to see the Expos play in Olympic Stadium, many of you wrote to me expressing your concern. I’m assuming though that many of you cannot even begin to comprehend the reasons why some folks would be concerned about me visiting Montreal.

Those of you who weren’t concerned probably aren’t aware that Montreal is in Quebec, Canada, and that I have had numerous issues with the Quebecois. Quite honestly, it’s difficult for me to say the word Quebecois out-loud without muttering f-----g in front of it (as in the “f-----g Quebecois” for those of you who read a little more slowly). So yes, it’s true that a trip to Montreal, even for a weekend, could be a dangerous one. And no, it’s not true that when I visit Canada at Disney’s Epcot that I’m tailed by security in case I have another outburst at the expense of some Quebecois exchange student. At least I don’t think that’s true… but you’ll never really know until it’s too late I suppose.

Anyways, back to the trip…

The start of the trip was rough. Upon boarding the plane I was handed a form by the flight attendant which was written in French. After spending a few minutes with it, I discovered that by flipping it over, you could read everything in English. For a couple minutes I debated mentioning to the flight attendant that there were probably very few of us onboard in Miami who actually read French, so it might be nice to hand them out English side up, but I eventually dismissed the idea. Once I did, I quickly discovered that I would only be allowed to bring 200 tobacco sticks into Canada. This was seriously disappointing. Granted, I didn’t know what tobacco sticks were, but I was sure that if I did know what they were, I would want far more than two hundred of them. It took awhile to collect myself, but eventually I did and then the flight got under way (I’m still not sure if they were waiting for me to compose myself or not). At this point I got pretty nervous because the flight attendant kept speaking in tongues over the loud speaker. She would start saying something in English, but then very quickly it would turn into something incomprehensible. It was like she was speaking another language.

Once we were in flight, one of the flight attendants began selling headphones to us ($2 a pair, and they look like they’re throwback models – you know, the big chunky 80s kind with the foam cushions). Two young women in the row in front of me wanted to buy them, and they attempted to pay with US Gold Dollars (yes – think about it for a second. You’ve probably seen them. They used to give them as change at Wal-Mart and you can still get them at a Post Office vending machine). This befuddled the flight attendant who insisted upon being paid in American money. The girls, through broken English (apparently they spoke French), informed him that they were American dollars – they were just coins. This episode quickly ended, but it was my first experience with the Canadians and their coin based money. Further frustration was soon to come for me from these coins, although I did not know it at the time.

Eventually the plane landed and after the walk we were forced to take to customs and the baggage area, you would think that we had walked from Miami to Montreal. Apparently we didn’t though – we were really in Canada the whole time – just walking through a glass enclosed, elevated tube that must have made us look like animals at a zoo to those walking by on the outside.

Clearing immigration in Canada didn’t seem to be much of a problem, at least not until the officer asked me the purpose of my visit. I said something like “pleasure” or “vacation” and he asked for something more specific. I said that I was just in town for the weekend to see the Expos. This earned me more than a curious look from the officer and I think he was seriously considering taking me into a back room for some serious questioning and a full investigation of my bag. Luckily, for me, he thought better of it and let me go.

After finding my bags and a cab ride into town, I reached my hotel. For whatever reason, I’d been upgraded to a “suite” at the Sheraton Four Points. This is not something that normally you would “write home about” but it was so bad that it is worth mentioning. The first thing that overwhelmed you when you entered the “suite” was the smell. It took awhile to figure out what was causing the smell, and to be honest, my first reaction was that this was simply how Canada smelled. Eventually, after walking around the room a little more – sloshing around the room, more accurately – I realized that there was something wrong. I called housekeeping and they sent someone up to fix the problem. The person that they sent was very nice, but the only thing he was able to do at that point was spray something that smelled like oranges. This was great, but it only masked the problem for about five minutes.

This left the only option as turning off the air conditioner (the source of the leak) and opening the windows. One would think that by being on the 19th floor of a hotel that you’d be far enough away from the traffic to not hear much of the noise. However, this was not the case. It was loud all night. I would have covered my head with the sheets and pillows, but the sheets were stained with blood, so I was trying to stay on top of them to limit my exposure. Yes, I did call housekeeping and the front desk about this, but by about three am, I was too tired to wait anymore so I just went to sleep.

So far, other than Tim Horton’s, Canada wasn’t impressing me. Tim Horton’s by the way, is one of the greatest fast food chains in the whole world. Not only do they offer food and donuts, but they also serve donuts with their combo meals, in place of french fries. This is probably only done to avoid the ire of French speaking Canadians who would likely be insulted by the notion of french fries, but nonetheless, it’s a nice touch.

On Saturday morning the smell was still there, so I for sure wasn’t going to be. After complaining at the front desk, again, and visiting Tim Horton’s to fortify myself with Timbits (donut holes) for the morning I walked around town a bit. During my walk I found a grocery store where I was able to stock up on Canadian beer, soda, water, candy and newspapers. I also stumbled upon President Kennedy Street. At first I wasn’t sure if this was named after some famous Canadian or the former American President. Eventually I learned that it is named after none other than JFK. This only served to confirm my suspicions that the USA used to control Canada, and should really think about taking things over again.

After a short break, I grabbed some lunch and headed out for the Metro station, where I could find my way to Olympic Park.

Olympic Park, or something else in French, as you’re more likely to find it in Montreal, is located a short train ride (ten minutes maybe) outside of downtown. The complex houses Olympic Stadium, the Biodome, the Athlete’s village, and pretty much everything else that was used to house athletes or allow them to complete during the 1976 summer Olympics. Since the people of Quebec spent so much money on the Olympic complex – more than $1.2 billion on Olympic Stadium alone, they try to do as much as possible with the area.

As the name implies, it is a park, and there are large grassy areas everywhere. The pool area, which was used for all the swimming, diving, etc during the games, has been converted into a public pool and portions of the seating have been removed to create an area for indoor basketball, volleyball and other games, as well as a gym. On the Saturday I was there, this seemed to be a very popular area for people of all ages.

The former Velodrome (used for bicycle racing) has also been converted into what they call the Biodome, which is really a zoo with fewer animals and more vegetation. If you’ve been to a zoo in the last twenty years, this is probably an experience that you can skip. Unless of course you prefer a zoo experience where you can’t always be comfortable that the wild animals are kept at a safe distance from you. For instance, I stayed in an area where monkeys climbed around on trees where there were no fences around for quite a bit of time. In fact, I stood there thinking about what would happen if the monkey decided to climb to the end of the limb and then drop himself onto the sidewalk that I, and lots of other people, was standing on. It took me awhile, but I eventually realized that this wasn’t exactly the place to think about this sort of a thing, because for all I knew, the monkey could have been moving in for a sneak attack on me while I thought. Luckily, when I reached the lynx cage (think cheetah or lion), he was nowhere to be seen. It was only after I left that exhibit that I thought that I might not have seen the lynx because he too was out checking out the exhibits. If you’re like the Crocodile Hunter though, this is probably an experience you will like. You might not see any animals anywhere, but when you do, they probably will be really close to you.

One experience not to miss is the ride in the elevator to the top of Olympic Stadium’s tower. While in some respects this is like an amusement park ride (it’s an elevator that scales nearly nine hundred feet at a 20 – 45 degree angle, where you have a 360 degree view at all times – although sometimes into the tower itself – of the world disappearing beneath you), it’s also very interesting from a building perspective. Olympic Stadium’s tower is both the greatest failure of the 76 Olympics, and also the greatest triumph.

The tower was supposed to be completed in time for the games, but do to a workers strike, budget issues, and time constraints, it was nowhere near completed in time for the games. While not known at the time, this was really a blessing in disguise as the original plan called for building the whole tower out of concrete (concrete seems to be the theme for this Olympics – the tour guide told us that enough concrete was used in building Olympic Stadium to build a sidewalk from Miami to Montreal; having flown that distance – or at least walked most of it at the airport – I can attest that this is a great distance). Had the tower been built out of concrete, it would have eventually collapsed, crushing the stadium below. As our tour guide regularly told us, this would have been spectacular to watch, but very unfortunate for the building.

Eventually someone calculated the inevitable doom that would come one day if the tower was completely made out of concrete, so the top half of the tower was built of steel. This allowed the tower to be completed, including the placement of the observation deck at the top (pictures coming soon). If you haven’t been there, think Seattle’s Space Needle, Toronto’s CN Tower, or Chicago’s Sears tower, but on an incline.

From there it was time for the game – well almost. It was actually about time to head into the stadium. I figured I should line up early since I was going to bring a bag into the stadium. The Expos have a special line for folks who want to bring a bag into the game (unlike some other places where bags are pretty much restricted). They don’t explicitly list what you can and can’t bring either, but they do say that your bag must comply with MLB’s standards, which is 16x16x8. The line moved quickly though. And honestly, the guards didn’t even look in it. I think they took a quick look for weapons, but they weren’t looking to take food or drinks away from you, as long as they were in plastic containers. That was a really nice touch, but it also seems like the sort of thing the Expos should do, as they trail all of the major leagues and some of the minor leagues in attendance.

(Before I entered the stadium though I found the Encore Montreal Baseball booth set up outside. This is the group I wrote about yesterday and if you think baseball should remain in Montreal, you should check them out.)

Once inside I was treated to even more concrete. But since it was time for batting practice, I left the exploring for later. Batting practice was interesting. Really it was just your run of the mill batting practice, but the way Olympic Stadium is constructed makes it a little disorienting. There are no beams anywhere to be seen in the stadium. On the concourses you see some, but the structure is really just a mass of concrete. Somehow, this creates the illusion that the playing field is small, but that the large, open areas above the field are quite vast.

After batting practice I headed out to the food court area to see what was available. There was a lot and it was generally pretty cheap. Standard stuff was of course available – like hot dogs, kosher and regular, soda, beer, pizza, and ice cream (or crème glace if you prefer). There were also a lot of unique things – most notably smoked meat (something similar to a reuben or a corned beef sandwich) and beaver tails (sugary fried dough covered in chocolate sauce or fruit). Really the only thing that you should try if you visit Olympic Stadium is a beaver tail. Skip the fruit flavored variety and go for the chocolate. The other offerings are pretty average, but at least they’re cheap. One nice touch is that there are combos available at many of the stands – and many of these combos include a beer. This isn’t something I’m used to seeing in the states. All around the beer consumption rules were interesting – there didn’t seem to be a cutoff at all during the game. Folks were buying beer from vendors right into the 9th inning.

The game itself was covered elsewhere, so I’ll skip over it. This story has been long enough as it is.

Getting home from the stadium was a breeze – although that was probably helped by the fact that there were only 15,000-some people at the game. It’s just a short walk from the stadium to the metro station.

Sunday was another action packed day where I visited the Notre Dame Basilica and the Montreal Museum of Modern Art. Both were fun and exciting, but I’m tired of writing for now, so I’ll leave it at that.

To recap, the trip was great. Montreal was a very interesting place with a lot to do culturally. There was so much to see and do – and in two languages – that it’s easy to see how folks in Montreal can find their attention (and dollars) spent in places other than on the Expos. Whether the Expos should stay in Montreal long term, I don’t know. They probably shouldn’t. But they do have a very loyal core of supporters and I’m sure those folks will be sad to see the team go when they move on to DC or Northern Virginia or wherever they might end up.


  • At 2:59 PM, September 30, 2005, Blogger James Raymond said…

    I can definitely relate to that. Before considering much else, I pretty much decided that Canadian immigration is my best option and although I have been tempted to reconsider from time to time, I can't help but think about how much the 2000 elections have changed things for us (and not for the better I'm affraid).

    I really enjoy this blog, I'll be back!


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