A family getaway to Montreal began with a series of mini-disasters for writer Chris Hunt and his family, but concluded with magical moments and cherished memories.
By the end of the first day of our first Christmas trip, I was ready to pack it in.
The weeks leading up to the holidays were stressful. I was slated to undergo minor surgery, money was ever the concern, and there seemed to be too much to do and not enough time to do it. Heck, we still hadn’t brought my son Riley to see Santa yet.
So we decided an escape was in order.
Before becoming parents, his mother and I would travel to Montreal during the holidays. The city exudes charm and has gifted us with many wonderful memories. More than anything, I wanted to create special memories for my boy.
He loves trains and dinosaurs, so we decided we’d ride the train to Montreal, and take him to see the robotic dinosaur exhibit at the Montreal Science Centre.
As I boarded the train, I mused about how relaxing the ride promised to be. Two hours of pleasant scenery and stress-free travel. Sure enough, the rhythmic rumble and rocking of the train soon melted the stress away. For about four minutes.
That’s when an employee explained we were sitting by the emergency window. In the event of an emergency, we were responsible for breaking the window and making sure everybody got out safely. Less than five minutes into the trip, I’m suddenly responsible for the lives of an entire train car.
When we arrived in Montreal, it took some time to find our hotel, though if we were smart, we would have just followed the sound of screaming fire trucks. We were staying down the street from a popular fire station.
Sure, it wasn’t exactly quiet, but at least the view of the erotic massage parlour across the street lent itself to quiet contemplation.
Whatever, we thought. It’s downtown Montreal. Let’s go exploring! We hadn’t been outside long when we saw a street person spit at the feet of a woman walking by. She casually hopped over it and merrily continued on her way. The vagrant then started shadow boxing, while hurling rage-filled words at his own spit.
Then he made eye contact with me and his nostrils flared. Less than a day in Montreal and I was about to get beaten up by a man who lost an imaginary argument with his own saliva.
We were relieved to get back to our hotel. Until we got to our room. There was a stench of industrial cleanser so powerful it burned our lungs. When we complained, we were told it was fine. Others had complained too, they said. Some people are just too sensitive, they said. I didn’t respond. I was too busy not breathing.
The beginning of the next day was just as bad. I was looking forward to the dinosaur exhibit. Turns out Riley only loves dinosaurs in books or on television. Dinosaurs that move and roar freak him out. He refused to leave the safety of the ticket counter.
So far, the trip had been a disaster. It seemed the only memories he’d leave with were horrible ones. Fortunately, his mother is stubborn. She brought him into the exhibit anyway.
After he brushed off the initial fear, he had a blast. He made a friend from New York and they pretended to be brave together.
After that, we went to a Christmas market and sat with our feet in front of an outdoor fire. We found an elf, one of many throughout the city, who offered Riley a direct line to Santa in the North Pole. We toured malls searching for a tree made entirely of teddy bears, which we found.
During the search, we heard about a display in a nearby mall with a small train Riley could ride. It turned out to be an indoor Christmas village. There was a stage show, carousel and a mini-train station. And Santa was there. Riley was bashful, so Santa sat on the floor next to him, causing him to burst with laughter.
Our evening ended with a spectacular Christmas light show that left my boy wide-eyed and smiling. Two days in Montreal, and I finally got what I came for.