Sunday, 12 August 2012

At Montreal airport...

I arrived at the airport far too early at 11am, having checked in on-line from my hotel room. Why so early? Well, I got up early, had some breakfast followed by a one-hour walk (30 minutes each way) along Sherbrooke.

Montreal is an amazing city and one of the great things about it is the lack of traffic. The roads are virtually empty, like they used to be in the UK back in the seventies. Sherbrooke is an interesting road too. Nearer the centre of town it's where you'll find the Hilton and the Holiday Inn and a few others, the Opus being another, not forgetting the Ritz Carlton, but if you venture out and, as I did, turn left out of the Holiday Inn heading in the direction of the Montreal Museum of Fine Art, the landscape changes dramatically. The office blocks disappear and suddenly you find yourself in an exclusive and very peaceful environment. Not only no cars – seriously, hardly any – but there are quiet suburban streets and elegant apartment blocks.

After walking for 30 minutes, I turned left and found myself in a street full of boutiques and coffee shops. I was tempted to linger awhile and perhaps I should have as I ended up taking a cab to the airport and now here I am, eating a chicken sandwich with fries and drinking tea. I could have left it at least another two hours, but I'm here now.

This hangs from one of the ceilings in the public
area of Montreal Airport.
The sun's shining, the skies are blue, with a few clouds dotted here and there and I'm about to drink some broken Orange Pekoe (for the first time since 1987 while in India). It's a black tea, basically, just like English breakfast. Anyway, my flight leaves at 1525hrs and – much to my delight – the flight duration is only two hours and 49 minutes. I've got a window seat too, which is good.

On the cycling front, I'm not holding out much hope of a ride around Atlanta, but I might be pleasantly surprised. Yesterday we cycled around Montreal on the Bixi bikes, I was reminded of David Byrne's Bicycle Diaries, which have been mentioned on this blog before. Byrne takes a foldable bike with him whenever he travels or tours with his band and he always gets around the cities he visits using pedal power. I'll have to check out what he has to say about Montreal and whether it tallies with my experiences – except that Montreal isn't covered by Byrne. Perhaps he's considering a follow-up book of further adventures.

Airports are funny places, they're always so sparsely populated and grey. There's something very calming about an airport: rows of empty seats and deserted thoroughfares with occasional flurries of activity around foodservice outlets, like Houston's, where I'm sitting now having finished that chicken sandwich and fries. I had beef soup as a starter, which turned out to be a meal in itself – a stew no less –and now I'm writing this post and sipping on my aforementioned Orange Pekoe tea.

Chicken sandwich with fries at Houston's on Montreal 
Airport – beyond passport control.
Airports, of course, are the hubs of the international world where brands like Toblerone rule supreme. What is it about the international world that's so weird? It's a world of its own in a sense, that exists between security and the departures gate. All the merchandise is tacky, but ubiquitous, and I'm sure that there are people who try to capitalise on this strange and transient world. Whenever I find myself in the international world, there's always Toblerone and then in a brochure in the hotel room, perhaps, an advertisement for the Blue Man Group, a band of baldmen who have painted themselves blue and do something, I know not what, but they've managed to gain similar status to Toblerone and other 'international' brands, like U2, Apple and many others. In the same way that all countries have a central bank and a national airline, perhaps there's some rule that says all nations must have a Blue Man Group – or do the original band simply tour a lot? It just seems to me that whenever I'm in a hotel room, anywhere in the world, flicking through the free entertainment guide, the Blue Man Group are virtually guaranteed to be playing somewhere. Perhaps there's a prize for anybody who turns up to a Blue Man Group gig with a Toblerone, a U2 CD and an iPod.

The international world disappears while you're in the air – unless you take a glance at the in-flight magazine's duty free brochure where all those horrible international brands can be found again, except, perhaps, the Blue Man Group, although if there is just one Blue Man Group, perhaps they'll be travelling to another country. They only disappear when you're back on terra firma, in your own country, where they seem to keep their distance, apart from occasional reminders from those 'international' entertainment brands, like Dame Edna and, more recently, Sacha Baron Cohen who is well and truly gunning for Toblerone status.

I'm rambling now, because I've got nothing else to do, although it's neary 2pm so I'd better go look for my plane to Atlanta. I've just discovered that it won't depart until 1605hrs.

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