Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: VIA Rail From Quebec City and Visiting Montreal

Trip Reports

After our brief stop in Quebec City, it was time to move on to Montreal for a few days. We had looked at all kinds of different ways to get to Montreal, including just driving back, but what was the fun in that? I had hoped to woo some of the family to fly with me on an Air Inuit 737-200 (I mean, COME ON), but it was really expensive and nobody bit. Instead, we rode the rails.

After our whirlwind tour of Quebec City, we came back to the Gare du Palais which, though opulently named, is a pretty tiny place.

The family had splurged for business class tickets, but for such a short ride it wasn’t all that expensive anyway. By the time we arrived, they had started boarding business class, so we didn’t get to spend any time in the lounge. I’m sure it wasn’t going to be all that interesting anyway.

Onboard, the business class cars are 1-2 across. They alternate back and forth with some having a table to make for a quad (the Canadian version of Q Suites?).

The seats are very comfortable and had power outlets installed. Wifi was available, and it was pretty quick.

Before leaving, one of the train attendants came to me and said I was closest to the door, so he had to instruct me on how to evacuate us if needed. He took me up to show me how the doors operated and told me what I had to do. Then a little sticky note was put above my seat indicating I was the guy who would help if things went wrong.

We started moving right on time, and we were barely underway when we were given a package of salty death mix and a moist towelette.

Then the first round of drinks came through. Drinks were included in the ticket, so I had a scotch. (It was again Johnnie Walker Red.) The one attendant who had helped me through the evacuation protocol had a very heavy hand. The other attendant — an older lady — looked on disapprovingly, telling me only half jokingly that was all I was getting.

After a little bit longer, we started getting up to speed and eventually dinner rolled out. It was cold, but it was surprisingly tasty. They served drinks again, but I hadn’t finished my first one, so I passed.

The kids had children’s meals, but the slightly rough ride and lack of restraints meant that two of the kids ended up with their food on the floor. That went over really well, as you can imagine. We had one person get on at the first stop, take her seat near us, listen to the kids crying about food for about 5 minutes, and then disappear to somewhere far away. I wish I could have joined her.

Toward the end of our 3 hour journey, we were given a chocolate bar.

In no time we were pulling into the station in Montreal.

This was a really nice experience, aside from our screaming children, and I would do it again in coach soon after. But we’ll get there in a later post.

First, we had a nice afternoon walk to our hotel. The weather was glorious and Montreal was bustling on that warm, late afternoon. We had chosen to stay at Le Mount Stephen, part of the Leading Hotels of the World, primarily because of the images like this one I took upon arrival.

The main hotel setting is this beautiful, historical mansion. What I didn’t realize, however, is that this is just where the happening restaurant and some ballrooms are located. Behind it, they’ve built this out-of-place, modern building to house the hotel itself. The rooms were small, something I would have forgiven if they were in an actual historical building, and they seemed to be designed more for form than function.

For example, there were these strange color-changing lights in the shower… a shower that had a semi-transparent view into the bedroom. The kids had fun with it, but we did not, being on the other side in bed. I can’t fathom why anyone would care about changing the light color in the shower, but maybe it’s some sort of fancy light therapy. I don’t know and didn’t really care.

Not the fault of the hotel, but it was also located on a street that was under heavy construction. Our first rideshares gave up, and we learned to walk a couple blocks away before ordering one.

As for Montreal itself, what a vibrant city. It was absolutely alive the whole time we were there. That first night, our “dinner” on the train was too early, so we went out later in search of poutine. We found it at this little corner joint called Patati Patata with a line out the door. It was hot in there, but the staff was friendly and the food was great.

We explored various parts of the city, spending one day wandering aimlessly around Old Montreal. We went down toward the water where there’s a lively entertainment district. Only a brief but strong line of thunderstorms muted our fun there.

Another day we started out with a pilgrimmage to Schwartz’s Deli for smoked meat. That was well worth it, but go early like we did if you don’t want to wait in a long line. After, we went out to the Olympic Stadium. We took the subway out there which was a real treat. It’s effectively a bus on a track. Without rails, there is more movement in the cars, and it’s like being on one of those long accordion buses where you can see it move ahead as if you’re on the inside of a centipede.

No, the Expos weren’t in town, but instead we went to the Biodome which is a clever reuse of the former Olympic velodrome built for the 1976 games.

We went out for dinner during the long, warm nights. Most of the restaurants around us had little parklets with tables set up in former parking spaces. It felt like a very outdoors city. I suppose that’s what happens during the nice months when much of the year is bitterly cold.

As our trip came to a close, I was exhausted. We would be home for only about a week before turning right back around to see my wife’s family in Indiana and Chicago. She had a week off during the summer when I had taken the kids to Arizona, but I was feeling spent. I told her I didn’t know if I could do another trip, but then… an idea.

If she wanted to take the kids home, I could decompress over the next week roaming around on my own and meet them in Indianapolis rested and ready. She had no problem with that plan, and so I started to decide where to go. By the time I went with them out ot the airport for the flight home, I still didn’t have a plan. I’ll cover what I decided to do in the next post.

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6 comments on “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: VIA Rail From Quebec City and Visiting Montreal

  1. Montreal is one of my favorite cities. I’ve watched friends coach and compete at short track speed skating World Cups and World Championships over the years, at the Henri Richard Arena, in the same Olympic Park as the biodome. I’ve heard rumors that the extra moisture from converting it to a biodome is affecting the structure.

    I’ve only been there during fall and spring- seasons in which a full blown blizzard can and will manifest. I’d love to go in the summer some time and experience those those long summer nights like you did.

    I hope you find an interesting and fun place to recharge!

  2. The Montreal Metro also features wooden brake pads soaked in peanut oil. You can get a smell of burning wood in the stations, it’s pretty unique.

  3. Enjoy those days with the kids Brett. They are stressful and some days seem utterly endless.

    But end they will. And before know it. My youngest turned 20 yesterday. It seems like it was just last week when I had to fish my oldest (4 at the time) out of the bathroom at the Black-eyed Pea…we had let him go by himself since we were sitting right by the door. Except…there was a cricket in there. I’m surprised you didn’t hear him screaming from Phoenix.

    Now he’s 27.

    I’m not complaining…it’s great to enjoy your kids as adults. We are going on a trip in late October to catch an NBA game in Chicago, then NFL games in Detroit, Buffalo, and hopefully Pittsburgh. But I still miss holding them and telling them bedtime stories.

  4. “Another day we started out with a pilgrimmage to Schwartz’s Deli for smoked meat. That was well worth it, but go early like we did if you don’t want to wait in a long line.”

    That is known as “the power of the Schwartz.”

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