Sunday, March 17, 2002

Night train to Montréal

From Toronto to Montréal on the overnight sleeper car leaving late Friday 8 March - up early next morning at seven o'clock riding in the observation car past Dorval airport and into the city in the restored 1950's carriage. Having read about this as a kid in National Geographic the real thing lived up to it's billing - what a way to travel.
Visit to the Ile Sainte-Hélène and the biosphere, the Buckminster Fuller spherical structure left over from Expo '67 - the former US pavilion is over two hundred feet high making it the largest round structure in the world. It now houses an environmental exhibition, with plenty of agitprop from Environment Canada. The irony of such a display on a largely man-made island is plainly lost on them.
For all that it is worth a visit - they do walk the talk as they provide discounted entry for those arriving on public transport - you can take the underground to the exhibition grounds (subway stop is Jean Drapeau, named for the Olympic mayor). The message I took away was why worry so much about greenhouse gas emissions when you are pumping so much crap into the St Lawrence river?
The highlight of the tour for us was that you get to play TV weatherman using the autocue to make your very own weather bulletin. We also learned of the wine tanker Odet which transports wine in bulk from France to North America 30,000 hectolitres at a time for the Societe des alcools du Quebec - SAQ for short - you see their liquor stores in Montréal and elsewhere.
Cross the bridge and you are on the Ile Notre Dame, a wholly man-made island. Here you find the parc Jean Drapeau, the Olympic rowing stadium and the Circuit Gilles villeneuve opened in 1978 - it was blowing an arctic gale when we were there but a visit to the Canadian Grand Prix seemed enticing in this exotic setting.
We also visited the biodome at the Stade Olympic - this has been converted from the velodrome, which was little used over the years according to a spokesman. Coming from Britain as I do we need lessons in what to do with old domes. I also thought of the recently opened Manchester velodrome - as one drome closes another opens?
Anyway they shut the zoo in Montréal and went for the environmentally friendly biodome which shows animals and birds in four semi-realistic settings. The tropical garden was welcome as it was freezing outdoors.
We took a commuter train to Montréal Deux Montagnes - the modern Bombardier overhead-electric trains making a pleasant contrast to the broken down conditions commuters are used to in the UK. Masses of free parking is provided at the stations encouraging the locals to use public transport to get downtown.

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