The End of the Line

I woke up this morning as my train pulled into Winnipeg. The station itself wasn’t staffed yet, since we arrived miraculously early, so we had to sit on the train for about half-an-hour before disembarking.

I had just enough change to get me on a bus to the U of M, where Karam was nice enough to let me into SJC. I camped out on Momo and Karam’s couch getting caught up on my shows while I waited for my dad, Angie, and Lindsay to pick me up for our spa day at Thermëa.

I feel like any spa day is well-deserved, but this one felt extra good. Steaming, soaking, sunning, and napping felt incredible after forty-two days on the rails. We spent a few hours there before going out to Earl’s to celebrate my graduation.

After dinner, they dropped me off at SJC for a night spent with my friends. Unfortunately, most people had plans, but Tino and I were able to spend the night our favorite way: watching Breaking Bad and eating pizza. It was wonderful to have one last night in the college with T before convocation tomorrow.

Fez is also graduating tomorrow, so he and I have our plan for the day all ready. His parents weren’t able to make it from Bangladesh, so I told him I’m happy to share my family with him for the day.

It’s hard to imagine what tomorrow will be like, finally getting confirmation that I’m done with school and sailing into the next part of my life. I don’t know what the next few weeks, months, or years will hold, but it’s hard to imagine that they won’t be amazing after the last new weeks.

And with that, the Farewell Tour has reached the end of the line. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along with me as much as I’ve enjoyed sharing this trip with you.

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Day Forty-Two

There really is not much at all to report from my last day of traveling. I’m definitely tired here on Day 42, and it showed in what I managed to do today. I read, I listened to music, I napped, and occasionally I looked out the window at all the lakes passing by.

I’m sad that this trip is nearly over. It has been an amazing forty-two days exploring Canada. Even after all the thinking about maybe taking this trip, then the actual hardcore planning, it’s hard to believe I actually did it, much less that it ends tomorrow.

I have seen so much more of this beautiful country that I have come to love as my second home than I ever thought I would. From the oceans of B.C. to the mountains in Alberta, to the cities of the east and even the prairies I’m so prone to gripe about, this is a gorgeous place. I feel so fortunate that I had the time and means to get out and see all that I have, and I have to say “thank you” to everyone who made this possible.

I will never forget all the amazing people I met on this trip. Some I only spent a day with, others nearly a week, and others I met many times along the way, but each and every one is a friend I’m happy to have made. In a time when people complain and rightly worry about the loss of genuine connection between people, this trip showed me that it’s not a lost art, just one that takes a little seeking out. The effort you put in to meeting people and getting to know them, no matter how short a time you spend with them, is always worth it, and I hope I can continue to live according to that lesson long after I step off this train.

It will be very strange to go back to a semblance of “normal life” after this amazing adventure. No more trains, no more mountain hikes, no more wild pub crawls… at least for a while. I’m excited for where life is taking me next though; it will be an adventure in and of itself.

Tomorrow I’ll wake up in Winnipeg. The next day, I’ll walk across the stage at my university convocation to collect my degree. And the day after that, I’ll leave Canada with no immediate plans to return for the first time in four years. It will be like leaving home for the first time all over again. I can hardly wait for the next time I’ll be able to come back. And if some of the people who have made Canada home to me aren’t there, well I guess I’ll just have to make some more homes in other parts of the world!

Day Forty-One

It was an early morning in Québec City; my train to Montréal left  at 7:45 am, so I got up at around 6:00 am to meet Akim and Will in the hostel lobby to walk to the train station. Akim told me about an incredible place, Paillard, that allegedly has the best croissants in Québec City, and was nice enough to treat Will and I to croissant-esque pastries since it was our last morning in Québec. I had the poirerier pastry and it was probably one of the best things I have ever had the good fortune to eat.

Akim walked Will and I all the way to our gate at the station before we said our goodbyes. Will and I boarded the train to find that he was seated just one row ahead of me. Not that we did much socializing — I fell asleep pretty much immediately after my ticket was scanned.

I slept almost all the way to Montréal. We only had about a twenty-minute layover there before it was time for us to board the train to Toronto. Will and I were seated in different cars on that train. Again, I slept most of the ride. When I did wake up I had a lovely chat with the woman sitting next to me, Diane. Will was waiting for me on the platform in Toronto and hung with me until I found somewhere to store my bag for the five hours I had to wait before getting on my final train to Winnipeg. That mission accomplished, Will went home and I went wandering towards the Eaton Centre through throngs of Blue Jays fans in search of food. I took my time winding through the streets, so once I finished eating it was time to loop back to Union Station.

I boarded the train to Winnipeg and staked out my beloved two-seat camp. I settled in and read my book for a while. Now I’m prepping myself for my magic train sleep routine (ear plugs, blindfold, sleep aid) for night one of two on my last train of the trip!

Day Forty

It started off as a very rainy day in Québec. I woke up just in time to get ready to meet the walking tour at 10:00 am. I was surprised to see Will, whom I met in Montréal for all of five minutes, among the people signed up for the tour.

Despite a deluge of rain and a bit of thunder, our guide, Claude, brought us around for a tour of Vieux Québec. He showed us the Québecois Parliament, the entrance to the citadel, and the Plains of Abraham, as well as some of the reconstructed gates of the city’s fortification — only one original gates remains, since most had to be expanded to accommodate cars.

After covering the basics of the fortifications and the city’s history, Claude took us to the Ursuline Convent and their nearby school, one of if not the first educational institutions for girls in North America. He told us all about two historic figures from the history of Québec — Marie de L’Incarnation and François de Laval— who were recently canonized by Pope Francis.

From the Ursuline area, Claude brought us to Château Frontenac, one of the hotels built by the Canadian Pacific Railway company, who also built Château Lake Louise. We went inside the hotel for a bit to look at an art gallery and get out of the rain, before going on to see the seminary of Québec, the oldest existing building in Québec (now home to an amazing Québecois restaurant), and the newly-opened Maison de la littérature, a beautiful library and art showcasing space that the city built within a wonderfully renovated church. Claude also took us inside Basilique-Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Québec by way of a Holy Door, which was cool experience to have. We also saw a clock outside city hall that was a gift to the city from Switzerland before looping back to the hostel.

While on the tour, I asked Claude about something I’d started to notice once I got to Ottawa: silver-roofed buildings. I’d first noticed them on a Catholic cathedral, then again on quite a few historic buildings in Vieux Montréal. Claude’s answer brings us to:

Weird Things I Learned from Other Travelers (or Volunteer Tour Guides) Today:

The silver roofing seen on many older buildings in eastern Canada is a specific kind of tin plate roofing famous in the area. It is known for its artisanal qualities, as well as its durability and the general lack of maintenance it requires.

Will and I were both signed up for the ferry to Lévis, but it didn’t leave for an hour after the first tour ended, so we went for a quick walk to Rue St-Jean to get food. We stopped in to a spot called Snack Bar for burgers before going back to the hostel to meet up with our next guide, Danielle.

Danielle walked us down L’Escalier Casse-Cou to the ferry terminal. After a short ride across the St. Lawrence, we hiked up to a lookout, grateful for the cool breeze we found at the top. Then Danielle took us to Chocolat Favoris, a great chocolate and ice cream shop. The rain had done nothing to cool off the air or cut through the humidity, so ice cream — or mango sorbet for me — was exactly what the doctor ordered. Shortly after, we took the ferry back to Québec, and I enjoyed the view that was so similar to the opening shots of Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess, a movie I studied last year.

I did a quick bit of shopping then rested for a while. Danielle had invited me to come out with some people from the hostel to celebrate her birthday, and I thought it sounded fun, even if I have to be on the train tomorrow at 7:45 am.

Before joining the pub crawl, Will and I went to check out the Carrefour International de Québec’s exhibition in town. At night, certain parts of the city fill with somewhat avant-garde performance troupes, with each one presenting a different scene in their area. Will and I saw Fêter Quoi, which was set up like a kind of mini-parade featuring Carnival-style samba floats, a North Korean military parade, a Chinese dragon, and a Pride march. We also saw Le Désordre, which was made to look like a societal collapse that also featured a bonfire and ball pit, and Machineries, which honestly reminded me a a haunted house with its eery lighting and roaming cast. We also walked by an installation that looked like a drive-in theatre; the insides of the cars facing the screen actually lit up with colors complimentary to the ones showing on the screen.

Around 10:30 pm, Will and I went to join the pub crawl. Our first stop was Ninkasi, where I tried what I learned was a traditional Québecois shot: whisky and maple syrup. Not bad at all. There I met Karan, from Boston, and we bonded as the only non-francophones at the table. At Ninkasi we were joined by Justin and Danny, whom I’d met earlier at the hostel. Not long after they got there, we moved on Nelligan’s Irish Pub. We shared a pitcher of La Fin du Monde, then made our way to Snack Bar to grab a late night meal. I ordered my first poutine ever, and I can say that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Maybe not something I’d seek out again, but when in Québec!

Back at the hostel, we ate our snacks. Akim, one of the guys who works at the hotel, offered us some maple sugar bacon pie, which was actually totally awesome and something I would seek out again. With our snacks finished, all of us headed off to bed.

I stayed out later than intended, but I think I’ll be in okay shape come morning. At least all I have to do tomorrow is sleep on the trains. I catch my first at 7:45 am to Montréal, then go straight from there to Toronto, where I’ll hang out until 10:00 pm waiting for the final train to Winnipeg.

It’s hard to believe that today was my last real experiential day of this adventure. After this, it’s just two days on the train then convocation!

Day Thirty-Nine

I woke up this morning feeling better than I have in quite a few, but still tankful that I had chosen to take the 1:00 pm train rather than the 9:30 am. I checked out and threw my things in storage, then walked down to have breakfast. I hung out with James and Matt for a bit, talked to Gabrielle about the slight possibility of me being able to volunteer at the hostel if there’s a delay in me going out on the ship, then played a quick round of billiards before making tracks to get to Central Station in time to get on the train.

I’m pretty proud of myself for finally getting on the train to Québec City today, but I’m sad to be leaving all the incredible people I met in Montréal. The city itself has been fantastic, but the people I met here are what helped shoot Montréal into serious contention for the “favorite stop” title. Seriously, if you are ever in Montréal and looking for somewhere awesome to stay, you have to stay at HI- Montréal.

The train ride to Québec City was short and uneventful. The walk from the station to the hostel wasn’t very far either, but it was totally uphill, and there were multiple points where I thought about just lying down on the street and camping out there just so I would able to stop moving. I did eventually make it, and after a brief discussion wherein it was revealed that my cancellation request had been misunderstood, I was given a key to one of HI- Québec’s private rooms in their beautiful 18th century building. The hostel itself is inside the walls of the Vieux Québec fortifications, which is a gorgeous area of the city to see.

I got myself unpacked and cleaned up, then started looking at my map for one sight to go see before the sun went down. I saw staircases all over the map, which jogged my memory about the “Breakneck Stairs” we’d talked about in high school French. I figured they would be a good thing to check off my list, so I went down to the desk to ask where they were, since of course they were the one staircase I couldn’t find on the map.

It was a short walk to L’Escalier Casse-Cou from the hostel itself. I made my way down the stairs without falling, which is more than could be said for most of the middle schoolers I saw running around in the area. Where their chaperones were, I have no idea, but the city was teeming with them. When one kid fell, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to say, “And that’s why they call these the ‘Breakneck Steps.’”

At the bottom of the stairs is Rue du Petit-Champlain, which I walked down for a bit as the sun started to set. That walk confirmed the rumors I’d heard about Québec’s appearance: if you had drugged me, spirited me away to Québec City, then told me I was in Europe when I came to, I would have believed you. Everywhere I looked, the city clashed with my idea of what North America looks like.

I started to feel pretty hungry, so I looped my way back up into the Upper Town and found Pub St-Patrick. I had a few pints of Smithwicks and a fabulous Irish stew, just what I needed on a somewhat chilly night.

After dinner, I went back to the hostel to shower, do a quick quick load of laundry, and get to bed. I signed up for a guided tour of Québec tomorrow, as well as the ferry ride over to Lévis. Andrew told me that while Lévis isn’t much to look at, the view of the city and the Château Frontenac is worth the ride.

Day Thirty-Eight

I didn’t make the train. I just couldn’t make it happen, so I adjusted my ticket to leave tomorrow at 1:00 pm and booked another night in the hostel. I moved rooms at 7:00 am and slept until 11:00 am, then walked down to the hostel bar and found all the miserable dregs of last night. Everyone was worse for the wear, though Matt was saying it wasn’t nearly as bad as it usually is after karaoke. His exact words were, “Most Wednesdays the hostel looks like an episode of The Walking Dead.” He also summed up everyone’s general sentiment when he said, “Life hurts.”

Matt, James, and I all collapsed on the couch in attempt to recover while watching the French open. Haylee came down in pretty much the same shape as the rest of us, but she definitely had more motivation to get moving than the rest of us, who were perfectly happy to just be one with the couch.

Eventually, I got to the point that I felt at least somewhat able to move, so I went for a walk to meet Haylee and Megan in Vieux Montréal outside Notre-Dame. We wandered around the area for a bit before walking to the Old Port, where I grabbed a slice of maple pie from a vender on the boardwalk. A short deluge of rain chased us away, and shortly after we all felt like we could really use food. We found Chez Jerry on Côte du Beaver Hall — best street name ever.

After dinner, it was time for the only thing that motivated me to really get off the couch: seeing Cirque du Soleil’s LUZIA at their big top in the Old Port. Haylee had told us she was going, so Megan and I bought tickets this morning. I hadn’t seen a Cirque du Soleil show since CORTEO, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a show in their home city.

LUZIA was fantastic. The opening sequence of tumbling on a treadmill-esque runway was really fun. The show had a bit of everything. My favorites were the great clown (not a creepy one), a really gnarly contortionist (Megan’s reactions were worth their weight in gold), a lightning-fast juggler, the beautiful trapeze and German wheel sequence, and  an amazing penultimate Russian swings sequence. It was a magical night, and has me very excited to see the Cirque du Soleil shows during my trip to Las Vegas. The technical elements of the show were also really cool. Lighting in circus is always amazing, and I think it would be a really great field to try my hand in someday. I think the coolest technical element I saw tonight was their water curtain. At one point in the show, the program all the individual jets to fire differently so they could create images in the sheet of water without using a projector.

After the show, Haylee, Megan and I walked back to the métro to ride home. Megan had to take a different train, so we said our goodbyes. I hope I’ll get to see her in Québec City. Back at the hostel, Haylee and I hung out for a bit after showers ad packing. She went off to bed, so I joined people for a game of billiards before heading off to bed myself.

Tomorrow afternoon I’m finally going to make my way to Québec City. No really, I’m actually going this time! I’m very excited to see it, since I’ve heard parts of it look more like Europe than North America, and I’ll have more of an opportunity to practice my French there!

Day Thirty-Seven

I slept in for a bit today before going to breakfast with Christine and Haylee. Christine left to go back to San Diego today, so we all said our goodbyes as she left for the airport.

I had a bit of work I needed to get done, so I hung around the hostel for a bit before walking to Square Dorcester to enjoy another insanely hot summer day here in Montréal — it’s been about 27ºC every single day, which is awesome. I was feeling the heat, so I walked up Rue Ste-Catharine until I found a Starbucks, where I ran into Haylee. We hung out for a bit until I got a message from Megan asking what I was up to.

Haylee recommended seeing La Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal, so Megan and I made plans to meet up there. We didn’t have long after we got there before the museum closed, so we made a really fast loop through the few exhibits we could see, including a big collection of funky chairs that Haylee had mentioned.

After the museum, Megan and I walked down Rue Ste-Catharine in search of a much needed meal. We had dinner at La Belle et La Boeuf on their lovely patio. Afterwards, I walked Megan past the hostel to Station Lucien L’Allier so she’d know how to get to me in an hour for the pub crawl.

Megan got back to the HI-Montréal after getting ready at her place and joined us for the start of the crawl in the hostel bar. Michael was leading us again, though the group was a bit smaller than it has been. We started off at Pistoleros, the country bar I was at with Josh, Mitch, and Nils the other night, before going to The Mad Hatter.

Then it was time for the highlight of the evening — and the reason I booked another night at the hostel — karaoke at John Doe & Comedyworks. To give you an idea of how the night was going, I signed up first for a song in French, “Elle habite ici” by Gérald de Palmas. I nailed it; thank God for high school French. Megan then joined me for “Hakuna Matata.” They put it on in French, but she was a champion and sang it in English while I took care of the French. Haylee joined us for “Wannabe,” then the hostel group just kind of became a swarm for “Bye Bye Bye.”I got up there and threw in “Elle Me Dit” by Mika, “All the Small Things” and “Let’s Go Crazy,” which two guys from LA said was a prime choice on my part. Matt and James, from Tasmania, met up with the group and found themselves signed up for “Land Down Under,” something that apparently happens every week. All the Aussies joined them on stage for that, and Matt and James hauled me up to, awarding me honorary Aussie status. We also had a couple people from Germany who gave us “99 Luft Balloons” and “Amerika” by Rammstein. I don’t know how well I followed my mom’s demand that I always make sure to sing on key, but I tried my best and I had a great time!

They turned the lights on, so we all made our way home. A few of us stayed up just about all night, so I’m totally beat now and fairly confident I’m not making my train in a few hours!