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During my travels newspaper columns were published weekly in the Dutch daily newspaper
Dutch newspaper Spits

This project has been supported by these great and warmhearted companies:
Netherlands: Paping Buitensport, ODLO, IPtower.nl, AVRO Dutch Broadcasting Org., Travelcare, TunaFish, Book A Tour, StadsRadio Rotterdam; UK: Lazystudent, KissFM, The Sunday Times, The Guardian; Isle of Man: SteamPacket/SeaCat; Ireland: BikeTheBurren; Belgium: Le Temps Perdu, Majer & PartnersAustria: OhmTV.com; Norway: Scanrail Pass, Hurtigruten, Best Western HotelsSouth Africa: eTravel, British Airways Comair, CapeTalk, BazBus Spain: Inter Rail, Train company Renfe; Australia: Channel 9 Television, Bridgeclimb, Harbourjet, SeaFM Central Coast, Moonshadow Cruises, Australian Zoo, Fraser Island Excursions, Hamilton Island Resort, FantaSea Cruises, Greyhound/McCafferty's Express Coaches, Aussie Overlanders, TravelAbout.com.au, Travelworld, Unlimited Internet, Kangaroo Island SeaLink, Acacia Apartments; Malaysia: Aircoast; Canada: VIA rail, Cedar Springs Lodge, BCTV/GlobalTV, St. George Hotel, VICKI GABEREAU talkshow, Ziptrek Ecotours, Whitler Blackcomb Ski Resort, Summit Ski & Snowboard Rental, High Mountain BrewHouse, Cougar Mountain Snowmobiling, Whistler Question Newspaper, Snowshoe Inn, First Air, Nunanet.com, Canadian North Accommodations by the Sea, DRL Coachlines Newfoundland, The National Post and Air North.


Reports

Thursday, 17 April 2003
Hampstead Montreal --> Verdun Montreal, Quebec, Canada

This morning, when I woke up at Sandy Wolofsky's place in the Montreal district of Hampstead, I had to rush to pack my bags. Sandy had her cousins Muriel and Stephane with their two kids visiting over from Paris (France). And they were going to get a tour through Old Montreal with Sandy as their tour guide. And of course I joined along.
We first picked up Sandy's relatives at her parents' house and drove them into the old part of Montreal, where the style is Parisian and the streets are made of brick stones.

As it was already near noon, the French couple first wanted to get a really good lunch. They had travelled from New York City all the way to Montreal and ended up visiting their family. "But the food in the United States is terrible! We never had a real good lunch, we want to have a real good lunch today, no greasy stuff," Sandy's cousin Stephane said.

The French can be a bit grudging on food, that's a world known fact, so it took an entire walk through the Old Montreal to find a restaurant that would suit their needs. In the meantime Sandy showed us all around, keeping her eyes open for a good lunch spot. But at the end, Sandy had enough of her cousin's complaints and choose a simple Greek restaurant. And by saying "they make the best souvlakis there" the family was convinced. However souvlakis came with fries, so I don't really know if they would consider this a good meal. After all, that's what they serve in the US too.

On the other hand, Sandy and I were finally having our breakfast.

Today I would be moving to my next and latest hostess in Montreal again. After lunch and after another walk through beautiful Vieux Montreal, Sandy dropped me off at the train station downtown.

At this spot I had a meeting with Frederic Gonzalo at 2pm. Frederic and I have been emailing back and forth for a while as he works at the marketing department of Via Rail, the Canadian train company. It was Frederic who made the decision to sponsor me with my latest train ticket from Ottawa to Montreal. As he works in this city, it was a good thing meeting up with this man in person.

I met him at the information booth in the big train terminal and he immediately invited me for a cup of coffee in one of the bistros .

He was once approached by the sales agents of Via Rail in The Netherlands. They told him about my project and that I could always need a transport sponsor. With that information only, he decided to help me out and we started emailing.

During our coffee I told him more about my project, because it ended up that Frederic had never seen my website yet. Wow! That surprised me a bit. And with the information I gave him about my way of travelling and the places I've been to I amazed him too. He apparently didn't know my project wasn't just about a journalist who reports on a website and writes chronicles for a Dutch newspaper…

He asked me about my future plans of travel through Canada, so I told him I was on my way to the east coast, hopefully all the way to Newfoundland and I will have to travel all the way back again to visit Ontario and the prairie provinces Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta (which I have skipped so far), to catch my flight home in Vancouver at the end of July.

"I can sponsor you with transport," he told me and got me a timetable book with all the trains of Via Rail. "Why don't I help you out with transport from Halifax, Nova Scotia, back to Vancouver?" Uh, excusez? What? I don't know, dear reader, if you know the geography of this country, but that's THE ENTIRE ROUTE from the east coast to the west coast of Canada!

I didn’t know what to say next to "Thank you, thank you! Merci beaucoup!" but it was all right with him. It was just unbelievable!

As he had to get back to work at 3pm I said good bye and another thank-you and we parted in the terminal.

This is also where my next hostess would pick me up within half an hour. I had a walk around and sat down to read the timetable book when somebody called my name. My hostess for today, Ann Guy, had arrived earlier and saw me sitting there.

It told her about my just received new sponsorship from Via Rail and impressed her too. "I didn't know that still sponsored people that much!"

I got my belongings in her car and she drove me to the district of Verdun, south of the downtown area of Montreal.

Ann Guy is a telecommunication analyst for Environment Canada. This is the place where they collect all kinds of data from all over the world and create the nationwide weather forecast.

While Norah Jones played in her car stereo she told me how why she invited me over. "It was over one year ago when I was looking for something on the internet about travelling to Germany and then I discovered your website," she said. "I like travelling myself too. I have been to Europe in 1990 and worked eight months in Zurich (Switzerland) and I have been to Japan and Mexico too."

"I love to stay in Bed & Breakfasts, that is the best way to meet the locals."

"Since I was seven years old I fell in love with the movie series 'Sissi', you know, the emperor's wife. And that movie inspired me to visit Europe. But I wanted to really communicate with Europeans, so I did a few language courses before I got there. I wasn't that good yet, so I also studied for nine months in Germany."

Ann was stirring me with her commitment to communicate here! "But before I go to Europe again, I want to see more of Canada first. There is so much beauty in my country that I haven't seen yet."

Before driving into Verdun, we had a quick stop at the Atwater Market, a big roofed market with butchers, flower shops, chocolateries and bakeries, where Ann bought some groceries for tonight. "Do you like sushi?" she asked me when we passed the sushishop. "Oh help, that's one of my favourite foods!" I said with a watery mouth. "Okay, let's have sushi as an aperitif before dinner," she decided.

The town Verdun immediately changed my scenery with its distinct character of a blue-collar town. "Some 60,000 people live in Verdun and it has 28 different churches, from which eight are catholic." And I could see that, because there were different churches at almost every big street corner!

Verdun was originally called Côtes-des-Argoulets, named after an elite group of French musketeers. When the first French people in Quebec created Ville-Marie (the original name of Montreal) they needed protection from the Iroquois natives in the south of the island. They sent out their bravest men with their musket guns to go down the river and protect the town. They called themselves after their French heroes, Les Argoulets, ergo the name of Ann's future B&B.

Côtes-des-Argoulets later became Verdun. Right in the river lays Nun's Island (Île de Soeurs), which was still mostly farmland in 1950. Nowadays it's part of Verdun and occupies a population of 10,000 people!

"This summer I am taking three months off, because I am going to run my own Bed & Breakfast at home. I have to excuse for the mess you might see, because everything is still under construction. I officially open Les Argoulets on May 31."

Ann had most of her house under construction for the last few months. "The first floor of the house will be for guests only, but that's where I still live now. I will be moving up to the second floor, where I will share the kitchen and living room with my tenant Rob and workers are constructing a new attic for me."

When we arrived at her humble historic labour home, Rob was welcoming me to Verdun on his balcony. Inside the house everything looked brand new and very luxury to me. Her 3-year-old puppy Toscane greeted me with enthusiasm.

"Come Ramon, let's take the dog out," and out we were again. Ann has to drive by car to a special fenced off dog place along the river, where Toscane can run around freely with other dogs. "Everybody who wants to have his dogs playing out here pays 10$ a year and gets the key to get in. The ten dollar is to cover the public liability for the property." So, how many people let their dogs go out here? "Oh, some six hundred."

I had never seen such a secured area for dogs in the middle of a suburb. It's a good thing to get some exercise for a dog, because in the rest of the town every dog has to be on the rope.

Back at Ann's house, with muddy hands of playing around with the various dogs, my hostess prepared my bed room for the coming two nights. A bed was folded out of a closet, I thought that was pretty neat.

While I settled myself in her living room and I got myself connected to the high speed internet network that runs through her house (I love these blue cables!), Ann's sister Lala and the tenant Rob came over to join in with dinner.

I loved the sushi before dinner. As I told the visitors about my travels and my experiences with Montreal so far (wasn't it B.B. King who once said "You have to pay the dues before playing the blues"?) I amazed Lala with the amount of hot wasabi I could manage. "Oh, this isn't hot at all," I proclaimed, "have you ever had the red stuff"

Another thing I found interesting in Ann's life was the fact that she got rid of her television. "I used to watch television every day and one day I found myself just zapping along the channels for two hours. That's when I decided I had enough. I now read much more books - I love reading books – and listen to the radio." And it was clear enough for me that she wasn't missing out on anything.

During dinner Lala talked about the current hype around Star Academie on television. "Well, I don't know that show because I don't see it," Ann said and she was prayed luck by her visitors, who however were kind of addicted to this real life soap of young ones being trained to be pop stars. "Only once in a week I visit my sister to watch E.R. on her television, that's all," Ann confessed to me.

After dinner the guest left and let us alone. Ann was a bit tired and decided to go to bed early today after having a bath. That was okay with me, because I always have quite some stories to write on my laptop and I would have the rest of the night to work on that and prepare for tomorrow again.

Good night Verdun!

Ramon.