Park by Trolley; Islands by Bike

Bridges & Biosphère
September 30, 2014

We sat across from each other in the rear of the last carriage in the train. Neither of us was paying attention to the attractions the conductor was calling out along the loop. "Bleah, bleah, bleah... some big ship over here. Bleah, bleah, bleah... some old building over there." It was a beautiful setting that probably did have some historical importance. But, the reason we were riding around was just to be out somewhere different, to be somewhere we could hang out and bring each other up to date on our lives.

I wouldn't have thought to have taken the trolley tour. It was Akbar who suggested that we ride around Hamilton's Bayfront Park over the brief afternoon I was passing through town. It turned out to be the ideal place for me to see more of Hamilton while simultaneously catching up with Akbar over a sunny afternoon.

Akbar in Trolley
I shared all my news from when I last buzzed through Akbar's neck of the woods nearly a year ago all the way up to where I'd been just moments before arriving into Hamilton (Niagara Falls). Akbar did the same for me: it sounds like life is going well for both him and his wife. Akbar is long past scrabbling for work and is now well-entrenched in his accounting job. Sarah is nearing the end of her nurse-practictioner course and finding time to teach courses as well as to finish a required internship. They've already decided they're now in a stable-enough position that they no longer need to let out their ground floor mother-in-law apartment to a renter.

It's always good to see a friend and especially good to see a friend doing well.

Before I drove along back here to Montréal I speculated where and when Akbar and I might next get together.

"You're Ismaili. You must know about the new Aga Khan Museum and jamaat-khana that just opened in Toronto?" I said.

"Of course," Akbar said. "Sarah and I usually spoil ourselves just once a year with an overnight at some hotel in Toronto. We had the idea that we might go there to visit on the 16th of next month."

"Let me know if you do!", I said. "I'm planning to go visit sometime for sure. The museum sounds amazing. And seeing the jamaat-khana would be such a richer, better experience if you were along."

David alongside Trolley
"If we're talking about meeting up somewhere in the future, do you know where I'd be curious to visit?", Akbar asked me. "The Amish areas around the U.S.. Those sound really different. Do you know if there's anywhere that they let visitors stay overnight, anywhere you could really get to experience their culture? How far away would it be to drive from Hamilton?"

"That's a great idea!", I said, surprised that I hadn't sought out that exact experience myself any of the times I've passed through Amish-populated areas. "There must be somewhere that takes in visitors for overnight stays. I'd guess that driving from Hamilton to Erie out in western Pennsylvania would be maybe just three or four hours... I don't know how close they'd be to the city but am certain there must be Amish populations nearby in that region."

We shall see just where Akbar and I next meet up. Perhaps it will be at the new jamaat-khana in Toronto where he could share more insight into his culture. Or, perhaps it'll be some getaway off to an Amish area of the U.S. where we could both learn about a distinct culture from my homeland. Wherever it is, I know it'll be fun to see this guy and hang out again. Thanks for lunch at your place and the afternoon around the park, Akbar! Let's meet up somewhere new, next time.

David inside Buckyball
Since riding that tourist trolley around Hamilton with Akbar I've been back in Montréal for a couple days. Today, I rode my bike out to an icon of the city I hadn't previously visited. The site of the World's Fair in Montréal (Expo '67) rests on islands just across from downtown in the St. Lawrence River. Even today the exposition still has resonance as Montréal's coming-of-age moment, the point when the city finally saw itself on the world stage. It's entrenched in the collective consciousness: I don't think I've gone more than a week in this city without hearing another reference to that event--despite that it took place nearly 50 years ago.

Many of the structures built for Expo '67 are still in use. Most iconic is the site of the U.S. pavillion which was built specifically for the World's Fair. That's surrounded by an enormous partial sphere designed by Buckminster Fuller. Today, the central building is still in use as the Enviroment Museum. As I had a free entry pass expiring today I figured it was worth a bike ride over the high Cartier Bridge to see what was on exhibit.

Olympic Seating
Despite the hours listed on their website the museum was closed when I rode up. I wasn't terribly disappointed. I'd decided to visit only as I had a free pass. Getting there had been enjoyable in and of itself. Cycling over the bridge and around the islands afforded views of autumn leaves turning from green into gold into rust. I'd guess that today was likely the last nice day of the year to make a long bicycle ride.

After circling around the island where the biosphère is located, Île Ste.-Hélène, I rode over a footbridge connecting a smaller adjacent island, Île Notre-Dame. That island was used for Expo '67 as well but what I mostly found there were sites from when Montréal hosted the Olympics in 1976. I rode my bike around empty racetracks and climbed on foot high up into stadium-style seating along the river. Those seats must have been set up for spectators to view rowing events. I'm sure the islands are buzzing in summertime but I saw few other people outdoors as I rode around, today.

Montréal Casino
Under Construction
On my way out I chanced upon another icon of the city I'd never visited. I'd heard of Montréal's casino but hadn't realized that it was right across from the heart of the city on one of the islands in the St. Lawrence. I'd presumed it to be far off in some suburb. I locked my bike on a rail around the corner from the main casino entrance then stepped inside to see what was on offer.

As I expected, there were lots of old people playing lots of flashy slot machines. I was tempted to play blackjack but even on a Tuesday afternoon the lowest of the table limits was too high for me. I watched from a distance. Where did they get those cool decks of cards that used a "V" rather than a "J" for a jack, I wondered? I took a look in the gift shop to see if they sold decks that had been used and retired by the casino--but they didn't.

Given that the gift shop sold nothing of interest and that I wasn't gambling I found the best thing Montréal's casino had to offer me was free drinks. I don't know if service would have been Vegas-style, a cocktail waitress delivering free drinks to my order, had I sat down and played. I was content enough to use the self-service fountains on each floor that offered free coffee, pop, and, unexpectedly, Clamato(!) on tap.

I now know where to route myself when planning my next scenic bike trip around Montréal if I want that journey to include a good point to pause and rehydrate myself for free. Though, with autumn already here, that excursion probably won't come until sometime next year.