We are in Montreal for three days.
Montreal is a city of contrasts, and nothing exemplifies that more than the weather. In the winter temperatures can reach minus 40C while 6 months later it can be plus 40c. That right there is reason enough not to live here. It gets so cold that they have built an underground city where people can live, shop and move from place to place without ever having to put on a coat. A great setting for a scifi movie, but for a home?
It is the beginning of May and spring has not sprung, although it is thinking about it. A few hardy buds are showing on the trees. The temperature is trying hard to reach 15C (60F) for the first time this year. It is Sunday. The city is alive with people venturing out of the underground city into the real world. There is an air of expectation and excitement. The city feels young, vibrant and hip. People are unsure how to dress, some are in puffer jackets and hats to guard against the cold wind, others are in shorts and T shirts trying not to shiver while welcoming the first signs of warmth.
We decide to take the hop on hop off bus as an introduction to Montreal. It is an old English bus with an open upper deck.
It is not busy and we snag a seat upstairs at the front. Everyone on board looks like a tourist except for the 30 year old man who sits across from us. There is nothing that stands out about him, other than the fact that he is on a tour bus wearing a smart suit without a tie and is clutching a large case to his chest. He is rather ordinary with a receding hairline and a growing waistline. He looks neither right nor left but stares straight ahead.
The tour guide is making his way down the bus introducing himself to each of us. He is large, jolly and very gay. He clearly loves his job and loves his city. He makes everyone laugh as he moves towards us. It should be a good tour.
He says to the well dressed man “Weren’t you on this tour yesterday?”
“Yes, I was” he replies.
“Well we are delighted to have you back. Maybe I will let you take the mike this time round.”
The well dressed man smiles
“Where are you from?” the guide asks
The smile disappears from the well dressed man’s face
“Russia” he replies.
The jolly guide looks round at us with a gleam in his eye and says “Uh oh”
“Did you go through security before boarding the bus?” he asks
The well dressed young man now looks worried.
“What security?” he asks.
“Well you are Russian and you are carrying a suitcase. You must have to go through security” The guide is smiling but there is a definite undercurrent to the question.
I rescue the well dressed young man by lightly saying to the guide “stop giving him a hard time”
The guide shrugs his shoulders and laughs before moving on.
The tour takes two hours. We pass by many beautiful houses, stylish office buildings, parks, view points and art installations. The well dressed man pays them no attention. But when we pass the university he pulls out a professional looking camera from under his coat, takes several photos and then puts the camera away. Later we pass a large cemetery where he repeats the procedure. Although it is a hop on hop off bus, he does neither. He just sits and stares straight ahead, his eyes focusing on nothing.
We have taken the tour guide’s advice and stayed on the bus for the entire route, getting a feel for the city. We will then take the next bus and start hopping on and off as the whim takes us.
At the end of the tour we move to the next bus.
We are surprised to see the well dressed young man do the same. This time we pay him a little more attention. The case he is carrying is larger than a brief case but smaller than a carry on bag. It has wheels and a handle but he doesn’t use them, preferring to hug the case tightly to his chest. It is, we notice, nothing like an everyday case. It appears to be made of aluminium and looks extremely expensive and gleamingly new. Its corners are reinforced with thick pieces of aluminium riveted on. It has two formidable looking locks, one at each end of the case. The locks have both a key hole and a combination lock. It is nothing short of a portable armored truck. Once again he sits next to us. He acknowledges us with a nod and then decides an explanation is necessary.
“I thought I would get off at the first stop and have a look around” he says.
“Oh, that’s where we are getting off too” I reply.
Gordon looks surprised as we had decided between us that we wanted to get off at the second stop. But I am now intrigued by the smartly dressed young man with a portable armored truck and a professional camera hidden under his coat. And the first stop is called “La Place D’Armes”. I really have to follow him.
The bus stops at one end of a small park dominated by a huge and rather ugly statue which the guide tells us was erected to honor the many homeless struggling to live in Montreal. I am sure it is a nice thought but I am also sure the homeless would rather have the money.
The well dressed young man still clutching the case to his chest sets off with a determined gait. He seems to know exactly where he is going. We on the other hand do not and pull out our map, but our eyes are glued on the well dressed young man. He makes a beeline for the ugly statue. Once there he pulls out something from his pocket and puts it in the trash bin. He then walks over to a large crowd of tourists entering the church and disappears into the middle of them.
I am beside myself with excitement. Do we follow the well dressed young man or do we see what he dropped into the waste bin? It’s like the beginning of a spy novel. Gordon gives me one of his looks and reminds me that it is in fact the beginning of a 14 week holiday.
He takes my arm and walks me away from what could have been – and towards what is.