Our French is pretty limited, so we ask the hotel guy to book us a cab to the car rental depot. He orders a cab to the airport instead, because “Personne n’est assez stupide pour conduire de Montréal à Niagara Falls!” (literally “nobody is stupid enough to drive from Montreal to Niagara Falls!”) We think we know better, and redirect the driver to the car place.
Challenge one – one size fits all. Have you ever seen those shows where the magician’s assistant is packed into an unbelievably tiny box? Well, the “large” car we booked has morphed into a Toyota Camry. This model claims “a trunk space that can fit two large suitcases and one small one – if they are the right shape.” We have four suitcases, multiple “other cases”, and four full sized adults. No problem. “Maybe if we take that one out and turn it around …” “How about jumping on that one a few times to see if … oh, sorry, I didn’t realise you’d packed your new crystal …” Anyways, remarkably, we eventually manage to get everything and everyone loaded, and, much to the relief of the twelve cars lined up behind us in the depot parking garage, we’re on our way – sort of.
Challenge two – where to go. One of the reasons we selected this particular car rental company is they offered a free GPS. (The other reason is they were the only one that allowed us to drop off our car at an obscure little airport, but that’s another story.) So, here we are, parked partly in the street – just outside the entry to the rental garage. The GPS is “acquiring signal”. The twelve happy renters in the line behind us are now offering all sorts of suggestions about how we can get things moving, but, like I said, our understanding of French is fairly limited. The GPS wakes up, and a lady’s voice tells us to turn right on Rue St Antoine, because there are severe traffic delays in the streets behind us.
It’s with much relief that we finally escape the congestion of Monday morning downtown Montreal. Now, a few more minutes on this freeway and we’ll be sailing though the picturesque Canadian countryside. Enter – Challenge three – finding the country. Ok, so this freeway goes on for a bit further than we thought, but Google maps showed our route follows some big lakes – that’ll be pretty. Ok, so it’s freeways all the way, and they’re really busy, and all the other drivers are crazy.
Challenge four – staying in the right country. As I said, the freeways are really crazy, so we’re relieved when Ms Garmin suddenly directs us to an exit. Ah, this must be the scenic bit along the lake. Funny, here’s a tollbooth. Oh, and there’s a sign – “Welcome to the USA”. “Ah, hi Miss. We’re Aussies and we’re on the way to Niagara Falls.” “Well buddy, this ain’t your road. If you turn around in that parking lot, one of those big sem-eyes should let you cross over and head back to the freeway.”
Challenge five – “comfort” stops. It’s a natural fact that all travellers need to stop sometimes. The good news is that there are large service centres about every fifty miles along the road. The bad news is, there’s so many other people stopped it takes about half an hour to find a park, and even longer inside – but hey, it’s still very welcome!
Challenge six – getting past Toronto. We knew Montreal has around four million people, but naively thought that Toronto would be some little lakeside village. And, we thought we would bypass it anyway. Wrong, and wrong. As we approach and the freeways get larger, Ms Garmin’s mechanical voice throws in the occasional suggestion – “Stay in – any one of – the – left four lanes.” There’s the odd exciting moment when we realise we need to change quick because that bus hurtling past was hiding two extra lanes, but hey, a Toronto granny can do it so it can’t be that hard. Then, in the middle of the chaos, Ms Garmin goes silent. We know she’s still there, but she hasn’t forgiven us for turning around back at the toll booth. Hah! There’s a sign that says Niagara Falls is only fifty kilometres away – now we just have to cross six lanes and ….
Addendum. We’ve just finished breakfast at our Niagara Falls hotel and meet another couple from Montreal. We tell them of our adventure. “Oh, we always cut through the US when we come. It’s way quicker. You’d have to be crazy to come the other way.”