Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Highly specific travel guides, Canadian edition

It had been a while since I'd left Toronto, and an opportunity popped up to go to Montreal (as I'd been meaning to do again, since moving to Canada) so I figured, the time has come! But in the weeks leading up to the trip, I couldn't quite believe it would actually happen. It just seemed so involved - figuring out various baby-and-dog practicalities, and... well, really just anything beyond getting from one day to the next, something that's gotten simpler in the past month or so, but sleep sort of comes and goes, so. I'd swing back and forth between thinking I should be making lists of things to do and people to see, and thinking that that approach to a trip was something out of a past life.

Below, some tips for travel - to Montreal, in general - with a 5-month-old:

-Trains are good for baby-naps. Planes, I'm thinking, maybe less so. The train part went fine. Mostly.

-Beware the changing table on Via Rail. It has that warning about how it might suddenly and unexpectedly bop a baby on the head for a reason.

-Carrier yes, stroller maybe not. Subways in Montreal rarely have elevators, and everything (including the hotel some of the time, argh) has steps at the entryway. And there's no consistency whatsoever between Toronto and Montreal in terms of policies for getting the stroller on and off the train. (Toronto has elevators but no assistance, Montreal the reverse.)

-You want to wait until the baby's neck control situation is sorted before going far from home along these lines. Travel requires a lot of lifting/propping and carrier-using (ideally occasional front-facing stretches, so baby can see some of the sights) and that just makes things easier. If we'd tried this a month or so ago it would have been a really bad idea.

-Bring everything with you that you brought for the whole trip because you never know when you might need absolutely all of it. Like, say you've been in Old Montreal, having this lovely stroll, and are feeling really on top of things, having changed your baby (in a magnificent all-silver bathroom) just after opening time at a concept store. Then a half-hour or so later, you're feeding your baby in a supposedly VIP area of a mall, except it's mainly people who seem elsewhere on the socioeconomic spectrum so you're not shocked a guard permits you to sit there as well, and it becomes clear a further changing will be necessary, but that mall has no place for this, so you figure a market will, but guess what? The Jean Talon market isn't all that near its associated subway stop.

-Bring extra baby clothes every time you leave the hotel. Do not assume that just because the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto sells tourist knick-knacks every tourist-oriented market will have souvenir onesies to be purchased in an emergency. Do not panic. Remember that the sweater plus your own jacket as a leg-wrap will actually be fine for a few minutes when it's not even cold out.

-Accept help, even from the older woman who admonishes you in French for not having your baby warmly dressed. Don't get annoyed, just explain to her (also in French, of course!) the insufficient-change-of-clothes preparation situation, and you will be directed to a nearby thrift store where all baby clothes are $2.25 (and untaxed). Seemingly a good selection and I would have liked to have a better look, under other circumstances. Bought one outfit and one backup outfit (LESSON LEARNED) only.

-Try not to scream - in French or English - when the bathroom you're told is fine to change baby into the newly-purchased outfit in has no changing table, and is completely filthy, and you have to go back into the main part of the store and do this in a tiny dressing room.

-Bring a (large) backpack for an outing like this, because when you find the enormous French patisserie cookbook you've been looking for for years, you will buy it, despite being already quite encumbered. That free tote bag from a Swedish cultural event in New York might look nice but will not work for any of your purposes.

-Nursing is super awkward and some people will be bothered by it (I guess Ontario and Quebec have different approaches, but also, when am I ever out for the entire day like that in Toronto?) but if that's how the baby eats, that's how the baby eats. If that means nursing on a minute and filthy plank-bench in front of a (very good) Portuguese roast chicken place, on a narrow sidewalk, or on a picnic bench surrounded by 15-year-old boys, or in a bakery-café where a woman with a laptop had really wanted all four nearby seats for herself and her stuff, so be it. Let Montreal see your nipples for the requisite milliseconds. It's not the end of the world.

-When you meet up with a friend you haven't seen in years, and are speaking French in a social situation for the first time in a while as well, after... that, don't overthink the fact that you're maybe slightly less able to express yourself than under other circumstances.

-Dining out with a baby is totally possible if it's at breakfast time. Remember this when deciding what to order. Go with the bomboloni and the bagel and lox, even if that seems a bit much, price- and quantity-wise. Because dinner? Not necessarily happening.

-Nothing is going to happen at/after the witching hour. If your train arrives past that point, don't even bother trying to go to a pizza place, even if it's referred to online as family-friendly, and even if it is right next to the hotel. And definitely don't (what was I thinking??) order an appetizer. Accept that the day ends at 5pm, which is not all told a terrible approach to travel, if you've been out walking since morning.

-And about that walking: Remember that walking around with a baby in carrier is ever so slightly more tiring than doing so without. Your phone's automatic step-counter might tell you you just covered 5-6 miles but it will feel marathon-ish. Accept that there's wandering that will not happen. Figure out where the bus stops are located because you will sooner or later (sooner) have to get on a bus.

-Remember that for the baby, everything is new. That's exciting! Reminding yourself of this is the trick to making the whole thing fun, rather than just challenging.

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