Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Canada 2012 Day 1

We woke early in the morning, and Jake took us to the airport bright and early (he learned to drive from his “Parnelli Jones” mom, so my knuckles were a bit blanched by the time we made it to the airport, at 7:15. Our flight was not departing until noon, so Annie and I had a long airport wait. We checked in our luggage and proceeded to do all the silly things you do in an airport while waiting: We went round and round in the red line of the airtram, people-watching and admiring a glorious sunrise over San Francisco Bay. Then we did the same thing with the blue line airtram.

Tired at last, we went back to the international terminal, where we killed another hour visiting the store of the SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), which has very cool stuff. We reflected on how nice it is not to have any space left in your luggage, because you can window shop to your heart’s content. Finally, on the way to the security checkout we saw an arrow pointing toward the Aviation Museum. It turned out to be a little known jewel within the airport: The architects recreated the original SFO terminal, with its 1930’s arches and marble floors, and a fascinating display of the history of Pan Am, the first truly international airline. Their first airplanes were the three seaboats known as the Clippers, of which the China Clipper was by far the most famous. The China Clipper did the route San Francisco to Hawaii, to Midway Island, to Wake Island, to Guam, to Manila, to Hong Kong. Passengers traveled in high style, and the ticket was only $10,000. We know this because the desk was covered by a sweet old lady, who was an air hostess in the glory years of Pan Am, and she told us all about flying in the age of luxury. She didn’t fly the Clippers, but she flew routes 1 and 2 in a Douglass and a 707, which had a very decadent lounge class. Route 1 flew east around the world (economy class from New York to London was about $1,500), whereas Route 2 flew west around the world! Can you imagine?

Our own flight took off shortly after noon (3 pm in Montreal) and landed amid rain at 8:30 pm. Rats! Well, by the time we went through immigration and customs, got money out of the ATM, and found the right bus to downtown the rain had eased into a drizzle, and when we reached la Gare d’Autocars (bus depot) in the heart of downtown the sky was dry. We walked four blocks to our hostel, which turned out to be another jewel (Auberge Alexandrie, 1750 Amherst, (514) 525-9420). The lobby was a typical youth hostel lobby, with kids from all the world playing drums, sending e-mails, or just chatting. Our gracious host, Hernan, was from Chile and received us like his two long lost siblings. To Annie’s delight our “room” turned out to be a small flat in the third floor, with a fully appointed kitchen and bathroom, and a charming art nouveau living room with a balcony (she tells me she has always wanted to have the experience of living in an urban flat in Paris, and this was as close as anyone could wish).
By now it was 11:30 pm, and we were famished, so following Hernan’s instructions we walked a few blocks to the Gay Village, where we found a small Moroccan restaurant, where we dined in style on a steaming couscous vegetarienne and a clay pot of vegetables and lamb sausage, while our three hosts fuzzed about us, explaining the customs of their native Tunisia. Never have I been served in a friendlier way!

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