Recently our family took a trip to Montreal.
My husband and I thought it would be the perfect mini-vacation because it’s the closest city to where we live and even though it’s still cold outside, there is a lot to see and do. The highlight of the trip was supposed to be the Biodome, which is sort of like an indoor zoo.
The first problem occurred even before we left our house when I realized that my passport had expired a month ago. Everyone over the age of 16 needs a valid passport or enhanced driver’s license to get into Canada and back into the United States. Having an expired passport was really bad. It should have been an omen for what to expect from the rest of the trip. But we had already booked and paid to rent an Airbnb in Montreal. There was no changing the plans or cancelling. We would just have to drive up to the border and try our luck.
At the border, my husband decided to make small talk with the border guard. I believe this made my husband seem sketchy and caused the border guard to ask us a million extra questions. As Will chatted with the border guard, I watched a fully loaded semi-truck make it through the border faster than our car. Having a husband that feels the need to make friends with everyone is usually a good thing but occasionally it is really annoying.
Finally we were waved through and breathed a sigh of relief. When you cross the border into Canada from Vermont, it is a very strange experience. Immediately, the mountains disappear and the trees are replaced with farmland. There is a desolate, lonely feeling; like time has forgotten this place. It’s almost impossible to believe that a few kilometers away a diverse, vibrant, modern city pulses all day and night.
We arrived in Montreal feeling restless and cranky. Everyone had to pee and everyone was sick of being in the car. We were an hour early to meet our Airbnb host so we decided to park the car and walk around. It was cold and windy and slush covered the sidewalks.
Those first few moments in Montreal, I questioned what the heck we were thinking when we decided to take this trip. I would wonder this many, many more times over the next few days.
The Airbnb listing for the apartment we rented looked really nice; even a little bit fancy. In real life, it was very run-down. The building was an old high-rise hotel converted into apartments. As we made our way to the eighth floor on a rickety elevator, we came into contact with so many smells and none of them were good. In the listing for the apartment, there was a beautiful picture of a swimming pool but the host had written that it was “not currently working.” If there was actually a pool like that in this building, we never found it or saw any signs for it. I don’t think it actually existed.
At the apartment we met our host and he took my husband to retrieve our car and park it in the parking garage. The parking garage was one of the main reasons we had chosen this Airbnb. It would be so convenient to have a safe place to put the car and to come and go as we pleased.
When Will came back to the apartment, he reported that the parking garage was the worst place he had ever driven. It was so tiny that our compact car could barely fit between the cement columns and the only way in/out was to drive up one-lane hill that went around a corner.
“I have no idea how I got the car in there without hitting something and I have no idea how I’m going to get it out,” he said. We no longer had our own transportation because we would not be moving the car again until it was time to check out. If we wanted to go somewhere, we would have to walk or ride the Metro with two young kids.
To top it off, Will was clutching an $87 parking ticket from the hour we had parked on the street.
The apartment was tiny but clean – if your definition of clean involves using the most toxic, smelliest cleaning products in the entire world. And on every surface there were scented candles all vying for which one’s cloying scent would overpower the rest. No one was winning. We especially were not winning.
Will went around opening every window to let some air into the apartment. It was cold, but it was better than suffocating. I went to work hiding all the breakables from our newly-mobile baby. Even though everything in the apartment came from the dollar store down the street, we were pretty sure we would be charged an exorbitant fee if something was damaged. The Airbnb listing had said that breakfast was included. Luckily we weren’t relying on that because “breakfast” was three slices of cheap bread individually wrapped in Ziploc bags with nothing to put on them.
A few hours later we left the apartment to get dinner. We walked around Saint Catherine Street looking in the windows of all the amazing restaurants and thinking how nice it would be to sit down at a romantic dinner if we weren’t traveling with kids.
My husband had insisted on bringing a ridiculously large frame pack for our baby. But I wasn’t complaining because he was the one that was carrying her everywhere. Our four-year-old had to walk but he was more interested in playing in the slush then actually getting anywhere. So our entourage moved slightly slower than a snail’s pace.
We finally found a restaurant that looked amazing and would not require us to take out a second mortgage. It was an authentic Chinese place and we were the only non-Chinese customers. There were amazing plates of whole fish and woks with flames under them at every table. We splurged on three dishes.
While we waited for our dinner to arrive, Wolfy looked at me and said the words no parent ever wants to hear, “Mommy, I have to puke.”
I brought him to the bathroom as quickly as possible, but when we got there, he said he didn’t have to puke anymore. A few minutes after we returned to our table, Wolfy looked at me and said again, “Mommy, I have to puke.”
There have been countless times that Wolfy has raised a false alarm about puking. I’ve always listened to him. Sometimes that means pulling the car over to the side of a busy road only to have him instantly say he feels better. Other times, he walks a few feet away and dramatically pretends to vomit. He’s a four-year-old boy. He likes to talk about poop and puke and everything else that is gross.
“No, Wolfy,” I said, “You don’t have to puke. You are fine.”
And that’s when the puke just started pouring out of his mouth.
I tried catch it with the only thing within reach – an appetizer plate. A teeny-tiny appetizer plate. It was woefully inadequate. It didn’t even catch half of the puke. There was vomit all over Wolfy, all over my hands, all over the floor, everywhere.
Quickly, I brought Wolfy to the bathroom and cleaned him as much as I could. On the way out, I told our waitress, “We’ll take our food to-go!” Then I left my husband and baby in the restaurant. All the other customers and employees were staring at us. No one was happy.
My husband sat there for the next fifteen minutes awkwardly waiting for our order while the family at the next table tried to move as far away as possible and complained loudly and angrily in Chinese. While holding the baby in one arm, he tried to use napkins and clean up the floor as best he could. Then he left a really good tip.
For the rest of the night, my poor boy was so sick. At first he was good at making it to the toilet but then he got really tired and just puked in his bed. Luckily he was sleeping on an inflatable mattress that we brought from home. Perhaps we should have packed everything up and gone home right then but we didn’t want to put him in the car when he was so sick and we didn’t want to drive three hours while my husband and I were so tired.
The next morning, Wolfy stopped puking and seemed to be feeling much better. We decided that maybe the worst was over and we should try to start having a nice vacation. Since Wolfy was still low-energy, we decided put off going to the Biodome. Instead we rode the Metro to an amazing Jewish restaurant called Snowdon Deli and ate smoked meat. Wolfy had matzo ball soup.
Afterwards we went back to the apartment to rest. Wolfy was tired out.
We were getting ready to leave the apartment again to explore the Underground City and get dinner out, when the electricity went off. We weren’t sure if it was just our apartment or a larger outage. I decided to call our Airbnb host and just to let him know what was happening.
“I will be over right away,” he said and hung up the phone before I could respond.
A few minutes later, our host came to the apartment.
“It is a large power outage that is affecting the entire neighborhood,” he said.
Okay, I thought, so what are you doing here?
He stood awkwardly in the doorway for a moment and then walked into the kitchen. He opened up the cabinet under the sink, knelt down, stretched way into the back of the cabinet, and pulled out a Ziploc bag of something. Then he shoved it deep into his jacket pocket. Then he stood around for a minute making small-talk and being over-polite and then he left.
My husband and I looked at each other. “What just happened?” I asked.
“I think he just grabbed his D-R-U-G-S,” my husband said. When you have a parrot for a four-year-old you spell everything that you don’t want to hear again later at an extremely inappropriate time.
“Yeah, I think so too.” I said. My husband and I just looked at each other and shook our heads in disbelief. This guy knew that we had children staying in his apartment and he kept his drug stash hidden in the cabinet under the kitchen sink? Now it just felt weird to be in the apartment. What if he was hiding something else? I was beginning to believe that all those scented candles and cleaners were trying to cover something up.
We left the apartment as quickly as possible.
After a ride on the Metro, we stumbled upon what would end up being the highlight of our weekend: Montreal en Lumiere. It was a magical display of fire, music, amusement park rides, and art installations, all free of charge. Then we ate a cheap meal in the Underground City. After dinner, Wolfy lay down in the booth and fell asleep. We were really far from our apartment and now we would have to carry both of the children all the way back. We made our way to the Metro through crowds heading out for an evening at the symphony; my husband carrying the four-year-old and me wearing the ridiculous frame pack and baby on my back.
The next day, my husband woke up and said he didn’t feel well so we decided to put off going to the Biodome again. There would still be a chance to go there on our last day before driving back. In the meantime, we decided to see Chinatown and the Old City. We were probably in denial about what was happening but we thought maybe Will’s sick feeling was going to pass. In any case, we really didn’t want to hang out in the sketchy, smelly apartment all day.
We had lunch at another amazing Chinese place, but Will couldn’t enjoy it. With every passing minute he was feeling worse and worse but he was trying to cover it up because he didn’t want to ruin another day in Montreal. But by the time lunch was over, he was saying that he was scared he was going to puke. We headed back to the apartment.
As soon as we walked in the door, Will ran to the bathroom. At that point, we knew without a doubt that a stomach virus was spreading through the family. We stayed in the apartment for a while. Wolfy watched television and the baby tried to destroy everything within her reach. Will had to keep running to the bathroom. It was terrible. We had paid for one more night of the Airbnb and we still hadn’t made it to the Biodome but if we stayed longer and Ada and I started puking too, things would be even worse than they already were. I did not want to risk dealing with a sick baby in a foreign country.
We decided to head home. We were racing the virus.
I could already feel my stomach starting to churn. We quickly packed everything up and drove out of Montreal. We had tried to make the most of it and have a good time but those three days were extremely tiring and disappointing. In a way, it was a relief to throw in the towel and admit that we had been beat.
As our car sped through the desolate land near the border, Will asked me to pull over. He had to throw up one last time. It was a fitting ending to the worst vacation.