March 2014

Montreal: The Weird and Wonderful

Railway tracks are the veins of Britain and speeding trains are the pulse of the Kingdom.

Canada does not have railway veins. Canada has sporadic blood cells of buses and metros. Cells are dispatched to locations when they are needed.

Greyhound buses have become my way of exploring the vast landscape of this country. So I was surprised to discover that Ottawa has a train station. On arrival, I was no longer confused as to why nobody talks about the station. The building wasn’t ugly, the people weren’t rude and nothing was disorganised or dirty. But the place was bare and quiet and lacking. Back home, train stations are crammed with places to eat. Here, I was struggling with the decision between a crappy pastry or two hours of hunger.


But I was not in a state to be let down easily. I had good company and exciting travel plans. I was gallivanting to the Canadian-French city of Montreal in the South of Quebec province. And I was with one of the most wonderful people in my life; my Mum.


She arrived on Monday evening with four bags of British marshmallows and a huge grin on her face. At dinner that evening we planned our adventure to Montreal for the next day and one sleep later we were on the train zooming off to another world.


Montreal is unlike any city I have been to. It was big but quiet. The walls were busy with graffiti but the people were subtle in appearance. Everything was understated and dramatic at the same time. Art is everywhere and in everything.


The best example of this would be our meal in the evening. We had dinner in the dark.

Now, I don’t mean we ate by candlelight or outside underneath the starry sky. No. We ate in the pitch black darkness. O. Noir is a restaurant in Montreal where you can experience what it is like to be blind. Your waiter is blind and he guides you through the dining room and tells you where everything is on the table and then he disappears, saying to call his name if you need him. Then there is just you and your companion in the nothingness. You cannot people-watch but you can people-listen. Unfortunately for us, everyone was speaking French which added to the isolation of the whole thing.


I found myself leaning in more, my posture changed and we talked non-stop to reassure that the other person was still there. The funny thing about the dark is that your thoughts become loud. Yes, you can hear and feel and smell and taste. But all your mind has to play with is itself, there are no interesting people to watch or curious wall-decorations to view or any visuals to stimulate conversation. There’s just your mind and your companion’s mind and your words.

Eating was something I had never considered to be difficult for blind people. But it is. I ended up eating the entire meal with my hands because cutlery was far too difficult.

Our waiter asked us where we were from and we told him Scotland. He replied ‘Is that in Canada?’ We were confused until he explained that he had never seen a map before so it is difficult for him to picture or remember where countries are in the world. This is something I had never thought of.

The entire experience of eating in darkness was incredible. At first I thought I would have an anxiety attack but I got more and more comfortable as the evening went on. It was eye-opening (please excuse the irony) and an entirely unusual and unique experience. I raved about the dinner for hours and hours and every so often it pops into my mind and I have to tell someone.

The strangest thing about O. Noir is that I have no visual memory of the evening. But I do remember how it felt. My memory of O. Noir is based on emotions and it truly is a phenomenal way to remember something.

More Montreal adventures coming soon to…

Love Jill