I had it all planned out. The perfect family getaway. The children, who have never been out of the country, had been dying to go to Canada, and I had been dying to go to a giant balloon festival. As it happens, right across the border in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, there is a huge hot air balloon festival, and it is super affordable to go! I bought a family pass for us all and booked a hotel just outside of Montreal, planning a schedule and leaving no detail unattended to. This would be a flawless trip.
The first thing that I failed to take into account was that our hotel was just outside of Montreal on the other side of Montreal. The plan was to leave home after lunch, check into the hotel, then head over to the festival with plenty of time to have dinner and make the 6 pm balloon launch. After that we were going to hang out at the festival and then stay for the Owl City concert (free with your admission!), because we all love Owl City. This plan fell apart quickly.
Not only was our hotel on the other side of Montreal, but for some reason the city decided to hold its daily rush hour traffic jam between the hours of 3pm and 6pm, meaning that not only did we have to drive back and forth across Montreal twice, but we had to do it at 3 miles per hour. Oh wait, sorry. I mean 4.8 kilometers per hour.
All of the relaxing down time at the hotel had evaporated, so we tossed our stuff into our room and then immediately headed back out into the traffic again. Another difficulty that I kept having was my sudden inability to read signs in French. Actually, I guess this was not so sudden. I have had this problem since birth. But it doesn’t usually cause me such problems! I did have the GPS with me, which was good since our phones do not have international plans and were completely useless, but the GPS could also apparently not read French signs, and kept trying to send me in the wrong direction.
After a few very strange detours and some mild circling, we eventually made it to a mall somewhere near the festival. It was 5:30. We had half an hour to find some dinner, find the festival, and see the balloons go up. My wife pointed out that we ought to get some cash, since these places are always cash only, so I went into a pharmacy to buy some candy and get cash back, but my debit card had a card error and could not be processed. Not a problem, because I have another debit card from my other bank, so I will just use that instead. Also declined.
“Sometimes American debit cards don’t work in Canada,” the helpful clerk told me, and pointed me down the mall to an actual ATM. I ran down there as fast as I could, because time was a-wasting, and also my poor wife was having to entertain two hungry children who had been sitting in the car in traffic all day. I found the ATM, stuck my card in, asked for some money, and it just laughed at me and said no. So I tried my other debit card. The one from TD Bank. The bank that is based in CANADA! No luck. They told me my card was not compatible. So now I was stuck in Canada with no money, no food, and a hungry, angry family waiting for the good news.
Well, my debit card may not have gotten me any cash out, but it worked just fine at Burger King. I guess they are less picky there. So we had food. And we had new directions to the festival, having been turned around several times before that. And we pulled into the field to park our car where we were informed that it was $7 to park. Cash only.
Including Ruby’s allowance that I stole, we had exactly $7 in the car. Serendipity at its best. I parked the car at 5:58 and we walked in through those wonderful gates ready to see some hot air balloons take flight. That was when it started to rain and the lady at the information desk told us that they would probably not be launching any balloons after all.
This story does have a happy ending, but I am too tired to tell it right now. Be sure to tune in next week for the epic conclusion to this adventure. Hint: it involves 47 bouncy castles. For real. I counted. And a word of advice: get cash out before you cross the border. Stupid Canada.
Also be sure to come back tomorrow for a very exciting Tenor Dad first! If you like free things, you won’t want to miss it!