Grand Touring in a MK2 Jetta: Boston to Quebec City

I’ve always been of the mindset that if you are going to build a car that’s fun to drive, then you should look for every excuse to take it for a run and enjoy it. While my personal Jetta has undergone somewhat of a metamorphosis over the years, I’ve never lost the urge to carve some mountain highways and tack some more digits onto the odometer reading. This is the story of my most recent trip, over the first weekend of July, from Boston to Quebec City, featuring an unrelenting rainstorm and more than a few plates of poutine.

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We depart the Boston area early.
Wait no. That’s a lie. This is a long vacation weekend. We finally left the house after grabbing the Jetta from my nearby garage around eleven in the morning. First stop, before we even saw an inch of highway: some absolutely necessary liege waffles and coffee from Curio, the actual best espresso bar in Cambridge. Trying to argue otherwise would be futile; I spent a decade in that industry and you’ve just gotta trust me here.

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Finally on the road. Nearly noon, and dodging the cracks and dips of the highway exiting a major city, the sun is out, the clouds are white and puffy, traffic is comfortable around seventy five miles per hour. Windows down, and we’re off to a great start.

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About halfway into New Hampshire, after a solid two hours of that VR6 rumble in the middle lane, heavy clouds roll in, the humidity rises, and the White Mountains smell of swelling pine. Perfect conditions to push the throttle a little bit and let the Jetta stretch its legs. A few passes wide open, pushing the upper end of fifth gear to really feel alive encapsulated by wind and noise before a bit of precipitation arrives to remind me that this drive isn’t about rushing anything. In no time visibility drops, and I am reminded why a shaved engine bay belongs only in a weekend car as water slowly floods the footwell through the HVAC inlet, and we relocate a bag or two of potato chips from the floor to the back seat as a simple solution. Eventually, the clouds quiet up, I devour the snack foods that we saved from a watery doom, and we cross over to Vermont a short while before a drizzly, grey border crossing

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Approaching a border is always exciting. It says that you are definitely not at home anymore. Particularly when signage suddenly changes both language and distance marking systems all at once. This is compounded by the knowledge that the province of Quebec is not particularly fond of modified cars, and I am screaming through in a foreign piece of obviously modified, albeit classic, metal. This is simply a reminder to respect the local laws even more than usual, and enjoy the search for a poutine shack or diner in the countryside before we approach Sherbrooke.

Aside from a few hilarious mishaps involving my inability to regard cash as a thing I need to carry, combined with my bank flagging three out of four of the cards we carry while trying to purchase fuel, literally nothing noteworthy happened over the course of the next fifty kilometers. This is great news, all things considered, when you’re driving a water logged German vehicle. It gives you time to realize that one of your boots is damp on both the inside and the outside, while also wondering if the two bags stored neatly in the trunk are dry.

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And then, after leaving the highway to grab fuel, Google put us on a scenic a farm road. This is a quick way to remember that driving on any non-perfect road with stretched 165/40-16’s mounted is less than ideal, although doable (barely). Honestly, I should have just turned around, but I left home for some adventure, damnit.
Onward.

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Finally, a few turns off the highway we check into the budget oriented, yet trendy hotel which I booked online. Mental note: next time allocate slightly more money for hotel, and consider one fewer round of cocktails. Scour the internet for a cocktail bar, realize the trunk did, in fact, take on water, grumble, and grab a ride to the old part of town to spend the evening as a liquored up tourist.

The following two days consisted of eating literally everything, making friends with grey haired musicians at jazz bars, wondering why and how we ended up at an Irish bar in a French influenced town, because we sure have enough of those in Boston, and just hardly catching a fireworks display celebrating the 150th Canada Day. But this isn’t a detailed travel blog, so we eventually pack up the car and head south.

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I am no stranger to Montreal. I spent a lot of weird weekends in this city during my early twenties. Now into my thirties, and at least slightly more restrained than in the past, I’m looking for a more craft cocktail and beer geek sort of experience, so we trek almost immediately to Le Mal Necessaire. Honestly, one of my favorite bars. They’re focused primarily on tiki drinks with clever garnishes, in nice glassware, served alongside a selection of Asian menu items from a restaurant upstairs. The look around makes you realize that you’re surrounded by a geometric layout and decor which sets an excellent vibe as low key hip hop plays and anyone from singles to dates to large groups mingle in and out over the course of a round or three. Drink a Rosita, it’s excellent.

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Car Spotting: Where Quebec City lacked on this visit, Montreal delivered a bit more. The hit or miss weather must have scared most back into the garage. I don’t blame them. We eventually grabbed sandwiches from Schwartz’s, ate a bit of ice cream, and headed south again, back towards real life.

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Green Mountains this time. The moment we made the border crossing, it was nothing but the relaxing smell of pine with the windows down at a relaxed pace. As we wind gradually down the highway towards Massachusetts, the sun goes down, and we start to hear fireworks off in the distance, we start to wonder if we’ll catch the show in Boston from the highway as we get closer.

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Right up until I crest a hill shortly after entering my home state and notice the all-too-familiar shape of a police cruiser on the median. This is a great time to point out that my speedometer hasn’t been working all year, and I am informed that I have apparently been cruising at around eighty miles per hour. We exchange brief, polite excuses and are sent on our way back home. Unpack. Tuck the car back into the garage, now covered in smashed insects, brake dust, and now attached to another weekend story.

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Until next time. Maybe someplace to the south, where there’s long bridges to secluded islands.

Photos & words: Brian Buckley

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