It’s been well over a month since my last adventure, which I think is very illuminating of my inability to focus my time on other things and being unable to reflect upon my recent adventure.
It had been over six months since my last adventure, and I’d been starting to feel that familiar restlessness coupled with burnout from my current job. So, I had originally romanticized a motorcycle trip up the west coast from California to Vancouver until I did the math and decided on something smaller. So, wanting to work on my Franglais a bit, I decided to head north to that magical place called Canada and spend a week in Quebec followed by a week back in Minneapolis doing my favorite thing in the world: Late morning in bed followed by Jack-Shit..
For some odd reason, I was completely oblivious to departure times when I purchased my round-trip tickets to Montreal. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, or maybe I had just procrastinated for so long, that I just overlooked the details, but I my flight out of Minneapolis was at 6am, which meant that I would getting up at 3am to make my flight. And to be honest, when I woke up that morning, I considered eating the cost of my ticket so that I could enjoy two weeks of doing very little instead of one. But there’s nothing like having hundreds of dollars invested in something to give you that nice, unhealthy, kick in the rear and send you on your way. Yeah – I’m going on an adventure. So, being a master of small goals, I decided to just get on the plane and have whatever adventure comes my way.
I arrived at the lightrail station only to find out that they were inoperable for the weekend. I was lucky enough to hail a taxi at that hour in the morning and get a ride to the airport. The thing about adventures, is that there are many times when things don’t go your way and you’re forced to find another way. Here’s hoping that I’ve completed my fill of miss-fires for the duration of the trip. Upon arriving at the airport, I was immediately greeted by fear and desist propaganda blaring over the airport loudspeakers. After 12 hours of wandering in airports and being packed into small planes like a sardine (United), I finally arrived in Montreal.
It was raining heavily when I boarded the bus to downtown. Enroute to my hostel, I struck up a conversation with Gabrielle, a nurse from Montreal, who helped me get to my stop, and set me off in the direction of my hostel. Being mostly tired from traveling that day, I set off to find some food and then take it easy for the night.
For the next couple of days, I feasted on a Hostel continental breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, apple muffins, and orange juice. It’s free, it sustains me until well into the afternoon, and the hostel doesn’t care that I lounge around their common room in my plaid pajamas. Having been oblivious to my departure plans earlier, I did however luck out and book my hostel close to the Latin Quarter and the Old Town (Port Vieux).
I spent my first full day in Montreal exploring the Old Town, where I first entered the Marche Bensecours, a small tourist shopping market in an old Victorian-style building. I first walked by and then entered Labo Gourmand, an outlet for a Apple Cider Wine maker, I caught the eye of Natalie, a beautiful woman from Colombia, coaxing me into the store for some wine tasting. Even after explaining to her that I had no room to store wine for my trip, she continued pouring small samples for me to try. Now that’s salesmanship. I took her card and was off. The day was grey and after walking around the mist and melancholy hanging the air of the old port that day, I decided to head into a small cafe for a tea and pannini. It was there that I met Pam, a tour guide that was speaking both French and English with her friend. I chatted her up a bit and she gladly gave me some suggestions before heading back to work..
I retired to my room at the hostel for a nap. Upon waking up, I checked the couchsurfing website and was surprised to find a meetup 2 blocks from my hostel that evening. Making my way to the bar, I walked through Jardin Gamelin and happened upon a swing dance put on by Cat’s Corner dance studio in the park. I quickly joined the group and started dancing with some of the lovely ladies of Montreal. After about 45 minutes of dancing, I arrived at the restaurant to find a very small couchsurfing meetup in progress. With me, the total equaled 3 people. It’s sad to see couchsurfing deteriorate in popularity over the years, but things change. After wolfing down some dinner, I headed back to the swing dance in the park for another hour of dancing.
The next morning, I decided to familiarize myself with Montreal’s Subway system, which is actually pretty interesting. It is one of the few (if not only) subway system in the world where the cars ride on rubber wheels. My first goal of the day was to take Pam’s advice from the day before and head out to the Marche de Jean-Talon, a big open market with a number of different cultural eateries in the area. However, after walking 3 blocks, I realized my laptop bag was insufficient and uncomfortable for carrying my camera equipment. After stopping in Atmosphere, a sports store, I picked up a small Osprey day pack and headed out.
When I arrived at the Marche de Jean Talon, it was packed with people searching for fresh fruit and vegetables. Being hungry, I stumbled upon a neat little Italian bakery for some homemade pizza, before returning to the market to wander around and play with my Camera. I picked up a couple of fresh Peaches and decided to take in Mont Royal, a big hill with a huge chateau and spectacular views of the city. Upon arriving at the Chateau, I was surprised to hear the soundtrack from the film Amelie Poulain being played by a young woman sitting at a piano right outside. A backpacker giving a free concert to any passerby that would listen. After an hour or so of walking, I decided to head back. On my way from the Bus to the Metro, I happened upon The Royal Pickles, a Montreal ragtime band playing “I’m Just a Giggolo” for a small audience. The wonderful thing about wandering around and exploring new cities is stumbling upon the small concerts and shows that people often put on. Busking is an art enjoyed by all. I was looking forward to tomorrow. New destination, new adventure.
Another benefit of my hostel’s location was that I was only 3 blocks away from the Bus Station. After settling in to my seat, I was shown a series of safety videos warning me not to play music too loud, not to bang on the seat in front of me, and of course, not to smoke marijuana on the bus. Canada, you disappoint me. But after 3 hours, I had arrived in Quebec City. I was starving so, I grabbed a chicken wrap that tasted about as good as cheese-flavored packing material and caught a taxi to my hostel. Situated in the old town of Quebec, near the board walk and an old Citadel, my hostel Auberge Internationale de Quebec was within walking distance of everything. I checked into my 6 person dorm-room and quickly made the acquaintance of my Parisian room-mate. After walking around the old town, I stopped in and Irish Pub on St. Jean street for another Poutine dinner before heading back to the hostel.
Most good hostels have an area where people can hang out, meet, and usually order a beer. The Auberge Internationale de Quebec was not different. I sauntered up to the bar and ordered a fine Quebecois beer from my new German friend Gunnar, a slightly weird, but laughable German, who has been doing his internship in Hospitality here for the last couple of months. After about 30 minutes, people started piling in, and I came to find out that the Hostel had a Bar crawl planned for that evening. Wanting to meet people and hopefully practice my French a bit more, I decided to tag along. After walking about 3/4 mile, we arrived at our first destination. Aside from two girls from Canada and the US, everyone else was speaking French. I met a number of people from Quebec and France. After 2 stops, I headed back to the hostel tired, and ready to sleep. I got four hours of sleep, before my Parisian roommate returned, drunk. After collapsing on his bed, he quickly passed out and started to snore. After a couple of feeble attempts to quiet him, I resigned myself to a fitful night of sleep. Life in a hostel dormitory.
Lucky for me, he had an early departure, so I was able to sleep in and get a decent amount of rest. After a late start, I finally got some momentum and headed out around noon to catch a bus up to see the waterfalls at Montmorency. Not nearly as spectacular as Iguazu, but nonetheless, it was a cool experience. One which provided me the opportunity to get out of the hustle of the city, and experience nature a (tiny) bit.
I returned to my hostel and took a quick nap before wandering out for some dinner. I spent the evening walking along the boardwalk, taking pictures of the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and venturing to the edge of Lower town. My day was coming to an end, and I had to catch a bus back to Montreal the next day, so I went back to the hostel and decided to hang out with Gunnar one more time before leaving. Gunnar is a funny guy – after expounding upon my troubles with my loud Parisian friend the night before, Gunnar couldn’t help himself but tease me that with his internship came the benefits of having a private room.
Later, another traveler, John, a motorcyclist from New Jersey sauntered up to the bar to have a beer. Squeezing in a small motorcycle trip over 4 days to Quebec City and back, John was a perfect example of someone that was time-poor – someone trying to fit in as much as he possibly could before having to return to work in a couple of days. We talked about travel and he conveyed his desire to travel for a long(er) period of time. Even at 37, he was convinced it wasn’t possible, the threat of his disapproving father hovering above him. I encouraged him to go anyways. Parents (usually) come around. But it was a reminder, that even though I was able to allow myself a week to enjoy Quebec, that I was somehow slipping back into an old lifestyle where my life is mainly dictated by my work and life obligations. While I had felt the dread of leaving Minneapolis for Montreal in the beginning, I had finally settled into a travel rhythm and was enjoying myself. I can feel myself getting restless, now that the thrill of traveling has started to sink back into every pore of my knowing soul. It calls to me like a siren that I cannot ignore. It tugs at me, softly compelling me towards certain decisions without ever realizing why.
The next day, I returned to Montreal feeling that my trip was winding down. I already knew it wouldn’t be enough time to truly decompress. But I do the best that I can, experiencing what I can in the time I have available to me. After checking back into the hostel I had originally stayed at, I decided to look up Cat’s Corner dance studio and take their Friday night dance lesson, followed by their late-night dance. I quickly set out for that area of town, and before arriving at the studio, stopped into a local restaurant for my fifth or sixth poutine dinner. By that time, I had lost track of how much poutine I had eaten on this trip, but suspected that I had eaten close to my body-weight of fries, cheese-curds, and gravy. My Canadian friends would be proud.
I headed to their studio after dinner and checked in for the lesson. It was fairly basic, but I hadn’t expected much. I was mainly there for the dancing and socializing. During the night, I had struck up a conversation with Emily, an attractive dancer who described the experience of Montreal as “orgasmic”. I tried to talk her into being my guide the next day, but she unfortunately had to move into a new apartment. I guess I’ll have to experience the orgasm that is Montreal on my own.
My last day in Montreal was gray and dreary, which was fitting, because that is how it was when I had arrived. It felt like somehow things had come full-circle, and I would be leaving the same way I arrived, but hopefully with something new to take away and influence my life in some positive manner.
I hit the subway one last time and headed out to the Bio-Dome near the Olympic Stadium. The Bio-Dome is somewhat like a zoo, but with 6 different eco-systems. There, they let many of the animals roam free, with some barriers to protect the animals from human interaction. After the Bio-Dome, I headed out to Mile End, a popular area of Montreal. I had heard of a place called Dieu du Ciel (God of Heaven), a brew pub that supposedly had great beer and food. I arrived there late in the afternoon and was lucky to arrive just before a line started forming out the door and down the block. After waiting in line for 20 minutes, I finally reached the bar. I wanted to order food, but there was no place to sit, so I ordered a drink and headed outside to enjoy my beer. Here, I struck up a friendly conversation with a Montreal native and his friend from the US. We discussed politics in which I was told “It’s really up to Ottawa. If the vote among the liberal parties is split like it was last time, then we’ll have Harper for another term. But hopefully they get their shit together and unite under the Liberals.” Imagine that in the most thick Canadian accent you can imagine. Regardless, I was getting hungry, and my new friend recommended heading straight down St. Laurent and finding a place called Schwartz’s. Schwartz’s is well know for making an amazing cured smoked-meat sandwich. When I arrived, the place was packed. I waited 5 minutes before a person directed me to an open spot next to the assembly area. My lucky day. It was in-and-out in this place. I ordered a sandwich and poutine and it arrived in under 10 minutes. The meat was so tender it was literally falling apart on its own. Another satisfying gastronomic experience to add to my travel memories.
And then the evening was spent having dinner at the 3 Brasseurs (3 Brewers) in the old port. I started to zone out and reflect. I had been running around for the last 7 days, experiencing everything I could. It was at a leisurely pace, but one which left me feeling like the trip had been too short. I walked back to my hostel in a very melancholy rain, knowing I’d be sleeping early so that I could catch the 3am bus to the airport. If I take away one thing learned from this trip that I might improve about my travels, it is to book my plane tickets later in the day, so that I might sleep in more.
But here’s to one more week of sleeping in and decompressing before returning to work.