Montreal, Days Un et Deux

I’m wrapping up a week off work, thanks to crafty planning around public holidays and generous “bonus days” that my employer occasionally dishes out. Originally, I’d psyched myself up about the idea of a staycation, as I NEVER do that. It’s rare when I spend an entire weekend at my apartment, and I’ve lived there for over 10 months. Yikes. So I planned to take myself to lunch (which I did), go to a movie (also did, at the Lightbox to boot for the first time), wander the AGO (lovely)…and booked a roundtrip ticket on VIA to go to Montreal.

So much for staycations. But I knew I’d get itchy feet. Well planned, past version of me!

Yesterday morning bright and early I suited up (with my backpack, fresh from storage) and headed down to the train station. I’ve never taken VIA, which I felt a bit bad about. I like my Aeroplan points, I usually go places the train doesn’t, etc. etc. So this was a good way for me to alleviate some of that guilt, and also do some work at the same time. And by work, I mean about 30 minutes of it followed by a nap, consuming an expensive cheese plate (more of a plastic container, but plate sounds fancier), and plowing through a few episodes of Homeland.

The train trip was therefore pretty good. Particularly due to a very sweet move by my Dad as the train passed his work parking lot. It was not excellent, however, due to my ability to continuously attract cranky older women while travelling. My seat mate complained about everything, bugged the poor staff relentlessly, and snored. Just like Asia all over again.

Five(ish) hours later, we pulled into Montreal and I trudged into the closest Metro station. Once down there, I immediately forgot where I was and had mad flashbacks to Paris – the sound of the cars clambering in and out of the station, the smell, everything being in French (obviously). It was lovely! Even the exteriors of some of the stations look so Parisien. Thanks, Montreal, for giving me a taste of France on the cheap.

I got to my hostel (M Montreal) quickly and settled in my room. I think this might be one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. It’s clean, new, has exposed brick, includes breakfast, has a bathroom in the room, and initially, only one roommate. Once unpacked, I excitedly went downstairs to wander around for the rest of the afternoon, dashed to the door…and was greeted by lots of rain.

Cursing myself for bringing Toms instead of the rain boots I had left at home, I headed over to Simons along with everyone else in the city, before trudging down to Vieux Montreal. Cobblestone is VERY slippery when wet. Again, cursed the lack of boots with treads as I gingerly made my way to dinner. I was excited to practice my French, and had my order prepared when the server threw my script right out the window and started chatting with me. Or rather, chatted AT me as I struggled to comprehend what was going on. Eventually, she figured out what my jazz hands and charade gestures meant and I switched to English, dejected. At least I tried, right?

Today I was determined to only use French. I managed to exchange pleasantries and ask about the weather with the staff at the hostel (more rain). I said hello to a policeman as I snapped pictures of what I keep referring to as 99(000) luftballons (more pink, really) – it’s actually this – and purchased a day pass for the Metro with no problems. So far, so good. Back in Vieux Montreal I wandered narrow streets, visited the spectacular Notre Dame Basilica (not as spectacular as Paris, but beautiful nevertheless), became the unofficial Notre Dame photographer as a string of about 20 people kept asking me to take their photo…I should start charging…and ordered a latte and croissant. And before you say “Those words are already French!”, I still consider it a victory. I navigated my way to Mont Royal, made it to lunch at the delicious Aux Vivres, and the French fell off the rails again. It’s something about food in a sit-down venue that’s throwing me off. I’m fine with ordering take-out because it’s quick and I can only use the words I have pre-prepared. But at a sit-down…they talk to you first! Merde! I need to keep working on this. Thankfully people are a LOT kinder to my attempts than they were in Paris. Score one for Montreal.

It was a very long day, and I am extremely tired. My pants and shoes are taking their sweet time drying, and then I’ll head out for dinner. I may try (vegetarian) poutine, although I’m a bit afraid of it.

I leave you with my favourite sight of the day – a woman surrounded by what felt like a harem of dogs. Le woof.

Adventures in Hostels

Let’s get a few things straight here. I never really (apart from a few weekends at Guide camp) went to “summer camp”. I am an only child, so there was no sharing of my things. Friends never had bunk beds. So in essence, my first foray into the world of hostels is much like what I imagine summer camp would have been like. While it’s fun to have dinner companions always around, I am still getting the hang of a few things, which include:

  • How people can be comfortable to NEVER wear shoes. It’s not that clean. You go outside, you come back in, I can see that your feet are black, yet here you are with them all in my face (which in itself is an issue, granted, but still). Where are your shoes??
  • Bunk beds. In Kaikoura I was in a 6-person dorm, and for the most part my dorm-mates were good people. Except for the gal that was in the bunk underneath mine, who took it upon herself to apparently travel with her entire wardrobe and just threw her stuff around everywhere. As is generally the case, I had to get up in the middle of the night to go the bathroom, which happened to be located about a five-minute walk in another building. There I was, struggling to get around my bags which I had essentially been spooning as there was no room for my stuff on the ground, when I fell out of the bed and underestimated the distance to the ladder. It felt very Indiana Jones, my hanging there in the darkness, contemplating how far the drop to the ground would be. Would I land on sleeping messy girl? Some of her stuff? What if I hurt myself? A good two, three minutes passed during this moment of reflection before I decided that it was better to risk the fall. So I dropped. Onto messy girl’s collection of CDs that she had left scattered around the bed (sidenote – who brings CDs travelling? I didn’t even bring an iPod!). Apart from a few bruises I was unscathed, but can’t say the same for that CD collection.
  • Cooking. I finally started picking up some groceries as food, as I’ve mentioned, is quite expensive and I just missed cooking. While I have encountered a few pretty impressive chefs on my travels, for the most part I’m seeing a lot of eating cereal directly from the box with a spoon, instant noodles and Nutella and chunks of bread. I went out and bought some brie to have for appetizers, and there were more than a few sideways glances directed at me as I prepared myself a little pre-dinner snack. However, Nutella folks can have the last laugh – my brie didn’t survive the bus ride today.

Today I’m in my own room – in an actual jail cell, in fact, in a hostel in Christchurch. More on that later.