In the City – Tam-Tams

Tam-Tams

What: A weekly gathering of drummers, dancers and curious onlookers jamming away in a park
Where: By the George-Étienne Cartier Monument in Mount Royal Park, Montreal
When: Every Sunday from noon to sunset, May 5 to September 29
Good Stuff to Know: It’s free! Also fairly accessible by transit – from Mont-Royal Metro hop on the 11  bus west until Parc and Rachel. Then, follow your ears – you can’t miss the drumming.

The Scene: Pack your Birks and check your worries at the door – the vibe here is relaaaaxed, yo. Started in 1978 and now one of the most popular activities in the city, the Tam-Tams are not to be missed. On a warm August afternoon I watched hundreds of sweaty and happy people – some young, some old, some friends and some strangers – all groove away to the rhythmic beats of bongos and various percussion instruments. Families sprawl out on blankets with picnics, friends socialize over cold beers and wine, vendors display various crafts – there’s a little something for everyone. Pack some sunscreen and water and whatever else floats your boat, and enjoy.

Montreal, Day Trois

And on the third day, there was sunshine. Quickly followed by a sunburn.

The clouds parted on Saturday morning, just in time for a bike tour I had booked with Fitz & Follwell of some of Montreal’s hippest ‘hoods.The city has almost 500km of bike paths and Bixi stations a-plenty, and everyone – pedestrian, cyclist and motorist – appeared to navigate around each other with ease. Essentially, I was in bike heaven.

For four hours, our group meandered through streets large and small, crossing through the Plateau, Mile End, Little Italy and Outremont. We passed brightly coloured houses, leafy parks, small boutiques, and streets dotted with cafes. Along the way, we learned about the different communities and their inhabitants, and I discovered that Montreal bagels really are the best:

Post-bagel and latte we rode on to Jean-Talon Market. Every guidebook and article I read pushed Atwater Market as the place to be, but I really liked Jean-Talon. It’s a bit rough around the edges in parts, but reminded me a lot of markets in Europe – lots of yelling, lots of commotion, and beautiful food.

People enjoying the surroundings.

 

And cats on leashes. (Wait, this definitely did NOT happen in Europe. European cats are way too sassy to put up with any leash nonsense.)

The bike tour culminated with a lovely picnic lunch overlooking a pond in a park, with the faint sound of an orchestra practicing in the background. I’m not 100% sure if there was an orchestra, or if I was so happy I just imagined it. Could go either way. One thing I’m sure of – allowing people to drink alcohol in parks is a wise move. Well done, Montreal.

Post-tour, I headed back to my hostel to slap on some sunscreen (as I had managed to get a lovely burn) and change into more weather-appropriate attire. I swear I was only inside for 10 minutes, but when I came out with shorts and sunglasses on, raring to go, it had clouded over again. By the time I made it to back to Mile End the clouds were almost black, and my plan of wandering streets and shops came to a quick (and wet) end. Instead, I spent the remainder of my evening camped out at Le Cagibi, enjoying a cheap glass (or two) of wine and my favourite French food, le burrito. I read most of the Vanity Fair that I’d brought with me and relaxed, so I considered it a very successful evening.

I left Montreal really impressed and disappointed that it’s taken me this long to visit. I’ll definitely be going back (hopefully with better weather) and look forward to feeling like I’ve been transported to a friendlier Paris on the cheap again.

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.