I have been everywhere in this city. My day was non stop and I jsut got in not too long ago. It's 1:15 AM on the 9th. I've been out and about since 9 AM. So much to do. I have walked my feet off in this city. Amazing food at St. Lawrence Market (known world wide as one of the best Markets on the planet) I sampled cheeses, periogis, olives, very unique bagels, sweets, cherries, canadian prosciutto. I traversed across town and went to the Fine Arts Museum known as the Art Gallery of Ontario which had a comprehensive exibit of Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera. Walked Queen Street, went to the CN tower (though I didn't go up in the tower, I jsut went to the base. Went and saw the movie The Birds (Hitchock), visited China Town, St. Patricks' church, explored Dundas Square more, went to Greek Town, to the Village, the theatre district, the financial center, drank Bubble Tea, tasted Canada's favorite coffee at Tim Horton's, etc.
I'll detail all more tomorrow. Toronto is amazing. Very different than Montreal and Ottowa. There's so much to see and do in this city. And people are so friendly here. I've had great chats with people from amnesty international, a charming lady at the Post office, a streeet car driver, etc. Everyone suprised that I chose Canada as a vacation destination, especially in the winter. But why not? This is a great country, with great culture, great cuisine, and people have a sense of national pride. Almost all share the view that the US, while it is a great country, they are very happy living in Canada. There is no US envy here. I must admit, this country seems to be better run, cleaner, healthier, safer, more efficient, and technologically more advanced than the US. Yes they have their issues, but they know they are better off than their neighbor to the south. They do resent taht their economy is so intertwined with theirs because they feel the economic woes of our country here, and everyone has a poor opinion of our Congress because they feel like Americans are much more progressive than their representatives, and the poitical games are quite self destructive. They have mixed opinions of Obama here though not as polarized as the US. They think of him as an OK president. They just express dismay that the US can't get it's financial house in order and because of it it affects the Canadian economy. As someone stated so well: "They need to get their act together and quit playing such stupid political games and posturing in your country, do they not realize that they way the US goes so does the rest of the world since you're economy is so large?" Another telling comment was, "When and why did the US stop being such a progressive country when it came down to social and life issues?" And the ouchy comment but it should make us think as Americans: "We used to think of you as the world leader, but then Cliton left, and you started to change, and then 9/11 happened, and you had us with you, but you messed up that opportunity, and now it's like your country has fallen behind, but you think of yourselves still as world leaders. Economically yes, but not morally, politically, socially, medically, education, but you act as if you are the best nation in the world. Yes, you are one of the better nations, but no longer the best." And after being here 10 days and treveling throughout this country, I can tell you I feel like our country has somehow fallen behind, it somehow doesn't feel as "efficient."
So yesterday I went everywhere! OMG this city is fun. Very different the Tornot. It is also a culinary tresure but of a different kind. The Ontarion Royal Museum is phenomenal. The distillery district has some amazing places to eat. I was going to go see a movie last night but after walking non-stop for 7 hour I came to the hotel to take a nap to later catch the 10:30 PM show of Les Miserable (it's across the street). Well when I woke up it was 4 AM. I propmtly went back to sleep and woke up an hour ago. So I'm runing off. I'll detail all my adventures later. But suffice to say: I also Love Toronto. I Love it differntly then Montreal, but it's also very fun.
So getting off the train and landing in the core of downtown I had a deja vu. I felt like I was in Manhattan. BIG city, TALL buildings, LOTS of traffic even though it's Sunday night. I find my way to the subway and get of on Dundas and Younge "Street. My hotels is off of Dundas. Hello Times Square! Sorry, dundas Square. This city is so much like Manhattan it's startling. And I was able to go have dinner lat night for under $10! IN fact Toronto, outside of the Hotels which seem to run high, is inexpensive from what I could see on the menu prices posted outside of restaurants.
I did go to the Village which is part of downtown last night looking for dinner and did run across a hamburger joint that also did chicken sandwiches and Salmon Burgers. So I had a Salmon burger with fetra and chutney on a whole weat bun. That sandwich sums up my first impressions of this city: a hodge podge of cultures, ehtnicities, and cultures.
Well I'm off to explore. I promise to get pictures up of Ottowa. The host of my website was having issues with their servers last night so I didn't post at all. But I'll get pics up soon! I'm off to explore!
Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica Ottawa
The interior of the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica Ottawa
National Gallery of Art, Ottawa with the wild "spider" sculpture out in front.
Parliament lit up for Christmas with snowflake designs and green and red. GORGEOUS!
Heart and Crown Pub at night in Ottawa. Best fish & chips ever.
The high today was -10 centigrade or 14 farenheit which was a perfect day to go for a swim. I’ve never swum in sub zero temperatures, so I figured why not? I had packed my swimsuit. So I went for a swim this morning. The water was cold but not too bad. But it was interesting swimming and watching it snow through the windows of the hotel.
I then munched on two croissants I bought at t a local bakery, made myself a cup of coffee, repacked my suitcase and went out exploring.
This tyime I went to Bytown, or Bywater, (the locals call it by both names). It’s next to the water and it was the original settlement of Ottawa. Now it’s an area full of shops, galleries, restaurants, pubs, etc. I have a feeling there was probably more action last night in this neighborhood then the desolate though charming Bank Street. Not that there were many people about. Parliament isn’t in session and something tells me this town crows up when the politicians are in town. It’s also on the other side of the Rideaus canal….and guess what? More Anglos are on that side of the river! LOL. The UK influence in Ottowa is pronounced. It also has a large Irish population, (yep even the homeless ask for money in an Irish brogue) and I think that is why just about at every corner there’s a pub. Fish and Chips is a staple in Ottawa. So I decided for lunch after wandering thoruhg the Mywater Marketplace area I’d try one of the more prominent and well known establishments called the Heart & Crown.
I’ve had fish and chips before, this place is supposed to be the place for fish and chips. They deserve being known for it. The batter is done with Guiness and the fries are something somehow crispy and soft on the inside. Also food prices in Ottawa are comparable to the US and so are the prices of sodas (though I’ve yet to have one). Perhaps is a Quebecois tax on the junk food. I noticed people in Ottawa which is Ontario don’t tend to be as uniformly slim (seeing an overweight person in Montreal is surprising, not so much in Ottawa though they are generally not as obese as us Americans.
I must say the cultural difference between Montreal, Quebec, and Ottawa, Ontario, is simply tremendous. I feel like I’ve visited 2 different countries. While Ottawa feels more Americanized there is also a tremendous British influence here in the food, the manner of behaving (more aloof), the architecture, etc. So it’s definitely not like the US, but it’s definitely not like Quebec.
After lunch I went to the National Galelry of Fine Arts. This is like the Smithsonian for Canada. Truly a World Class Museum. Not huge and as extensive like the Metropolitan in New York but the artwork in it is World Famous. The Van Gogh is one of the jost famous paintings of the Irissi he did. Warhol was represented by the famous Brillo Boxes (which customs turned away when the Museum acquired it because they thought they were shipped incorrectly, they were shipped as “Art” and the customs officials sent them back saying they had to be shipped as “Merchandise.” The Monet’s are some of his most famous paintings (no water lily’s though), and the same goes with the Degas, Magritte, Tintoretto, Jackson Pollock, Rembrandt, Cezanne, etc. Around each corner there was a gasp inducing work of art. The contemporary collection takes up ½ the building, so it has one of the best collections of 20th century art.
So then I hiked back in the sub zero temperatures with the non-stop snow shower and jumped on the bus and headed back to the trains stop.
I got on the Via Rail car and no one was assigned in my seat next to me so I spread out. I also found out this was an express train so I’m getting into Vancouver a little earlier then I thought without constant stops. Of course most of this trip is post sundown so I really couldn’t see anything out the windows but for the few towns the train races through.
The internet connection wasn’t as strong on this trip so that is why this blog entry was so delayed. I’ll post pics tomorrow.
Sixth day continued
To say that Ottowa is a melting pot of cultures would be an understatement. As a Caucasian I am definitely in the minority here. All day long I've heard people speak in Portuguese, Hindi, Farsi, French, Catalan, Greek, etc.
Ottawa is the capital of Canada and it is a large city. Nowhere near as large and urban as Montreal but it's a big city nonetheless. It also has a very British quality to it. there are many pubs, the architecture is definitely not French but English. Even though this is supposedly a very walk able city, it isn't as walk able as Montreal for things are a little bit more spread out then what the tourism guides alluded to. Each block is large, closer to the size of Manhattan (not the distances between streets but the distances between Avenues). So to walk 3 blocks is to walk a good 1/2 mile, so when the guide maps say it's only 5 blocks away well, you are covering almost a mile. The hotel is located in the middle of everything so nothing is more then a mile in each direction.
I arrived at the train station which isn't in the downtown area and rode the bus into town. No metro here and though they are supposed to offer an all day pass you can't get it at the bus stops. I have yet to find where exactly you are supposed to get the all day pass. so I've had to pay for each bus fare. Obviously the city isn't designed for tourism.
This said it has a "tourist" attraction that made coming to this city worth while: Parliament Hill. this is the Capitol Hill of Canada. a Neo-Gothic building that is simply spectacular and they do offer free tours of the interior of the building. Not a short 30 minute tour but closer to an hour and then the guided tour ends and you continue with your own self guided tour to other parts of the building. I was there nearly 3 hours exploring this monumental building.
I even got to go up into the peace clock tower. And the inside of the building is breathtaking.
My hotel. Pretty on the outside but very predicatable (though still lovely) on the inside. Definitely a businessman's hotel. comfrotable, well located, clean, and "safe" decor. This said every item in the room is of great quality so it is nice, but not visually exciting desing wise.
Then I came back to the hotel which is a lovely hotel. The lobby leaves lots to be desired and well the rooms are lovely, but very much done for business travelers. Which is really the point of this city. This city is a city whose main purpose is related to government. It's purely functional and all throughout the downtown are the embassies for every country. The ugliest looking embassy is the US embassy which looks like an ostentatious fort. This explains why so many people from so many nationalities inhabit the downtown area.
so after taking a much needed nap I went to go eat Indian food at Monimahal Indian Buffet. This is labeled as the largest buffet in "North America of Indian food" with over 100 dishes served. Well yes if you count cucumbers for your salad in a bowl as a separate dish. Nonetheless it is an amazing all you can eat buffet. While some of the Trip Advisor reviews have been negative I found the restaurant superb. It was inexpensive and man were the dishes spicy. the huge buffet was divided into northern and southern Indian fare. Spicy is an understatement. While not all dishes were sear your mouth hot all of them had a pronounced flavor. I was one of three non-Indians eating there. The other two were part of a large group of about 30 that were celebrating the engagement of a young couple. The mother/mother in law to be was fluttering around the restaurant greeting her guests, making sure they were all enjoying themselves. The group was dressed to the nines. I felt like I must have been on a Bolly-wood set with all the women in their most spectacular saris encrusted with jewels and pallets, and rhinestones, and crystals, and their hair was all done up with hair pins and jewels hanging from their hair, and the amount of 22k gold hanging from ears, wrapped around their wrists as bracelets and bangles, woven into the hair as hair adornments...well had someone robbed the place and took all the jewelry worn they would have made a fortune. The men were almost all dressed in traditional kurftas and kaftans looking dapper. I detected two different dialects of Hindi being spoken and then as the two groups intermingled (the bride and the groom to be) French was spoken as the common language or at times English. So maybe the locals give this place a mediocre review but seeing how everyone there was Indian and really enjoying the food, and finding myself experiencing a chicken tikka masala that was far more zestier and intensely flavored then anything I ever had before I'd say this was probably quite authentic....and amazingly good. I wish we had this restaurant in Dallas, I'd eat there all the time.
Oh I forgot to mention that after having climbed allover parliament I did try out a Canadian franchise restaurant called Eggspecation. they basically serve amazing breakfasts all day. I believe it's a chain out of Montreal. Let me put it this way I practically licked the plate. Oh, and they only serve "true" Canadian Maple syrup. this is a particular delicacy from what I understand for only certain syrups qualify as such. Let me put it this way, I'm not a maple syrup kind of guy, but this liquid was like liquid gold to me. It's not as thick as regular syrups but the flavor is magnificent. I actually poured some into my coffee. I could simply drink it straight if it were allowed.
Ok I'm off to go see Parliament again. It's supposed to be stunningly decorated. Bank street is the night life street which is 4 blocks away, sort of on the way to Parliament so I'm out for my nighttime stroll.
I got up this morning at 6:30 and made a quick breakfast. I had already packed so it was a rather unhurried morning getting to the train station.
What a journey! The country side is stark, white, cold and austere. Rivers are frozen over, the leaf-less trees stand as silent sentinels guarding the cold and ice. There is a silent peace blanketing the land. Small villages and hamlets dot the countryside half buried in the extensive and deep snow. It’s stunning in its bleakness, yet in a peculiar way quietly beautiful.
Montreal has been an exceptional experience. I know I had a nearly daily cry. But how could I not? When one is exposed to the unadulterated beauty of life, one cannot help but get emotional. Be it the the majestic Cathedrals or Basilicas where humans have expressed their true devotion to God by building a monumental building in honor of their beliefs, or the gift of nature intermingling with human ingenuity by snowing purple on New Year’s Eve, or the expression of humanity and love by the simple gesture of a hug by a stranger, each moment was so genuine that one can’t help feeling connected to the world and to life. Either by fate or our own creation we are meant to experience the joy of life, but unfortunately we occupy our minds too much at times to really allow ourselves to experience it. But every now and then take a moment to stop.
To experience life unfettered of doubt, fears, and disappointments is what we must aim for if we are to be content. Doing this will allow us to feel the true love that exists before us. Take a moment to breathe, clear your mind and experience this moment, this instant, and you’ll be able to experience the grace of living.
So yes, I’m waxing philosophical this morning. But how could I not? I’m still reeling from the smells, sights, tastes, sounds and that soul touching hug from last night. To be alive with all your senses unbound, that is key to happiness.
Next update will come from Ottawa.
The train connects many of these small villages in the countryside. This is the Casselman train station in the province of Ottawa.
So the owner of the apartment shot me an email saying I should check out the Snow Village. Today was opening day and it was open at night. It's only 1 metro stop away on the yellow line on the small island that is Parc Jean-Drapeau. Well I got off the train and I can't find anything. Only the well known Biosphere. I head in that direction because it's the only lights around. the Biosphere is amazing at night, it's gorgeously lit. But it's a museum and it was closed at night.
I do spot some other light and walk in that direction. Now the website said it's a three minute walk from the metro station. I have walked more then 3 minutes. The Parc is dark mostly and the walkways...well I'm feeling apprehensive because though its beautiful there is no one else around and this park is huge, like Central Park in NY. So I decide to take a path to where I see some lights in the distance, swallow hard wondering if I really should be out at night in this dark park and then a light goes on, then another, then another. The walkways are motion sensitive and as you walk through the park the light post light up. It's a really cool effect and sure enough they stay on long enough for me to make it close to another light post and that one lights up and the one I left behind turns off. So I go over the hill enjoying my magical abilities to light up my pathways and I see the Snow Village. Most of it is still under construction except the restaurant and bar. YOWZA! it's a huge building made out of ice and snow. They haven't finished it all, they just opened that night for dinner and cocktails so they let me in for free to look around. It's like the world's biggest igloo.
But I have saved the best part for last. I don't know if you know fo the free hug movement. If you haven't then you will need to see the video below. They're doing it in Montreal! In fact I immediately recognized the signs and I gallopped my way over to the girl offering the hug and bear hugged her. I cried. I was so moved by it. Even writting this brings back tears of joy. What a most wonderful thing to have happened to me. and you know its funny because just like in the video people are skeptical about what it's all about. it simply is just that sharing love and joy for the sake of love and joy. Nothing asked for, no money, nothing, just a hug to let you know you are valued as a human being. And this will be one of those moments that I will remember for the rest of my life as being one of the best moments ever.
So here's the video of when it was done in Italy. Get out a tissue for it'll make you cry.
I'm back at the apartment and it's 6:20 PM. I am munching down on a charcuterie plate I created with cheeses, tourine, breads, olives, smoked meat, raspberries and the addictive carrots that I roasted.
this has turned out to be quite the adventure of a day.
When I went to put on a pair of jeans, they were slightly loose! I have actually managed to shrink in the waist on this trip. Well, considering snack food and sodas are so expensive in this country since it's taxed so highly, and becasue I am walking for hours on end, and I'm eating all very natural unprocessed foods it only makes sense that I've lost weight. Canadians are a healthy bunch. You rarely see overweight people. In fact everyone is so very thin here.
So I first went to Place des Arts to the Contemporary museum. If you like post modern art then this is a must see museum. They were doing a retrospective on abstract art. You know canvasas with jsut pain on them, no figures, no drawings, just pain on canvas, sometimes multi colored, sometime monochromatic. There was so much of it that even though I'm not a huge fan of this art movement I got into it and found myself staring at red canvases that seeme to pulse if you stand in front of them, or whimsical sqaures taht somehow made me smile. There was even a scultpure of three broken pieces of wood that somehow made me feel sad. Along with that exhibit there was a retrospective of a Canadain modern artist Pierre Dorion. Most of his artwork is comprised of photorealiztic painitings of banal and boring spaces: hallways, wood paneling, dirty windows on buildings, empty apartments, etc. There was an opressive quality to them that was haunting. If this is how he views the world I'm suprised he hasn't commited suicide. That or he's a happy person with a really dark, dark side:
Yes, that is actually one of his paintings. Keep in mind it's quite large too so you feel almost as you could step into the canvas. Except his world is so monochromatic and grim I wouldn't want to live there...but wait...a lot of the world looks like that. And that's his point he makes us look at the really bland surroundings we frequently crate as humans, and how we take those spaces for granted, but when you see them in a painting, it makes you examine all the ugliness we put up with on a daily basis.
I then went to Chinatown. Montreal has one of the largest Chinatowns in North America and just like in San Francisco's Chinatown you enter a whole new world.
I stopped at Ethan's for some soup and dim sum. Ethan may sound like an improbable name for a Chinese restaurant. Sounds more like a British pub. Except I don't know many pubs that hang in their front windows Dead ducks and roasted whole pigs. It's patronized by both Chinese and Caucasians. The menu is pretty much divided between the dishes you recognize and those you don't. I of course opted for the lesser known side of the menu. The shrimp dumplings were marvelous, and the pork "rice rolls" were too. I say "rice rolls" because that's what they are called, but there isn't a grain of rice to be found on that dim sum dish. It's more like a long white tentacle made of rice flower stuffed with pork swimming in light syrupy brown sauce. It's one of those dishes that you don't look at if you have a problem with visuals, just taste, moan in pleasure for it's so tasty, and keep eating.
I then decided to hop the metro and explore. I went to station Jean-Talon which is more on the northern side of the island. I figured I'd jump off the metro and see what was there.
That's where the Hispanics live!!!! Along with the Thai! and Vietnamese!
It's a weird melting pot of three distinct cultures. Ethnic grocery stores, signs in Spanish (mostly from South America), Vietnamese and Thai. It's a hodge podge of a neighborhood with the typical Montreal home architecture. Montreal homes are like three story apartments. Each floor is it's unique apartment. There are curved exterior stairways connecting the street to the different floors. So there's these floating staircases made of metal connecting the sidewalk up to sometimes dizzying heights to the front doors to the unit. Looking down a street it's like a real live 3D Chutes and Ladder game.
But really there wasn't much to see at that intersection unless I wanted to find Queso Fresco, Tortillas, Fish Sauce, and Oolong tea.
so I jumped on the Blue Line and went to Outremont.
I didn't think Montreal could get more fabulous. Outremont is on the other side of Mont Royal so it's on the north end of town. This is definitely a neighborhood worth visiting, though it really doesn't serve as a tourist attraction. it's slightly more upscale, but not
I first stopped at a Pâtissier called Lescurier. Think of it as a high end Boulangerie (Bakery). the most beautiful breads imaginable. i bought a four small "breads" which I have been devouring as I type this. I then walked down the street and decided to get my hair cut. This cold weather and wearing a hat non-stop has played havoc with my hair. I notice very few men have long hair, or even medium length hair. since you have to wear a ski cap at all times it just makes keeping any kind of length of hair impossible. this said lots of men have really great looking short cuts. So I entered Coiffure Sabrina to get my hair cut. (The bakery is to the left of the car, Sabrina's is behind the car, and the cheese shop which I'll mention later is to the right):
That's Chinatown above.
So I go in and get my hair cut. I needed to...my hair has been a mess since I've gotten here. It's limp the grey roots are showing and it was time. So I go in. Well, they only speak French, I only speak English. Till one lady working there steps up and she knows some English, but she isn't the one who is going to cut my hair. My hair knowledge in French is non-existent. So with hand signals and my attempt to remember the word for hair in French I say "pelo" which means hair in Spanish. I'm hoping the French word is close to that. The stylist laughs and says "Cheveux? Pelo est l'espagnol" to which I say "parlez-vous espagnol?" To which she says "Si, lo hablo, soy de Chile." Yes I speak it I'm from Chile. We both laugh uproariously because we'd been struggling trying to communicate and we actually had a language in common. Well, I became the focal point of entertainment in the Salon. And $27 later I got myself a fabulous short French Canadian Men's hair cut so now I really look like a native. Before I left she told me I MUST go to the cheese shop next door and treat myself to a piece of cheese. I did.
And as I've typed this I polished it off, it was a basil and tomato chevreaux that ought to be illegal it was sooo good.
As I walked out of the cheese shop I spotted a cute little boutique across the street. I bought a few items there that will fit flat in my suitcase. it was an adorable gift store with very affordable and artsy stuff in it.
Outremont is truly a great neighborhood, one that I need to spend more time in next time I visit Montreal.
I then hopped on the Metro and came back to the hotel to update this blog.
I need to do some laundry (the apartment comes with a washer and drier) and then pack for my train leaves at 8:40 in the morning. Montreal has been even better this second visit. It truly is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan, and charming city. It really combines the best of the efficiency of the US with the artful quality of the French, and the soul and friendliness of the Latin temperament.
Oh and it was a balmy 30 degrees today. I am so accustomed to the cold that today I found myself not always wearing my hat or keeping my coat zipped up. How quickly I climatized.
OK, and I must confess something. The steak I ate last night wasn't beef. Cheval is sold here, and it was right next to the packaged beef steaks. Color wise they are almsot identical, the stake I chose looked nice and red and lean so I picked it out. I failed to read the second line on the tag identifying what kind of meat it was. I bought a round steak thinking it was beef, but it wasn't till I got ready to cook it that I discovered that there was a second line describing the steak, it wasn't "Boeuf" but "Cheval". OMG! I paused. Should I try it? I don't know. I am hungry. Bruno told me I should try it while visiting here, that I would like it. Of course I already had bought it without realizing it. So yes, I ate it and loved it. It tastes similar to Kobe Beef, but much leaner, and the texture was almost identical to Beef: a little more tender but also slightly stringier. I realized this confession may change your perception of me. But it was bought and I wasn't going to throw it away so I figured I'd try it. I still have an ethical dilemma about eating Cheval but darn it, it was good, really really good. And if you don't know what Cheval is and you think it might upset you knowing I ate some, then don't look it up.
If i don't write tomorrow morning it's because I have to be a the train station so early. My next post will be from Ottawa!!!!!!!!
What to do today? It's snowing. Really snowing. I had my leisurely breakfast of bread, cheese, yogurt, raspberry, espresso, and smoked meat. I'm saving my last chocolate croissant till later as a dessert.
There's so much I want to go see and do and but I'm soooo enjoying being lazy in this apartment. I wish I had more time in Montreal. This week has flown by. I may run over to Place des Arts and see what's showing at the contemporary. Or battle the crowds to go and try and catch the impressionism exhibit. The only reason I'm not so eager to go to the impressionism exhibit is that I've actually already seen most of the work gathered in that exhibit as part of other exhibits. But then tonight after 5 Pm admission is only $10 so I might go.
Ok. I guess I'll wander down to the Place des Arts and the underground city for a while. Or maybe pick a random Metro stop on the Plateau and explore since the other night going to the pharmacy which was closed yielded quite a delightful walking tour. This city is on an island so you technically can't get completely lost, you can only go so far and hit the river and or run across a metro stop.
When you next read a post you'll find out what all I did. In the mean time Bonjour!
I went to Vieux Montreal, the old city and wandered and wandered and wandered. Nothing like walking on cobblestone streets in the snow looking at picturesque shop windows. This area of town is the most touristy but with so few tourists wandering around it felt like I had the place to myself. Well actually, I kind of did. Lots of businesses are closed for the week as they take an extended Holiday. I did go to the Marché Bonsecours which is a large pavilion with shops all dedicated to Canadian arts. artisans, and merchandise. I shopped. Not an inexpensive place to go, mind you, so I didn't buy much, but let's just say I've taken care of gifts that I know I'll have to give for quite a while. I also bought stuff that can fit flat in my suitcase. the building itself is gorgeous:
I did try to go to the small bistro I went to last year but it was a mom and pop place and they were closed but across the street was another Chez Suzette. I had as an appetizer escargot and then as an entree quiche Lorraine with a green salad. Vraiment délicieux. (Truly delicious). I then went to Pointe-a-Calliere which is where the Musée d'archéolgie et d'historie de Montréal is. The original settlement of Montreal is housed beneath the building including the foundations of the first buildings, and the cemetery. Then on the second floor they had a spectacular exhibit on the Samurai. Apparently some scholarly individual by the name of Richard Béliveau has amassed one of the most jaw dropping and extensive collections of Samurai clothing, masks, swords, etc. Truly phenomenal. I balk at paying $18 to see an exhibit but this was truly spectacular. No photography allowed but here are some of the exhibit pictures from the website:
I knew I wanted to go to Centaur theatre to catch a couple of shows for their festival but I didn't want to carry the bags from shopping so I metro'd it back to my apartment with a small detour. there's a store that sells Converse shoes which is what I wear. That's pretty much all they sell. It has hundreds of styles that I've never seen in the US. So as my souvenir from Montreal I bought myself a new pair of Converse (I did this last year).
I dropped off my things, made myself a cup of coffee and jumped back on the Metro to go back to where I was just an hour and a half earlier. The Museum is right by the theatre. I caught two wonderful shows. Keep in mind this is a theatre festival so the plays are all about 1 hr in length.
The first one was a Day in the Life of Ms. Hiccup. Marvelous. The entire one woman show is done in gibberish and sound effects and it is just that a day in the life of this strange human. She's saddled by hiccups but manages to overcome them causing much joy and laughter in the audience...or so you think...you then realize almost the entire play was in her imagination and she is someone that is truly disabled because of her hiccups. WOW! Here's a picture of the colorful character (also press photo):
So after that show I had an hour to kill till the next show. I hadn't eaten so I grabbed an appetizer at a restaurant across the theatre. Yes, it was a "Mexican" restaurant. Named "Best Mexican" according to the wall plaque given to them by the Montreal Newspaper. Let me put it this way, it's Canadian-Mex. The salsa has ketchup in it. The spinach quesadilla was tiny like a regular flour tortilla folded in half, (not the big one folded in half) and for $13.95 I got sticker shock seeing how small it was. This said it was quite good though chevre is not a cheese you usually put in a Quesadilla. The Guacamole was basically mashed avocado with a hint of garlic. it was good but nowhere near the real thing. The Margarita was supposed to be frozen, but it was more like a thawed slushy. The flavor on that was spot on. This munch stop cost me with tip $25! yeah it's expensive to eat out in this city. So back to the theatre.
I saw a delightful musical Nothing Never Happens in Norway. it was two Ibsen plays intertwined and spoofed. I'm not that knowledgeable in Ibsen but that's OK. The performers break the 4th wall down and explain his theatre to you as they do the scenes. it's a riot of a show.
Then I camE back to the hotel and now I'm going to make myself dinner.
Oh and I forgot While wandering thought the Old City I did stop in and visit Notre Dame Basilica. Truly one of the most spectacular churches on the planet:
So now it's late and I'm really hungry! So I'm off to cook some dinner. I'm having steak with a garlic and shallot orange sauce! yes I'm becoming quite French Canadian mixing fruits into savory dishes. And some more of those delicious and flavorful carrots and tasty crimini mushrooms on the side. Bon Apetit and Bon Soir.
So it currently is zero degrees and the high today will maybe reach 7. That's OK. Because I'm actually now accustomed to this intense cold.
I didn't go out last night. I fell asleep on the couch watching the top 10 music videos of 2012 on MVM (like MTV but for French speaking Canadians). All I remember is Celine Dion was #9. She was singing in French while walking on some white sands in a desert and clutching her throat sensually. Pretty song, pretty voice, and it was about missing her father, and she lulled me to sleep one minute into it because next thing I know I wake up and it's nearly 1 AM and there's a "How music saves the world" quasi documentary about all the different videos and artists that have done recordings for causes like "We are the World" etc. It really was an excuse to show lots of videos with a bit of social commentary thrown in. Obviously my understanding of French has increased drastically. I even attempted to speak it some yesterday. It feels like my brain is in transition. When you are this steeped in a foreign language you really have no choice but to learn it. I guess if I was on the English speaking side of Montreal I wouldn't be learning the language as quickly, but being in this part of Montreal you have no choice, it's that or you'll never be able to find a bathroom, order food, etc. I did have someone ask me in French which metro to get on to go to a certain place. I was able to say slowly "sur la ligne vert, allez al 'est se la station Beaudry, Paipneau est arret numero deux." (On the green line, head east to the Beaudry station, the Papineau is stop number two)
Of course grammatically I butchered the language but the person smiled and thanked me and then said "Votre Francais est bon." Which made me laugh because no my French inst' good.
"Oui? Merci. Io parlo il Espagnol." Which got me a strange look. She understood the Oui and Merci but not the rest of the sentence. I realized I had just said IN ITALTIAN I speak Spanish, so I quickly rephrased "je parle Espagnol."
"Un peu. ( a little.)
And with that we went our separate ways.
I also am finding myself making more and more spelling error as I write this blog because I keep typing in French spellings to some of the words which are similar since this is my only opportunity to communicate in English throughout the day. I keep having to spell check it. How weird the brain works.
So I'm done eating my croissant, pastries, yogurt (blood orange yogurt, so good and not a flavor you'd find in the USA). and Cafe Americain (espresso coffee diluted in water). So I'm off to journey the city some more. I think I'll visit the old town. I think cobble stone streets are calling my name. Also it's supposed to snow this afternoon so a stroll in the historic part of town will do me good.
Troisième jour .... ou comment les carottes viennent en différentes couleurs et saveurs
Did you know carrots come in different colors and flavors? I didn't but I sure learned that today.
I slept in till 10 AM...what a luxury! Bruno had texted me moments earlier to tell me he'd meet me at Le Sandwich Shoppe in the Village at noon. That's a restaurant that looks quite funky and fun and I meant to eat there last year but never got around to it. Perfect! I'll try it this go around. But that meant I had a couple of hours to kill. So after showering and shaving I jumped into my warmest clothes (high today was going to be 4 degrees according to the last minute forecast) and went out the door. I headed to the nicer grocery store Provigo.
This is where I found carrots in mutli colors. I like carrots but I've never had a purple carrot or a yellow one or a red one, either. Why not? I found some Toulouse sausages I could cook, a couple of small sirloin steaks, mushrooms, (they are really cheap here and gorgeous), shallots, and of course some croissant, and a couple of other pastries and more bread. I got some fromage (cheese) olives and Canadian ham. I also bought instant espresso so as to have coffee in the morning. I also found horse meat. I didn't' buy any. So with three bags of groceries I headed back to my apartment to drop off the groceries and jump on the metro to meet Bruno.
After a two hour plus lunch full of laughter and catching up we went out separate ways. He's going on his vacation tomorrow to Puerto Vallarta and still hadn't packed because he'd just gotten back from celebrating New Year's with his family. I headed to the fabulous Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. They are doing a major Impressionism exhibition. I actually didn't want to go to see the exhibition because you have to buy tickets in advance I wanted to visit the rest of the museum but to get in there was a line with a 15 minute wait to just enter the building. Of course once in the bulk of the crowd was headed to the ticket counter whereas the few of us that wanted to see the rest of the museum got in free. It's really a lovely museum with some great art from lesser known or famous painters with a small handful of blockbuster from well known artists like Picasso, Rembrandt, El Greco, Monet, etc. so after wandering around for a few hours my legs were giving out so I decided to head on back. I jumped on the metro went to the Sherbrook station and walked down hill to my hotel where I began making dinner. And yes, as I finish this, dinner is ready, I'm having a salad and the Toulouse sausages with roasted yellow, purple, and red carrots. I did bite into them raw to see what they were like, very carrot-y the yellow one was more bitter, and the purple one was sweeter. The red was pretty much like the regular carrot.
After dinner I may head down to the old port and see the lights and decorations...or sit and watch French Music videos, or a movie...who knows I'm on no one else's schedule but mine!
Deuxième jour continue...or how nothing is open on New Years in Montreal.
01/01/13 8:21 PM
So I went in search of a grocery store that was open. Denis had recommended a store a little bit away from here saying it was a really nice grocery store. He's a foodie so he ought to know. Based on where it was it was near the Cathedral La Reine du Monde. Which I visited last year. This Cathedral is a replica of St Peter's in Rome but in a smaller scale. Keep in mind this Cathedral is enormous. It truly makes you feel humble when you step in. The artwork is phenomenal and it has the most spectacular crucifix in the Baptismal chapel that brings tears to my eyes:
It really is so spectacular and large that there is no way a camera can capture the majesty of this building.
So after visiting the Cathedral for an hour I hopped on the bus to go to the grocery store. Keep in mind the high today hovered around 11 degrees but then the winds made it go below sub zero on the wind chill. I get to the grocery store. Closed. I remember last year that Provigo, which is another grocery store chain with an incredible bakery, was open on NY till 6 PM. So I hike up the hill to it and this year they decided to close. It's 3 PM now and I'm hungry. EVERY restaurant is closed but I run across a small Crepe whole in the wall place that is open and have myself a Pear and cheese Crepe with walnuts and raisins. Yum. Good, but not too terribly filling, but enough to tide me over.
I then hop on the cross town bus -did I mention I have a bus pass for Montreal, and I can traverse the city on metro and bus like a native?- down to the other side of Berri to the other grocery store Le Marche Richelieu because that one is supposed to be open.
What a dump of a grocery store. Lousy selection and slightly overpriced. So I bought some essentials: herbed butter which is offered here along with salted and unsalted, a bottle of red wine, mushrooms, raspberries, French green beans, yogurt, a baguette, and a pork loin, so I'm actually making a pork loin roast with champignon, raspberries, in a red wine demiglace with butter sauce. Which should be ready in about another hour. I'll have a side of the harticourt vertes with it.
I didn't mention that I forgot to bring my tooth brush. So when I got back to my apartment I realized "darnation" I didn't buy one at the store. Well the store was closing at 6 PM so it was too late. I did find on line a drug store up on Plateau Mont Royal that would be open till 10 PM. So I hoof it over to the Uqam/Berri metro station to travel north to the Plateau. I get off the Plateau and across the metro stop is the drug store...and they decided along with every other business in this town to close. Keep in mind even the Starbucks are closed on NY. That's how major the holiday is. Well maybe I can find a little convenience store that is open. So I hike my way down Mount Royal...A fabulous neighborhood full of used bookstores, Cd stores, vintage clothing shops, some upscale some downscale. But all closed. I have fun window shopping anyway. I head back to the Metro station and see that a block away off of St. Denis there are lights and what looks like a possible store. Nope it's closed but on the corner is the famous restaurant "Fameaux." Fameaux aka Famous is known for Poutin the national dish of Canada. It's a charcuterie that specializes in smoked meat sandwiches and this national dish. I of course decide I must go in and have a small serving of their most famous dish. OMG was it good. I've had poutin in this city before but Famous deserves being famous for their extraordinary take on this dish. It's basically french fries with brown gravy, brick cheese curds (like small mozzarella balls) and smoked pork and brisket. A very hearty dish that really warms you up when you eat it. Since the temperature was now about 0 degrees it was a nice stop.
So then I hiked my way back to the Apartment instead of riding the metro. I knew there were lots of stores on St. Denis. But all of them are closed including convenience stores. So not toothbrush till...this hole in the wall place I was able to pick up a razor last year. Owned by Koreans. So I got myself a toothbrush finally and continued hiking my way back from the Plateau down to the Latin Quarter where I'm staying. Lots of great shops, cafes, resale stores, high end boutiques. It's a hodgepodge of everything and since the wind was at my back I didn't mind the zero degree temperature so I strolled it back enjoying the holiday decor the city put up on every light post and the festive windows. I finally made it back to the apartment an hour ago. And yes even though I had the poutin, a few hours have gone by now and I hiked a mile in the snow. Keep in mind it's been so cold and there's been so much snowfall that they can't get it all cleared off the sidewalks so it's literally trudging through the snow which is quite an aerobic workout. So I have built up an appetite so as I finish for today's blog I just heard the oven go off so dinner will be ready in about another 15 minutes or so. Oh and I've been sipping a french red wine all along while typing.
Had a wonderful breakfast this morning and met some of the other guests in the B&B next door. My apartment doesn't come with a Breakfast but for $10 I could indulge so I did. Denis made a wonerful apple and mushcroom omlette. Unusual combination but it really worked quite well, and the fresh bread was, as expected phenomenal. he also had some of his homemade strawberry and bluberry preserveds which are made with Maple syrup instead of suger. Also delish. He and I ended up hanging out and chatting afterwards. Sharing stories about having to be a business owner and for him he loves his job but sometimes he does feel like he has to be always "on" for his customers, as if in performance mode. So as I was getting ready to pay for the breakfast he said don't bother, it was on him. "No, really, you can't just be comping breakfast." "No, you did me a favor." He said I was rather "entertaining" and he appreciated the fact that it took him off of performance mode since I got all the guests talking and sharing stories. There were two couples from Florida, one from Boston and another from Toronto.
I also found out that the apaertment I'm staying was his original apartment befoer he bought the B&B. The man has impeccable taste. Oh and the bed! I have no idea what matrewss brand I'm sleaping on but it is heaven. and his bathroom! Well let me put it this way, the walk in shower has three shower heads, one that hits you on each side and then a rainshower from above. You are literally enveloped in water.
So I'm going to take it easy today since everything is closed. I will run off ot the grocery store this afternoon before they close after I move in to the other apartment. The reason for my move is that this apartment doesn't have a full kitchen anymore, I do need a stove so as to cook.
By Mark-Brian Sonna Travel Blog | December 31, 2012 at 12:45 AM EST | 1 comment
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T moins 14 heures..... la nuit avant d'aller à Montréal (T minus 14 hours...the night before going to Montreal)
The show ended today on such a high note. The set was struck and I set up the new set was set up in the rehearsal space so when actors go in on the 3rd they can rehearse with the actual set. I am exhausted. But I there is no stopping! My pointe shoes are put away and I am doing laundry. Mike Hathaway will be condo sitting and I'm also cleaning house.
Since I can check in a head of time and get my boarding pass I went ahead and did so on-line. To my surprise i was seated in first class. I did not purchase a first class seat! But yep, after confirming it, I am sitting in first class!!! What an exciting way to start a trip! If you need to get in touch with me my phone does work in Canada, but it is ling distance so only contact me if you need. Text messages also cost extra for me to get there so I know many of you like to text Happy new Year to me. But this go around, please don't. I know you wish me well, but it'll cost me extra per text. So if I don't text back don't take it personally.
I also go a confirmation of the apartment I'm staying in while I visit Montreal. it's all good to go!
All I have to do now is pack...after it dries.
I'm not sure if I will have time to blog tomorrow morning before I depart, and since my flight gets in so late into Montreal on NYE I may not blog at all tomorrow since I know the first thing I'll do after checking in is running down to the wharf and partake in the Quebecois custom of eating ice cream, drinking hot chocolate, roasting marshmallows and watching people ice skating on the St. Lawrence river.
The expected high tomorrow is 24 Fahrenheit, and the low tomorrow night will be of 8 Fahrenheit with a wind chill of -7. With snow flurries in the day and evening so it'll make it a picturesque NYE. Then on Tuesday the high is of 9! By Wednesday the expected high is of 0 (zero) and the low of -11. Yep minus 11! (Oh, and estimated wind chill of minus 33). But I am prepared, after last year when it dropped to minus 27, I really learned how to practically embalm myself for the intense cold, so it won't stop me!