travel diary [montreal 2008]

this is me in montreal airport, drinking bleue and refusing to pay $4 for fifteen minutes of wifi. but willingly paying $7 for a bottle of beer? it's all about priorities. and we need the beer. we made it through check-in with only $80 in excess baggage. eight measly kilograms. but i have my guitar and my computer and my harddrive and my camera and a whole bunch of books. maybe she didn't see my other bag. whatever.

let me tell you about montreal. it was good to us. i feel that we experienced a reasonably authentic and complete montreal experience. or we did if, like toronto, the city primarily revolves around eating and drinking. maybe it's just us?

so we arrived late evening in the middle of the old city, weighed down by so much luggage and a weary coach ride. navigating by the sun doesn't work in a city where the maps are aligned in abitrary directions. for instance, why would north point down at about 150 degress? finding the hostel wasn't too difficult once we'd figured that one out. but then they'd placed us on the top floor. so many stairs. nice place though. gorgeous kitchen, trendy music ("is this coco? no it's newson", etc), colour coordinated rooms. it had a nice mature atmosphere. no drinks machine serving alcohol though, damn you canada. but at least in quebec you can buy from convenience stores.

not that we ever got that far. we went in search of a vege restaurant we'd been directed too, only to discover it was miles away (half an hours walk my ass). this was up saint-laurent, the montreal equivalent of younge street. so instead we settled for an earthy looking indian restauant, one where we could sit in the window crossed legged and feel all bohemian like. sexy decor. authentic food. very cold draft, which was entirely my fault for insisting on the whole window thing. back at the hostel we met a bunch of people who wanted to kidnap us and take us out drinking, but we were just too tired. myself, to the point of anti-socialness. instead we organised a meeting up with them for the following night. we went to bed and i slept with a headache in a room with no air, thanks to a "please don't open" sticker on the window.

(then a quick interlude as i fly across the atlantic, and have a dream about aimee and patti smith being sisters)

we woke up when we woke up and went out in search of breakfast. not searching far, we ended up at a deli just around the corner, but somewhere far from your usual greasey spoon. we ordered a mixed fruit crepe and a three cheese crepe. it was an expensive but quality breakfast that we greatly appreciated, surrounded by total frenchies, them dressed all smart and chic. i mean, i knew they spoke french here, but i never imagined it being so total. culture and all. it makes me wonder why the bloc quebecoire haven't been more successful, montreal feels nothing like the canada i've known for the last year and a half.

our first tourist attraction was the biodome, which sits right beside the infamous olympic stadium. all together they're an absolute monstrosity, especially next to the botanical garden, but i can't help find the obscene architecture somehow appealing. it's the taut tendon-esque angles of the olympic tower, reminds me of all those doodles i used to do.

but anyway, the biodome is reasonably cool. there are four different ecosystems represented - a rainforest, a laurentian forest, a saint-lawrence marine ecosystem, and an arctic/antarctic. it's a little bit crystal maze. the best thing we saw was probably a duck (or something like a duck) attacking (or something like that) a stingray:

and the penguins were also cool:

for me it was mostly just an excuse to take a silly amount of photos:

and a double horned narwhal skull, just brilliant:

just around the corner from the biodome is the insectarium, housed in a building that looks like a giant fly (from the air anyway). it was a lot of bugs pinned to walls. and lots of tanks of hard to spot creatures. the best exhibit was an ant walk, set up with a series of branches traversing a large pit between an ant nest and their food. thousands of ants walking back and forth carrying small chunks of pretty coloured petals. goliath beetles and bees. stick insects. and i'm sure there was something else very grim that i've erased from my memory.

after that we still hadn't had enough so we walked around the botanical garden. all the way around, then we explored the greenhouse, which contained some impressive bonsai trees and some "pappilion liberte". the butterflies were surrounded by people with crap cameras who didn't know how to use them. that's the memory i took away. so nevermind. and the butterflies were gorgeous, of course. and i learnt a new word. "le papillons mangent mon coeur".

our big mission of the day was to get a reservation at the spirit lounge, a restaurant that everyone mentioned when we were seeking out things to do, yet none of them had actually been there. it's a vegan restaurant, and one with a few interesting twists. firstly, there is no menu - you get what you're given. and secondly you're not allowed to leave anything on your plate. you have to eat it all. stories we heard involved great rudeness, been denied further courses, been told never to come back, charged extra, etc. there are other minor quirks too, like you need to have a reservation to get in, it's only open for three hours, and mobile phones are not allowed. from the outside it's poorly labeled and looks like an over the top hippy hang out, except with no windows. and the interior is also highly decorated, with every surface covered by something shiny or garish. paintings of krishna and jesus. a huge om and a foil cyborg. light comes soley from coloured fairy lights hung from all over. and the food was great too, luckily. the waiter (and chef and owner i presume) rattled off a long list of ingredients that were going into our soup starter and main course, all of which i forgot. out of fear more than being sensible, we both decided to go for the non-large portion option and managed to finish our plates.

so sorry about that, for not having an exciting story. what is funny though, which i just remembered, is that we had a really hardcore chocolate cake (or brownie) for dessert. we left the restaurant and wandered down a hip looking street, hip bars and cafes etc, and found ourselves in a super hip hookah bar. the only people without a hookah, we just wanted beers (and julie a tea too, which confused the waitress). further down the street, and feeling a little peckish, it took us all of five seconds to decide whether to go into 'juliette et chocolat'. being a cafe, rather than a bar, it was surprisingly busy for this time of night, but then they did serve alcoholic drinks as well (albeit, only chocolate related ones). i had a white chocolate martini and we shared a brownie. yes, more chocolate, but when your on holiday these are the things you have to do. it was marvellous. and not a little decadent.

walking home we took a few detours around the old city, getting stuck into what's supposed to make montreal different to toronto (y'know, apart from all the language and cultural differences). a big chunk of it was ruined by the ugly preparations for the montreal en lumiere festival, which we're going to miss. the rest of it seems to be tourist restaurants and art shops. still, i love cobbled streets.

(then a long interlude as i fuck off to london and everything is lost along so many vile streets and rails)

monday is the crap day in montreal, the one where all the galleries are closed and all you can do is wander the streets and shop. in a bid to save money we caught breakfast at the hostel and then walked up to see the mcgill university campus. it's built up a hill, which would explain why mcgill students are all fit (if they are fit, i have no idea). the campus is also in the shadow (well, in the evening if at all) of mont royal, which i'm presuming gave the city its name. one look at it and i knew we had to climb it. the views are awesome:

there are ski tracks all around the mountain, so julie was constantly getting excited about how you can go skiing in the midle of the city. the cross was rubbish though, i don't think it's even working at the moment. and coming down was fun. you can zigzag back and forth if you like, or simply slide on your arse down the ice between the paths. like a child. brilliant.

our next mission was bagels. it's a well known fact that montreal style bagels kick the ass of all other bagels in the world, especially new york's. we walked along the montreal equivalent of bloor (maybe queen) and kept going until we found somewhere half decent to eat. it took a lot of blocks. good sandwiches and a nice coffee in the end though, but i still fell asleep whilst trying to write postcards.

the remainder of the day will bore you. we went back to see the old part of the city, this time in the light, and failed to find somewhere nice to drink. and we organised to meet up again with the same people from the other night. then we had a nap. we also booked us a table at o noir, an exciting and bizarre restaurant we'd discovered earlier in the day. one we felt compelled to experience.

how it works is you eat in complete darkness. your blind waiter leads you into a pitch black room and to your table, where you fumble around and try to find your chair and cutlery. there's music from the twenties playing and you can hear other groups laughing and chatting loudly, but you can't work out quite how many. and you have no idea how big the restaurant is. you really can't see anything. and it's harder than you'd think (than i had thought anyway), trying to butter a bread roll or pierce roasted veg on your fork. julie didn't even know what her main course was since she'd ordered the 'surprise' option (all available in vegetarian). it's such an odd experience, and because there were no visual clues my memory of it is very strange. if you needed the toilet you had to call your waiter to be led there. and then julie got confused because i kept swapping her beer and water. then she stole mine, but i'd already finished it. there's endless opportunity for mischief. i was half expecting that as soon as we'd finished eating the lights would come up, revealing a room devoid of any people, tape players standing on every table. spooky shit like that, would have been brilliant.

so we were waiting for a text to give us a direction, and in the meantime we wandered with a vague aim of finding a reasonable place to drink. everywhere just looked nasty, and our standards got higher as our energy began to waiver. we were halfway home when we finally got the text, saying we could meet them at a bar we'd walked past forty minutes previously. we just went back to bed instead, with a bottle of whiskey. perhaps we should have been living it up more, but we'd been doing good and didn't feel it was particularly necessary. luckily we didn't see them again and so didn't have to make further excuses.

and then suddenly (not so suddenly) it was our last day in canada, and we had a whole bunch of art to see. i really wanted to see the contemporary art gallery and we both wanted to see the cuban art and history exhibition at the museum of fine arts. also we had to go to the anarchist book shop and get to the airport in plenty of time to argue our baggage onto the plane.

breakfast was taken at a greasy cafe where the woman frowned at me when i asked for "over medium". "ok, over whatever". i couldn't tell if she was amused or annoyed. what i do like about montreal though is how you put your tips in a box, so no one knows how much you've actually given. there's no pressure. they've also got a rather nice and concise modern art gallery. you can do it in under and hour, easy. they've got a few fun chairs by yannick pouliot and geoffrey farmer's the last two million years, which is incredible. other highlights include a nice tibet orientated video piece and a very narrow but tall room (barely enough room for two) with a chandelier at the top that lights up and plays startlingly loud music when you close the door.

then we had a quick foray into the underground walkway network. which was terrifying and huge, vertically. and we became a bit overwhelmed in the bookshop. but at least half of the books were in french. as for the rest of the art, that was good too. a fascinating mix of cuban art through the last 150 years. i especially liked the photography and cuban propaganda posters, i just can't believe they didn't have them available as postcards or prints, i would spent. and i can't find any of the best ones online either. so nevermind.

oh, and somewhere, a piece of the berlin wall:

all that's left is getting back to the hostel, organising our stuff, getting a taxi and getting on our flight. sure it was stressful, but it was pleasantly uneventful. the storm was coming up from toronto and the weather was getting worse, the snow whipping up everywhere and the fog descending, but it didn't get too bad. our flight was late leaving toronto because of it, but all that meant was we had nothing to eat for too long. i'd insisted on exchanging our remaining dollars into pounds, so we had no food money. then when we were finally on the flight they only gave us a "light snack". i was going to complain but was too hungry and tired. at least we had a decent size breakfast, hot bulgar wheat with apricots and other assorted fruit.

that was that. sorry i totally lost interest halfway through and didn't have the will or ability to make a decent go of writing it up. montreal is much more fun than all the above. honest.

were not wasting paper [or grammar]
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