Monday, July 11, 2016

Eat, walk, repeat: Kicking off the road trip in Montreal


Montreal was an easy start to the road trip for both of us. I have been there several times, first as a teenager taking advantage of the legal drinking age being 18 (vs 19 in Ontario), then most recently to watch a Sens-Canadiens hockey game as a weekend road trip with friends. The Irishman took a weekend trip there when he lived in Toronto. Our latest visit was decidedly less boozy than previous trips.

(I say it was easy, but I wasn't behind the wheel when we hit rush hour traffic at 4 pm heading into Montreal. Only 20-odd km away from the hostel, we ended up crawling for 80 min. Dad, you are welcome to insert an "I told you so" here.)

Like most of our trip, we only had accommodation planned. Thanks to crowdsourced advice from friends on Facebook, we knew our first order of business needed to be Schwatz's Deli.

Apparently we were not the only ones to get the memo. The line snaked out the door and onto the street. After foolishly waiting for a while, we discovered that take out was a much shorter line. On our way to the deli from our hostel, we noticed a public patio, colourfully painted, sat vacant, primed for people watching. Much better than lining up for a crowded seat in the deli.

We don't eat much meat and after being vegetarian for nearly half my life, a whole sandwich would probably have left me in a meat coma. I had about 1/4 of the sandwich before tapping out. What a glorious quarter it was, though. The meat crumbled into delicate, juicy pieces with each bite.

I don't know if I can ever eat smoked meat again.

We shared the delectable smoked meat sandwich and a passable poutine in our private (public) patio and then headed back to the hostel. We made a quick stop at a small grocery store for beer, bless Quebec and its alcohol availability. (In Ontario, until very recently, you could only buy alcohol from government owned shops.) A St Ambroise IPA was just the ticket before bed.

Accommodation

Quebec doesn't allow for short term rentals like Airbnb (with a caveat we will explain when we get to writing up Quebec City). This made it a struggle to aim for our goal of $40 per night for accommodation. We squeaked in at $23 per bed for a 6 person dorm at Alexandrie-Montreal.

Cons:


  • The bathroom situation was far from ideal. We had to walk down a flight of stairs, across the main floor and lobby, down another flight of stairs, and across the floor to get to a toilet. This had the positive of effect of reducing our desired beer intake but was annoying and caused some anxiety. (Am I SURE I don't need to go again?)
  • It was HOT. Temperatures were in the mid-30C range and there was no fan or air conditioning in our room. I know Montreal can get even hotter; I can't imagine how unpleasant that would be. We also only had one other, presumably hygienically sound, person in our room. The potential for a stinky room is high.


Pros:


  • The hostel was central-ish. On the edge of the Gay Village, it is JUST on the cusp of what is deemed "downtown" Montreal. We were able to walk everywhere during our stay, but only because we like walking and were happy to burn off some cheese curd calories.
  • The staff were really nice. There seemed to be a lot of them. H and Sam mostly took care of us. They were friendly, funny, and helpful.
  • The kitchen is big and active. There were a handful of fridges and lots of space to cook. Unfortunately, other people had stuff stolen. Our insulated bags with strong Velcro seal and Chinese writing on them seemed to be enough of a deterrent to beer thieves.
  • Free street parking! We lucked out --there were only a couple of spaces and one happened to be vacant when we arrived.
  • Free activities, such as the walking tour...


Touring the City

By coincidence, our only full day in the city coincided with H's weekly free walking tour. Sign us up!

The tour was a bit strange and haphazard but enjoyable nonetheless.

Along with several Americans, a couple of Brits, an Aussie, and a Frenchman who came late and gave up on the tour early (tired of the jokes directed at him from our Québécois tour guide, I imagine), we ate and sweated our way through Montreal.

We wandered through Parc La Fontaine, admiring ducks, squirrels, and birch trees. Our first big stop was St-Viateur Bagels. The New Yorkers on the tour weren't convinced the bagels could compete with their bagels back home, but I was in heaven. There is nothing better than a Montreal sesame seed bagel fresh out of the oven.

H talked about the unique styles of housing, namely staircases in the front to enter second floor apartments (an insane hazard in the winter, but designed to maximize outdoor garden space) and long back alleys where kids play hockey, smoke, and smooch.

The next stop was a French bakery, but we were still full of bagels, so we stood outside and chatted with our roommate, Jack from London. He was hungover beyond belief but still managed to talk about his months of backpacking North America and had general football banter with the Irishman.
Yum?

Near the base of Mont-Royal, I sampled a Portuguese egg tart at Romados, a classic Montreal treat. They were similar to their Chinese iteration, but much sweeter. Not my favourite, but I can see how people with a sweet tooth would swoon over them.

H took us on a crazy "short cut" up Mont-Royal that involved some hands and knees crawling. Sweaty and sun burned, I'm sure I looked ridiculous in my cotton dress, stumbling up the mountain. Future tour participants, be prepared for some hardcore hiking. Thankfully, it isn't actually very high so the uphill scramble was short lived.

We tried to enjoy the view while an American teenager on our tour decided to educate everyone about how China isn't actually communist. I have no idea how it came up in the first place, but I will say that the Irishman and I had nothing to do with it and did not contribute in any way. This was the moment I realized that I am done with hostel living. I don't have the patience on my holidays to hear an 18 year old prattle on about "society". I would make a horrible high school teacher.

Anyway, the tour went downhill, literally and figuratively, from there. We saw a Barbie exhibit in a mall, took the metro to see an indoor skating rink, and saw a piece of the Berlin Wall (coincidentally exactly one year after the Irishman went to the actual Berlin Wall).

Missing most of the Euros Portugal v Wales match to watch other people skating on an indoor rink and stare at a piece of the Berlin Wall wasn't ideal. But the free tour was still a day well spent with a native Montrealer showing us some of the sights.

We bolted to Ye Olde Orchard Pub to catch the final 10 minutes, popped over to a nearby free Jazz Festival concert, wandered through the Gay Village and admired the pink balloons hovering above the streets, and then finished off our trip with a La Banquise poutine. Like Schwartz's, La Banquise is a tourist favourite, the #1 for poutine, and, like Schwatz's, the line for take out was much shorter. We grabbed our poutine to go and enjoyed it at the hostel over more St Ambroise (just one, see aforementioned bathroom issue).

I'm sad to say that the poutine was not so good. Some of the fries were uncooked! I'll need to go back and test again...must have been an off night.

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