Chillin’ in Montreal

I’m sitting on a bus somewhere between Montreal and Toronto, with about 5 hours left to go.  Don’t I get sick on buses? I hear you ask. Why yes, yes I do. So why am I writing a blog on the bus?  Because I am bored and feel sick anyway.

Mark and I have just spent the last 4 days in Montreal.  We jumped on the bus the same day Mark finished his last exam and came to explore the lovely French-Canadian city.  We had visited Montreal in the summer, but were keen to see in winter as well.  The bus ride was long, but we got there.  We arrived in Montreal at about 10pm. We expected it to be freezing cold but it was 2 degrees.  That may seem cold by Aussie standards but is ridiculously warm for Montreal who would usually be getting highs of minus 10 at this time of year.  We caught a cab to our accommodation, which was a room in an apartment in Mile End.  I found the apartment using Airbnb, a great site where people offer rooms in their places or even whole apartments to people.  It turned out to be even cheaper than a hostel and much, much nicer. After we settled in we had a wander around the streets of Mile end.  It’s a really interesting neighbourhood in the Jewish area of Montreal.  The Hasidic Jews with their hats made for an interesting site on the nigh streets of Montreal.

The next morning we woke early to get fresh Montreal style bagels from Saint Viateur Bagel.  I chose the apartment because it was close to the Montreal style bagel joint; they were so fresh they were still got and so delicious.  Mark and I bought some cream cheese and I also got a punnet of raspberries for just 1 dollar to enjoy with our bagel-breakfast.  We then left the apartment for the first of many epic walks.  We walked to Mont Royal and saw so many squirrels.  The squirrels were really interested in us, I imagine because they hoped we had food.   They were incredibly cute.

It had rained the day before we arrived and so ay snow that had accumulated was melted, but the streams, waterfalls and lakes over the Mountain were frozen.  Mark and I had a great time watching the air bubbles dance around under the ice and waking out on the frozen lake.

We climbed to the top of Mont Royal, and I do mean climbed) and I also mean top as Mark ensured we stood on the spot where there was no higher ground.  It is usually difficult to clamber up rocks and steep ground, but when they are covered in ice it is even harder.  The view was nice and it was interesting to see the city through a view unimpeded by leaves.

After enjoying nature for a little while we headed toward to centre-ville of Montreal to check out some shops.  It’s amazing how much you can infer from context.  I walked into Esprit and a lady gave me a big spiel – in French.  But even though I couldn’t understand a word of French I knew she was telling me there was a sale and to say “merci” in reply.  In Esprit we were hijacked by a flamboyantly gay guy who had lived in Sydney for 6 months and spoke 4 languages.  He was interesting.  He talked to us for about an hour and told us about some attractions and restaurants in Montreal that we shouldn’t miss.  After way too many malls and not enough money to spend Mark and I stared to head home.  The walk back to our accommodation was about an hour, and we looked for somewhere to eat along the way.  When we were nearly home, after much discussion we realised we wanted poutine – we were in Montreal after all.  The guy at Esprit had recommended a place for poutine, and so we decided to go there.  Only problem was that it was in the direction we had just come from, so we sucked it up, turned around and started walking through the cold, cold night.  The walk was much longer than we expected.  It seems to me that travel seems so much longer when you are looking for something.  We finally found La Banquiste and say that it was the only busy restaurant on a quiet street.  So busy, in fact, there was a line.  We waited and got in, and I had an amazing regular-sized vegetarian poutine and Mark had a grande “T-Rex” (basically all the meat you can think of on chips and gravy).  The waitress remarked at how opposite they were.  I must mention, though that I finished mine and Mark did not.  The walk home was long and cold, but we made it.

The next morning we headed back to Mont Royal to find an outdoor skating rink.  It was quite a walk, again, but the rink was amazing.  It was in the shape of a figure 8 and attached to a lake.  We skated amongst the trees with squirrels around, it felt so very Canadian and so very wonderful.  Mark is surprisingly good at skating for the practice he has had.  He can effortlessly go backwards and turn and even hockey stop.  I on the other hand, have improved.  I can go, steer, stop and turn (with very little grace).  It is great fun though.

As we left the rink it started to rain – but this was no ordinary rain, the weather network called it “freezing rain.”  Basically that means that as soon as the rain hits the ground it freezes, which makes for some very slippery sidewalks.  We walked toward old Montreal on the slippery paths, occasionally enjoying sliding around and occasionally slipping unintentionally.  For dinner were had crepes, they were delicious.

On our last day in Montreal we woke early, packed and lugged our suitcases into the icy city.  For the last time for a long time we had Montreal-style bagels.  This time we visited Fairmount Bagel, which is the original Montreal-style bagel place.  It opened in 1950.  They were so fresh they were hot. So good.

We caught a cab to the bus station and left our bags in lockers so we were free to explore for the day.  We walked down to the Old Port and looked at the frozen water and very, very ice pavers.  The old city was very pretty, as I remember, and icy too.  We found the Marche Bo…., as recommended by our Esprit friend and bought some souvenirs.  I want to buy so many souvenirs for myself and presents for friends and family back home, but I simply don’t have the space in my suitcase! I am trying to find light, flat things… but I can’t help that I am attracted to the large, heavy and often fragile items.  I don’t think everyone will be satisfied with tea towels!

At the market we met up with Nathan, a friend on exchange in Montreal from Wollongong.  It was so cool to see someone from home in a foreign city, and so refreshing to hear a familiar voice.  Nathan took us on a bit of a tour through the super-French part of Montreal and we, somewhat amusingly, had Mexican for lunch.  We compared exchange stories over lunch and agreed it had been an amazing experience, which was disturbingly ethereal.  Nathan’s adventures seemed to be philosophical as well as physical and he shared with us his new sense of inspiration and purpose.  It was pretty cool.  Our time in Montreal was coming to an end, but we made the most of the dwindling minutes.  Nathan led us to a park that had a big frozen body of water in the centre and 3 albino squirrels.  These white critters were very impressive, if there was a squirrel army, we decided, they would be the generals.

Time ran out and we said goodbye to Nathan, but it was very exciting to finally say goodbye to someone I know I will see again.  I’ve been having some trouble with goodbyes that might not be followed by hellos.  We ran to the bus and just got a seat.  And well, here I am, at the end of my blog and on the bus.  It’s raining outside, which is a bit disappointing because snow was forecast. We pick up Mum and David tomorrow, which should be wonderful.  I am so excited about seeing my family somewhere other than Skype.

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