Saturday, August 14, 2010

Montreal swan song

Yesterday, Friday, was my last day in Montreal. Did my usual drill in the morning. A little before noon, I hopped on the Metro to head down to the Underground City for some souvenir shopping. Before doing any of that, I had lunch at a pizza joint near the exit to McGill College. I love how in Montreal their pepperoni pizza has three-inch slices of pepperoni between the bread and cheese. Umm-yum! Of course, pig that I am, I had a plain slice, too.

After wondering around for an hour, I settled on a souvenir shop. I picked up biscuits for my work peeps and cookies for my family. For my goddaughter, I got a snow dog in a Canadian Mounty uniform; for my newest nephew (age nine months?), I got Canada white-and-blue socks. Oh, and it's my one uncle's 60th birthday party Sunday night, so I bought him a Canada cap -- he's a golfer . . . the cap was the closest thing to golf I could find (hope he likes it).

In the late afternoon, I just hung out at the B&B, catching up YouTube clips. Thanks The Young Turks and Russia Today!

Around eight o'clock, I headed out for a bite to eat. I cruised on a Bixi bike because I wasn't sure how far away this Portuguese place (recommended by my travel book) was from the B&B. Turns out I could've walked there, but it's a non-issue since they were all booked up. So I walked to my favourite strip, Avenue du Mont-Royal, and stumbled across an Italian restaurant called Pizzeria Romeo, which was spacious with a few patrons -- guess that's what happens when you're on busy avenue.

I sat at the bar. The woman who served was gorgeous: around 24 years old, long black hair and wearing Daisy Duke shorts. I ordered a screwdriver, which she made strong (what a switch!). I was in the mood for pasta. All they had in that vein was lasagne. It was awesome! Served on a slightly concave white dish on top of small beans in red sauce. For dessert, I went with bar maid's suggestion. Since the menu was in French, I'm not sure what it was. It was two scoops on a plate -- tasted like cake. Dee-lic-ious!!!

Here's where things got weird. The bar maid started hitting on me, big time. Strange, since I hadn't showered yet that day and was all scruffy. She's telling me she lives on Avenue du Mont-Royal and asking how much longer I was in town. Weird. It's not like I was on my game. Her flirting just came out of nowhere. The monogamist didn't see the point in pursuing it, since my flight was leaving in half a day; the paranoid prick in me thought it might be a scam. I don't know. Maybe I should've done something, but she was way out of league (I'm under no delusion of my sexual attraction; I'm not the village idiot but neither am I Lance Romance). Great, something else for me to agonize over. Could've that been the one? Damn, wish I met her earlier in the week. Oh well, onward and outward. . . .

Before shopping for souvenirs, I stumbled across the Montreal Canadiens' stadium. This (obviously) was outside.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Winding down

I think I should've only done five nights in Montreal -- I'm running out of things to do.

On Thursday, I took a Metro and a bus out to Marché Central, at the suggestion of my travel book. I wasn't too impressed. It's an outside mall that stretches blocks and blocks, so you have to cross at a lot of traffic lights. I was hoping to buy some reasonably priced souvenirs for people back home, but the only store I went in was a Dollar Store, and they didn't have much; I would've gotten Canada socks for my goddaughter, but they would've been too small for her.

Once back near my B&B, I grabbed a beef sandwich at the deli I've been going to. In my room, I read the newspaper then took a nap.

I got up around 5:30 p.m. and hopped on a Bixi bike to check out a French restaurant, L'Express. Took a little while to find because they don't have a sign out front, just a nondescript menu -- guess that's how you can tell a place is successful. My travel book said a reservation was essential, but I just up, and there was an open spot at the bar.

Maybe I was thirsty, but I thought they had the best water ever. Anyway, I ordered quail over wild rice. It was awesome! Never had quail before (tasted like chicken). For desert I got a chocolate tart. Amazing!!! And the service was top-notch.

I then biked it over a couple blocks to check out an improv joint's opening night. It was on the 2nd floor of a building (couldn't tell if commercial or residential). Their space fit about 75 audience members, and it was pretty much sold out. The first act featured On The Spot, Montreal's longest active improv troupe. They were supposed to do 25 scenes in 45 minutes but came up short. After a 10-minute intermission, a troupe called The Bitter End did an improvised play. Good times.

Around 10 p.m., I biked it back to the B&B. Kinda crazy how fast bicycling is. The trip took no more than 10 minutes; that same trip Tuesday, after coming back from the movie, took a half-hour-plus. Yup, call me Obvious Man.

I ended the day with the CTV news (weird how they do national first, then local -- 30 minutes each). At midnight they air The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Guess it shows Canada's left-of-centre politics, since CTV is free, unlike Comedy Central down in the States. Regardless, listening to Stewart is an excellent way to end a Thursday!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mercredi à Montréal est génial!

That's right: Wednesday in Montreal is awesome!

I'm not even gonna tell you what I did for most of the morning -- see yesterday and the day before and the day before. . . .

For lunch, I hit the supermarket on Avenue Mount Royal. A couple days ago I saw in their salad bar what looked liked a crab cake in a red pepper cut in half (description was in French, so I was clueless), but they didn't have it so I sampled other fine food. Probably good that I didn't know I was eating. One was a thinly sliced meat, the other I think potato and cheese, plus I had the type of bread they serve in Indian restaurants. Kick ass!

Around 1:30 p.m., I grabbed one of the rental bikes in front of the supermarket. These Bixi bikes have an interesting pricing structure. For $5 you get a subscription for 24 hours. If your trip is under 30 minutes, you don't get charged extra, and you don't have to worry about locking the bike cuz there are hundreds of docking stations all around the city; if you go over 30 minutes, you start gettin' charged extra. It's pretty cool: once you swipe your credit card in a docking machine's computer, it gives you a five-number code (keypad only has numbers 1, 2, + 3), which expires in 5 minutes.

Anyway, I headed a few blocks down to Parc du Mont-Royal. It took a little while for me to find the main bike path, then I was on my way. It's at a slight incline for about four miles, buy, boy, did I feel it. Eventually I did get to the top of the mount, where I could see for miles. I took pictures but they didn't turn out too well -- gonna have to invest in a wide lens.

Going down the mount required almost no pedaling. And just like when I was pedaling up, I had a soda-drinking grin. Beautiful day out. High 70s.

Leaving the park, I biked it to an avenue a few blocks parallel from where my B&B is. I stumbled across a used CD store called Beatnik. They had this soundtrack I've been looking for, to the film Amélie, but I wanted to get the French one (Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain). And it's new! I also got the soundtrack to Blade Runner. Oh, real quick: the store was interesting . . . the retail version of a China doll. It had three or four rooms; you couldn't see 'em at first, but as you walked back, you came across each additional room. Groovy.

Around 3:30 p.m., I docked the Bixi bike a block from the B&B and just hung out for an hour or so, then it was on the Metro to catch the soccer game. The game didn't start till 7:30, but I wanted to get down there early for dinner and buy some souvenirs at the stadium.

I was going to have dinner at the restaurant in the Observatory, but it was closed, so I walked down the road, where I remembered a few restaurants from Sunday. The best bet was a place called Madison's, subtitled New York Grill; I would've preferred a Canadian joint, but everything else was fast food.

I order a two crab cakes as a starter, and the main course were ribs, mashed potatoes and a salad. I washed everything down with a Molson Dry. When in Canada. . . .

I got down to the stadium around 7. I made a beeline for the boutique and got a Montreal Impact jersey for myself ($90 [$78 U.S.], yeah, it's a lot, but I'm not buying any other souvenirs for myself, plus I love soccer jerseys) and a scarf for my oldest nephew.

The turnout at the game was pretty good for a team, from what I understand, isn't going to make the playoffs (they're about halfway through the season, and a couple of their best players are injured). After the first half, the video screen said there were 12,443 attendees. I don't know about that. If it is a 13,000 seater, I'd say it was more like 10,000. Still, impressive for a hockey-loving town.

My seat was fine -- not a nosebleed as I'd feared. If the weather's nice, there are really no bad seats in the stadium, since it's on the intimate side. Really fun to see my first professional soccer match. I forgot what skill it takes to play the game. And neither team scored a point, so it could've been worse for 'em.

The game let out around quarter to 10. It took forever for me to get back to the B&B. The Metro only runs about every 10 minutes that late. And it didn't help that at one point I hopped on the wrong line. Grrr . . . second time that's happened.

Around 11 I exited the Metro's Mount Royal station. Not feeling like walking 15 minutes, I took a Bixi bike back to the B&B. Kinda neat how when you pedal, lights in the front and back flicker, to alert motorists.

I stayed up a little to watch the news. Wanted to see what they said about the game. The sports guy was less kind than I, complaining that the Impact can't score, although the visiting team, Baltimore, had an outstanding goalie (dude could catch a ping-pong ball with his eyes closed). And I think the commentator should've mentioned that the Impact was down on Baltimore's side of the field more often than not. Then again, I'm biased, since I'm a citizen of Montreal for the week. . . .

My best friend on Wednesday in Montreal, a Bixi bike.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Tuesdays with Montreal

On Tuesday morning, I got up around 8 and did what's turning into a routine: heading down to Tim Horton's for a croissant and and small bottle of OJ. I probably should mix things up, but I don't eat croissants at home, so what the heck.

Afterwards, I worked on yesterday's blog then showered and shaved. I didn't leave the B&B until about 11:30 a.m.

I hopped on the Metro to check out the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Wasn't impressed. Two-thirds of the exhibits you weren't allowed to take pics, and the third and fourth floors were blocked off. Glad my donation was only a pocketful of change.

For lunch I ducked into a place called Thursdays because the menu hung up on the outside wall said they had ribs. The bartender told they don't serve them until nighttime, so I got a green salad with some vinegary dressing. Good stuff, aided by the hard Italian roll I scoffed down.

Refueled, I hopped back on the Metro to pick up a ticket for the movie I planned to see that night, but the theatre's box office didn't open till 6 p.m., so I hopped back on the Metro for Old Montreal. My travel book recommended a French restaurant down there. Unfortunately, it was out of business. On the plus side, I did pass the Notre Dame church. Should've taken a pic or two, but I was too lazy.

Thanks to my "bestest buddy" (as my little sister Sharon used to say as a young'un), the Metro, I was back to the area where the movie theatre is at. It was only 4 p.m., so I wandered around the neighborhood, mostly inhabited by McGill University. Apparently, it's the big school up here. I think somebody told me the other day it has 30,000 students.

Around 4:45 p.m., I ducked into a Greek restaurant I saw earlier in the day on my way to the movie theatre. It was virtually empty, except for some guy in a Panama hat sitting at a table by the open window. I was in the mood for a gyro (never had one), and I went to the right place. It was amazing! I got the platter with a salad, rice and Greek potatoes (cut in wedges). A nice glass of milk topped it off.

The movie I saw was Metropolis, the 1929 German, silent, sci-fi masterpiece. It was only playing one week at Cinema du Parc, one showing a day at 6:45 p.m.; which might explain why the theatre was about a third of the way full -- not too bad for a Tues. night (thought it is summer).

I saw
Metropolis 15-20 years ago, but this rerelease features about 30 minutes of newly discovered footage, which is obvious because of its grainy quality. This viewing made much more sense than when I was younger, because I'm aware of the political currents occurring when the film was made, since it's about class warfare. Interestingly, at the end of it, about a dozen audience members clapped. Pretty cool.

Since the movie was two and half hours long, it was close to 9:30 p.m. when I left the shopping centre that house the theatre. I didn't feel like waiting around for the two buses I would need to go back to the B&B, so I hoofed it for the mile-plus walk. Once back at home base, I watched a little TV, then crashed at 11.

Entree I had for dinner at the Greek restaurant. Octopus. Mmm, delicious!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sunday Boring Sunday and Montreal Monday

Guess I should've pointed out in the previous post that I didn't upload it on Sunday afternoon. The coffee shop across the street had no Internet either -- must've been a local thing. But since Monday morning, I've had Internet access here in the B&B.

But to backtrack a little, Sunday afternoon I hopped on the Metro for the soccer stadium to see the game. First off, my travel book gave me wrong information. They had me get off a stop too late, so I had to walk a mile-plus -- not a big deal, I could use the exercise. However, once at the stadium, I learned that I got my wires crossed. The security guards informed me that the game is Wednesday. Doh! So I wandered around the area . . . plenty of touristy things in that complex.

On my way home, I got stuck in a thunderstorm (should've bought that umbrella I saw in Staples on Sunday morning for $10). There's a pharmacie two blocks from the B&B, so I got an umbrella there, but I was drenched. Not feeling like searching for a good place to eat, I ducked into a tiny pizza shop and clogged my arteries. Afterwards, it was about 7 p.m. I just strode back to the B&B and watched TV. I fell asleep about 9:30.

Monday morning I woke up around 7, feeling refreshed. I skipped a few blocks down to the Tim Horton on Avenue Mount Royal and bought a croissant and a 300ml OJ (10 oz.). Then I wandered around because I was thinking about writing at one of the libraries near my B&B -- each one at least a half-mile walk. I passed the one, which is right across from the Mount Royal Metro station, and I kept walking. A half-mile later I turned left at Avenue Christophe Columb and came across these apartment buildings that made me feel like I was in Paris -- winding staircases that started at the sidewalk and went up to the 2nd floor. Once I reached Boulevard St- Joseph, I hopped on a bus . . . gotta love a weekly transpass!

After showering, I decided to go back down to the soccer stadium so I could get a ticket without Ticketmaster raping me online. I got a $40 ticket under the roof. It's kinda high up. I'm now second-guessing myself, wondering if I should've gotten one on the other side for half the price, cuz it's not supposed to rain on Wednesday night. Oh well, I'll find out soon enough.

Afterwards, I headed across the street to check out the Insectarium, but it was closed due to a "labour dispute with the Montreal municipality workers". Bummer.

I then headed back toward the soccer stadium. In the same complex is the Montréal Tower, which stretches 175 metres into the sky (574 feet or 53 stories) at a 45-degree angle. Unfortunately, it was overcast so I couldn't see 80 kilometres (50 miles) into the distance. Still, well worth the price of admission of $18.

Next up, I went downtown to the underground mall. I was in the mood for a burger so I got one in a food court, but it wasn't that good: not a lot of meat, cashier put too much mustard on it, and the fries looked like the tiny bits you get at the bottom of a bag.

Apparently, the underground mall is something like nine miles. I only wandered through two or three of the mall -- I think there are seven or so of 'em. I was looking for stuff to buy for family, but it's all very high-end. I held back . . . the week's young.

Around mid-afternoon, I returned to the B&B and wandered down Avenue Mount Royal, which I've grown quite fond of; lots of shops without being too expensive. I hit a couple DVD and used CD shops. I wanted to get the new Kids in the Hall DVD, but nobody has it . . . looks like I'll have to get it from Amazon Canada. At the CD shops, I picked up the Flashback soundtrack (crappy 80s pic w/ Keifer Sutherland and Dennis Hopper, but it has a Flesh For Lulu song I never heard before). At a used book store, I picked up the Nikita soundtrack; great French film.

I also walked down Avenue Laurier for an eight-block stretch because my travel book said it was awesome, but it wasn't really my cup of cola cuz it's too upscale for my middle-class wallet.

I returned to Avenue Mount Royal and saw a Thai restaurant that looking interesting, since I was hungering for seafood. But it was only 5:30 p.m., so I kept on walking until I hit the end of the strip, about two miles. I hopped on a bus that I thought would take me to the Thai restaurant, but it went in the opposite direction. I got off at the stop near the soccer stadium, took the Metro back to the Mount Royal Metro stop, then hopped on the right bus.

For the entree, I ordered pork dumplings in peanut-butter sauce . . . very odd. The main course was a seafood mix over red and green peppers. It had bits of crab and the usual suspects (shrimps and scallops) plus squid, which I never ate before -- real rubbery.

The service as piss-poor. I had asked for Chinese tea but never got it, and I had to go up to the counter for the cheque. It came to $18 and I didn't leave a tip. The casier/server didn't seem to expect one, so I left.

On the walk to the B&B, I stopped in an ice-cream place and got a sugar cone with cappuccino ice cream. Delightful!

I crashed around 10:30 p.m.

Soccer stadium -- seats 13,000 -- I'll be seeing the Montreal Impact play on Wednesday night; I took this pic high up on the Montréal Tower. I'll be on the left under the roof. (If ya click on the picture, you'll see the right seats spell out the word IMPACT.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Montreal, baby!

Right now, it's mid-afternoon on Sunday. I'm writing this in my room but will upload it across the street at an Internet cafe, since the wireless at the B&B isn't working.

Yesterday, I got up at 6 a.m. to catch the first of two trains (6:53 a.m.) to the airport. I got to my gate around 9 a.m. With plenty of time to kill, I walked through a few terminals, looking for a can of soda. Couldn't find any, so I got a $2 Liberty Bell root beer in a glass bottle; and even though I had some Triscuit crackers with me, I succumbed to temptation and got a white-cream-filled donut at Dunkin Donuts.

The plane ride up was eventful. It did leave about 15 minutes late (was supposed to take off at 11:15 a.m.), but we touched down in Montreal around 12:50 p.m., so all's forgivable.

During the flight I pored over my Montreal travel book. It said the airport is 15 miles west of the city, so I took a cab. Came to $42 Canadian dollars and change, but I made it an even $50.

I threw my stuff in the B&B room and cruised around the neighborhood, with map in hand thanks to that travel book. It's interesting, since the last time I was here (my first) was a year and half ago -- the weekend after Thanksgiving, where it was snowing and no warmer than 30 degrees. I've noticed there are more homeless and mentally unstable on the street now. Obviously.

Anyway, I got a turkey-lunchmeat sandwich at this cool cafe I hit my last time here. That place is still great, and it's only three blocks away!

Next, I headed to a Metro station to pick up a weekly transpass. It doesn't start till Monday, so I also got an all-day pass for Sunday.

Afterwards, I walked around some more in the neighborhood. Beautiful day out. In the high 70s. Nice blue sky, and not a grey cloud in sight.

For dinner I had a veggie burrito at the bar downstairs, which is affiliated with this B&B. It wasn't as good as the one I had last time I was here, but what are ya gonna do.

I had gotten less than six hours sleep Friday night, so I was really tired Saturday evening. I watched some TV, falling asleep a little after 10 p.m.

This morning, Sunday, I got up at six at walked two blocks down to Tim Horton for a croissant and bottle of OJ. Came back to the B&B, showered and did some dental hygiene action.

At nine, I left to hop on the Metro to the eastern side of the city. It took 10 minutes to walk there, then it was about a 20-minute ride (8 stops or so). The Unitarian service didn't start till 10:30, so I wandered around the neighborhood. I stopped in a Staples to pick up a memory stick since I had to delete the photos on my camera (long boring story); good deal . . . 16 Canadian dollars for 4 gigs. Then I went to a convenience store and got eight tidbits (a.k.a. munchkins) and a can of Pepsi.

I arrived at the Unitarian church around 10:10 a.m. I went inside and chitchatted with some of the members.

The service lasted about an hour. It's an interesting building. The sanctuary it sort of triangle-shaped, with the entrance side curving like the underside of a ship. Iron grid-work supports the high ceiling, with rows of light bulbs hanging in staggered fashion -- very post-modern.

A little before noon I was back on the Metro; kinda cool that it was only two blocks from the church. I got back off and picked up a chicken sandwich at the same cafe I went to lunch for yesterday. The same girl as yesterday served me. She said she liked my accent, so I shifted into flirt mode, saying, "Right back at'cha." I'm shameless.

The plan now is to catch the Metro around 4 p.m., so I can catch an early bite to eat before trying to score soccer tickets. Montreal's home team is playing tonight. I figure if I can't catch Manchester United, might as well do the next best thing.

Park a few blocks from the B&B I'm staying at, which I took Saturday night.