Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Summer Vacation Pictures

I would have liked to say something profound about my vacation, or at least about Montreal, but, oh, fuck it, I'm tired, and I'm really busy these days, so behold! The picture above is the front bumper on my car. I was pulling into a parking space on Rue Amherst, half a block from the extremely clean and efficiently run buanderie where I was headed to do my laundry, when I felt a small shake and heard a loud noise, and "Oh no, that street cleaning truck did NOT just run into me while I was parking!"*

But it had. There followed fifteen minutes of forms being filled out. About five minutes into the process, I had determined that I would much rather live with a scratch on my bumper than deal with a municipal government, but the driver insisted on filling out the forms. I was trying to be polite, so I didn't say much, and as time went on without any ranting on my part, he began to convince himself that it hadn't really been his fault. Monsieur. (After much discussion with YFU and EFU, I have come to the conclusion that "monsieur" is the French equivalent of "dude.") I was parking, and I was in my lane entirely, and you were coming the other way, and you hit me. Your bad, n'est-ce pas?

Anyway, Montreal is a great city, and I had a great time, but I wish I had done more stuff while I was there. I was hampered by a) the weather, and b) the kids. Invariably, when b&c and I have gone on a vacation, the weather has been gorgeous. We arrived in Montreal late Sunday night (there was an hour wait at the border) and left Saturday morning. Monday and Tuesday were near or above 90 degrees and oh so humid. It was painful to be outside. Wednesday was beautiful, and then it rained much of Thursday and Friday. Oh well. As for the kids: teenagers, oy! Once I realized that they were never going to be up in time for breakfast, I just went out by myself in the mornings -- walking through various neighborhoods, visiting markets, getting hit by giant street cleaning trucks: typical vacation activities -- and then called their room at 11 and met them in the hotel lobby at noon. Whatever floats your boat, I guess, but I couldn't help feeling that they weren't making the most of their time in another country. They did take to shopping and eating with great gusto, though.

Anyway, since it was really hot and sticky outside, we went to the underground section of Montreal on Monday afternoon, and on Tuesday we visited the Biodome, which has a controlled climate. Several controlled climates, actually. The rain forest area felt pretty much like it felt outside, but there was a lot to see. Lots of birds, for example.

There was a really cool bat cave.

I looked for Alfred, but I didn't see him. There were more parrots.

And other birds, including some waterfowl who, apparently, do not require camouflage.

The Laurentian forest section was much cooler. Though also only just as cool. When I pointed out a toad, YFU said that it looked like it had swallowed something.

I said that perhaps it had swallowed a golden key, but she didn't get it. EFU did, and there followed a discussion about whether YFU is old enough now to see Pan's Labyrinth and whether we have the DVD. She is; we do.

The beaver exhibit was also awesome.

The Antarctic habitat was a bit of a disappointment, but everyone loved the lemurs from Madagascar.

[As an aside, I would like to note that I am feeling significantly put upon today. Put upon in the way that is unique to a person who returns from a fine vacation to an office full of tedious work. This sense of persecution was in no way ameliorated when Blogger destroyed many paragraphs of text which I will now attempt to recreate.]

We had a lot of really good food when we were in Montreal. I didn't do as much restaurant research as I usually do before travelling, but it was mostly ok. I think the trick to eating well in most cities is to find the districts where there's good casual dining. We found a number of good restaurants along Rue St. Denis, north of the Berri-UQAM station. We also found a cluster of good restaurants along Rue St. Laurent, not too far from the Mont Royal station. In particular, on Thursday afternoon, when we were trying to avoid the rain, we ducked into something called Cafe Rumi, where I had the best falafel sandwich I have ever eaten. And while we were eating a very good order of frites, we looked across the street and saw a restaurant/grocery store called Le Canard Liberé. Their sign said that they cooked their frites in duck fat, so when we were finished with Cafe Rumi, we split a second order of (duck fat fried) frites across the street.

I had picked out what seemed to be a somewhat less casual and more expensive restaurant for Thursday evening, and I'd told the girls to bring along something slightly dressy. And the restaurant (a fondue restaurant that I believe was on the Rue St. Denis) was in a very elegant old Victorian house with chandeliers and high ceilings and dark furniture, but everyone else who was there, including the waiters, was wearing jeans. Oh well. The girls looked great. They wouldn't let me take their picture, of course. The fondue was really good, but we had ordered the table d'hote, and it was far too much food.

Anyway, I chose Wednesday, because of the fine weather, to visit the Marché Jean Talon a very large indoor/outdoor (indoor only in the winter, apparently) market. Despite the existence of a Metro stop with the same name, I had some trouble figuring out where the market was, but we soon were able to locate a steady stream of produce-laden shoppers headed towards the Metro, and by walking upstream, we found the market.

There were several permanent indoor establishments, including one that sold many varieties of dried hot peppers. EFU was intrigued by some of them, but I looked carefully at the heat ratings and decided that it was unwise to buy any food associated with a mathematical impossibility.

I imagine the habaneros feel downright inadequate with their measly little 9/10 rating. Whenever I didn't want to buy a food item, I told the girls that I was worried there might be import restrictions.

There were many beautiful varieties of stone fruits.

I bought some apricots and some nectarines. There was also a great deal of other wonderful produce, and, not for the first time, I sighed over not having access to a kitchen. There were beautiful, beautiful tomatoes.

There were also large quantities of bleuets sauvages. There were also bleuets cultivées, but I can get those at home, most of the year. I can only get the wild ones frozen. Not that I actually bought any bleuets sauvages, but I appreciated their presence, even at $65 for a (large) basket.

And lots of other beautiful produce. Also beautiful men, everywhere you look, but produce is easier to photograph.

Also ubiquitous: maple syrup, though it's not really any cheaper than it is in the states. On our last full day in Montreal, we walked from the hotel to a crêperie on the Rue St. Denis that EFU remembered from a trip with some classmates a year ago. (It also turned out to be the only restaurant where the waitress never spoke to me in English.) We had ordered savory brunch crepes, but we still got a little pitcher of maple syrup, and it turned out to go very well with my egg-, ham-, and swiss cheese-filled crepe.

I thought the crepes were extremely filling, but YFU and EFU each managed to polish off a dessert crepe after their entree crepes. I was in awe. They were in some discomfort, I think, but we soon set off on a long walk, and they rallied in time for dinner.

Here is a gratuitous picture of a couple of guys in the tourist section of Vieux Montreal. Don't ask me why. About anything.

As is often the case, I found being in an urban environment very visually stimulating. Sadly, I had forgotten to recharge my camera for a couple of days, so after taking five or six flash pictures in an attempt to get a decent picture of this "Soupe au Ketchup" graffiti,

I was only able to take a few more pictures before my battery died. Immediately thereafter, when we were walking along what might have been considered a slightly seedy section of the Rue Ste. Catherine, I saw a fit, tan, smooth, shirtless man asleep on his motorcycle. It would have been the picture of the trip, but I did not get it. Alas. Still, before that happened, I enjoyed the plentiful signage.

And some of the other graffiti.

Traffic lights appear to be popular graffiti targets in Montreal. Especially the green ones.

But maybe they're just the easiest to reach.

For no apparent reason, I took many pictures of stairs.

I was especially taken by these blue ones that were very near our hotel.

But there were cool examples everywhere. Also doors, but I didn't upload those pictures.

I did my best to take pictures of attractive men, but mostly I failed. Even though they were everywhere. At the biodome:

In the park on Mont Royal:

On the bus back from the park on Mont Royal:

I was particularly impressed by the height and liveliness of the above young man's hair, but YFU assures me that it is less work than it appears to be.

For much of the year, a part of the Rue Ste. Catherine Ouest is closed to traffic, and there is eye candy everywhere. I don't think this cadet really had anything to do other than stand there and look pretty. Which he was very good at.

Much of that part of Rue Ste. Catherine appeared to be a gay district, but I was mostly unable to get pictures of the many attractive M-M couples I saw there. I was, however, somewhat luckier with the cute construction worker working outside my hotel room window.

Unfortunately, I found him somewhat less attractive after, one morning, I was walking to the Metro station and saw him standing next to one of the work trucks, relieving himself. He could at least have gone into an alley.

I saw this next guy just before my batteries died and I saw the guy sleeping on his motorcycle. He's not bad, as a consolation prize.

One of the first things I noticed in Montreal was that many (perhaps most) of the Metro stations have rental bicycles outside them. At the Champ-de-Mars station.

And the Mont Royal station.

And right beside our hotel, where there's no station at all.

The bike stand next to the hotel was the only one that I ever saw anyone take a bike from. I think that's because everyone who lives in Montreal already owns a bike. They're everywhere. There are even more bikes than there are attractive men (which hardly even seems possible). Also, the bike rentals are a little bit pricy, and since you're rarely more than a few blocks from a Metro or bus stop, they're not especially necessary. Still, I applaud the effort.

Many of the streets also have separate bike lanes (the rollerbladers also use them). In fact, the separate bike lanes are typically double lanes with a dotted line running down the middle so that traffic can go both ways. And, of course, there are plentiful provisions for bicycle parking.

I think I won't wait so long before my next trip to Montreal (My last trip was on my honeymoon, so maybe I was holding a grudge, but all is forgiven!). Next time I'll probably take the train and maybe go alone and get a short-term rental so that I can experience more of the city.

City travel, though, is a two-edged sword, and I don't just mean all of those smells that come out in hot weather in cities (even in Montreal). It is difficult to return to the suburban existence after a week in the frenetic beauty of the city. Come to think of it, it's equally difficult after a week in the placid beauty of the country. I'm hoping that my upcoming move to a still-suburban-but-less-sub-and-more-urban setting will help (the house inspection and the appraisal have both been successfully completed), especially since the accompanying decline in my level of disposable income will mandate a reduction in travel.

As delicious a setting as Montreal was and is, I couldn't help being acutely aware of how much of a visitor I was. As good a time as I had, I knew I was missing out on all the experiences of the people who live there and become intimately familiar with the city. I should be developing that same sort of intimacy with my own surroundings. It never seemed possible in the exurbs, but I'm hopeful that now that I'll be within walking distance of the Metro (and a Pho restaurant), I can feel a bit more like a city boy. With a garden. And then in another fifteen years, I can retire to a farm.

*There is no recorded instance of my using, either in speech or in thought, any variation of the "oh no you didn't" construction, except perhaps to mock someone else who had just used it, but I would like to pretend that on this particular occasion I uttered something cleverer than a quiet groan.


  1. Montreal--my very favourite city. So many good restaurants. Next time you go, try Le Caveau, on Victoria St. between Eaton's and Sherbrooke, just west of University. If you're in luck, ris de veau will be on the menu--best I've ever had.

  2. I went to Marché Jean Talon several times last week after class since I teach around the corner from there. Today I bought artichokes and avocados. And yes, the gay village is the area of Ste Catherine street that is closed during the summer.

    I am in total agreement about the hot men here. It's almost visual stimulation overload. Almost.

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