Saturday, August 9, 2014

Floss after you eat poutine. (And generally.)

The first thing we did today was fail at getting into the metro station.  We each got the three-day unlimited pass for $18 (individual trips are $3), which comes on a thick paper ticket that you reuse.  We tried to stick this into the ticket slot at the turnstile in every possible orientation before we asked the person working there, who demonstrated that we just tap the card on top.  Good show of American competence so far.

In our defense, everything here is super French.  I expected people to speak French and all, but I thought the signs and other text would be bilingual.  Not so.  Granted, I should be able to read French, so this is not really a defense.

Shortly afterward, we arrived in Old Montréal and wandered into Chez Suzette, a creperie, for brunch.  I ordered "La Quebécoise," which is filled with ham and swiss cheese, and comes with 100% maple syrup.

This place is almost alarmingly cute.

La Quebécoise

I cannot emphasize this next point enough:  The syrup is fucking amazing.  It is so simply sweet and unadulterated and pure.  I assume that this liquid is not actually tapped from trees but is instead the bottled innocence of children.  Either that or dark magic.  Although I guess bottling the innocence of children probably is dark magic.  In any case, it is the only explanation I am willing to entertain.  I wish I had a trace of upper body strength just so that I could carry more of this back with me.

After brunch, we walked around but saw only souvenir shops and other tourist traps until we happened upon a food festival.  We bought some tickets and tried some potato donuts (good), wine/chocolate pairings (so-so), and gelato (excellent).  CTV was covering the event, and a reporter asked us if we could answer a few questions (just about whether we were having a good time).  I would have agreed, but she asked me just as I walked into a tent from outside, which caused my hair to look insane, and I was still stuffing my face with a potato donut, and my hands were sticky due to said donut, so I passed.  (Sorry, Mom.)  We later nearly walked directly into her camera while she was getting establishment shots though, so we might be on Canadian national television anyway, eating gelato.

The outdoor areas of the food festival made me realize a) the sun is very hot, and b) New York skyscrapers are critical to my lack of sunburn on a daily basis.  I don't know why I thought I wouldn't need sunscreen in Canada.

Tip: The sun still shines in Canada, and it shines in Celsius.

The food festival was right by the Old Port, which is very classy looking with lots of nice boats, and makes me want to call people "sport."

But none of those hold a candle to my favorite boat.


During the summer, there are a bunch of little vendor stalls, including a Christmas stall housing this rather disturbingly fit figurine.

We then headed to Notre Dame Basilica (admission $5), which is a pretty epic building (though not compared to Notre Dame in Paris), so I'll let the photos do the work here.

We decided to head back to the apartment for a mid-day break and come back out for dinner and drinks, but we took the long way back and walked around a mini-Chinatown and along Ste. Catherine Street to the Place des Arts.

After a quick catnap, we left for La Banquise, a Montréal poutine institution.  The restaurant is at the corner of Parc La Fontaine, so we took a quick stroll through it, where we had our weird encounter of the day.  A middle-aged gentleman, with stringy, dripping wet hair (though the rest of him was dry), came up to us and told us, in English with a French Canadian accent, that he was from a small town of 637 people and that he was surprised and fascinated by Montréal, where there were all kinds of people.  Didi and I waited for the ask, assuming he wanted money, but he just walked away.  It was weird.

At the restaurant, where there was a line out the door, I ordered "La Mart," which comes with hot dogs, bacon, and mushrooms.  It did not disappoint.  Tabasco, ketchup, and mayonnaise are also provided at each table if you are so inclined.  I tried it with all three together, and it was pretty good, although the ketchup blends in with their house poutine sauce.  The place is open 24/7, so I have to assume it is full of drunk people in the wee hours (and if I lived here, I would certainly be one of them).  Overall, I'd say the first five bites of poutine are awesome, the next ten are pretty good, and after that it gets to be a little too heavy.  This is coming from someone who filled in the blank, "Life is ___.  Everything else is just waiting," with "getting food at McDonald's," and was raised on family-size bags of potato chips, so take that warning seriously.  Service is a little slow, but this is not a meal to rush through in any case.

Tip: Cash payment here is like in Germany, where you pay the server and ask for change back, with tip in consideration (i.e., you don't leave the tip later).

Small things I've noticed:  The city is incredibly bike-friendly, in terms of dedicated lanes and what seems to be a highly utilized bike share program, but our host mentioned that bike thefts are also extremely common.  There are hippies everywhere.  I've seen more dreads today than in the year before we left.  The city is very residential.  Here is a typical street:

Also, advertising here is not sexual at all.  It's all just professional and/or happy-looking people with information about the product the ad is selling.  Literally the only advertisement I've seen today that cashes in on anyone's sexuality is this one:

We just spent three hours chatting with our host, who I've concluded is my CouchSurfing soul mate.  We have the same retirement plans, speak several languages in common, love eggs benedict, and have a very similar taste in humor.  What more could you ask for?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Shaking Off Some Rust

Dear Followers (all two of you),

I sincerely apologize.  Since I've last touched this blog, Candide has flown in a hot air balloon in Turkey, cruised to various European ports followed by two weeks of frolicking about in the Old Continent, and lounged on the beaches of Cancun... but these adventures have gone unrecorded.  Sorry, Rousseau; we shall share the same regrets.

This uninhibited forfeiture of memories shall be remedied.  Candide is now on a cross-country road-ish trip (with flying), and this journey will be trogged.  Although he's been to 20-odd countries, Candide has only seen a handful of the 50 United States he calls home, and as I am about to slave the remainder of my youth away at a law firm, this is the optimal (read: only available) time for a long road-ish trip.

That's not to say that we can't start with a little international intrigue though.  We begin our journey in the faraway city of Montréal.

We (my friend Didi and I) rented a car this morning from Newark Airport, which took roughly five times as long as expected.  First, the system had some issue, so we couldn't add a second driver to the trip for quite some time, and then our assigned car's service light was on.  We actually didn't notice this, and what led to its discovery was the fact that we couldn't turn the car on.  Yes, that's right.  Apparently there are newfangled cars where you have to turn the steering wheel out of its locked position before/while (?) you turn the ignition key.  This feature is as puzzling to me as keyless ignition.  It doesn't seem any more technologically secure - you still just need to have the key to operate the vehicle - but it seems to provide security entirely through frustrating potential thieves into changing their minds.  That is, car thieves who are inexplicably unfamiliar with how to operate the cars they steal.  Anyway, we flagged down an Avis guy for help, and he noticed the service light briefly came on while the engine turned on.  (Don't all cars do this?)  He didn't trust it for us to use for a week, so he upgraded us to a nicer car.  Meanwhile, various indicators are always on in my parents' vehicle, but, "Don't worry, that light is always on.  It's fine."

Tip: Your credit card may cover car rental insurance, but only if you have no other source of insurance, so look into your policy before you decide to opt for the rather expensive daily coverage through the rental service itself.

Tip: Airports have cheaper car rental rates than neighborhood locations.

Tip: THERE ARE A MILLION CAR RENTAL FEES.  (Ok, that's not a tip, but the total price will be way higher than their $X/day advertisement would lead you to believe.)

The drive through upstate New York is pretty pleasant as far as backdrops for highway driving go, and I may pay a visit to the Adirondacks and surrounding lakes at some later date.  Especially if I go through a moody writing phase where I just need to live my truth, man.

New York is also apparently obsessed with stopping texting while driving.  Rest stops have been renamed text stops.  (For real.)  There are signs at regular intervals explaining that New York state law revokes your license after three texting violations.  And yet we still passed someone who had their phone in their face.

Tip: Buy a GPS for long road trips.  It won't drain your battery or your data plan, and if you mount it properly, you won't die.

I imagine that working at the U.S.-Canadian border is one of the most relaxed border-related jobs there are.  A few brief questions and we were through.  Nearly immediately after crossing the border, there was a sign illustrating that the road may be icy when the temperature is below zero (Celsius).  I'd think twice about settling my permanent residence in a country where such a sign is necessary at its southern-most border (assuming we're in the northern hemisphere).  There was also a sign reminding people that miles are not the same as kilometers.  I'd like to assume this is a reflection of the esteem in which Canadians hold their American neighbors.

We arrived at our CouchSurfing host's apartment a little before 10 PM and look forward to Old Montréal adventures tomorrow.  It is really French here.  But not the kind I understand.