Montreal, the Cultural Melting Pot of Canada

03 – 07 November 2010

I was off to Montreal; from what I’d heard it was the cultural melting pot of Canada with great music, a great art scene plus fantastic food and drink. Everyone I’d talked to had spoken highly of the place; I had compiled a list of things to do, things to eat and things to drink – I was excited.

To get there I booked a Greyhound bus to Toronto (From Waterloo), once in Toronto I’d figure out the next step. Peter kindly dropped me at the Greyhound stop at Waterloo University where we said our goodbyes and I thanked him for his generous hospitality which had made my stay in Waterloo so enjoyable.

Upon arriving in Toronto it was time to figure out what to do next, I needed to stay the night somewhere, but where? Greg had said I was always welcome and I really wanted to get to know him better but unfortunately he wasn’t able to lend me his couch that night. Fortunately Dan and Calina said I could stay again so I was stoked to spend another night with these cool people. Plans really started to fall into place when I managed to arrange a ‘rideshare’ to Montreal for the following morning. Different areas of Canada utilise either Craig’s List or Kijiji as their classified webpage of choice, both of which have a well used ‘rideshare’ category.

I found myself crammed in the back of a small sedan next to a back haired, black clothed, pierced and tattooed girl also taking the rideshare on her way to an alternative music festival in Montreal. Sitting in the front seats, our hosts on this journey, were two girls, gay I decided; we spoke a little about trivial matters but soon the conversation died down and I was left to ponder what wonders Montreal would bring. I had plenty of time so I also pondered why the girl in front of me did not consider moving her seat forward even a little and also where I would sleep that night.

My trip wasn’t completely unplanned, I had looked earlier on Hostel World and it appeared that there were a number of hostels with good ratings in Montreal, and if all else fails Calina said she had a good friend in Montreal who she could call. So really there was nothing to worry about and certainly nothing to bother stressing over, go with the flow.

Sure enough I got a couch surfing response when I was sitting in a cafe in Montreal later on but alas it was just an invitation to go out with a couch surfer’s flatmate for a night on the town; well it didn’t sound like an invitation to stay the night. All the same I was keen to go out so I made contact and just to be sure that it wasn’t an invitation to stay I was very specific in saying that it may take me a while to get to their house as I would need to check into a hostel to leave my stuff before arriving. She said that sounded good but I had a worrying suspicion that we were having a miscommunication (French / English issue). [Any native French speaker reading this, hell anyone without English heritage will probably rebuke me saying that I wasn’t ‘specific’ at all in my clarification of whether they were offering me a couch or just an invitation for a drink. I tend to agree, the English have a peculiar way of talking around the point, leaving the other party to spot the intention of the conversation; all because its supposedly impolite to ask a direct question because that would potentially then make it awkward for the other party to say ‘no’ if  that was their intention – bizarre]

Unfortunately my preferred hostel booking site seemed to be having site problems and whenever I tried to book a bed it would respond with an error specifying that the date I wanted was in the past – it wasn’t. Forced to turn up at the hostel without a booking I wrote down directions and headed for the subway system. Here was where I really messed up, I knew something wasn’t making sense but all the same it wasn’t until I’d stupidly rode the subway system for over an hour to the very end of the line that I clicked that I must have written the tube’ direction’ down instead of the actual stop I wanted. Sure enough when I booted up my computer I discovered that I should have exited at a stop only a couple of stops away from where I originally was. To make matters worse the hostel I had been heading to had now become fully booked so I had to find another. By the time I was finally checked in it was late and I had to contact the couch surfers to cancel, speaking on the phone they were surprised to hear that I was at a hostel because they had been under the impression I was coming over to stay the night! Aaah, I have got to learn to speak French!
As an afterthought I should also learn to speak Spanish, German and Italian.

[pe2-gallery class=”alignright” ] Interesting Buildings - Montreal Waterfront.JPGInteresting Buildings - Montreal Waterfront-2.JPGInteresting Buildings - Montreal Waterfront-3.JPG[/pe2-gallery]

Having already screwed up one couch surfing experience in Montreal I was determined that the next one should go smoothly. Luckily Jared responded to my couch request and he turned out to be a very easy going, cool, hospitable character who also spoke English as his first language.  Jared was studying at a university nearby my hostel so he came by after his class and we took the tube back to his place where I met his flatmate Erin and Erin’s new puppy Rufus. During the course of my stay I really enjoyed Jared’s company, I found him to be open minded, passionate about life and generally easy to get on with.

The flat, centrally located in Montreal in an area popular among an orthodox Jewish community had character, the centrepiece in my opinion was the slanted wooded floor in the kitchen; Erin described how they use to use office chairs for the kitchen table but had to find other chairs when they kept returning home to find all the chairs had rolled to one side of the room!

Erin worked as an opera singer in Montreal, he came across as an energetic, passionate person; intelligent, open and friendly. I liked him. Jared as I have mentioned was studying at the time but due to finish shortly and was trying to plan the next stage of his adventure through life. He spoke of wanting to do ‘tree planting’ which I’d never heard of before but it made sense that someone needed to plant the trees for the huge Canadian forest industry. New Zealand also has a large forest industry so I find it somewhat embarrassing that I’d never considered how the trees appear in their nice neat little rows. [As of writing I’ve heard that Jared did find a job as a tree planter in British Colombia (BC), satisfying his desire to work outdoors, to visit new places and to earn some money.]

Lastly I met Erin’s new puppy Rufus which he’d picked up from the SPCA only a week earlier, he was a cool dog and Erin had him surprisingly well trained, especially considering he’d only had him under a week.

[pe2-gallery class=”alignright” ] Exploring Mount Royal - Montreal-3.JPGExploring Mount Royal - Montreal-1.JPGExploring Mount Royal - Montreal-5.JPG[/pe2-gallery]

That day Jared needed to put a little work into an assignment so I headed off to a central area of Montreal where I did some widow shopping for outdoor clothing and eventually found a woolly hat I liked. Later I met Jared in a coffee shop and we went for a wonder around town before picking up some beers to take back as well as some handmade bagels from the coolest bagel shop ever which just happened to be one block away from where Jared lived. This bagel shop did big business in bagels, the front window was piled high with sacks of flour and Jared explained how they would get through most of those sacks in just one day!

During my stay with Jared I drank quality Quebec beer, ate fresh bagels, sampled Montreal’s famous cured meats in the form of the meatiest sandwich ever, consumed Montreal’s slightly more famous Poutine dish and more. The popular cured meat shop/restaurant reminded me very much of the Philadelphia Cheese Steak experience I’d had, Jared and I lined up for probably thirty minutes before we were able to get inside the place, then they loaded up a huge amount of meat between two slices of basic bread and we were left to attempt to eat it all. The popular restaurant where I ate Poutine had over twenty-five varieties of Poutine on the menu, I decided to start with the classic dish and explore varieties from there. Essentially if you wanted something on your Poutine they would be able to sort you out, they were the Poutine masters.

[pe2-gallery class=”alignright” ] Smoked Meat Sandwich - Just Look at All That Meat! - Montreal-1.JPGSmoked Meat Sandwich - Just Look at All That Meat! - Montreal.JPGPoutine - A Montreal Essentialj.JPG[/pe2-gallery]

Other experiences in Montreal while staying with Jared included a nice walk up the hill in Mount Royal where I was able to take some photos of the large metal cross which forms the centrepiece of the hill; originally erected in 1643 by the cities founder in fulfilment of a vow he’d made to the Virgin Mary when she supposedly fulfilled his prayers and stopped a disastrous flood. I also managed to cycle around a decent portion of the city one day on Jared’s bike which gave me a better perspective of its size and layout. Lastly one of my favourite experiences with Jared and Erin was the pasta night Erin held one evening, we made fresh pasta, drank beer and played French scrabble with a number of Erin’s friends – many of them singers also.

[pe2-gallery class=”alignright” ] Mount Royal Cross - Montreal.JPGMount Royal Cross - Montreal-5.JPG[/pe2-gallery]

To really experience Canada I wanted to get out to the Maritimes, to see where many of the founding Canadian settlers lived and hopefully experience a little of the wilder side of Canada. Luck was on my side and I managed to find a ‘rideshare’ with a guy heading all the way to Halifax, the capital of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.