Un petit morceau de Montréal

Disclaimer:

Dear French people,

Please forgive the very likely possibility that all my French words/expressions are wrong and/or misplaced. Je suis sorry :(

Last weekend I took a trip to Montreal. Granted it’s already been five eight days (I started this post on Friday)since said trip so some parts of this post might be made-up hazy on the details. The last time I went to Montreal, it was one of those single girl Eat, Pray, Run from hobos weekend.

This time it was more of an Eat, Eat, slow-comatose-jog away-from-hobos type of deal. I learnt a lot about my digestive capabilities, much like how Elizabeth Gilbert learnt how to make millions writing about hers.

Regardless, I tossed a dollar into one certain hobo`s venti Starbucks cup; he was a real entertainer. He was outside the Metro, theatrically jumping up, down and around a milk crate giving a gallant French sermon in a booming voice that would make The Tenors want to tranquilize him, steal his vocal cords and leave him with a ten dollar bill, bleeding from the neck in a ditch behind a Montreal poutineri.

Many people asked me whether I was visiting friends in Montreal or whether I was taking a trip with someone. Apparently,  the idea of going alone for no conceivable reason isn’t something that crosses the minds of normal people. This is why I never update my Twitter. It’s easier to just shrug a no then it is to type ‘Solo getaway to Montreal, bitches!! #foreversingle’.

Is it really so bad  that I find sitting awkward and alone in fancy restaurants infinitely more appealing than taking long knee-busting yet dreamy romantic walks through the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal? #sarcasm

Speaking of fancy restaurants, I went to many! When I say many, I mean two.

It was Friday night when I had my first food experience. I was perusing online for places to eat when I stumbled on one very close to the Bed and Breakfast I was staying at. It was a tapas place. Tapas make me nervous. Who knows how the hell to order them?

The place I wanted to go to was called Confusion Tapas du Monde. The irony of its name was not lost on me while I spent the next 45 minutes goggling what is tapas and how to order it. The best answer was: Ask your waiter.

I called the restaurant. This was the actual conversation we had:

Tapas waiter: Bonjour!

Karen: Hello sir. Do you speak English?

TW: Yes ma’am. I actually speak very good English.  (Dollop of politeness with rich warm undertones of french sarcasm)

K: Great! I was just wondering….do I need to make reservations for one?

TW: You’re coming for dinner on a Friday night by yourself?

K: Yes.

TW: We can give you a table at the bar.

K: At the bar?! Can I not have a table?

TW: But the bar is actually quite pretty.

K: I’ll think about it.

I thought about it. As much I’d like to brag that I decided to have my Montreal adventure on my own terms, did I really want to sit alone at the bar of a restaurant where I’d be too culturally handicapped to properly place an order?

Of course not! But I went anyway. I have no Eat, Pray, Love reasoning behind embarrassing myself except that I was just very hungry.

Confusion Tapas du Monde. The bar (against the wall) WAS very pretty. Yes, those are swings. Genius.

I had three dishes.

Exaggeration alert: The broccoli soup was THE BEST I ever had. It came in a mason jar. 

The coolest and most ineffective way to eat soup

I also had escargo on a slice of zucchini and some grilled calamari. I couldn’t take pictures of everything on account me looking like a complete moron. So I drew you the closest thing.

I even ate the leaves.

Average rating of Tapas Confusion: 4 out of 5 maple syrup lollipops. An extra half eaten one for the smartass waiter.

_______________________________________________________________

The next restaurant I want to talk about is Verses. This is a restaurant that I stumbled on by accident which is why I’m so pleased with myself. I originally intended to go to another restaurant that I checked out on Trip Adviser  But when I got there, it was looked like a truck pit stop with penis drawings on its Closed sign.

N’importe quoi! (my cheap googled french way of saying whatevvverrr!)

I walked around hungry looking for alternatives but everything seemed unnecessarily expensive. Finally, in the heart of Old Montreal, I found a cheaper oasis called Verses. The interiors were fancy enough. And yet their prices were deceptively cheap(er). $22.00 for a two-course meal was acceptable to me.

I ordered the cream of cauliflower soup because I`m a toothless old woman at heart.

The best part of this soup was that I didn’t need my dentures to have it.

The entrée was where I had a similar conundrum to Confusion Tapas. There were three items I could pick from: 1) Boring salmon. 2) Interesting sounding beef tartare 3) Good ol` steak.

The beef tartare looked very intriguing. Mainly because I had no idea what the hell it was and this weekend was all about treading into the unknown. I had no google on my phone, so I texted one of my friends and asked her. No response. I decided to bite the bullet and asked my french waiter whether he recommended the beef tartare or the steak.

“Madamoiselle, beef tartare is raw beef.“

Steak it was. I`m all for treading into the unknown, but you have to draw the line when the unknown involves the possibility of explosive diarrhea.

My blackberry camera makes everything on this plate look rarer than it actually is

Average rating for Verses: 4 out of 5 maple syrup lollipops. And extra one for the waiter not judging me.

For the sake of this blog post not becoming 72 pages long, I will now only post some more very bad photos I took of my food from all the other places I ate at. This neither diminishes nor takes away from the fancy feel of everything.

Like this whole wheat crepe filled with walnuts, pesto and goat cheese at La Brioche Lyonnaise- a cute little cafe on St. Denis:

I endured three stares and a dramatic eye roll for taking this picture. You’re welcome.

This tiramisu that I took to go without taking a fork.

When our minds fail us, we have hands.

And the most terrible crime of manners in the history of manners: A sneaky shot of the first course of my lovely THREE COURSE homemade breakfast that our host Nathalie made for us. This was poppy-seed bread pudding.

Each following course does get bigger in portion size

And for good measure, here’s the farmer’s market where I got the best honey and maple syrup in the world.

Beautiful fall day at the farmer’s market

I just noticed that there are grapes hanging from the ceiling.

And that was my awesome food adventure in Montreal. I hope you enjoyed these photos as much I enjoyed eating whatever is in them. I have officially decided that a spring and fall trip will be a Karen tradition from now on. Where else would I get honey for my tea?

The Montreal Chronicles: Eat, Pray, Love Run from hobos

The following photo montage is a testament to the awesome weekend I had in Montreal. Trust me, this time it might be better if you see pictures instead of reading about me ramble on about how I loooooooove Montreal. This is not to say I won’t have SOMEthing to say about it. Anyway, let’s begin with the begining.

I got to Montreal by the Greyhound. The Greyhound may not be the most humane way to travel, but it is definitely the cheapest. After an all night 8 hour bus ride, I finally got there at around 9am and checked into a little Bed and Breakfast. I had the cutest room at the BnB, HANDS DOWN. Not that I saw anyone else’s room but seriously…how cutesy is this!

You cannot tell from the picture but this room is actually on a pretty crazy slant. Tres charming!

There was no better feeling in the world than passing out on that bed after a long night of the inhumane Greyhound night bus. And what’s more, my awesome host Natalie treated me to a three-course breakfast. I didn’t know three-course breakfasts even existed.

Anyway, on with the adventure:

EAT:

Lots of unhealthy eating was definitely done.

At Nickel's which is a restaurant chain owned by Celine Dion. Not even the song "My heart will go on" in the background was going to deter me from devoring the deliciousness on this plate.

 

Montreal's finest poutine. Just a quick explaination of what that styrofoam container contains for non-Canadian readers: that delicious heart-attack over there is french fries and oodles of gravy topped with cheese curds.

 

I haven't been to all the places in the world but Montreal quite possibly has the best almond croissants in the world.

PRAY:

Solo getaways are also great for getting in touch with your spiritual side. There’s nothing like not having your friends to stay out with till 4am and dissolve your troubles in tequilla shots.

The majestically towering Notre Dame Basillica

Notre Dame Basilica. One of the most gorgeous, peaceful and soul-stirring churches I've ever been in.

St. Joseph's Oratory. The Oratory is sitting on a hill behind the statue of St. Joseph in the Montreal fog.

RUN AWAY FROM HOBOS:

If you ever go to Montreal, you may or may not notice the population divided into three categories.

1) Normal people: These are people dressed like you and me. Regular Joe’s and Josephina’s going about their daily business of being French. If you are not a normal person and live in Montreal, then chances are you belong in one of the following two categories.

2) Hipsters

3) Hobos

One of the first things that happened to me when I got there was a fellow that looked like he had been living on locusts and brambles his whole life  came chasing after me screaming “Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle!..” followed by a string a French words. He could have been asking for sex or he could have been asking me for a chapstick. Who the hell knows. He even started talking to me in English to get me to talk to him. It was clearly amusing to everyone, including my iPod which actually quite appropriately started playing the song “Howling for you” by The Black Keys.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that since the culture of Montreal seemed to be predominantly hipsters and hobos, it might be appropriate to let you in on some tricks on how to be able to tell the difference.

The main reason why you would even confuse Montreal hipsters and hobos with each other is because: 

1) They both usually have beards.

2) They both wear mismatched clothes and don’t care.

3) They’re both bilingual.

However, here are the subtle differences:

1) Hobos will talk to ANYONE including you, animals, buildings, inanimate objects and themselves. Hipsters only talk to the latest version of the iPhone.

2) It is very easy to get a hobo’s attention. Just the mere fact that you exist in Montreal means a hobo or two will find you and chase you. You wouldn’t get a hipster’s attention even if you were dressed like Lady Gaga riding a giraffe holding a giant rubber chicken.

3) Hobos smell like urine and cigarettes. Hipsters smell like Starbucks and indifference.

And if you are still unsure, I drew you a picture that you can print out and take with you if you ever go to Montreal:

Now you know the difference. You're welcome.

All jokes aside, Montreal is absolutely gorgeous. Even after being chased by hobos. Here are some of my favorite photos:

Old Montreal.

Rue St. Catherine. The shopping street where I spent the rest of my time when I wasn't eating, in a church or being chased down the street.

More of cutsey Old Montreal

Surprisingly there were no couples trying to take cheesy photos near the LOVE structure. Guess I was the only cheesy one there.

Horse-drawn carriage ride along the cobblestoned streets of Old Montreal. Pretty freaking romantic if you're unfazed by the constant overpowering smell of horse poop

                                                                                                                           FIN

And that’s my little Montreal photo album for you. The weekend was way too short for everything I wanted to see and do but the whole experience still has me on a high. I’m already planning my next getaway and what I’m going to cover. I have a feeling there will be plenty of more Montreal Chronicles in the future. Until next time, have a happy Monday (about as happy as Monday could be).

Everything I know about dating, I’ve learnt from public transit

This post is dedicated to anyone who has ever lost a piece of their soul to the Toronto Transit Commission, York Region Transit or dating.

__________________________________

The dating world for a single 25 year old girl these days is a pretty scary place. It seems like every where you turn there are drama queens, cheaters and serial killers.  Coincidently, these are exactly the kind of people who ride the TTC #36 at 6:45 in the morning. Wait, maybe I should put that in a more charitable way. At 6:45 in the morning,  public transit swallows up the human soul and spits out a social ogre on to the little red seat. Come to think of it, I don’t know how that’s charitable to anyone…except maybe ogres.

This has been my first week back at work after my 7 week hiatus of foot recuperation, and never before in my life did the similarities between 21 century dating and my commutes on the Animal Express hit me so hard as it did this morning.

Ain’t nothin magical about this school bus!

After my first two bus transfers, I waited to take my third and final bus to work, the York Region Transit. Quick Note: Did you know that in a shamefully non-scientific study that was done this year, the YRT was found to be the single leading cause of murderous rage and/or high-risk suicidal behavior? People who steal your stapler at the office and  stupid girls who try to pick up change at the check-out counter with curly 17 inch nails that have kittens  and palm trees drawn on them tied in for second place.

This morning the YRT was doing what it does best, standing everyone up when they needed it the most. There was an assortment of society’s finest who were bracing the long wait with me. Among them were the confused deaf guy, the young intern guy, the curly haired office worker girl and my personal favorite, the Indian girl talking really loud on the phone with her mother in a really thick Indian accent.

It was somewhere between the deaf guy running around convinced that everyone was keeping top secret bus information from him and the Indian girl talking loud enough for every man, woman, child and stray cow in India to hear her that I realised I have been in every dating public transit situation there was to be. And since my bus wasn’t going to be there for at least another hour, I mapped out my whole dating journey into a blog post.

My dating journey began some years ago with:

 Short Turn Steve.

Short Turn Steve was a streetcar who appeared sooner than I expected him to.

What’s right with Short Turn Steve?: He was open, accomodating and had no funky odors. I wondered at my luck in snagging this one.

What’s wrong with Short Turn Steve: Steve shortturned after 5 stops, unable to take me any further. Then he turned around and went back to where we started.

Moral of the Story: Ditch you best friend, Over Analyzation and get off the Island of Why-the-hell-is-he-not-calling-me after 5 wonderful dates. If there is any lesson you can learn from Streetcar Steve, its that there’s probably too much construction ahead for this to go anywhere.

Trampy Train Trevor

If you have done the locomotion that is the Toronto subway train, you will understand my relationship with Trampy Train Trevor.

What was right with Trevor?: He was always available, generally showed up on time and took me where I wanted to go.

What was wrong with Trevor?: If you stayed with this guy long enough, you’d realise that you were just going around in circles. Not to mention, Trevor would stop at EVERY station…EVERY five minutes…and let EVERYone have a go with him. 

Moral of the story: Charming cassanovas like Trevor might take you to see the night lights of a beautiful metropolitan city but could care less about bringing you home safe if you stay late. In the end, he’s screws you over…just like he screws EVERYone else.

Stand you up Sven:

What’s right with Sven?: Sven was the out of towner whose bandwagon I got on because a large portion of my life is spent at work out of town. Plus, he’s foreign.

What was wrong with Sven?: He had no concept of how to deal with a fast-paced city girl like me and only seemed to show up when he felt like it. He was super nice, super comfortable to be with and super unreliable. Also, what kind of a name is Sven anyway?

Moral of the Story: There’s nothing worse than having to wait for two hours in the cold winter for Silly Sven to show up, right? It could only get better from here, right? Wrong.  

Bus of Bullshit Bobby:

Bullshit Bobby was the miserable shuttle bus that replaced Sven.

What was right with Bullshit Bobby: Nothing. He just happened to be there when I was cold, tired and desperate.

What was wrong with Bullshit Bobby: Everything. He had too much baggage, too many people and no space for me. I was pushed around, forced to deal with everyone else`s drama and the ride was so bumpy that this whole journey started to literally become a pain in the ass. Eventually, Bobby broke down with all the weight and the drama and I decided to just walk home.

Moral of the Story: In the end, I learnt that the one mode of transportation that didn’t fail me when I needed it the most were my own two feet.

____________________________________________

I’d like to say the journey ends here but something tells me that come tomorrow morning, this shit cycle will begin all over again. And it won’t end until I save up enough money to buy a car and get over my nervousness of driving.  Sure, a car is a commitment and maintence and is emtionally and financially demanding. But so is dating taking the bus. The only difference is, if you treat a car right, they will always bring you home. No matter which hole in the wall you are stuck at.

So here’s hoping that one day, some day…us singletons will have a car all to ourselves. And when that happens nothing and no one, (except traffic) will make us wait out in the cold anymore.

Bienvenue à Awesome Montréal

So I went to Montreal last weekend. The plan was to go on a pilgrimage for the recent canonization of Brother Saint Andre, eat poutine and smoked meat and take in some fake French culture.

Montreal is beautiful. It is the home of the famous Notre Dame Basilica, the house of the best poutine in the world and  has one of the best public transit systems. Moreover, everyone looks beautiful and speaks a delightfully bastardised version of French.
 
Here are some of the awesome things I observed: 
 
 One of the first things that struck me about Montreal was that there were gigantic holes in the road. And these weren’t just little manholes that small children and squirrels fall into. These streets boasted  enormous asteroid crater-like excavations that made Godzilla’s footprints look like poodle paws. Awesome.
 
Second thing that struck me about Montreal was that everyone looks AMAZING. Like they just walked out of an European travel guide. Much to my delight, the Torontonian concept of “I will wear pyjamas and socks with Birkenstocks in public because I don’t care  about my appearance” is  noticeably absent in Montreal. Except if you are a hobo. Awesome.

Moving on from the first two glaringly observable observations, the third thing I noticed about Montreal on the very first night we got there was that the food is delish. But I decided to hold off making any hasty reviews about food quality knowing that pond scum and lizard legs would be delish after 7 hours on a bus.  

The next morning we walked everywhere looking for a nice restaurant that would serve a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and hash browns. We had zero luck  finding any such place. This could have been because Montrealers are classy French people who will only elegantly pick at croissants and sip cappuccinos for breakfast. I think  though it was mostly because we completely missed the Eggspectations restaurant five feet away from our hotel.

Out of sheer hunger, we went into a bakery to get breakfast and were rewarded with the best almond croissant I had ever EVER tasted in life. I had it with a cappuccino. The food in Montreal… definatly Awesome.

Almond Croissants. Photo by Lee-Ann Attong

The fourth thing I noticed about Montreal is the great subway system they have. Known as the Metro, this form of public transit is super easy to use, cheap, made the city very accessible and is very quick. We were all impressed. I also observed that their subway cars are significantly smaller than the Toronto subway cars. At one point, I was literally face-to-face with a fellow commuter. Hmmm, maybe it’s a French thing. Awesome. (The Metro, I mean)

The fifth thing about Montreal that got to me was the beauty of Old Montreal. After opting not to pay money to enter the Notre Dame Basilica, my friend Jocelyn and I suddenly had some time to kill. So we walked about on the cobblestones listening to fiddlers and seeing more asteroid holes. The actual architecture of the place was breathtaking. Even Chinatown was cobblestoned! Montreal by far had the most classy Chinatown in the world, beating Toronto Chinatown, New York Chinatown and China. Awesome.

 For the sake of not making this post the length of a 5000 page book, the other things I found awesome about Montreal was the 24 hours Poutine place that served up some ultra fattening yum in the tum, Montreal smoked meat, French bakeries, 24 hour fruit markets and maple syrup lollipops. I must say, most of what I found awesome about Montreal is the food. I also found it rather interesting that most of the food Montreal is so famous for makes you obese and yet the people all looked slim and non-obese. I think it’s because they fool the tourists into spending money on poutine and lollipops while they sneak in to the 24 hour fruit market when no one is looking.

Montreal Smoked Meat. Photo by Lee-Ann Attong

I also got to take in some Montreal culture which I learnt was predominantly gangsters and hobos.

In the midst of all this Montreal hoopla, it was easy to forget the real reason I was here. And that was to see one of Canada’s finest receive the highest accolade from the Catholic Church.  Everything was dubbed in French and the numbers of people gathered there were a fire marshall’s nightmare. This was by far not the most enjoyable part of this trip when compared to walking on cobblestone streets, sampling decadent French pastries, shopping downtown and sharing laughs over Chamomile tea at Starbucks. And yet, when the moment came for St. Andre to be canonised, there was a jolt of energy that when through the church inspite of the tiredness, sleepiness and agitation.

I’m not going to be cliche and say that this moment surpassed all the other things I experienced. But I will say that when I think of Montreal I will remember it as being a place where it is possible to have a spiritual experience inspite of being pushed around in a crowd of 1200 at 4 in the morning.

I will also remember that when buying lollipops in Montreal, the word ” suçon” means lollipop. Not “sucette” which means hickey.