IMG_20160703_154145

Day 10: Au Revoir Paris, Hallo Amsterdam.

Way back when I was planning this holiday I made sure any travel days had as much slack in them as possible. My paranoia about missing something and throwing the whole holiday out of whack was strong back then and, unfortunately wasn’t made any easier by this morning’s events. You see I’ve never really used the train as transportation, save for a few scant trips around Sydney back in my youth. So the notion of crossing country boundaries via a land based transportation system was foreign to me and, even with the reassuring words of my friends that trains were “the way to go” in Europe I was a tad anxious at the prospect.

IMG_20160703_154145

Arriving at the Gare du Nord in Paris I was greeted with a similar level of bedlam that I’ve come to expect at airports of similar size. Then a sinking feeling hit me: was 1 hour enough to navigate this mess and find our train? We initially hopped in a line that appeared to be leading somewhere only to be told that it was for a train to London. A few more helpful people later and we’d activated our Eurail Pass and found the line for our train which was departing in about 20 minutes. So whilst I might have panicked initially really there wasn’t much to worry about.

The train ride from Paris to Amsterdam, which I’m told is monopolized by Thalys, was amazing. The seats were the size of business class seats on any airline and there was more than ample space between rows, even for someone of my stature. The food service was generous with the hostess coming past multiple times in our 4 hour journey asking if we wanted drinks or snacks. Best of all the ride was smooth and incredibly quiet. Basically it’s everything you wish air travel was, save for the fact that for longer trips it loses out on the time factor. Now I wish I had known about the overnight train between Munich and Rome before I had booked the hotels as I think that would’ve been quite the treat.

We arrived late in Amsterdam late in the afternoon and quickly made our way to our hotel which is located right next to the Van Gogh museum. It’s an older establishment, essentially being an overgrown bed and breakfast, but the woman who greeted us at the reception was kind and incredibly forthcoming with information about where we should go. After we got settled in I established contact with an old friend and former housemate who we’d arranged to meet here and we began the trek to meet him at the halfway point.

We met up at a place that reminded me of a lot of the bars in Melbourne, a place called Kriterion, The beers there were extremely cheap and the quiet ambiance of the back street it faced a nice backdrop for sharing our current travel stories. It wasn’t long before we all downed a couple beers and were looking for some food which led us on a winding tour of the surrounding district. We eventually settled on an Argentinian steak place that did their signature cuts very well although the beers and drinks had a distinctly weird taste to them. Satisfied with our dinner we parted ways for the night, although I’m sure this won’t be the last post where I mention our friend.

It will probably come as no surprise that I was struck by the number of bikes, both those in use and locked up on the streets. This is a town that was made for bikes, the distances between places short and the streets built around them. What also took me aback was the similarity of architecture from street to street, enough for a new tourist like myself to get lost in (and I did more than once). There are colourful and unique places to be sure however in general most streets had a very similar look and feel to them.

Tomorrow we’ll finally do something we’ve been wanting to do since we landed in Europe: a bike tour of the city we’re in. Our hosts here at Hotel Fita had good things to say about the tour we chose so hopefully we’ll get a good look over the city proper. After that we’ll probably visit the Anne Frank house as our host had said that it was much less busy in the afternoon. Potentially after that I might be swayed towards a night of debauchery with my friend, a known fiend for finding interesting places to drink in foreign countries. Should tomorrow’s post come a little late then you’ll know why and you should probably not assume the worst.

If another day passes however, send help.

IMG_5859-HDR

Day 9: Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame and The Pantheon.

Not having a firm schedule is a blessing…most of the time. My alarm that went off at 7AM (unchanged from yesterday because I had simply forgotten) but we didn’t make it out of our room until 2 hours later. This is something of an issue if we wanted to catch breakfast in our hotel which stops getting served after 10AM. Still we made it with time to spare and spent the next hour or so making final preparations before our trip to 3 of Paris’ big attractions. The first stop: the famed shopping street of Champs-Élysées.

IMG_5859-HDR

The street of the Champs-Élysées is quite impressive, harboring a massive 2 lane highway that’s surrounded by high end shops on either side. Whilst they were great to gawk at we didn’t end up buying anything from them, likely due to my long relationship with Internet shopping which has ruined me for travel purchases. Still I love a good browse and there was definitely some interesting affair on display. The highlight would have to be the people peddling 20 minutes in a Ferrari for the low price of €90. I declined of course, I far better things to spend my money on than a short joyride that would be equivalent of a month’s worth of petrol for my trusty Volkswagen back home.

The Arc de Triomphe is an impressive structure, towering over the intersect that snakes around it. We decided against ascending to the top since it didn’t seem worth it, especially compared to the view we got at the Eiffel Tower the day before. I have numerous pictures of it that are ruined in some way by…ugh… people. I’m sure a bit of work in Photoshop could see them removed but I can’t help but think how much easier my photography life would be if people weren’t a part of it. We didn’t spend too long here before trekking off to our next destination: the Notre-Dame de Paris.

The scale of the cathedral really cannot be understated, it’s an incredible structure especially given its age. The religious aspect was, of course, completely lost on me and indeed I’m sure many people would mistake the awe of something so huge for some kind of religious divination. Regardless it was still worth the visit, providing ample photographic opportunities and a place of quiet respite after the couple hours we’d spent traipsing up and down the Champs-Élysées.

IMG_5878-HDR

Around the time we finished up at Notre Dame we decided to find ourselves some lunch and, burned by our experience with a restaurant near a main attraction the previous day, decided to go for a short walk. We eventually settled on a nice little Chinese restaurant which had an amazing lunch special, far too much food for the amount of money we paid. After an hour and a half we pulled out the metro map we had again to see if there was any other sites we’d want to see before we called it a day. As it turns out we were only a couple streets away from the Pantheon so we headed on over to check it out.

It seems Paris has a thing for massive structures as the Pantheon was, yet again, just awe inspiring to see. I was surprised to learn that it housed an experiment that proved the Earth turns on its own axis, a pendulum suspended from the roof that precesses gently throughout the day. Even more surprising was that, in the crypt below, was the remains of Marie and Pierre Curie, the husband and wife pair credited with many advances in the fields of radioactivity. Standing next to her grave I couldn’t help but wonder how radioactive it was since I’ve long heard reports that her office is still highly contaminated even to this day. There were no signs however so I’m guessing it’s relatively safe.

With our day thoroughly completed we headed home, angling for a simple supper of pizza from a small shop down the road and wine from the hotel lobby bar. The pizza and wine were both surprisingly good, especially considering the price I paid for both. I have to admit something of an ulterior motive with this, wanting to recreate an experience that some of my friends had relayed to me when they had visited Paris some years ago. Whilst it wasn’t exactly the same the essence of it was still there and I can definitely see the attraction to simple Parisian foods and their accompanying booze.

Tomorrow we will say goodbye to Paris and move onto Amsterdam. Like all good trips it seems that just as we were getting comfortable with our host city we’re bound to leave it. Strangely though Paris was meant to be a sort of throwaway for us, a short stop to get us started in Europe before we moved onto the real parts of Europe we wanted to see. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time here however, finding much to enjoy in Paris’ sights and attractions. I guess the real test now will be how the other European towns we have scheduled stack up and whether or not Paris can stay on top.

IMG_5773

Day 8: Catacombs, The Louvre and the Eiffel Tower.

An all too familiar noise blared from the table across the room: the sound of both my watch and my phone hammering their alarm tones. We’d made a plan last night and were determined to stick to it and that meant getting up at a respectable hour. Thankfully the half day we’d spent lazing around yesterday meant we were mostly up to the task, slowly getting ready before we trundled down stairs to face the day and the hotel breakfast. After we were fed and watered we made our way down to the closest Paris Metro station and were off on our first journey all by our lonesome in the city of love.

IMG_5773

Our first stop was a must-see attraction that numerous people had recommended to us: the catacombs of Paris. I had read several people mention that showing up after it opened was a sure fire way to lose 2+ hours and so we arrived at 9AM sharp in the hopes it would only cost us an hour wait. After circling the block several times trying to find it we eventually figured out that the small line of people, which I had initially dismissed, was actually the line for the catacombs. It was good we showed up when we did however as by the time the doors opened the line was around the block. Not 5 minutes after it opened we were in and descending down into the underground labyrinth.

I was first struck at the magnitude of the place, a giant network of tunnels buried under the bustling city above us. You always see things like this in movies and pictures but it’s a whole other thing to experience it for yourself. Then you come across the catacombs itself and it’s just awe inspiring. We spent so long looking at the piles of bones, seeing the different types of skulls and my wife translating the (admittedly extremely morbid) French writings on the walls. Definitely worth the early start and the hour spent waiting in line.

Afterwards we figured that going straight for the Eiffel Tower would be a bit of a crap shoot so we headed over to the Louvre. Despite what many people had said online the lines to get in where fine, maybe a 15 minute wait to get a ticket but then you were free to roam around the museum as you pleased. Again I was struck by the sheer scale of the place with multiple wings and levels all full to the brim with historic artifacts and art pieces. We made a beeline for the ancient Greek antiquities section (since I kinda dig Greek mythology) and spent hours perusing the collection.

Of course we hit a few of the main attractions like the Venus De Milo and the Mona Lisa. Frankly the scene that I saw at these works of art angered me in a way I never thought I would be.

IMG_5794

I get it, you want a picture to show you were there. You need proof to validate the fact that you were within a stone’s throw of an iconic piece of art. But that picture will likely never see the light of day or go unnoticed in a mass uploaded album with the 30+ other pictures you took of all the art you saw. None of these people who you see stammering for a photo took even a few seconds to stand back and appreciate the art for what it is, they were all concerned about capturing it for later when that later will never come. It really does sadden me that this is what iconic art is reduced to for some people: a status symbol that conveys no status.

I did have a lot of fun photographing the crowds that were taking photos, however!

IMG_5804

After a pit stop for some lunch at a nearby cafe we made our way over to the Eiffel Tower after successfully navigating the convoluted route that Google Maps had put us onto. The lines to get into the tower weren’t so bad in the mid to late afternoon although getting to the summit took us at least an hour shortly after. The views of Paris, even from the second level, are quite stunning, highlighting just how big the city is. You can see all the big attractions from up there and even size up the Eiffel Tower against all the other tall structures of the world. Surprisingly Telstra Tower even gets a mention, being about 2/3rds the size of the Eiffel Tower. After we’d spent a good amount of time at the summit we descended back down and made our way back to our hotel.

If I’m honest I expected at least one of the activities I described above to go belly up due to any number of reasons. The weather has been pretty fickle of late and it was threatening to rain all day. We seemed to have lucked out however with the rain only coming down when we finally decided to leave the comfort of our hotel bed in search of dinner. Hopefully our luck holds for the rest of the trip.

Tomorrow will probably be a much lazier day as we’ve already hit our big 3 and what’s left are things we could easily go either way on. Plus I’m not particularly looking forward to a repeat of today’s walking performance (my UP3 reports a total of 21KM today). I’m sure we could do more if we wanted to, and if we really wanted to splash the cash on a few things, but we’ve still got the rest of the holiday to look forward to and I don’t think either of us in much of a rush.

IMG_20160630_115244

Day 7: Bonjour Paris.

Our flight over to Paris was uneventful and short by comparison to our previous endeavors. When I had arranged everything I knew we were going to be arriving well before check-in was open at our hotel (Holiday Inn Canal De La Villette) but the reviews had said a few people had managed to wrangle their way in early. Alas we were not so lucky and had 3 hours to burn while we waited for our room so we could wash away the previous days travels. I had figured we could just take a short trip into the city’s center and wander around for a bit but my poor wife was in no form to do so.

IMG_20160630_115244

We followed the canal southward, perusing the various cafes and restaurants as we went. I was a little taken aback by how similar all the menus seemed to be, all offering the same variation of a couple dishes. Turns out this must just be the street menu as when we finally decided on a place their offerings were far more wide and varied. I settled on duck with a pepper sauce accompanied by potatoes covered in bacon. A decadent meal, to be sure, but its simple composition is something that I really did appreciate.

Full from lunch we waddled our way back to the hotel, only managing to kill a couple hours. My wife decided it was nap time and used my legs as a pillow whilst I continued reading my book and playing a few games on my phone to pass the time. We were eventually allowed up into our room, a balcony suite on the top floor, and we both quickly made a beeline for the shower. My wife then collapsed on the bed where we inadvertently spent the next few hours, something that won’t do us any favors jet lag wise.

We then started to plan our activities for the coming days only to find that trying to book things this close is something of a fool’s errand. Now this may be because we’re here during the middle of the Euro 2016, something which I (in my usual fashion of not following sports at all) had neglected to account for. So instead we’ve settled on something of a priority system: go early to the things we really want to do and then do others if we’re able. This has us settling on doing the catacombs in the morning, the Louvre right after and then seeing what the lines are like over at the Eiffel Tower. Whether we make that all or not is a question I’ll answer tomorrow.

My first impressions of Paris are much like that of Montreal, although without the dichotomy of new and old in such stark contrast. It is interesting to note the cycle of the city is different to what I’m used to, the ebbs and flows of everything happening well after I’d expect them too. We’re towards the outer rim of the city so I’m sure it will be much more frenetic when we finally make the journey to the center tomorrow morning. I’m hopeful that we’ll get to do all the things we’ve planned tomorrow, even though we haven’t been able to secure our spots ahead of time.

We almost immediately fell back into our old habits again, trying to plan as much as we could in the short time we have here. Whilst I certainly want to make the most of this trip the last thing I want to do is burn myself out on planning before it even starts. I’ll have to keep an eye on that.

IMG_20160630_080814

Day 6: Goodbye Canada.

The final days of any trip are always a time of mixed emotion. This is especially true for today as we close the chapter on one part whilst simultaneously opening one anew. It’s also the time where the responsibility for our day to day activities transfer to us fully and, much to my dread, relies on the countless hours I spent planning our travel all those months ago. It doesn’t matter how many times I check our itinerary that feeling that something is amiss won’t go away until we finally make the journey. With all this in mind we didn’t have much planned for today and even that didn’t get done in the end.

IMG_20160630_080814

We started our day at a local breakfast joint, one that was very much reminiscent of all the diners that we’d frequented on our previous trip through America. Our waiter’s tired eyes and frantic demeanour belying what must have been a rough night before. I, foolishly, ordered eggs benedict ala Harry (with bacon, onion and asparagus in the hollandaise) thinking that $15 would net me a decent meal only to be presented with something that could have easily fed a family of 4. I gave it the old college try but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stomach breakfasts like that.

Unfortunately, my poor wife took a very hard turn for the worse right around the middle of breakfast. She has been struggling with something ever since she came back from Indonesia last year, something that seems to flare up at the worst of times. This torpedoed what loose plans we had, taking us back to our hosts home in the hopes to rest up before our flights over to Paris. Thankfully, with the help of some anti-nausea medication, she managed to overcome the worst of it just before we had to start making our way to the airport. I certainly wasn’t looking forward to explaining to airport security that my wife was fine, she just didn’t look it.

Much to my surprise getting through Montreal airport was a breeze, meaning the extra hour we’d allocated to getting through was returned to us. We’d hoped to make use of the American Express lounge which the website had told us was available however our Westpac Black Cards confused the reception staff. I heard them muttering “Centurion” several times over, which our cards are most certainly not, but I think the confusion was enough for them to say they wouldn’t let us in. My wife was very dejected at this prospect; she does quite enjoy the lounges when we can get access to them.

I’ll leave it at that for now, seeing as I’m writing this on the last leg of our flight to Paris and the definition of what constitutes a “day” is somewhat blurry at this point.

Looking at our itinerary I can’t help but feel that I might’ve been better served by cutting one location in favour of adding more days to the rest. Our brief discussions on what we want to do in Paris have highlighted the few precious days we’ll actually have to do things, the days that bookend our stay almost wholly dedicated to travel. Of course the places I wanted to stay for a longer duration do have extra time allocated to them, but there are 3 destinations where we really only have 2 days to see what we want to see. Still I’ve often felt I’ve stayed too long in places before so maybe the short time I’ve allocated will be enough.

IMG_20160628_130143

Day 5: Not All Days.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the idea that days where you do nothing are wasted. This is especially true if you’re wired like me, looking to extract the maximum benefit out of anything you put your time towards. It is a destructive habit and the cause of the need for a “holiday from the holiday” that many experience upon their return. So for days like today, one spent doing nothing much of anything at all, aren’t wasted. Instead they are the time to take stock of what has been, what will be and, if you’re lucky, come to grips with things that may have been troubling you for some time.

IMG_20160628_130143

Today we only had the loose idea of going to see a movie, tossing up between Finding Dory (my wife’s vote) and Independence Day: Resurgence (our hosts vote). We landed on the latter, although honestly I had no idea what we were seeing until we got there (I was deep in thought, more on why in a sec). Since our slumber saw us rise rather late in the day our breakfast was enough to tide us over for the movie’s duration, the popcorn left for the other patron’s enjoyment.

The movie itself was enjoyable if highly predictable. It’s something of a touchstone for my generation, being one of the first “big” movies many of us would’ve been old enough to remember seeing in some detail. It does a good job of paying homage to the past but, unfortunately, makes the unforgivable mistake of loudly crying sequel at the end. I know Hollywood isn’t exactly renowned for taking risks with new IP but dredging up a 20 year old movie and setting it up for unlimited sequels feels like a new kind of low, if that’s even possible.

I’ll still probably watch them though. I feel kind of dirty for typing that.

My wife wanted to indulge in the poutine that Canada is famous for whilst we were here but her lactose intolerance (even with the assistance of lactese tablets) was getting the better of her. So instead we went to a local burger house called Bistro Burger Town and saddled ourselves up for a very late lunch. My lunch of a smokey BBQ burger and chips was fantastic, washed down by the Boreale Rousse beer that I had become fond of over the past few days. Afterwards we made our way back home making a quick pit stop for supplies before settling into a few TV episodes before calling it a night.

I realized today where that feeling of “wanting it to be over” was coming from. Holidays give you time to think on a scale that cannot be matched, allowing all those thoughts that you push to one side to surface anew. Couple that with a lack of any form of routine and you’ve got a recipe for a weird kind of anxiety that, in my case, manifests itself in a desire for it all to be over. This feeling does go away when the holiday finishes and I return to the order of my normal life, but that doesn’t mean the things that cause it in the first place are going away.

Indeed I’ve realized that since this is my first long period of breaking away from routine in 6 years I’ve got a lot of pent up thinking to do. I’m lucky enough to have most of the larger issues already sorted in my life but there are still some fundamentals I think need to be addressed. Funnily enough some of them concern this very blog itself, something that’s been an ongoing presence in my life for the better part of 8 years. Thinking about them a bit more I realize all of them are about change, where it will lead me and whether or not I want to be the agent of it.

Come to think of it, I think our honeymoon on Turtle Island might be to blame for all this.

Although I never posted them (and I get the feeling I should now, although I think they’re at home unfortunately) I did actually blog the majority of the honeymoon whilst we were on Turtle Island. For the first half of the trip the posts were much like this, recounting the events for posterity and a little waffle at the end, however about halfway through they changed dramatically. I remember having the most vivid dreams, all in series, that seemed to draw on numerous aspects of my life from the years before. Whilst I don’t believe there’s any meaning to derive from the dreams themselves I do believe the rapid succession was a kind of unwinding of pent up stress that I was finally able to let go of.

And what would await me at the end of this trip? 6 nights at a resort in Greece, specifically chosen to allow us to unwind at the end of the trip.

It would seem I’ve crafted my own web upon which I’ve become tangled. Thankfully I think it’s a problem that will be easy to address and will ultimately see this holiday mean a lot more than just the memories and pictures we bring back with us.

IMG_5756

Day 4: Polar Bear’s Club.

I awoke to a dull light illuminating the room. Erroneously thinking I had woken up before everyone else I decided to grab my phone and check the time: 11:00AM. The dull light wasn’t from the sunrise, no it was because the weather had finally turned and we were greeted by our first overcast day since arriving. We had known this was coming and had planned accordingly, today would be spent lazing around the house and eventually making our way out to the Polar Bear’s Club, a relaxation spot where we’d spend the afternoon to early evening lying in pools, sweating in saunas and getting the requisite massage that all holidays need.

IMG_5756

The late morning until afternoon was uneventful, spent half watching TV, browsing the usual websites and lazily getting ready to go. I made the mistake of opening up my work email (with all good intentions of shutting it down after I set my out of office message) and reading through the various trials and tribulations that were going on half a world away. Thankfully I resisted the urge to respond to anything, merely marking the vast majority of the 60+ emails as read and leaving the rest for future Dave to solve.

The trip out would take us the better part of 2 hours thanks to some heavy traffic along the way. I thought myself rid of all the jet lag however I was hit with a wave of tiredness I hadn’t yet felt, bringing into question just how well my circadian rhythm had adjusted. It passed quickly after a short nap however although I’d be lying if I said I felt it was completely gone. Shortly afterwards we arrived at our destination, a semi-rural retreat called the Polar Bear’s Club that was promising us a day of relaxation after the mild bedlam of the past few days.

The spa itself is set against a picturesque river, albeit a stones throw away from the main highway. My wife was disappointed to see that some of the renovations had, in her opinion, made the place worse and wished to show me how it was when she was last there. Undeterred we made our way in, got changed and proceeded to make use of the facilities. The warm pools and brisk river were great to jump between, invigorating the muscles and mind. We also spent a little time in the dry sauna that was powered by eucalyptus wood making for a rather intense experience.

The massages were so-so, our masseuse unable to conjure up the requisite strength to penetrate my wife and I’s muscles to our satisfaction. However the wet sauna we went into afterwards made up for that in spades, seeping the heat deep into our bodies. The steam was, again, infused with eucalyptus ensuring that every breath drawn opened up the airways fully. I couldn’t stand more than 5 minutes in there however. The walk to the door was also quite a challenge, the extra height gained from sitting to standing enough to dramatically increase the heat I received.

This was to to be the night where our hosts would cook us their favorite three cheese pasta however we were all drowsy from a long day spent doing nothing. Instead we decided to grab some food and watch something light before retiring. This plan went well until we discovered some mold in some of the sandwiches we had bought, something which the restaurant did make right by us thankfully. With that we bid the night to a close and left our plans open for the next day.

This being my first real holiday in 6 years I had forgotten one of my less-than-desirable habits: wishing that this whole thing would be over. I don’t know what causes it, maybe out of a desire to finish things in as short a time as possible, but I can remember thinking the exact same thing on nearly every holiday I’ve been on. There’s only one cure I’ve found: getting beyond the halfway point. I’m sure sometime tomorrow it’ll finally hit me that I only have 2 days left here and almost a week will be gone from our holiday already but until then there’s still a nagging thought train pushing me to “get this holiday done”.

Whatever it is if it doesn’t abate soon I’ll be treating it with a non-zero amount of gin and other high strength spirits 😉

IMG_5736

Day 3: Jazz and Rockaberry

I expected to pay for my day of fun this morning, thinking my legs and feet would rebel after the some dozens of kilometers I walked the previous day. Seems I must have been doing something right with my exercise over the past couple years as there wasn’t a hint of additional soreness to be found. A quick stretch after an (admittedly very lazy morning) saw me prepped and ready for the day ahead. Not that we had much in the way of plans for the day. No the planning was reserved for tonight: a great dinner accompanied by live jazz music all for celebrating our host”s birthday.

IMG_5736

Our day started with a trip to Le Déjeuner Cosmopolitain, a breakfast restaurant who specializes in crepes which could leave two people satisfied with a single serving. I indulged in one of bananas and strawberries, smothered in a far too generous helping of Nutella. This was also when I made my first dining faux pas, fat fingering the credit card machine and accidentally not giving them a tip. I didn’t realize this until the waitress asked me profusely if her service was ok which clued me into what I had done.

We then debated the merits of making a trip down to Old Montreal to kill time before dinner this evening. In the end we decided against it, figuring we’d only have a couple hours before we’d have to rush back home to get ready. So instead we lounged around our host’s house, watching a movie and just generally milling around. In hindsight this time may have been better spent doing the few errands we needed to do before we went out as the next hour or so was a mad rush.

The restaurant we were going had an offer going on Living Social, giving us essentially half off our bill. Unfortunately we didn’t have a printer at this house so our host’s parents graciously offered us the use of theirs. I noticed a HAM radio whilst we were there and meant to strike up a conversation. I was later told that, whilst our host’s dad would be very appreciative, we’d like not have made it out of there for many hours if I had. Once we had that sorted we were off and into downtown Montreal traffic, something that delayed us for much longer than Google had estimated.

The House of Jazz was an amazing venue, one that our server had told us hadn’t changed in the better part of 40 years. Halfway through the night a live jazz band began playing which, whilst entertaining, was a bit of a killer to the conversation. Still we managed to get acquainted with everyone at the table, hearing their stories, regaling them with ours and wishing the birthday girl all the best for the coming year as a slightly older person.

The night didn’t end there however as, since we weren’t allowed to bring our own cake into the House of Jazz, we decided to frequent one of our host’s favorite places: Rockaberry. The cake selection was impressive, ranging from the simple favorites like apple crumbles to the extravagant like an Oreo cheesecake. I made the mistake of ordering a hot chocolate on the side, my insulin rocketing to all new highs and threatening to send me into a food coma in no short order.

As I type this we’re lying on the couch, waiting patiently for Game of Thrones to download. Our host is an unabashed fan of the series, the books dotted throughout the house and the couches covered in cushions adorned with the Stark emblem. This will be our final hurrah before we call it a night for some well needed rest. Tomorrow we shall be spoiling the birthday girl (and ourselves!) once again with a trip to the Polar Bear Club spa for a day of relaxation.

IMG_5721

Day 2: La Ronde.

There’s a scratching noise coming from the corner of our room. I think it’s just the cat, it’s scratching pole is in our room, but it’s too methodical. The noise is rhythmic and not enough to fully rouse me from my slumber. I learn later that it was my wife beavering away at the personal gift she’s made for her friend’s birthday which is tomorrow night. An hour or so later I find the energy to lift myself out of my bed and begin the day, one that will see me touring Montreal’s premier amusement park: La Ronde.

IMG_5721

Our hosts are making us breakfast today, a simple one of coffee, eggs and bacon. Now I’m usually one for eggs, they’ve long been ruined for reasons I can no longer remember, however I’m tempted by some home made hot sauce that had a powerful aroma. Eggs, when accompanied by something with actual taste, are a far more palatable affair. Of course in usual fashion I probably overdid it and paid the price over the course of the day. The rest of the breakfast was delightful however, even the filter coffee which is typically trash in these parts of the world. Once we were done it was a quick trip to La Ronde and revisiting something I hadn’t done in half a dozen years.

The weather is pretty much perfect, although being in the sun with no shade did push it into unbearable territory. Unfortunately we found ourselves in peak season so the park was somewhat packed. However the time spent in lines passed quickly, the conversation flowing around numerous topics whilst we waited for our turn on the ride. We managed to hit all the flagship rides including a large, wooden roller coaster. Unsurprisingly it was exactly how I remembered riding a similar one in Australia, my bones shaken to the core and my adrenaline sent to all time highs.

Our hosts had warned us of one roller coaster, one that had been recently changed to go backwards rather than forwards. This coaster had apparently made both of them quite ill for a period of time, enough so that both of them warned us against riding it. Their warnings were only reinforced by the fact that the lines for this ride, out of the all the rides, were non-existent allowing us to stroll right up and get straight on. The ride itself was great however but our newfound strength and hubris would soon be our downfall.

To cap off the day we boarded one of those typical carnival rides, the ones with the seats on long chains that spin around for a few minutes before sending you back down to the ground. All of us walked away from that feeling rather awful, a simple and uneventful ride able to do more damage than all of the previous combined. This made the walk back to the car a slow one, the nausea only abating once we’d finally found our way back home.

The day was finished with an extremely late dinner at a lakeside restaurant, one that our host had previously worked at. I indulged myself in an old favorite, BBQ chicken wings and a blue cheese burger. Canada might not be America but I’ll be damned if the portions aren’t the same. We once again began the slow waddle back to the car to end our night back at home.

All the while this went on I couldn’t help but remember how I felt the previous time I was here. The city of Montreal is a dichotomy of old and new, juxtaposed against each other nearly everywhere you look. Even the new can look old too, with (I’m told) the construction handled by the Montreal Mafioso who do poor work for extraordinary pay. I find it interesting as cities typically gentrify holistically, sections being upheaved and renewed in one fell swoop rather than in isolation. But this is just the view of an outsider, I have no reference as to why these things are they way they are.

IMG_20160624_100249

Day 1: So Many Planes.

The alarm goes off but I’m already awake. It’s going to be our first big trip in 6 years and my mind is churning through all the things it doesn’t need to. The anxiety that’s been building up over the past couple months, anxiety born out of a fear of actually taking some time off work, is wrecking all sorts of havoc on me. The text message at 4:30AM saying our flight has been delayed doesn’t help but it quickly turns out to be nothing. We board our plane at the crack of dawn and jet off into the sunset, the first step on a 3 plane and 24 hour trip that will see us land in Montreal, Canada.

IMG_20160624_100249

Had it not been for a work trip to Singapore earlier in the year this would be my first international trip in quite some time. Before then such travel was simply par for the course and I had developed numerous habits that helped make each trip that much easier. Those habits were long gone now, my knowledge of airports up heaved by the rapid change they’ve all undergone over the years I’ve been absent. Once I boarded our Air Canada flight to Vancouver however all the worry quickly melted away to be quickly replaced by the drudgery that is long haul cattle class travel.

The flights were uneventful, filled with average food, surprisingly decent wine and fitful attempts at trying to get some sleep. It seems that being able to sleep on planes is one of those useful habits that has slipped by the wayside as I only managed a couple broken hours over the entire day I just spent in planes. The shining star however is the Kindle Paperwhite that I picked up before I left, stacked to the brim with enough eBooks to last me for the entire 5 week long trip. I’ve found myself reading a lot more than I would have otherwise, something I’m sure many of my friends would be delighted to hear.

We arrived in Canada to the usual fanfare of tired people waiting in lines. Our hosts (one of which is my wife’s best friend and the whole reason we’re in this country) were caught up in the catacombs that is Montreal’s airport car park. They found their way to us eventually and we were quickly off to her new house to while away the rest of the day.

The trip there was an interesting mix of nostalgia and wanderlust. There were so many places that I recognised from our previous trip: the hotel we stayed in, the Tim Horton’s that we drunkenly stumbled into at 2AM for doughnut holes and the supermarkets we frequented to get snacks for movies we watched of a night time. The weather here is beautiful but I’m told it won’t last past the weekend. Thankfully we’ll be able to cram in all the cool outdoor things before the weather turns and then spend the rest of the time resting up before we depart to our next destination.

It’s strange thinking back to the last time I was here. I was a completely different person back then and now I’ll be experiencing the same thing again in a completely new way. I guess this is the first stage of me taking stock of everything, something which I think is a core part of what a holiday is regardless of the destination. Tomorrow we’re going to La Ronde, the largest amusement park in Montreal, and after my experience with Disneyland all those years ago I’m very much looking forward to it,