The morning sky was dark and dreary with the grey clouds extinguishing any direct signs of the sun that we had enjoyed over the past couple days. We had planned to hit up Mount Royal today but the grim weather outlook for today put a damper on those plans. Instead Rebecca was keen to show me the neighbourhood where she grew up and there was the possibility of hitting up the Montreal Science Museum later in the afternoon before meeting up with Laura again. We dragged ourselves out of bed just a hair before 11am and headed to a brunch place I had tracked down through Yelp.
Our food took forever to come but it was a refreshing change from the last two days where we’d eaten at the same place previously. It was only a short trip to Rebecca’s old neighbourhood and only a few minutes later we were outside her old house. She spent the next 5 minutes regaling me with stories of the area pointing out the shed her dad built and the small forest of trees they’d planted on the corner of their plot. I had remarked on some of the houses in the street and she said that these were nothing compared to some of the mansions that were close by. Eager to check them out we made our way to the river side road that traced its way up the mountain, and what I saw next really surprised me.
Right in the same suburb that housed medium density apartments and a sprawling suburbia are these massive estates with houses that rivalled the ambassador residences in Red Hill and Forest back in Canberra. They ranged from classic American mansions to European castled themed residences, each of them with their own unique style. I can’t remember how many times we pulled over or turned the car around to get a better look at a house but the round trip took us more than an hour. We were running low on fuel so we decided to pull over and fuel up before making our way into the city. Rebecca picked up a bag of cheese curds to tide us over. I was a bit iffy about eating what amounts to unprocessed cheese from a service station but they were squeaky so they weren’t too bad.
We then tried to make our way into the city to hit up the science museum. Leeching off some local wifi we got directions and headed off on our way. Unfortunately the directions weren’t amazingly clear and we managed to get lost. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem but we were burning daylight and were going to be meeting up with Laura very shortly. With that in mind we retracted our steps back to the hotel and decided to spend the last hour or so in the gym before meeting up with Laura again.
After my initial blasé reaction to what was considered the most authentic poutine in Montreal Laura was keen for me to try some of the more exotic variations on the traditional recipe. One of the local pubs here in Pierrefonds did a curry poutine that, whilst replacing the curds with real cheese, was highly rated by both Laura and Rebecca. Upon arriving we ordered ourselves up a serve, thinking that for $7 we wouldn’t be overwhelmed with our “appetiser” sized dinner. This pub however prided itself on its large servings much like the Central Cafe in Queanbeyan. That serve of poutine was more than enough for both of us which would’ve been fine but I had foolishly ordered myself a Bison burger. Still we gave it the old college try and left the pub feeling very full and happy with ourselves. Laura had leave early but Rebecca wanted to get some coffee and the closest place was a Starbucks inside a chain bookstore called Chapters.
As we walked towards the store I remarked at how many of the other stores in this area were still open at 7pm on a Monday night. I wondered how any of them could make any money opening this late, especially for a store that sells say shoes. About 10 minutes later I found out as we browsed the bookstore for a good half an hour before making our way to the coffee section, some of our cash parting with us on the way. With our hot chocolates in hand we made our way back to the hotel ready to curl up for the night. Tomorrow’s weather was looking to clear up around midday, making a trek up Mount Royal possible. Since it will be our last full day in Canada we’re hoping to sneak these last few activities in before we say au revoir, so hopefully the weather prediction is accurate.
Even though I’ve only been in this hotel for the past 2 nights it was already beginning to feel so normal to wake up here that it just felt like any other weekend when I opened the curtains. The bright light flooded the room revealing a bright and sunny day with the overcast clouds of the past couple days banished to the far reaches of the horizon. Still Canada’s fast approaching winter made sure that any heat gained from the sun was quickly swept away by a crisp westerly wind leaving us just a little warmer than the day before. It wouldn’t matter too much today though since we were going to downtown Montreal to do some shopping and to soak in a bit of the local culture.
After driving around looking for parking we finally found a place that wasn’t too far from Laura’s old university. She regaled us with stories of the different places and how they’d changed over the years. One of the buildings we went by was newly built by her old university for the engineering department. Seeing it made my heart soar as it reminded me of how the University of Canberra shut down its engineering department due to lack of interest. If such a magnificent building was only just erected it meant that the engineering profession was alive and well here, and had the funding to go along with it.
As usual our late rise from slumber put our first meal of the day firmly in the lunch category and since we were near Laura’s old haunts we eventually settled on a crepe house that also did all day breakfasts. The food was cheap but surprisingly filling leaving all of us pawing at the remains whilst we finished off our coffee. I have still yet to find a place that does anything resembling the coffee I’m used to (and was spoiled with on my last trip to Melbourne) so downing the rest of the brown liquid was more for the caffeine than anything else. We started to head down towards the main shopping drag which contains Montreal’s Underground City, a large shopping complex with multiple subterranean levels.
We wandered around the place for hours checking out all the local and chain shops that made up this giant underground maze. It had 4 different areas that all had their own distinct architectural style to them, ranging from giant multi-floor underground atriums to densely packed strips of shops where no space had been wasted. The christmas flair had already been brought out as well with ornaments dotting most of the shops and a giant tree in the middle of one of the large atriums festooned with all sorts of mechatronics that puts anything I’ve seen in Australia to shame. After trying to find a few items and failing we decided we should begin making our way to our dinner spot since it was booked for a rather early 6:00pm.
We arrived there with about an hour and a half to spare so we hit up one of the local cafes to burn a bit of that time. Their coffee was the closest thing I’ve had to what I’d call proper coffee since I left Australia over two weeks ago so it was refreshing to say the least. After stealing their wifi for an hour we ducked out to grab a couple bottles of wine before going to grab our seats. Interestingly enough the wine here is extremely cheap with most bottles going for under $20. Couple that with the fact that it’s considered unusual to charge corkage and the number of bottles that adorned our table was close to one per person, a queue for what the rest of the night would entail.
Laura’s friend from work had arranged this dinner for us and she had also brought her husband and another couple along for the night. Usually my innate shyness would take over here and I’d sit quietly at the end of the table, enjoying the food and being happy with just listening. However since we’re strangers in a foreign land the conversation flowed with topics of comparisons between Canada and Australia, with subjects from the trivial to the enthralling. Even though I didn’t have a terrible amount in common with these guys I still felt like we hit it off well, especially considering we kicked on at a local irish pub. There I was introduced to 2 new drinks: the black velvet and the irish car bomb.
The Black Velvet is half a pint of Guinness on top of half a pint of cider. It’s an interesting mix with the smoothness of the Guinness first hitting you with a clean cider aftertaste. The Irish Car Bomb is half a pint of Guinness with a shot of Hennessy and Baileys on the side, drunk in Jaeger Bomb fashion. I’m a bit of a gun when it comes to drinking these sorts of drinks and promptly beat everyone to the bottom. There were a few misfires and with this particular drink there’s really no second chances since the Baileys will curdle very quickly on contact with the Guinness.
It was around midnight when we retired back to our hotel after saying goodbye to our newfound friends. We did make a quick stop at the local McDonalds to get some poutine before heading home, revelling in the novelty of ordering this localised fast food. It had been an exhausting day and we all collapsed on the main bed, dozing off to one of the movies I had brought along with me. Our plans for tomorrow to visit the cultural heart of Montreal, Old Montreal, were far from our minds as we lay down to rest, our bodies thankful for the peace after our day of shenanigans.
Right until I opened the curtains I would’ve sworn that it was still the middle of the night. Whilst we hadn’t partied particularly hard the night before we’d been lazing around in bed for a good few hours before we made those dreaded first few steps out of our comfortable little abode. It was still overcast and the rain from the previous day put a chill on the wind that seemed to cut through any layer of clothing. The side benefit was that you couldn’t be anything but awake when you were outside making us even more determined to get to our goal: Laura’s favourite place for brunch.
We arrived there not 10 minutes later and instantly I was struck with the similarity to the restaurant we had dined at the night before. There were lines of booths all the way up and down the restaurant with only a smattering of tables to cater to the couples and those dining alone. We were seated and given menus that could’ve been short novels with the selection being extremely vast and ready to cater to any taste. I selected myself some eggs benedict with salmon which also came with a side serve of fruit and house potatoes (mashed with a bit of garlic in them). The girls ordered similar and not 10 minutes later did we have our meals. They were quite large and I struggled to get through most of it, remarking on how over the last 2 weeks my usual rule of “If you pay for it, you gotta eat it all” had been promptly thrown out the window. I just didn’t have the urge to make myself at every meal.
After satisfying ourselves there Laura had some things to attend to so Rebecca and I retired to the hotel room. Whilst we spent the first hour or so trying to find things to do for when Laura goes back to work we soon became listless as our bodies struggled to absorb the massive meal. The next few hours were spent lazily watching the TV, waiting for the message to come through. During brunch Laura had mentioned that I had to try poutine (as any Canadian will suggest) but from this one particular place. I likened it to Chicken Gourmet back in Canberra, it was the place that everyone went after a good night on the piss and needed something to satisfy that early morning hunger. It wasn’t too far from where we were and not a couple minutes after arriving there did I have my prize:
This was the real deal with chips, gravy and cheese curds not just shredded cheese. You can tell curds are fresh by when they squeak against your teeth when you eat them and these were definitely fresh. I think I disappointed Laura though as my reaction was more like “That’s tasty” rather than “OMG I CAN’T BELIEVE I HAVE BEEN MISSING THIS ALL MY LIFE”. I’d definitely eat it again but I’m not about to be as obsessed about it as these Canadians are.
Rebecca and Laura had planned a night out at a spa with one of Laura’s workmates and for me they had planned a bro date with Marc. Since I had hit it off with him last night I wasn’t dreading it like I do with other forced social interactions. I fired off a message to him but didn’t receive a reply. Adding in the country code and sending it again I still got no response. Frustrated I called him and finally got an answer from him. He had responded but it just hadn’t come through, but phone calls seemed to work well enough. After figuring out where the hell I was he came around and picked me up. Tonight we were going to hit up a local micro brewery called Bieres Brasseurs which we had walked past the night before.
The place was packed as a hockey game was on but they still managed to seat us down the back. We ordered our first round of beers (he a wheat beer and I an amber ale) and food from the bilingual waiter and got into a good conversation. The next few hours saw us make our way through the beer menu whilst the crowd roared when the home team scored, ringing what sounded like a massive cow bell. The time went by quickly and after finding out that the girls wouldn’t be joining us after their night at the spa we decided to call it a night with Marc dropping me back off at the hotel.
The night reaffirmed the idea I had the night before that whilst travelling to new places is always interesting it’s the people that really make it worthwhile. We’ll be spending the next few days getting taken around the heart of Montreal and I can’t wait to get more acquainted with it. My walking tour of Miami had been great fun but it still lacked the human element to really bring the place alive, so I’ve got high hopes for doing the same with a local by my side.