Since it is reading break and I already turned down the chance to accompany 8 lovely friends to Cuba for budgetary reasons (can I really justify Cuba with Kenya in 2 months?) I headed to Montreal for a more affordable vacation. One of my oldest and dearest friends* WallRat** hosted me even though she is in the throes of her real masters program. Even though I have traveled through Peru, Bolivia and Chile (and ventured afar a few other times to Bermy and the UK) and have even ventured to Montreal once this was the first time in my life I have been faced with not being able to communicate due to a true language barrier. I could get by in Spanish even when I first arrived in Cusco and the first time in Montreal we had a French-speaking friend to guide us. This time WallRat and I were both at a loss for French words and a few times I ventured off on my own being both lost and not French enough. It was so pathetic. At first I was frustrated at everyone when I could tell (ok, assume) they could speak English just fine but refused to do so, not even slowing down to accommodate my complete confusion. After some reflection I realized that I was not really frustrated with them I was annoyed with myself that I couldn't ask even the easiest questions in French, summon the right vocab or understand basic directions. The first time I ever felt isolated by a language barrier was in my own country. I could write a scathing post about the abysmal French system in Canadian schools but I think I already have told the story on here about how my parents attempted to enroll me in French school as a child and were told that, since neither of them could speak French, I was not to be allowed in and there wasn't an immersion program in the tiny town where I grew up. Thank you Canadian government (and possibly Huron Superior Catholic District Schoolboard) for restricting my access to one of the official languages of this country, to communicating with fellow citizens and to future job opportunities. I'm still bitter.
I gave up even trying any French pretty quickly when I realized that I couldnt' open my mouth without Spanish coming out. I said "gracias" to a bus driver. "Si" came out any time I tried for "oui".
And after that rant I'll have to admit that I had a great time!
Nuit Blanche: We trekked outside in the freezing cold to experience the open night in the city. Our first stop was McDonald's. Sadly, that ended up being one of the only stops. It was so cold and we didn't have a definite plan so we wandered to Old Port. Apparently every obnoxious teen had the same thought (no, it doesn't say anything about us) and we could hardly move in the crowd. By 230am we were headed home with tired eyes and cold feet after having seen maybe one exhibit. Perhaps better planning next time but the company was great.
Ethiopian Food at Le Nil Blue: classy restaurant in St Denis that satisfied a hankering for some Ethiopian even if it wasn't as good at Ethiopian House in Toronto (which is more affordable too).
Poutine at La Banquise: a friend recommended this place and it was worth the metro, bus and walk to get there. Drool. I want it again. Note: you only need a regular...the large looked insaaaane. We got a classique and a BOM (bacon, onion, m-something sausage) to split and both were chemoreceptor heaven.
A Montreal Bagel: drool
Saint Joseph's Oratory of Mount Royal: this wasn't in the guidebook and no one had mentioned it before but a big thanks to B for recommending it! I put aside my feelings about churches and headed over by myself. B was kind enough to look up the directions giving me the stop to get off the bus at but that I should just watch for a giant dome, I couldn't miss it. Thank goodness I saw a sign (and that Oratorie/Oratory are spelled similarly in French and English) because there was no dome, you crazy kids. This is what I saw when the bus pulled up:
After wandering around the seemingly endless building*** for over an hour I left. After walking down the 5 or so flights of stairs and across the grounds I looked back again. Oh, apparently that's where I was!
Rock Climbing: I have found all the attractive men and they go to climbing gyms. Plus it is an intense (and intensely fun) sport. Thank pb&j that falling doesn't frighten me, I trust the belayer. Although I was doing 5-7s and fairly unsuccessfully I did refuse to give up until my hands would let me grip anything and my legs were shaking. I'd love to continue this a few times a week.
*We went to elementary school together in Wawa and then she followed me to the Soo for high school. We made horrible gingerbread cookies and held memorial services complete with flattened, stale and circular bread for hosts for her dead amphibian and reptilian pets.
**This nickname is appropriate for two reasons: she goes to the climbing gym all the time and she cuts the heads off rats and then studies their brain tissue. For her research, I suppose I should add.
***My favourite part of the whole building was the exposed rock face off to the side of the candle chapel. I spent the most time there just smelling it. That's right. One of my favourite smells in the whole world is being underground like being in a mine, all the cool, damp rock. Mmmmm.