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Canadia 2008, Part 1: Montreal

February 19, 2008
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Class ended Friday afternoon and I rushed to Aquarium Station – my first time using the Blue Line – to meet my ride to le Canadia: a nondescript Chevy Malibu filled with characters worthy of the (optimistically-speaking) six-hour road trip. We got off to a good start, were creeped out by the innumerable personalized license plates united with the ominous “LIVE FREE OR DIE” motto in New Hampshire, stopped at Target to buy an iTrip, were offered ten dollars by a BMW-driving woman for the use of a cell phone during a lengthy traffic backup on 89, found 25-cent parking and terrible Mexican food in Montpellier, encountered the friendliest customs official in the history of the universe, and watched the outdoor temperature reading steadily drop the further north we drove while listening to a never-ending 90s playlist. We eventually arrived in a -14°C Montreal shortly before 10pm, where I was dropped off in the (student) ghetto to meet my friend at whose house I would be staying.

We went out on St. Laurent Friday night and returned home earlier than anticipated due to exhaustion. The next day, the two of us walked up Mount Royal (Montreal’s namesake) to see a gorgeous view of the snow-covered city at dusk. We got more than slightly lost on the way down the mountain, but thanks to a cab we were soon back in familiar neighborhoods. We decided to have Ethiopian food for dinner, which I had always heard unpleasant things about but decided to give it a shot. It was absolutely delicious! We had wanted to go to the highly recommended Nil Bleu on St. Denis, but it was completely packed and impossible to get in without a reservation, so the host directed us to Abiata, its sister restaurant down the street. To adventurous eaters out there – give African food a shot and you won’t be disappointed (and take a look at what injera is – I was mesmerized from the moment I saw it).

After dinner, I met up with friends for drinks at Café L’Étranger on Ste. Catherine, and then caught a few hours of a 24-hour improv show that had been in progress since noon and was scheduled to continue until noon the following day. I didn’t make it that long.

On Sunday, we met a friend for brunch at Universel on St. Denis (we actually went there the day before and couldn’t not go again), and then headed over to the beautiful Saint Joseph’s Oratory. I couldn’t believe how much it felt like being inside a prison, not because I’m anti-Catholocism, but because the architecture was shockingly sparse and abstract instead of Gothic. There was a lot of concrete, flat surfaces, and suggestions of shapes instead of detailed sculptures. I still don’t know what to make of it, but it was stunning to say the least.

I met up with another friend for coffee while my host got some work done, and then later on headed down Parc to a house party consisting mostly of improv people. We had a great time chatting and speaking of logic problems, then headed home around 1.

Monday morning meant another brunch; this time we went to a hidden place called Dusty’s, which had some of the best French toast I can ever remember eating. Plus it came with a collection of tropical fruit that is unrivaled by anything else: mango, pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, grapes, cantaloupe, banana, regular pears and prickly pears! None of us knew what the last one was until the waitress told us. It tasted a bit like a pomegranate to me, but I could be dead wrong about that.

We took off shortly thereafter and had a mostly uneventful return trip. This time we had nondescript Italian food in Montpellier, shunned the parking meters, and drove through sheets of rain instead of snow. We also encountered deer, moose AND bear crossings! Not that there were any animals present at any of them, but we were still excited.

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