Saturday, March 27, 2010

Montreal - Urban Hiking - Day 4

A travel day. I've seen all I can see this time around. But I definitely would like to come back. I know there are some places outside the city that I would like to backpack and camp. It just wasn't time for that yet so I got to hone my urban hiking skills. Haven't had to use those for a little while! Flights were all on time and travel was SO easy. People were friendly for the most part and it all went smoothly. I noticed right away how noisy Americans are and how attached we are to our devices. I think the French or the Canadian or the French-Canadian way suits me better.

Not bad for a last minutes "what's on sale" kind of trip! I'll definitely be doing that again!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Montreal - Urban Hiking - Day 3

Got up early again. But after breakfast I slept a little more before I got going. I think my subconscious was protecting me from the cold it knew was out there waiting for me! I was up and out by about 10:30am and headed for Vieux Port de Montreal (The Old Port of Montreal). It was 18 degrees. I was thinking Celsius. But no, that was Fahrenheit! Yikes! There were a few people out running but not many tourists like me taking photographs of everything. I walked as far as I could get along the trail. But at some point I must have veered wrong because I ended up at a construction site. There are still photos to be taken there but not exactly what I was looking for. Then, I saw a few people on the other side of the tracks (heheh) and knew that's where I was supposed to be. So back I went a little bit. I finally saw someone running where I thought I wanted to go so I followed him. I made my way to the Quai de l'Horage, which is a clock tower at the end of the Prom de Vieux Port. Spent some time there taking some photos and looking all around. There was a Molson plant nearby, which to me screams, "CANADA!" There was the Pont Jacques-Cartier, a bridge in the distance and a roller coaster (La Ronde). I walked back closer to the water and got a glimpse of some ships. It's clear there is not nearly as much activity today as there would be on a warm spring or summer day. But that's okay with me! As I was finishing along the Prom de Vieux Port, I came up some Cirque du Soleil tents. Things were being adjusted just enough that it seemed they'd not been there long. I'd seen no advertisements for shows so maybe they hadn't started yet. Then I thought perhaps this is where they train. It is a Cirque afterall and why not Montreal? I never found out the answers to my questions. Seems no one was paying them much notice at that time. But on their website it shows they will be performing toward the middle of April. Guess that's why I didn't see much advertising just yet. That would have been a nice surprise for myself! Anyway, it was cold and I needed to stop standing there contemplating. I made my way up Jacques-Cartier where the street was being blocked off for something. The weekend maybe. And then went back to my hotel after several hours out in the cold along the water. My fingers were frozen and I needed to thaw out and plan something warmish for my afternoon.

After an hour of thawing, I headed to the subway and the Stade Olympique. I had to switch trains at one point. Yikes! But I did fine. It still amazes me how quiet this subway station is. Partly because the people are quiet but also because the train is on tires. They look like regular truck tires. Seems the cars are held into place by metal wheels going sideways. But as far as braking and such, the tires seem to be the focus. So there's none of that metal screeching sound. Quiet. I was taking photos of the station and signs once I got off and a young man followed me. "Madam! Madam!" He thought I'd been taking his photo and I had to assure him that I was more interested in the structure than him. (=

The Stade Olympique was amazing! I spent a good amount of time in the Centre de Natation (Natatorium... swimming pool). I just kept thinking about all the amazing things that happened there in 1976. A lifetime ago. I didn't get to see the track & field or the gymnasium. I think I might have broken down in those. Bruce Jenner's heptathlon win and Nadia Comenici's perfect 10 were the big events during that Olympics. I did see the soccer stadium, which now belongs to the professional soccer team of Montreal, the Impact. Unfortunately I got to the auditorium just a little too late to ride up the tower. But just seeing it was amazing enough. The Biodome is also on the grounds. After a couple hours meandering around the grounds, it was time to leave. I wasn't sure about this neighborhood but I didn't think I wanted to be there at night alone.

Heading back to where I transferred trains, I decided to jump on yet another train and see where that took me. It ended up taking me across the Fleuve Saint-Laurent (river) to Ile Saint-Helene (island) and then to Longueuil where the Universite de Sherbrooke is. As we stepped off the train, I heard the most noise I have heard since I've been here. There were about 10 teenagers waiting for us to disembark and they all had flowers they were trying to sell to raise money for something. I couldn't understand that part. It was also the fastest I'd seen people move since I'd been there! The noise died quickly and it went back to it's usual quiet. I spent a little time there and realized I was on the other side of the Pont Jacques-Cartier (bridge) and the La Ronde (roller coaster). That was a nice surprise. There wasn't much around there within walking distance so back into the station I went.

I made my way back to the Place d'Armes stop and got out from under ground. It was getting to be dusk so I figured I should eat something. I decided to try out the oldest bar in North America. It's actually the place where the first liquor license was granted in North America. Le Saint-Gabriel, depuis 1754. I just had seared tuna and a Crown Royale and Coke. They were actually full but were nice enough to take a small table from a large group to let me sit there for a short while. Who says the French are rude?? They were very nice to me!

I wasn't there long as I wanted to make the last show at Basilique Notre-Dame. That sounds funny! Like it's Vegas or something. But no, it's actually a Basilica. Yep, Catholic. And yes, I chose to go there. They were having Et la Lumiere Fut (And then there was light). It was a history of Montreal and the Basilique Notre-Dame using actors (cheesy acting I might add) and beautiful lighting. As they described how each part of the church was designed, they would light up that portion in a variety of colors. It was quite dramatic and very difficult to describe in words! After the show, they gave us some time to wander around taking photos. Most amazing to me was the organ! It was the original. With some improvements and repairs of course. But it was monstrous and so beautiful. And there I learned the history of Montreal and the Basilique de Montreal. Fascinating!

Coffee. Then back to my hotel. Twelve hours running around town makes a girl tired!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Montreal - Urban Hiking - Day 2

I am not a morning person. Though I think that may only be when I'm working because when I recreate, I do tend to wake up earlier than usual. Today was no different. I set my alarm for 8:15am to be sure I got my free breakfast by 9:30am. Hey... I'm on a budget. Give me a break! I woke up about 7:00am and got up by 7:30am. So I started my whole day ahead of schedule. This is a good feeling! The two things I had planned for today were the Leonard Cohen Artworks exhibit and an Edgy Women performance. And so I started walking. I walked from rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste to rue Notre-Dame to rue Saint-Laurent to rue Saint-Catherine where the Cohen exhibit was. I got my first real glimpse of Basilique Notre-Dame of Montreal on that walk. Wow! I am not Catholic and the Catholics don't like me. But that structure is amazing! The minimalist side of me sees the disgusting excess but the artistic side can see how amazing it is. On Saint-Laurent I walked through Quartier Chinois (Chinatown). A colorful and dirty surprise. I hadn't looked at the details of the maps so that I would have this exact experience. Surprise! The foods on the sidewalks were varied and beautiful. The graffiti was creative. There was no particular smell. I get the feeling I was there too early for the sweet scents of food cooking. Saint-Catherine is known as Gay Village. But that wasn't on my map for some reason. What's cool about Canada is that even a Gay Village looks just like everything else. Gay people don't stand out there. Two men holding hands is no big deal. But I suppose it's still nice to have "a safe place" where one can say her community congregates. What I saw was mainly working people and students getting where they needed to go. Most of what I heard was French. There was very little English. It enveloped me in my own bubble and I loved hearing the singsong of their accents. Even the homeless people asking me for change sounded beautiful. I usually like to urban hike with my iPod on. I think of it as my soundtrack to the place and moment. But here, the soundtrack coming from the streets and the people was so much better than anything I could have created in a playlist. I also noticed that there weren't as many others on their phones or with headphones on as I have seen in other major cities.

I like the city sounds
Cacophonic at the same time
It's soothing to move with it
To be part of it
Maybe I'll cause a honk!

The highlight of my early morning was happening upon a place that served bubble tea. I don't know why. But I love bubble tea! I used to drink it as a treat when I lived in LA. But I haven't found a place in Minneapolis or St. Paul that serves it. It's been a few years. So I went in and ordered myself a Watermelon Bubble Tea. The bubbles weren't fresh, they were a tiny bit hard on the inside. But since it's been a few years, I still ate them. Or do you drink them? As I sat there, I looked over my map to see where I was and where I might like to go before Cohen. I was close to University of McGill so I headed up rue Guy to Boul de Maisonneuve and then up McGill College to the main entrance. I visited Musee Redpath where they were exhibiting dinosaur artifacts and a monstrous Japanese crab.

Then it was time to make my way toward the Cohen exhibit. I worked my way through the city streets to find the Galerie Lounge TD. I spent a little over an hour looking at his works. They also had his music playing. Good combination! His work is sarcastic and funny. Sometimes a little serious... usually when it comes to women.  I enjoyed it immensely. I also thought that this artwork would never have been shown or been ranked so highly if it had not come from him. Does that make sense? Because of his music and poetry, he is sort of a shoe-in in the art world. But still... I'm glad. Because, like I said, it was enjoyable. I bought the exhibit poster as well. That's not significant. Except that the woman minding the exhibit spend a good deal of time trying to find something workable to hold the poster so that it would not be ruined in my flight home. I realized quickly I was dealing with a perfectionist. Which was charming in French. Yeah, everything seems charming in French when you don't know the language. She could have been calling me a selfish rude American for all I knew. lol But I don't think so. She finally figured out a box situation that seemed suitable to her. I took a few more moments in another part of the galerie to look at some photographs mainly regarding breast cancer and mastectomies. There were some other photos too... mainly nudes. But the most poignant were women who'd had single or double mastectomies. Clearly still women with intact "womanhoods." It was beautiful! And then... I headed back to the hotel. I meandered mostly but did make sure to go down a side street within Chinatown. A funny thing happened on my way. I stopped to take a photo of a fire escape dragon painting and a woman pulled over and asked me directions in French. I didn't know how to say I didn't know. lol But I heard "Notre-Dame" so I put up 2 fingers and pointed left... it is two blocks to the left. She nodded, said "Merci" and was on her way. I had given directions in French on my first full day in Montreal. A proud moment! heheh I walked 5 hours this morning.

Back in the hotel I took a short nap, showered, and got ready for my theatre outing. But more importantly, I had to get ready for my first subway ride! I'm not sure which I was more excited about! lol The subway was SO easy. My only problem was I couldn't read the ticketing machine. These kind of experiences are good for me. I have a Ph.D. so I don't have much trouble getting around in my world. What must it be like not to be able to read or find things easily. Now I know. Though I understand I still have privilege even when I don't speak the language. Anyway, I had to get help from an attendant. He was very nice. I explained myself way too much! But I got my ticket. And off I went. I didn't have to change trains at all so that was good. The theatre was very close to the station so I got there very early. Which was good because I hadn't purchased a ticket yet. I didn't want to charge it because I didn't want to give Wells Fargo the satisfaction of their idiotic surcharge. (= Then I walked around the neighborhood, which was more residential than anything. Across the street from the theatre... a bike shop! I knew I would find one at some point. I went in and Rocky Mountain mountain bikes were the main attraction there. Makes sense to support the local bike maker. It was tiny and crowded. I loved it! They didn't speak much English and were very busy so I just browsed. I kept trying to find something.... ANYTHING... that I need or might ever need. But I couldn't. So I left empty-handed. I am questioning the truth of my bike addiction if I truly couldn't find anything. lol Afterwards I walked down to rue Saint-Denis, which is supposedly a beautiful street with lots of shops etc. I found a nice enough looking park that was not well kept. Though it is spring and the melting snow may be revealing this dinge. Garbage day is clearly tomorrow so there were lots of garbage bags along the curb. I left the area pretty quickly.

En On was the performance I was seeing. It was 3 women doing different individual performances. The first was Yumiko Yoshioka who did what I interpreted as a birth, life, illness, death, and spirit performance while wrapped in saran wrap and Halloween webbing. I found it frustrating! All that trying to release herself from the webbing and saran wrap. Arrgh! Just cut it off already! But that is part of the struggle of life, right? The next was Karen Sherman who is actually from Minneapolis. She did a performance about awkwardness that I think I need to bring to my college for students to watch. It was quite funny! Finally was Lise Vigneault whose performance I'm not sure I can explain or describe. Basically, it was about her boyfriend having a lot of stereotypical gay characteristics and her denial of his true sexual orientation... and possibly her own. That's the best I can do. Ya just had to be there! (=

And then I went home. At night. Alone. On the subway. And it was fine. I felt pretty safe. It was about 10pm or so on a weeknight. So there were not many people out and about. The walk from the station to my hotel also felt pretty safe. I feel like my American city living has tainted me for trusting urban areas. LA, Houston, and Denver did me no favors in that regard. But I lightened up a little... whilst keeping my wallet tucked away. I stopped at Starbucks (boooo) on my way in because I couldn't find a local cafe that was open. And that is where my first full day of urban hiking in Montreal ends.

You can find more photos at my Flickr.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Montreal - Urban Hiking - Day 1

Today was mostly about traveling to Montreal. I haven't flown internationally in awhile. Though I figured going to Canada would be a good place to start. So here I am... in Montreal. Dropped everything off my suite in Vieux Montreal (Old Montreal) then took off walking. I started by going east on rue Notre-Dame and then down Jacques-Cartier. I was getting dangerously to the Vieux Port de Montreal (old port) and decided to avoid that area for now. So I headed back ouest (west) on rue Saint-Paul. Beautiful old building on narrow cobblestoned streeets. I love that! Just walked around getting my bearings and looking for some food. I eventually found it in an Italian restaurant. I was so hungry, I forgot to look at the name of the place! lol But the meal was great. I slowly made my way back to my hotel, grabbing a caffe' along the way,  got myself settled, and am making a plan for tomorrow's adventure.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Cross Country Skiing - maybe the last

Possibly our last ski of the year. The weather is getting warmer and warmer so the snow is becoming less ski-able. There was a bit of ice on the bottom of the more worn tracks. But the tracks were still deep so we went FASSSST on some parts. Fast for us anyway! ha! That, of course, made the downhills interesting. It was dusk so the top layer of snow which had been melting all day, became a crispy layer. Just another speed inducer! Yay! It was a beautiful end to the season. But I'll hold out a tiny bit of home for another snowfall that will allow us to get out there again. In the meantime, I need to get our bikes in for maintenance!