Monday, June 14, 2004

on the road again: montreal

The Drive Down
No problems on the way. I was surprised that I stuck to 401 most of the trip, except for a trek down the Thousand Islands Parkway, once destined to be 401 - see here for the story. The too-wide bridges for the bike path give away the location of the old westbound lanes. Headed into Montreal at the start of rush hour, but found a way in that didn't trap me in traffic for eons - Rte 20 through Dorion, then along Cote-de-Liesse, then backstreets to Decarie. Anything to avoid the insanity of everyone merging onto the Trans-Canada.

Dropped my stuff off at the U of M, then headed downtown on the subway to spend the rest of the day wandering along Sainte-Catherine. Filled up on Indian food, bought a sweater and didn't see anyone sitting on the sidewalk pelting passers-by with pop cans (narrowly avoided that last time down).

One thing I noticed on the subway throughout the trip: if New York is the city where everyone shows their affection by yelling at each other, Montreal is the city where mushiness reigns supreme. Never seen so many people in need of a hotel room on public transit (especially the under-25 set). It'd be heaven for peeping toms, who wouldn't have to peep.

A Taste of Quebec...and Essex County
First stop the next morning as Marche Jean-Talon, a large outdoor market in the Little Italy neighbourhood, mostly sitting under a concrete frame intended to be a bus terminal. Beautiful looking goods, which I might have purchased if I was headed back that day. Lots of fresh fruit samples. The source of some of the produce was interesting: giant crates with Essex County addresses.

On the south side of the market, stopped in a store that specialized in Quebec-made food. Le Marche des Saveurs du Quebec. Lots of curios, some too weird for novelty value (cedar jelly anyone? pickled cattails?). Tons of preserves, maple-enhanced everything and bizarro booze. Fell into temptation with the latter, walking out with mead, black currant-infused mead and saskatoon berry-flavoured cider.

In Search of Smoked Meat
After a quick trip back to the university to drop off the bottles, headed down to St. Laurent to look for lunch. Felt like smoked meat, saw the lineup at Schwartz's was too long, so headed across the street to The Main. Decided to go for the gold, with a smoked meat platter. Feling adventurous, I went for medium (usually go for lean, not a big fan of chewing fat). Wound up being too fatty for my liking (which would have led most smoked meat fanatics to nirvana), but there was still plenty of tasty, well-spiced meat. Skip the bathroom.

Headed over to Mont-Royal and St. Denis next, to begin browsing the used CD stores. Didn't go overboard like last time, but still managed to fill my backpack. Cheap multi-disc sets reigned, with the best bargain a four-disc Blue Note jazz collection for only $16. Dodged the Middle East protests by the Metro station. Dithered on a few DVDs but ultimately bought none (came this close to picking up Limelight, but figured I'd wait to purchase either of the Chaplin box sets someday).

After a vegetarian dinner (to compensate for the meat overload at lunch), headed back to home base, hopped in the car and went for a drive. Headed over the St. Lawrence on the world's screwiest bridge, the Pont Victoria. I once used it in the dark and couldn't figure out where I was going, other than in circles. Daylight doesn't improve matters - this bridge should be considered an amusement park ride, not a route for commuuters. Whee, look at me go round and round! Don't go flying over that metal bump!

Once on the south shore, I got lost. Somehow, I wound up halfway to St. Hyacinthe. Oh well. After shopping for Quebec-only groceries at a Metro store, I returned to the university and snapped some shots of the artwork in the residence. No residence is complete without a shrine to the intense late German actor, Klaus Kinski.


Next day, up bright and early again to drive back into Ontario, to visit some of my former co-workers at the Ontarion. Nice to see Cherolyn, Marshal and Jay again after a year. Had brunch at a diner with a bowling alley attached to the back and discussed life in the nation's capital and the civil service. I arrived in Ottawa early, so I thought I'd kill time by driving along the river and past Parliament Hill. Bad idea - tons of detours due to cycling events. Wound up being the last one at the diner.

After a quick drive around, met back up with Marshal to join in part of a road hockey game on a dead-end street. Only the odd bicycle caused cries of "game off!" It's been awhile since I played road shinny and I felt it, losing steam after an hour (and I was the youngest one there!) Figured I'd better get back to Montreal before my energy totally vanished. It was fun though - maybe we can do it again next year.

A Step Backwards In Time
Back in Montreal, I didn't feel like going straight back to the university for a pit stop, so I wandered aimlessly around the island, looking for any interesting dinner possibilities. Wound up out by Olympic Stadium and remembered a place Amy and I had passed on a previous trip, Jardin Tiki. Later research on the web reveal it was a true dinosaur - the last authentic tiki bar/restaurant in Canada.

The highbacked bamboo chairs, fake tropical plants, tiki idols and layout of the drink menu added to the feeling that I'd jumped back 30 years. This wasn't post-modernist retro, this was the real thing. Since I wasn't in the mood for downing anything coconut-based, which ruled out most of the over-the-top containers. Settled for a simple Rain Maker, made up of orange juice and various forms o' booze.

The food is standard Chinese buffet, though it wasn't greasy and didn't induce heartburn or acid attacks. Top items: curried shrimp that weren't drowning in sauce, tender roast beef and stir-fried (not battered) frog legs that would have made my mother cringe.

Links to other tales of the Tiki: 1, 2

Drove around some more. Feeling thirsty, stopped at the giant orange near the university - the Orange Julep stand on Decarie.

Smoked Meat, Part 2
The last morning around Montreal involved stops for bagels (a dozen at St. Viateur, a dozen at Fairmount, to cover all the bases) and a last look at CDs on Mont-Royal (bought nothing, but discovered street parking's dirt cheap - 50 cents/hour). Headed back to Decarie in search of another smoked meat palace I'd read about Snowdon Deli. Great find - went for the lean smoked meat platter, which was tastier than the plate I had at the Main. A much more attractive place than the smoked meat shops on St. Laurent - bright, clean interior and waitresses that looked like they'd been there since the dawn of man. Good note to end my visit to Montreal.

The Road Back
Rather than sticking to freeways on the way out, hopped onto Rte 342 in Dorion (what I'm guessing might have been the old continuation of Hwy 17 into Quebec). Got thirsty, then got lost searching for something to drink in Hudson. Found this though...

My Favourite Quebec Road Sign

When Amy and I drove along the south shore of the St. Lawrence from Quebec City to Montreal a few years ago, this graphic sign greeted us upon entering every town. If you miss the point, you shouldn't be on the road. Hudson was pretty, but confusing, and I eventually found my way back to the highway.

Once back in Ontario, drove down to old Hwy 43, which looked like a decent bypass of Ottawa and a direct route to the Hershey factory in Smiths Falls. It is that, but also boring and full of pokey drivers (50 in an 80) you can't pass due to lots of curves. It's also full of Beer Store trucks whose drivers may have sampled their cargo. Not a recommended route.

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