As we stood for the national anthem about to watch the countries favorite sport we both took a sip of our Canadian beers and exchanged looks. Wow, this was incredibly Canadian!
I am getting to the part of every worthwhile journey that people don’t like to talk about. I have seen it in others and now I have seen it myself. I am not yet done but I am feeling the difficulties of long term travel. In November I was traveling for about 3/4th of the month and frankly I am worn out. I am not done (oh hell no!) but I am getting tired and sick. Luckily, this gives me a perspective that I normally don’t get, a view that is slower paced and more reflective.
As such, I took it easy for this life list item. Montreal has intrigued me for many years. They call it the Paris of North America which intrigued me because they call Buenos Aires, one of my favorite cities, the Paris of South America.
Simply put, Montreal is fantastic. The people are friendly, the culture is active, the weather is brisk yet not dreary and most importantly, the food is delicious.
I spent my first day alone exploring the city. I had pictured lots of French pastries and cobblestone streets. Instead, I found a new-age city filled with modern art and delicious desserts. The city is relatively small and all of the major attractions are within walking distance.
My favorite part of the city was Old Montreal and the Old Port. I spent most of my day trying to find the perfect cafe. It turns out the city isn’t much of a cafe culture so I ended up getting distracted by the many restaurants. The first one, Restaurant L’Autre Version, was up-class but (besides the menu) was not snooty. I ordered the “inspiration of the moment” and some beef tartare. (Hehe, that is so French!) The staff was friendly and humble and the food was insanely delicious.
Next I wondered around various dessert shops. I sampled some of the best chocolate cake of my life, treated myself to some tasty coffee and discovered the deliciousness that is smoked meat. The shop owner claimed he was serving me beef in sourdough bread but it tasted more like unicorn. It was so good, it was magic. I stayed in this area, focused on some work and eventually moved on when I was politely kicked out. (They kicked me out with an apple pastry.)
That night, I wasn’t able to sleep. This was rather unforunate because I hadn’t slept the night prior either. I blame a mixture of the time zone, the metric ton of sugar I consumed and the weird yet oddly good Kenyan coffee I had had two days prior in Chicago. I spent the night rolling around and thinking about would become a blog post the next day (see Why Are You Here?). This is the hard part of travel. It is frequently lonely and a constant burden on your health. For the vast majority of human existence, people were not able to travel further than they could walk. Technology has overcome this problem but like many solutions, has introduced more problems. My stomach was confused, my head was racing and I missed my family. For the second night in a row, sleep never came.
Luckily, my brother had offered to join me on this leg of my journey and showed up the next morning. This made all of the difference.
Josh, is a seasoned traveler and a much better planner than myself. He showed up with some suggestions of what to see but kept an open schedule and mind. We spent the day exploring the rest of the city with no particular agenda. We chatted all day and covered about 5 miles of shops and restaurants. We also visited with the local Occupy Protesters. (I am not convinced they knew what they stood for either…)
That night, we experienced the most Canadian moment either of us had ever had. Josh had suggested that we go see a hockey game. We scalped some tickets, drank some Molson beer and made our way to the completely full hockey rink. Canadian pride has always impressed me and this experience only added more fuel to that fire.
Travel is more than important, it is imperative. It is the single best source of education you can get. That said, I am still learning. It took me a trip to Montreal (thousands of miles away from where I grew up) to realize that travel alone isn’t enough, you also need friends and family.