Given the fact that I didn’t grow up in a tightly knit family, it was a great surprise when I returned to Canada after 3 years abroad to a welcome home BBQ that my cousin Amanda organised in my honour. Actually, it was more of a welcome home / farewell BBQ since I was only going to be in Montreal for about a month before leaving for an extended stay in Thailand.
Although I stayed at my mother’s for about a week in Cornwall, Ontario (thanks Mom and Lusty), Amanda really was the shining star of my brief return to Canada. Besides the BBQ she organised, she gave me her futon to sleep on for three weeks. Being that I am not the easiest person to live with I really appreciated it, but the kindest of all her gestures was taking a week off work for us to do some sisterly bonding. Yes, she is my cousin, but she’s like the sister I never had and I know how precious vacation time from work is, being that it’s so scanty.
We initially thought about heading out to the Eastern townships for the week or at least a few days, but I was set on “seeing Montreal through new eyes” so I suggested that we stick around Montreal and see what fun we could get up to in my city of birth instead. We’d be able to have just as much fun and save money because we wouldn’t have to stay in a hotel or pay for a lot of gas (which we all know ain’t cheap).
Now, the title of my post may seem a little weird. I simply wanted to warn you not to expect a jam packed itinerary. My cousin and I are not early risers. We like lazy mornings and to just kind of let nature take it’s course. Also, our itinerary included three nights of dancing which may seem excessive for a 3 day itinerary so I thought it deserved a mention in the title.
Here we go:
Before arriving in Montreal on August 13th I expressly told Amanda that I didn’t want to hit up any clubs. That I’m too old to be out until the wee hours of the morning spending money that could be used for my travels instead of alcohol. Me and Amanda have enjoyed many a crazy night out in the past but all that was over now. Or so I thought.
3 days before my departure for Thailand I felt something stirring within me, a desire that I thought was dormant for good. That oh so recognisable need to DANCE! I also began to feel like my visit with Amanda wouldn’t be complete if I were to leave without at least one night out with my partner in crime.
Don’t expect any pictures of me and my cuz in the club, because there aren’t any. We aren’t the ones taking endless pictures of ourselves at the party to post on Facebook, we are the ones with a drink in our hand on the dance floor living it up until the lights come on. We’re there to live it, not take pictures to post it. That’s probably the reason we garner so much attention when we go out. I’m far from being the hottest (Amanda on the other hand is gorgeous), but boy oh boy do we both get tons of drinks and compliments from both men and women, simply for having a kick ass time, going hard on the dance floor and being able to handle our liquor like grown folks (no ridiculous make out sessions after a few drinks as a pathetic attempt to get attention from men, no throwing up, or passing out in bathroom stalls for us; yes we see that all the time).
Night 1 Sunday, 14 September 2014
3699 St-Laurent Blvd
My desire to go out dancing was perfect timing because it coincided with my friend Lin’s birthday. Thanks to Lin and her friend Elise’s connections we were able to get into TRH without waiting in any lines. This was my first time ever in this bar, and yes it was a young crowd, but at 34 they’re all young crowds. It had a bit of an alternative feel to it, the hip hop music was of the harder variety but on point, the most unusual and eye catching thing about the club was the skateboarding cage in the middle of the place. People bobbed their head to the music and cheered on those who flipped and ollied with impeccable balance inside of what reminded me of a caged in steel drum. The skateboarding cage and the casual manner in which everyone was dressed only increased the youthful element of the club. There was also a nice terrace in back to escape the loud music and have a smoke. This was not our final destination though. It was just a place to grease the wheels a bit before moving on. After a couple of drinks it was on to the next one.
3781 St-Laurent Blvd
Club Muzique claims the following as per their website:
“Opening its doors in the fall of 2009 Muzique has redefined velvet rope exclusivity, positioning itself as the flagship for all things fabulous in Montreal’s high-end party scene.”
I feel that description is a little misleading. Positioning itself as the flagship for all things pretentious and fake would have been much more accurate. I noticed many women with fake looking breasts popping out of impossibly low cut necklines and wearing heels so high that they couldn’t even really dance, giving screw faces to other women, perhaps because they felt they were a threat to their attention hoarding. Men wearing tight tops showing off swollen pecs and biceps, with massive amounts of gel in their hair, that said: I just spent an hour in front of the mirror to look like I just woke up balanced out the crowd. These same men popping bottles in their VIP section, trying to appear like ballers, in the hopes, I’m guessing, to attract one of the aforementioned women. I know, I know, this all is just so critical. So what if men were wearing tight shirts and women were wearing high heels, they’re entitled to, right? But you had to be there to understand and sense the ostentatious air that pervaded the club.
Again, we got into this little hot spot without having to wait in line. Thank God for connections.
Amanda and I are 90’s (especially late 90’s) and early 00’s hip hop heads, so we were ecstatic to find out that the DJ’s at Muzique were spinning just that. We ordered a bottle of Jack and settled in for a night of dancing, drinking, laughing and an all round good time. We didn’t stop. Luckily Amanda and I can usually have a great time no matter the vibe of the rest of the crowd. Our foursome was having a great time and that’s all that mattered.
Day 1 Monday, 15 September 2014
St. Joseph’s Oratory and good eats
5785 Cote – Des – Neiges
It was past lunch time by the time Amanda and I got to the Cote-Des-Neiges area where you will find St. Joseph’s oratory, so lunch was top priority. We decided to just walk down Cote-Des-Neiges road until we found a lunch spot that looked good. With each restaurant we passed we thought, let’s just see what’s a little further (the curse of too many choices). Our stomachs burning from hunger forced us to realize that we’d been walking for over 30 minutes. We’d finally reached the point where we decided to just eat at the next restaurant we came upon. Lucky for us that place was Argana. If it wasn’t for the pictures of sandwiches out front we may have just walked right by this unassuming little shop.
The soft spoken shop keeper who looked to be in her late 40’s was so polite and welcoming. She literally said we were her welcomed guests with a big smile on her face as we entered. It doesn’t get much more welcoming than that.
Once inside, you could see that the place was also a halal butcher, grocer, and prepared foods vendor. Shelves were stocked with many treats from Northern Africa such as dates and nuts. I noticed two prayer mats hanging at the back of the shop.
I ordered the meatball sandwich. The baguette was so fresh. A little flaky on the outside, but so soft and moist on the inside, and the meatballs were spiced to perfection. Honestly one of the best sandwiches I’d ever had. Amanda loved her chicken sandwich on the same baguette bread so much that she said she’d return the following day, as she had an appointment in this part of the city the next day.
3800 Queen Mary Road
Amanda had never been to St. Joseph’s Oratory and I had only been once forever ago so that was a must on our to do list.
St. Joseph’s basilica was in construction between 1904-1967 on the side of Mount Royal (the mountain which Montreal is named after). You have the choice of climbing the 283 stairs to the entrance of the basilica by foot, or, if you’re hard core, you can take the middle section of the stairs reserved for those who climb it on their knees, saying a prayer on each step. The main grounds as well as ‘The Way of the Cross’ Gardens on the north slope of Mount Royal are meticulously manicured. You could spend the day just sitting and contemplating in the peaceful garden. Besides that there’s a museum, and an area with a few tableaus of St. Andre – the man whose dream it was to construct St. Joseph’s oratory – using some of his actual belongings. It was both creepy and cool at the same time. You can also attend mass at the basilica, or just go in and light a candle for a loved one. Such a peaceful place. I’m neither Catholic or religious but I’d definitely go back just to spend some time in tranquility.
5214 Cote – Des – Neiges
We had our post Oratory snack at Au Pain d’Ore bakery. The employees wearing aprons and bakers hats, the shelves of baguettes lined up like soldiers, the display cases filled with golden brown croissants, layered mille feuilles and other French pastries and baked treats made you feel like you’d been transported to a bakery in Paris. They call all their bakeries “boutiques” so you know it’s really French, lol. Apparently, the French founders of this chain are committed to making their bread the traditional French way since 1956. Now I don’t know what that way is, but it’s darn good, and no one makes a baguette better than the French, this I know. Amanda and I only stopped in for a couple of Chai lattes, and some coconut macaroons. My only regret was having bought only 3 of those suckers. Deeeeelish.
325 de la Commune Street (Old Port)
Our day of culture continued into the night at the World Press Photo exhibition. A display of 150 prize winning photographs taken by photo journalists all housed in the Bonsecours Market until 28 September. Photography is my favourite type of art, so I was really looking forward to this one. Some of the pictures were really graphic and heart wrenching, others light and playful, but all of them were definitely thought provoking.
This was my first time in the Bonsecours Market even though it’s touted as one of Canada’s top ten heritage buildings. It’s been around since 1847, how could I have never been there as many times as I’ve been to the Old Port? The 3 storey building is home to restaurants with terraces, boutiques selling local crafts and objets d’arts. The Quebec Crafts council is also located there and you can even rent out halls for exhibitions, weddings, launches etc.
Of course by the time you read this the World Press Photo exhibition will be over but be sure to check out what is going on in the events section of Bonsecours Market’s website when looking for ideas on things to do in Montreal.
Day 2 Tuesday, 16 September 2014
Underground Shopping, Matinee and More Dancing (Kizomba style)
The Underground City in Montreal is over 30km of interconnected complexes and one of the largest int he world. Underground City is a misnomer because it’s actually a multi level network from underground to street level that includes shopping malls, metro stations, commuter train stations, offices, schools, a theatre, hotels, concert halls, banks, apartments, museums and the Bell Centre Amphitheatre which can all be accessed without ever going outside.
I had time to kill waiting for Amanda to go see a matinee, and since the September air was already quite crisp and I was not equipped with clothing for colder weather I wanted to wait inside so I wandered the Underground City to window shop. Window shopping turned into actual shopping when I spotted the National Geographic Explorer wheeled duffle bag on sale at Bentley for $130.00 (mine was blue though).
Note: I really like this bag despite the fact that I really wanted a backpack. It has tons of compartments and pockets but I was disappointed that the side of the bag was already a little torn by the time I reached my destination in Bangkok. I guess I should have bought a luggage cover as well.
977 Ste Catherine Street West
Scotia Bank Cineplex is part of the Underground City network, and where Amanda and I watched a matinee. I know some people may find watching a movie a waste of time when it comes to exploring a city, but it had been ages since I’d seen a movie, the last one being Skyfall in the Netherlands. Wanting hot, buttery popcorn was also part of my motivation for going to see the movie; something you can’t get at the movies in the Netherlands.
Note: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was OFF THE HOOK! Can’t wait for the next Planet of the Apes installment!
1112 Ste Catherine Street West (Inside of Club 649)
In a bid to save some cash Amanda and I looked into free things we could do in Cult; A free monthly newspaper that you can pick up in most Metro stations.
Eureka! Latin Groove; a dance school in Montreal, was offering free Kizomba classes on Tuesday nights at Club 649 on Ste. Catherine street. Latin Groove also offers Salsa, Bachata, Cha Cha, Merengue and Samba classes, but only offer free classes in Salsa and Kizomba.
Kizomba is a slow and sensual dance with it’s origins in Angola, combining traditional Angolan Semba with sultry electronic percussion.
When we first arrived, the last class was just finishing up and it gave me enough time to start feeling nervous. I started thinking: ‘What if I get stuck with someone who has bad breath? What if I suck?’ I’m actually really shy when it comes to partner dancing because I always end up stepping all over the man’s feet and have no idea how to let him lead. I was so close to saying let’s scrap the whole idea and go. BUT, I remembered that I’m supposed to be doing more to get out of my comfort zone and have ‘adventures’ however small.
It turned out to be a good sized group. Id say at least 40 people were there; mostly couples. The women stood side by side around the dance floor which ended up being a kind of oval formation with a man in front of each lady. Every couple of minutes at the command of the instructor, the men just moved one partner to the left to the next woman waiting. Even people who came as a couple weren’t immune to the switch up; everyone got a turn with everyone. I liked that. You didn’t feel “stuck” with anyone, and you got a chance to see everyone’s different style. I had a couple of guys that kept telling me to “loosen up,” and reminding me that “this isn’t a workout class.” I felt completely un-sexy as the only one there wearing gym clothes and P.S. DON’T WEAR RUNNING SHOES to this class. You can spin and be more dainty with your steps in high heels. I felt about as dainty and graceful as Snuffleupagus. But you live and you learn right?
The hour just flew by, and a great time was had by all. It’s also a great way to meet new people.
Day 3 Wednesday, 17 September
Planetarium, Insectarium, Botanical Gardens
4101, rue Sherbrooke Est
My son Isaiah joined me and Amanda for the final day on our itinerary. The planetarium, insectarium and botanical gardens are all within walking distance of each other in the East end of Montreal. This educational trip is great for all ages, so don’t think it’s not worth it if you don’t have kiddies.
The Planetarium is not that big, but it has a lot of interesting facts about space, earth and matter, with interactive games for your entertainment. The main events at the Planetarium were two shows being presented in two different theatres.
The first one was called Continuum, and it was AMAZING! You sit on bean bag chairs looking up, and you are literally surrounded by a show that takes you from earth into space. It was like being on an acid trip without the damage to your brain. At times it felt like you were actually moving through space. All of this was set to classical music.
From Earth to the Stars was the second, more educational yet not as fun show. You sit in regular theatre seats, (I think they should have used bean bag chairs) and learn about the different constellations.
The Insectarium was also very interesting, I looked at thousands of different insects and bugs and afterward I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was crawling on me hours afterwards. I also learned about all the very scary bugs I might find in Thailand from black horned beetles that seemed to be as big as my foot, to stinging scorpions. At times it was also very beautiful. I saw every colour of the rainbow on the shells and wings of different insects and bugs.
When we arrived at the Botanical Gardens it was still light out so we were lucky enough to see the gardens before and after being lit up for the Garden of Light show, it was quite a contrast to say the least. We had a great time walking through the Japanese and Chinese gardens snapping pics of Bonsai’s and other plant life. We were even lucky enough to see one of the resident foxes, but he was too quick for us to get a picture of him. Apparently the gardens are expansive; spread over 180 acres. a great place to jog or just hang out if you purchase a seasons pass.
Night 2, Thursday, 18 September 2014
Live band more dancing
6710 Rue St. Jacques
This time my cousin Chris met up with me and Amanda at Rumours, a little sports bar in NDG. We were there for what they call Bang, Bang, Thursday; a night of DJ’s and a live performance by Shaharah and her band Soulvation. Unfortunately due to unforeseen circumstances Shaharah couldn’t be there, but DJ Technical and another DJ (I’m so bad, I forget his name) rocked the place until 3am. It wasn’t jam packed but there were just enough fun, party minded people there to make it a really nice atmosphere. Plenty of beautiful ladies, and gentleman and it was all love in there.
From there Amanda and I realised it was all coming to an end. We got back to her place at around 4am, I finished packing, took a shower and she drove me to Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport to commence my long haul to Asia.
It was definitely a memorable week, shared with great people. It made me think that if my open ended trip gets cut short and I have to return home to Montreal, that I would never feel like I was going home to some dull and boring place like many long term travellers feel when they come home from a big trip. Instead I’d embrace it, I’d become a tourist in my own city. I’d continue to see Montreal through new eyes.