We left the hotel in Detroit soon after getting up, and walked over to the Windsor/Detroit Tunnel, where we caught the tunnel bus into Ontario. There was no line to get through customs. I was asked a couple rather forward questions("What's in your bag?" "Why are you going to Toronto?" "Where do you work?"), though when the border officer asked me what I do for my employer, he seemed satisfied with my answer of "computer stuff." We officially entered Canada at about 10:15am on June 30th.
After getting a coffee to pass the time, we wandered around Windsor, always noticing people's funny, yet distinctly non-Minnesota accents. We wound up getting lunch at a Lebanese restaurant, where we discovered the ridiculously awesome food item that is shawarma. We walked along what appeared to be Windsor's main drag(Wyandotte), until we reached the Hiram Walker Distillery, and to our delight, the Walkerville Brewing Company, which appeared to be a part of the Distillery grounds.
We passed the time before getting on the train by touring the small brewery. Their beer was a little weak, but it was still a very enjoyable experience. The train departed spot on the time advertised on the schedule, and soon, we were shown that the majority of Ontario is actually pretty lightly populated. There were lots of wild, wooded areas, and long expanses between towns, all of which seems to have stops. It was kind of arresting having run through the woods and fields for an hour, and then looking up to see the skyline of a city like London or Hamilton.
Anyway, we reached Toronto basically on time, and though we had no idea where our hostel was, we managed to walk straight to it, in the fastest way possible. We walked over to Yonge Street, and wandered down a length of its very long route. We passed Dundas Square and were surprised to see that there was some kind of Latin American festival going on there, along with lots of street performers. We finally managed to find a nice place to eat, and from there we were directed to two great beer bars.
Then we got drunk. Now get back to work.
We got up at about 10am today. According to Alex, I snored all night. We headed toward the Harbourfront, and began noticing the impending celebration. After all, today was Canada Day. We walked around the Harbourfont, and for some reason, wound up getting on the Spadina Streetcar, which we took all the way up to its end, where we got on the main East-West subway line. We picked a random stop(Pape) and got off.
The neighborhood was roughly known as East York, and the particular section where we were was very Greek. After walking a couple blocks, we decided that we'd been at large long enough to start drinking. We helped ourselves at some neighborhood bar before heading back to the subway station to go back downtown.
We were bound for a bar on Front Street called C'est What, on an ardent recommendation from Todd back in the States. It was closed. So we grabbed a patio table at a place across Market Square from it, drank some more beer, and waited. The peoplewatching was excellent.
Toronto has countless grillions of gorgeous women of color, and the front of this patio where we were seemed to be a favorite haunt for many of them. They would saunter past, replete with gorgeousity, often smiling and saying hello. Finally, C'est What opened, and we hurried over. Their beer selection was all local, and all excellent. They have five beers on cask, and even make a few of their own. The food was sublime, and I have now officially had french fries with mayonnaise.
On the urgent advice of the bartender, we headed to some remote location to watch the fireworks, and found that the view was horrible. The fireworks themselves were almost entirely obscured by a harbor building. We headed back, and spent a bladder-splitting traffic-clogged streetcar ride back to Union Station downtown.
We made a half-hearted attempt to keep things moving, but just didn't have the energy. Toronto defeated us. What an amazing city!
We go to Ottawa tomorrow.
We got up around 10am again, used the not-so-nice bathrooms of the hostel, checked out, grabbed some lunch at Tim Horton's, and caught the train to Ottawa at 12:20. Since we booked separately, we were assigned seats apart, so I had a window seat toward the front of the cabin, and Alex sat somewhere near the back. I sat comfortably alone listening to music until, at 12:18, an immense post-op transsexual that needed a cane to walk sat down next to me, taking up all of his/her seat, and some of mine.
Despite my large androgenous neighbor, the ride was very nice. Once the train pulled away from Lake Ontario and started zooming north toward Ottawa, it became apparent that this part of Ontario is a gigantic, apparently unspoiled, wetland swamp.
We rolled into Ottawa about ten minutes off the scheduled arrival time, and saw that the train station is definitely not downtown. We walked across an enclosed ped-bridge toward a bus stop, which widened my eyes when I saw it. Ottawa has a real Bus Rapid Transit(BRT) system, complete with completely dedicated streets called "transitways." As such, we were spirited downtown in under ten minutes from a considerable distance away.
We got loaded drunk in Ottawa. We also broke our no-liquor promise in Ottawa. We got some dinner and the first two beers at a place called The Standard, served by a stunningly beautiful waitress, before moving along to a place called the Manx, where we had a couple more tasties. The next place was called St. Louis Wings & Ribs. We each had a bottle of cheap-style beer(but not actually cheap) while we kept the outdoor bartender company. Then we walked down the street to a place called Lieutenant's Pub, where we committed the great gaffe of the evening: we made some friends.
Some people from Sudbury were celebrating the birthday of a friend. They bought us jager bombs and shots of Canadian Club. From there, the night is hazy. At some point, the word "poop" was written on my arm, I was purchased a Glenmorangie on the rocks, and Alex went to a nearby park with a new friend.
We woke up at 1pm, after a long fitful, hungover sleep.
We got up at about 1pm yesterday, the 3rd of July, hungover and exhausted from our 4am first night in Ottawa. We took our time before having another beer, but I was the first to start again.
We walked in a random direction from our hotel and before we knew it, wound up right in the middle of the British-style government and Parliament districts of Ottawa. The Parliament buildings we absolutely beautiful, and their positions of the edge of a huge cliff overlooking the beautiful Ottawa River made them seem to have been sited providentially.
We continued walking in a northwesterly direction, before we saw that we were nearing the bridge to Gatineau. Eager to made an early visit to Quebec, we crossed the river and watched all the signs turn from English then French, to French then English, but mostly just French. We ate at some Italian place where I failed miserably at speaking French with the waiter.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Ottawa's really excellent urban neighborhoods. The only city I know that comes close to Ottawa's bike-friendliness is Portland, OR. But even Portland has nothing on Ottawa. I looked very hard to try to find something wrong, but I just couldn't. It's a thoroughly excellent city, where it would seem that everything just works.
It was with heavy hearts that we hopped back on their really excellent #95 bus right in front of our hotel, that dropped us off right in front of the train station about ten minutes later. But it was exciting enough that the next half of our trip was yet to come.
After a short, two-hour train ride, we rolled under the startling skyline of Montreal. The buildings just go on forever. Unfortunately, we stepped out of the station into a light but persistent rain. This is the first place on the trip where the native population would not speak English as their first language, and I could tell that Alex is a bit intimidated by it, but I think it's absolutely gangbusters.
We wandered around downtown Montreal(Centre-ville) in the rain until we found a wayfinding map. As we studied it, a man with about as good a grasp of English as I have of French offered to help us. After a bit, with more of me speaking French than of him speaking English, we determined which Metro stop to take.
When we entered the Bonaventure station, we were looking at another map on the wall, when yet another Quebecoise offered her help.This one spoke excellent English, and more than helping, she mostly just made us feel at ease, and kept us company as we navigated the overly elaborate tunnels to get to the actual subway platform.
After a bit of running around after getting off at Champ de Mars, we found our hostel, but wouldn't have if we hadn't had the address in hand(a first for the trip). We have now had dinner, including my first poutine, which was delicious, and now we're ready to check out Vieux Montreal.
We went to a bar right around the corner last night, where music was being played by some French Canadians. We bellied up to the bar and ordered beers. Alex incited me into committed drinking when he said, "tonight'll be a minor night."
Amelie and Catharine kept bringing us beers and talking with us, and soon, I had nine down. Alex had eight. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves among the beautiful serveuses Quebecoises, but I suffered from sticker shock when I got the check. $165. Montreal is expensive.
We got up around 10am the next morning, and wandered in separate directions. Alex went for a run, and I busied myself with morning things, like pooping, peeing, showering, toiletrying, laundry, reading, and email. It was after 1pm before we got out the door and started walking in no direction in particular.
We stopped for lunch at some Mexican place. I suppose I should have expected Mexican food not to be very popular here, but it surprised me. It's a cornerstone of American dining, and it's all but absent in Canada. When we were in Ottawa, we asked a bartender if there was a place in town where a body could get a late-night burrito, and after a bit of stalling, the bartender announced that she didn't know what a burrito was.
Anyway, we started walking uphill. A lot. I started breathing heavily, reminded by my drained capillaries that we were climbing the base of Mont Royal, which overlooks the city. According to placards there, Jacques Cartier himself scaled the mountain in 1535, named it, and declared that there would one day be a city before him. Montreal was named for the mountain, and I had a hell of a time climbing it.
Empirically, it shouldn't be that difficult. Unfortunately though, I was hungover and out of shape, so I was gasping and sweating for most of the way up. When we reached the summit, we found a large stone-railed, semi-circular overlook that offers a mind-boggling view of the city and its ranks of highrises marching off to both horizons. It was simply amazing. Pictures(including the ones I took) simply do not do it justice.
We found an open field nearby and sprawled out on the grass in the shade of a large maple. I can't speak for Alex, but I drifted in and out of consciousness for the 45 minutes or so that we lay there. It was immensely comfortable. We found a nearby pathway that led to a sheer face of the mountain on which a winding staircase was perched. It took us an hour to scale the mountain, and fifteen minutes to climb back down. It was a shock to the system to, at one moment, be comfortably strolling in quiet, pretty woods, and at the next to be watching a frantic stack of cars zoom past, four inches from the curb.
We walked all the way back to the hostel, where we sat nursing our aching feet for perhaps an hour before going back out. We got some pizza, and walked over to the Jazz Festival. We stood watching some really excellent jazz and blues performers, but in the end, had to get going because plain and simple, Montreal had exhausted us beyond the capacity to enjoy ourselves. We have to check out by 11am tomorrow anyway, so we're back at the hostel now.
I just checked some email, browsed some websites, wrote down the address of the place we're staying when we get to Quebec City tomorrow evening, and filled out some postcards. And I'm spent.
Alex and I got up at our leisure in Montreal, packed up, checked out of the hostel, and walked over to Cartier Square. We grabbed a cup of coffee, and then moved right on to beer. Seeing how our train's departure for Quebec wasn't until 4pm, we had a couple more beers, and a little lunch too, before we numbly stood up to start walking over to the train station in the Centre-Ville.
We made the train with a bare fifteen minutes to spare, and I was thoroughly sweaty from lugging my backpack through Montreal's crowded streets. The scenery between Montreal and Quebec was beautiful, and it's apparent that the population of Quebec, especially along the St. Lawrence, is significantly denser than in Ontario.
We arrived in Quebec on time, and for the first time on the trip, we were at a loss as to which way to go. I knew that our B&B was near the corner of Rene-Levesque and Moncton, but Moncton wasn't on any of the Centre-Ville maps. Hoping that a semi-local would know better, we hopped in the bac of a cab, and in broken French I told the driver where we needed to go. It was not a problem for him at all.
Mme Poirriot showed us our room, told us when breakfast would be, and handed us our keys. Then we set out to see some of Quebec before the sunset would turn all the pictures orange. After a nice dinner, we grabbed a table over on la Grande Allee among the crowds of the annual Quebec Festival d'Ete(summer festival), and split three pitchers of Rickard's before stumbling back after 3am.
We slept in on Saturday, and didn't get out the door until after 2pm. We walked over to Vieux Quebec to check out the Citadel, lower Quebec, and some more of the festival before sleepily returning to the B&B for an afternoon nap. I popped a blister there and we went over to get some dinner and a last drink in Canada.
We got up this morning, ate breakfast, caught a cab to the airport, and shook hands goodbye. I went into my terminal at Quebec's airport, which is thankfully very small, and didn't even have to wait for a ticket agent or security. What did happen though, was that Air Canada, without informing me, canceled my flight from Montreal to Toronto, and rescheduled me for Tuesday(2 days from now). Apparently, they reported that they were unable to reach me at the phone number I provided. Yeah, you Canadian geniuses. It's a voicemail number. Leave a voicemail. But they did not. Apparently, calling without leaving a voicemail is sufficient enough for them to justify bumping me without informing me.
As politely as I could, I informed the ticket agent that I was not going to wait around in Montreal for two more days, so she clacked away at the keys for several minutes before announcing that she got me a seat on a Toronto flight(bypassing Montreal entirely) that was departing in about 25 minutes. When I asked if I would have enough time to make it, she laughed out loud. A little annoyed, I soon found out why. Including security, I had all of about thirty yards to walk.
I huddled into a window seat on a crowded little commuter plane, landed in Toronto, waited for about an hour to get through customs, and made my way to where I'm sitting now. Many things were recommended that I accomplish before leaving England's little brother to our North, and the last one I have not yet accomplished is to eat a Tim Horton's donut. There's a Tim Horton's right next to my departure gate, so I'm going to go knock that down.
I'll be back atcha with pictures and final thoughts, once I'm back within our safe borders.
I had a great time in Canada. I knew it was going to be different than the United States, but hadn't quite fathomed the extent and variety of the differences. Let's go over them, shall we?
First: It's an expensive place. This was the biggest surprise for me. Maybe it didn't used to make much difference to visiting Americans, but with the Canadian dollar sitting at about 94 US cents, the prices on menus and tags are pretty even with what it'll cost you in real(US) money. It's very difficult to find menu items that are under $10, or beers that are under $5. As such, a typical dinner with two beers will easily run you $35. Lunch will get down to maybe about $25. With the monetary setback for ten days totaling just over $2500, this was by far the most expensive vacation I've ever taken, or ever plan on taking without some very serious changes. I could have gone to Europe and stayed in nice hotels the whole time for less.
Second: The people that speak English have funny accents, though neither Alex or I could ever quite mimic them. For example, the American assessment of "about," as being pronounced, "aboot," is completely inaccurate. It's closer to "aboat," but that's still not quite there. Equally amusing is that they didn't think we had accents at all. They though we spoke like them. Sub-second, French is awesome. The fact that even after 250 years of British rule, that the people of Quebec still hold on to the tongue of their ancestors is amazing.
Third: Canada has a much more sensible position on marijuana. I'll clear the air first by saying I'm not a smoker, but that's only because I'm concerned about the employment-related consequences of doing so. The times that I have smoked marijuana have been intensely enjoyable, and have also shown me that criminalizing the substance accomplishes no compelling positive effects, aside from the profitable stroking of the large American tobacco companies. In Canada, they have no such delusions, at least about marijuana. It's technically illegal, but from what I saw and heard while I was there, it would appear that it's only illegal on paper. A Toronto bartender summarized the attitude of the average Canadian well when he said, "I don't know anyone that doesn't smoke weed." I'll leave it at that.
Fourth: On average, the beer kind of sucks in Canada. In most of Ontario and all of Quebec, there are four flavors of, "good beer." They are blonde, red, white, and sometimes brown. Among many breweries(Boreale, Alexander Keith's, McAuslan, Rickard's, Cheval Blanc, St. Ambroise, Griffon), any combination of these four beers is what you will find on tap at any given place, usually for about six or seven dollars a glass.
In the route we took in Canada, Ontario is where the creative brewing is done. Fantastic breweries like Mill Street, Church-Key, Black Oak, Amsterdam, Creemore, Wellington, Durham, Great Lakes, Steam Whistle, and Walkerville are much closer approximations of their American counterparts. They produce widely varied flavors of beer, and quite unlike their Quebecois neighbors, aren't afraid of hops. Just as surprising as the difference between the beers in Ontario and the beers in Quebec is the lack of their beers outside their home provinces. As such, I consider Ottawa and Toronto, but much more Toronto, to be far better beer cities than Montreal or Quebec.
Fifth: Canada has the most beautiful women I have ever seen, and the highest concentrations thereof. I have been to California. I've been to Chicago, Boston, Seattle, New York, Florida, Nashville, Austin, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. I've been to Europe, and still the severity and density of beautiful women pales in all these places, in comparison to Ontario and Quebec. Toronto is ablaze with jaw-droppingly gorgeous Asian, Indian, Middle-Eastern, and black women. I had to stop myself staring eventually, because it was like an unending assault of the most beautiful women of color that I have ever seen, one after another, next to each other, riding the bus, ordering drinks, living normally in Canada, completely hidden to hungry American eyes that are unaccustomed to that kind of beauty. Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec are noticeably much more white, but are no less chock-full of women to whom being beautiful is just another ordinary detail of life in Canada.
Sixth: Canada's large cities are made for walking, biking, and riding transit. Their downtowns are large enough to contain everything that anyone would need, and small enough to traverse on foot. Their neighborhoods blend seamlessly with their downtowns, so seamlessly in fact that a visitor will be walking normally in a particular direction, and look up with surprise to find that they're not downtown anymore. In all four cities we visited, the transit systems are heavily--as much or more than any city I've ever seen--ridden, and at all hours of the day and night. Fares average about $2.75 a ride, which makes them the most expensive transit systems I've ever used, but I would guess that with these prices, they're self sufficient, and don't require tax assistance.
Seventh: VIA Rail, their intercity rail system, while very efficient, is far less enjoyable to ride than Amtrak. I would liken it more to American air travel. To its credit, their trains are almost always on time, have wireless internet available(for a fee), travel at convenient times, and have comfortable seats. However, once you sit down, that's all you do. You sit. If you get up, it's to use the bathroom. There is no cafe car, no dining car, no observation car, no second floor, and you can only get something to eat or drink when the attendant rolls the cart past, which is about as often as on an airplane.
All in all, my trip to Canada was excellent, and was an experience that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life, but because of how expensive it is, I will not be returning for a trip like this for a long, long time. The pictures will be along soon.
At the urging of fellow downtown friend Matt, I became a member of the Downtown Neighborhood Association last night. As the administrator of a prestigious local forum web site, I've arranged for a members-only forum within the greater forum. It may work, and it may not. We'll see.
All this came about last night, when I attended the third of the periodic(monthly?) "Know Thy Neighbor" gatherings down at the Bridgeworks Condos. The location varies each time, but they chose a really excellent one for this time. I arrived early and took control of the beverages, including icing and tapping the keg. People filtered in, and despite the 90+ degree heat, it was a really wonderful time. I Hope to make it to another one soon.
In the course of this past one though, I noticed an outright abundance of beautiful single women. Stay the course, downtown!
They aren't done receiving my little witticisms, but the pictures from the trip to Canada are ready to view. Have at it.
I am currently sitting alone at the end of a large table at the Quaff, facing the door, nursing a beer. The second installment of the greatest idea for a pubcrawl ever starts in less than a half hour, andI need to direct the masses.
I had a nice time last night picking up the keg, a new dolly, and dinner. After that, I met Nick, Anna, Colin, Eric, Jeff, Josh, and Scott at Grinders for a single beer before catching a bus home to finish my laundry.
I slept for ten hours, showered, and went to Zona Rosa to pick up the new Harry Potter book. As I fully expected, they had them in ridiculous abundance, completely obviating anyone's perceived notion of a reservation.
Anyway, I think the first person just walked in, and I keep getting calls and text messages, so I gotta go!
When all was said and done, about twenty people participated in the second iteration of the greatest idea for a pubcrawl ever. Yesterday was a very long day, but I can't wait to do it again. Here are some memorable moments from the point of view of my team.
See you in February for Splutschnik III!
I got home from work at the usual time last night, and set about getting some reading done, though slightly distracted the whole time. Jeff got home at about 7:30 or so, and suggested that in the course of getting some errands done, we get a drink somewhere in downtown. It seemed like a good enough idea to me, so we set off toward John's Big Deck, where we agreed to meet when we were each done, on the rooftop deck since the weather was absolutely wonderful.
On the way over, we ran into the always-friendly Sarah talking with Matt on the phone. She was more than happy to interrupt her conversation to allow a short how-do-you-do with us. We sallied forth to John's, and parted for the moment. Jeff headed next door to the library to pick up a book, and I went over to the bank to deposit a check. The weather was grand, but then again, I had something on my mind, so my thorough enjoyment of it was diminished.
Nevertheless, I had a great time when I sat down on the deck at John's. The music got a little too loud, so we went downstairs. Unfortunately, the waitress wanted to talk a little too much, when we had a perfectly fine conversation going, so we settled up and went to the Brewery. As we sat down the bartender informed us that she'd already done last call... but we could have something if we wanted. After a tasty microbrewed IPA, we found ourselves, as we always seem to do, at Harry's. I sponsored a couple of bottles of a German Rauchbier, which I affectionately refer to as "ham-beer," and converted yet another person.
When we got home, I saw how ridiculously late it was, and called it a night.
After a humdrum day at work, I met up with some coworkers at Harry's, where some of them, especially the ones with breasts, were duped into drinking shots of Jack and bourbon mixed together.
While there, for the first time ever, I received bad, slow, innattentive service from the usually outstanding staff at the Country Club. This was highly disapppinting to me, since I had convinced a gaggle of suburban coworkers to make the trek to the River Market to visit this, my second-favorite of all Kansas City bars. I hope they'll be willing to try it again because, as I said, the service is usually head-and-shoulders above anyplace else in town that isn't selling you steak or seafood for $50 a plate.
From there, Jared, James and I went to the Cashew, where some local group, of which some 45 percent were hot hot women, were apparently having some kind of 1920s flapper night. The scenery was excellent.
After a couple beers, a paid bill, and a quick trip home, my mp3 player came up with "Dreamer in My Dreams," by Wilco, and I celebrated with a ridiculous rock-out dance in my closet as I hung up my wearable effects.
It was a lovely evening.
I hurried home from work notoriously early last night, overcame some crazy unannounced exit closure, stuck another layer of deodorant on, got changed, and ran back out the door to make the 6pm kickball game at Penn Valley Park. Though we had a nice turnout(not too few, not too many), we still got completely ruled on the field. They were under every single kick we heaved at them. We managed to avoid getting shut out, though barely.
After the game mercifully ended, Chris, Erp, Amber, Nick, Anna, and I went to Grinders to make an attempt at paying them back for sponsoring our season. Unfortunately, it was jammed with people getting ready to jam at a reggae show there later that night. So we walked over to the Brick for pizza night and $5 pitchers. I had the first pork tenderloin sandwich that I've had in several generations. I used to eat the hell out of those things back in Illinois, and here in KC I had all but forgotten them.
Colin and Scott joined us after a while, and helped us degenerate the conversation into discussions of Star Trek and JRR Tolkien. I really appreciate it when my seemingly normal friends can ride the Tolkien-train with me.
Anyway, I went home after that, to enjoy a slight night terror about twenty minutes after getting to sleep, involving spindly-legged spiders the size of basketballs appearing next to my bed. Good times.
I met up with Geoff and Katie after work, and went out with them to Merriam, or Fairway, or Roeland park, or something in that area, to help set up for a party for our friend Matt. He just bought a house out in that direction, so we broke in to surprise him when he got home. The surprise was a smashing success, though the crowd thickened to a total of about 12 people. It was very low-key. I came home and talked with my sister for an hour. She had just spent an evening at a beer fest and a beer bar with my roommate and his friend during his visit to Portland, where my sister coincidentally lives. I was in bed by 1:30.