Thursday, July 29, 2010

Canada's Full of Hippies!

Welcome to Montreal!

After some Greyhound bus-related mis-adventures in Vermont, I finally made it to Montreal. (At about 3 in the morning - Greyhound is not your friend!) What did I know about Montreal prior to arriving? They speak French a lot, and I have friends to visit there - that's about it. The last guidebook I had been traveling with was for Egypt, so I'd become rather open-minded about the places I was getting to these days. So, the following day, having met up with Goose and Sara (at 3 the previous morning), I headed off to explore this new Franco-English speaking land. And the first thing I found along the way? Well, apparently, hippies - proper, frisbee throwing, hacky sack playing, tambourine drumming, weed offering hippies! You'd think you were in San Francisco or Seattle again - I figured I could get along with the people here! No matter which language they spoke...

First stop was the Parque Mont Royal, which, as their website describes, hosts a popular activity called the "Montreal Tam Tam Jam:"

It consists of lots of people drumming away on these hand drums ("tam-tams" in French).

And of others dancing to the rhythms

This was kind of crazy, kind of cool, but it gets better! I headed deeper into the forest (park), in search of Sunday's star attraction - the 'fighting geeks,' as Sara and Goose described them. They aren't hard to find - quite an audience had gathered, so pretty soon I was in a large-ish clearing, watching the following spectacle:

These guys, sadly, do not have a website explaining what it is that they are all about (that I know of - in reality they likely do). But how much of an explanation do we really need? It's a collection of twenty to fifty guys (and girls) who go at each other, utilizing plastic pikes and swords, wrapped in foam! Pretty straightforward, makes for quite a spectacle. While some of it certainly looks like vaguely organized mayhem, quite a few of the participants looked to have a fair bit of actual fencing background - a 'noob' couldn't even touch me, man! On Halloween a couple of years ago, they did apparently get attacked by a crowd of zombies though... I do ever so wish I had been there to witness that battle!

Moving on from the semi-, vaguely-serious to the purely comedic, The Just for Laughs Festival was just finishing up in town that Sunday too. I watched a magician do his act, all in French... still entertaining...

The whole crowd may have been a little high by the time the evening parade rolled around!

As for the rest of Montreal, it's interesting and eclectic - there's a properly French-looking old town, and a nicely preserved old port is on the banks of the river. Montreal used to be Canada's primary Atlantic port as the lakes and rivers connect it all the way to the ocean, but the major ports have moved even further inland along the Great Lakes these days. Apparently, at the turn of the last century, it was also a significant manufacturing and shipping hub - a fact you won't be able to miss while gazing at some of the architecture that highlights the Old Port area:

Then again, they might just all be hippies, so they like having all these grain silos still around!

I mean somebody had to have designed this housing complex, and I'm fairly certain they were high! I liked it a lot though - enough so to pedal all the way out there to get some up-close shots of it

There's also a Biosphere... which, of course, only makes me think of Pauley Shore and the less renowned Baldwin brother (Stephen), who had both stared in the similarly titled movie Bio-Dome

And you can feed raccoons on the street!

As for the friends I was visiting with here in Montreal, they might not be hippies, but they seem to be fitting in pretty well. I got to see just about the entire town thanks to them - from biking past a sprawling amusement park under the Jacques Cartier Bridge to the Cirque du Soleil studios further afield (where Pavel, whom I know going all the way back to Moscow, now works)

Pavel and Olga, at their apartment in the Old City

Goose and Sara, along with Talya and Baby Mireille, after a frisbee game. They apparently needed subs, so I got to play - now looking forward to getting back to Seattle and maybe actually getting some exercise...

On to Toronto, where I was off to hang out with Whelena, Vera, and Tim

Toronto is a bit more serious and buttoned down - I went to see the Provincial Legislature, the CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, the wineries in the nearby Niagara Valley... joined by hordes of other tourists once again. But Canada's still Canada, so that evening, we were off to see indie rock at a club nearby.

This was Elliot Brood, the opening act. Calexico were the headliners, but everyone seemed to enjoy Elliot Brood better - maybe it's just because they're local and Calexico are Americans, or maybe because they were just better?

Actually, the best part of Toronto was all the all the food and drink we had. I was staying with Tim, with whom I had previously met up traveling in Mendoza, Argentina (wine tasting) and Hong Kong (Chinese food! No, not the tourist crap, good Chinese food). Toronto was sort of a combination of the two - from ethnically diverse including Indian and Chinese Dim Sum, to Cora's for breakfast, to trout and goat cheese mashed potatoes Tim and Whelena had collaborated on (btw, goat cheese + mashed potatoes = really good) to wine tastings along with local cheese in the Niagara Valley... But I'm trying to keep a theme here, so we're focusing on the indie music at this point! I'll have to get back to the Toronto attractions like the CN Tower in another post... Montreal, by the way, does quite well on the culinary front itself, chiming in with poutine - I have now come to accept french fries with gravy, cheese curds, and a variety of additional toppings as a very worthwhile addition to the culinary world from the nation of Canada...

Actually both Montreal and Toronto have some claims to dining fame - Toronto is often described as having the most diverse choice of cuisines available in any city in North America, if not the whole world, while Montreal is said to have the most restaurants per capita. Having witnessed them both, I'm not about to argue with either of these claims!

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