2001 05 29 - 18:07

I figured a trip to a city that I've never seen anything of but the train station, wouldn't be without its adventures and incidents, but I didn't figure those experiences would start with the trip barely even begun.

Who knew? The bus station in Hamilton has self-flushing toilets.

I also didn't know that the next trip experience would include me developing a head and chest cold on the train to said city. So, my first purchase in Montreal was a bottle of decongestant. Yummy. Never used Robitussin before, and I have to say that it doesn't taste too bad. Certainly tastes better than Buckley's. (Anything would, though.)

We walked from the train station to the hostel we were staying at, and on the way passed St. Patrick's Basilica which is a lovely old church dedicated to, and used by, the city's Irish Catholic population. We visited Notre Dame on our last day, which was very lovely, and very blueish. (I never did get to see its named counterpart when I was in Paris, much to my regret.) I'm not a church-going person by any stretch of the imagination, but I like visiting old churches. Some are quite lovely.

Our first impression of the city was, "Gosh, it's awfully quiet for a big city on a Saturday afternoon."

That impression quickly changed when we headed off to Rue St. Catherine later on. That's one of the main streets, and it seems Montreal retains quite a lot of European style habits that don't seem to exist in other Canadian big cities; namely that all the action is concentrated (more or less) on what (in England) would be called the high street. That street is covered in what one would normally find on a high street; lots of shops, restaurants, a few theatres, and lots of people.

Surviving in Montreal isn't too difficult for non-French speakers, since the city is not only well-used to tourists, but is what could be termed the English city of the French province. One of the best universities in the country is there (McGill), and it's an English university. (Most of it scattered through various buildings lining Stanley Street, which goes up a hill towards Mount Royal. Must be hell in winter.)

Montreal, like many large cities worldwide, has its own Chinatown, which is marked off by these really lovely gates. (Unfortunately the picture I took of one of those gates, got deleted.) The pharmacy there has a pharmacist who can, according to the sign, speak English, French, and six different dialects of Chinese. It's not a large Chinese section, from what I could gather, but it wasn't without its charms. It had what a Chinatown usually has; lots of shops, lots of restaurants (from very Chinese to very catering-to-North-Americans), and lots of people.

The hostel was stayed at (Auberge Alternative du Vieux Montréal), located in Old Montreal near the port and right across the street from what used to be the Central Fire Station but is being reconstructed to be a museum, was quite nice. The people (staff and guests) were friendly, the place was well-equipped, and it was cheap. ($18 per night) I'd recommend it to anyone; and, according to other guests I heard talking, it ranks between 8 and 9 on a hostel scale of 1 to 10.

The metro (subway, tube, underground, etc.) was a metro, but not full of the sort of graphitti one imagines the New York subway to possess. It was clean, and extensive enough. The cars were narrower than the ones in Toronto, but the trains ride quieter, as the cars use rubber wheels. (Fare is $2 per trip, but you can buy a strip of tickets - I think it's 10 - for about $8.50. They also have montly passes and special three or four day passes mainly geared for tourists.)

Though the metro is nice, the only way to see the city is really by foot. It might be a lot of walking, and some of it uphill, but you miss so much of the flavour by staying underground or on buses.

We ate some traditional regional food, of course, but that's one thing you should (in my not so humble opinion) always do when you visit a place you've not been before. There's the smoked meat that the city is well-known for, which is just smoked ham, and poutine. Poutine is french fries covered in gravy and cheese curd. It's really, really yummy.

The city has other European touches; like the proliferation of cafes, and the existance of what the population of France would term a tabac. That's just a small shop, smaller than a convenience store, that sells cigarettes, beer, wine, junk food, and small things like that. One thing you have to bear in mind, though, should you stay in Old Montreal, is that there don't seem to be too many grocery stores or tabacs. There's one five minutes walk from the hostel we stayed at, but there didn't seem to be any others, and the closest pharmacy is the one for Chinatown. It's not that far of a walk, though.

The city has two IMAX theatres, which is very nifty, and has (of course) the Olympic Stadium. Right under the stadium, in a building that was used for sports like handball and such, is a place called the Biodome. This is now used as an indoor zoo. It's an amazing place. It's set up as forests, each room playing host to a different style of forest. There's an Amazonian type jungle room with crocodiles, tropical birds and fish, and a Laurentian forest room which plays host to North American wildlife. (Including a water area with seagulls... seemed a bit useless to add a room with seagulls, the damn things are all over - like pigeons - but I suppose that's the point.)

Another thing to keep in mind, is that sometimes Montreal has what's called Museum Day (not sure how many times a year they do this), and on this day most of the city's museums are free. I think the Biodome has a cost to get in, but it seems that it might be free after a certain hour of the day, since we paid nothing to get in.

It costs $10 to go up the elevator in the tower of the Olympic stadium, which might be a bit pricey, but it's really a lovely view of the whole city.

The beggars of Montreal don't seem to beg; they just stand there with their hands out. It's kind of nice in a way, since you don't have people in your face begging for spare change, but it's disturbing in other ways. I'm not quite sure why. I won't give money to people who don't ask me for it. I'll gladly hand over change if you ask, though.

The city is also well-known for its underground city. These are a series of tunnels under the city that house shops and businesses of all sorts. It's quite nice, but not necessarily an uncommon thing.

There are horse and buggy rides through old Montreal, but we didn't take one. No idea how much they cost, but it probably isn't what you'd term cheap. Horse and buggy rides never seem to be. There seem to be a few places where they start; two spots are in front of Notre Dame and then from a place on the port. (One of the IMAX theatres is on the port, by the way, and the other is on Rue St. Catherine.)

We didn't get all the way up Mount Royal, as it started pouring rain half way through the walk (and I do mean pouring), so we had to turn back. If you like walking, and bear in mind this is uphill, it's a nice walk up Stanley Street, past parts of McGill University, to the mountain. Watch out for the stone steps up the mountain itself, though; some of them need to be redone. Just a bit treacherous.

First thing to do when you hit the city, is buy a map. That's a good idea for any city though. Get a map of the metro, too. We used a highlighter to mark off the train station and hostel, and other points we wanted to go to, so we could keep everything in perspective. The good thing about Montreal is that there are city maps all over the place. (street corners, metro stations, etc.), the bad thing is that some maps seem to be upside down; so I hope you have a good sense of direction.

Take a camera, take lots of film, wear comfy shoes, and go.

It's a really nice city to spend a few days in.

There's so much more to it than what little I've said, but there are some things I didn't see, and then there are things that you just have to experience for yourself.



U2 in review

2001 05 29 - 17:49

Finally, after many years of waiting (too many, I think), I got to see U2.

That was the main reason for going to Montreal; seeing the city came barely a close second! (That's sarcasm.)

I say too many years for a couple of reasons; one because it's not fun to wait for anything, and two because Bono's voice isn't what it used to be. I'm guessing his vocal cords will be shot by the end of the week.

Apparently he can't do arena shows anymore, so that's why this tour is smaller stadiums. His voice can't take the straing, and it's showing, unfortunately.

Don't get me wrong, it was a wonderful show, and I'm very happy I finally got to see them live.

The thing that made me happiest is that they did my favourite song, Bad; and apparently he's been botching it a bit during other parts of the tour. He didn't that night. It was wonderful.

The show was a mix of the new album and some old songs, but not many songs pre-Achtung Baby; though they did do Sunday Bloody Sunday which surprised a lot of people.

The show itself starts off with the song Elevation with full house lights on. That's a very very unusual thing. I don't think I've ever heard of a band doing that before.

The stage has a heart-shaped catwalk extending from it, and some of the lucky folks who had general admission floors, were allowed inside the the heart shape.

We had decent seats for being behind the band; at the centre of the heart but in the 200 level. It was a very nice view of the whole heart.

The heart had lights surrounding it on the inner and outer edges. Bono and The Edge would walk around it occasionally.

The evening started off in fear, truth be told, because the sound at the back during PJ Harvey's set was horrible. We were afraid it would be that way all night. As it turns out, part of the problem was sound bouncing off the back walls and reverbing, and the lack of people. Once the place filled up it was better. The other problem, as it turns out, was that PJ's amp was shot. It blew out half way through her set. Once the place was full and U2 took the stage, things were good.

Below is a crappily drawn picture of the stage. The band was set up in the black area inside the heart, and in the black area above the heart were an arced row of pixel boards that came up occasionally during the show either showing psychedelic colour patterns, or a James Bond style girl sihouette that Bono would dance with. They were used for other displays also, but very minimally. That was the whole tour in a nutshell; minimal. They wanted to do a straight-ahead rock'n'roll concert, and that's exactly what they did. There was none of the glitz and crap of Popmart or Discotheque; and it was really nice.

There were giant screens, of course, but for some reason they were all black and white. I wonder why. I wish they'd been colour ones. Perhaps that's another augmentation to the feeling of minimalism.

I think, really, that this is going to be the band's last major tour. With Bono's voice faltering as it had been, I don't see much more future in arena shows for them. I don't see them stopping, no; I just think it's going to be smaller tours and large clubs.

It was a good show, regardless of the faults, and I'm very happy I finally got to see them. Many thanks to my friend Max and my mother for helping the trip come to be.


One thing that <i>did</i> surprise me, was the lack of body searches when we went into the Molson Forum. That's fairly unusual for a show like that, but I'm guessing that the amount of people attending might have made it a bit difficult to carry off. Still, considering Bono's had things tossed at him, and the fact that fans are often more than fanatical, I'm very surprised they didn't do anything in the way of checking people. It ticks me off in a way, because this means I could have taken a camera in there and gotten some shots. Grumble.

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Camden and Crowes

2001 05 23 - 18:17

Last year, during my visit to Blighty, I did the shopping trip to Camden Market for my DMs. I have said DMs, have just in fact taken them off, and bought (with Anna's insistance) this lovely purple hat (somewhat like a woven bowler) with a yellow sunflower in it.

I love this hat. It's now become an extension of my person. I cannot imagine life sans hat. Some months ago, sadly, the sunflower disappeared and I haven't been able to find it.

Until now.

Amidst the flashing of lights the colours of lime soda and grape Kool-Aid, I found out where my flower went.

He steps out on stage wearing a purple hat Just Like Mine, and in it is proudly stuck a sunflower Just Like The One I Used To Have.

Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes stole my flower! The bastard!

Though the show kicked much ass, I still had the urge to jump on stage and demand my flower back.

Noel and Liam Gallagher managed not to engage in fisticuffs, which was relieving. Apparently Noel set a list of rules for Liam before the tour started.

The Commandments According To Noel Gallagher

This show, they covered I Am The Walrus, and I must admit that it was fab. Those boys make no bones about wearing their influences on their sleeves.

I was never an Oasis fan, and I can't say I am now either, but my opinion's certainly switched. It was a good show.

Now, how to get my flower back... (and rid myself of the stench of pot. Gawd I hate the smell of that stuff.)

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That which does not kill me, only serves to make me laugh the next afternoon

2001 05 09 - 18:52

I think I've only once had a near-death experience (well, outside that time I almost choked on bacon fat, or the time the van hit me whilst I tried to cross the road to get to the subway in Toronto, or... wait, that's actually more brushes with death than anyone needs), but the best one so far, has to be the song that nearly ended my life.

I was over a friend's visiting for the weekend, and we're fairly big Monty Python fans. This friend had a record of theirs that I'd never heard, so he put it on whilst I sat at the kitchen table painting, and he and his wife sat on the sofa doing whatever it is one does on sofas.

This song started. I started laughing. I started gasping for breath. Fairly soon I was literally on the floor gasping, trying to suck in breath, and not succeeding; tears streaming out of my eyes.

I have never laughed that hard in my life; not before or since. I suspect nothing will ever make me laugh that hard again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I owe it all to this song:

The Medical Love Song - Monty Python

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o/~ Toot sweets, toot sweets, the candy you whistle, the whistle you eat o/~

2001 05 03 - 18:58

Yesterday I had my first creamsicle of the year. Oh gawd these things are tasty, and right now I'm having another, but I still wish the shop had lime popsicles. I've got a hankering for real lime rickey soda. Mmm. And sometimes the popsicles taste just like that.

I remember having to go through this period of time as a child, not being able to eat ANY sort of store bought junk food at all. I'd been labelled "hyperactive" and wasn't allowed any foods with additives, preservatives, or over-indulgent amounts of sugar. Probably one of the most miserable times of my young life.


We can talk about the weather

2001 05 02 - 19:02

The weather gets warmer, which is welcome, but I am now reminded of two things which aren't; the humidity of southern Ontario in summer, and the migraines I'll get because of it.

This, however, is why Dog created Advil, and why I am now much beholden to him/her/it/them.

I think I'm going to become stupendously wealthy, and spend every summer for the rest of my unnatural born days in the UK. They have perfect weather in summer. It's not too hot, not too cold, it only looks like it's going to rain more than it actually does rain; plus, no humidity. At least nothing that I personally would describe as such.

I still have my nice, big fan, so I am ready for at least part of the battle that is about to ensue.

The past winter was an absolute bastard, and I'm exceedingly grateful it's taken a dirt nap. I only hope similar treatment of our tender human skin, doesn't rear its vicious head come next winter Solstice.

It's the sort of weather that actually made me want to move somewhere with sun.

I am not a sun person.

Sun; bad. White like pasty dough-girl; good.

Some place that floats around 75F all year; excellent.

I suppose I'll have to start saving up for that biodome, now.



2001 04 24 - 22:04

     is of like-mind
     to be generous
     and considerate
     to share a gift
     and give a word
     of goodness
     of comfort


Fallen Leaves

2001 04 15 - 21:26

When tea is picked it's picked by hand and packaged by hand. What you get in teabags is usually the stuff that falls on the factory floor. It makes me laugh when I see tea commercials that talk of the freshness and non-bitterness of their tea, when really all they have is the dregs; the stuff that isn't good enough for the teaballs of the connaiseurs. :)

This tea from Sri Lanka that my mother gave me is very very nice stuff. It's got the kickass caffeine strength that I absolutely crave, but there's nothing bitter about it. It's somewhat like drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade, though; the niceness of the taste makes you forget the strength of what you're drinking.

I think I'm spoiled for tea bags now. I'll have to go back to scouring the wonders of the Twinings tea in cans collection.