Monday, January 24, 2011

3 Day Midweek Bender

In a surprising turn of events - what would in the weeks to come be less and less surprising - I was handed 6 days off work just before Christmas. In what at the time was a completely unprecedented schedule, I decided it a must to do something. So late on the 2nd night I packed a bag and headed down to the train station. I arrived at the station at just after 5 in the morning. After little deliberation I decided I would go out and visit dear old Montreal. Whilst no stranger to the city it has been a few years since I made my way out there. The bus left a tad late, and being the bus, managed to make up absolutely no time what so ever. In fact we were at least an hour late getting into the city. I traveled with Megabus, which used to be Coach Canada, makes few stops long with with one stop over in Kingston to stretch legs, get coffee, and other market up food/goods. I always appreciated the advertisements around Toronto showing off their low travel fees to Montreal "as low as 10$". Ladies and gents, I have no trouble telling you, this was not the case. I paid near 150$ for my bus ticket. Appalling, but little choice being so last minute and so close to the holidays.

During the bus ride I booked stay at the Hi-Hostel Montreal.

I arrived in Montreal around half passed three. If only I had remembered Montreal as well as I thought I did, I may have arrived at my hostel before 5.

After re-acquainted myself with the city, by means of wandering lost for an hour and half, I reached my hostel.

I checked in, got my flimsy key card, and made my way up to the room. Upon checking in however I was informed of an impending hostel pub crawl that very evening.

I threw my stuff down in the room, rested my weary feet a while, and then got ready to make my way to dinner. As I was getting ready I had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of two Australian fellows staying in the room, Jim, and Geoff. The two gents were also getting ready to head out of supper, so I convinced them to head on over with me to check out a szechuan restaurant I had heard good things of, just up the road from the hostel. We all head out together, and some time after back tracking back to the restaurant (as we walked clear passed it), we found Cuisine Szechuan.

We piled in, got menus, and after some debate, ordered our meal.

First up was the Beef with Ginger and Shallots.
Followed by Black Bean Chicken with Nuts
And finally, my personal decision, the Pork in Fiery Chili Sauce
Now I wanted to really like this food, I really did. And whilst each dish was good, there was nothing fabulous or outstanding. I had heard this was the place for "serious chili heads" and "fire-eaters" alike, and this simply was not the case. Whilst the pork in fiery chili sauce definitely had heat, it was absolutely no match what so ever for the spice level we recieve at szechuan restaurants here in Toronto. I would give Cuisine Szechuan no more then a 7/10. Although I am unsure as to how it stacks up to other Montreal Chinese eaterys. Perhaps we are just spoiled for good Chinese here in Toronto.

We departed the restaurant after eating, very full, and satisfied. We made our way back to the hostel to prepare our selves for a night on the town.

We headed to the hostel bar for the meet up around 8, and sat in for a few pints.

After about an hour the group had filled up to a sizeable amount of people. With a bit of discussion as to what the plan of attack would be, we set off. We took the tram from the closest station to the hostel, to Berry station. The first pub was just off St Catherine (I believe), I do not recall the name, although I do believe it was an Irish pub. After downing several rounds of boreal and a few whiskeys, it was time to up and leave to the next pub.

We reached our next destination after 10-15 minutes on foot. It was a nice pub, but quite packed. The group had made the decision to move on, however 4 of us at the bar had already ordered up, so we had to chug a lug and get out.

Sometime later we reached the 3rd bar. I believe in one of my travels to Montreal in days long gone I had been here. I remember not the name nor the location of the pub. It was karaoke night however. Having a good 7 or 8 drinks in me by now, I was starting to get a bit sloppy. Pictures however did seem like a prime activity.
Three Aussies and a Yank
The lot of us
Jim and his 2 bar birds
Geoff and his yank bird and a dance

This last photo was taken on our long trek to the final bar of the evening which was a club playing retro remix's. Not my typical scene, but hey, sometimes ya gotta just roll with it. All in all a good time, a pleasure to make many acquaintance, and an utterly miserable hangover in the morning.

The hi-hostel being very close to the largest English speaking district offered up many Irish pubs. One being O'reagans, which I seem to end up at at least once on a trip to Montreal for their Irish Traditional Sessions.
Two doors down is the Irish Embassy. Strikingly similar in exterior appearance to that of the Irish Embassy pub in Toronto. And having spent an evening in there, ever bit as disastrously boring.

There is also yet another Irish pub, called Hurleys just through the parking lot on the next street up. A nice pub that see's a fair bit of business on any given night, likely due to having live music in 7 days a week. A pub I like to frequent when in Montreal and looking for an English speaking refuge, and some good old music.

Anyhow, after passing through the district with all the Irish bars, I made the long haul up to Schwartz Deli, located on St-Laurent. After approximately an hour or so of walking I made my destination. For those you know unaware, Schwartz deli is famous for their smoked meat sandwiches. Something I personally swore off after eating one at the Montreal Casino upon my first visit to the city. It was the single worst thing I have eaten that comes to mind. I couldn't bring myself to eat another one, regrettably, as Schwartz Deli quickly converted me into a Montreal Smoked Meat addict.
This huge hulking sandwich offering two or even three times more meat then bread, and a good spread of mustard, and a pickle on the side. Absolutely stunning in its simplicity. A wonderful sandwich, and one I would recommend as a must to anyone going through Montreal.

After stuffing back the delicious sandwich, I made my way back into the cold to venture back to the hostel. I made it back in what felt like much better time then my initial journey. Shortly after getting back and throwing on my laptop, a new arrival joined our room. A young American lad from California. After chatting a bit I invited him out for the Irish Trad Session I was to attend that night at O'Reagans. The Australians were still too knackered for another night out.

So I headed out, and arrived at O'Reagans just prior to the music. After a pint or two they started up. Shortly after which the yank happened by. Much to my surprise, he was not a drinker at all, and he sat drinking cola. Which whilst something I have no problem with personally, I was a bit disappointed to not have a rowdy drinking partner for the evening. All the same we had a good time, enjoying music, and chatting away. Eventually we moved closer to the musicians. After standing a while observing we were approached by a woman from Halifax. Whilst nice enough at first, after about 5 minutes of her rambling, it became apparent that it would be impossible to get her to shut up, or even to get so much as a single word in. After suffering her incoherent babbling for 20 minutes, she eventually stuck me with a 10$ and told me to get her a drink. I was near tempted just to take the opportunity to get the hell out of there, whilst 10$ richer to boot. However being too upstanding (or perhaps just too sober) for such a thing I got her her drink. Unfortunately this did not cease her tongue. Finally after maybe another 10 minutes she took a sip. In this glorious opportunity I manage to belt out the phrase "I need to leave". The yank quickly jumped onto my band wagon. The poor bastard however was coaxed into staying.

After gaining my new found freedom, I went across the way to Hurleys to take in a bit of music. After a few to drink I decided I would see what the Irish Embassy was all about. Having been to the one here in Toronto (if they are indeed affiliated) I can say that one is as awful as the next. Nice exterior, nice interior, bland boring patrons, over priced alcohol, and no music. Needless to say I did not stay long. I then called it an early night.

Upon waking up it was nearly time to check out. I gathered my belongings, and made my way. I said farewell to who ever was there to say it to, and left. I was recommended a poutine shop called La Banquise. After looking it up on google maps, it wasn't too far from the bus terminal. So I hopped the tram, and started out. I reached the bus terminal and had roughly an two hours to catch my bus. Perfect. Time for Poutine. It was roughly a half hour trek to La Banquise. I walked in and was seated promptly. I was happy enough just to be out of the cold. I received the menu which had a massive variety of poutines. Everything from the classic, to the Hawaiian with bacon and pineapple, to the T-rex with ground beef, bacon, pepperoni, and sausage. Now me being something of a traditionalist when it comes to food (why fuck with a good thing right?), especially when it comes to trying something for the first time (in this case the restaurant for the first time), I ordered the large classic.

Wow! Whilst I wouldn't consider it a cheap poutine at 10$, boy was it ever good. I'm not entirely sure I could say it is the best poutine I've eaten, I will say it is a contender. Tasty Gravy, plentiful fresh cheese curds, and whilst not my favorite chips, they certainly were good enough to pass the test of a delicious poutine.

After enjoying my meal, I got to take one last walk around Montreal before being crammed back into the bus. I arrived back at the terminal a half hour early only to be greeted by a sprawling line up. By the time we were loaded on it was shoulder to shoulder, in my opinion for a bus ride as long as the one to come, it was inhumane. In my case especially as the rotund Indian fellow - who couldn't secure a seat with his wife - to my right kept falling asleep and trying to cuddle me.

Seven long tedious hours later I was back in Toronto. Instead of doing the sensible thing of going home, and getting some rest, it was right back out on the lash! After some poor attempts at co-ordination I met up with Michael. We saw in a few pints at the go to - McVeighs, and it was off to Bloor and Spadina. Now well peckish by this point, we stopped in at Sarah's for Falafel.

Damn that is good Falafel. Whilst not much for vegetarian food, I always have loved Falafel. And Sarah's does it just right.

After sucking back the food it was on to Lees Palace.

After just a few beers we were joined by our friend Dauren.

With a good amount of beer and whiskey consumed by this point the main act, the Bathurst Queens, came on. Ah punk rockers in drag, is there anything that says Merry Christmas better?

All in all quite an entertaining gig. And of course after all that booze consumed, it was time to go back to Sarah's. This time, Shawarma.

We fired up a couple rounds of chicken shawarma. I must say, every bit as good as the falafel! And with that I made my way home for Christmas Eve.

Day 7-8: Bountiful Returns

Ah day 7, a well deserved sleep in all around. Certainly for the fellows who missioned out on a fools errand. Our mission for today was relatively simple. A short paddle, followed by a short portage back to North Tea Lake, and then another short paddle to find a campsite. So with a fairly easy day a head we took a leisurely approach to the morning.

Sometime after we had all be up for a while shooting the shit, we made up a small fire for coffee and porridge.

After a good few hours spent goofing off, and generally enjoying ourselves, it was time to leave this site behind and move onward.
And for the record, no it is never too early. When your in the woods its 5pm around the clock.

This was Chris' attempt to clear away the low hanging branches that were hiding the portage sign.

I've been told I should send this photo in to old spice for use in their advertisement campaigns.

This was a bit of a tricky portage. Whilst it was fairly short, maybe half a km, it essentially I large hill.

When we reached North Tea Lake again, we began inspecting campsites.
This one was nice from the out side, but very dense and small when you get into it.
After checking out a couple, we ended up at this one. It was on an island, and absolutely massive. It was a bit of a hill up, but it had a nice sand beach to dock the canoes on.

After getting set up and seeing a spot of lunch in, it was time to soap up, and get in a bit of swimming.
After the swim, Chris and Kel ventured out for another round of fishing. Thus far a venture that had been very unsuccessful. They returned as sun was setting maybe an hour later, with not one, but two small mouth bass! Apparently after catching one, Chris wanted to see if Kel could bait one, and shortly after recasting his line he pulled in a second.

Ah time for what I do best. Dinner! Whilst Chris went down to gut the fish, I started cookin up some sides. In one pot we have tomato sauce with salami boiling away, next to some make shift french fries.

After gutted, the fish were placed back into my capable hands to fillet, season, and cook.

Even to say myself it was a truly inspired effort to cook even such a simple meal on such a medium. And there really isn't anything like fresh food, even despite not being much of a fish eater.

We stayed up only briefly after eating, had a few drinks, and went to get a good night in for the long day ahead of us.

We arose to a particularly chilly and windy morning.

Spirits for what ever reason were rather low this particular morning. Whether it was the thought of going back home, or the run down of a tough week, or the fact that we had to paddle a huge lake, a long river, and a second, smaller lake, with the wind and current coming against us is uncertain. More then likely a combination of all three.

As you can see, Renars is ecstatic to get moving.

It was a tough paddle, and very tiring for already very tired and sore muscles. However we persevered and made it to the river. Ah the lazy river, that wonderful river we first set paddle on 8 days prior. With the wonderful memories of full bellies, and lazing down the river with beers and cigarettes 2 provisions we had long since been out of.

We spend a good long while going through the river, but inevitably made it to the lake. As tired and sore and physically and mentally drained as we all were by this point, the ability to see our final destination was re-invigorating. One last strong push, in what felt like a small eternity we made land, and civilization!
We unloaded quickly.

Got the canoes attached.

And after recording our closing thoughts, we said a fond farewell to one another, and piled into our separate vehicles.

Now with nothing left of this trip but the dwindling hours of open road, and our thoughts and reflections. It never ceases to amaze me the thoughts one has of everything in their life after trips as such. The ways you delve into who you are, and the problems of your life. The decisions you make about how to change your life when you return. A new job, a better eduction, to tell those you love how you feel. Whilst going through the rigors of camping, you are never left the time to reflect or to think of really anything other then what you are doing. Too busy working your ass off to get to your next destination, your eyes too focused on taking in the surroundings, and at times, just trying to survive. So it always feels profound to me just how much everything under the sun gets taken into consideration upon that brief trip home.

Thanks for reading the posts for these lovely, beautiful, heinous, melancholy, tough, and at times bitter and resentful 8 days.

Catch ya on the flip side,

Yours truly,

Tim, the Devils Advocate

I would also like to thank Renars Dimza for use of his plentiful picture collection.