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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Le Voyage Super Fun

There is something indescribable about the roadtrip that brings people closer together. Maybe it's the many miles of common road that quiet travel companions share, or maybe it's the commeraderie that develops between people who are forced to find elusive parking spots in foreign cities--or maybe it's just the forced physical proximity imposed upon people who sit in the cramped backrow of a rented Chevy Impala. Regardless, it is undeniable that roadtrips, a North American tradition since the introduction of Ford's Model T, provide friends an unparalleled opportunity to bond, while also providing enough distractions to keep them from getting sick of eachother.

The four-day roadtrip I went on this past weekend was just too much fun to do justice with a Blogger post, but I'll try to anyway--because I'm an incorrigible procrastinator who would rather do anything than actual work (disclaimer: I've been working 12 hour days in the week prior to this trip, so I deserve a little slack time :-p). What follows is a short, very much abridged account of what we did and what wonderous things we saw this past weekend. There will inevitably be things I will miss, and even more that I will recall incorrectly. The later will, of course, become the basis for apocryphal anecdotes for years to come. This, my friends, is how legends are born.

Our roadtrip began humbly at a Discount Rental lot somewhere in Scarborough, where Han-min and I picked up the rental Impala. From there, we went on to pick up the rest of our party (Ames, Tiffy, and Iulia), and when everyone was comfortably seated and our luggage safely stowed in the cavernous trunk of our American-made land-yacht, we put pedal to the metal and went to our first stop, the Big Apple--no, not the Big Apple, but the other one just off the 401 in beautiful Colborne, ON.

Years before, I had stopped by this roadside freakshow attraction while on a Chinese bus tour and fell in love with this monument to rural Ontario kitsch. I had always remembered it being covered in a vibrant shade of red, a true-to-life representation of the sweet, fleshy Red Delicious. But when we got there, I found a pale, weather-worn ball of dissapointment resembling a bruised peach more than an apple. It would appear that over the years, this Ontario apple mecca lost some of its former lustre. But that was fine with me. No one ever wants their trip to start off with an untoppable attraction that will dwarf the rest of the itinery, so in that sense the "Big Apple" was the perfect appetizer to a tastier meal.

Thankfully, our next stop was more rewarding than the first. Kingston is such a pretty city, full of small shops and cozy bookstores. I was suprised to see a city the size of Kingston boast of a stationery store--albeit one terribly named 'Send in the Clowns'--that carried papers and notebooks far surpassing anything sold at the pretentiously named Essence du Papier in Toronto. Another pleasant surprise was the classy brick buildings I saw dotting the lush Queens campus--I guess I should take back everything I've ever said about Queens and the people that go there :-p

After a quick pita lunch in Kingston and a hasty tour of the city and its waterfront, we got back on the 401 and made a beeline for Ottawa, where we had decided to spend the night. Truth be told, I had not expected much of our Nation's Capital. But like most things, I was wrong. Ottawa turned out to be a very friendly and laid-back city, steeped in Canadian history. The Comfort Inn we stayed at, however, was steeped in another sort of history--the sort that leaves behind lumpy pillows and broken TV remotes. But as long as the place had two relatively stain-free beds and a working air-conditioner, we were more than happy (thanks for getting us such a rockin' deal, Ames :).

Later in the evening, we met up for dinner with Iulia and Han-min's friend Mike, a friendly but furtive "government employee"--and that's all he is allowed to say, so don't ask. Mike brought us to a "nice" restaurant downtown for dinner. The exact name of the place escapes me now (I think it was something Metropolitan or Cosmopolitan...or maybe Charlatan...I really don't remember), but suffice it to say it was the sort of establishment that calls appetizers entrées, and entrées plats principaux--the sort of place that have washrooms people rave about to their friends from out of town. In fact, I will say this: this was the first time I've heard someone recommend a restaurant to me based solely on the merits of its washrooms. I find this very odd because if this were the only criterion with which to select restaurants, we Chinese would never get to eat out.

I've always had trouble finding cities where I could go for a comfortable late-night stroll. Most of the cities I've visited fall on the extremes of the pedestrian friendliness spectrum: either they have streets that are full of interesting distractions but jammed with people, or they are light on people but completely devoid of anything interesting things to see. But Ottawa has just the right balance between points of interest and crowd density on its streets late at night. In fact, walking along the Rideau Canal was one of the highlights of the trip. Besides the Parliament Building Lightshow with its tributes to Celion Dion and Bryan Adams, and establishments such as ClassiXXX, I found Ottawa to be a very down to earth city, pretty but not ostentatious.

The next morning Ames, Tiffy, and I drove to the Prime Minister's place on Sussex. To be blunt, I've seen much nicer houses in Richmond--the whole experience was an even bigger letdown than the Big Apple debacle in Colborn. Thankfully, the Governor's residence across the street had more pageantry (British guards with funny hats marching outside the gates!) and we spent a good half hour strolling in the gardens and taking pictures with the guards--look but don't touch! We wrapped up our tour of Ottawa by visiting the Parliament buildings--the outside of them, anyways--and rendezvous'd with Han-min and Co after lunch. Montreal was in our sights and a short jaunt on the highway was the only thing separating us from the third stop in our trip.

As we entered Montreal, it became clear to me that the Quebecois have a very simple method for converting English business names to French ones. It works sort of like this: take the English name, flip it around, translate individual words to French where possible, prefix with le or la and suffix with the words Super Sexe. So Price Club would become Le Clube Prix Super Sexe or something like that. Quite effective, I must say. What wasn't so clear, however, was the traffic rules in this province. From what I could tell, lane markings were merely suggestions and signalling was either optional or entirely frowned upon. Eventually, I realized that the only rule I needed to follow while driving in this city was the ever popular "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". In this case, the "Romans" drove like blind, spasmic, schizophrenics--which, thankfully, was not a stretch for me to emulate. Of course, pulling some of these maneuvres in a Chevy Impala (a sedan that can legally seat six!) was, at times, slightly nerve racking--especially when we kept getting cut off by other vehicles, cyclists (!), and roller-bladers (what the?!?!?).

The difference in pace between Ottawa and Montreal was immediatly obvious as we drove through Old Montreal. In the capital city, we managed to find a cheap and spacious parking lot just 5 minutes from the downtown core without breaking a sweat. Finding a berth for our land-yacht in Montreal, however, was a completely different experience. As a general rule of thumb for future reference, driving downtown in Montreal on a Saturday night when a fireworks show and* the Just for Laughs festival are happening within 3 km of eachother is not a good idea. After spending a good 30 minutes dodging cyclists, dogs, and pedestrians with enough flexibility to suggest they were recent escapees from the local Cirque de Soleil troupe, we finally managed to find a lot that allowed us to down our anchor for a mere $20--this after we had refused $8 and $14 dollar lots earlier in the evening for being too "outrageous".

Montreal (or at least Old Montreal) was a pleasant place to visit once we solved our parking problem. There were so many unique, quaint, and reasonably priced bistros that we couldn't decide which one to choose--maybe that's why we ended up going to a Subway for dinner. If you ask me, the Combination Trois Viande sub tasted no different than the Cold Cut Trios I was used to elsewhere. With its being French, I had hoped that at least one of the viandes would have come from snail or frog or something. Whatever.

The fireworks display later in the evening was a nice way to end an otherwise hectic day. I had some pleasant flashback moments to the old Benson and Hedges Symphony of Fire shows we used to have in Vancouver before Big-Tobacco-sponsored events became socially unacceptable. The only minor annoyance during the show came from the rowdy drunks standing beside us, who kept shouting "Regardes! C'est l'Independence Day[the movie]!!!!!" everytime an explosion went off. That's so 1996.

Day three of our roadtrip began with my being serenaded by a crow outside my Concordia dorm-room at six in the morning. I used to think pidgeons were the worse sounding birds on this planet--I was wrong. There's something very unsettling about the squack of a crow. It's not steady enough to get used to, yet it's not soft enough to completely ignore. In other words, the crow's squack is the aural equivalent of a thorn on your side, or a paper cut on the part of your mouth that connects your tongue to your jaw. Once it starts, you can forget about going back to bed.

The quiet calm of Sunday morning was quite a contrast to the loud, crowded, hectic pace of the night before--I guess most of the locals were at home nursing hangovers or rushing to the local drugstore for morning-after pills. For us, the empty streets were a welcome change and allowed us to find easy street parking right outside McGill. A year and a half ago, I was having a tough time deciding between McGill and UofT for grad school--the decision became a lot easier when I found out UofT was paying me $5000 more--and I still sometimes wonder if McGill would have been more fun. From the cursory inspection of the school we gave though, I don't think I missed much by going to Toronto--although I would probably have met nicer people in Montreal :-p

We spent (or rather squandered) the next three hours hiking up Mont Royal for a good view of the city. I say squandered because when we got to the top, we saw a smooth, paved road that could have taken us up in a tenth of the time. But I suppose the hike was probably much needed anyways in light of the massive poutine lunch we had prior to our ascent. In any case, the view was well worth the hike, and the ice cream shop at the top was absolutely amazing.

The rest of day three is a blur to me--probably because we topped it off with some bzzr (UBC alumni will know what I'm talking about :) at night. All I vaguely remember is that we overindulged on smoked meats at Schwartz and then walked along St. Cathrines for a while before heading back to Concordia...oh yeah, I also remember (very vaguely, of course) that I WON the Carcassonne game later in the evening :-p

I suppose I lied earlier about this being a short entry. But I was honest when I said this would be an abridged version of the whole story. There were many stories not told and many laughs not shared in these paragraphs. But all I really need to say is that this was a fantastic trip with amazing weather, interesting sights, and fabulous company. We gotta do this again some time. Call me.

Your Favorite Jerk


At Saturday, July 30, 2005 2:37:00 AM, Anonymous peach said...

hehe want more stories, and where my souvenir, hm? ;)

do keep in mind that likening an abstract abomination of an apple to that of a peach bruised or otherwise is frowned upon by this peach. =p but wow, tourism dollars to Quebec, province of the francos that daily plague my existence. don't even start about the locals rushing to the pharmacy, amount of yearly child tax benefits in that province probably rivals that of the adscam scandal and then some.

i recall the month i was there, when crossing the street as a pedestrian, as drivers saw you from a distance, the reaction would be to speed up. buncha nuts, i wonder how many points is an anglophone. "c'est probablement plus facile de les laissez-faire mais 'je me souviens' indeed."

At Sunday, July 31, 2005 4:57:00 PM, Blogger Ames said...

err... what do you mean you would have met nicer people in Montreal??

At Tuesday, August 02, 2005 9:45:00 AM, Blogger tiffany said...

nicer people than those you've met here in TO?! puh-leeze! you totally would've met more couche-tards in montreal... (then again, ames and i *are* pretty mean to you... :p )


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