Montreal: The City of Saints

Considering how I was already in France for my business trip to Paris, a lot of people assumed I’d take a few days off and travel around France or Europe. You can imagine their surprise when I told them that I didn’t and instead flew back to Canada to spend the weekend in Montreal.

I already had plans to go to Montreal that weekend and it just so happened that it lined up quite nicely with my trip to Paris. It would’ve been nice to spend that extra time in Europe but hey, it is what it is. So that’s how I ended up going from the French capital of Europe to the French capital of North America.

Old Montreal
The streets of Old Montreal.

Montreal is a nice city. I’ve been a bunch of times throughout my life but the last time prior to this trip was back in 2013, so it’s been a while. And even when I went then, it was for an event so I didn’t really have much time to check out the city.

This time, the plan was to actually walk around and see what the city has to offer. It’s always kinda exciting to sight-see in another Canadian city because Canada is such a big country with so many things to see. It’s so cool to be able to fly to another place with different cultures, customs, and in this case, language, and still be able to find so much familiarity.

For example, I wanted to buy some stuff so I went and found a Shoppers and a Loblaws. In Montreal, they’re called called Pharmaprix and Provigo respectively, but they’re still literally the same store with the same layouts and products. It’s kinda cool.

Old Port of Montreal
A Ferris Wheel by a frozen river.

That level of familiarity makes Montreal a pretty comfortable place to visit. Despite being from a different city in a different province in Canada, I never felt like a true foreigner. It was kind of a nice feeling, especially when you contrast it with my experience in Paris where I felt like I was a total outsider.

Montreal is a francophone city and so the linguistic difference alone makes it a very different city to Toronto or Vancouver. That said, English is so widely spoken in Montreal that I never had a problem getting around or talking to people.

Really makes you think though. In the anglophone parts of Canada, you’d be hard-pressed to find a person that was actually bilingual in English and French. I mean, I’m living proof of that. I studied French for a solid nine years of my life and yet I wouldn’t be able to speak it to save my life.

In a way, it’s somewhat inspiring me to brush up on my French a bit.

Ice on the St Lawrence
Sheets of ice on the St Lawrence.

Considering how I was there in the winter, I got a chance to experience the fabled Montreal winter. The weather actually wasn’t that cold when I was there though, just barely below negative, but there was still noticeably more snow there than in Toronto.

I guess in a way that’s not too terrible because it means you could enjoy being outside without freezing your ass off. In general, it seemed like there were more people walking around the city than in Toronto. For example, we went to the Old Port and there were a bunch of people there just hanging out by the water or skating on some outdoor rink.

I literally cannot imagine people doing that here so it was cool to just walk around there. Plus, we saw a bunch of giant ice sheets floating around the St Lawrence which was kinda cool.

Mont Royal Skating
Outdoor skating on Mont Royal.

Outdoor skating seemed like a good idea so we also went to Mont Royal to both check out the view and to do some skating. The skate rink at Beaver Lake was kinda nice. I’ve always enjoyed skating and I honestly think outdoor skating is the best way to enjoy it.

There’s something about being outside that just beats any experience in an indoor rink in my opinion.

Mont Royal in general was also a pretty nice walk. The snow was nice and fluffy, the lights were nice and warm, and so it felt pretty comfy. We even saw a bunch of raccoons doing raccoon things too which was kinda cute.

Two Raccoons in a Tree
I thought raccoons hibernated in the winter.

At the top of the “mountain” is the Belvédère Kondiaronk. There was a plaque there that said that Mont Royal was the reason why Montreal is called Montreal. That was probably more interesting that the view, which was solid but really not that exciting. Really did make me wish that Toronto had a panoramic viewpoint of the city that wasn’t a condo though.

Another notable sight that I went and checked out was the Notre Dame. I couldn’t go into the Notre Dame in Paris because it was under reconstruction so the Montreal one was the first one I could go into. Despite that, I thought that I might’ve been hitting a bit of “church-fatigue” after seeing so many churches already in France.

But man, Montreal’s Notre Dame is really nice. The outside of the church isn’t that spectacular but the interior is really nice. The shrine is so intricately detailed and there’s this beautiful blue and gold colour that really stands out.

Notre Dame Montreal Interior
The inside of Montreal’s Notre Dame.

Another interesting thing is that the stained glass windows of the basilica doesn’t go over biblical events like every other church. Instead, it covers the history of Montreal and features key players like Jacques Cartier and the aboriginal people he met. That was pretty neat.

No trip to Montreal is complete without some solid food. Being the largest city in Quebec, there’s a lot of options for Quebecois food, the most famous of which has to be poutine.

I didn’t really know where to go for poutine so I just googled it and one of the recommendations was La Banquise, a diner known for their poutine and craft beers. We had to wait outside and then wait even longer inside to get a table but it was totally worth it.

There were so many different types of poutine and the portions were amazing and the taste was even better. Definitely one of the best poutines I’ve had in my life.

La Banquise Poutine
Bacon, hot dogs, mushrooms, gravy, cheese curds, and fries.

I’m also not really sure if this is a thing or not but I always think that Quebec is known for their breakfast/brunch diners. It might be because of Cora’s or something, but I’ve always had that association. We went for brunch one day as well and as you can imagine it’s just a ton of great food.

American diners are nice too but I think that they’re sometimes just too unhealthy. Too much grease and fried food. I’ve always thought that the French Canadian diners just seem to offer a healthier selection of food but also just keeps the calorie spirit alive. It’s nice.

Overall, I enjoyed my time in Montreal. It’s cool to be able to go somewhere that’s not super far from Toronto but still have such a different vibe and culture. I could definitely see myself spending more time there.

Paris: The City of Love

Normally, when I travel for work, I end up going to somewhere in North America. Occasionally, some people in my company had the opportunity to travel to Europe or Asia and I really wanted a chance to do that as well. So last month, when a project came in that required on-site support in Paris, I was pretty excited when they asked me to go support it.

France is one of those countries that I’ve always wanted to go to but since it’s France and is so easily accessible, I figured that I didn’t really need to make any plans to actually go and that I’d just end up there sometime somehow.

I was right and that’s how I ended up on a plane to the City of Love on Valentine’s Day.

Hotel du Collectionneur Lobby
The lobby of my hotel.

While I was in Paris, I had a lot of random flashbacks to my time in London. And not because they’re similar; in fact I think the two cities are fairly different. I think I kept making random comparisons in my head because just as London was the capital of the British Empire, Paris was the capital of the French Empire.

And as we know, the French Empire extended quite far as well, taking over significant swathes of both Africa and Asia. It’s interesting because just as you’d see a lot of Indian and Chinese people in London, you see a ton of African people in Paris. It makes a lot of sense if you think about it, but it’s one of those things that is kinda interesting when you’re just walking around the streets taking in the sights.

The Champs-Élysées
The Champs-Élysées.

But for me, France is a unique country because its one of the progenitors of Canada. Canada is essentially like a weird love child between Britain and France but then they got divorced and Britain got full custody of the child. Considering how I’m from the English speaking part of Canada, I definitely see more influence from Britain than France, but it’s cool to be able to say that I’ve been to the capitals of both countries that formed mine.

Since I was there for work I didn’t have a whole lot of time to do some in-depth sightseeing but I really appreciated just walking around the city. The city was incredibly walkable with many famous sights within walking distance of each other.

In general, I thought that Paris was a pretty nice city. Despite it being winter and all the greenery was missing, I thought the city was quite beautiful. There’s a lot of nice streets with a lot of cool buildings on them. I think it’s really nice how each building’s architecture is so intricate. Each building’s facade is covered with these nice terraces and fancy decorations.

The Hôtel de Ville
A city hall that’s called a hotel for some reason.

And that’s just the normal buildings. Once you go to the notable buildings, it gets even more spectacular. When people think of France or Paris, one of the buildings that comes to mind immediately is the Eiffel Tower. Since Paris is in that part of Europe where they set height restrictions on new buildings, the Eiffel Tower still reigns supreme as the city’s iconic landmark.

I have to say though that my first impression of the Eiffel Tower was somewhat disappointing. It’s not as tall as I thought it would be and in fact it’s a bit.. chunkier than expected, so it didn’t really look the same way as I pictured it in my mind.

That said, the Eiffel Tower is a quite nice at night when it’s lit up. I’ll admit that it isn’t as impressive or grand when you compare it to a lot of the modern towers, but it has a certain level of magnificence to it. Especially when it sparkles at night. That’s a really nice touch and I felt like that made it special.

The Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower sparkles.

Speaking of special, the most unique thing I’ve seen in Paris was actually Sainte-Chapelle, a small chapel near the Notre Dame (RIP). This was completely off my radar but my cousin recommended me to go check it out so I did. I had to wait about thirty minutes to get in and when I finally did.. I was underwhelmed.

The interior of the chapel was kinda small and dark and didn’t really strike me as being that impressive. I was planning on just leaving when I saw these stairs going to the second floor. I figured, what the hell, might as well check it out, and went up.

And wow, the second floor was entirely the reason why people wanted to go to that place. It was amazing.

Seriously, pictures do this place no justice.

I think that stained glass windows are really nice. It’s a really beautiful artistic medium and it requires so much skill to put together. I’ve seen a lot of stained glass in a lot of churches in my time, but Sainte-Chapelle was something completely out of this world.

You’re talking about an entire room covered in giant floor to ceiling stained glass windows. It was honestly breathtaking and no pictures could do it justice. I went on a day that was somewhat cloudy and so as time passed the lighting in the room changed and every time that happened it made the room feel different. That was so cool.

Outside of the sights, I also have to admit that the food and drink culture in Paris was quite nice too. In general, I thought that the restaurant food quality was quite good; every meal I had was pretty solid. That said, I spent like a week in France and I’m still not really sure what French food really is.

I really enjoyed having a basket of baguette delivered to my table at every meal though.

What stood out was the wine. French wine is known worldwide and man, the French really do love their wine. It’s available everywhere and it’s so cheap and good. I went to the supermarket and bought a bottle of red wine for 3.50 EUR, which was cheaper than a pack of Magic cards, and it was still a really good wine.

French Wine and Magic Cards
I definitely got more value from the wine than the pack of cards.

My cousin said that the French love their wine so much that the quality of the wines you get in France are always gonna be good. From what I tried in my time there I have to admit that the wine was actually quite nice.

The only complaints I have about the dining experience in Paris was that first of all, it was more expensive than I thought it would be. Berlin was the only other major capital in the Eurozone that I’ve been to so that was my frame of reference but Paris is definitely more expensive than that. Secondly, I really did not like how all of the restaurant staff just take their time with everything.

As someone from North America, I’m so used to having waiters constantly come by like every ten minutes asking if everything is ok. It feels like it’s a bit much sometimes but I much rather have that than what I experienced in Paris. It honestly felt like they just seat you and just abandon you. It takes like twenty minutes to flag down a waiter and then another twenty minutes for them to do anything about your request.

I honestly felt like I was physically aging while eating at restaurants there. Food and drink quality was nice but the service was just abysmally slow. But I guess that’s just how it is there.

French Food
Cheap and tasty food at Le Bouillon Chartier.

Overall, I had a really good time in Paris. It seems like an incredibly lovely city with a lot to see, do, and eat. Since I was there for work I didn’t have a chance to check out any museums or do anything super time consuming, but the city’s made a good first impression on me and I would love to go back and check it out some more.

That said, I’m in no rush. I feel like Paris is one of those cities that never really changes and so it doesn’t really matter if I go back next year or next decade, everything will still be there.

Year in Review: 2019

So historically, I’ve always done my Year in Reviews on January 1st, and this year I’ve totally failed at that since it’s.. January 19th.

There’s a good reason for that though and it is pretty representative of the year in general: I was travelling.

After Christmas I traveled to Hong Kong with my parents and then went to Seoul for a couple days on the way back to Toronto, which was a really fun trip. It was super nice seeing all my friends and family again and of course, to eat all of the wonderful food. I got back from that trip a week ago and I just haven’t had the time or energy to write this post until now.

Always excited to leave, always happy to come back.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is pretty much my 2019 in a nutshell. My 2019 was absolutely crazy. And the reason for that is because of all of my travels. It’s pretty cute because when you look back at 2018’s Year in Review, I wrote this..

For the most part, I just spent the year working while travelling whenever I could. Between personal trips and business trips, I actually flew out of Toronto seven times in 2018, which I think might be a record for the number of trips I’ve ever done in a year.

2019 Gary

And wow, seven trips. And the reason why I think that’s cute is because in 2019, I went to 17 cities outside of the GTA in 10 countries spanning 4 continents for a total of 13 trips and 33 flight segments.

Now that’s crazy.

Me at Gudvangen
And it all started with my trip to London and Norway.

It still blows my mind that I was travelling that much last year. For a dude who lives in Toronto and who doesn’t actually travel for a living, I certainly spent a whole lot of time last year travelling. I really don’t think I’d match these numbers ever again.

Most of those were work trips and I was fortunate enough that my work brought me all around the States. Because of that, I was able to hit up new cities like Dallas and Seattle while being able to rediscover places like Atlanta and Orlando.

And since my company gives you lieu time for when you travel for work over a weekend, it ended up being a weird situation where my many work travels enabled me to travel even more for fun. That ended up bringing me to fun places like London, Norway (Bergen and Oslo), Mexico City, Quito, New York City, Istanbul, Doha, Amman, and Hong Kong.

Friends at the Middle of the World
Hanging out at the equator in Ecuador.

It’s ridiculous even just listing out the places I went this year.

I definitely feel very fortunate that I had all these opportunities to travel in the past year. It was really nice to actually be able to go out and see the world. Plus, there was the added bonus of me being able to travel and see my friends. The biggest impact by far that my time in Korea made on my life was how I met so many people from all over the world. Being able to visit them and see their home countries was so nice.

It was cool because a bunch of them even came over to visit this year! I had the opportunity to host a bunch of them and showed them around Toronto and the surrounding areas, including Niagara Falls and Algonquin Park.

Canoe Lake
We made it a goal to find a mirror lake in Algonquin.

Reading over last year’s Year in Review, I do still agree that 2017 was a year of change and that 2018 was a year of rediscovery and settling back down. Continuing from that thought, I really think that 2019 was truly the year where I finally feel like I have my life here down pat again.

Not only am I firmly established in my job (I got promoted again as well!) but I’ve also been doing more stuff outside of work now. I started rock climbing in the summer and I really enjoy it. I’m glad I got peer pressured by my coworkers in giving it a try.

It’s hard to believe, but I actually go once or twice a week now. So, I apparently do physical activities again. A year ago I didn’t think I would be doing anything like this, so it really was a year of surprises.

Climbing in the Desert
Posing on some rock formations in Wadi Rum.

Between that and just hanging out with friends, I’ve been going out a lot more and been generally more active and social, which is nice. It’s funny because that’s reflected in my PlayStation 2019 Wrap Up. Apparently I only played a grand total of 8 games for a total of like 250 hours last year.

I laughed when I saw that because back in high school I’d clear that number in like a month. And yet now it’s a full year of my life. I guess that’s what happens when you get older I guess, you change and so your life changes as well.

And I think I’m ok with that. I still enjoy playing games but I definitely find less enjoyment in it than I did in the past. That said, there are games that I’m excited for every year, it’s just I don’t find myself playing as much anymore or wanting to play as much anymore. It’s weird, considering how big games have been in my life, but I’ve kinda also come to terms with it.

Kingdom Hearts III
I was so excited for KH3, and the DLC comes out next week too.

So yea, life is good I guess. 2019 was such a whirlwind of activity that I didn’t really have a chance to really just sit down and reflect, so this is nice to just look back and think of everything. I can’t really stress enough how crazy of a year it was.

But as things usually go, humans adapt and now that life has become my normal. I got so used to travelling so much that if I have no upcoming trips in the next two months (like now), I end up feeling awkwardly anxious, like “why am I here when I could be anywhere else?”.

It’s weird.

Plus now every time I see a plane (or a flight attendant!) I just get this like, complex swell of emotions and feelings. Maybe this is what wanderlust is. It’s a crazy, beautiful feeling.

Hanging out in Doha
Hanging out in Doha with my favourite flight attendant.

Speaking of feelings, I feel like my 2020 is going to be fun, but possibly less crazy than 2019. I think 2019 was a freak of nature in the sense that everything aligned so that I got to go on so many work trips which enabled me to go on so many vacations.

2020 should be a bit more normal in the sense that I might be travelling less. That said, it’s probably still going to be more than 2018. Which is still a lot, but my bar has already been raised so high that I’m not sure how long it’ll take for me to recover.

All I know is that I want to see even more of my friends in 2020. And I also want to keep, or improve, on my Air Canada Altitude status.

2019 Achievements and Statistics

  • 10 countries (England, Norway, United States of America, Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Hong Kong)
  • 5 platinum trophies (Detroit: Become Human, Kingdom Hearts III, Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition HD, Batman: The Enemy Within, Marvel’s Spider-Man)
  • 4 concerts (The Gazette World Tour 2019, Architects Holy Hell North America [Architects, Thy Art is Murder, While She Sleeps], Neon Alien Tour [Northlane, Erra, Currents, Crystal Lake], The Eternal Nightmare North American Tour Part II [Chelsea Grin, The Acacia Strain, Spite, Traitors, Left Behind])
  • 2934 photos and videos taken
  • A promotion to Unity Team Lead
  • Air Canada Altitude 25k