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.

Niagara Falls: The Great Falls

So the last month has been pretty crazy for me. Not only has work been busy but I’ve also had two people from abroad come visit me. As a result, I feel like I’ve always been doing something or going somewhere.

I’ve noticed that when a lot of people from outside North America think of Canada, they think of two things: Quebec and Niagara Falls. So, when my friends came to visit Toronto, it was natural that they wanted to go check out Niagara Falls.

Considering how it’s only a two hour drive from my house, it’s not terribly far which meant that I ended up going twice in the last month.

Niagara Falls
The three falls of Niagara.

I’ve been to the falls a couple times growing up and to be completely honest, nothing much has changed. You wouldn’t expect it to change much anyways; they’re waterfalls.

Niagara Falls is comprised of three waterfalls. From the Canadian side, the first water fall you see is typically the American Falls. It’s large and the water crashes down on these large boulders. The Bridal Falls are immediately next to it, but it’s small and pretty much just a part of the American Falls.

The waterfall that people normally think of when they think of Niagara Falls is Horseshoe Falls. This is the giant crescent shaped one that’s right at the border between Canada and America and it’s by far the most impressive of the three.

Horseshoe Crest
The crest of the Horseshoe Falls.

I think the American Falls by themselves would still be notable, but it really does pale in comparison to the Horseshoe Falls. But, the fact that they’re all together in the same area is really what makes Niagara Falls so special.

My first of two trips took me to just the Canadian side: Niagara Falls, Ontario. We drove to the casino, ate lunch there, and then took a walk along the falls boardwalk and just took it all in.

Previously, when I’ve went to the falls, I’ve pretty much only just done the boardwalk. This time though, I figured it would be nice to try one of the many activities they have at the falls. After some deliberation we decided on doing the Journey Behind the Falls.

Inside the Horseshoe Falls
I really didn’t know what I expected to see when looking out of a waterfall.

That’s essentially a trip below the boardwalk and it gets you pretty close to the waterfall, so you get a pretty different view of the falls than if you stayed up top. You also have a chance to actually go behind the falls but there isn’t that much to see from the little openings since all you see is algae and water.

From the viewpoint next to the falls, you really get reminded of the sheer power nature has. It’s really something else to stand right there by the falls and get soaked by the mist, experience the constant downpour of water, and to also hear the roaring of the water cascading down.

And it’s seriously an incredible amount of water. We got absolutely soaked and it got to the point where I couldn’t tell if it was raining or not. There was just that much water sprayed into the air.

Journey Behind the Falls
2.5 million liters per second.

The Journey Behind the Falls ended up being a pretty cool experience. You didn’t really get to do anything super special or anything but it gives you a better idea of the scale of the falls and just how much water is flowing. Can recommend.

The second time I went back to the falls, I decided that I wanted to do something different since it didn’t really make sense to do the exact same things. As a result, me and my friend ended up spending a bit more time at the casino.

We tried Casino War which is essentially just War but.. at the casino I guess? That was fun but it was a stark reminder that casinos are really designed to make you make bad decisions. We didn’t lose that much money but we could’ve also easily made a bit of money if we just cashed out while we were ahead.

Lesson learned I guess.

Niagara from Niagara
A view of Niagara Falls, Ontario from Niagara Falls, New York.

Anyways, after that we decided to do a walk along the boardwalk on the Canadian side again. But then we doubled back afterwards and made our way to the Rainbow Bridge and walked across to America.

I’ve actually never done that before so it was also a pretty neat experience. It was only a dollar to cross the bridge but after a short walk on a bridge with a cool view of the water, you arrive at Niagara Falls, New York.

The American side is honestly a bit less developed than the Canadian side. Instead of a large boardwalk they have a park where you can walk around. There’s less people and you can get closer to the falls, which makes for a very different experience.

Above the Falls
The best part is how a part of the falls actually just straight up falls onto that walkway.

Honestly, it was kinda nice.

There’s a few smaller bridges that go over the water leading down to the falls and you get a much less obstructed view of the edge of the water from the American side, which at times seems a bit irresponsible but simultaneously awesome.

It was a pretty nice walk and I think it is a really good option if you want to avoid the crowds. But of course, if your passport allows, you should just go to both.

Rainbow Bridge Border
The Canadian-American border.

Essentially, the Canadian side has better panoramic views of the falls but the American side gets your a more intimate view. The Canadian side is also a bit more touristy and so will have everything you expect from a touristy place like restaurants, casinos, bars, etc, but you’ll also need to deal with more people.

Overall, Niagara Falls is great. I will definitely go again but after two trips within a few weeks of each other, I think I’m good for the near future.

Vancouver: The City of Glass and Nature

So despite being from Canada, I’ve actually yet to write any posts about any Canadian cities.

This is going to change right now.

Last week, I had the chance to visit Vancouver for work. I had to provide on-site support for another project and so I got flown to the other side of the country to do that.

The Rocky Mountains are quite rocky.

I have some family in Vancouver and so I’ve been there before, but as with any other place I’ve visited due to family, it means that I actually didn’t have that much time to check out the city too much since I was always just hanging out with family or doing other things. So, this would’ve been my first “real” trip to Vancouver where I would have a bit of time to go check out whatever and do some sightseeing.

Coming from Toronto, the first thing you notice about the city when you arrive is how beautiful it is. Toronto has a problem where the city is relatively grey. There’s a lot of skyscrapers and condos, but a lot of them are somewhat old, made of concrete and clustered way too close together so they don’t look super nice. I love Toronto, but Vancouver is definitely a much more aesthetically pleasing city.

Nature vs City.

This is due to the fact that Vancouver has more newer buildings it seems, so there’s a lot more glass and metal over concrete. Plus, Vancouver is in a part of Canada that has both the ocean and mountains, and so you end up with a city with a nice mix of artificial and natural elements.

I love the ocean and so I might be a bit biased here, but I really like just hanging out by the water and chilling. Unfortunately, Vancouver is still a part of Canada so you can’t just grab a beer and chill by the water like in Hong Kong or Korea or something, but it’s still really nice to just hang out.

One really nice part of Vancouver is Stanley Park, a giant park just outside the downtown core. I rented a bike after the conference one day and just biked all around the park and it was absolutely breathtaking. You got a lot of nice views of the Vancouver skyline and got to check out a lot of cool natural sites too. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you can bike cause the bike trail isn’t difficult and is quite nice.

The Siwash Rock in Stanley Park.

Speaking of biking, Vancouver is also surprisingly great for it. I pretty much never bike in Toronto because I enjoy life and prefer being alive. But in Vancouver, the infrastructure for biking is wonderful. There’s dedicated bike lanes and paths and feels super safe to just bike around the city and check things out.

Sightseeing by bike is pretty wonderful too. You can cover lot more ground on a bike and especially after standing around at a conference center for nine hours a day, it’s nice to use different muscles in your legs. Also, when you’re biking, you can also go to random places that wouldn’t normally be worth it to walk or bus to. For example, there’s a park called Dude Chilling Park in the middle of nowhere in the city. It was within biking range and I had to go check it out for the memes.

A bunch of dudes chilling and a garbage can.

Totally worth it. The park itself was pretty dull and unexciting, but it was literally free to bike there and so it was worth it to just take a few pictures in front of the sign. Plus, when you bike to a place, not only do you obviously get to that destination, but you also have a chance to just pass by other cool interesting things along the way. If you feel so inclined, you can just park your bike somewhere and check it out.

That’s how I ended up at False Creek, a small inlet in the middle of the city which I had no plans of visiting, but when I passed by it, I was blown away by how cool it looked. It was a really nice place to just sit and watch the sunset after a really long and tiring day.

Damn, that was a cool spot.

My favourite picture of my trip to Vancouver.

Outside of checking out the natural sights, I also had a chance to visit a few more cultural areas like Granville Island. From there, you have another pretty great shot of the city and ocean, but they also have this public market which sells a bunch of fresh produce and is a pretty good place to grab lunch or breakfast or something, but overall not very exciting.

Another place I went to check out was Gastown, the original settlement for the city. Since it’s one of the oldest areas in the city, it was specifically preserved in an older architectural style and has some neat restaurants and shops. Unfortunately though, it’s pretty touristy so you’re just walking down the streets with a bunch of people waving their cameras around. But still, kinda reminds me of Main Street Unionville and still worth checking out.

The steam clock in Gastown.

Outside of sightseeing, Vancouver is still a major city in Canada, meaning that the immigrant culture is very real and you can get a lot of amazing food in the city. Specifically, Vancouver is known for their Japanese food. Honestly, outside of Japan, it’s hard to find a place that has better Japanese food than Vancouver.

Due to its proximity with the Pacific Ocean, Vancouver has a ton of Japanese immigrants who decided to open up restaurants. And considering how it’s literally the same ocean, you end up with people who know exactly what to do with the fresh seafood available to them. The sushi and stuff in Vancouver is pretty awesome and I would definitely recommend.

In addition to traditional Japanese food, Vancouver also has some cool fusion cuisine too. Probably one of the most famous of these are Japadogs, which are essentially hot dogs made with Japanese ingredients and toppings. I’m always down to try interesting things like that and it was actually pretty decent. Definitely a pretty cool twist on your traditional hot dog.

Japadog with Kobe beef, teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayo, seaweed, and fried onions.

So in this blog post, I’ve already compared Vancouver with Toronto a couple of times. One of my favourite things about Canada is that we’re a country of immigrants and despite being an extremely large country, our major cities are similar in the fact that we’re united despite the diversity. Everywhere you go, you see people from all over as both tourists and residents. You walk down the street and hear people talking in a multitude of languages. To me, this is what Canada is all about.

But obviously, considering the geographic distance and differences, there are some differences in the people. For example, I already mentioned how there’s a lot more Japanese people in Vancouver. But even the way the general population looks is a bit different too since it seems like they tend to dress more casually, so you see less suits and more people in bike or athletic wear.

You also smell more weed in the air and see more homeless people in the streets.

Overall, Vancouver just seems like a much more chill place than Toronto (explains the Dude Chilling Park). But at the same time I still felt like I was in Canada and never felt out of place. It’s very far from my home, but it still felt like home, if you get what I mean. I definitely wouldn’t be adverse to spending a longer amount of time in Vancouver and would love to go back another time.