Day 348: The Man and the Blinders; ‘Loop’

For  those of you not mathematically inclined, 365-348 is 17. That’s three weeks. Now that might not mean much to you, but for me, it’s a milestone so incredible not because I didn’t think I’d make it, but because a year ago I never even knew I’d be setting it for myself to begin with. I was honestly floundering after the breakup. I was making do, doing the same thing I always did, piecing things back together the only way I knew how.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.

Forty-nine weeks ago, I didn’t know what to do or how to go about it, but I did know that the usual way wasn’t going to work for me anymore and I had to break out of this heartbreak loop. I’m not entirely convinced I’ve figured out what does, but I think I’ve got a better idea of what doesn’t, aside from just ‘everything I did before’. So a lot of readers, when they first come across my blog, ask about the numbers or what I’m counting up to or down from. When they find out, the usual question, and one that has popped up the most often, is ‘what happens after day  365’.

Over the course of the past year, the purpose of this blog has changed and shifted. A very Countdown.gifearly question was ‘can I be happy alone and not looking vs alone and always looking’. And I think I answered that really early on as I discovered new interests and hobbies and delved back into old ones. I’ve picked up archery, switched martial arts schools to one that is more satisfying, and started going out to more social events to meet new people. But I also spent a lot of time by myself allowing myself to live the life I thought I would reserve to share with someone else. I took the dream vacation to Canada I’d been planning in my head since I first went to Toronto. Started a new career, knocked off a lot of firsts, and made damn sure that when I did finally meet the woman I would be with, whoever and wherever she may be, I’d have plenty of  stories to tell, because I have to think during all this time, she’s been doing the same.

I thought a lot of this was supposed to be about answering questions.  ‘Can I be alone’, ‘can I be happy’, ‘what am I looking for’. I’ve done a lot of thinking and reflection, and I’ve learned a lot also not just from my own thoughts, but from the conversations and dialogues I’ve had with people as well. Whether here as Man, or in real life as Me, I’ve wanted to learn from and talk to as many people as possible. I’ve realized though, answers can’t come when the questions aren’t clear.

So while I’m not entirely sure the whole world is going to change in three weeks, I do know three things will.

  1. My friends and family will be made aware of the existence of this blog and what I’ve been up to this past year. I made the decision when I started all this a long time ago that I didn’t want to involve anyone who knew me personally. At least, not until the end. Part of it was the appeal of having this blank state and presenting myself and my thoughts and problems in a completely unbiased way. I didn’t want people automatically on my side or echoing my own thoughts. Who knows, maybe a forum of strangers were going to reveal to me that I’m actually a jackass and really need to change. I don’t see this being a big deal, except for maybe a few people who will be surprised that I write. But I’m hoping it’ll spark new conversation also, and for that I’m excited.
  2. Part of this melding of the two worlds, Man and Me, is while my friends and family discover Man, my blogging world will get to know more about Me. I don’t entirely know what that means yet, but I do know it means whenever relevant I will show my face and stories will be much more personal. I won’t be including names or whatnot of others obviously out of respect, but what I’m hoping it does mean is that personal stories or reflections etc might be shared more often. Different kinds of posts, and maybe some new projects. So yeah. Face pics.
  3. The blinders will be lifted.

And that’s the big one. The one that’s really got me thinking and gets me all excited and anxious like a giddy little schoolboy all over again. You know there was that whole ‘noRejected.gif dating for a year’ thing and I was realistic, I knew this didn’t mean I’d be batting away and rejecting proposals left and right. Really what it meant is that I couldn’t be doing anything to try and date. So after 365 it doesn’t mean the flood gates will be open and suddenly I’ll be fielding requests in waves. It means I’m not going to have this blog, this purpose, as a buffer against dating anymore. So far, when I’ve met women I might be interested in or been tempted to go back to some online dating sites or go out with friends to bars or parties and see these crowds of women, I’ve barred myself not for lack of interest, but because I just…couldn’t. Had the blog to think about. Had the journey and the experiment. Now it’s going to be all over.

It’s not that I’m in any great rush to start dating again. I haven’t been itching and scratching at the door just waiting for it to finally open. I think that’s one of the big changes. I’m not so ‘feeling incomplete’ anymore. Really it’s that now, if an opportunity comes up, if a person comes my way, I’m not going to have an arbitrary reason to say no, Belly Flop.gifbut I’m going to have to really think more about if, and when, and how, and why, to say yes. See I’m hoping that after all this time, I’ve learned not to look for answers, or to think of any relationship or person as one. I’m hoping the questions have gotten better, clearer, more purposeful. I’m hoping that as I now meet people and reconsider relationships and romance, I’m going to ask better questions of myself and of her than I used to. I think, in the past, the only question I’ve ever asked is ‘is she into me’. Hahah. A previous reader commented in my last post that there’s this certain point where being single goes from ‘by choice’ to ‘by fear’. And I think that point is right around where how good a person is at being able to discern for themselves an opportunity when it presents itself. Herself. Himself. Whatever. I’m not so single and content to not remember or realize how much I still want to be with someone. I’m not so much wanting to be with someone that I’ve forgotten the value of solitude and contentment. I’m not yet so suspicious or paranoid to ask too many questions, but not so naive as to ask none (but I certainly used to be). But I mean talk is cheap. Actions speak louder. I’ve got no excuses anymore, and so the big change isn’t that I’m jumping back in, because for the most part I always knew how to swim. It’s that now I know to check the water first.

Day 348

Man: 315  Loneliness: 33

Day 347: The Man and the Deal with Exes; ‘Meddle’

In my best Jerry Seinfeld impression…‘whaaat’s the deal with exes?’

In all honesty though, what do we do with exes? I don’t think we ever firmly established any sort of groundwork or code of conduct. No treatise signed, no coda created. Exes are a miserable, messy, miasmic byproduct of relationships. There are always questions related to exes. Is it possible to stay friends. What do you do with friends you made as a couple. Could it ever work out again. I don’t know, for the most part a ‘scorched earth’ approach seems to be a pretty effective catch-all. You can’t worry about handling any sort of complex emotional or relational problems if you burn every constant reminder and connection.

Of course, it’s harder to burn a digital network. And so one of the most tragic ironies is Headlights.gifthat the generation with the most advanced social connection technology, the same generation responsible for ‘Tinder’, ‘ghosting’, and the overall decline of relational maturity, is also the generation who has to handle the most persistent presence of exes and ex interaction. Like a ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ game from hell, you may unfriend an ex, but chances are somewhere down the data family tree, is someone else who is friends with someone else who is still friends with her and then…boom…there’s a post of them together on a vacation, or a comment on a photo with a profile pic of the happy couple. And that’s the biggest question left unanswered for me. The one thing I just can’t seem to make sense of or process.

How do we feel about our exes in new relationships?

For context, no this is not ‘THE’ ex. A different one, just one of many. This ex didn’t sting. It was the reason for the breakup, and the nature of the relationship, that did. See, she was in college at the time in DC, and of course I was living and working in NJ. Working my first year of teaching, a highly stressful and emotional job that maybe just maybe did take me away emotionally and mentally from the relationship at times. And here was a young college girl experiencing life away from home for the very first time and exploring all her opportunities and one of those happened to be a fellow classmate who ‘ had a better body, had more money, and was also Chinese (like her)’; her words, not mine. Getting over her was pretty easy. Getting over the newfound insecurity, not so much. But, there she was, years and years and…counting on my fingers…yeah, years after, and there’s her in a vacation pic with friends of friends of friends, but there’s her profile picture and god almighty the two are still together.

It wasn’t jealousy that ran through my veins. Not even anger. No, it was something more akin to…disbelief. Here I am, after the two of us broke up, having had more relationships, more breakups, more failures, and there she was, with the same guy this entire time. I can’t believe after everything, I’m the one who couldn’t get his shit together well enough to conjure up a relationship that could’ve at least lasted half as long as hers has.

What do we do with exes in relationships? And before you worry, I don’t mean actually ‘do’. I wouldn’t stoop so low ever as to meddle in these people’s lives. I just mean…where do we store that information in our heads and how are we supposed to feel about it.

First, there’s the person to consider. Could this reaction be in someway caused by lingering feelings? Perhaps. I could see in some cases this happening. It’s hard, when you care about someone, to be happy for them when what makes them happy isn’t you. Best thing for anyone in this case is to just acknowledge those feelings and then move on. After all, jealousy doesn’t look good on anyone. And then there’s the relationship. Sometimes, it isn’t about the person. This could be the most toxic, noxious, incompatible boob you’ve ever been with. But when you’re in that vulnerable state where you’re just feeling that uber-loneliness and wondering why you can’t find someone, seeing someone you were with, with someone else, makes you feel like the biggest failure.

These are honest, human, emotional reactions. I would never fault anyone for finding themselves feeling like that at least a couple times in their lives. I get that. But they’re about dealing with certain people or with our own attitude towards relationships. I’m talking about, as a functioning human adult, mature and well adjusted, how does one deal with seeing an ex in a relationship.

Calmer, better, gentler, and overall more noble and honorable ones of us will tell me that it’s of no matter, and perhaps the most admirable of us could even feasibly muster the decency to be genuinely happy for the other person. But the truth is, having no feelings towards this person, and no current desire for a relationship or concern for not being in one, I genuinely hated seeing that picture of these two people. That’s, like, really not healthy right? I don’t think I have it in me to be happy for these people. I’m not stopping them, but I’ll eternally hope that if loneliness doesn’t find them, then the bleakness of a mediocre subpar relationship does. No one is denying that sounds messed up. I’m not denying it sounds messed up. But yes, maybe I do tell myself that these two deserve each other because they’ve got the emotional depth of a kiddie pool. It sounds harsh, and I doubt it makes me the better man. But we are all human, and we are all entitled to our faults and vices. I guess this one is gonna be mine for a while, maybe always. Some of you are much, much better people than me in this regard. I applaud and admire and respect that. But for me, if the scorched earth doesn’t burn away every last remnant, there’s probably gonna be a little bit of bitterness. Now, considering this blog, this reflection, is in a major part about the pursuit of growth and improvement, could I move beyond this?

It Won't.gif

Day 347

Man: 314 Loneliness: 33

Day 346: The Man and the Loneliness of Context; ‘Relieved’

When I was a travel agent, we used to have these ‘fam’ (short for ‘familiarization’) trips that resorts would invite us to go on to, you guessed it, familiarize ourselves with their properties, the room categories, quality of food, ambiance, basically anything that they wanted to highlight so that when we returned full of free food and booze, we would do anything to promote them to our clients. Aside from a spirited propaganda talk from an overly cheerful representative on the first day and an excruciatingly detailed site tour the second, these four to five day trips were really about blending in and experiencing the best the resort had to offer (plus the surprise goodies and occasional room upgrades).

Often times though there was one very important caveat. These fam trips were always small groups of no more than five or six agents, and we were always bound by terms that under no circumstances could we let guests know we were agents visiting by invitation. For the others, this was never really a problem. Salespeople are often pretty sociable by default, so other agents would quickly bond and spend the entire week together and no one would ever be the wiser. But, being the loner (outcast) that I am, I’d rather explore and experience the resorts on my own. Answer to no one, eat where and when I wanted, drink where and when I wanted, and all that. This would often raise some eyebrows or elicit some good-natured but inquisitive questions from the staff. ‘Table for one’ sounds a bit…strange when you’re at a resort surrounded by couples, too lost in each others eyes’ to appreciate the all-inclusive grub.

Usually I’d just take take this opportunity to have some fun with strangers, see what kind Lonely Table.gifof reaction I’d get. Maybe I’d give them a mild reason, like my girlfriend was jetlagged or feeling sick and resting in our room. I almost always used the ‘bedridden girlfriend’ excuse to explain why I was getting three or four plates of food wrapped up to bring back to my room. (It was just for late night snacking. It was always just for late night snacking.) If I felt up for it, sometimes I’d go overboard, and tell them how my ex-fiancee left me at the altar but the honeymoon was non-refundable. What seems the most strange and most significant to me though is that, regardless of what the excuse actually was, the fact that I could at least give them some context to my alone-ness seemed to make them feel…relievedI seemed to realize that, at a certain point, people wanted to know why I was alone not for my benefit, but for their peace of mind.

Even on my most recent trip to Canada, I can distinctly remember certain encounters that revolved around the enigma of a lone traveler. At one restaurant, the waitress was absolutely flustered and confused when I told her she didn’t need to place the other setting. I felt so bad, she seemed really intent on using the second set of fork and knife and glass too. She must really not be used to us lone wanderers. With all earnestness, the poor woman actually looked me in the eye and actually asked me if I would like her to remove the second seat. Bless her heart. No, that’s alright, I can handle the empty seat and constant reminder. I’m dining alone, not a lonely diner.

Humans are social creatures. There’s no denying a simple, foundational, universal trait. Humans are stronger, and happier, when in communities. We were designed to hunt and farm and travel in packs. In a way, I can understand that instinctual, biological, primal reaction to solitude. But to be fair, I think we also used to hunt, skin, and carve every wild animal we ran into so…we can outgrow certain things. Could it be though, that this desire to contextualize or investigate why someone would be by themselves, is because we are still harboring that fear of solitude? When you see someone by themselves, what goes through your mind? When I tell my mother of how I always eat by myself when I travel, or go to the movies by myself, or do anything really, she says how she’d be too afraid to do this ‘because it seems sad’. I know what she means. She doesn’t mean doing things alone seems sad. She means doing things alone would make her seem sad to those who saw her.

I used to feel that way, and I won’t deny that sometimes when I look out into a crowd somewhere and see those few lone figures I might still wonder and try to place them into some sort of fitting context. Maybe it’s a work meal, or their SO has just stepped out. There are a few places I try not to go because of what I think might be perceived. I try not to eat at cheap Chinese buffets alone. I don’t know, maybe that sounds weird, but in my mind I perceive it like, here’s someone who is alone, has no one, and so has decided better to grab some cheap simple grub and stuff himself than cook a meal for one. Again, that might just be because of personal context, but I do wonder if maybe we all have those certain things we’re too hesitant to try and take on on our own not because we can’t, but because  of the context of others.

I really think being alone isn’t anyone’s default setting. I think there are definitely those who are more accustomed to, or more inclined to, it more than others, but whether it’s No Friends.gifthe company of one or a thousand, I think we all crave it in some way. But I see a lot of articles online, often times written by women, about the joys and pleasures and strengths of living alone. Always trying to legitimize and justify that lifestyle, as if any of us were in any position to judge. But we do, sometimes, don’t we. We put things, reasons, excuses, context, on these encounters. ‘S/he hasn’t found the right one yet’, ‘s/he could never live like that forever’. Whether it is out of a fear of the unknown or a personal insecurity or an honest to goodness genuine care that no soul should ever wander alone, we see the solitary figure as a standout, an anomaly. Sometimes, the world reacts positively. I’ve definitely experienced wait staff become more friendly and courteous and conversational, or people on the street be more helpful. Sometimes, the world seems repulsed, suspicious, like an ‘unwanted’. Statistically, men who post pictures of themselves with groups of friends along with solo pics in their online dating profiles receive more matches than men who post only  pictures of themselves. As if to imply ‘if the world didn’t want  him, why should I’.

Like how a man whose resume has a streak of unemployment lasting too long, I wonder, as the year grows closer to its end, if now, before, or after, people will have tried to contextualize why someone like me, in relationships for so long, suddenly stopped.

Day 346

Man: 313 Loneliness: 33

Day 339: The Man and the French Lessons, Part 6: Where I Ate; ‘Volume’

Highlights Edition

I could actually fill a full week’s worth of posts with every meal I ate in Canada, but I’ve decided to do a highlights edition on the more memorable dishes at the restaurants I’ve visited. I hope that these posts make you want to plan a visit to Montreal and Quebec too.

Schwartz’s Delicatessen

Alright my New Yorkers, listen up. North of the border, the smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s Deli are giving pastrami a run for its money. The sandwiches are packed. When I first got there I thought I’d have to get two because I was really hungry (shocker, I know). But one sandwich and an order of fries had me crawling out of there. Smoked meat is actually super tender beef brisket seasoned and smoked overnight to create a juicy, succulent, wonderfully meaty flavor. It differs from pastrami in that it has none of the peppery bark that pastrami characteristically has. The sandwiches are modestly dressed with some mustard on white bread but that meat is just…out of this world. I would highly recommend, if you can handle it, to ask specifically for the fatty cuts. It’s a really beefy flavor so be prepared. Otherwise a regular sandwich has a nice balance of fat and lean. I’m not gonna lie, I’m a smoked meat convert. Unfortunately there’s no place to get them around here, so I remain a pastrami eater by circumstance.

St. Viateur Bagels

St. Viateur vs Fairmount is perhaps the most dividing argument between all Montrealers. Both of the famous noteworthy bakeries are within a block of each other and you can find eateries all over the city proudly displaying signs of which bakery’s bagels they feature. I’ve had both in different places, but I took a pilgrimage to St. Viateur because after much deliberation, I am fully in St. Viateur’s camp. But I will speak to both of their strengths. If you like to toast your bagels, you’re going to prefer Fairmount. They bake their bagels a little bit longer, so they are browner, firmer, and have a crunchier crust. It crackles into crumbly goodness as you bite down into it and the bagel has a more pronounced aroma. I don’t like to toast my bagels. I like them soft, fluffy, and even a little bit chewy. St. Viateur visibly, noticeably, almost under-bakes them, so that the bagels are paler and much softer. There is still a slight crust, but you can really focus on the soft, fluffy, chewy interior of a St. Viateur bagel. The bagel itself has a great flavor, not at all bland, and the signature sesame bagel is incredible when you grab one fresh out of their oven. Be forewarned, St. Viateur’s original location is more of a bagel factory than an eatery. You can buy individual bagels, packs of cream cheese, spreads, and smoked salmon too no problem, but there are no seats, no tables, and they can’t slice it for you. You want to make yourself a fancy bagel, take it home. But if you want to grab a seat on a city bench right outside the store, break off bits of bagel and dip it into some cream cheese, and watch the people go in and out, then enjoy.

Patati Patata

Patati Patata Poutine

No trip to Montreal is complete without trying poutine, the quintessentially Quebecoise late night snack. My vote for best poutine in Montreal is Patati Patata. A tiny, unassuming hole in the wall diner that serves non-stop crowds of locals and poutine devotees. This place is salvation after a long night of drinking as you stumble down the quiet Montreal streets. I had the bacon poutine. Fluffy, warm, thick cut french fries are covered in a brown gravy with a bit of saltiness to help season the entire dish. Generous chunks of sizable cheese curds warm and slightly melt from the gravy but not to the point of turning into a gooey, gloppy mess (the cardinal sin of poutine). Mine benefited from an extra dose of salty crispy goodness from chopped bacon. If there’s anything worth eating to death, poutine is definitely one of them.

Le Buffet De L’Antiquaire

My first night in Quebec I went to this restaurant for a taste of authentic, old-school, traditional Quebec dishes. Quebec is a city of beautiful tiny restaurants and outdoor dining. The restaurant has an extensive menu with plenty of offerings. I had a hard time picking, and honestly of the places I’d been during my trip, Buffet de l’Antiquaire is one of the restaurants I wouldn’t mind repeating, as I really felt there were so many items worth trying and discovering. Going with the recommendation of my waitress, I ordered the meat pie. Real traditional Quebec comfort food. Simple, hearty, and oh so filling. Layers of puff pastry filled with sliced potatoes, ground beef, chicken, and pork filled with juicy gravy. The pickled beets and buttered stewed vegetables were surprisingly good. I even ate my peas. I hate peas. I don’t hate theirs though. This would have kept a lumberjack full and warm in the cold Quebec winters no doubt.

Cafe du Monde

A quick glance at this Quebec restaurant’s website will tell you that they do things a bit differently. There is a palpable environment of fun, welcome, and whimsy in this beautiful restaurant right on the waterfront. It’s got an amazing view of the St. Lawrence river and a great bar selection. The duck confit was well done, the skin achieving a crisp texture and the meat succulent and moist.  I also had my first incredible, authentic, Gaspesian chowder. Gaspesie is a peninsula in Quebec known for its maritime traditions and cuisine. Gaspesian chowder is rich and creamy, like a New England clam chowder, with potatoes, bacon, clams, but also tender bits of salmon. The absolute standout though, is the absolutely ludicrous, sinfully delicious, insanely rich FOIE GRAS CREME BRULEE. Oh yes, I said it. That’s what they did. For an appetizer. A creme custard mixed with foie gras then cooked in a water bath and finished with that signature burnt sugar caramel. There’s something wrong and yet oh so right about a dish that sweet, rich, fatty, and savory.

The sheer volume of variety, diversity, and quality of restaurants in Montreal and Quebec is staggering. There are plenty of talented, genuine, sincere chefs making honest, authentic, and innovative dishes. The culinary scene in Montreal is exciting without being pretentious. It all feels so down to earth and homey. It is a gourmand’s paradise, or hell, depending on how you enter and if you can ever leave.

Day 339

Man: 306 Loneliness: 33

Day 335: The Man and the French Lessons, Part 5: Where I Ate; ‘Crisp’

So my last post was just about my first night in Montreal, breaking into the new city with a taste tour of Japan at Kinka Izakaya. The next morning I had my Old Montreal food Liverpool Logotour which I mentioned in previous posts on what to see and do in the city. That night I met up with an old high school friend and her husband. I hadn’t seen them since I was in Toronto…so so many years ago for their wedding. It was great to see them again and catch up. Often times when you hear stories of old friends meeting up again after some time, they talk about how amazed they are at how different everyone looked. I was more amazed by how it looked like we had just seen each other last weekend, and how easily and readily the conversation and good times flowed as such too. I hate to admit that I am very, very bad at maintaining communication with people. Out of sight out of mind is more often the norm for me. I had messaged them a bit before my trip so we could arrange some time to meet and catch up, but other than that, I really hadn’t spoken to them since the wedding. But it felt great to see each other, and I knew, as always, we would be able to pick up right where we left off.

Liverpool President

But let me tell you about the food. The benefit of having had this trip planned in my head so far in advance is as soon as we had set a date, I already knew where we were eating and scrambled to make the reservation. I was actually in Punta Cana and, taking Liverpool Houseadvantage of the free calls to the US and Canada at the resort, made my reservation from there while I was on my work trip. I got us a highly sought after reservation at one of the best, craziest, gastronomically astronomical restaurants in the city, Liverpool House. You might recognize the dining room from the recent photo of (it hurts my heart to say this) former president Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ‘bro-date’. And let me tell you, if it’s good enough for me, you can bet it’s good enough for two of the most powerful and influential men in the world. Liverpool House is the sister restaurant to Joe Beef next door, both under the careful, watchful, and expert eye of co-owners Frédéric Morin and David McMillan. Joe Beef is still one of the most exclusive and hard to secure reservations in Montreal if not the entire country, and continues to elude me to this day. But to sit and dine at Liverpool House is more than just a consolation prize. It is an experience in and of itself; one nothing short of culinary excess and near perfection.

Much like Joe Beef, the menu at  Liverpool House changes regularly with seasonality and Liverpool Foie Grasinspiration. Giant blackboards dominate a majority of the restaurant’s walls listing specials, current cheese offerings, and a wine selection that would make a Frenchman drunk just reading it. The dining room is more ‘survivalist uncle’s living room’ than ‘fine dining mecca’. Wood-paneled walls, stuffed deer heads, and various eclectic pieces of nostalgic knickknacks. The tiny, two room restaurant is packed the night of our reservation and as we wait for our table to be cleared, we all start taking mental notes of the dishes that pass through from the kitchen to the dining room and what looks and smells the best. We start our meal with a sinfully large portionLiverpool Oysters of foie gras served with a Prosecco gelee and warm, fresh bread. The foie is rich, buttery, smooth, and incredibly fatty. When the cool foie meets the warm bread it truly becomes one of life’s greatest pleasures. Perhaps the controversial preparation of foie gras has us straying further and further from God’s light, but I’d rather be a sinner anyways. We also order a half dozen oysters from different parts of the Eastern Canadian coast to start. I am reminded that I Liverpool Crab Spaghettiam in French country when I see my cocktail sauce has been replaced with freshly grated horseradish and mignonette sauce but I am too busy slurping away and enjoying the salty sweet liqueur to mind. Our other started is a light and creamy pappardelle pasta tossed with snow crab meat and fresh garden peas.  The pasta is freshly made in house and has a wonderfully toothsome texture that soaks up the cream and crab sauce. There are large, sizable, generous chunks of seasoned snow crab mixed into the pasta that add an ocean saltiness to the rich cream.

We each order separate entrees with the firm understanding that we will be sharing all three amongst each other. My friend orders the lobster spaghetti which is an all-time Liverpool Lobsterfavorite and classic staple of both Joe Beef and Liverpool house. A generous portion of fresh spaghetti is tossed in a rich and creamy tomato based sauce that is super infused with the flavor of lobster and served with two whole cracked claws.  The tail meat is chopped and mixed into the dish. This is one of the most essential dishes of the restaurant and I highly recommend any newcomer first makes sure to order this for the table. Liverpool House is very particular to ensure that the seafood is always fresh, local, and meaty. It takes little to no effort to get into the pre-cracked claws and extract whole, juicy, tantalizing pieces of claw meat. Her husband orders the half roast chicken served on top of roasted vegetables and a cream of leek sauce. I had a portion of the breast, which I normally do not enjoy because it can become too dry, but this piece was Liverpool Chickensuperbly moist and tender, with a delicately crisp skin crackling with flavor. The chicken’s natural juices were still captured inside the meat and burst when you bit into it. Being the unrepentant carnivore, I wanted to try one of their specials, which was a horse filet wrapped in bacon served with radish, foie gras mousse (because why not have extra foie on everything), and a peppercorn sauce. This was my first experience with horse and I have to tell you, it would be a huge shame if people thought of horses as too domesticated to be considered a viable meat source. There are very many otherLiverpool Horse portions of the world who regularly eat horse meat and I can see why. It is tender, lean, has a wonderful flavor, and is incredibly juicy. The horse filet was treated just like a large steak would be, seared and done to just medium rare with fatty smokey bacon wrapped around to add extra flavor. Mixing the foie gras mousse with the vegetables on top made for an excellent accompaniment. Liverpool House’s wine selection is also top notch, Old World producers and our waiter recommended a wonderfully spicy merlot to pair with my filet.

The three of us, fully stuffed, satisfied, and satiated with an incredible variety of starters Liverpool Briocheand entrees, naturally came to the conclusion that we had eaten way too much already to order dessert… individually. Instead we decided to share a maple brioche bun stuffed with sweet cream ice cream and served with the fresh strawberries, just picked from the beginning of the season. This brioche bun with its fluffy interior and sweet sticky maple exterior, lightly caramelized and browned sugar crust, was everything I wanted a real French pastry to be. And those fresh Montreal strawberries, so tiny but so packed and bursting with sweet tartness, were some of the best strawberries I’ve ever had. Real quality produce that tasted of just pure fruit, grown with attention and care. My friend did tell me that, according to our childhood in Jersey, Montreal fruits were some of the best.

I knew way before we even got to the restaurant and started ordering to our heart’s content that I would be treating my friends that night. A combination of the joy of reunion, the excitement of a new career, the adrenaline of being in a new city, and the slight guilt of not having spoken to them in well over five years, made that decision for me a long time before. So I ninja’ed my way from the table under the pretense of using the restroom, covered the bill, popped my head into the kitchen to compliment the staff, and we headed out into the night. They were kind enough to drop me off at my hotel afterwards, we chatted for a bit more, and once it was starting to really get late they left and headed back home to a suburb just off the island. I meanwhile, had the night, and this beautiful city, to reflect and reminisce not just on what was one of the best meals I’d ever had in one of the best restaurants I have ever been to, but on the rare opportunity I was afforded to meet up with old and dear friends to catch up and chase away the time.

Day 335

Man: 302 Loneliness: 33

Day 332: The Man and the French Lessons, Part 4: Where I Ate; ‘Uniform’

Now comes the very very best part of this entire trip and really, the best highlights of them all. Montreal and Quebec have long been on the lists of go-to destinations for gourmands everywhere and for good reason. There is a very strong and established history and identity with traditional dishes, an exciting influx of new chefs with new ideas and new innovations, and a multiculturalism and diversity of cuisines and culinary adventurousness. Pair all of this with some of the best, freshest, and highest quality produce and meats, and you have a culinary hot spot. But you don’t have to take my word for it (though you really should). Here’s what my culinary (and lifestyle) idol, Anthony Bourdain, has to say about this city.

I had a light lunch on the train heading into Montreal my first day because I knew I was Kinka Izakayagoing to be feasting straight from the get-go. My first stop late night after checking into my hotel would be Kinka Izakaya, only a block away from my hotel. Coincidence? You should know me better by now. Their Montreal location is the newest of this Japanese bar food empire which started in Toronto and has since expanded to other parts of Canada, Tokyo, and with an anticipated addition in New York. I’ve been to the one in Toronto back when I was a poor and struggling college student, and now I was prepared to return with a vengeance, wreaking havoc on their menu. I started with a gallop. A pint of Sapporo to wash down marinated jellyfish, beef carpaccio, and seared salmon. Jellyfish is a popular dish in Asian restaurants, especially bars. The texture is firm but has a slight bouncy give to it, making it fun to eat. It is a bit bland, but takes on flavors incredibly well. In this instance it was marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, and sweet sake. It has that satisfying crunch that most people crave when drinking,Kinka First Round and a slightly sweet but deep flavor from the sesame. The beef carpaccio is Wagyu beef slightly seared and then served with ponzu sauce, a light wasabi mayo, fried garlic chips, and daikon radish with green onion garnish. The meat was wonderfully tender with a strong beef flavor, expected of what is essentially beef sashimi. Swirling it a bit to pick up the complex salty sweetness of the ponzu really elevated the taste and the fried garlic and mayo rounded it out well. The vegetables even picked up some of that marinade and meat juices so I had no problems eating even the daikon. The seared salmon was served in the same ponzu, mayo, garlic combination as the beef though of course it had a completely different reaction. The salmon was super fresh and firm, with a great color and texture. The light sear on the outside and the still cool and raw center was a great contrast of texture, flavor, and temperature.

After the first round of dishes I was ready to really get into a party mood, so I ordered a 1st Flightflight of sake, rice wine from Japan. Kinka actually makes a house sake that was one of my favorites of the night. Crisp dry finish and a slightly sweet polished taste. Sake is categorized by how much of the rice grain is polished before the fermentation process. The more it is polished, the clearer the sake, and the more pronounced the flavor. But just like anything else, this is a game of preferences. Just because a sake is super polished (usually2nd Flight to around 50% of the original grain) doesn’t mean it is necessarily the best tasting. It’s all down to what you prefer, and the only way to figure that out is to try as much as you can! Over the course of the night I had two sake flights that helped me figure out my favorites. Kinka‘s original sake is highly recommended, as well as the Yawari which is a bit sweeter.

I drank because I ate, but now I have to eat because I just drank! It’s a vicious, wonderful Kinka Spicy Salmon.jpgcycle. So what better way to chase my sake flight and second beer than with another beer and more dishes? First I ordered their negitoro which, translated is literally ‘green onion’ (negi) with ‘tuna’ (toro). This is a popular sushi dish in many Japanese sushi bars, and Kinka turns it into more casual bar fare by serving it like a dip or make your own taco. The negitoro is finely minced Albacore tuna that is mixed together with some spicy mayo and plenty of green onions. You spoon a little (or aKinka Short Ribs lot, it’s your party) onto the nori seaweed sheets, dip it into the soy sauce, and enjoy the bite size morsels that pack plenty of flavor. Just the right amount of heat is balanced with the green onion and there is nothing quite like the texture of roasted seaweed to bring out the best in fresh fish. I also had kalbi, which is admittedly a bit more Korean than Japanese, but who is going to complain about grilled marinated beef short ribs? The marinade is sweet and salty and the ribs are grilled with just the right amount of char and smoky flavor. The rib meat is chewy and firm (though for Asians this is a good thing, as we enjoy a bit of bite to our Kinka Baked Oystermeat) but still yields well enough and peels right off the bone. It was also in the second round that I had the absolute highlight, must have, cannot be missed dish of all the Kinka establishments. You. Must. Have. Their. KAKIMAYO. ‘Kaki’ meaning ‘oyster’ and mayo. This is the BEST. Oh man. My mouth waters just thinking of it. Giant behemoth sized oysters are shucked and prepared with tiny button mushrooms, spinach, garlic, Japanese mayo, and cheese and then baked in the oven until the cheese is bubbling and and the oyster liqueur begins to simmer. The oysters themselves firm and plump up with a super concentrated flavor and that gratin like effect of the cheese and mushrooms makes this dish savory, salty perfection. Do. Not. Share. If you want this, and you’ll want this, get your own.

After this round I had another Sapporo and another sake flight, after which I was ready to wind down the night’s meal with juuust a few more dishes. Because it’s vacation, andKinka Kimchi Udon what do we have on vacation if not license to live in the excess of what we deny ourselves normally. I begin the end with some kimchi udon. A fusion dish of chewy, firm, broad Japanese udon noodles mixed with a combination of spicy cod roe and kimchi, Korean spicy pickled cabbage. After the super savoriness of the oysters, this spice, as well as the crunch of the cabbage, was most welcome. In Japanese restaurants, it is not taboo to slurp your noodles, though it isn’t exactly expected or a ‘compliment to the chef’ either, as some click bait travel articles might have you believe. It is simply the way of doing things. Kinka Kara AgeThe udon noodles are incredibly slick and smooth, and with the weight of the broad noodles and the length, they are particularly fun to slurp. In between noodles a bite of the spicy cod roe and kimchi will waken any dulled senses, and the green onion and nori strips serve as balanced accompaniment. No visit to a Japanese pub would be complete without some of the best fried foods to grace your cholesterol count. Japanese frying techniques have been elevated to art forms, from the world famous tempura, to the humble home style frying like ebi furai and kaki furai. First, karaage, fried chicken pieces served with a garlic mayo. You can see in the pic that these are not just some popcorn chicken to shake your fork at. These are giant pieces. Juicy thigh meat is cut up into sizable chunks and then fried with very little batter, so the skill of the person frying is important as there is no batter to shield the tender meat inside. Good karaage has a crispy exterior with a juicy tender interior. These pieces wereKinka Ebi Fry just like that. Some bits of skin perfectly fried crisp, juicy dark meat, and that Japanese mayo is like sweet golden nectar on EVERYTHING. If you have not ever known the joys of Japanese mayo, I feel for you. Kewpie Mayonnaise. Marvels of the modern world, get that delivered. The last dish I had was the ebi furai. A simpler, homier version of shrimp tempuraebi furai is battered deep fried shrimp with spicy mayo and served with fried shrimp crackers. I grew up with these crackers but for those who are not familiar, they are puffed up chips made with powdered shrimp that have a strong fishy taste. The ebi furai kept the shrimp inside juicy, tender, and plump and the fried breading had no excess oiliness or greasiness. A uniform texture with no overdone or underdone bits, perfect to be eaten tail and all. Oh yes, you have to eat the tail.

This was only my first night in the city, and honestly you would have thought I was in Tokyo. The entire environment and ambiance of Kinka Izakaya is incredible. You are greeted with the standard ‘Irasshaimase’ and a super attentive and cheerful staff. Orders are yelled out in Japanese and the open kitchen acknowledges in equally loud, forceful, and energetic cheers. Order a sake bomb and the staff lead you on a cheering ritual to drop shots of sake into a glass of beer. Great food, great staff, and an authentic and energetic environment really set the mood for a great trip. As I stumbled back to my hotel, full and happy, I knew this was going to be the beginning of a lifelong obsession and love with this city.

Day 332

Man: 299 Loneliness: 33

Day 329: The Man and the French Lessons, Part 4: Things to do in Quebec City; ‘Brassy’

As a point of clarification, both Montreal and Quebec City reside in the province of Quebec. Quebec City is the capital, though much like how New York City is so much the heart and flavor of New York it’s taken on its name, so has Quebec City really come to be known as Quebec. So in this post just assume ‘Quebec’ refers to ‘Quebec City’ and not ‘Quebec province’.

QuebecFunicularQuebec, not unlike these boots, was built for walking. It’s such a fascinating and dense city that it is almost impossible not to turn a corner and run into something either beautiful, historic, significant. or all three. With a little bit of interesting and quirky thrown in for seasoning. It’s not an easy walk at times though. There was very little space for Quebec to grow as a city, and so it just kept building higher and higher with steeper and narrower roads as the city progressed. At certain points the trek will either be a steep climb or a series of very many narrow and high steps. Not for those with knee or general mobility problems. To somewhat ease the strain, there are a few (like two or three) bus routes that circle the city and for $3 CAD one-way you can use the historic funicular that connects the Terrasse Dufferine and the Chateau Frontenac at the top of the hill to the Old Quebec section of the city at its base. This can get costly though and they only accept cash, so plan accordingly.

Because of this though, Quebec is a wonderful city of whim and spontaneity. I had very little in terms of a formal itinerary or agenda when I first came to Quebec and I thought QuebecMapleSoftServethat was because I figured there’d be very little to do. It ended up being the best thing for the trip because the truth of the matter is, there’s just so much to explore and there’s a great thrill in waking up and heading out for the day and just going where the wind takes you. I made a giant winding mess of the city with no real rhyme or reason but I was happy and excited and energized by the thrill of discovery. This is what Quebec, with its rebellious identity so different from the rest of Canada, gives to the traveler. Character, discovery, and exploration. My best recommendation when planning a trip here is a) bring very comfortable shoes b) wear layers to combat the cold  with the strain of urban hiking and c) just know the main landmarks and significant noteworthy destinations of Quebec, with no real plan or schedule, and give yourself enough time to create a wide radius of discovery around each of them.


Quebec’s Ramparts

Not forgetting Quebec’s important role not only as a significant port of trade but also as a river fortress for both the French and the British, there are many places around the city QuebecRampartwhere the ancient ramparts of Quebec’s warring days still remain. These are often some of the best places to get a view of Quebec as well as the St. Lawrence River. Models of old cannons and strategic hay and wood defense posts contribute to the historic aesthetic. There is something dramatic and beautiful about framing Quebec, the river, and the cities across the water in the same shot as these old ancient stone walls and the mighty cannons that rest on them. By the Louis Hebert Monument you can get great shots of the ramparts and cannons overlooking the river as well as defensive shooting windows that overlook the narrow streets as invaders were most likely trying to push their way up the hill. In Old Quebec there is also the last remaining cannon battery, one of many that used to defend the city against the British navy. It stands right by the river and offers a great place to enjoy an outdoor lunch, view and hear the river traffic and ferries, and again, remember the historical significance of this beautiful city. You can easily walk along some of the old walls to get an idea of how big old Quebec really was.

Shopping Streets/Rue Saint Paul/Rue de Petit Champlain

Many of Quebec’s narrow streets are dotted with shops, curios, curiosities, and galleries. QuebecCestSiBonIt was always a delight to just walk along them and admire the wide variety of antiques and boutique goods these unique shops had to offer. They have big window displays that really catch the eye and if you’ve got the budget for it, would make interesting souvenirs and gifts. Rue Saint Paul has a few fascinating antique and secondhand goods stores as well as some candy shops with a wide variety of modern and classic candies. There are also some art galleries with gorgeous portraits and landscapes in the windows showcasing some truly talented artists. Rue de Petit Champlain is not QuebecSculptureonly where you can catch the Funicular to get back up to the top of Quebec, it is also the main artery of the shopping and dining streets of Quebec.  There are plenty of restaurants with outdoor seating, souvenir shops with your standard touristy gifts like shirts, candies, knickknacks, and syrups, but there are also little candy and snack shops. One of my favorites was a maple sweets store with traditional maple ice candies (maple syrup poured onto ice and frozen like taffy), soft maple sugar candies, and maple soft serve. It was a particularly hot day that day so walking around people watching and exploring with a cool cake cone filled with that rich maple soft serve was just lovely. Some of the most interesting sit down restaurants are in this area, but if you just want a quick snack, I’d recommend the maple soft serve or a deep fried beaver tail with cinnamon sugar or Nutella and banana (think like an improved, flattened, wider zeppole with toppings; a real Quebecoise treat)!

Basilica Notre Dame du Quebec

Just like Montreal, Quebec has its own Notre Dame cathedral with the same large, ornate, QuebecStreetand impressive brassy doors.  Around the immediate area of the cathedral is the plaza, Place d’Armes, more bars and restaurants, and a few streets away the much more historic and seemingly untouched plazas of Old Quebec, with the stone paved walkways and narrow corridors. The cathedral here is much less visited than the one in Old Montreal so you won’t have a line to worry about to get inside and admire the architecture and beautiful stained-glass windows. It is also much smaller and so can be a smaller part of your day as you focus on walking around the heart of downtown Quebec and admiring the more modern selections, like an Irish pub and some surprising Asian restaurants.  The Basilica is just impressive enough to warrant a visit to see the ancient brass doors and beautiful craftsmanship of its architecture and windows, but just underwhelming enough to keep moving along.

Citadelle du Quebec/Plains of Abraham/Governor’s Promenade

If your feet haven’t fallen off yet and your shoes still have some life in them, definitely take the 600+ meters and 300+ steps of the Governor’s Promenade. This wooden walkway QuebecFairmountsuspended over the edge of the hill connects the Terrasse Dufferin to the Plains of Abraham, literally nailed into and sticking straight out of the walls of the ancient Citadelle du Quebec. I did not realize just how long and how high this path would go, but it rewards you with constantly beautiful views of the water and an intimate closeup at the weathered and mighty walls of the Citadelle that defended the city for so long. When you finally reach the summit, you are greeted with the vast lush green fields of the Plains of Abraham. This was once a bloody battlefield vital to the ongoing hostilities between the French, British, and First Nations Peoples. Now it is a beautiful large park with soft green grass that is perfect for a picnic lunch, afternoon stroll, or to sunbathe and catch up on reading and some relaxation. This is also the best way to get access to the Citadelle and  view the ancient ruins of the fortress, like old ammo caches, cannon batteries, and soldiers’ barracks.

Fairmont Chateau Frontenac/Terrasse Dufferin

Standing like some magical castle straight out of a childhood fairytale, the Chateau QuebecNightFairmountFrontenac is the most beautiful, largest, and most famous hotel in Quebec. (But remember, not the oldest!) No matter where you are in the city, at the base or near the top, the Chateau Frontenac remains visible and impressive like the North Star.  You can easily orient yourself anywhere in the city by finding where you are in relation to the hotel. The building is dotted with ramparts, towers, and huge spires. It is a beautifully impressive building of brick and stone that is a shining example of old Gothic architecture. At night, it is illuminated by spotlights that dot the walls and shines like a second moon. It’s a truly magnificent sight.  Nowadays it is almost impossible to get a hotel room, and honestly unless you splurge on a suite, most of the rooms are way too tiny anyways. (It was originally used as a boarding house for rail workers. Now it’s one of the most expensive and luxurious hotels in Canada. Go figure.)  It is much more impressive simply to look at from the outside, and if you can’t stay there, I’d still recommend you drink there. There is a wonderful bar with a full menu of craft cocktails and high-quality spirits as well as small bites inside the hotel with a great view of the boardwalk outside. The hotel also acts as a semi art gallery with some sculpture around the lobby and in the bars and restaurants. I certainly wouldn’t dissuade someone from wanting to spend an hour or two in there enjoying a few drinks.

Right outside the Chateau is the Terrasse Dufferin, a large wooden boardwalk that QuebecMapleGelatoconnects the hotel on one side to the Citadelle on the other. It’s now because a great way to capture wonderful views of the St. Lawrence River and grab some snacks and enjoy a walk. Quebecers also happen to really love their street performers, and it is inevitable while walking to not run into a few. Stop and enjoy and appreciate the sights and sounds of these performers. They are all vouches for and supported by the local government and people. While I was there I got to see a trumpeter, a full band, a singer, and a magician.


QuebecPerformer.jpgIf you use these various places around Quebec like beacons, and allow yourself to stray a little further from their light to explore the lesser known places, I guarantee you’ll have an incredible time. You’ll fall in love with the city much like I have, and there is a great chance that your wandering spirit might even take you to places I’d never been or seen or known of. It’s incredible just how much that tiny densely packed city can offer, but it is truly a marvel and such a gem. A combination of Canadian free spirit, European charm, history, and truly unique Quebecois magic.

 

 

Day 329

Man: 296 Loneliness: 33

Day 325: The Man and the French Lessons, Part 3: Things to do in Montreal; ‘Detonate’

Honestly there really is so much to do and see in Montreal and Quebec that to try and do both cities in one post would be just too much of an undertaking. So today’s post is specifically just what I did and saw in Montreal.

Although Quebec City is the capital of the province, Montreal is very clearly the metropolitan center. Much like Quebec, Montreal was built and first founded on the banks of the St. Lawrence river, but as the years went by and the city began to rapidly grow into a major hub, the businesses and homes slowly began to work their way up the mountain to where most of Montreal’s downtown area is now. Old Montreal stands where the city was first founded, at sea level with the St. Lawrence. The city proper, with its downtown area, major shopping, and incredible dining, are further inland, and Mount Royal Park stands at the peak of the city, commanding an incredible view and vast, beautiful nature trails and grounds.

Getting around the city is very easy. It never feels as congested or busy as New York City, and a leisurely walk around most major areas won’t take as long as it would in New York. The city is a bit smaller but still has a convenient easy to navigate grid layout. Buses run regularly and charge a flat fare regardless of destination and the metro connects all the major areas of the city with plenty of different stops. What I did, and what I would highly recommend, is to get a multi-day pass. $18 CAD gives you unlimited rides on the bus and metro for three days. I only used a cab (Uber) once, and that was because I had  gotten caught in an unexpected shower on my way to a place I would have normally walked.

Old Montreal Walking Tour

There are plenty of walking tours of Old Montreal, but I highly recommend Local Montreal Tours. Our guide was a real local, having grown up in Toronto but living inOldMontrealBagel.jpg Montreal for the past ten years. He was very knowledgeable, friendly, and did I mention it was a food-centric walking tour? In the span of three hours you’ll cover 1 1/2 miles of  Old Montreal with 6 food stops, including a brewpub. I actually learned quite a lot, like how almost nothing in Old Montreal is actually old. Most of it has been redone to look old because the original buildings were replaced and moved further up on the city. The weather was great for our walking tour and we got to check out some incredible locations. We met at Crew Collective Cafe, which is a collaborative work space and cafe in the former headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada. It was so cool to order your food at an old fashioned bank OldMontrealGuideteller’s booth and the building, having such an important history, was clearly built to impress with the marble floors and the giant brass doors with the ornate arches. The tour goes in a large loop, passing through Place d’Armes, the Basilica, the old port, and some of the few remaining original structures from Montreal’s inception. I enjoyed every food spot they picked, which they touted as being some of the most popular and authentic locations that local Montrealers went themselves. It was a wide variety of dishes too. We started with a twist on the traditional bagel with smoked salmon and cream cheese, a vegan carrot cake (it was surprisingly better than it sounded, but it’s not gonna convert anyone anytime soon), an upscale version of a traditional Quebec convenience store for a corn and meat pie, a Portuguese deli for soup and salad, a brewpub for locally brewed beer and locally made cheese, and it ended with an incredibly delicious, rich, warm, and satisfying French bread pudding with maple syrup cream. All in all a great way to introduce yourself to the city’s history and quest for reinvention.

Cirque du Soleil: Volta

Montreal is Cirque du Soleil’s headquarters, so I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to catch a show straight from the source before it headed out to the rest of the world. Volta is CirqueVoltatheir newest big top production and the stage is set on a port in Old Montreal with the St. Lawrence river and Montreal Biodome in the backdrop. You would know from past posts my love affair with Cirque du Soleil. Most recently I’ve seen their stadium production Turok and their other current big top production, the incredibly impressive over the top back to the roots KuriosVolta is…well, it’s an experience of identity. Like Turok and their Vegas production KaVolta is much more plot-driven than their usual productions. There is a pretty clear and defined story to follow which creates the framework and context for the acts. Because of that though, Volta is notably milder and tamer than say, Kurios. A few acts are definitely less than memorable, but the story, about creativity and expression and self-identity, is CirqueVoltaStagecompelling and inspiring and their second act performances, especially the BMX finale, is freaking ridiculous. It’s like they saved all the adrenaline and energy for this wild finale that honestly took my breath away and had me at the edge of my seat. I would also note that the music of Volta is one of the best I’ve heard. The instrumentals have a very heavy techno-rock energy as it was created in collaboration with French electronic band M83. Though Volta might not be under the big top when you visit, if you are in Montreal and have the time and luxury, I’d highly recommend catching a Cirque show.

Bota Bota Spa

One of the most important things I wanted to stress with this trip was the need to destress. I’d finally freed myself of the shackles of one unsatisfying job and before BotaBotaSign.jpgjumping into another, I thought I would give myself the chance of a longer fuse before feeling like I’d detonate. So I did some research on some spas in the area and decided to visit Bota Bota Spa in Old Montreal. Bota Bota is in fact, a boat…boat. A permanently docked former St. Lawrence ferry boat converted into a luxurious oasis of floating relaxation on the banks of Montreal. Never really had a full spa day experience before so not entirely sure what to expect but I booked a Monday afternoon ‘For the Sailor’ package of a Swedish massage and a men’s facial. The entire boat smells like orange incense and there is only the sound of relaxing, gentle, bossa nova covers of pop songs. Conversation is strongly discouraged so as not to disturb other guests, though if you are with someone else you can chat in one of the many heated outdoor whirlpools or in the separate pool area for socializing. Most though are perfectly content to snuggle into a warm fluffy robe with some herbal tea and a book. Between treatments you can do a water circuit, which is a real shock to the system in the best way possible. Spend fifteen to twenty minutes inside their sauna, sweating out toxins and opening the pores. When you’re completely drenched, immediately step outside and submerge yourself completely (meaning head under water also) into their chilling ice bath. You’re gonna feel your heart race, your skin will tighten and pores will start freaking out, and your breath is gonna get really shallow. But if you’re like me you’ll BotaBotaSpastart laughing at how freakingly painful and cold it is and you’ll feel your system start rushing the adrenaline and endorphins. Try to dip yourself a couple times and stay in for at least five minutes before running to the safe and warm embrace of one of those whirlpools. After the bubbles get you back to normal, dry off, find a nice sunny warm spot to relax, and read or rest as your heart goes back to normal and you reacclimate. I arrived early enough to do one circuit before my massage, and had time to do it twice more before my facial. The massage was super relaxing and at times, because I requested it, a bit painful as they really worked some high stress areas. The facial, which was really a first for me, was a learning experience. The scrubbing and the exfoliating and the weird stinging feeling of whatever the hell she put on to open up the pores, I mean my god, she was trying to convince me that normal human beings are supposed  to do this two to three times a WEEK. Who would have time to do anything else?! Bota Bota is an incredibly luxurious experience and the facilities are clean, comfortable, and super relaxing. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle but still be close enough to view it from the whirlpool jets, definitely book a day here.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Here’s something great: at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, admission to their MontrealMuseumFineArtspermanent collections is always free. The day I went I had only about three hours to peruse, but even that was just barely enough to visit every one of the permanent exhibits. The Museum has an incredible collection of paintings, sculptures, and even some artifacts from Canadian settlers and First Nations peoples. I’ll be honest with you, the only time I ever became super hyperly aware of how alone I was, was when I was browsing the collections at the Museum. There was a deep and profound moroseness to walking among some of the greatest MuseumPortraitsexamples of art completely alone. But it was a beautiful and unique moroseness. The kind that just reminds you and affirms in you that desire to be with someone and why all of this is worth it. There’s this one particular section on the third floor, there’s a wall of classical portraits and landscapes and it’s wall to wall floor  to ceiling all mashed in together. And across from it are a few benches and I just sat there, staring, and there was this real visceral emotional response that caught right in my throat. I had to remind myself why I was doing all this, what I was looking for and working towards and hoping to find again. I can’t say you’re all going to have some weird mental emotional connection, but I can say, if there’s any place you can have it, it’s going to be here.

There’s still so much more to do in Montreal, this was just the sampler platter I gave myself in the four days I was there. I had three days in Quebec, and that’s up next.

Day 325

Man: 292 Loneliness: 33

Day 324: The Man and the French Lessons, Part 2: Accommodation; ‘Radiate’

Okay, so you’ve arrived at your destination and now it’s time to find the place that would Ringing Bell.gifbe your home for the coming days. What do you look for? Level of comfort? Convenience of location? Quality of service? Value per night, perhaps?  You obviously want to make the best possible decision. That’s why the hardest part about planning this trip was figuring out where to stay. This process probably took me like, two months of comparing, contrasting, and constantly stressing over where I would stay. I scoured review sites, babysat rates and last minute deals, tried to get as many professional and amateur photos as possible, and constantly mapped out itineraries based on different hotels’ locations. And as careful as I was, as thorough as I could have been, as much scrutiny as I could subject my choices to…

At best, I was still only two for three. Hahah.

First a bit of how I travel and what I look for. When I am going to a brand new city I am not your youth hostel, backpacking, ‘give me the basics and I am content’ kind of person. I’ve got a certain level of comfort, cleanliness, and convenience at home so when I travel, that’s what I look for as well. When I went to Toronto three years ago for a friend’s wedding there were plenty of youth hostels in the city filled with young college students and their giant trekking backpacks and just…nope. I couldn’t. I stayed at the DoubleTree. I’m an all-in kinda guy, you know? If I’m enjoying the wonders and luxuries of a modern city, give me a damn modern and luxurious hotel. If I’m relaxing on the beachfront, give me a simple, open, airy beachfront shack. When I’m losing myself in the forest or up in the mountains, give me either a simple cabin or let me pitch a tent under the stars. So for me, I wanted Montreal to feel like  Montreal.

Hotel Espresso Downtown, Montreal

This was the one dud of the entire trip, and fortunately it was the beginning so I didn’t Espresso Roomreally know the reality of what I was missing out on. Unfortunately, it was also the hotel I stayed in the longest. Because of that, I was a bit more budget conscious and that kind of restricted my decision. Location wise it was definitely in a prime spot in the city. There was a bus stop right at the corner of the block that I could use to go uptown and downtown, and a block away was a metro station that gave me access to the rest of the city, including Old Montreal and St Laurent Blvd, which to me is the street for good eats. On one side is Montreal’s Chinatown and further on you have the best spots for poutine, smoked meats, rotisserie chicken, bakeries, and bagels. So if you had an itinerary as packed as mine was, having access to the two major modes of  public transportation within five minutes of your hotel was definitely a plus.

The downsides were, well, this was very clearly a budget friendly hotel. One that Espresso Bedroomentertained a vast and diverse clientele looking to capitalize on saving on the room to spend more in the city. This meant there were young couples, families with little children, and uh…as soon as I walked out of the elevator, three rather large and tall black transsexual hookers. Uh…bonjour? There was a certain ‘seedy’ vibe that the Espresso radiated the same way a hospital built on top of an Indian burial ground definitely would feel haunted. The gift shop conveniently placed in the hotel lobby boasted a fine selection of maple syrup, Canada shirts, and condoms, lube, and adult toys. When I finally met with my Montreal friends I showed them my hotel’s location on a map and asked them ‘am I in the shady part of Montreal’ and they did point out that like, two streets away was Montreal’s red light district (not nearly as expansive or pronounced as Toronto’s though). There was also the rather frustrating matter of discovering that the first room they assigned to me a) smelled like it had hosted a low quality cigarette smoking competition and b) housekeeping never bothered to clean it. I immediately snapped the picture above to show to the front desk. Overall, the Espresso is very definitely your budget conscious traveler’s convenient repose in a great spot in the city. The room (when you get one that’s finally clean) is fairly spacious and the bed is surprisingly comfortable. You can’t quite shake the vibe of the place and you might find that the walls tell more about your fellow guests than you’d like to know. In the future if I plan on staying for an extended amount of time, I would probably play it safe and book the Courtyard Marriott or, if enough time passes, I know they are building a Holiday Inn Express and that’s always been my go to whenever I travel for work for the benefits of price, their rewards program that I take advantage of for personal travel, and the hot breakfast each morning so I have one less meal to worry about.

Hotel Clarendon, Quebec

I loved the Hotel Clarendon, and not the least bit because the woman at the check in counter was so impressed with my ‘bonjour’ she thought I was a native French speaker and went full French on me. Hahah. The hotel is gorgeous and it is also the oldest still-functioning hotel in Quebec City. It is only a block away from the large brass doors of the Basilica Notre Dame du Quebec and the funicular to access the lower parts of Quebec is Clarendon Outsideonly five minutes away, as is the beautiful and scenic Terrasse Dufferin that runs along the Fairmount Chateau Frontenac. The best part about Quebec is there really is no need for an itinerary or a plan. I would walk out the Clarendon’s door, choose a direction, and simply start walking. There are plenty of incredible restaurants within the vicinity, there are some great parks, and the historic ancient ramparts of when Quebec was a contested area between the French and the British still stand at certain overlooks. The bus from Quebec station stops right outside the hotel’s doors, and the bus that goes back to the station is taken at the base of the hill a block from the hotel. I was lucky enough that my room faced the Place d’Armes so I had a great view at night of the Basilica illuminated against the backdrop of the historic skyline of Quebec.

Because the hotel is as old as it is, the rooms are a bit smaller than more modern hotels. Clarendon BedThe room is kept surprisingly up to date though by capitalizing on maintaining high quality amenities. The bed was comfortable with smooth sheets and fluffy pillows. The bathroom, though smaller than anywhere else I stayed, was clean, well lit, and had nice quality soap, shampoo, and towels. Bucking the trend that most modern hotels are going towards, I kind of like that the Clarendon still has soft carpeting. The service at the Clarendon is impeccable, wonderfully friendly andClarendon Check In eager to help staff members who are more than happy to help a foreign tourist find his way around the city. (Hint: they tell you to walk.) The Clarendon for me very clearly had the best history and story, with the most interesting narrative told simply by looking at the very building itself and the age of the bricks. Quebec is a dense city with everything within walking distance, but you have to consider what part of the hill you want to be on. The Clarendon was right at the top of the hill so the most major sites and attractions of Quebec are luckily right at the same level. The Basilica is on a lower level, but the Fairmount Chateau Frontenac, the Terrasse Dufferin, the Citadelle du Quebec, Governor’s Promenade, and Funicular are all on the Clarendon’s level.

Le Square Phillips Hotel, Montreal

I’m sad I only got to stay in this hotel for one day before taking my train back to New Le Square King Studio.jpgYork. Obviously the location was ideal as I chose it because it was only an eight minute walk to the station. It’s a bit further from the restaurants and the attractions, but there is a bus stop nearby and the metro, though a bit further compared to the Espresso, is still pretty nearby. It was definitely pricey, but you get what you pay. I loved the giant full wall to wall high window that flooded the room with natural light and the view of Montreal’s few skyscrapers. There was no actual full divide between the rooms, as the wall only went up to about ten feet so the window could fill the whole room. But the small divider still created the illusion of having a dining area, kitchen, living room, and bedroom all in Le Square Kitchen.jpgtheir own world. The kitchen was well stocked with equipment, the bed was firm, and oh my god, the bathroom. A huge walk in rainfall shower. So cool. I had so many toys to play with in this room. The rainfall shower that felt so relaxing and the space to not worry about elbowing the wall every time I shampooed. The full kitchen. When my friends had to unexpectedly cancel our dinner plans the last night, I honestly didn’t feel like going out again. But with the grocery store only a block away and the kitchen right there, it was just so much more easy to buy a bunch of stuff and go crazy cooking. Always fun when you don’t have to worry about the dishes afterwards too!

The room was so comfortable that my last day was a lot slower than I thought it would be. I was just so tempted to relax, lie down, and rest until the next  day’s journey. In a room like the Le Square Phillips’s, I don’t think anyone would blame me either. It’s definitely a pricey option, but if you want to splurge for say just a weekend getaway, it’s the perfect choice.

Next up, a recap of all the things to see, hear, and do in Montreal!

Day 324

Man: 291 Loneliness: 33

Day 322: The Man and French Lessons, Part 1: Transportation; ‘Reprieve’

It has been too long overdue, friends, but I am finally back! Hahah. As most of you who have been following and reading this blog already know, I’ve spent the past week Snowpierceron an incredible trip to Montreal and Quebec. Further evidenced by the numerous photos and musings I’d been posting during my time there on my twitter (@manvsloneliness, please follow). I actually returned on Monday (absolutely rejuvenated and reenergized) but haven’t had a chance to share my adventures because well…I didn’t have a computer. I haven’t actually owned a computer since college. Hahah. Since then I’ve always had work-provided tech for personal use, and I was waiting for my new job to send me my laptop before I could finally start writing again (I’ve missed the sound and the fury of clicking and clacking keys).

But I’m back now baby and…better than ever? I mean, maybe. I definitely feel better. The wonders and freedoms and powers of travel. And with plenty to share. So I’m going to start a mini-series over the next few days highlighting the most memorable parts of my trip. Today I want to start with how any great trip starts. How to get there.

The Railcation of My Dreams

MurderontheOrientExpressThere is something immortally, eternally, and undeniably romantic about train travel. The gentle yet powerful ‘clack clack clack’ of the rails, the soothing almost imperceptible rocking of the train car, the seemingly endless panorama of scenery that speeds past your window with ceaseless variety. Romance, tragedy, murder, conspiracy, and comedy; all the great and wonderful and deep and dark emotions of life and humanity have been set on trains. The truth is, Newark runs daily non-stop flights to Montreal. I could have very well been in Canada within four hours. But let’s be honest here. Driving to the airport. Leaving the car in some uncovered shady parking lot. Or worse, stomaching an Uber ride. The TSA check-ins. Waiting in a stale lifeless airport waiting room trying to figure out a way to sleep on two chairs. Cramped seats, recycled air, limited food, and no room to walk.  Not the least also is the price to consider for all of this ‘convenience’. And if I flew United well…maybe I should bring some boxing gloves too. Hahah. No, for all intents and purposes, my first love will always be rail. And I was more than happy to entrust all my travel needs to AmTrak and VIARail once I was in Canada.

Adirondacks

Friday morning I left my home bright and early and took my express bus to Port Authority Bus terminal in Manhattan. From there it’s a quick five minute, two block walk to Penn Station to catch my AmTrak. Honestly, I was surprisingly pleased by how easy, StrangersOnATrainconvenient, and efficient the whole process was. There are two big screens constantly displaying arrival and departure information for trains within the hour and it refreshes, so if you arrive a bit early don’t fret if you don’t see your train info yet. If you’re still lost though, there are info courtesy desks stationed at various points with, get this, actually helpful and enthusiastic staff. I know, it’s crazy. Those taking trains across borders need to go to the ‘Canadian check in’ which is no more than a roaming desk where you present your ticket, passport, and have your luggage tagged. All in all, from getting off the bus to standing waiting in line to board my train, it took no more than fifteen minutes. A welcome reprieve from the two hour shuffle and kerfuffle at the airport.

And of course the benefit of your terminal being in the heart of New York is that you can literally have whatever you want on the train. (There is a menu on the train but let’s be real. $8 for a hot dog? That’s just poor planning and you know what, they can charge whatever they want if you’re not on top of your travel game. Seriously.) In this case I actually made myself a lunch to have on the train. I was inspired by the ekiben (railway boxed meals) of Japan. So in a bunch of  tiny but still cute disposable containers I made myself a meal of potato salad, macaroni salad, some grilled eel and rice, tea egg, and a few fruits. (It’s a ten hour train ride. And I believe in many small meals.)

HudsonRiver.jpg

So I rode the Adirondack from Penn Station to Montreal, which I have to tell you, is oneof the most beautiful and scenic paths on AmTrak. In fact, if I plan on going back for a weekend (and I just might), I would want to do it in fall when AmTrak adds the luxurious and picturesque dome car for a full uninterrupted view from a viewing deck with a giant glass bubble to appreciate the changing colors of fall foliage. When you’re really into rail travel, you appreciate that ten hours to the destination is still part of the experience. You can look out the window and appreciate views of the Hudson Valley, New York’s wine country, and the Canadian countryside. Tuck into a good book. Snack at your seat or grab a booth in the dining car. The very least you can do is appreciate the opportunity to stretch your legs walking and feeling that raw exciting energy of the rails racing underneath your feet as you move between cars.

AmTrakSeat.jpgSeating is incredibly comfortable. You have plenty of leg room, and (for better or for worse) since the trains are often under capacity, there’s a good chance that like me, you’ll get both to yourself. The train cars run two sears across, an aisle, and then two more. Just be aware, there’s no arm rest in between, so if you are sitting next to someone, it’s great for couples and friends but strangers might be leaning a bit for a while. All the seats come with outlets, a reading light, and large windows. There is also a pull down footrest as well as a pull out leg rest. The seats themselves recline to about 140°. For about five hours of the journey I just slept rather restfully. This is like, domestic flight first class level amenities and comfort. It should be noted  that AmTrak does offer actual first class amenities as well as sleeper cars on longer trails but the Adirondack offers neither so I wasn’t able to test them.

CanadaFarm.jpg

Pulling into Montreal for the very first time and hearing the conductor announce ‘ladies and gentlemen, we will be pulling into our last station, Montreal, in ten minutes’ filled me with excitement. It was around 9pm and the sun was beginning to set, casting a dramatic deep red highlight over the Montreal skyline. I had just finished the first leg of my first major railcation in extreme comfort and convenience.

MontrealRising

My experience with VIARail, Canada’s major rail provider, was more or less the same. The trains are a bit older and oh my god, their AC is really REALLY weak, but overall justReturnCroissant.jpg as enjoyable. (Side note, forgot to mention that you might want to bring a light jacket just for the AmTrak because unlike their Canadian counterparts, AmTrak loves to blast the AC.) The best part about VIARail is that I took it in Montreal from Montreal Central Station. Which means I had access to Montreal bakeries. So on my train to Quebec, and my train back home, I had the company of some of the finest baked goods I have EVER had. And I mean EVER. I am not a croissant fan. I’ve always found them to be underwhelming. All of the croissants I’ve had just couldn’t deliver on that promise of light flaky crispy layers with rich butter in between and an incredible crust. But let me tell you as I took that first bite of a Montreal croissant and I felt my mouth crunching through layer after layer and that rich creamy buttery flavor filling my nose and mouth,  I was converted. In fact the saddest part of my trip home was biting into my last croissant.

Starting a morning rail trip with an iced coffee and some croissants is my idea of luxurious and smart travel. Honestly if you’ve never taken a rail trip, I highly recommend it. European rail seems to be even more steeped in that wonderful romantic nostalgia, and Japanese rail takes comfort and efficiency to a whole new level. Hell, I would want to ride the shinkansen if just to try all the unique regional rail boxed lunches that stations along the route have! For solo, couple, small group, and family travelers alike, I cannot recommend rail travel enough. There is just no better way to fall in love not just with the destination, but the journey as well.

QuebecCroissant

Tomorrow I will be talking about my accommodations. I stayed at the Hotel Espresso in Montreal for four days the first part of my trip, the Hotel Clarendon in Quebec the second, and I ended my trip with one night at the Le Square Phillips Hotel in Montreal. I’ll share the highs, the lows, and the stories behind each one and share my recommendations and tips when booking a hotel in Montreal or Quebec. Feels good to be back y’all.

Day 322

Man: 289 Loneliness: 33