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

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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

Day 306: The Man and the Lone Traveler; ‘Pursue’

Today is my last (physical) day in the office, and then two personal days to complete the week (and the paycheck, hahah). This was waiting for me when I got in this morning.

Last Day

I do love the people I work with. They’ve got a great dark sense of humor. This is the team I work parallel to; they do the real main support and me and the rest of my team, we’re just the front lines, the ones who go out to the stores, so we get all the glory. It’s a shame really, wish I could give them a bigger shout out for all they do. I like the people I work with. (For, well, that’s a different story.)

So Friday I leave for Canada on my own, and aside from two nights where I will be meeting up with some old friends and a group walking food tour of Old Montreal, I will primarily be doing everything on my own. I’m very used to being a single traveler nowadays, though honestly I never thought I wanted to be one, or thought I would be. There are still so many trips I wish I could take with a special someone. I’ve done Vegas with friends, Vegas with family, but never Vegas with, you know, her. Or Aruba. I’m pretty sure that one I’ll specially reserve still though. No point going there by yourself.

The first couple times you do it, the first few nights there can sometimes be this tug of Solivagantwar between wanting to go out and just staying in your room where it’s safe and comfortable. The first few nights with this job when I was traveling to stores I’d just order insane amounts of Chinese delivery or pizza. Then I started slowly and gradually going out. First to chain restaurants, simple places where lone business travelers could find company by proxy in the shared chaos. And then to the more quiet, independent, noticeable places where a single diner could actually stick out.

There are definitely a few pros to traveling on your own. It gives you an unparalleled feeling of power and agency. There is nothing you’re doing that you don’t want to do. For the obsessive-compulsive planner (such as myself) it’s so much easier to have your entire trip planned out two, or even three weeks out, down to the day and time (which I have). For the free spirit, there’s no other accommodation or negotiation to answer the call of every whim. It also forces you to be more engaged and focused on your destination. When it is just you and a blank slate trip in a brand new city, you really have to create your own story. There is no safety blanket, no other who you can abdicate power and authority to. You are your own destiny’s author. So guess who’s fault it is if you have a terrible trip. I’ve put my ear closer to the ground than ever before and really had to find what it was I wanted to find, what I wanted to get out of every trip, every opportunity. I think it makes me a more responsible, aware, and excited traveler.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am in no way trying to convince people solo travel is better than accompanied travel. I’m not even trying to compare the two. What I am trying to do is convince those people who have always been on the fence about taking that trip and whose only sole reason for not going is because they don’t have someone to go with, to go. No one has to be convinced more than once about going on a trip with people. Everyone speaks of the joy of traveling with company. But solo travel shouldn’t be something intimidating, or hell, only for seasoned travelers. Newbies, rookie travelers, and the uninitiated should find the comfort and confidence to do it too.

I think the biggest, and sometimes funniest, obstacle to traveling alone is the constant need to contextualize yourself to curious minds. The person checking you in will ask you if you need one key or two, expecting you to say your travel partner is just late arriving. Eating AloneAlmost every pre-booked excursion or activity you try to go on will default to two adults. You’ll never have to worry about reservations at restaurants, though I would please encourage you to avoid the comfort of sitting at the bar and actually own the experience of dining by yourself at a table. Your waiter will do a double-take and try to figure out if they need to pour water into the second glass in front of you. I used to like to mess with people when this happened. At resorts when I was traveling as an agent to do a site inspection or familiarization trip, I would weave sob stories of being an abandoned groom whose bride-to-be left him at the altar, but the honeymoon deposit was non-refundable. At restaurants I would eagerly sit upright and tell my waiter I was there for a blind date who would inevitably never show up. I think it’s interesting that for as much as people don’t want to travel alone, they don’t want to think others would either. Hahah.

I’m too excited and too eager to take this trip to have to sit by the wayside and wait for someone to go with. There are enough adventures out there for a solo traveler to pursue that can fill one’s life with stories and interest while you move ever closer to finding the person you’ll travel with for the rest of your life. You have to remember that this is the time that they are out there making stories and experiences to share with you as well. Don’t be the one to bring nothing to the table. For anyone who might be hesitant or unsure of solo travel, take it from someone who’s spent the past two years now doing it, it can open up a whole new world. Maybe in the future I’ll do a solo traveler guide, but really, all you need is the drive. So if I could sell you the emotions and the motivation, I would.

Day 306

Man: 273 Loneliness: 33

Day 304: The Man and the Return to Normalcy; ‘Bitter’

Well, I’m back and it’s the last three days of work here with this company. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have a pretty good idea of how the past week went during my work conference at the Hard Rock Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, but for those of you who don’t here is a brief recap.

First of all, I’m not that much darker than when I left. And that’s really for two reasons. Hard RockFirst off, I’m brown, and brown don’t burn baby. Got that natural tan that’s just called being Filipino. Hahah. The second reason is it was pretty much raining the entire time we were there. My flight coming in had to circle the runway for about an hour because of some freak storm that came out of nowhere and was hammering the airport with heavy rain, thunder, but most of all lightning, which giant metal planes don’t seem to like very much. When we finally did land, the open air airport, which is normally lovely in Punta Cana, was about four inches underwater. Not the greatest for me in my open sandals. It was kind of funny though to watch airport staff take brooms and in desperation, try in long phalanxes to sweep the DR Beachwater out towards the doors. For the remainder of the trip it was, at best, gray and overcast. and at worst, actually raining. Apparently because of this they had to reschedule and relocate the conference’s beach party on the one night and the pool part on the other night. I’m not bitter about any of that though. For one, I spent most of my time either in the restaurants, at the casino, or relaxing in my room. For the other, I’m not a big crazy party person, and pair it with the fact that I’m out the door anyways, I really didn’t bother attending any sort of event outside of the actual conference where I had to present. Hahah.

HR Room

What I love about traveling as a travel agent (or as someone who works for a travel Showeragency) is that when hotels find out, they like to bring out all the stops. My room was gorgeous. One of the largest bathrooms I have ever seen. A separate room for the toilet, a large double sink, space enough for a dressing table and bench, and the biggest shower I have ever walked into. Two shower heads, a built in ledge and counter, and room enough for *coughs*two*coughs*. Let’s not kid ourselves about the kind of ambiance and vibe the Hard Rock is going for here. King size bed with all the pillows and no one to share with, speakers in the room connected to the TV to blast the classic rock channel the resort has, an incredible balcony view of the lazy river pool, and the piece de la resistance, a Jacuzzi tub in the room. After checking in, management also sent a bottle of Bubbles and Bubblychampagne and some chocolates, so of course my first night I was living it up soaking in the hot tub with some bubbles and bubbly. And a bacon cheeseburger. And fries. And an Oreo cheesecake. And fruits! So it’s healthy. Don’t judge me.

CarpaccioFood was…decent. It started off really strongly but then got progressively and noticably more mediocre. And this is a characteristic of Punta Cana in general, as I am sure that the Hard Rocks in Mexico and other parts of the Caribbean are phenomenal. There is something about the quality of ingredients in DR that affects the food, and it is a known factor that when we do speak to travelers about the destination, if food is a big part for them, we try to direct them to other islands. So I kind of knew what was going to happen. But the first night at their PappadelleItalian restaurant I absolutely enjoyed the beef carpaccio, the pappardelle with porcini mushrooms and truffle cream, the lamb osso bucco, and the fried calamari (though it had a bit of an ‘unwashed’ taste of strong seawater). My second night at their Mexican restaurant I was very underwhelmed with their offerings. The ceviche had a nice variety of seafood with shrimp, fish, and scallops but it had a very strong cured taste, as if it had been marinating in the lime and vinegar all day, which overcooked and toughened the Cevicheseafood. The camarones al ajillo had a nice strong garlicky taste and I like that it was spicy with the red pepper flakes. But it was served on a no-longer-sizzling sizzling platter which did nothing more than toughen and crust the usually fluffy Spanish rice. I will say this though, my god they know how to rock a really good guacamole and pico de gallo. The sushi selection was minimal, the salmon fresh and meaty though. The nigiri had way too much rice and it was tough and chewy, not light and fluffy like how sushi rice should be. I think aside from the Italian, my two best meals were the Brazilian rodizio style churrascaria with juicy succulent cuts of sirloin, lamb, skirt steak, and flank steak, and the breakfast I had on the balcony of my room my last morning there. An omelet with cheese, onions, chorizo, and mushrooms with hash browns, waffles, a side of bacon, and some fresh Breakfastfruit. (As a hilarious side note, whether for breakfast or my late night Jacuzzi ritual, I always seemed to order so much that they would assume it was for two people, bring two forks and plates, and always look around bewildered asking ‘and where is the lady’.) No, sorry bro, just a really hungry really big lonely single guy. Hahah.

Lest we all forget, as I almost did after my fifth cocktail the night before my presentation, this was supposed to be a work trip, after all. In the grand scheme of things I arrived Monday, arrivals of the consultants was Tuesday, conference itself Wednesday and Thursday, and departures all-around on Friday. Tuesday was a work day in the sense of meeting with the other leaders and speakers (including the president of the company, imagine knowing in the back of your mind you’re already mentally checked out and here you are enjoying a free trip with your company’s president expecting you to care) to rehearse and go over presentations and Wednesday was work in the sense of having to actually do the presentation and go through the rest of everyone else’s.RehearsalI’m not much of a rehearser, I really prefer to wing it and feel the room. So my rehearsal was very dry, very simple, and I really only wanted to make sure that all the slides and animations worked the way they should. But the day of the conference, when they put that lapel mic on me and I took the stage…*sighs*. Took me back to my glory days as a teacher. I transformed. I love public speaking. I love a stage and a captive audience. I am a completely different person when presenting. I was running up and down the stage, waving my arms, making jokes, answering questions, it was such a natural and effortless extension of myself and my knowledge that it went by in a breeze. And before I knew it, I was accepting a round of applause and walking off the stage when the MC and organizer of the conference says on the mic, ‘oh my god ManVsLoneliness, I never knew you were funny’. Ahahah. I’m telling you. I live when I’m speaking. And I could drink that attention right up. But in my personal life, you can all stay away. Hahah.

It was a fun trip, and I did hang out a few times and have a few meals with some consultants I actually knew and was generally friendly with. The treatment was great and honestly, it’s the kind of trip that would make you want to stay with a company. Which is why I get why they do this for novice consultants (within six months and before twelve months). It reinforces an image and an atmosphere. I don’t think anyone could fault anyone for enjoying themselves. I did too. It’s just that for me, that honeymoon phase is over. I’ve had the curtain lifted and behind the music and drinks, I didn’t see the future I wanted. The one that could see me finally moving out on my own and buying and owning my first home, and then being able to start a relationship and hopefully ultimately a family. It’s a good way of living for a little while, but it’s no life.

I’m back now and remembering all this while still appreciating and enjoying the experiences I’ve had. I have no ill will towards anyone or anything. But I absolutely have mentally and physically left this job already. I have two more days to finish planning and scheduling my Canada trip. Before I leave I have to print out everything because my computer and printer belong to work. So on my last day you know I’ll be printing everything in bright color.

Day 304

Man: 271 Loneliness: 33