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 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 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 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

Day 179: The Man and the Departure; ‘Gone’

So to start, wanted to say that I will once again be incommunicado from this Friday, January 6th to Wednesday, January 11th. I know, it seems like I’ve been in and out. These past few weeks get pretty crazy busy with me because Christmas, New Year’s, and my birthday are all exactly a week apart each. Yep, that’s right, Man will be turning….*drumroll*…are you ready?…27 on January 8th. That’s my birthday, that’s my age. (We will of course be celebrating with the late-great Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and Stephen Hawking.) I’ll be headed to Atlantic City with my family, but very soon after they will all three of them (my mother, father, and brother) be leaving me alone to spend two months in the Philippines. Ah, the luxuries of owning your own business and/or being a young, unemployed, recent college graduate.

Me, I will be back at home, living alone, normally ecstatic to the idea of having the house all to myself, with all of its normal inhabitants gone.

But circumstances are a bit different this year.

Last year my parents took my brother and his friends to Vegas for two weeks and I had the No automatic alt text available.house to myself for then. I loved it because Beautiful and I had just started our relationship and now here we were with an opportunity to basically live together uninterrupted for two weeks. We slept together, showered together, and cooked together (I made pasta from SCRATCH and ricotta cheese from MILK and we made ravioli like goddamn MARTHA STEWART). I also used the opportunity to have my annual winter hot-pot dinner/sleepover with my friends. That’s No automatic alt text available.always fun and it’s a great time to relax and let loose. Since everyone stays over we get to drink just a tad bit more than usual and we get just a tad bit crazier than usual. The hot pot is a great way to just keep eating all night and since we cook it in boiling water that we flavor with different Chinese pastes and spices, that technically counts as staying hydrated, no?

So what’s changed?

Yes obviously I am single, that’s the big one. I’m not lamenting not having Beautiful around, it’s more like that anxious feeling of FOMO. You know, Fear of Missing Out. Like, here I am, in the prime of my life, with this time of independence and freedom, and I don’t have anyone to spend it with or celebrate it with. These are the feelings I knew would show up eventually during the course of this year-long experiment. That feeling I can’t shake of ‘come on, Man, this is the time you’re supposed to be out there and enjoying yourself!’ The temptation, especially with Valentine’s a month away as well, has never been higher to get back on some dating site and just find someone to be with to not be with no one. Two months of the house all to myself and, if you’ll allow me this small primal indulgence, I feel like I should be having some company over to avail myself of such luxury and pleasure! Ugh. Is it such a terrible way to be, to feel? Hahah.

Take comfort and solace in the company of friends though!

Yes, I will still use this time to have another hot pot sleepover. I got some great new drinking games for Christmas that I cannot wait to play with my friends. But with our careers having taken us further out and with my one friend in the excitement and thrill of his new relationship and my birthday coming up, I can’t help but reflect on my friendships and connections and wonder if maybe I’ve grown out of it in some ways. I’ve seen some great blogs and great writers on here wrestle with their own friendships and feeling they’ve put in more than they’ve gotten or that their trust has been misused or taken advantage of. There’s been this inkling in the back of my head for a while that has taken deeper root in the past couple months, now that I’ve been spending more time reflecting and working out my thoughts.

I think, and strongly believe, that both this loneliness from lack of romantic relationships and doubt of friendship stem from the same thing. For a very long time now, (179 days perhaps?) I’ve felt starved of any strong, deep, emotional, and mental connection. I’ve known some of my friends since elementary school. We’ve been together for decades now (weird I can now afford to make that kind of distinction). But we’ve never really been able to talk about anything of substance. They are great for some drinks, some adventures, and to pass the hours shooting the breeze until 3 in the morning. But, devoid of so many of the life experiences and passions I have chased after all my life, we can’t speak to each other of the deep and profound and emotional and heart-wrenching moments and thoughts. I used to find all of that in my relationships. It was a happy balance of satisfying all the sides of my self by finding the right company in each. But now I am without relationships (but still happy and content, mind you, I am still strongly on this path) so I have to look on my friends and then I see and wonder, has our relationship, has our depth, has our conversation, never progressed past our student lives?

I never got a merry Christmas from any of them. Or a happy New Year. In October I wanted to watch scary movies and play scary games so I kept asking everyone to hang out and they canceled on me all month. I decided there are only so many rejections a man can handle before his pride and dignity are hurt so I took a break in November and decided to let them organize and call us all together to hang out. Instead I spent the entire month by myself because no one did. No one even noticed. I didn’t see them again until the Friendsgivingmas that I still was the one to organize a week before the date. I wonder if, left to their own devices, they’d ever try and reach out first. I’ve celebrated each and every one of their birthdays. I even took them to Atlantic City each time they turned 21. They’ve never organized anything for mine. I find myself today texting and reaching out and clamoring to try and organize something before I leave for my birthday trip to see them and go out for dinner.

Without a romantic relationship to rely on like a crutch, I have only my friends and family. My family will be gone, and so I only have my friends. And even then now, I wonder sometimes about the company I keep.

I’ll tell you what though, because I refuse to give this day to Loneliness. I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do the next two months. I’m going to play music really loud and sing to an empty house. I’m going to dance in my underwear through the halls. I’m going to cook some crazy-ass stuff I’ve been wanting to try but no one has tastes for. I’m going to roast bone marrow. Cook lamb. I’m going to use the MeetUp app and find local groups of board and card gamers and hang out with them a few weekends. I’m going to watch movies by myself. I’ll catch up on all the shows I’d been waiting to watch. I’m going to do all this because if I don’t I’ll drive myself crazy and because this will help me stay sane and still appreciate my boring but oh so lovable friends. Hahah. I’m gonna be okay in 2017. I’m gonna be okay at 27.

Day 179

Man: 148 Loneliness: 31

Day 153: The Man and the Way Back Home

It’s…good…to be back…I guess? Hahah.

Well actually I got back yesterday, but spent most of the day resting and bringing my BAC back to a reasonable and livable level.

Cold Winter.jpgThere are a few things I definitely missed though. I missed the biting cold. It was hard to register that it was December and only two weeks before Christmas when it was so warm in Cancun. Everywhere we went there were Christmas decorations and the staff even wore Santa hats and I couldn’t quite understand why until someone had to remind me it was Christmas season. I guess I’m just too accustomed to cold, wintry Christmases. And honestly, I wouldn’t have them any other way. So while my family lamented the weather, I was glad to be back where I could bundle up.

I also feel as though nothing really brings you back home like a warm shower in your own bathroom. As soon as I was unpacked the first thing I did was jump into the shower and savor the sensations. Mind you, I wasn’t exactly wanting for a nice shower either. The hotel had a rainfall shower which was just, oh man, so luxurious. But there’s just something about a shower you know how to use, settings you’re familiar with, just the right amount of water pressure, your own soap and shampoo, and the comfort of your own bathrobe and towel that just reminds you you’re home.

The flight to Cancun was uneventful, which is kind of what you want out of you know, flying 35,000 feet in the air. There’s really no love lost between myself and United. I don’t have much to say about whatever it is they do with themselves. But just about the only Stroopwafel.jpgthing I look forward to when it comes to early morning flights with United is that I get to have a delicious, chewy, sweet, stroopwafel. If you haven’t had these yet, just order them from Amazon or ask your friendly neighborhood Dutchman. It’s much easier to get than to fly United for it. They’re wonderful thin waffles with a spread of caramel sandwiched in between. At room temp they’re chewy and sweet but if you place it over your coffee or tea mug for a bit, the caramel melts and softens and the waffles become warm. About the only thing to do besides sleep is snack on a stroopwafel for the four hours until we landed in Cancun.

The Resort

beach-view

The resort itself was fantastic. Absolutely gorgeous. In the center of the main building was a Japanese style garden with koi ponds. This is where Toji, their sake bar, and Bana, their Japanese restaurant, are located. A beautiful and fitting centerpiece to their resort. The other restaurants surround Bana, with Market Grill outdoors. They have three pools: a quieter adults-only pool, a family pool that is shallower, and a long sprawling main pool with a swim-up bar and little islets with water jets. They have a long sprawling expanse of beach right outside the resort.

pool-and-swim-up

I’d wake up in the morning and then either order room service or stop by the breakfast buffet. A sausage, mushroom, and mozzarella omelet on my balcony overlooking the ocean. Or maybe mimosas at the breakfast buffet while I loaded up on waffles, smoked salmon, freshly made omelets, cheeses, bacon, and fruits. Then I’d spend the day taking a paddleboard or kayak out onto the water and riding the waves. The Caribbean Sea picks up a bit of temper by the time it hits Mexico so there was definitely some action in the water. Lunchtime I’d go to the poolside grill and grab my body weight in guacamole and pico de gallo, seafood ceviche, burgers, hot dogs, and chicken wings. Then I’d laze the afternoon away in the pool, swimming up to the bar and shamelessly sipping on Miami Vice after Miami Vice.

day-view

Dinners we were spoiled for choice. Our first night we went to the Market Grill which is styled like a Brazilian rodizio, with skewers of meat traveling from table to table. Sirloin, filet, chicken thigh, beef short ribs, picanha, round after round as they brought it to our table fresh from the grill and sliced it in front of us. For meat, Scotch is best, so Blood and Sands were the drink of order.

sashimi-and-sushi

On the second night we went to Bana, their Japanese restaurant in the center of the resort. Best location, excellent food, terrible lighting and hot. Still. Dock and avocado eggrolls. Seafood shumai. So many pieces of sushi and sashimi. Octopus, scallop, tuna, salmon, soft shell crab, eel. And lychee martinis! They also had the best dessert, fried banana tempura with a chocolate sauce and green tea ice cream and black tea ice cream.

blue-corn-sopes-with-shrimpOn the third night we went to Mole, which to be honest with you I had the least hopes for. It was Mexican modern, and I’m not a big fan of Mexican so  I wasn’t too sure I would enjoy it. But man was I wrong! For appetizer I ordered these little blue corn sopes with shrimp and spicy sauce and mixed greens. Wonderful bite sized amuse bouches. I went all out for the entree. Entrees actually! All-inclusive after all. I had a goat canneloni with a cream sauce. The goat was tender and flavorful with the earthy spices of Mexican cuisine goat-cannelonibut stuffed into wondefully al dente pasta sheets and served with a rich creamy sauce. I also had the pulpo (octopus) roasted with garlic. Just the right level of toothsomeness and char. Dessert was a tres leches cake that they finished table side by pouring a tiny pitcher of condensed milk over and watching the cake absorb it all was definitely entertaining before digging in. I definitely wanted an appropriate drink but wasn’t feeling like margaritas so instead had caipirinhas. The lime was refreshing and helped me power through all those courses!

roasted-garlic-octopus

Our final night we ate at Fuego, which is the Paradisus’s Peruvian inspired restaurant. I had the highest hopes for this. I love Peruvian food. Of course I had to start with a ceviche of crab and shrimp. Then a bowl of mixed grilled seafood including squid, octopus, shrimp, and scallops. Followed by the thickest, richest, creamiest version of lobster bisque I have ever had. Then a pan fried sirloin with mushroom risotto and a parmesan tuile and then a roast breast of duck with sweet potato puree. Still room for dessert and drinks! I had plenty of Pisco Sours to keep me company and finished with a coconut creme brulee served with almond liquer ice cream.

The food was great but the luxury of eating whenever and whatever was just so freeing. I still feel new and fresh to the all-inclusive experience so any opportunity to order a drink at a bar or some food was always taken. Late night my brother and I would order room service. Buffalo wings, omelets, cheesecake, nachos, burgers, hot dogs, our poor hotel staff having to keep lugging everything! Because of my connections with the travel company they placed us on the highest floor with the best view so they really had a trek each time.

paradisus-cancun-room

Of course we couldn’t spend the entire time eating! On our second day we took an ATV tour of the jungle and got to ride them on Maroma Beach, one of the world’s best beaches. The ATV tour was fun but not as thrilling or challenging as the ATV tour I did in Cabo where we were riding on and over sand dunes and drifting in the dessert and going up cliffs. But it was just challenging enough for my family and the rest of our group apparently! There was one couple who were riding together. We hadn’t even left the parking lot, just going single line heading out, when you see them riding top speed streaking across the line turning wide. I think the boyfriend didn’t know how much kick these machines had. They ran straight. Into. A palm tree. Knocked it right over and they got stuck over its dead body. Luckily it was a young tree whose roots weren’t so deep yet. Then, as we were riding along the road heading into the jungle, my parents missed the turn and were headed into the highway. Our guide races in front of them and tries to signal them to stop and turn but my mother, riding as passenger, thought he was just being friendly and told my father to smile and keep waving back.

night-view

We also visited Dubai Palace, Cancun’s largest and newest casino. Cancun just recently legalized casinos so the selection is pretty sparse, unlike Aruba or the Dominican Republic. Still we had a good time, and in fact my father and I won around $1200 Mexican pesos playing some card games. It’s not much, around $50USD, but to them it sure was a big deal!

It was a great trip, with just the right amount of relaxation and activity. Most of all it was great to spend some time with my family. We haven’t had a vacation all four of us in a long while. My brother and I had the VIP room since it was under my name and my parents stayed in another room a few floors below. Still we were always together, either at the beach or by the pool, and we always ate together, though my brother and I would also have our late night snacks! We would even play cards in our room and play penalty games to punish the losers. I think I most cherish though the ability to just go bar hopping with my brother and drinking together.

It was a fun time and I think my family is hooked on the all-inclusive now. I still have a few more free rewards nights to use so I anticipate we’ll be back next year! Maybe a different place in the Caribbean though.

Honestly I needed this after finishing NaNoWriMo, and it was a refreshing restart. Ready to get back into things though! Missed writing, missed this community, and ready to start up again!

Day 153

Man: 125 Loneliness: 28