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Hamish McKenzie - traveller again, London, Ontario

Thursday, July 14, 2005

I want to add Montreal to my list of great cities, right up there with Mexico City and Berlin.

I was there for an unexpectedly extended weekend.

Friday

11pm: Arrive in Montreal with two friends; boy and girl. Meet with another friend. Go to party in a very stuffy apartment. Feel alienated because of French-speaking party attenders. Get groped by a buff guy in speedos with inflatable crab pincers. Drink first of many beers in Quebec.

Go to quiet bar for beer afterwards. Sleep at friend's apartment on a futon.

Saturday

After lunch: Go to Old Montreal, a nice area by the river port with narrow cobbled streets. Very cutesy European. Very romantic. Very wet because of the deluge of rain. Walk with friend and her friend for a couple of hours. Get jeans soaked to the knees. Eat a Quebecan delicacy: Beaver's tail; fried dough smeared with sugar and cinnamon.

Early evening: The three of us meet guy friend at great punk bar in city. Its French name translates to "Electric Arse". Dine at one of the finest restaurants in China Town: Cristal #1. Fried pork and imperial roll with vermicelli for $6.50. Resolve to never return.

8pm: As rain clears, wonder into downtown to catch Jazz Festival gigs. Enjoy Raul Midon, a soul singer with a talent for percussive guitar playing and a mean lip-trumpet gimmick. His lyrics completely suck arse though. Nevertheless, expect him to be the next Ben Harper-esque soul-pop darling. He has Stevie Wonder -- an influence he draws heavily from -- on his record.

9pm: Revel temporarily in the lusty blows of trombones from a New Orleans jazz band on the next stage.

10pm: Join throngs at the Old Port to witness a stop-start spectacle of sometimes magnificent fireworks over Montreal's dark skyscape. This was just one night of Montreal's International Fireworks Competition. Fair to say it was quite good.

Midnight: After treacherously long walk, arrive at an indy bar called the Green Room. Be thankful for beer, tequila shot. Get drunk and dance to decent music. Generally act silly and happy.

4am: Resolve to climb Mount Royal. Join five other friends and take short cuts up the slippery slopes. Join other drunken stragglers and an early-to-rise cyclist to see the first of Sunday's light dawning on the city. Marvel at the sparkling river, the grand architecture, and the switchboard of city lights. Forget about tired legs. Forget that it's going to take a while to get home.

6am: Sleep on the futon.

Sunday

Expect to return to London today.

Noon: Stroll slowly and hungoverly through Lafontaine Park on way to getting Indian buffet for lunch. Gorge myself at buffet.

7pm: Get in car with London friends and start eight-hour drive home. Get no further than a couple of blocks. Have car break down inexplicably. Get car towed to garage. Re-think plans.

11pm: Catch the final moments of Pat Metheny's climactic set at the Jazz Fest. Be part of a crowd of at least 100,000 on the street. Be very warm in the muggy conditions.

11.30pm: Sample another Quebecan delicacy: poutine. Poutine is a concotion of fries, gravy, and cheese. Greasy, great, and gross. Heart disease in a pottle. Fail to finish 'meal'. Poke poo-resembling gravy sludge with fork. Contemplate throwing up.

12.30am: Sleep on the futon.

Monday

Noon: Visit the headquarters of the world-famous Cirque du Soleil with friend who used to work there. See where they make all the funny hats, all the elaborate costumes, and the head-moulds for each of the performers. See some performers in training. Meet a New Zealander who's trialling for the circus as a high-bar performer. Struggle to wean anything out of him, other than the fact that he went to Otago Boys' High School and finds it interesting to go drinking with 40 vodka-swilling Russians. "No mixers!" he says.

3pm: Learn that no one in Montreal can even look at the broken car until tomorrow. Panic about how to get back. Start to get used to idea of having to pay $75 for a bus ticket.

5pm: Dine at a cool Mexican restaurant that serves fries instead of nachos. Drink sangria.

9.30pm: Drink at a Mexican-themed bar. Be happy at reasonably-priced beer.

Midnight: Ice cream! Two scoops, homemade, fresh. $5.40!

Tuesday

10.30am: Visit Montreal studios of CBC with friend who used to work there. Note funky little monitors by each desk in the newsrooms. Note plush carpet.

11.30am: Catch the bus at the last minute for depressing journey back to London. Be depressed about leaving a city anticipating the Just for Laughs Festival, a French-language music festival, and an African music festival.