adventures in the people's republic of china and beyond

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


La Belle Province

Almost a month has passed since I went to Montreal. You'd think that back in Cruces with nothing better to do I'd be a bit quicker about getting a travel blog up, but uploading countless pictures and writing captions about things you did a month ago is not really all that fun, alas. However, considering the excellent adventures that await in just another month, I figure I should wrap things up in Canada first, as well as practice the art of travelblogging. I mean, if I don't do any travelblogging in China, I'll probably have gone back to China again before I finish telling the entire story.

In the far background you can see the cross on top of Mt. Royal. It's not like I was particularly impressed, but it's one of those iconic things you feel obligated to take a picture with.

I was first acquainted with this city when I had just arrived in Canada - braving the unexpectedly cold wind and snow, I wandered the streets in search of something. No, it was not the strip clubs that graced every corner, nor the cathedrals, nor the bookshops, it was ... poutine. Nose running, face numb, I stumbled into "La Belle Province", which, despite its fancy French-sounding name, is actually a Quebecuois fast-food chain serving things like poutine, hot dogs, and burgers.

Poutine is french fries smothered in gravy, with springy cheese curds. It's actually quite good if you get cravings for filling, greasy North Americanish fast food like I do sometimes. Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture, but it looked something like this:

Poutine and steamee(hot dog) in one of the many fine La Belle Province locations in Montreal.

After spending a lovely week in Kingston with my dear Rebecca, we came back together to fully appreciate the city. So here's the photos and accompanying commentary:


I'm always crazy about trying the local specialties whenever I go someplace new, so of course I had googled up everything we should eat in Montreal before we actually got there. Our first stop was St. Viateur bagels, which was pretty far away, and took a bit of getting lost before we actually found the place. The bagels, while good, were not THAT amazing. I think the neighborhood was more interesting: it was Saturday morning when we arrived, so all the Hassidic Jews were heading to services at the local synagogues wearing their cool hats. I really, really wanted to take a picture, but I didn't, although you can see a picture of the hat here:

According to Wikipedia one of these babies can set you back up to US$5400. That's like, two three-month trips to China right there.

After walking around Parc Mont Royal for a while, we had a second breakfast of nutella and strawberry crepes(mmm), then after a nap it was time for lunch at Schwartz's(another famous Montreal restaurant)!

The fries had an interesting sweet potato taste.

There was a long line at Schwartz's for lunch, but we got a table pretty fast. The smoked meat sandwiches were great, and the wait staff offered to take this picture for us!

We walked around Chinatown and noticing something very intriguing - an Uyghur restaurant! Grabbing some bubble tea and Chinese pastries, we headed for the old quarter.

Chinatown. It didn't occur to me to actually take some pictures in Chinatown(or "China block-and-a-half" as some call it). I felt much less inclined to take pictures since we carried the camera in Rebecca's purse for this trip, so every photo took some stopping and purse-rummaging. A thin new pocket-friendly camera is in order, I say.

The old quarter is quite pretty and European-looking, as you can see here. A light snow fell as we wandered the streets, but started falling more heavily(as you can see in the picture) and we headed back to take refuge in our hotel!

Impressive buildings downtown.

Old Montreal, charming with the snow falling.

Notre Dame.

I thought this picture came out terribly romantic, but we ended up drenched after walking back to our hotel through the snowstorm. I lied about snow never losing its novelty.

For dinner, we went to L'Express, a bistro that had been recommended over at my Montreal thread at ask metafilter. I've never eaten anyplace more fancy in my life, and bistros are supposed to be relatively informal. Fanciness aside, I was excited to get my first taste of French food. We ordered plates of grilled salmon on spinach and roast quail over wild rice, as you can see in the picture.

I look halfway decent in this picture, so I'm quite pleased with it, but inside I'm just a small-town boy feeling quite awkward at the fanciness.

Fanciness aside, I didn't think the food was very interesting. It just tasted like most Western/American food to me. I had kind of been hoping that French food would be more buttery and creamy, but maybe this is the "nouvelle cuisine" thing I'd been hearing about. The place was pretty expensive to boot. Oh well, at least I know never to bother trying French bistros again...

We started off the day eating brunch at Byblos, an Iranian cafe that seemed really popular with the locals. The service was also incredibly slow, although the food was good.

Afterwards, we walked around downtown a bit more, and took a stroll along the port. We went to the Biosphere, which is on its own little island reachable by subway. I had been expecting some Epcot-center type thing, but it turned out to be a large sphere frame around an awkward-looking building. Oh well, at least I can say I've been.

Just in case any of you ever go to Montreal, I took a picture of the Biosphere so you would know it's lame enough not to warrant a visit.

Dinner was really the highlight of our day - we went back to Chinatown and had a great feast at the Uyghur restaurant. Uyghurs are a Muslim people that live in Xinjiang province in northwest China. They're a lot more similar in culture and appearance to the -stans that Xinjiang borders, and their food is kind of a mix of Middle Eastern and Chinese - lamb kebabs, big flatbreads, and delicious hand-pulled noodles.

Only one of it's kind on the entire continent, baby!

We'd eaten Uyghur food many times in China, so we went in slightly skeptical of how authentic the place could be, but we weren't disappointed. The place claims to be the only Uyghur restaurant in all of North America, and it seemed quite devoid of customers, but the food was great, and not too pricey to boot. Pictured are some typical Uyghur foods: laghman noodles, flatbread, springy buns, and a tasty plate of various vegetables and the ubiquitous lamb meat. Not pictured: dumplings filled with (guess what) lamb meat and lamb kebabs!

All this talk about what we did, and yet I seem to have avoided telling you my impressions of Montreal. I have the feeling I didn't get to know the city as well as I did Toronto, although perhaps that's because we bought three-day subway passes this time instead of walking everywhere as we did in Toronto. They were certainly necessary though - all the places we wanted to visit(that is, eat at) seemed to be in different suburbs relatively far away from each other. Toronto had a more "international" feeling to it - all sorts of different ethnic communities, whereas Montreal seemed, for the most part, French Canadian. The city itself, although definitely North American, has a bit of a European feel to it, I guess, although perhaps I'm biased since I subconsciously connect French with Europeanness.

That's that for my Canada travels in the forseeable future. In only a month's time, though, I'll be...back in the PRC!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Frozen Northlands 2

Spring break. Sunny beaches and drunken nights in Mexican bars? Hah! Give me rain, snow, and poutine any day...and some assorted Timbits while you're at it.

This time I flew into Montreal and took a bus into Kingston, saving myself much border-crossing trouble. It was T-shirt weather when I left in El Paso, but freezing cold when I got off the plane in Montreal. Having enjoyed a delicious cup of fries smothered with gravy and cheese curds at La Belle Province, I got on the bus to Kingston, noticing a fine white powdery substance beginning to pound down from the sky. On the way to Kingston, I saw a snow plow for the first time with my own eyes! Actually, I had plenty of opportunities to look at it, since we were stuck behind it for half of the trip.

Didn't manage to snap any pics in Montreal, but it's alright, since we're headed back this weekend.

Arrival in Kingston. SNOW! And lots of it!

For a New Mexican, snow will never lose its novelty.

Warming up with a hot chocolate and a pack of Timbits.

Rebecca standing in snow.

Did I mention snow never loses its novelty?

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