Thursday, 10 February 2011

Canal Skating, French Speaking and Bed Bugs.

Well I've been pretty productive the last week or so. I've managed to squeeze in Niagara Falls, Ottawa and now Montreal. I probably could have made more entries, but as you all probably know, I'm pretty lazy. I have also managed to considerably top my high score on doodle jump for the iPhone. If you don't have it, look it up.

My score is at least ten times this score...

So, let me try and give a quick run down of where I've been and what I've gotten up to. I really should have done this as I went along. That was the original idea, wasn't it? 

Ok, so Ottawa. You mention the word Ottawa to any Canadian and their face seems to shift into a shape representing either boredom or confusion. This ultimately depends on whether you're discussing the prospect or visiting the place or just the word on its own. It's almost like Ottawa is Canberra's tran-pacific sister. Anyway, I felt it was only necessary to visit Canada's capital...right? Well, I did and I certainly don't regret it. I honestly feel that Ottawa gets a bad wrap unfairly. There's certainly plenty to see and do. The fact that it's a bi-lingual city makes it interesting also. The Rideau Canal is simply amazing, especially for someone from a hot climate like myself. For those of you who don't know what the Rideau Canal is, it's a canal that splits the city. In the winter it completely freezes solid allowing people to skate on the ice. There's people who actually skate to work via the canal. I could almost say for me, visiting Ottawa was worth it just to see this. Surprisingly enough, I didn't struggle at all skating on the canal. The hire skates may have left me with permanent ankle injuries, but my ankles were pretty bad anyway.

Plans are already underway to entirely freeze Canal St in Manchester.

Ottawa is also loaded with museums and government buildings, which is great if you're into that stuff. On my second day in Ottawa I was faced with a blizzard of such a scale that people in Toronto were apparently referring to it as "Snowmageddon" or something along the lines. Well I wouldn't say it was as disastrous as the film of a similar name starring Bruce Willis, but it was pretty bad. The snow was up to my knees and stairways started to resemble something of a snowboarders rail. Accompanied by an enthusiastic Canadian who now lives in Costa Rica (also extremely enthusiastic about his adopted country) we made it to the Parliament building and the military museum. Both places were what you'd expect and reasonably enjoyable. Canadian parliament is a lot smaller than I'd expected. The library inside it however is pretty stunning. I met a French-Canadian security guard in the tower at Parliament who had traveled to Melbourne. It seemed drive-thru bottle shops were his favourite part of the entire trip. I also managed have a walk around the Canadian museum of civilisation. which pretty much demonstrated how much more they respect their aboriginal culture than we Australians do.

Ottawa gave me my first taste of Québec. There is a bridge quite close to the centre of Ottawa that leaves Ontario and passes into the adjacent provence of Quebec. If you didn't already know, Quebec is largely inhabited by Francophones and their culture is somewhat different to that of the rest of Canada. As soon as you cross the border, French immediately replaces English as the dominantly language. This covers everything from signage to public announcements. It's pretty amazing to experience when you come from a place where only one language is spoken.

I did briefly return back to Toronto before I bussed off to Montreal. For one night I stayed in the most disgusting Hostel I have ever had the pleasure of attempting to sleep in. Returning to Toronto from Ottawa hungover on a 6 hour bus trip was not pleasant. I have become complacent on booking hostels and have resorted a couple of times of booking one from a starbucks once I arrive in the city. This particular occasion I was given a nice little reminder that there is nothing wrong with booking at least one day ahead. Unfortunately for me on that Friday, everything was booked out. I ended up finding a place a little bit too far out of town for my liking and in an extremely questionable area. I got a 4 bed dorm for $22, which at the time seemed like a reasonable deal. I quickly changed my mind when I opened the door to the stench of what can only be described as rotting food, dirty laundry and mould. I was warned by an overweight and disheveled looking Japanese man that everyone in the room was suffering from bed bugs. I quickly removed all the sheets off my bed allowing me to sleep on a vinyl mattress safe from the blood sucking teeth of the dreaded bed bugs. A man across from me was asleep with his back exposed. The bed bugs had absolutely gone to town on him. His back looked like a pizza. The next morning I quickly located another hostel in downtown, which was the complete opposite of where I had stayed. It was totally immaculate. I was the only person in a 4 bed dorm, which had its own ensuite. It was slightly more expensive, but sometimes it shows that you get what you pay for.  Have a read through some of the reviews from the disgusting place I stayed at in Toronto. , they're hilarious.
Downtowner Inn: Ceiling Fan
This is actually the ceiling in the room...One can only assume the bed bugs chewed their way through.

So after Ottawa and Toronto, I am now in Montréal in Quebec. Montreal is pretty much instantly likable. It has a fantastic subway/metro system, which is pretty reasonably priced for tourists if you buy a multi-day pass. It also has a working smartcard system that actually works unlike Melbourne's "smart" card system Myki. Is that actually functioning now? Best of all, unlike Ontario, you can buy alcohol at supermarkets and corner stores. I really do love the liberal and bourgeois French. Aesthetically Montreal is quite similar to Melbourne, it doesn't come across as being too big and it has a bit of a European vibe, no doubt inherited from the French influence. Speaking of French influence, it is a lot more French here than I had expected it to be. Almost everyone speaks French here, but will respond to you in English if you are unable to converse in French, which is very handy. They don't seem to be as horrible as the rest of Canada make them out to be. The hostel I stayed in was fairly comfortable, but luckily for me and old friend of mine has agreed to let me stay with him for the weekend provided I cook him and his girlfriend my specialty, Madras Curry.

Due to the weather I haven't been able to see much of the city so far, but the weather looks to be improving, so hopefully this will change by the weekend. This time I will try to update more often so you're not greeted with a wall of text.