coffee shop

Au revoir Montreal, hello new adventures! by Jessica Lee

I recently came across a journal entry from two years ago. In 2013, I had been travelling in and out of Montreal for work when I was in public relations and communications.

During those weeklong trips, I spent time on St. Denis and St. Laurent street, and St. Catherine of course, but time seemed so fleeting. My dream back then was to live in Montreal for six months to get the "wake-up and casually walk down to the coffee shop/patisserie" experience.

I want to wake up, stroll down to a local bakery/patisserie, order a fresh, hot croissant, sip my coffee and read the news in French. Then I would call up my French boyfriend and we would have lunch together. After that, he would go back to work and I would go back to my coffee shop work. We would cook a nice meal at home over wine and call it a night.

It's done. I've been in Montreal for over a year now and I found out Montreal is more than just stereotypical French lovers and cafes. 

I am trying to synthesize my collective experience of a year and a little bit more in Montreal into a blog post, but it's difficult, so I'll just share my favourite memories.

I lived in cafes for the year, no doubt. Cafe-life is a part of me which will never change. I will continually enjoy the smell of coffee, the stillness of a relaxed work-space and the carefully curated design of cafes. Montreal did cafes well. As a freelancer, I spent a majority of my time in Montreal with the other freelancers, busily typing into a laptop and occasionally looking up at life.

But if you were to ask about Montreal outside of coffee, I would tell you about the times I biked down that big hill on rue Berri on my way to rock climbing at Allez Up in the Fall, seeing the faces of the sweating, struggling cyclists going uphill, knowing that would be me on the way back. And on that bike ride down, if I could catch all the green lights on the way, I knew it was going to be a good day. 

As I got along further, while biking on Canal Lachine in the middle of the day on Wednesday at 2 pm, there would be impeccably-dressed hipster-chic office folk, sitting with a picnic spread out on the grass facing the water like there they were done work for the day or as if there were better things to in life than to spend it all working - they were probably right.

There were the times biking to lesser-frequented parts of the city in search for new work space, and discovering gems. Verdun. St. Henri. Wellington. That time I spent a weekend on the balcony reading at a friend's apartment on a quiet residential street and listening to the sounds of a French child's birthday party down below. Little joyous moments like these characterize my stay in Montreal. The experience was much more though, these are just fragments.

I remember endless afternoons lying in the sun in Park Lafontaine or Mount Royal, sometimes with friends and sometimes with a book. Many times, with both. Afterwards, we would all cook together and enjoy each other's company.

Then there were the "barely-surviving but glad to be alive" days. Cold Winter nights shivering back to my apartment on Bishop street after a movie at the Forum. Trying to cross the street in the Winter but finding the snowbanks are too high. 3 am poutines after a night out dancing. Quiet nights in the summer on balconies with friends, pondering about our futures while sipping wine. Terribly awkward French parties when you find you're the only Anglophone there.

I never got to visit all of the breakfast restaurants I wanted to go to. There was also a 90's music dance club I never managed to drag friends too. And maybe the next time I step into Montreal, the businesses will be gone, the rising rent driving out tenants, or things would have changed so dramatically they wouldn't be the same.

But nothing ever is. The very last week of my time in Montreal, I discovered a cute, little tea shop just a five minute walk from my apartment. I met a new group of people I knew I could be close friends with, but there never was enough time to let those friendships blossom. C'est la vie. Life is full of goodbyes and hello agains. There will be other times. There will be other people. Always. But this is what I have, these are the memories of Montreal which I hold in my heart.

If you ever visit Montreal and walk down the same streets I did, frequent the same cafes and bars I did -  please know, I lived here. I had some of the best times of my life here. It was fantastic. But I had to leave because there is so much more of the world out there, more memories to make, more strangers who might become close friends. I just have to go out and open myself to the world. I know if I do, it will give back to me.

Photos of me by Dale Tidy

Detroit in a day (really, that's all you need) by Jessica Lee

Detroit was disappointing. I expected something like Toronto, except more run-down.

In reality, Detroit is a bit like a ghost-town.

The walkability is terrible. In 8 Mile (2002), a movie starring Eminem and based in Detroit, there was a scene where Em's car breaks down and he has to take the bus to work. In the scene, he complained about it like it was extremely misfortunate (I was thinking- suck it up Eminem, I take the bus in Toronto every day), but now I understand where he's coming from. I barely encountered anyone who walked as everyone drove around. I will explain the public transportation here later on.

I started my day early at 7 am in the Eastern Market.

I've been to many farmer's markets, and this one was no different. On the bright side, I bought my breakfast (strawberries) for $0.75.

I also encountered a bunch of these little food-truck-esque eateries, which was pretty cute.

Here is another one.

On the way back to the city, I thought the bus would never come. I probably waited for a good 20 minutes. Since I'm from Toronto, I'm used to the bus coming every 10 minutes or less. In Sydney, I lived on a main road and pretty much all the buses would pass through that area so I didn't wait for the bus long there either. In Hong Kong, most of the population relies on the metro as well, so it's very fast.

Honestly, I think traveling is great because it gives you perspective of the world. I used to complain about the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission, our bus and subway system) all the time because sometimes it is undependable and would make me late to work, but I think Toronto has it alright.

Another thing; when I got onto the bus, I noticed that every single person was black. It was the strangest thing as I had just seen a mix of white and black people (no asians though) in the market and suddenly there were only black people.

In Toronto, people take the bus because it's easier to get around (downtown). Or it's good for the environment, or if you're like me it's because you don't have a car.

But why do only black people take the transit in Detroit?

Safety issues? Socio economic status? Because Detroit has more black people than white people?

Anyway, if someone knows and can answer that question in the comments for me, it would be neat to find out.

Here is a photo I took of the main bus station. It's pretty cool. I will tell you about the rail transit later in this blog post.

But first, some graffiti.

I think graffiti is nice when it's done with intention and when it's done as art, but the above is just tragic. I know it's supposed to be a tag and not really supposed to be "pretty", but it kind of takes away from the elegance of the clock tower. I'm not an expert or anything, but I think the city could clean up their image by cleaning up tags immediately, like how North Brooklyn's crime rates have gone down because of their graffiti cleaning. (read this for explanation on the Broken Window Theory)

Anyway, I eventually made it to Corktown (recommended by the Detroit Redditors- yes I'm turning to Reddit for travel advice- funny enough, some US guidebooks don't even list Detroit as a tourist destination in the index)

This is what it looks like:

Like I said, the walkability is bad, but I managed to find one of the few nice places in town.

This is Astro Coffee.

I started a conversation with someone here and asked him what there was to do around here, since Corktown was recommended on Reddit, and he told me about a drug house down the street. Not quite what I was looking for in terms of things to do, but it did tell me a little about the city.

There really isn't a lot to do in Detroit. In fact, I'm happy for Eminem and all the work he's done to get out of the city. I admire him more now. He is portrayed as quite talented in the movie; if he is actually able to make up raps on the spot in real life as quick-witted as the ones in the movie; more respect to him.

Below is the Detroit "People Mover". That is the actual name of their transit system, which is amazing. You get a seeing tour above the city for only $0.75 and it transports you to all the major buildings; which is about ten of them.

Here is a photo taken from the Detroit People Mover, so you can see what the city looks like.

I took it to get to the Renaissance Centre. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but according to the website, it had food, a movie theatre and shopping.

Of course the centre itself was partially a let down.

This CVS was exciting though.

CVS is a pharmacy in the U.S. which I had been reading about on one of the blogs I follow. The girl always writes about going to CVS to buy hair products or make-up, so naturally it was hyped up for me.

I went inside and it's like any other drug store. Except I was still excited about it because though U.S. and Canada are so close together, there are some products that Canada just doesn't carry. I love buying unique things/products and taking them back home as opposed to taking home some tacky souvenir store t-shirt or snow globe or key chain or fridge magnet, etc.

Anyway, here is the rest of the Renaissance Centre. It's a very pretty building structurally.

I think they have car shows there all the time because GM owns it.

This was the only car there I liked.

See? Isn't this a nice building?

I absolutely love the open concept of it all.

When you step outside, you see the Detroit river.

It's quite nice.

I was also hoping to visit the Heidelberg Project, but it sounded a little dangerous (the site says don't walk there, get a ride) and I didn't really want to pay the taxi guy $20 for a 10 minute drive.

I ended up hanging out at Renaissance Centre and taking the Detroit People Mover around twice, then headed to take a bus to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

There really isn't much to do around there to warrant a longer stay.

Day 5: A solo walk through Melbourne by Jessica Lee

I never really feel I've travelled to a city unless I navigate through it by myself on foot.

It was great having Tom, Lachlan and Scott showing me around the city and relying on them find places throughout this week but it was just too easy.

I needed to get lost and to panic and to find my own way through the transit system.

Today was the day.

Tom and Lachlan had gone back to their hometown and Scott just never came home one night- leaving me to explore the city on my own.

I had the idea that I wanted to go out for a nice fancy breakfast so I headed to Hardware Lane in the CBD, which is a cute little street with patio seating.

I never found the place I set out for (I wasn't really trying anyway), but I found out that Hardware Lane is one of my favourite places to shop.

It had a lot of camping/outdoor equipment shops. Lately, I've been into the whole camping/outdoor rock climbing adventure thing so naturally, shopping for camping gear excites me.

I just bought yet another backpack for hiking last week so I didn't really need anything (not urgently at least), but I really do like to look at things.

For example, I know in the near future that I am in the market to buy a warm sleeping bag (not the summer ones) and possibly a tent. I'm probably going to buy both these things back in Canada at Mountain Equipment Co-op just because it's cheaper there, but I like to be an informed shopper and to look around. I'm also in the market to get a bunch of climbing gear (carabiners, bolts, etc). It's nice to check out what colours everything comes in, how much it costs, if it's cheaper to buy in a bundle, etc. and take note.

I also found out they sell funky rock-climbing jewelry. (tiny carabiners or quick draw earrings!)

For everyone else not into camping gear, there's also a lovely selection of cute little stores scattered around the area.

Lately I have been interested in shopping for mugs and teacups and dinnerware so I only took photos of the aforementioned, however, in these stores, there was also stationary, clothing, bags, accessories, etc.

So far, I think I prefer Melbourne more than Sydney if we were to compare shopping.

I enjoy mall shopping, which Sydney represents well with Westfield, but I like shopping at quirky little independent shops like these in Melbourne much more.

More cute little stores:

(This was in Fitzroy)

I didn't want to be the weird girl taking photos of every store, so the photos I've shown you are only a small selection of the shopping here in Melbourne. Trust me, there's lots more.

After a while of shopping, I just gave up on breakfast and settled for lunch (it was 2 pm at the time).

I had Japanese Udon noodles with beef. I ate this on their patio while reading Kerouac's On the Road. It was perfect.

For those of you who don't know, On the Road is a classic travel novel written in the Beat generation. A must read for anyone backpacking. It really gets you into the mood of winging it when you're reading about the main character Sal, who hitchhikes his way across America with only $5 in his pocket. 

After that, I was ready for something sweet so I scouted out a coffee shop Scott was telling me about the other day, Manchester Press.

As far as indie coffee shops go, this coffee shop was pretty hidden and underground. The entrance for this coffee shop was in an alleyway and wasn't advertised from the street. You had to have heard about it from someone or read about it online.

Still, there was a good crowd going.

I ordered a mocha (I love chocolate too much) and was quite satisfied.

After that, I was on the road again.

It was 3 pm and I had a mission. I wanted to get to the Melbourne Museum before they closed at 5 pm.

This is one of the cool buildings I walked past on the way there.

The architecture in Melbourne is just lovely.

I got to the museum at 4 pm.

Here is a photo of the inside:

The outside of the museum is nicely designed as well but I couldn't get a decent photo since the building is so big. I couldn't fit everything into the frame. You will just have to take my word for it that the outside of the museum is nice as well.

Here is a photo of the exhibition building beside the museum. They were having a quilt exhibition. Needless to say I did not check it out.

 The insides of the Melbourne Museum were quite impressive. I really liked its minimalistic design.

It reminds me of the Ontario Science Centre we have back home.

Except this museum has a more modern design.

If I spent the whole day here, it would have been fun to bring a sketch book. But sadly, I do this thing called "waking up at 10 am and finally leaving the house at noon" and it really limited my day.

I really enjoyed the rock exhibit. It brought back memories of our "Rocks and Minerals" studies from grade 4. If I didn't like arts and culture and literature so much, I quite possibly would have become a geologist.

There is a great 10 minute 3D film in the rock exhibit. It's free to watch.

 I should also mention that if you have a student concession card, entrance to the museum is free!

I think this is great because it gives students an incentive to visit and see cool things, possibly learn a thing or two.

Look at this architecture:

I thought this room was the most impressive. I think these are all stuffed animals because they looked quite real from close up.

There was a psychology section in the museum and I flipped out! Loved it. I really wish I went there earlier before they shut at 5 pm.

There were also many other exhibits like the human body exhibit and a dinosaur bone exhibit. It would have been nice to visit with a science major and to feel their enthusiasm.

Look how freakin' artistic this museum is!

And here's a last photo I took while leaving.

This is Southern Cross station where I left from to go visit a friend in her hometown. I love the wavy detailing of the roof.

Melbourne, I am not done with you yet!

I am coming back sometime and going to:

1. Eat a really nice meal out for dinner or "tea" as Aussies call it
2. Go to the Australian Museum for Contemporary Art
3. Finish walking through Melbourne Museum
4. Go rock climbing at the gym below
5. Eat at Hardware Cafe
6. Rock climb at the Grampians