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

Photos: Climbing in Mont Orford, Magog and Sherbrooke ...and Washington D.C. by Jessica Lee

Now that it's pretty much summer, I felt it would be appropriate to finally put these photos up from last fall.

My friend Olivier who lives in Washington D.C. got a few days off work and drove home to visit his family in Magog, Quebec, for Canadian Thanksgiving. Along the way, he picked me up from Montreal.

Upon hiking into the forest, we came upon a French family with small children, pointing at a tree. They had spotted a porcupine.

I've never come across a porcupine in person before, but from this experience, I can tell you that they are very slow-moving, and relatively easy to photograph because of this. You just have to make sure to get them to face the camera.

We spent the rest of the day bouldering in the area, then packed up and headed to explore Magog.

We did a quick walk-through of Magog, then headed in for the night.

To be honest, I don't think I would ever visit Magog or Sherbrooke on my own if not for Olivier.

Both are charming little towns great for raising families, and if you'd like slower pace of life. What really struck me though, was meeting and being welcomed in by Olivier's family, and listening to their stories of living on a farm, being in the country and harvesting maple syrup (they own a few acres of sugar bushes). We ate turkey with all the trimmings, and I listened to the struggles of living on a farm from Olivier's brother and sister-in-law. This is stuff people pay for when they go on cabane a sucre tours, but here I was, getting to experience all of this just because I was a friend.

I think the most endearing thing to me was how Olivier's brother explained to his young children (under five) where the turkey came from. It was one of the turkeys on the farm and the children noticed the day before that one of the turkeys had gone missing. The children were the cutest things in the world when they played and it broke my heart that Olivier was working away in another city while his niece and nephew were growing up.

I should explain how I first met Olivier. We met when I couchsurfed in his home in Washington D.C. with another friend in the summer.

Many people are averse to welcoming strangers into their home and also staying in a stranger's house, but by being open, I got to experience this weekend in Magog and Sherbrooke; and also gained a new friend.

The next day, we woke up early to go canoeing, a popular outdoor Canadian pastime.

We spotted more wild life including a crane, which we followed around the lake while I took photos.

The weekend ended and Olivier had to go back to work in Washington. He offered to host me again in Washington D.C., and because I can't seem to turn down road trip offers, I went along for the 9 hour drive.

This brief trip gave me sunshine and the opportunity to finish browsing museums I didn't have enough time for the first time around.

I met Holden Caulfield in Montreal by Jessica Lee

I met Jack, 17, in Montreal, at a hostel party. He's originally from England, but left home at 15 and has been travelling around for a while. He had such an interesting story, I had to ask him for an interview. He is an idealistic, young Holden Caulfield-type who actually did what most of us wanted to do, but were too scared to do - and he's doing fine at it. 

Keep reading to see why he amazes me.


You left home when you were 15. Why and what have you been doing?

Well the reason why is kind of strange I think. I never wanted to travel my entire life but when I was 13 or 14, my mom told me we were going to live in California with my adoptive grandparents and we were really excited. I told all my friends ‘I’m going to live in California, it’s going to be amazing.’ And then one day she was like ‘Actually, it’s really hard to move to that country, let’s just move to Scotland instead.’ And I hated Scotland. So she moved my entire life, you know, I left all my friends behind. I didn’t know anybody. And she moved me to the shittiest place in the world. The second I was free I was like ‘I have to get out of here.’ I looked at the cheapest flights I could find and Cyprus was only 45 pounds, leaving in a week’s time. So I bought the ticket without telling my mom or dad and I started packing my things. And then two days before, I sat at the kitchen table and was like ‘Hey, can someone give me a lift to the airport tomorrow?’ ‘What? Why?’ ‘I just booked a flight to Cyprus.’ And then I told them what my plan was. And then I got to Cyprus, found a job at a meditation centre. I would assist classes and was a receptionist for a while and I did a lot of design work for them too. And after working there, that gave me enough money to travel the rest of Europe. I did all of Turkey with a girl – that’s a whole other story – we travelled together, and then I went to Bulgaria but didn’t like it, so we caught a flight from Istanbul to Portugal and we lived in Lagos for a bit, and then Spain. And then came back to England. Yeah, I came back to England for a month and she came back home to Canada and I did all of France, then I came here.

So that all happened when you were 15.

Yeah. I turned 16 in Cyprus, and when I turned 17, I was in Seville, Spain. And when I turn 18, I’ll be in Mexico.

How do your parents feel about all of this?

I think at first they were a bit confused. They were like ‘why is he going there on his own? Why isn’t he looking to do college courses?’ And they thought I was throwing away my life, you know? I always had aspirations to become a lawyer, in my mom’s footsteps. I had always been a perfect kid, like my entire life. I was exactly what they wanted and then one day I was just like ‘fuck that, I’m leaving now.’ And that really surprised them and my dad didn’t talk to me for a long time. My sister used to bitch about me to my grandparents. The whole family just sort of kicked me out, other than my mother. But I came back, I was living there for a month and everything seemed to be alright. They seemed to know I was going through some stuff at the moment and this is how I’m dealing with it. I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. There’s this whole back story to it and I feel like I’m saying the front of it, if you know what I mean. …they don’t like it, is what I’m trying to say. They don’t like it.

But you’re supporting yourself and you’re managing.

I think also they had a massive problem with me being with somebody older than me for most of my trip because they felt that she was taking advantage of me the entire time, just cause she was older. But it was a mutual relationship. But my mother worried because of that. She was like ‘what’s this weird 24 year old woman doing, taking my son around Europe?’

And you met your girlfriend at the time in Cyprus?

Yeah, a little town called Latchi, just outside of Cyprus. We worked in the same place and she got arrested accidentally. You know what Workaway is? She was over there on Workaway and she was volunteering. And someone saw a Canadian was working there without a VISA so they called immigration up and they arrested every single American, every single Australian in that place and took them to jail. And from that point on, they weren’t allowed to volunteer in Cyprus anymore. So she was like ‘I’ve nowhere to go’, but I was like ‘I’ve got an apartment, I’ve got a car, I’ve got food. I’ve got everything.’ So she just moved in with me. And we all lived in this apartment building and it was a crazy experience. Everything fell into place, you know? It was perfect.

Most kids your age, at 17, they’re just about to enter college, and they haven’t quite figured out how the world works yet, or how to take care of themselves but you’ve been on your own all this time. You seem to have everything figured out.

Maybe. Well I think a lot more than having a career or going to college is happiness, and that was probably one of the main reasons I left in the first place. In Scotland, I could have gotten a great uni[versity] degree and carried on with my life, but I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to throw this away just so I can have money’. ‘Cause I look at my dad and he has a lot of money and I look at my mom and she has a lot of money but constantly they’re stressed out and never happy; so I figured by travelling, it’ll give me some time to think, you know? ‘What do I really want?’ Instead of living up to society’s expectations, and that’s when I started getting into yoga, and that sort of opened up my mind to ‘you can live on the beach with no money and be ten times happier than somebody who owns half the world'. A lot of people will sort of hold a lot of negativity over life in general. They wake up in the morning and [will] be like ‘Oh, it’s freezing cold, I hate my job’, and all that kind of stuff. But none of it matters. I know this sounds weird to say, but we’re all going to dead soon right? And in the short time, why would you waste it doing something that you don’t want just so you can brag to your friends that you have a house and a kid and a wife who’s good looking? I think in a sense I’ve given up on life.

Like you’ve given up on that sort of life?

I’ve given up chasing something that other people are telling me I should want and chasing what I want personally instead. Like a relationship with a 24 year old woman seemed like the best thing in the entire world to me at the moment and I couldn’t stand England so I came here, which is insane. I had barely any money. It didn’t work out and I knew coming here it wouldn’t work out, but I still knew even if it doesn’t, it’s what I want right now.

You followed a woman to Edmonton but you knew it wouldn’t work out?

Yeah I had a sort of feeling. You know when you’re travelling with someone, you’re in a new city every day. Every person you meet is new to both of you, but when you go to a hometown, that’s her family, her friends who have known her her whole life, and here comes me, I’m an outsider. And I have this thing where I’m not old enough to be drinking with her friends. It was like she was looking after me more than I was looking after her. When we were travelling, I was responsible for her safety, I feel. I figured out where we were going, what we were doing. When she was at home, she didn’t need any of that and there just wasn’t anything between us when that was taken away, which was sad, but there are a lot of differences between a 24 year old and a 17 year old right? So what did I expect?

Going back to the idea of happiness, what are you going to chase in the future? What is your idea of a perfect day or a perfect lifestyle?

I think about it a lot. I believe- although I said earlier that career achievements don’t mean anything, I do believe you can gain some sense of happiness from that happiness. But I prefer to be content instead of short periods of happiness. You know whereas my dad, he might make much money and that will make him happy for a week and then he’ll be miserable again. Like I’d rather just live on a beach in Ecuador with my house I bought for $15,000 and surf every single day and host couchsurfers. I love people, that’s my favourite thing in the world, meeting, talking, getting a sense of their mentality, where they come from, how they were raised, their background. You know it’s like reading a new book every single time, coming across someone new. So I just want to have that new experience. Keep myself busy, with new experiences, new people, with just things I enjoy.

What are you planning to do after Montreal?

On the 24th of February, I fly to Denver, Colorado, and my adoptive Auntie lives there, so I’m going to stay there for a week and a half, and then I’m flying to Los Angeles. And then I’m going to meet my mom and we’re going to hang out for two weeks. And I have plans to go to Mexico with a girl from New York.

I have one last question for you. What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned since leaving home?

Just to be humble. That’s the best thing you can possibly do in your entire life. Coming from a rich English background, my entire life is constantly comparing your life to other people’s like ‘my friend Reese got an iPad and iPhone for Christmas and my mom only got me a shitty car’ or something like this. When you let go of all of that, you know what you have and appreciate it. Don’t brag.

Homelife by Jessica Lee

I recently moved into a flat in Montreal with two guys in their early twenties. We set up a camera one night while prepping for dinner, setting the timer to take a photo every two seconds. The photos tell a simple story, but shows a glimpse of contemporary life of three twenty-somethings, documentary-style. The dynamics and personalities of the house can be universally understood without captions, from troublemaker Çuk, to Julien, whom you barely see in the frame because he's on his feet, busy making dinner.

My best ride share experience and visiting a kennel in Quebec City by Jessica Lee

Last night was one of the luckiest nights of my life. 

My day started in a rush, as I had to quickly get myself ready for a day trip from Montreal to Quebec City. My friend Carole had this idea of living this winter in Northern Quebec, working as a husky sledding guide and I became intrigued. I went along for the job interview to satiate my curiosity.

After a lunch of poutine, the owner, Pascal, picked us up from Laurier Mall. We got into his pick-up truck which had an awful, muggy stench of dogs. Our noses soon acclimatized and I tried to follow the conversation while Carole and Pascal chatted in French.

We drove for about 15 minutes, then arrived at the kennel. We were greeted by the loud barking of 250+  dogs who were also jumping up and down, excited at seeing us. They were tied up to their posts row by row on a wide stretch of land.

After a brief tour, we were led into the staff's quarters where I experienced my first job interview almost entirely in French. While I had some trouble understanding some parts of the interview, I had no trouble understanding how hard we would be working if we decided to do the job.

Basically, you wake up each morning, chop up several pig or chicken carcasses with an axe to feed to the dogs, then you prepare the sleds by attaching the dogs to their places. It's a lot of physical work. You also do this job in subzero temperatures, in a smelly area, at minimal pay. But it's a cool experience, and would be perfect for dog lovers. 

I decided that it was more of Carole's dream and not quite mine, but I am glad I went to scope it out. I wasn't feeling very Chris McCandless that day.

After the kennel, we were driven back to Quebec City by one of the employees. It was almost 5 pm at that point. Carole had arranged a rideshare that left Quebec City at 7 pm, while I arranged mine for 11 pm because I wanted to spend some more time in Quebec City.

We had been driven to the proposed rideshare point, which is on Laurier Boulevard, but if you know Quebec City, you will know that Laurier Boulevard is just a strip of commercialized malls. There really isn't anything "cultural" or Quebec City-specific. The picturesque attractions of Quebec City are about a 18 minute car ride away, or an hour and a half walk away.

Here is where I made the best decision I made that day. Originally, since I was already in the rideshare meeting place (Laurier), I was going to spend the rest of my 6 hours in Quebec City on Laurier Boulevard, at a La Presse cafe, reading. It was cold and I wasn't going to be bothered walking an hour and a half and then back to the Old City (where the tourist attractions and beautiful buildings were). I had already been there this past summer with friends, and many times before. I had convinced myself I would be perfectly happy being in a coffee shop.

But then a bus drove right to where I was standing, and I just got on with everyone else. $2.60 later, and I was in the Old City, wandering around the old buildings and cute streets.

I found a cute diner and had my dinner in a booth, looking out into the street and remembering how just a few months earlier, I was here with friends and we were doing completely different things.

I was completely content at that point, walking to the Chateau Frontenac on quiet streets, street lamps glowing, gazing out to the water where a passenger ship was taking a party down the river. 

Then I got a text from my rideshare and the night got even better. 

Like most people from Quebec, my rideshare, Alex, was French, so he texted me in French. I thought I understood what he was saying, but actually it was an even better surprise.

Alex wrote that he was "en concert" at "petit champlain", so that he might be late to our agreed meeting location, which was Laurier Boulevard. I thought he was attending a rock concert with his friends, so I said "Ok, no problem." 

Earlier that day, my first rideshare told me his favourite part of Quebec City was Le Petit Champlain, so I was hoping to visit Le Petit Champain anyway. I asked Alex if I could meet him in Le Petit Champlain instead of heading back to Laurier since we were both here. He said yes, and that it would be even better if I could meet him at the concert place. I said why not and started walking. 

Here I was expecting some sort of crappy rock concert in a half-filled bar where the musicians aren't that great (I've experienced plenty of those in my music journalist days). But half way there, he texted me again and told me to tell the people at the door that I was with "le saxophonist" and to mention his name.

Using a rideshare is a mixed bag. You don't know who you're going to get! I didn't know my rideshare was playing at the concert or that he was a musician! I did a giddy jump right there on the steps down to Le Petit Champlain and almost lost my camera. Then, imagine my surprise when I walked to the address he gave me and it was the Le Theatre Petit Champlain! I had stumbled right into the International Quebec Jazz Festival and I was right on time.

I walked into the venue sat down at a table in a full theatre of 200. The lights dimmed and I listened to the singer deliver Billie Holiday tunes right on pitch to a five-piece band. Then Alex came on and stunned the audience with his saxophone solos. I think I fell in love right there- this amazing, handsome musician who was going to drive me home to Montreal later that night, and who was the reason why I was enjoying a free concert and free glass of white wine at the moment. I let the happy feeling linger and disappeared into the music. At the end, I stood up for a standing ovation and the band came on again.

Here is a photo to prove that this night really happened:

But of course, before this story sounds too much like a romance comedy, you have to know that offstage, even the coolest jazz musicians are sometimes boring just like everybody else. We ran out of things to talk about and the attraction died off after the first half hour we spent driving back to Montreal. Oh well. It was still an excellent night.

Here is a photo of the dinosaurs at Madrid 2.0 at around 1 am:

10 things you notice when you start working at a hostel by Jessica Lee

I started working and living at a hostel in Montreal last month as a hostess. It's a perfect place to meet lots of interesting people and enjoy life before diving into a career. In between cooking pancakes and partying with guests, here are a few things I picked up about the lifestyle in general:

10. There is always free stuff everywhere
Take for example my growing shampoo and body wash collection (now 5 bottles more than what I came with- I will never run out of shampoo here in Montreal!). Backpackers and travellers are constantly leaving things behind because they don't have room in their luggage, which is perfectly fine with me because now I don't have to buy shampoo (more money for poutine!).

9. It's not the most healthy lifestyle in the world
When you live at a hostel, part of the job is to party with the guests, which means going out many nights until late hours and drinking much more than you're used to at home. And because you're partying all the time, you don't get a lot of time to cook for yourself, so you end up eating whatever fast food you're able to grab along the way. On top of this, you're usually the first one to get up because you have to make the coffee/breakfast for the guests, which means you don't get a lot of sleep.

8. Quiet time is golden and you will come to crave it
It can get tiring being "on" all the time and because the hostel is your home, you can never have a quiet night "in" because there will usually be something you have to take care of, or because people will want to chat or party. There are times when I just want to sit down in the living room with a book without someone trying to strike up a conversation. That being said, hostels are great for bringing new people into your life because every day, a fresh batch of folks come in.

7. There is a wide variety of people out there 
I have never met a wider range of people than when I have been in hostels. Sure, usually the group is young and curious about the world, but you get to meet people from everywhere who have grown up with different world views and cultures. You get to hear about different perspectives and sometimes, a conversation with a stranger will change your life.

6. The best times to use wifi is 2 am, in the middle of the day when there is no one around, or at 5 am
As a digital professional, I use the Internet all the time to upload photos, check social media, talk to people or publish writing. After sharing wifi with so many people during peak hours, you really get to appreciate wifi at home when you're the only one using it.

5. Food goes missing all the time
There's no use getting upset. People are hungry and sometimes just pull things out of the fridge to eat. Just hide your food better next time.

4. People can be really gross
Honestly, where do all these odours come from?

3. The walls have eyes and ears (and at our hostel, cameras)
Lots of things happen around a hostel and sometimes you get to hear about them. When I first started, it was difficult getting used to the concept that I was never alone. It works the other way around too- when you live with a group of 50+ people in the same small quarters, you get to know much more than you want to about someone and news travels fast. It's difficult to maintain an air of mystery. Sometimes people purposely want you to know who they went home with because they make multiple hints (good for them), but I've come to appreciate discretion and subtlety.

2. You start to learn people really well
If you're a social scientist, people person, writer, or like to people watch, you will love being here. When you are surrounded by people all the time, you really get to start to know them. You get better at predicting what people will do and understanding motivations behind their behaviour. For example, when there are a pile of dirty dishes at the sink and a group of us, I can almost guess with perfect accuracy at who will do them first. 

1. People hook up A LOT
Hostels are pretty much the perfect place to be if you're looking for a series of short hook-ups or one-night-stands because people are always coming and leaving, and it's easy to meet people. If you're travelling alone and just want some company, you're also more likely to be open to advances. Basically, hostels are like a buffet for people looking to pick-up.

I know with some of these points, I sound bitter, but I've come to realize how fun and relaxed my job is compared to other hospitality jobs, or even corporate gigs. I appreciate the community of the hostel and the good people I work with. I know this moment in my life won't go on forever, so I'm going to enjoy all the people and fun times while they last. Would I recommend working at a hostel? This is my account of it and I think you should experience it for yourself if you're really curious. ;)

Montreal update #1 by Jessica Lee

It's mid-morning and I am sitting in a bustling cafe on rue Amherst in Montreal. I'm staring out into the street sipping my cappuccino. It has just started raining and I feel lucky to have just missed the downpour.

It's almost been a week since moving to Montreal and I have to say I am enjoying it a lot.

The French seem much friendlier than Torontonians but then again, maybe they are just smiling back at me.

Though I miss Toronto and my friends back home, I am quickly settling in to my new job and life.

I started work at a hostel as a host and it's been quite the learning opportunity. I mean, I've lived in hostels all over the world, but when you work at one, you get to see the same faces over and over and you sort of get used to them in your life. I hate saying goodbyes so I've been trying not to get to close to this ever-revolving cast of characters. My coworkers, however, I know I will regret them leaving at the end of summer when they all leave to warmer weather out west.

There is a lot to blog about in Montreal. Like new places I've discovered, life at the hostel, the people I've met and how inspired I've felt after meeting them. That will all come in time.

For now, I leave you with a neighbourhood walk around the Quartier de Spectacles area. Enjoy the photos and I will talk to you again soon!

Camping and climbing in Val David, Quebec by Jessica Lee

I have a feeling this summer's going to rock. On the Canada day weekend, the six of us, packed into a van and drove up to Val David, Quebec, an hour's drive away from Montreal. We kicked off the start of my new life in Montreal with an epic camping and climbing trip.

The camping wasn't too extreme, but it allowed us to fiddle with our tents and fire strikers.

We eventually used a lighter to get the fire started (but you're not supposed to know about that!).

After a night of roasting wieners and marshmallows, we woke up the next day and proceeded to climb.

We headed for a hike afterwards. Here is a photo of the boys looking lost.

And here is the breath-taking view of the top of Val David. We must have sat there for hours.

Afterwards, we grabbed some iced snacks. You will never guess what the dessert below is made out of. Okay, I will tell you, below we have tofu ice cream infused with blueberries and raspberries.

It tasted alright.

We did it all again the next day, then drove off to Montreal for some breakfast. In between all that, we found time to gaze up at the stars until early morning, swim in a gorgeous blue lake and watch dogs shake off water from their fur from a beach.

I would do it all again in a second.

Moving to Montreal: Here is my minimalist packing list by Jessica Lee

One of the things I discovered while I was backpacking is that I can definitely live with less items than I realize. I have so much stuff in Toronto, but actually, I think I only use about 5 percent of all I own once a week. This is because I have a lot of books and movies and CDs that don't get a lot of use. So in true minimalist fashion, I'm moving to Montreal and I'm only bringing these few items with me.

I think I'm under 100 items, which is pretty exciting because for the first time, I'm a true minimalist.

The idea behind having less stuff is so I can spend more time and money on things that matter to me. For example, because I have so little luggage, I can carry all my things with me walking everywhere instead of spending money on a cab to move things if I need to move. Also, it takes less time to pack and to keep track of.

Anyway, here is my list:
1. Shorts x2
2. Long sleeved shirt
3. Tank top
4. Lounge shorts
5. t-shirt for sleeping in x2
6. Dresses x 5
7. Swim suit
8. Hoodie
9. Lounge pants
10. Microfiber towel
11. Sweater that goes with my entire wardrobe (see how functional it is?)

12. $10 sneakers purchased in Australia (these will be discarded when they get old and grungy, making room in my luggage, but absolutely necessary because I need close-toed shoes for swing dancing and also for hiking to climbing sites)
13. Red flats (matches with my entire wardrobe and professional enough for office life)
14. Birkenstocks (comfy and somewhat more polished-looking than flip flops for days when I want my toes to feel the wind)
15. Flip-flops that I will throw away when they get old but essential for gross showers, swimming and camping

I kept make-up simple but only brought things I would use on a daily basis. I don't usually travel with a lot of make-up but since I'm staying in Montreal for a while, I do want to have fun sparkly things to put on my face when I go out and I don't want to buy new things when I have make-up already.

I brought big-sized toiletries since I won't be moving around a lot. What's important though is that everything fits inside a hanging toiletries bag for easy mobility.

Climbing gear: I'm going to be spending a lot of time climbing in Montreal and surrounding areas like Val David, but I'm only going to be bringing one climbing outfit because laundry machines exist and because I want to be as light as possible.

For entertainment and other gear, I have one book, a leather-bound journal, a lap top and charger, cell phone and charger and DSLR and charger. And of course, my wallet and passport.

Everything fits inside these three bags. The knapsack will be handy if I decide to get a bike in Montreal and the black purse will be my day bag. I'm also bringing a sleeping bag because I will be camping for a few days.

I've never had this little stuff before while transitioning to a new city, but I will let you know how it goes. Part of me feels like I don't have enough, but I also hate carrying around too many things.

Also, I know there's lots of cute boutique/vintage shops around Montreal so I'm probably going to shop a little, especially to replace my favourite rainbreaker from Simons which got stolen in Copenhagen that I bought in Montreal last year.

New adventures in Montreal by Jessica Lee

My bags are packed, I'm heading on a camping trip to Val David, Quebec, tomorrow, and then staying in Montreal indefinitely.

I'm hoping to improve my French, take in the Jazz Fest, and get involved in the communities in Montreal, in particular, the swing dancing scene, coffee shops and the rock climbing scene. I'm sad to say goodbye to my friends in Toronto and all the new people I've met these past few months. It feels like every time I get settled into a city and really get to know some people, I am moving again. But I mean, it's self-imposed, so I can't really complain too much. I have itchy, traveller's feet. I need to change my environment every once in a while. One day, I will pick a nice city, marry a charming man, buy a house and settle down, but right now is not the time.

I need to keep moving.

Right now, it feels exactly like how it felt when I graduated high school, like the possibilities are endless. It's a peaceful, liberating feeling. I am not quite sure how my summer will turn out, but I will keep you posted.

See you all on the other side!

Oh, and if you're curious about the photo, I took it a few years ago in Indonesia. You can read about it here.

Montreal: food edition by Jessica Lee

I lost a bit of weight and became slimmer after being in Asia for the past couple of weeks and eating their small portioned meals, backpacking everywhere and generally being active.

Now that I'm back in Canada, things are about to change given that I just spent the last couple of days in Montreal aka the land of eating fatty foods.

The first day in Montreal, we had poutine with lots of toppings. This was supposed to be a "snack" before dinner at 5 pm but we underestimated its filling power and didn't eat anything else the rest of the night.

Here we are at La Banquise:

It was a difficult decision in choosing which poutine to get because there were so many and they all sounded so tasty. We ended up getting La Matty (mushrooms, onions, bacon and green peppers) in the end and adding sausages for an extra $1.50.

Here is the menu so you can look at it for yourself.

This place I can honestly say was the best poutine I've ever had. Or maybe I think it's the best I've ever had because I haven't had poutine in so long.

Either way, the fries were crunchy and not burnt, the gravy was plentiful and the cheese was perfect. The onions mushrooms and meat just added to the tastiness.

Afterwards we headed to the newly opened Candy Bar on Mont-Royale for drinks with my second cousin Anita and her husband Lincoln.

It was a magical place where the bar was built out of lego pieces while the bar gave off an 80's diner vibe. There were gumball machines in each booth and the decor was a fabulous pink.

We opted for the patio seating and they handed us the menu which was a giant lollipop.

Drinks all had a candy theme to it and came with candy attached as a garnish. I had a hard time choosing what to get. In the end it was a toss up between Bailey's with a shot of espresso and some other fancy thing, a lemon-lime cocktail and a blue raspberry drink.

I ended up ordering the lime/lemon concoction and it had sour gummies on the side. Anita's blue raspberry drink came with a ring pop, Lincoln's drink came with pop rocks and Marc's drink probably came with candy as well but he ate it too quickly and I never got to see what it was.

The next night, we headed to Schwartz's Bifteck for some authentic smoked Montreal meat.

The place is a cozy little deli reminds me of 80's New York sandwich shops.

See the lead photo for what the smoked meat sandwich looks like.

The meat was so tasty, it melted in your mouth!

You can choose cuts of lean, a bit of fat or fatty. We choose fatty because for me, I believe in all or nothing- and for Marc, he just likes fatty foods. This is a guy who fries his toast with all of the remaining bacon fat.

 Marc wanted to come back the next day for another sandwich. It was just that good. I will definitely miss this place in Toronto, but hopefully Caplansky's, a smoked meat deli in Toronto, will have similar quality.

For our final day in Montreal, after a day of shopping we decided to head to the Burger Bar because we originally liked its menu and patio seating.

So we sat.

And sat.

And sat...

The table next to us received their meals and one of them ordered a poutine burger, which I snapped a photo of.

Our stomaches grumbled and we salivated.

We patiently waited for close to an hour for our food. We asked the waitress to check on our food and she came back and told us that there was a "kitchen error" and that our food would be out in six minutes or so.

After ten minutes with nothing to show on our tables, we had had enough.

We didn't get to try their burgers but we were pissed off that our food never came so we left.

I think in this instance, when the restaurant messes up your order and makes the customer wait meaninglessly for an hour, they should offer the customers free appetizers or drinks. It's a part of doing business.

The waitress wasn't the greatest at doing her job because even after serving us, she spoke in French to us, when she should have remembered we were Anglophones. And most importantly she should have been checking on us and realizing that we were waiting for close to an hour for our food.

I don't think it's rude that we left.

We went to Dunn's Famous Smoked Meat where our food was delivered in fifteen minutes (possibly less).

I had the smoked meat poutine, which was amazing. The gravy is BBQ flavoured and just delicious.

Marc had the smoked meat platter. I nabbed a bit of the meat and it is soft and tasty. I could definitely eat it every day.

We ended our last meal in Montreal strong.

We didn't get to try bagels or croissants during our short stay in this fair city, but there's always next time.

A bike tour of Montreal by Jessica Lee

Marc and I took an expedition on our bicyclettes yesterday to explore the rest of downtown Montreal.

Biking along the St. Lawrence river had an old romantic feel to it, and it felt incredibly French. All we were missing was the picnic basket filled with gourmet cheeses and a baguette.

Going everywhere by bike was also very efficient as well. We saw three times as much as we would have had we walked on foot.

Here is Marc next to some pretty cool buildings.

There are actually lots of architecturally interesting buildings in downtown Montreal.

I loved how old architecture is mixed with modern styles.

We stopped by the Old Port, which reminded me of Toronto's Distillery District in the way that the floors were cobblestone and the buildings were older.

I had some maple taffy, which is really just maple syrup in thickened form thrown over ice and then rolled onto a stick. Like poutine, it is a very tasty tourist trap/one of the things you should try should you head to Quebec.

It starts out looking like this:

Then you roll it up...

And you put it in your mouth.

A magician's show was just setting up as I started my taffy so we stayed for a while and watched.

Then we headed into the artists corridor to look at some art.

The place was definitely touristy, but I loved the elegant buildings and the feeling one got when walking beside stone walls and on top of cobblestone- like you're in a classy European city.

If you popped into any of the stores you would see something like this: lovely small boutiques.

Or touristy t-shirts.

I loved the cafe scene as well. I was really tempted to stop for a cuppa or a creme de glace but we had a schedule and a lot of things to do.

Before that though, can I show you a few kitschy things that I adored?

Here ya go!

This sign:

And this fabulous t-shirt that was ridiculously priced.

Even though Old Port was incredibly consumerist and tourist-geared, I soaked up every minute of being there.

Soon it was time to head back on the bike trail.

There is this amazing trail that follows the river from Old Port to Atwater Market, which has lovely views of the city. In my mind, I was in a French movie and Le Denicheur was playing while I was biking down these gorgeous trails.

Please open that above link and listen by the way. It really sets the mood for the rest of this blog post and the photos.

We stopped over a bridge and saw these sets of buildings. I have no clue what they are but they look like apartments or dorm rooms. I wonder what the insides look like.

Here is a further away view so you can see the boats.

We took a few photos and then we were off again.

We made it to the Atwater Market, which is a farmer's market filled with yummy goods.

I bought a tin can of maple syrup for $6.50! What a deal considering fake maple syrup in grocery stores costs something like $4.50.

We wandered into a chocolate shop where I wanted to eat everything.

They had ice cream.

Lots of chocolate of course.

And truffles!

Here is a close-up of one of the truffles.

And this was the dessert I really wanted to try but it was really hot and I was thirsty and fleur de sel, which is salted caramel, would have been much too sweet.

We took the metro back downtown and walked into a student protest.

They had pots and pans and were banging away. It was quite loud.

Then a bit further down, we walked into the film festival where they were playing a silent film.

One of the things I love about Montreal is that like Toronto, there is always something happening in the city. Back when I lived in Sydney, we went to the library for entertainment.

I'm kidding obviously.

But most of the nightlife in Sydney revolved around clubs and if you didn't like clubbing, then have a nice life.

I'm not sure where this place is, but we discovered the area by biking near it then seeing it.

It was perfect. There was just the right amount of people in it so that the scene was lively but not too many so that we couldn't bike through.

Montreal is a pretty decent city to bike through.

If you have a free day, I definitely recommend exploring by bike.

What the French people do on Sunday afternoons by Jessica Lee

"Hey, let's follow those hippies!"


And so began our jaunt into Plateau de Mont-Royale.

We started our lazy Sunday by rolling out of bed at half-past noon, then grabbing a brunch at Laurier, a place known for its chicken meals.

Afterwards we strolled towards the Plateau and saw a bunch of hippies, whom we decided to follow.

They led us to these people:

There was a full-on medieval sword fight happening in the middle of Mont-Royale, which I thought was kind of random, but really cool at the same time.

Apparently this is what the French people of Canada do on Sunday mornings.

There was also a crowd of spectators watching the action.

I was fascinated by the French people, so I just walked around taking photos. I loved the relaxed vibe and how everyone was so happy.


There were a couple of slack lines set up, and lots of people just sitting on the hill having picnics.

This is quite different from what happens on Sundays in Toronto. You would never see such a huge crowd of people in the park in Toronto.

There was music coming from near the statue, so we decided to head over to that direction.

As we walked closer, we saw that there was a market set up around the area.

The way things were laid down on the ground reminded me of traveling to Asian countries where people would peddle their goods on the street and then grab everything in a hurry if cops came around.

But I think its legal to do this in Montreal, because everyone seemed quite relaxed.

This was my favourite part.

A group of people had gathered and were playing bongo drums and dancing.

It was quite organic. I wish I knew the story behind this. No one was busking or making money, but apparently there is a gathering like this every Sunday.

I think everyone is here just for the good energy and vibes. I joined in for the dance because everyone who was dancing looked like they were having more fun than the people watching, and its true, you have more fun dancing than watching from the sidelines.

This is my friend Mark and I. I decided that since we are in Montreal, I am going to call him Marc (with a C) because it seems more French.

I liked how the park had a festival atmosphere even though this was ongoing and happened every Sunday.

This was a couple I spotted whom I just had to get a photo of:

We hiked to the top of Mont-Royale and got a fantastic view of the whole city.

Here is another one:

There was a square at the top, which was gorgeous. I suspect it would be lovely to have a jazz or swing dance here on a summer night with a live band playing. If you look beyond the square, there is the view of the whole city.

There were lots of couples which I thought was cute. I imagine the square to be a great place to propose to someone. I'm not sure if people already do that (like how everyone proposes on the C.N. Tower in Toronto), but if it isn't already a thing, it should be.

After a while we started hiking down and found a pretty neat art project.

It was a book that someone had sewn around trees.

Marc called it a "photographer's trap" because around four photographers stopped to take photos of it during the short while we were there.

Right before dinner, we headed to Juliette et Chocolat for something sweet.

I loved the elaborate menu, so I took a few photos so you can look at it too.

I like how there is a variety of everything. It makes me want to learn more about chocolate.

I ordered the salted caramel chocolate drink. I felt like I was going to get chocolate poisoning- it was that thick and chocolate-y. Absolutely delicious though.

We both had crepes, though there were plenty of other things on the menu I wanted to try like the brownies or the tiramisu or even the fondue. Maybe another day?

Montreal, briefly by Jessica Lee

When we stepped into Montreal, the sun was just setting and the night life was revving up. Montreal is known for its night life and food apparently, so I thought it would only be fitting to check it out.

We stumbled into an indy car festival, right on the street which I thought was awesome. They closed down a street so people could look at cars. Street festivals are one of my favourite things to attend so Montreal was already growing on me.

My absolute favourite thing about Montreal however was all the French people!

I loved how they would speak in French with me because they assumed I was francophone. I had read articles in the paper before about how it was difficult for an anglophone person to fit in with the culture and how they feel alienated and such. Controversial former Globe and Mail columnist Jan Wong even suggested the Polytechnique Montreal, Concordia University and Dawson College massacres were because the three shooters didn't fit in.

I also enjoyed their French accents when they would switch to English to talk to me once they realized my French level was subpar. Montreal feels more like a European city than a Canadian one.

This was a free concert by Karl Wolf, a Canadian singer most known for his hit "Africa". It was just down the road from where we ate.

In the morning we got out of bed relatively early (9 am), but Montreal turns out to be somewhat laid back. Rarely anything was open for breakfast even though it was a Friday.

I thought the below bank was somewhat fishy. Bank of Toronto in Montreal? What is going on!

We walked up Rue Catherine, which is one of the main streets (kind of like Queen St. in Toronto) and sat down at Cacao, a chocolate cafe.

They had about 30 different varieties of chocolate from different regions in the world. I was in love.

We ordered breakfast, but it also came with a dipping plate with fruit and melted chocolate. It was really delicious.

I also ordered a Belgian hot chocolate which was extremely rich and lovely.

Here is the "lazy breakfast":

I didn't do much in Montreal before having to leave and go back to Toronto, but I'm heading up there next week again. More to follow...

Wine and a wedding at Riviere du Chene, Quebec by Jessica Lee

I spent my weekend at Riviere du Chene, a winery just outside of Montreal for my second cousin's wedding.

I absolutely loved the whole feel of the wedding. It was romantic and like out of a fairytale. It was probably the most beautiful wedding I've ever been to.

There was a lovely vine field which looked amazing with the sunset as a backdrop.

For some reason I never thought of Quebec as a wine region. I clearly don't know enough about my own country.

Here is a photo of the happy couple right after everything was made official:

I think it was the little details that made the wedding really shine.

After the ceremony, guests were treated to carriage rides through the fields, which was wonderful and magical; albeit a little bumpy.

Here is a photo from inside the carriage:

And what it looks like on the outside:

What really impressed me however was the elaborate dessert table and the food, which was actually really good. From my experience, wedding food usually isn't the greatest, but eating here was like ordering dishes out of a Michelin restaurant. Everything was done perfectly to the smallest detail.

We had sorbet right after the appetizer but before the main course, which I found quite exciting because I usually eat sorbet for dessert. I found out later it was served after the appetizer to clear the palate for the main course. 

I had the veal grenadines layered saffron apples and red beet straws. Other choices were duck aiguillettes with flavoured salt, strawberries and rhubarb in balsamic vinegar or pangasius napoleon with leek marmalade and roasted red peppers, velvety spinach soup with nutmeg. Real fancy, not typical of usual banquet hall catering.

 Some photos of the dessert table: Everything tasted delicious though my favourites were the cupcakes and the macaroons. I wanted to eat all the macaroons but I left some for the other guests because I didn't want to pig out too much. Besides, the people sitting next to the dessert table had already seen me walk to and from the dessert table three times already. The best flavours were buttercream and pistachio.

Like I said before, everything was perfectly assembled down to the smallest detail. Check out the ribbon on the plate of these cake pops. The contrasting pink and blue designs are perfect as well.

This is what I wore:

 And a photo of the newlyweds with my mom and I:

Congrats again, Anita and Lincoln!