18 Jul

Montreal, QC, Canada, 16-18 July 2012

Long, leisurely drive up and out of NH and into the Green Mountain State of Vermont then onwards and upwards into Canada. I was quite interested as the language changed to French with English second, and the road markings changed to metric, confirming we has chnged to a metric and bilingual country. The flag of Quebec County, with it's white cross on a blue background, four fleur-de-lys in each corner, reminded me so much of the pre revolutionary French flag. Arrive Montreal. Words cannot describe the hotel we were booked into. The only ones that fitted the situation were "Get me to the InterContinental and make it snappy!"
The Intercontinental was much better, although with a certain bohemian touch that you rarely see in such hotels. We were on the 25th floor and had an excellent view of, well, of a pretty grimy drab expanse of rooftops, a flour mill and some grey buildings. We went to explore. We were on the cusp of the Financial District and the Vieux Port, the original port area that like most city wharves are being revived as a trendy cultural area. The Financial District is full of tall grey buildings, but no surprise there. The Vieux Port is half way between cultured, quaint, colourful and just plain not finished yet. We had an explore in the humid night, had ice cream and beer and vodka and tonics and it mellowed. (Or we did.) Jacques Cartier Square is nice with pubs and restaurants on the square and in the side streets.
The next day we got up early and had a swim, I had a great sauna, and then we went to a truly excellent breakfast deli called Le Cartet, where I had a very healthy meal of yoghurt, poached egg, salad, cheese and figs. Ann had the "sucre" breakfast of pancakes and French toast etc. when the waitress brought it to the table she automatically gave the sugary one to me and the healthy one to Ann!

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After that we went to the Centre d'histoire de Montréal, three floors of permanent and temporary exhibits offer a rich experience of the eventful and sometimes turbulent adventures of Canada's first metropolis. I have to say that the first floor, the story of Montreal, was interesting but oddly didn't address the key points of the city and region, the Anglo-French relationship. First the colony was French and then, with no explanation, it's British. It is said that one can only write of history when it ceases to be politics… The second floor was an excellent exhibition of the effect of 1950s and 60s top down town planning of mega projects and the communities that were destroyed with no consultation with or thought of the citizens that lived in them. the top floor was about the experiences of refugees and immigrants in Montreal, where 1 in 10 are immigrants and 1 in 2 are children of migrants.

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Then we went along the streets to the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal, which is the 1829 cathedral built on the same spot as the first church by the Catholic missionaries that settled the original city. It is a spectacular church, both modern and richly Catholic in style at the same time. A wonderful piece of architecture that is spoilt by the fact that you have to pay to go in. No, not a donation or a suggested donation, just an entry fee We then called it a day on culture and took a taxi to the Downtown shopping district, had a nice sandwich at the Nickel diner and did some shopping in the underground city. We only saw the wider city when we went up Mont Royal on the last day and saw how vast it is, and then drive thru the McGill University area which is more upmarket.

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We never really gelled with Montreal and yet it may have been a combination of the poor quality hotel we first met, the poor weather, or the grey drabness. The city, especially near us, has been blighted by 60s concrete buildings of no merit, there are still empty buildings, vacant lots and other problems caused by failed town planning. On the other hand we found the Montrealers 100% friendly and welcoming, quite relaxed to use French or English as appropriate, and helpful at all times. The city is Francophone, and it is clear that effort has been made to enforce a "French first" approach, but I can see the reasons for that, and I have no problems with a community adopting bilingualism. We also heard some very negative comments about Francophone Quebecois from people, that they refused to speak English, and also that they didn't speak proper French but some obscure patois. I have a problem with that on two levels, first who is to say which is the correct 'French' [and don't say the Academie Francaise], and secondly, everyone we spoke to in Montreal spoke very canonical straightforward French. Ann spoke to people happily and even I, with my dreadful French, could understand a lot more than I let on. The Montreal flag is also interesting, in that it is clearly a mix of the English flag, the lily of France, the thistle of Scotland, the rose of England and the shamrock of Ireland. Even the Quebec motto 'Je me souviens", translated as "I remember" has a lovely ambiguity in that Quebec is a Francophone society, but one that had fought for the monarchy against the American invaders in 1812 and has prospered within the Empire and Commonwealth.


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12 Jul

12th July 2012: Somewhere over the Atlantic, BA0213, heading to Boston Logan Airport from Heathrow.

We really left packing until the last minute for this trip. I should say that I did, since Ann has had all her dresses and accompanying accessories on the upstairs spare room bed for at least a fortnight and maybe longer. My problem is that I travel so much that I am always packing or returning, even the week before our trip I was in Brussels most of the week. Ah well, less of my travel chores, and back to packing. We packed Tuesday, and ended up with one very large 32kg suitcase, two medium 22-27kg ones and then we packed the smaller into a larger one so we have a reserve suitcase. We were going to use two little backpacks for hand luggage but at the last minute we pulled a small cabin legal suitcase down from the loft and popped my camera bag, Ann's MacBook Air and her GHD hair straighteners in there. We have a few shoulder bags and collapsible holdalls in reserved in case we go shopping mad.

So what was packed? Well it's a challenge, to have enough and yet not have too much. We're not young backpackers, we're flying Business class after all, and yet we also don't want to be too encumbered. We've probably overpacked, but I think 7 weeks on the road does require 7 t-shirts, 7 shorts, 7 shirts, 4 trousers, 1 jacket, 3 jumpers, 10 socks, and gazillions of underpants! Ann's priorities were different, I packed one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals, Ann has four, but her dresses weigh so much less than mine. Then enough toiletries to keep going, duplicates in case of bag loss, and ditto for the scoops of medication we take, and it was time for the fun stuff…

I mean, of course, the tech. Nowadays that also incorporates media, written and visual, and photography. The Kindles are the bedrock of literature, both well loaded with SF, thrillers, detective fiction and fantasy, readable in any light, almost weightless and small enough to take anywhere. The iPad follows, I have it synced to Dropbox for all our travel paperwork and a variety of travel and mapping apps all installed, allowing our documentation to be acessible. In addition is provides a pool of movies and TV shows, from Walking Dead Season 2 to Father Ted, a few computer games (Majesty and Bards Tale), and is a very capable browser and editor (I am typing this on QuickOffice). I have a good collection of roleplaying games as pdf files on the ipad, since they work better on a tablet. Ann's MacBook Air is along for keyboard based computing and also for photo collection and editing. We have a TravelTalk sim for low cost roaming phone calls (free incoming in all our countries save for Japan and China), a Boingo account for roaming wifi, and a proxy server service in case we need to pretend to be in the UK, such as for BBC Iplayer.

I sold my Leica to switch to a digital compact system camera, and so my Panasonic Lumix GF1, a micro four/thirds camera, is along to provide photography with a 20mm f1.7 lens, a lovely retro styled Olympus 45mm f1.8 and a 14-45mm f4.5 zoom lens. With an electronic viewfinder and one hell of a flash gun, I have no excuse to take pictures. I am looking forward to that, I have had no time at all for photography at all this year.

So, I never took a gap year, and now I am doing the round the world in a very "executive" way. I make no apologies, it's how we want to do it and at our age, why the hell not? We've saved the money and the hotel reward points for years, and if we don't do it now, then mabe never, so Bon Voyage to us, and I hope one or two of us might enjoy reading our adventures as the blog goes global..

Tom and Ann

P.S. As usual I will be reviewing hotels and restaurants and stuff over on Trip Advisor, I may or may not copy here, or just add the links. My picture albums at Facebook and Picasaweb will be slowly topped up, and linked from here. Roleplaying nonsense will be posted here and to my BBS, The Tavern.

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16 Sep

well another year starts

Yes. You heard me right. My year kinda starts in September. Not because the academic year does but because all my mainland European colleagues return from vacation, all the research projects fire up and everyone gets ready to write proposals for the EU FP7 transport deadline in December. So, my diary is now chock a block until Xmas and anything I didn’t do in my summer to do list probably won’t be done until the New Year. Weirdly as my intellectual mind speeds up I also start to want to play or run more rpgs, which is ironic given my availability falls away as well. I shall try and solve that this year with using Skype to run a Traveller game, but I need players and they all seem very busy too.
Our house sale fell through, so I suspect we are not moving to Tyne and Wear until 2012, and that the nice house we found in Gateshead is lost to us. I shall miss not being in the same city as Matthew, and the extra travel to manage my research team is not welcome.
Our eldest son has deployed to Afghanistan again. Third tour. First as infantry, second as a pilot, third as infantry again. Wish him luck. Our youngest is doing a “teaching English to speakers of other languages” course and loving the intensive work. Then he has his final year of his Philosophy degree to complete.
Ann is great and apart from a bad foot is healthy. I am fat but content at work and very happy in my home life.
So.. Happy New Year!

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