Montreal Getaway – Jan. 29-31, 2016

Places like Montreal are the reason why I regret not taking more French than I did back in high school. I mean I have up to grade 10, a measly year beyond what was required, but that’s hardly enough to get me to a conversational level. Luckily for me, the Montrealians (is that the term?) I encountered were at least bilingual. It warms my heart to know that independent businesses are able to thrive in a big city like this. I recently learned that Montreal is the second largest city in Canada, behind Toronto. During our weekend, I don’t think I saw a single Starbucks and maybe only a handful of Timmies and McDs. The trips here with the Western Mustang Band all those years ago for the St. Patrick’s Day parade seem like forever ago and I never got the chance to discover this city. Not that I think I really have, but this was certainly the first time I got to try. I did a little bit of research before our trip; which mostly consisted of reading blog posts of “15 up and coming restaurants of Montreal,” or “101 restaurants to try in Montreal before you die,” or “Must-try eats in Montreal you can check out in a weekend.” Very food-centric. But before eating our way through Montreal, there was an even more important reason for our visit.

Heather and I are both avid fans of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) and when I checked out the schedule for this season when it was released back in October and noticed our team, Les Canadiennes du Montreal were playing at home the weekend of our anniversary, I got planning. I’m not sure I could have anticipated a better set up of games than what ended up happening. Les Canadiennes were playing the Calgary Inferno and prior to the weekend they were both atop the league; Calgary was first and Montreal was second and only a couple of points separated the two. Montreal won both its games that weekend and took the lead; and man they were an intense pair of games. It was a privilege to watch so many Olympians (Shall I name a few? Wickenheiser, Ouellette, Poulin, Labonte, Chu, Mikkelson, Saulnier, Jenner, Larocque) take the ice together and it was nice to know our money was going towards an organization that needed support. Bonus, the proceeds from Saturday’s game and a silent auction went towards a charity for breast cancer research. We also took the opportunity to pick up some Les Canadiennes merch. Nothing like saving on some shipping! Turns out the youth XL hoodie fit Heather just fine so I guess that’s another way of saving money.

City planning in Montreal really is next level. As we made our way during the 6 hour bus ride from Toronto, I looked up public transit options and, lo and behold, there was a $13 weekend pass that went from 6pm Friday to 6am Monday. The subway and bus routes were comprehensive as was the companion app. There were buses along every major road running in a grid-like fashion AND they were dependably on time. I don’t think we once waited more than 10 minutes.

After settling in at our AirBnB (conveniently located across the street from the sport complex the games were being played at), we picked up some dinner and breakfast supplies at a nearby grocery store then headed over to St-Viateur for some fresh bagels.

The aroma of fresh baked bagels hits you as soon as you walk into the place. There are a couple of things in fridges you can buy but the bagels were the star. The place was simple, an isle to allow for a line-up and no room to loiter and a deep wood burning oven in the back that you can tell has been used lovingly for years. Bagels were made fresh on site all hours of the day since it’s open 24/7.

The next day we ventured out to a cafe we’d heard about and were dying to check out: Cafe 8 oz. on Rue Saint-Hubert, just a quick bus ride closer to the subway station we were near.

I think it was here that I started describing everything in Montreal as disgusting and gross because I couldn’t handle how charming this city was anymore. As the kids say these days, “this was my aesthetic AF.”

A short 10 minute walk from the cafe, we discovered a small shopping area that covered 4 or 5 blocks filled with restaurants, boutiques, and bookstores we could peruse. There was a Montreal smoked meat restaurant we wanted to check out and we were really glad that we ended up avoiding expensive touristy areas and got a chance to see more local culture. I know how massive smoked meat sandwiches can get so when we arrived at Le Roie Du Smoked Meat, I opted for the smoked meat sandwich on a bread roll… but still…

After lunch, Heather was on the hunt for more caffeine. So we hopped into a super cute cafe called Candide which we passed on the way to lunch. I think Heather was drawn in by the cute sheep theme while I’m a sucker for musical theatre references. She ordered a large mocha for us to share and got to choose the type of chocolate. She opted for the dark but it was really rich… she ended up drinking it by herself.

I mean look at that! Disgusting.

After the first game, we checked out this awesome microbrewery called Boswell for dinner. I got a sample of this beer that was super sour and I really didn’t enjoy it. The waitress was kind enough to give me a small taste so I didn’t waste it and I ended up getting a more familiar IPA. Unfortunately they were out of some of the daily specials that we wanted to try but we loved what we ended up getting just the same. I got a marinated grilled chicken wrap and some fries but I didn’t take a picture because I was so impressed with what Heather got.


Grilled shrimp on a bed of Moroccan quinoa

Aside from the hockey games, the highlight of our weekend in Montreal has to be our visit to Juliet et Chocolat. Located just south of The Village, we had no idea we were in for such a treat. This place really blew our socks off.

There is a small seating area to the left as you walk in and on the right is the welcome counter as well as the kitchen area where fresh crepes are being prepared; the smells really catch you while you wait to be seated. At around 10pm, the wait wasn’t too bad but they were certainly busy.

Their menu was the most varied dessert menu I’d ever seen. An entire section on hot chocolates made from chocolate from all over the world and at whatever percentage of darkness you’d want. Entire sections were dedicated to cake, brownies, crepes, waffles; even a section on platters of combinations of those sections or a variety of each different section. It took a long time to peruse through but we eventually managed to decide.

We left happily with our bellies full.

I think the aspect I enjoy most about the independent business culture of Montreal is the relationship developed between owner and customer as well as the responsibility they feel towards each other. There seems to be this unspoken promise amongst themselves that a certain standard must be kept in order for them to remain competitive with each other… and that standard is high. We ended up returning to Cafe 8 oz. on Sunday morning and they recognized us! I know this because he greeted us in English.

Montreal served to be a wonderful backdrop for our weekend together and we were impressed at how good everybody’s English was. After all, all of their signage and day-to-day things are in French and they’re under no obligation to know English either. Everyone was so nice too! I was especially impressed with the bus drivers, but then I thought, “it’s probably because no one treats them like shit here.” Good point.

I still have to get my fill of authentic Montreal-style poutine… didn’t end up having enough time to grab some before we had to catch our bus. I wish I took some more pictures of my surroundings too instead of just the food we were eating. Already looking forward to returning!


Social Media and Gaming Cleanse

Heyooo! It’s been a while! Almost two years, in fact. As I do every year, I make the new years resolution to try to write more because it’s something I’d really like to get into the habit of doing. I find it can be quite therapeutic to get my thoughts in writing either online or on paper. It must have something to do with slowing my thoughts down enough to write it out allowing me to process it that I find comforting because if I don’t, I find it’s hard for me to focus and organize myself.

So, let’s start this post with a journal I had to keep for the MIT course I’m taking this semester. It’s called “Social Media, Virtual Gaming, and Networked Life”. I remember being SO stoked to take it when I read about it last summer. Theeeeeen I realized that we would be putting ourselves through 5 days of restricting our own social media usage and gaming time. I was really bummed when I heard about it. The parameters were self-inflicted and we were to describe our own scope in order to see the impact this cleanse would have on us. In it, I also talk a little about my trip to Montreal over the weekend with Heather and I have some pictures uploaded on my computer so that post should be up some time next week, I hope. So that’s the gist of it and the rest is explained in the journal. Please enjoy.


Social Media and Gaming Cleanse: January 28 – February 2, 2016

First Entry:

            I start this cleanse with a sense of anxiety and trepidation. I’d like to think that the gaming aspect of this cleanse will mean more to me but maybe I think this way because gaming means more to me in general than social media does; not that I game more than I actively participate in social media. In reality, I game far less than I desire to because I’m unsure if I can achieve as much as I’d like to in a gaming session so I end up not doing anything. This has been true for me lately in terms of progress in Fallout 3. I spend approximately 5-15 minutes checking social media in the morning after waking up – my phone charger is right next to my bed so oftentimes I fall asleep with my phone next to me. Before going to bed, I spend approximately 2 hours on social media before falling asleep because I cannot keep my eyes open any longer. Every night, I reflect on how severe 2 hours a night is and the hours of sleep I lose because I don’t often start going through the apps on my phone systematically until 1am-ish. I’m very much hoping that this cleanse will force me out of this habit.

I will be spending a large half of the cleanse in Montreal (Friday – Sunday) with my girlfriend for our anniversary; so with respect to gaming, the only things I’ll be missing out on are my 3DS street passes and occasional mobile games to pass the time. I do think I will appreciate how much extra time I’ll have to spend with her without being preoccupied with status updates, Instagram posts, and the like. On Monday, I will be heading to my part time job for the evening and on Tuesday, she and I have plans to spend some time together at home since January has been a whirlwind of events for us. So as peeved as I am about missing the PC launch of Rise of the Tomb Raider or not having time to log onto Blade and Soul servers with my best friend, I think I’m just upset that I won’t have that option open to me. I believe that I’m actually quite disciplined with my gaming so I’m less concerned about what this short recess will mean to me.

My scope and limitations for social media for myself are quite severe. I have decided that during the cleanse I will not go on the following platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, Reddit, Tumblr, and WordPress for personal reasons. Texting and emailing is fine, as is my AirBnB app to message the homeowner in Montreal. As I’ll be in an unfamiliar city during the weekend, I’m allowing myself to visit the Facebook pages or Twitter feeds of the places or events I’ll be attending, or to do research on possible activities, like Yelp. I considered allowing myself an hour a day to peruse social media for myself… but knowing me, I’d end up using all of the time just before bed and possibly going longer than the time allotted and reason with myself that I would not go on the following night. Taking that further, I would then likely take up the full hour of the next day’s so that I wouldn’t have “lost out” on allowed time.

Day 1:

I’m noticing much more about the world around me now that I’m not consumed with thoughts about what people are doing back in Ontario and I’m more present in my surroundings. Did you know that public busses in Montreal do not announce the next stop on speakers? I wonder how much of an impact this has on citizens who have sight impairments.

The itch to go on social media is certainly still there. Prior to the start of the cleanse, I put all of the platforms I was restricting myself on in one folder and all of the games in another. Furthermore, I went into the settings to stop all notifications from popping up on my phone. The little red circle next to the app telling me I had a notification would drive me crazy. After eliminating that and not having the screen blinking all the time has certainly helped. On my laptop, the only change I made was to make my browser open a new tab every time I start Google Chrome instead of the preset tabs I had before. Unbeknownst to me, little Facebook pop-ups show up even if Facebook isn’t one of my open tabs, it just happens if I’m logged in. I haven’t clicked on those, however, and it hasn’t bothered me too much. I also don’t consider being aware that I have notifications to be “cheating” – of course I’m going to get a couple notifications.

I did look up a restaurant’s Facebook page earlier today and glimpsed at exactly how many notifications I had and similarly with my Twitter notifications too when I was looking at event feeds.. At least I didn’t clear them or look at what they were about. I hope this will get easier as the cleanse continues. I still find that my hand reflexively will unlock my phone and flick to the screen where my social media apps used to be.

Day 2:

            Today felt a little easier to manage. I realized one of the places where I go on social media without fail is in the bathroom. Without going into too much detail, my bathroom time has decreased. Maybe it’s this thing that young adults can’t deal with nowadays – the inability to allow their hands to be doing nothing. It’s like if someone had left their phone in their coat pocket and went to the bathroom, “oh no, what will I do with my time while I’m in here.” Turns out, just sitting there being present for the task at hand is an option too. By significantly reducing the time I’m spending on social media, the time I waste in general with things unrelated to social media has decreased as well.

On a continuing negative note, it’s still difficult to keep in touch with social media of events that I’m attending or people I would only be able to contact through Twitter. While traveling and eating my way through Montreal, I’ve found Yelp to be a huge help in finding places to eat away from touristy zones. While I’m still taking pictures of my food and enjoying it, I’m allowed more time to process my experiences at the restaurants. I think I will be collecting these pictures and writing a blog about my trip after the cleanse. I already feel as though this blog post will be infinitely more satisfying to write and read back to myself than a quick Instagram post. I also think it will be more engaging between myself and my “audience.” On a related note, I think I may post this journal series about my experience of this cleanse on my blog as well. Not looking forward to Monday and Tuesday as those will be my real challenges because I’m really not checking my social media as much as I did prior to the cleanse in my daily routine.

Day 3:

Went on my IGN app today to read some news about gaming before realizing that it was about gaming and one of the things we’re technically not supposed to do… Is reading about gaming still gaming? Anyway, I felt guilty about it and stopped after about 30 minutes of perusing articles and reviews. I mean, I was already on the site, might as well get my fill of interesting news while I was on there. Most of today was running around Montreal trying to get the last couple of things in that I wanted to do or see.

Day 4:

It’s becoming less easy to manage as I’m back in London and back to my regular routine. I’ve noticed that my general level of anxiety has gone up because I’m unable to stick to the routine I normally keep going through school, home, and work. My primary means of communication with one of my best friends is through Facebook chat due to its ease of sending links and quick correspondence. Without that, I feel like we’re on hold for a couple of days while we’re both collecting things to tell each other about when I go back on Facebook on Wednesday. Another aspect of this cleanse that’s been increasing my level of anxiety is a disconnect with the world around me or things I care about in general. Twitter and Youtube have been my main outlets for news for years since I’ve become disillusioned with mainstream media outlets. I also don’t have cable at my place because we’re all so dependent on the internet. I’ve always believed that the internet can provide anything I’d want, entertainment-wise, that TV, radio, newspapers, etc, can provide.

Or maybe I’m just doing this experiment wrong and the way I’m doing it now isn’t allowing me to live my life more fully and is actually showing me how integrated social media has become to my day-to-day.

Day 5:

The day is winding down and I find myself doing a mental countdown every time I remember to look at the clock. The anticipation of the clocking hitting 12:01am is almost as anxiety inducing as the cleanse itself. I’m proud of myself though; I did exactly what I set out to do and aside from trip and work related social media I was able to abstain from it for the duration of the cleanse. I know I set out with the goal of decreasing desire to impulsively check social media before bed, but I don’t think I achieved that goal… hopefully I’ve at least reduced it to less than 1 hour rather than the crazy 2 hours it was before.

Final Thoughts:

             I’m not sure what I was hoping to get out of this cleanse because I don’t think I got it. Instead, I noticed a general upward shift in my levels of anxiety as I felt less and less connected with media and news outlets that I cared about. It took away the routine I had developed over the years of when and how I would access information around me and the sudden and severe abstain from it took a toll on me mentally. I don’t think this is a sign of the importance of social media for me because it’s not like I’m constantly posting about what I do every day or my every thought on it all the time. Instead, I use social media as a means of communicating with close friends privately and to receive information. In that sense, I think the cleanse may have made an impact on me different than the one I think it was intended for: to live day-to-day without distractions of our virtual selves.

On the other hand, abstaining from gaming has had little effect on me since it was so short and I was so busy. If it had been longer and had I had copious amounts of free time, I think I would have been irked but dealt with it by reading or watching TV or movies, but this was of little consequence to me. This, however, did not make any real impact on me at all. The lack of phone games was a little annoying, but it wasn’t like I was playing Kim K every day and needed to keep my in-game relationships going so there was nothing pressing I needed to do.

I’m not sure if this is naive of me to think this way, but I really don’t think I am of the demographic that a social media and gaming cleanse would target. I enjoy living “on the grid” and it allows me to make informed decisions about my life, whether big or small.