Unicycles, plants, history, and poutine…Montreal.

The start of the Flatland Competition, UNICON 17, at the 1976 Olympic Stadium Esplanade (Montreal).
The start of the Flatland Competition, UNICON 17, at the 1976 Olympic Stadium Esplanade (Montreal).

It seems like it’s been a long time since I blogged.  Truth be told, I didn’t forget, I was on vacation, so I let most of my social media fall by the wayside.   So now it feels like I’m way behind and that my garden is out of control…  What that means is that I may blog 2 weeks in a row because I also wanted to blog about our trip.

We recently visited Montreal, Quebec for 2 weeks.  It was a (somewhat) working vacation because me, The Goat, and a few friends, from our unicycling club, The Butler Wobble, were attending and competing in the Unicycling World Championships (UNICON).  This was UNICON-17.  UNICON is held every other year in a different location and draws something like 1,200 unicyclists from around the world.

This UNICON was being hosted by Montreal, and Montreal is a day’s drive away, which made the trip that much more accessible for us and so it became our first time attending UNICON.  And I have to say, I really enjoyed both UNICON and Montreal.  I would like to go back to Montreal, but doubt I’ll ever squeeze it into my schedule again.  As for UNICON, we’ll have to see where it is held in the future…

First of all, we stayed in the HoMa (Hochelaga-Maisonnevue) section of Montreal.  Which is partially the area surrounding the 1976 Olympic Stadium, so the stadium was often in view.  We could see it from our room and at many of the events, some of which were held in the stadium’s Esplanade (outside exhibit areas).  The distinctive structure helped make it easy for us to orient ourselves when walking about the area, because the tower towered above most everything.

One of the more unique structural features of Montreal’s residential areas are the staircases.  Yep, staircases.  You see, according to the information I found, many of theses buildings were built at a time when the building codes required the homes be set back a distance from the street.  So to save space in the apartments, the staircases were put on the outside of the buildings.  This lends to a very distinctive look… beautiful, creative, and a great way to create the feeling of front porches and neighborhood space.  I really enjoyed looking at all the different styles but I couldn’t help wondering about shoveling snow and ice in the winter.

The Goat in orange, me in the center, Danielle on the right. Bike lanes and staircases visible in pic too! Photo by Isaac McKeever.

Another thing I really, really, liked about Montreal was how easy it was to get around, despite the detours and French signs.  Their bicycle (or unicycle in this case) routes and pedestrian network was amazing!  They have a metro system (bus and subway) that seemed fairly easy and affordable to use.  We used it to get to “Old Montreal” and many of us used the bike lanes to get around while we were in town.  Between the metro, bike lanes and gas at $6 +/- a gallon, it was easy to understand why so many people in Montreal use alternative transportation when they can.  As an occasional bike commuter myself, it was easy to imagine myself bike commuting a lot more than I do now and I suffered some minor culture shock when I returned home and saw all the SUVs, passenger trucks, and giant cars on the road.

One of the many bonsai at the Montreal Botanical Garden
One of the many bonsai at the Montreal Botanical Garden

Also in the vicinity of the HoMa area where we stayed is the Montreal Botanical Garden.  I was able to take an afternoon and visit the Garden.  Let me mention, if you find yourself in Montreal, you need to visit the Botanical Garden.  It was amazing, and huge – 190 acres!  I only wandered through about half of the grounds, completely missing their arboretum and Native Garden, but I did get to see their amazing collection of bonsai, one of them is 300 years old!

Their grounds were quite impressive and it inspired me to continue my gardening at home, especially when I noticed that many of their perennial and shrub combinations were similar to mine.  I was interested in their outdoor gardens because they use plants that can survive their winters, and as our winters here get colder and more snowy, it’s good to see familiar options and how they look and act in an environment similar to mine.  I took a ton of pictures of the gardens, just because I could.

Montreal Botanical Garden, August 2014.
Montreal Botanical Garden, August 2014.

We also spent a day visiting “Old Montreal”.  This is the area of the city near one of the ports.  It’s the oldest area and full of tourist things, old buildings, cobblestone streets, museums,  and festivals and fairs.  Our friends, Isaac and Steve the pirate, enjoyed some of the museums and history while The Goat and I  just wandered up and down the cobble stone streets.   I think we were all happy not to have a schedule that day.

There was a culinary festival celebrating local foods being held at the port on the day we were visiting Old Montreal.  So we ate lunch that day by wandering through the food booths and deciding which eclair, BBQ, cheese, sandwich or sausage we should purchase.  We ate our goodies while sitting under a tree in the park.  Dinner was at a restaurant on one of the cobble stone side streets, and it wasn’t poutine!

Oh, poutine.   Poutine is a Canadian junk/comfort food that modern myth claims to have been created somewhere in Quebec in the 1950’s.  It consists of fries smothered in a “light” gravy and with cheese curds.  Then there are the options…plain poutine is as described, but there are restaurants where you can order specialty poutines, like Thai chicken, Honky Tonk BBQ, or sausage.  As someone who can’t eat milk or wheat, which is often used in gravy making, the novelty of this dish was lost on me.   And quite frankly, many of my traveling companions were not that impressed.  But I will admit, the poutine places do make decent plain frites (fries).  Which should go with out saying, since fries are one of the 3 main ingredients in poutine.  Like Philly Cheese steaks, southern BBQ or Tex-Mex, I think poutine is a food that may be nationally recognized, but it’s regionally perfected and preferred.

Lisa in "Old Montreal" the balls represent grazing bison.  All I see is yarn.
Lisa in “Old Montreal” the balls represent grazing bison. All I see is yarn.

The Goat and I enjoyed our trip.  It was a great time competing, and visiting with old and new friends in the unicycling community.  The Goat set some personal records and placed well.  I finished reasonably well in my events too.  But personally, I enjoyed visiting and learning about a new culture almost just as much.  I liked the bilingual aspect of Montreal because even though all the signs are in French and the first language spoken by most is French, there were enough English and English speakers to help us navigate and learn some French vocabulary.

For some reason, I always enjoy my trips to Canada.  And this trip was no exception.  I’m glad our friend Hugo and Benoit decided to host UNICON-17 and I’m thankful for the people of Montreal for opening up and sharing their city with all of us.  Way to go neighbors to the North, but you can keep your poutine (although I think it would be a huge hit here in the land of pierogies and fries on sandwiches).