Sunday, April 24, 2016

Asbestos - 45° 46' 21" N 71° 55' 59" W

Rural Québec
Today, we rented a car and took off into the Québec countryside.  Yes, this was part of our homework.  We have been learning directions so all navigation was carried out in French.  Unfortunately, we had not learned the word for u-turn which we would have found rather handy!

We headed east from Montréal and found ourselves in the Eastern Townships, a little pocket of Québec tucked up against the US border.  Beautiful countryside filled with vineyards, cycle paths, cosy accommodations and unique gourmet experiences (and precious memories to bring home if you believe the website!).  It was certainly very pretty.  Although we are right at the end of 'sugar season', we did see many maple trees tapped for syrup.  Gone are the days of the bucket at each individual tree - maple forests now sport poly tube that runs from tree to tree and along a central collection tube.  Not quite as romantic but would save the slog from tree to tree.

Le Pont Perrault
We also discovered a covered bridge!  Prior to the industrial age, most structures were made of wood and/or stone.  Wooden bridges built where the rain and snowfall was extensive tended to rot quickly if left uncovered.  The roof on a bridge meant the bridge was snow-free and therefore useable during the winter, as well.  This particular one, le pont Perreault, had a latticework frame of 2"x 8" beams attached to 8"x 8" beams inside.  Québec still boasts 82 covered bridges, in varying states of repair.  We explored le Pont Perrault that has undergone a full renovation and is absolutely stunning.

Stunning interior of the bridge

Further on down the road, we have the option of heading to Melbourne or Richmond.  Is our navigation that bad?!

We are in Québec, n'est-ce pas?

... and then we headed to Asbestos.  The town of Asbestos was named for the wonderful silicate material that is mined there.  Asbestos had the world's largest asbestos mine up until it was closed down in 2011.  It surprised me that asbestos was still being mined only a few years ago so I did a little research.  

Asbestos is not fully banned in Canada although it is highly regulated.  What really surprised me is that it is not banned in the US and is still commonly used products as clothing, pipeline wraps, vinyl floor tiles, millboards, cement pipes, disk brake pads, gaskets and roof coatings.  Blue asbestos was banned in Australia in 1967, the use of asbestos materials was banned from building products in 1989 but (and again I was surprised!) it was not until 2003 that its import, use and recycling was fully banned.  India, Indonesia, China, Russia and Brazil continue wide spread use of asbestos, including in building materials.

Despite it still in fairly common use, if I sat on the Asbestos town council, I would be pondering a name change!

Just take a deep breath of that fresh spring air!
Lunch was the Quèbec specialty poutine - and from the this region.  Depending on which source you credit, it was 'invented' in Victoriaville, Drummondville or Warwick!  For those unacquainted with the delicacy, poutine consists of french fries, cheese curds and gravy. 

Rubbing our bellies and questioning our wisdom in dining choices, we headed north-west to the Saint Lawrence and ambled along its banks back to Montréal.
The Saint Lawrence River
Some serious fresh water

Friday, April 22, 2016

Le parc Lafontaine - 45° 31' 47" N 73° 33'57" W

Time is flying by and week three of our course is done.  Our French has improved in leaps and bounds from where it was but we are nowhere near fluent - stilted conversational would be more apt - and about where we hoped we would be.  We continue to be impressed by the quality of instruction and surprised at how tired we are!  Three and a half hours of full engagement every morning is not what we have been used to for a while.

Montréal's weather is much prettier but not yet tropical.  We caught up with Michelle again this week.  She introduced us to yet another fun eatery before we spent the afternoon wandering around the Redpath Museum.  A beautiful building where you could imaging Indianan Jones and his father huddled over priceless relics.  The museum is owned by McGill University and is filled with natural history exibits from mummies, to shells to stuffed polar bears.

The Olympic Stadium

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dorval - 45° 25' 56" N 73° 49' 03" W

flash cards work well!
Our French is improving every day.  We are not quite chatting yet but are stumbling through some very useful sentences.  Mes sœurs sont rousses. Mon père est fou. and even Je n'ai pas envie de vin rouge parce que, j'ai la gueule de bois !

Despite the weather being bitterly cold earlier in the week,  we are loving Montréal. Bundled up, still in toques and gloves, we have been exploring the streets and neighbourhoods.  We are finding our waitstaff and our neighbours very patient when we explain that we are learning French and they humour our stumbling efforts.

As the week went on, the snow melted and spring started to arrive.  The grass is getting greener, the tennis court nets have been put up, the Bixi bikes are back and the grit is gradually being cleaned off the roads and paths.   And for the weekend, the temperatures soared allowing us to really get out and about.

We hiked to the top of Mont Royal quizzing each other on our verb conjugations and vocabulary.  Such joy to be out without the layers.  There were lots of families with little kids madly peddling on bright-coloured bikes, serious cyclists in bright-coloured lycra, runners, joggers and walkers. Every one out with big smiles on their faces.

the Atwater Marché
Today, we planned a cycling adventure.  Arriving at the Atwater Market at 10 am, we were pleased to find a mob of cheese shops, butchers and bakers.  A fresh baguette, some cheese and salami for lunch purchased, we headed to the bike rental shop to pick up our tandem.  Starting along the Lachine Canal, we loved riding by the old factories that are slowly being reclaimed as loft apartments, commercial and office space.  The whole area has been designated as a National Park and historic area, harking back to when Montréal was the second busiest port in North America (in the first half of the 20th century).  Rusty bridges, deteriorating concrete and big brick buildings make for a cool, post-industrial backdrop. 

As we rode past the locks, we loved seeing the tug pulleys and lock mechanisms.  There is some fabulous art installations along the canal too.  We rode as far as Dorval, passing some lovely homes facing onto the St. Lawrence River, then stopped for lunch at a park in Dorval.  Coming home, we rode along the Lachine Rapids, which confirmed to us why the Lachine Canal was built.  We were both impressed by the gumption of some surfers with 6 mil wetsuits, playing in some of the standing waves of the rapids.

A weekend in our shirtsleeves was just what we needed.

As it used to be in the 1920s
via the Montreal Museum of Archeology and History
The Lachine Canal now
we started noticing interesting public art
along the route
in English and French
cut into an iron sheet
surfing in single-digit water.  Crazy.
le moulin Fleming
a sound tube that connects to the empty grain
silos ACROSS THE CANAL and uses them
as an echo chamber. Make a noise, hear the result.
Trés cool.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Ave Papineau - 45° 31' 48" N 73° 33' 57" W

Le neige à la Parc Lafontaine
We are very much enjoying our French classes.  Our teacher, Thomas, is excellent, very funny and very effective.  He is French so is able to teach us the nuances between le québécoise and le français.  He has also been most effective at teaching us to swear in both too! We are the only Canadians in the class.  Our fellow students are made up of immigrants learning French (from Jordan, Australia, Brazil,  England) and those who have come to Montréal specifically to learn French (Brazil, USA, Italy, UK and NZ). Over half the class are not native English speakers which is a great help with accents and pronunciation.  We are both confident we will be able to speak and understand, read and write a sentence or two by the time we are finished.

Outside classes, we have plenty of homework and lots of vocabulary to learn. Our apartment is looking very festive with post-it notes stuck all around in an effort to facilitate our learning. We are lacking someone to correct our pronunciation so we will end up with weird anglo-Google Translate accents!

The weather has been quite bitter with a freezing wind whipping through and sub-zero temperatures.  Our desire to be out and about has therefore been dampened so we are spending a lot of time in the gym.  Today, we went to the Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal.  As with any contemporary art, some was fabulous and some, we failed to appreciate.

I particularly liked two video installations by Ragnar Kjartansson.  One called A Lot of Sorrow, was the performance of the song Sorrow by The National played over and over for six hours.  Whilst we did not watch the whole six hours, it was a great song and interesting to see the variations in each repetition. The second installation was The Visitors where a group of musicians played a song in a large mansion.  Each musician was in a different room (including one in the bath) and each was displayed on a different screen.  You were unable to see all the screens at once so you moved around. Très cool!

Sweating it at the gym. Not a bad view from 27th floor!
The pool on 27th floor of our apartment block.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Montréal - 45° 51' 34" N 73° 33' 54" W

An uneventful half-day of travel has brought us here to Le Plateau, an upscale neighborhood in Montréal.  The whole purpose of this trip is to improve on our baseline spoken french.  We have signed up for an intensive, three-and-a-half-hour-a-day immersion class here in la belle provence.

After arriving at the airport, we bought a monthly transit pass and made our way (via the airport bus) to our rented apartment on Papineau Avenue.  It is in a tired, 1960's era building on the 24th floor, with a stunning view east towards the Olympic Stadium and the St. Lawrence Seaway.  Patrick, our host, met us at the building and gave us a walk-through and the door keys.  We don't expect to see him again unless something goes terribly wrong.  There is a full kitchen, dishwasher, clothes washer/dryer.  We feel as though we've relocated here instead of being through-travelers.  There is a large park across the street; local grocer, many depanneurs, an ATM and two metro stops nearby.  We've realized that this four weeks is going to be the longest we've slept in one place since September of last year.

the view from our balcony

In two days we start the language classes.  Having french all around us will help us (hopefully) to soak in the new pronouns and verb conjugations, forcing us to adapt it into regular use.

After we had unpacked, a quick walk to the local market for breakfast supplies revealed row upon row of three-story walkups.  Sean loves the look of the iron staircases curving up to the first-above-ground-level floor.  There is a grittiness about this city famed for its crumbling concrete and deteriorating infrastructure.  Potholes are obvious.  Patches upon patches dot the sidewalk. A slight residue of litter tucked into the edges and corners of buildings gives the whole place a mature, non-nonchalant feel.  The fact that the skies are grey right now and the warmish spring days are about to give way to a colder week will add to the bleak ambiance of our surroundings.  This doesn't make Montreal a bad place to be - it just makes you want to be able break through its cold facade and discover the warm, jovial Quebecois party that *must* be happening behind doors that you haven't learned to open yet.

Ok, Montréal, we are here.  Show us what you've got.

By the way, this is our hundreth blog post.  We're not quite a year into our adventures.  Wonder what is next?