Walking and Hitching through Montreal and Toronto with Veronique
Everyone woke up late at Noemie's place in Quebec City, I showered and sat in the living room listing to the buskers play some guitar and whatnot. I had Montreal on my mind, my second stop in Canada. I twirled a drum stick around for a while and eventually people started getting up and out for the day, I got my backpack together and said various goodbyes as I headed down the hill and towards the road to Montreal.
After some walking I found a place to start hitchhiking from, my first ride came quickly and I was off. He spoke french with only a hint of English, we did our best to communicate through the language barrier and he dropped me off somewhere outside the city a little ways. The next guy to pick me up was only going 10 kilometers and spoke less English than the first guy, he just cranked the music, which was in English actually, and dropped me off shortly.
I thumbed the oncoming traffic until I saw a car pulling over behind me a good ways and ran for it, by the time I got to the car he was out and opening his trunk for my bag and I said hey and thanks for stopping. "This is English you're speaking? OK", and we hopped in, he was bilingual and I was happy to be able to communicate better with him, and he was going all the way to Montreal.
He was a happy guy in nature, we cruised down the road enjoying good conversation. We got to a gas station and he made sure I got something to eat, a good sandwich, a drink and even a chocolate bar. "If you'd said no", he started, referring to the him asking me I wanted anything, "I'd of gotten you something anyway and made sure you ate, I'd hope someone would do the same for my kid", he laughed. He pointed across the street at a Walmart, "Do you need anything, anything at all? Food for the road, some clothes?", I thanked him but declined, at that moment I had everything I could need. "This is my pleasure, believe me, P-L-E-A-S-U-R-E", laughing again, mentioning the concept of karma in so many words.
He worked with IT by trade, but had dreams to become a wine sommelier, which is someone who comes to your table and suggests what wine would go good with your meal. He was on his way home to a town near Ottawa, but had a hotel in Montreal for the night to break up the drive a bit, he was coming from a conference outside Quebec City. Talk of wine lead to talk of beer, he told me about a good spot in Montreal near where I was headed and that he'd love to buy me a round and some food if I was up for it, of course I was.
He parked at a garage in downtown Montreal and we got to walking, some streets were blocked off to traffic for a "Just for laughs" festival. The streets were flooded with people, bands playing and goofy costume folk on stilts. We went to a brewery in the thick of it called "Les 3 Brasseurs", which translates to "The 3 Brewers". He ordered us both the samplers and a sort of thin crusted pizza. We chowed down and enjoyed our selection of beers, after which he had me decide which was my favorite and ordered me a pint of it, their Brown.
We left their and went straight to a cart and got plastic cups of Labbat Bleue to carry around as we enjoyed various music going on. There was a van rigged up with instruments that we watched and listened to for a while. He suggested we could get a bunch of beer and head to the hotel room, but I figured I should be getting to Vero's house, she was my couchsurfing host in town I hadn't yet met, and in fact likely didn't know I was in town quite yet. Eager to keep the night going, he suggested we go to the sheesha spot and have another beer, which we did.
Finally we'd expired the night and it was getting close to midnight, so he drove me to Vero's house so I could see if she was still up. Just before this he stopped at a bank and handed me $40 in Canadian money insisting I have a good time. We got to Vero's address, I knocked on the door and got no answer, we started to dial her number when she came opening the door peeking down the street. I said goodbye to my new french friend who'd treated me so well, and entered into Vero's life.
She'd been sleeping, but couldn't care less, we sat up and talked for a while getting to know each other a bit. She proclaimed herself as a bit shy, and wasn't entirely confident with her english, but I understood her fine and loved talking with her. Soon we both went to sleep with the gentle rain coming down outside.
Vero made coffee and breakfast in the morning, we sat in her backyard which was surprisingly big being that it was in the middle of downtown Montreal. She had work in an hour or so, she worked on the street finding children and reading books to them, she absolutely loved it and smiled hugely every time she mentioned it. We went walking into the thick of the action on Ste-Cathrine and all the way down to the waterfront. Eventually Vero had to go to work, so I wandered back the way we came while she hopped on her bike with her books to find some kids.
I did some pretty big loops walking and explored all the streets I could, after some hours I settled at a little cafe to enjoy a chocolate croissant and check some messages. I noticed that Kate Micucci was in town playing her show all week, I'd briefly met her in LA almost 2 years ago. She's a comedic musician mostly with a knack for building sand castles. The theatre she was playing was just a few blocks away, I went there to check times and ticket prices, then headed back to Vero's place.
Vero got a nice little meal together, we enjoyed that with some beers she pulled from her fridge. She too loved beer, mostly dark beers, I liked that about her. We decided to seek out a good beer and got to walking. Along the way she ran into a couple she knew, the four of us met at a little pub 10 minutes later and had a round of drinks.
We split off from them and headed back to Vero's place, grabbing a six pack of some buckwheat beers at the corner store. We were looking for an IPA, Vero had never had a proper one and barely even heard of such a thing, we couldn't find one though, that side of Canada seemed to be oblivious to the beauty of the bitter style beers. We sat in her backyard enjoying the beers and talking for a while, I counted 10 stars in the sky, some barely visible due to the bright lights of the city.
In the morning I heard her wake up and slip out the front door, I got up and took a shower. She'd gone to get syrup, Quebec is known for having some of the best in the world, and she already had what was needed for pancakes. I got to making the pancakes, as best as I could, she laughed at me in the process, but we got to smothering them in the tasty syrup and chowing down, I don't think they were half bad myself.
We walked to a nearby cafe she frequents to get free wireless internet, we hung there for a while until she had to go to work. I went back to her place to find her still there, she'd got caught up on a phone call and was now running a little late, which didn't seem to matter too much. She pulled out a map and showed me Mont Royal, telling me if I climbed to the top I could see the whole city.
I walked the city streets towards the park, some promoters were on the street passing out free microwavable rice and I grabbed a pack. I found my way to the base of the little mountain, it was bigger than I'd expected, but not too big. I skipped the windy walking/bike path and went straight up it, taking off a sweaty shirt halfway. From various spots I could see the whole city like Vero had said, from a few different vantage points.
I made my way down and headed for the theater, the ticket to Kate's show was $15, but I figured that's why I'd been given $40 the other day from Jean, the guy who drove me into town. I made it just in time and found a seat, the show was an hour and a pretty good one. She switched between playing some quirky tunes and telling some stories, she even had a guy with puppets playing to some of her songs. She ended the show with a great song I'd heard her play before, Walking in Los Angeles.
I opened the door to Vero's house and was greeted by the wonderful aroma of sauce cooking, she had pasta on the stove underway and a smile on her face. We chowed down on it and made plans to go to a brew pub she loved specifically so I could try their stout. I loved talking with her, she was firey for sure, subdued only by her vocabulary in English, I wished I could have spoke french to hear her let everything out. At the same time, our conversations were forced to be rooted in the essence of our feelings and ideas, which made for a deeper understanding in this way, where facial ticks and the look of the eyes said more than any french or english. Whenever something was good or I'd find the word in English she was looking for she'd growl out an enthusiastic "Yes!" as her eyes would light up into mine, it was addictive.
We wandered through the "Just for laughs" street festival, stopping to watch the musical van again, and then on to the outdoor patio at the brew pub. We both ordered the stout, she was right, it was really good. The people next to us got up and left, leaving almost a full beer behind, we caught each other's eyes with the same though. As soon as they were gone for sure we snagged the beer to enjoy once our stout glasses were empty.
We found ourselves in her backyard again at the table enjoying the last few beers from her fridge. The sky was was a dark gray pink of cloud cover one sees in almost any city, we sat talking about life, what mattered, what didn't, both of which apply to everything depending on the person and their mood.
I mentioned my morning plans to hitchhike to Toronto, "Can I go with you?", she asked me as the night weaned down. She'd never been other than passing through, I told her she was more than welcome to come, and we went to sleep with the day ahead of us.
She had work early in the morning until sometime after noon. I stayed back and showered and cleaned things up so we'd be ready to hit the road when she got back. We quickly made a "Toronto" sign and were out the door. A subway took us to a bus, the bus took us a long ways to the far eastern outskirts of town where we got to walking to the freeway. We stood by highway 20 for just a little bit, but the shoulder was narrow making it difficult for any cars to stop. A mile up the road we stood at highway 40 instead, which I mistakenly thought went all the way to Toronto. There was plenty of room for cars to stop and a lot more traffic as well. Despite this, we waited around an hour until a truck pulled over for us.
The trucker was headed for Vancouver and informed us we were on the wrong road, but the split back to the 20, the good road, was 5 kilometers up and he would take us there. "I usually don't pick up guys, never when they're by themselves", he said, "I picked up a gay once, never again". He spoke with Vero in french, he wished we were heading all the way west with him, it would have been a hell of a ride if we were going that far. He gave Vero his phone number in case she ever needed a ride in the future, and dropped us off.
Back on the right road, we got our next ride fairly quickly from a couple headed just a little ways up the road. For most of the ride Vero and the two all spoke in French, apparently they were starting a publishing house, and with Vero being a writer, they hit it off right away, they even discovered they had a common friend. They made a few attempts to speak in English and I told them a bit about myself, but mostly I was content to listen to the french fly back and forth.
They dropped us off along the freeway and almost instantly another car pulled over, Vero hopped in front and me in the backseat. Our driver was a bit of an older hippie headed just north of Toronto to finish his classes in solar panel technology. Vero discovered she had a common friend with this guy too. We spoke in english mostly, once in a while he'd make a laughing remark in French to her I could never understand. He told us about a couple who'd been living with him while building a full blown tipi, explaining how simply efficient it was.
As we got closer he said he'd be heading back on sunday night and wouldn't mind giving us a ride, I was of course going to continue on, but Vero jumped at the chance. He dropped us off north of the city and they setup a time on sunday to meet and head back to Montreal.
From a pay phone I called Jasmine, the couchsurfing host I'd set up for Toronto. No one picked up and I left a message, it was around 11pm on this Friday night. We got to walking down Yonge street towards the city deciding we'd figure out the whole sleeping thing one way or another for the night. It was a long walk, we kept on going, garbage cans were surrounded from litter, the garbage men had been on strike in Toronto for over a month. We walked by one bar that bragged to have craft brews, we kept on walking and decided to stop at the next one we saw, which we did.
We grabbed a sort of generic beer and were happy to set our bags down and drink in the first sips of Toronto. We still weren't sure how close we were to the downtown, but there was a Subway, Tim Hortons and a Starbucks about every three blocks, we laughed every time. We nursed our beers and got to walking again, it was about 2am anyhow which was last call in this city.
We at last made it into the downtown, drunks were spilling out of bars and things were alive still. Eventually the road stopped at the water, "The longest road in the world" we were told about Yonge street, and this was inscribed on the sidewalk at the end of it too. We'd walked about 15 kilometers of it this night. We flipped a coin in our heads and chose to walk to our right along the waterfront road.
Passing a hotdog stand a guy shouted at us, "Are you backpackers?", he was amongst a group of button shirted 30 year old drunk guys. "We are hammered!", one said, another came over devouring a hotdog, "I can't believe stumbled upon such a great restaurant this time of night!", he said. His friend replied, "It's a hotdog cart you idiot".
They were amused by the backpackers that had walked into their night, one guy was more amused with Vero and her accent. "Say 'three'", he said. "Tree", she responded. He laughed, "now say 'tree'", and again she said "Tree", he laughed again. One guy started throwing his cell phone across the street, at walls and on the ground laughing hysterically as it shattered in more pieces, we got to walking away and closer to the water, now in search of a place to sleep.
We came across a giant cement ball along the water we could walk inside, it wasn't a great place to sleep, but we laughed about it wondering about it's purpose. We decided that we'd head back to one of the benches we'd passed, we wandered over and found a good one facing the water in a darker spot than the rest. We munched on some granola bars from my bag and took in the view of the misty water while reflecting on the day of hitching and walking. Soon we were pulling out our sleeping bags, I slept sitting up for a while, but soon found myself stretching out just under the bench while she did the same on the bench, sleep...
I loosely woke up hearing people taking their morning walks, no one seeming to notice or care about us sleeping there. Finally a dog came close to investigate while his owner scolded him for waking us up, but it was time to do so anyhow. We smiled at the site of the water in the sun lit morning, we packed our sleeping bags up and got to walking again.
We were in search of some internet access to see what the deal was with finding Jasmine, we found a coffee shop to do so. I had a message from her with the address to go to, and she was online so I talked to her and let her know we were on our way. We walked about 4 kilometers across over there, nothing compared to the night before, passing through sections of the city like chinatown.
Jasmine wasn't there, but a guy staying there let us in, he seemed confused. We saw a few other people pass by and give a quick hello, it seemed to be a busy place. We were happy to find our seats on the comfy couch, Vero even got some sleep in. Jasmine soon arrived and we talked for a bit, she was feeling a night of drinking and disappeared into the house, Vero and I were happy to close our eyes again and catch up on a little more sleep.
In less than an hour we were ready to fill our bellies with something, the rain was pounding down but we went out into it loosely aiming for chinatown. We didn't see anything cheap right away, but I'd remembered seeing a sign on the walk over that said 2 for $1, I didn't know know what there was 2 of, but I knew it was food and we headed for it. It turned out to be a chineese bakery, and it was actually 3 buns for a dollar, and they were incredibly good. We got six each, and with that I found a new resource that was probably hidden in every chinatown.
We stepped back out into the heavier rain headed back to Jasmine's place, stopping for six pack at the government run LCBO liquor store. The first choice we saw was Mill Street's Coffee Porter, "This is the beer we're getting", Vero smiled, I knew she was right, but the beer lover in me made me peruse the entire selection anyhow only to come to the original conclusion.
We met Josh on Jasmine's porch coming back, he was visiting from England for a week of relaxation, Jasmie has stayed with him at his home once before. We enjoyed our beers on the porch watching the rain, it soon stopped as the sun broke out of the clouds.
We discovered there was a jazz festival across town and decided to go. We brown bagged a couple coffee porters and started walking, all and all it was about 10 kilometers to get there. The festival itself was on a couple kilometers of the street that was closed off to traffic, but flooded with people coming for the good music. Every half block or so was another band setup playing. Vero had the same mindset as me, we didn't stop to listen to any one band, just kept walking and digging whatever music was in earshot each moment.
We reached the end and headed down towards the beach, walking along the boardwalk with the moon lit waves splashing the beach. We paused on a bench, we'd done a lot of walking and knew we had a lot more ahead of us to get back to Jasmine's place. We got up and got to walking, about 8 kilometers or more, which is about 5 miles, across the city and to Jasmine's doorstep. Waiting for us was a note saying they were at a bar a few blocks away and would be back at 2am, it was just after 1am.
We grabbed a slice of pizza and headed for the bar, we didn't see Jasmine or anyone else we recognized. We were set on a beer however, so we went across the street to a place that was more our scene and grabbed a stout, another Mill Street Brewery beer, like the coffee porter we got before, it was good. We soldiered on back to Jasmine's place, everyone was passed out or in the process of doing so, we joined them in this.
In the morning Vero was ready to go right away, one last morning in Toronto before heading back to her home in Montreal. We went first to the chineese bakery again, she made a stop for some fruit too and we filled our bellies in a nearby park. Artists were painting pictures of trees nearby, a girl playing frisbee, and black squirells with blonde tails begging for food from the painters.
We got to walking, again, and wandered the Toronto streets. The time was coming near where she'd have to catch a subway to the gas station to rendesvous with Louie, the guy who picked us up hitchhiking and offered her a ride back to Montreal.
My mind was on one last beer, I scanned every bar we passed searching for something good. I finally saw Alexander Keith's IPA in a window, I'd been promising Vero that IPA was something of greatness and this was a chance to prove it. The place was closed, but just down the street we wandered into a bar to default to Guiness, but they too had Alexander Keith, I bought a couple pints. It was a sad excuse for an IPA, it tasted like a budweiser at best, I told her to disregard it. To Vero, this made the "perfect trip", imperfect, and imperfection is what she craved in life, so I told her that actually, in that way, it was perfect afterall.
I walked her to the subway and said goodbyes, planting the idea of California in her head as a place to visit soon with promises of good beer, a legitimate IPA to try. I headed back for Jasmine's place, shaking into something new.
I fired up the free rice I'd gotten on the streets on Montreal and enjoyed the little meal. Next thing, there were plans for a sort of dinner party at her place, a few of them went out for supplies. Jasmine came back throwing a bag down shouting about a drum circle down the street and rushed as many of us out the door as she could. We caught the tail end of a big group of street drummers on the closed down street, then headed back to her place.
A brazillian couple was staying there too, a bite of the leechee fruit reminded them of a vodka drink, so the three of us got to peeling and using the last of the vodka and gin to make a similar drink. The night roared on with good conversation and a big meal that we enjoyed while sitting on pillows circled in the living room.
Another great trip through a different part of Canada, next is the hitchhike down towards Arizona and on to Mexico.