Sunday, January 31, 2010

Back to Vietnam by way of China... Part I

For my way back to Vietnam from Montreal, I found a cheap flight to Beijing. I decided to take a couple days in China, before using Aeroplan points to get to Hanoi. I got a 6-month multiple-entry visa, thinking that maybe I would want to take another trip to Guangzhou for another shopping spree someday.

Somehow I got a reputation at work now, where everyone thinks I love China. I don`t love China. But it's true that not many travellers in Southeast Asia (or Hanoi) choose to visit China, opting instead for the cheaper countries in the region. Despite the fact that China is about 3 hours from Hanoi.

Still a bit jet lagged from the 11-hour time difference and the 23 hour voyage, I spent the first day exploring the Forbidden City. Judging by the amount of people in this Forbidden City (photo above), it's obviously no longer forbidden! I walked around the site with one of those recording devices you can rent, where some lady with a weird British/Chinese account talks about the history in an unadjustably high volume. I still can't believe there is a city of 13 million people with a winter climate similar to Montréal. I always gave the smallish population of Montréal the climate-excuse. But this seems to defy that, so back to the drawing board (is the French language the next best excuse?).

The next day I explored the Great Wall of China with my Couchsurfing companion. It was much more impressive than I had originally thought. Also, much more dangerous. Some parts of the wall had a steep incline and no steps. I had to hold on to a railing and slowly slide my body down. I don't understand how the Chinese would have been able to run up these inclines to attack the invading Mongolians. At that point I couldn't even figure out how I would be able to survive another kilometre... with steeper inclines in the horizon, and being to far in to turn around (this, paired with my fear of heights). I persevered. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

Back to Montreal - Aux Deux Maries

After skating I brought the group of seven people all the way to Aux Deux Maries, a cafe on the corner of Marie-Anne and Saint-Denis. I have always loved going there, if only to watch my non-vegan dairy-drinking friends indulge in amazing-sounding coffee concoctions. I just had black coffee, as they didn't offer soya milk.

Now that I'm no longer vegan (and ironically, they now offer soymilk), I am finally able to indulge.

I had a double espresso that was pulled through with an orange rind. Orange zest was sprinkled on top of the whipped cream and was dusted with cinnamon. Somehow cream or creme fraiche was incorporated into this.

They also roast their own coffee, offering a huge list of coffees from around the world.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back to Montreal - Skating

For 3 years I lived within a 10 minute walk to Parc Lafontaine, one of Montreal's largest urban parks. I was with someone for quite a while who lived on the other side of the park, and wouldn't miss the opportunity to pass through it on the way to his house. There are trees wide enough to make me believe they were in that very spot in 1642 when Montreal was founded.

Despite walking through the park about 300 times in my lifetime and having about 3 picnics (one particular second date comes to mind), I have never been skating on the pond-cum-skating rink in winter. Something about -20 degree days and "I'll do it next week" mentality.

And so I finally did it.

Me, holding Robbie up. He hadn't skated since 1993.

Didn't notice how cold it was until someone said 'can you believe it's -27 today?' Then I started to feel cold.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Back to Montreal - Harvey's

Veggie burgers in Hanoi lack a lot. I have yet to come across a veggie burger there that isn't some sort of sloppy mishmash of vegetables, batter and usually cheese (yuck!). Oh. And fried.

Even outside Vietnam, no veggie burger comes close to what you can get at Harvey's. Canada's answer to fast-food giants Burger King and McDonald's, Harvey's grills your burger on an open flame right in front of your eyes. And they have stations set up where you can dictate to a worker exactly what you want going into your burger.

My veggie burger was constructed with tomatoes, onions, pickles, hot peppers, lettuce, mustard, and barbecue sauce all stacked between a whole wheat bun. I skipped the fries so I could stuff down two of these. Here's some photos to help you salivate.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Back to Montreal - Quartier des Spectacles

If you heard me talk about Montreal while I was in Hanoi (and believe me, I know you did), I would have told you how there were a couple things I hated missing.

The first would be the launch of the Bixi system, the first large-scale bicycle sharing system in North America, and also the most successful bike-sharing system to date. Unfortunately, the bikes aren't there during the winter, so any evidence of this has been hidden by 1 metre of snow.

The second would be the new Place des festivals. A new public space in downtown Montreal. Also partly hidden by snow, I didn't let the cold weather distract me from experiencing this new public space.

Here I am walking through a new installation in the square, called champs de pixels. As one walks through the snowy paths, little pixel-lights light up, following your steps. I came across it late at night, and thought it looked amazing with the areas new lighting scheme.