Category Archives: Canada

A Month in Review – Feabhra 2015

Holy Shit! I haven’t blogged in forever. It’s been that kind of month I suppose. A buttload of stuff has happened to be honest. The Canadian adventure has certainly kicked up a gear. Some of the highlights include:

  • Getting a job (I start with eXplorance as a Professional Services Consultant tomorrow, 2 March)
  • Passing my driving test (I shall soon have a Quebec licence in my hands once they post it out to me – I passed the test last Thursday, 26 February)
  • Meeting the amazing Ms. Panti in person at an event in Concordia organised by the lovely Emer O’Toole
  • Driving to Vermont in the states to visit the Bostonians
  • Finishing my French class
  • Hitting the top of Mont Royal
  • Enjoying the fuck out of my remaining time off before the world of work begins again.

I’ll be honest, I’m looking forward to putting my shoulder to the proverbial grindstone again. I’ll still be working in the 3rd level sphere, just for a private company who make Learning Experience Management software (stuff for helping universities and other organisations manage their feedback, questionnaire and survey systems). It’s a bit nerve-making, the prospect of a new job. But I’m up for the challenge.

And seeming as this is a monthly review post here’s how I’m getting on with my 2015 goals and objectives.

Drinking

Well February was definitely not a dry month. Plenty of nights out. Too many perhaps. But then again, I head back to work this month so that will help to knock things on the head a bit. We’ll see how this one goes. Not making any promises to complete sobriety but I’ve a hankering for a quieter March.

Swimming – Exercise

Swimming took a bit of a back seat this month. I got to the pool a bit, but not nearly as much as I should have. Interviews, driving lessons, french lessons, and my own innate laziness conspired to see me not doing as well as I should have. The good news is that there is a gym very close to work which I will be joining so not only will I get more pool time in, there’ll be gym and weights time too. I’m looking forward to that actually.

Eating

Yeah, big fail on this. Totally over-indulged. February was a bit of a holiday. In the back of my mind, the start of work has been my target for renewed vigour on this count. Must try harder.

Writing

I’m pretty happy with February’s progress, writing wise. I’ve a basic outline of the book put together and the rough scribblings for a few characters. My word count for the month was over 8,000 and I am aiming for 9,000 in March.

Speaking

I finished my 7 week French course last week. It was fun and I definitely feel the improvement in my speaking and in my comprehension. Myself and Seán found ourselves at a comedy event as part of Montréal’s “Nuit Blanche” and I understood 2 and a half jokes (out of a 40 minute set). I’m actually counting this as a victory. I continue to work at using French in everyday things and I’m pretty confident doing the basics now (shopping, ordering food in restaurants, ordering pints in bars, renting cars, making appointments and that kind of thing). However, with work starting, I am going to put French learning on the back burner for the month of March. I’ll look into more French classes again in April but I’m going to need some extra brain space this coming month.

Adventuring

We’ve had some of these definitely. We headed to the states for a weekend to visit some of my college friends. Seán got to try downhill skiing and I got to try driving in horrendous snowy road conditions. Thrilling for all involved. We’ve also done a few things in Montréal including climb to the top of Mont Royal (not a big hike but worth the couple of hours wander that it takes).

We made an attempt at Nuit Blanche here in Montréal (akin to Culture Night at home except things actually stay open late here). To be honest, I didn’t enjoy it immensely. It was grand like, but a bit chaotic and manic at times. Dowtown Montréal was jammers and the streets were full of drunken and/or stoned idiots. Still at least we gave it a bash.

Anyway, here’s a brief selection of photos from the last month.

Later,

Mush

A Month in Review – Janvier 2015

We’re a whole month into 2015 so it’s time to take stock and see where I am with my various new year’s resolutions. It’s fair to say I’ve had some successes and some not-successes over the course of January. But it’s important to take stock and see where I can stand to do better.

Drinking

Well, “Dry January” was not so dry. We had visitors early in the month and my resolve crumbled at the prospect of showing folks from home the sights and sounds of Montréal. So I managed about 9 days. Still, one of those 9 days was my birthday and I’m quite happy to have had a sober celebration. Some of the other not-so-dry days included our manniversary, the Superbowl and a Friday night after a long week.

Swimming

The pool, too, has been seen less than I would have liked. The pressures of the job hunt have meant that I have had to skip some planned sessions. But I have managed a few sessions at least, every week.

Eating

I feel like I’ve had more success when it comes to keeping on top of my dietary needs. Sure, there have been stumbles (mostly related to having the munchies after a night out) but by and large I’ve been under my calorie goals most weeks in January. Still, I will need to pay more attention to this in order to maintain a good weight.

Writing

It took me a while to get back into the swing of writing. My aim was to write 4,000 words of the novel in January and I managed 3,481. The goal for February is 8,000 which will require a bit more effort. It can be hard to get the creative juices flowing when also trying to apply for jobs (the time and mental effort it takes to plan an application or attend an interview does tend to detract from the creative process), but I am determined to follow through on this one. By the end of the year, I aim to know one way or the other if I am cut out for the life of a writer.

Speaking

I’m about half way through my French course, and I’m actually enjoying it. The French is coming back to me. Having homework again after so many years is a bit of a pain in the arse but a necessary evil in order to improve.

Adventuring

Adventuring is another area where I have had some modicum of success. During our trips to the Fêtes des neiges, I have managed to give skiing a try (even if it is only ski du fond). It’s become abundantly clear to me that downhill skiing is not something I want to try now. I’d be happy to do more cross-country, but the prospect of hurtling downhill on a pair of wooden planks fills me with nothing but dread.

We’re also going to hit the US for the first time during our Canadian adventure. We’re going to visit some college friends of mine who spend their weekends on the pistes of Vermont this Friday. This will also give me a chance to practice driving before I go for my road test.

So yeah, it’s been a mixed bag of a January but overall, I’m feeling good in terms of the goal achievement prospects. I’ll do another one of these at the end of February as well.

Later,

Mush

Do you wanna build a snowman?

So every year Montréal holds this winter festival called “Fête des neiges” in Parc Jean-Drapeau. They basically transform the famous PJD into a bit of a winter wonderland. All sorts of winter activities available for all ages over the four weekends starting 17 January.

Seán and myself took a wander down there this weekend just passed and had ourselves a blast. We were looking to do some sort of winter activity in January that wouldn’t cost us too much – with us both still looking for work, we become ever more money conscious as time goes by. So Fête des neiges looked like it could offer us what we were looking for. We opted for the “ski du fond”, or cross-country skiing, to start with. First off, we bought ourselves an Accropass which entitles us access to a bunch of the activities at the parc on any of the weekends of Fête des neiges. It also entitled us to a half hour extra ski rental. That set us back $19. The skis themselves were another $21.85. Not too shabby we thought. Certainly within our budget.

Of course, it wouldn’t be us in Montréal without some sort of mixup. I swear, sometimes a certain “je ne sais quoi” conspires against us when we try to do things here. Cultural differences perhaps. Or maybe we just keep encountering folk who are not too concerned about customer satisfaction. So we asked where did we need to go to start the ski du fond and were directed to a place near where the skating was happening. No sign of ski du fond. We had a look at the map and found a place where we thought it might be. We weren’t sure though, so we asked 3 or 4 different Fête des neiges employees / volunteers. They didn’t know either. So we just went ahead and took ourselves cross country along what we thought was the ski du fond course.

Turns out it wasn’t and that it was indeed actually near where the skating course was. Sign posts being mysteriously absent in all cases. Ah well. We still had a blast. It was an incredible day, cold-as-balls for sure but with fantastic light. We followed up the ski du fond with some food from one of the food trucks. Our first experience of a Pogo (a corndog to our American friends, a frankfurter covered in corn stuff to everyone else and it was fucking outstanding) followed by a trip up the big wheel from where we had incredible views of the surrounding areas and the city across the river; Parc Jean-Drapeau is on an island in the middle of the St Laurent river and it turns out I’d been there before nearly 15 years ago when a bunch of my college class mates made the trip up from Boston for the Canadian grand prix.

Anyway, despite the discombobulations over the location of the ski du fond, we’d definitely be fans of the Fête des neiges. We’re gonna head there again this Saturday if any of the Montréal folks fancy joining us.


Later,

Mush

Pedal to the upholstered plastic

I haven’t driven a car since I left my faithful Daurice in the company of my newly-adulted nieces Lara and Ellah at the end of November. For the most part, I haven’t missed driving that much. It’s pretty easy to get around here in Montréal. The metro is pretty comprehensive and the bus network is very good too. And of course there’s a lot that my own two legs can carry me to as well.

Still, there are times ahead of us that being able to drive will be an advantage. I certainly want to make a trip to the states – there’s a few college heads living in Boston plus a good smattering of Hansberrys further down the east coast. So there will definitely be occasion to get behind the wheel, even if it is a hire car.

However, because we are going to be here for almost 2 years potentially, Canadian laws don’t allow me to drive on my Irish or International licence for that length of time. I will need to get a Quebec licence while I’m here. I started the process of doing this before Christmas – I had my initial appointment with the SAAQ (Société de l’Assurance Automobile Quebec – not to be confused with SAQ which is the Société des alcools du Québec) then. It’s one of the few times I had cause to regret our decision to move to Montréal as opposed to Toronto. Because if we had headed to Toronto we’d be in Ontario and I could have done a straight swap of my Irish licence for an Ontario one. Unfortunately Québec has no such agreement with the Irish authorities in place so I have to go through a bit of a process.

Anyway, as I said, I had the initial appointment just before Christmas. At that appointment, I was told that I had to get some certificates from doctors and optemetrists (because of the high blood pressure and diabetes, they wanted extra assurance that I wasn’t going to keel over behind the wheel). That took a while to sort through with Christmas period causing a bit of a delay. Not having a family doctor also meant that I had to utilise a walk-in clinic – there was much waiting involved. Once I had the certs together, I headed for my next SAAQ appointment and got around to doing the knowledge test, which I passed.

The final stage will be a road test. I am going to get a few lessons before I book that just to familiarise myself with driving on the right in snowy conditions. Ya know, the usual like. A nice lebanese man called Elias is going to help me practice so hopefully I’ll be a properly licenced Canadian driver before too long.

In unrelated news, Tom and Sara were here in Montréal on their honeymoon. As good an excuse as any to break one of my new year’s resolutions. Fun times!

Later

Mush

Eveything is Awesome…

“…everything is cool when you’re part of the team,” or so the song from the Lego movie goes. And while not everything can truly be said to be awesome, things are going pretty well all the same (touch wood and all that superstitious guff). We’re a week into 2015 and so far I can say I’m on track with my ambitions for the year. Still a week is only a week, and there’s another 51 of them left in this year so I won’t get too ahead of myself.

I did turn 36 on Sunday though. Not exactly a milestone year it has to be said. A bit of a meh one if I’m honest. A bit like 34 except with slightly less hair. But it was still a nice, special day made even more special by the gift of Lego from my lovely husband who knows how to indulge my inner child almost as well as I do myself. Birthday brunch was had courtesy of  La Banquise and we headed out that evening to a dinner party at our new friend, Gerard’s. All in all not a bad day for a meh birthday in a foreign land.

All of the New Years Resolutions are still in play. It would be a bit lame if I’d ditched any at this stage but it’s good to keep track of the progress.

I’ve also taken to Instagram lately. I do like the hipster filters it gives you. I’ve been cross posting some of the photos to Facebook and Twitter as well but not all of them so if you’re interested in seeing my pseudo artsy pretentious snaps, look me up.

Here’s a few more photos I’ve taken over the last while:

Later,

Mush

Away in a Manger

I think it’s safe to say that I’m a Christmas head. I love everything about it – the songs, the food, the presence, the general good will to all folks. It’s a most wonderful time of the year. People are generally in a good mood, there’s a real festive spirit with Christmas jumpers and Santa hats a-plenty.

If I was at home, I’d probably be on holidays from work, enjoying a well earned rest. However, having not been working since October, I’m not quite feeling the Christmas cheer as much as I normally would. I don’t think Montréal is any less Christmassy though. In fact, with the permanent snow cover, the place has Ireland beat for physical displays of Christmasness. The shops have their decorations up and are blasting out the festive choons as much as any place at home. But I’m a small bit out of the loop.

I suppose it doesn’t help that we haven’t moved into our more permanent gaff yet. Once that happens on Monday, we’ll be able to put up a tree and get some presents under it. And that’s another thing. I would usually endeavour to get the shopping done by the middle of November so that I can enjoy the run in to the holidays. This year, it’s gonna be the 23rd or 24th before I have everything in place. It feels – funny. Not quite right. I didn’t send any cards this year either for the first time in over a decade. That too feels a bit off. Once I’m settled I’m gonna make an effort to send some postcards and we’ll definitely send some out next year, but not sitting down with a Christmas movie on the telly while I’m scrawling out my cards has kinda really made me feel the difference between being at home and being here.

But all that aside, I’m still looking forward to it. We’ve been invited over to my friend Eoin’s house for the dinner itself so we won’t be lonely. And skype will keep me connected to my nieces and nephews on the day hopefully. Plus of course I’ll have the lovely Seán by my side. So anyway, if I’m not talking to you before next Thursday, wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

Joyeux Noël

Mush

Tally Ho!

The cry of the hunt has been issued as I throw myself into Linked In with great abandon. The search has commenced in earnest for the job that will keep me fed and watered for the next year or so in Montréal.

It’s always daunting, getting the CV in order. Especially when it’s been a while. Having been firmly ensconced in UCC for a significant period of time, looking to the outside world for work is a little scary. But also very exciting at the same time. It’s a great opportunity for some introspection, some self-evaluation.

I’ve set myself a goal to apply for one job a day over the coming weeks. That may not sound like very much but when you consider the time required to customise a CV and cover letter for a particular post, it’s actually not. I’ve applied for four jobs so far, and have yet to hear anything but it is early days yet. I’m enjoying the process so far and am still energised to get stuck in, although I’ve no doubt that if I’m still jobless at the end of January the enjoyment may have dissipated a tad.

Of course there are frustrations. My French is basic, which rules me out for some jobs. And it’s sometimes hard to map the work in UCC to tasks in the private sector. But I’m confident I can do a good job, wherever I end up.

For now, it’s time for lunch and then off for a free swim.

À Plus Tard,

Mush

Splish Splosh

They do a really cool thing here in Montréal that I’ve not seen anywhere else I’ve lived. They provide free access to swimming pools across the city! No matter where you live, you will find a pool nearby that has certain hours open to the public free of charge.

Of course, during the summer, when the weather is nice and sunny and warm, this will be amazing as a lot of the pools are outdoor pools. But there’s a whole bunch of indoor ones too. So when the weather outside is as deliciously chilly as it is at the moment, there’s bound to be a nice heated pool close by. The fact that it’s free is incredible though. I had been questioning why there were so many extra taxes when buying stuff, but I suppose that all goes towards the many free services you get in the city. There’s no paying for water here, or rubbish collection and they give free swimming pools! That’ll save me a fortune over the year or so that we’re here.

The pool closest to where I’m staying at the moment, is called Bain Morgan. That’s it there in the photo at the top of this post. Lovely olde worlde building and a nice compact pool inside. When we move into our new gaff, there’ll be a pool just across the road from us. That’ll help with the exercise regime.

À Plus Tard,

Mush

Since We’ve No Place to Go…

The weather outside, as they say, is frightful. Or, in the case of us Canadian newbies, it’s actually quite delightful.

We’ve been literally walking in a winter wonderland these last few days as many inches of snow has fallen over Montréal. It’s quite unlike any snowfall we’ve ever experienced in Ireland. Soft, powdery, and utterly bewitching. And so much of it. Even as I type there is still a good covering. It’s not like home, where it snows and then immediately melts. This precipitation is in it for the long haul.

Of course, it’s not all sleigh-rides and jingle bells. After a while, it turns to slush. Particularly at the point in the road where pedestrians need to cross, creating massive muddy, slushy puddles that are impossible to avoid. I’m pretty happy I got me some decent winter boots (think hipster wellies).

So far, so new. I’m sure we’ll get sick of it before too long. It is only the start of the weather winter, we are constantly informed. It gets colder and snowier over the next few months apparently. That’s kinda scary. Mais c’est part de l’aventure!

À Plus Tard,

Mush

Canadian Crack – Poutine it all away

I think it’s fair to say that it’s well known that I like my food. I have a wide and varied palette but at times I am a complete sucker for comfort food. Beans and Mash. A good spaghetti bolognese. Steak and chips. The simple foods are often the best. Especially if nursing a head from the night before. But finding decent comfort food in a new country can often be a daunting prospect. Local delicacies often contain lots of limbs and innards and things that you might not want to see on a plate if your stomach is of a delicate disposition.

This is delightfully not the case in Canada and particularly in Montréal where the local go-to food is an incredible dish called Poutine. For those not familiar with this food-of-the-gods, the Montréalaise take a plate of chips, throw on a lash of cheese curds and then drown the lot in gravy. It’s the perfect hangover food and the perfect comfort food in general in a city where the temperature regularly plunges well below zero (we had our first experience of -10 the other day – the word cold doesn’t quite cover it).

Since we arrived, it’s been a goal of mine to investigate it’s many varieties. And in the week and a bit since we arrived here, I have to admit, I’ve managed to sample quite a few different versions. Not all of them have been great, it has to be said, and like any dish there are places that do it well and places that do it terribly. It turns out our first experience of poutine was actually pretty manky. The cheese curds didn’t melt and were just a bit on the rubbery side. Not knowing any different, I enjoyed the gravy and chips part but wasn’t gone on it immediately. Still, that didn’t deter me. The burger king poutine was better than our first try, but quite fast-foody. Food court poutine from Valentine’s was actually ok (especially when you add a bunch of meat to the mix). We ordered in one night and I got a similar to Valentine’s poutine from some place whose name I can’t quite remember.

But the best of the lot so far? La Banquise on Rue Rachel Est (about a ten min walk from the Mont-Royal metro station or on the number 29 bus route). Just incredible. I went for the large (and thankfully didn’t order anything else besides) of a version called La T-Rex. It had italian sausage, bacon, steak and pepperoni mixed in. As well as the cheese curds, there was also mozerella, giving the dish a lovely melty gooiness. The chips were nice and salty, the gravy thick and meaty. And it was massive. Definitely my favourite so far.

Of course, I am sure I will try more. Some will undoubtedly be bad, some will be to die for. And if I find any more comparable to La Banquise, well I might just keep that to myself.

Later,

Mush