To the sea, I belong

A good nine years ago, on a summer going to fall Sunday, I had hiked a fair 5 or 6 miles with my grad school roommate and two of her friends to a beach. It was probably the west meadow beach which had lots of pebbles and sand, I don’t recall the name exactly. What I do remember is that it felt like I was breathing for the first time since I had left my home country. It felt relieving to know that the sea wasn’t so far away. I felt rescued. I felt humbled. I felt I finally belonged.

If I am ever asked to make a choice between places to live, I am sure I would always choose a place with a faster proximity to the ocean; for the crashing waves, frothing waters, salty air and even the roaring thunder storms or monsoons. I would take that any day to a land-locked wonder!

Along the north east coast of the Atlantic Ocean, where I now live, cities may be built around ports and water bodies; but to find a shore where the waves kiss the sands, one has to drive at least a couple of hours to beach towns. It was a tough trivia to figure. Fairly so; since in the Indian subcontinent the coastal cities spill all over the seas beside them. And land-reclaimed-from-sea wasn’t uncommon either ( Bombay and the Cochin port are places I know of )

Along the Indian Ocean, beaches are a city’s landmark; an easily accessible place for her people’s congregation. You didn’t need the paraphernalia of booking a resort and expensive gear of sunscreens, towels, chairs and umbrellas to enjoy them. Get to the beach around sun down. Walk her shores with your shoes in hand, people watch, enjoy the balmy breeze after a sweltering day, buy a beach-side snack and have a long conversation watching the sunset. Tell a New-Engalnder you can do this almost every day of the year and they won’t believe you!

But the sea is the sea is the sea! If a 2 hour drive is what it takes to find that paradise in these parts, we may as well! The weekend past was one such journey to a little beach town in Maine, to collect sunshine before fall arrives and bid goodbye to the gorgeous summer that has been! We were accompanied by four other families gaggling with babies, toddlers and babies-to-arrive for a much sought adventure!

If the unexpectedly well-furnished and snug wooden cottages had us floored, the amenities of heated pool and hot tub were awesome-er. And of course to mention the easy walkway to the beach. It was probably the most relaxed vacation we have had as a group after kids. Even though much of the late night conversations were interleaved with baby monitors buzzing to gently remind us that we are now parents-first-and-everything-else-after, we had mastered the art of resuming conversations with breaks.

And in the short 48 hour window, while the kids were asleep we managed to pack a morning-chai-party, a post-beach-sandwich-party, a chaat-party, a chicken-grill-party and even an Italian-rum-cake-party to celebrate the gentle ascend of a wonderful friend and dad of two, into the mid thirties! Of course! We had our share of fun with the kids too in the pool and play. It was A’s first ever beach trip and he loved it rotten. I would call the water icy, but it felt wonderful against the sun. Just to have my feet smeared in sand and hair bursting into curls with humidity was pure bliss.

Sadly it is true that all things must come to an end. And so did our little getaway. We ended the journey at the teeming pier of the small town, feasting on their popular pizzas and treating ourselves and the kids to ice creams.

We reached home by evening to a power outage from recent thunderstorms. TheToddler wondered if the vacation was continuing when we had comfort food of curd rice by candlelight. It was a blessing in disguise, since we retired to bed early as a family reading by torch light and watching the moonlight stream thru the windows. To the distant rumbling of our neighbour’s generator, his father’s tired snores and buzz of summer insects my son drifted to sleep.

I lay awake a little while. I smelt a whiff of sea-salt, watched a wave crash on the sand and brush my feet. I heard myself laugh in glee holding appa’s hand. I saw a golden sun descent into the sea’s unbeknownst depths. When I opened my eyes, it was Monday morning. The magic was far far away and I will hold on to the dreams for now!

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The “almost” city

There are two categories among the most loved cities of the world. One charms and mesmerizes you whether you stay there for few hours, days or years, like Rome or NYC. And the second kind grows on you over time; this kind of city has to be experienced and not visited, like singara chennai!

Montreal has the charms to fit in the first kind, but lacked a certain spark; The more we explored  her, I would say she was magical in parts and equally underwhelming sometimes. It was a city, I loved in pieces and probably she fits better in the second category! I may never find out, since I didn’t live long enough to know!

The Surprises

  • We expected as much English as French to be spoken and on signs; but it was all in all a Frenchman’s haven. Charmingly so. Even something gibberish like “barracks, bees and blocks in the sea” sounds beautiful in french! isn’t it?
  • The European style Piazas with fountains are fittingly beautifully done. There are many in the city, but many are eerily deserted. I realised how much the people of a city add to its charms. Whether it is teeming tourists or residents, a city needs her people!
  • The homeless and begging on the streets were aplenty. Something we never expected at all.
  • The city is known for its night life, which we didn’t explore. But going by that, I expected us to stand out like a sore thumb, equipped with baby gear. Pleasantly surprised to find more strollers all over the happening cobbled streets than anywhere else. So every place was extremely stroller friendly. And oh! breastfeeding in public wasn’t making anybody uncomfortable. USA take cues. (Brownie points to Montreal! )
  • Most eateries, cafes and shops in the not so prime streets weren’t open long hours on weekend and were closed on Monday being a holiday. It had the mild siesta culture feel to that aspect!
  • We decided to disconnect and turned off our mobile phones for the day. We did the trip old school with maps, print outs, notes and asking people for directions. We were surprised, that we managed to stick to it. It also helped that I was mostly just taking in scenes and not scrambling to take pictures and share them, as it happened!
    It would have been better if we had stuck to not giving into the urge to connect to wifi when back in hotel. But hey! next time.

The touristy stuff

Biodome, Botanical Gardens, montreal tower
Stroller friendly – Very
Parking vs public transport – Lot of walking between and within these places, although they are in the same neighborhood. Parking for the day is 12$ and the sticker holds good for parking-lots of all the three places. Best option with kids!
Cafeteria – Around these places, the food joints are less and terrible. I am glad we carried food for the little one and us!
Other tips – Gets crowded by noon. Better to start day early. You can buy tickets for all the places at the Botanical garden instead of biodome, shorter lines.

We started with biodome around 9 am and we finished all three places at a relaxed pace by late noon, also letting the toddler take his nap in the stroller while we pushed it in the botanical gardens.
Brownie points – If your child is fascinated by animals like mine, biodome is worth the visit.

The not so touristy stuff

St. Josephs Oratory
Stroller friendly – Not very, because of the many stairs to get to this huge domed church. We just took the many escalators and stairs,kept stroller in car.
Parking vs public transport – Parking after 5 pm for free. We covered this on friday evening since we had time to kill.
Brownie points – Great views and lots of open space for kids to run around in the terrace like areas.

Mount Royal hilltop
Stroller friendly -Very. Park area with trails.
It is nearly as huge as central park with parking facilities.
We parked and walked uphill to the mount top for a great view of the city after sun down.

The understated

There are many churches other than Notre-Dame that are gorgeous and in full service all over the city. And they dont charge you for an entrance. Some of the other notable ones we explored were —
St Patricks Basilica ( 2 min walk from our hotel )
Mary, Queen of the world basilica and the Dorchester square across the street.
Church  of virgin mary at the end of popular St. Paul’s street, was my favorite with chandliers and boat shaped hanging lights.
Many churches along walk on the Rue Ste Catherine

Marche Jean-Talon in little italy
Stroller friendly – Fairly. Must be willing to maneuver through crowds.
Parking – underground parking at a very decent rate of about 0.50$ for every 30 minutes.
Bownie points – Street food, musicians, fresh food market.
What-we-loved – my husband and son snacked on the rotisserie chicken and they loved the smoked lamb sausage sticks to go. You can take his word for a meat tasting good! I on the other hand, loved the olive bar which was really cheap and ate so many!

I could have spent an entire day at the jean talon market if I could. It was my best stop in this town. (Hagglers, a fusion of Italian and french tongues, fresh veggies and fruits. Musicians, slow-life cappuccino joints )

The un-stated

Many squares and open spaces to people watch along the city’s promenades.
The square opposite our hotel had a modern fountain with a fire on water trick, which was pretty awesome. We wouldn’t have even known, if we didn’t stay nearby.

The bibliotheque (library) in the latin quartier. I expected a sprawling gothic architecture. Was amused to find a modern glass building instead. We just took a short stroll. Definitely deserves more exploration.

The yeah-um-whatever

  • The Latin quartier, the village and mount royal street were all great to walk and take in the views. They r definitely areas to explore as a resident. As a tourist, there are only a handful of places you can actually afford to loll away time at, for they all come across as similar experiences after a while.
  • Ste-Catherine and other localities hyped for foray of shops and the underground city are well a little meh. We aren’t ardent shoppers; probably because of that I wasn’t truly amazed by the new brands and malls.

Coffee

Many coffee chains other than Starbucks. Van Houtte and pressed cafe were the ones i tried. I hated both. Extremely strong for my palate!

Finally found my match at a gelato store, where cappuccino was served in a bowl. it was heavenly. So was the little cup i took big swigs of at the Jean-talon market place.

The Food

  • We didn’t visit Schwartz’s which is popular for smoked meat. My husband almost tried smoked meat sandwich at places near the Notre-dame square, but after looking at a few he wasn’t convinced enough.
  • We stayed a few blocks from china town. On travels we always make one Chinese take-out to satiate the rice-craving. The china town food was actually great. The noodle shop and Beijing were the popular restaurants. The china town itself is actually a nice area to explore.
  • Pizza, quiches and Mediterranean places in Jean-talon market place.
  • Crepe places on st. Pauls. Laborious work to cut and eat the stuffed crepes.
  • Gelato places are awesome. They even have small few-bites size serving cones convenient for on the go.

Traveling tips with toddler

  •  Live within the city. All rooms come with microwave and fridge!
  • Wear your best walking shoes and explore the city on foot or bike.
  • Strollers are welcome and easy to maneuver all over the city, even on cobbled streets sidewalk. (City mini GT was a true companion)
  • Old port area along water front has fairs and performers. good place for kids to run and explore.
  • We didn’t find the need to take public transport at all. We covered everything on foot. I wish I had a fitbit to note how much we walked per day! Our calf muscles are sore, so I am sure we hiked quiet a bit!
  • Map of the city and the prime streets is a good gear to have. We visited the information center near dorchester square, that gave us more ideas to explore.
  • Fast food joints / kids friendly menus don’t pop up very often. If your child isn’t a taster and doesn’t eat adult food yet, I highly recommend carrying food. Our toddler was happy eating the food I had packed for him and he nibbled and snacked on whatever we bought along the way.

Overall, it was truly a different experience, visiting a city in whole new country in this case and just to realise that across the border things can be so very different!

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