Monday, January 31, 2011

Now back in Montreal!

I hopped on a plane at 7:00am this morning and I'm back in Montreal - for a year! Yikes!

I arrived around 1:30pm and was able to get into the office by 3pm. I didn't do much: I set up my desk. I also tracked my FedEx Ground packages that are carrying all of my belongings to Montreal - and they're not in the FedEx system (yet?)! I can't recall if FedEx Ground packages are trackable online. I sure hope so; my guitar is one of those packages.

After work I bought some boots. In Saskatoon you can get away with wearing normal shoes in -30 weather  because it's so dry (as long as you have two pairs of socks!), but the sheer amount of slush on Montreal sidewalks when it's warmer than -15 makes these completely necessary:
Weird angle but everything is normal

Tomorrow I take possession of my apartment! That is pretty exciting. And on Wednesday night I'm doing an IKEA run to grab apartment essentials. That will also be pretty exciting.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Back in Saskatoon - for a week.

On Friday morning at 9am I signed the lease for my apartment in Montreal starting February 1st, 2011. That was an exciting and nervous moment. At 11am I was off to the airport to come back to Saskatoon for a week.

This week is going to be nuts. I have to pack and ship stuff to Montreal, book my flight out there, clean my apartment, run a million errands, go to work every day from Monday to Friday, and spend a ton of time with friends and family. I think I will fly out on Monday, January 31st.

I thought of a clever idea for packing - but it turns out I am not very original. I bought four large Rubbermaid containers from Wal-Mart and drilled six pairs of holes on each, so I can zip-tie them shut for shipping. I don't have that much stuff to ship out there (my agreement says I need to keep my place in Saskatoon, so I'm not shipping furniture) so I think I can get away with four boxes:
You can kind of see the holes. But I'm not clever; apparently many mobile science camp crews use this trick, including clever labelling to avoid mixing up lids and containers. 

I'm most worried about shipping my other love; my Gibson SG. All of my clothes and kitchenware can be destroyed for all I care, but I would rather see this guitar arrive safely than receive ten times its insured value. I found a good guide for shipping guitars that I'll follow.

Yesterday Robyn helped me scour the IKEA website to furnish the new apartment. Though being away from everyone I know in Saskatoon for a year will be tough, I'm looking forward to living somewhere nice. My current apartment is has a little too much "character" - it's flood prone, for instance - and the new apartment is going to be neat, clean, minimalist, and "grown-up".

This week will be a quiet one for blog posts but expect pictures of the apartment next week!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


I got a neat email today.

Two and a half years ago I was troubleshooting a cryptic error message with SCI-FI Science Camps' ancient Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention System 2.0 kits. Original Lego Mindstorms hit the shelves in 1998 and RIS 2.0 came shortly thereafter, so we were dealing with some very old hardware and software.

The problem was that Windows XP Service Pack 3 (in May 2008) had just been released, and it had broken something on our laptops - the Lego software that kids used to program the 'bots stopped working. That old Lego Mindstorms software was written for Windows 98 (at best) and heavily dependant on old versions of Quicktime.

This was a few days before camp was starting and the problem needed to be fixed. After hours of troubleshooting I discovered a solution, and posted it to a low-traffic Lego mailing list. This was 2008 and the Lego NXT kits were two years old: RIS 2.0 was old news, and I didn't expect the post to get much attention. I just hoped that the knowledge, neatly ordered and posted publicly to the internet, would help someone out one day.

Check out this response that was posted/emailed to me today:
Dear Brahm, 
We know we are not supposed to do this [publicly post thank-you messages -bn] on this forum, but we shall do it anyways because our gratitude towards you is more intense than just a 5 star rating. We have been trying to make our RIS 2.0 software and hardware work for many and many hours. Your tips , combined with other patches and apps, have finally led us to achieving our goal. We will now be able to power our insane robot project and be able to program it. 
Many thanks from Montreal, Canada, and we wish you the best for 2011! 
Felix and Laurent 
Felix and Laurent, I won't post a message back to you, but you're welcome - you brought a smile to my face! I love when random advice posted online helps solve my problems, and I often register an account to post a quick message of thanks. Also, a neat coincidence that I'm in Montreal at the moment.


Today was a productive day at work. We are powering through documentation and I believe the whole programming team is assembled.

I tried to take a picture of this delicious loose leaf tea that I have from DavidsTea called Through the Grapevine. Among other things it has these tiny blue flower blossoms that turn bright blue as soon as you add hot water, but they fade quickly. I don't think I captured it:
Tastes like grape juice!!

It is slushy and gross outside. Yesterday it was -22 in the morning, today it was hovering around 0 when I walked home. I took a picture of some of the trees on Avenue McGill College:
There is a half-kilometre stretch of Avenue McGill College with these red trees running down the entire length.  I wanted to take a picture looking "down" the street but the trees are on a meridian and I am still terrified of traffic (and pedestrians) here.

Still no work agreement. I am hoping to get that nailed down tomorrow - I don't want that apartment to slip through my fingers (while I'm still disappointed about the lack of terrace, the hardwood floors are really sharp).

Monday, January 17, 2011


I spotted these downtown birdhouses on the walk to work a few days ago and thought they were neat:
There were three or four trees in all.

The only noteworthy thing I did today was send an email to the apartment I have "reserved" for me - I had a few extra questions. The most important one was about whether I could have any internet provider or if the apartment only allows a few options. I want speed and bandwidth! I was also curious about the logistics of shipping boxes and moving in, and curious if I could knock a few bucks off the price if I said I didn't need the basement storage (which I haven't seen, and am sure I don't need).

That's it! A workday like any other. On Friday afternoon I fly home, so I guess I only have four more sleeps here, counting tonight. I sure hope I get my relocation agreement soon! I'd like to be able to confirm that apartment an certainty.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Day 7: Apartments

First thing this morning I had an appointment with LaCite apartments to check out some of their apartment offerings. The complex has some very cool perks:

  • 20 minute walk to/from my downtown office;
  • Shopping complex underground (directly below the apartments), including:
  • A decent reputation - it's a place that my company trusts enough to board short- and long-term employees. 
Having read their entire website in advance, I arrived with some smart questions prepared and my heart set on a 10th floor apartment with a 240 square foot terrace for $920/mo. Seemed too good to be true! I've been fantasizing the past few days about sitting on a spacious terrace in the summer with a beer in one hand and a book in the other.

I sat down with the agent and she quickly crushed my dreams: there was one apartment with a terrace available, but it had more than one bedroom, and it would cost $1,650 a month - well out of my price range. Oh wait, here's a one-bedroom with a terrace, but it's currently a storage space. Should we still look at it? Sure, I said. 

We set off to look at the first of four units on the tour. The first was the best - it was a 7th-floor unit with newly-renovated hardwood floors (in a building that mostly has drab grey carpet) and a view of Mont Royal:
Nice floor! 

This could look awesome in the summer.

The bathroom and balcony were tiny (goodbye, sweet terrace dream) and it had a kitchen that would be called small by most people's standards. However, my apartment in Saskatoon has a micro-kitchen and these seemed comparable (if not bigger), so no complaints there. The living room and bedroom seemed like more than enough space for one person. The price was higher than the $920 I'd anticipated, but it included heat, water, and electricity.

I said "looks good!" and we moved on to the next two units. This is where things started to go downhill. I was shown two units back-to-back that were a combination of storage spaces and in-progress renovation projects. Screws, drywall, and garbage on the rugs, a big burn mark on the counter from who knows what, another big burn mark on the ceiling that looked like a light exploded. One unit had a bedroom that was half-full of mattresses (it just occurred to me that it was likely the mattress that smashed the light, creating the burn mark). One unit even had a terrace (yay!) but it was on the second floor and the view was boring (boo!). No matter how good units might have been it was just too difficult to see past all of the crap. In a moment of clarity I finally understood all of the TLC/HGN shows about "staging" homes. I could tell the agent was embarrassed to be showing me these units in that condition and I was embarrassed to be in them. 

In a redeeming move we went to check out a 17th-floor unit as our last stop. It was similar to the first, but carpet instead of hardwood, and no balcony. It had a really cool view of downtown, but the first unit was a little bigger and better. 

Even though my heart was crushed by the lack of a terrace, I did some rational thinking and decided LaCite would still be a good place to live and I "reserved" the 7th floor hardwood unit until Friday - at which point I can take it or leave it. The convenience of a shopping centre on the lower levels is amazing. Even though I was (and still am) feeling a bit bummed out about not getting a dream apartment, the shopping complex downstairs was a huge added bonus, and the location is close to downtown which is where I want to be. I have to remember that this is just a one-year stint - I don't need to live in my dream apartment.


The rest of the day has been boring. I wasn't really in an adventurous mood. I was feeling a bit melancholic, partially because of the terrace let-down, and partially because checking out apartments suddenly made this year-long relocation feel very real. I did laundry in the hotel and bought groceries. I downloaded some games for my Android phone and played them (Jet Car Stunts!). I made a salad and ate it out of my ice bucket because all the plates and bowls in this suite are tiny. 

At one point in the afternoon a chain of about 70-100 cars with Quebec flags drove up Rue Sherbrooke, all honking, with a police escort. I remain puzzled about why this happened. 

I'm hoping that next week I can get my terms & conditions from my employer on paper and finalize things, once and for all! I don't like being in an agreement-less limbo. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Day 6: Science!

The weekend is here, and what's a nerd to do in Montreal? Go to the science centre of course! Read on...

First I met my cousin and her family and we met at Noodle Factory for lunch. They make all of their noodles and dumplings from scratch daily and this place is one of Montreal's hidden gems. We went around 1:30pm to avoid the noon rush.

Ellen and Vince have two insanely cute kids:
I told Loquinn to give me a big smile and this was the biggest he could muster. He looked at the picture after I took it and exclaimed, "What a big smile!"

When I brought my phone out to take pictures, Loquinn (the oldest) was fascinated. I showed him how to take pictures using the touchscreen and he took about twenty shots of the table in front of him just to see the screen go black for a second. He also managed to take a few pictures of me!
The only table shot that had food in it - the rest were empty patches of table.
In my head I was thinking "this is why I bought a protective case for my phone.. I don't know why your fingers are so wet but they are!"

I was planning to go the science centre anyway and I asked if they wanted to come along and they did! It was about a 20 minute walk to get there through Old Montreal:
Old church architecture - cool!
Horses! Cobblestones! Loquinn was racing the horse.


As it happens one of the exhibits was "Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition" which was interesting for how frank, honest, and visual it was. I am not sure if the Saskatchewan Science Centre would host it, but kudos if they ever do. 

For instance, here is a table of phalluses covered with condoms:

After I took this picture I saw a sign that said "no photos anywhere in this exhibit!" and I thought, "that's strange" but realized why when I turned the corner - 12 larger-than-life images of people (6 male, 6 female), completely naked, at various developmental stages (from infant to puberty to adult to old age). Another display ("we're all different") had pictures of real man- and lady-parts. Another digital display rotated between different combinations of naked body parts (see this pic on the science centre's homepage, warning: nudity). Elsewhere there were two life-sized naked people sculptures.

Plenty of people (including us) were cracking plenty of awkward jokes but the more we thought about it, the more we thought the display was a great idea. It's aimed at awkward kids in puberty who need some reliable information (see the exhibit FAQ; it's a really interesting read) and serves to educate kids (and parents, for educating their kids) about healthy sexuality. The displays - especially the nude portraits of people of all ages - prompted a lot of thoughts and discussion on the difference between sexuality (health and social issues) and sexualization and hyper-sexualization (of society, teens, etc).

Ellen & Vince's kids thought the sex displays were pretty boring so we moved on - they loved the display where you assemble a bunch of big foam blocks into a bridge. We couldn't pull them off!

All of a sudden it was 5PM and the science centre was closing. Time flies when you're having fun! We packed up and Ellen and Vince headed off to a metro, I headed back to the hotel.

I took a different route home and stumbled across these orbs:
They changed colours and the images on them changed too. When you got close to them they made creepy sounds, like howling combined with wind gusts combined with children screaming. Whatever it was - I liked it! 

That's it! I grabbed some groceries and some St Ambroise apricot beer and I am chillaxing once again.

I'm excited for tomorrow morning - I'm checking out an apartment, either on the 10th or 12th floor, that has a ~200 square foot terrace! If I'm in Montreal for a year, I would absolutely love a terrace. The apartment can be crap... but if I can barbecue and drink beer on a terrace, my life would automatically be awesome.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Day 5: Poutine!

The weekend! At last!

Today was a workday as was any other, but after work I went to Les 3 Brasseurs for beer and poutine.

I tried all of their microbeer brews, four in total: Blonde, White, Amber, and Brown:

And! Most importantly of all, I tried my first plate of Montreal poutine:

It was great overall: crispy fries, real chucks of chedder cheese curds that "squeak" when you chew them. According to reviews, this is far from the best, but leaps and bounds above the worst. On the weekend, I hope to try some of the extremely specialized poutines in the various corners of the city. 

At Les 3 Brasseurs I was sitting at the bar, and after a while a local guy named Manny sat beside me. He was an interesting guy and was fun to talk to. When I asked him what I should do this weekend, he told me an address where I should go hang out and watch for transvestite prostitutes. I told him that wasn't exactly my idea of a good time (or did I??!!?!?!!). Oh well. I forgot the address (or did I?!?!?!?!?!).

I also snapped a picture of this awesome pole poster. Ali Hutchings is my inspiration for documenting this pole poster; she takes pictures of interesting ones in Fredericton and Halifax. 

Don't believe their lies!!!!

Tomorrow is lunch at the Noodle Factory with my cousin and her family; after that I think I am going to go explore the Science Centre. Mostly because I am cool and awesome.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tea & Scotch (Day 4)

Robyn is getting everyone she knows hooked on this awesome tea from DavidsTea. There is no store in Saskatoon, but there's a billion in Montreal and it just so happens one is two minutes away from my office.

I went after work, intending to get three teas (one each for me, my mom and Robyn) and left with five - that's the magic of DavidsTea!

Left-to-right: Forever Nuts, Baked Apple, Coco Chai Rooibos, Organic Strawberry White, Through the Grapevine, Lagavulin 16 year. 

Robyn got me this AWESOME travel mug for Christmas. Picture a travel mug combined with a French press combined with a SECRET COMPARTMENT. The bottom screws off and holds extra loose tea, so you can carry and steep your loose tea all in one package. I've been drinking a lot of tea from it! The Montreal office doesn't have free coffee but it does have a hot water tap on the water cooler, that's all I need.

The Lagavulin isn't tea. It's a delicious bottle of single malt scotch from the Isle of Islay, Scotland. Very smoky and peaty - one of the best bottles I've had so far. It's a couple bucks cheaper in Quebec than in Saskatchewan, enough so that it was worth waiting until this trip to grab it.

 Here's a pic of the rest of my budding scotch collection from a week or two ago:

The two bottles on the left are my roommates' - we're classy.

Tomorrow is Friday, hooray! I think my cold is almost gone, I've just got the runny nose so I should be able to do some fun things on the weekend. On Saturday I'm going to have lunch at the Noodle Factory with my cousin and her little family, I'm looking forward to that!

Other stuff:

  • Every Montreal man, married or not, includes "beautiful girls" in his list of things to like about Montreal. Without fail! It's endearing :-P
  • I should know details about my one-year relocation soon. The email has been sent instructing that the paperwork be initiated. I still do not have said papers. But they're aiming to have me start January 31, which means I'd be back in Saskatoon for only a week before moving out here!
  • On my first night here, housekeeping washed the dishes I'd used. Every subsequent day, they did not. They set the precedent and let me down! (Oh well. the only dishes I use are one glass for water and three knives to make my lunch sandwich every morning).
  • Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you people of Montreal for being bilingual, because I'd be totally lost if you weren't. I'll learn some French, I promise. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reuben's Smoked Meat Sandwich

I did one interesting thing today: Reuben's Deli!

I went immediately after work, so it was pretty quiet. Maybe people eat later here. There was lots of wood panelling everywhere. Very intimate feel; it would be fun to come here while it was busy and lively.

I ordered an AWESOME smoked meat sandwich, my only complaint was that the fries weren't anything special. If you're going to make sandwiches this good, put a little effort into the fries!

I did not finish that massive plate of food specifically so I could try Reuben's famous cheesecake. Very delicious, though the strawberries tasted a bit off (perhaps because it's the middle of winter).

Very tasty meal overall! I'll be back eventually.

I heard a few details about my year-long relocation today. All of the approvables are approved, and now the ball is in HR's court to get me the terms & conditions. Tentative start date for my year-long term: January 31st!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mont-Royal (Day 2)

Today was a fairly uneventful day. I'm still feeling sick. I'm well enough to go to work, but in the evenings I just want to put on sweat pants and sleep. I'm terrible.

The highlight of the day was when two of my co-workers took me on a "walk around Montreal," which turned out to be a walk up Mont-Royal, the big mountain beside the downtown core and McGill University. I'm all for climbing mountains, but going up lots of hills and stairs was pretty gruelling for a guy who blew through 2/3 of a full-size box of Kleenex over the last two days. No joke, I had a solid four inches of crumpled tissue in my garbage each day. Bletch.

Complaining aside, it was a fun hike with people who I could be working with for the next year, and the view from the top was really neat:
O hay thar lady

In the middle picture, my building is right beside the building in the exact centre (but you can't see it, because it's shorter) in the Place Ville Marie complex. 

A co-worker in Saskatoon sent me a detailed list of restaurants to check out - I've gotta try the best poutine in town, followed by the best smoked meat sandwich in town. I'm hoping to do that this weekend. 

After work I grabbed a bottle of scotch and scarfed down a quick Korean food-court supper. Now it's 7pm, I've got everything on my checklist (laptop, scotch, Kleenex) and it's time for a quiet night. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bonsoir (Day 1)

My first full day in Montreal is done!

Well, technically I still have time to go out and do stuff, but I'm still feeling stuffy and crappy from the cold... so I'm calling it an early night.

Here's the view I woke up to:
Not great but not bad! At least we get the sun about 1.5 hours earlier here than in Saskatoon.

My hotel/apartment has a decent little cold breakfast, and then I went to work:

Cube city... just like Saskatoon, but higher walls.

The Montreal office is pretty nice and full of great people. I couldn't get started on much meaningful work though, because the guy I'm going to work with was out for the day. My workday ended up being like most workdays - there's nothing in Saskatoon I can't access from Montreal.

At lunch a colleague took me to the Montreal Underground (La Ville Souterraine) for lunch; it's pretty neat. I wanted to take some pictures but it was to busy - I didn't want to drop my phone! I did take a picture of a place that baked artisan bread, almost directly below my office:

Mmm.... bready.

On the way home I walked a different route and walked past this neat old church (the Anglican, I think):

And I also walked past this classy joint:
SUPER SEXE. I think my boss told me to go here. Mmmm no. Nice sign though!

Here are some other things I learned today:

  • The stereotype of Montreal drivers being bad is wrong; the pedestrians are terrible. They run out everywhere and practically stand in the middle of the road waiting for lights to change. 
  • Elevators don't have licenses posted in them. 
  • You can buy a case of Molson Dry (hated by Quebecers, loved by me and my pals) for $15 here; the SLGA sells it for $22 but you can usually only find it at Sask offsales for $26-28. Also, you can get it at grocery stores. Win! 
  • Today I learned about the "McGill Ghetto" - slang for the area by McGill University. My hotel is in the "ghetto". This isn't evident until you go to the grocery store after 6pm and can't see a single person over 25 buying groceries. It's kind of a strange feeling. 
    • Update: a crowd of people just walked past my building chanting "More beer, more beer more beer more beer."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Bienvenue à Montréal (Day 0)

I'm in Montreal for the next two weeks (at least) for work. I could be in Montreal for a year, but I still don't know that yet - hopefully I will find out this week.

I flew Saskatoon->Edmonton then Edmonton->Montreal, leaving at 10:30am Saskatoon time and arriving 7:00pm Montreal time - a bit of a long day.

When we left Edmonton it was super bright so I closed my window shade and watched a movie or two. It blew me away when I opened it and it was pitch black - I guess flying east is like time travel. Here's a neat pic I snapped of the rainbow spectrum in the sunset:
It looked better in real life. 

After waiting an hour for my bags then waiting through a 100-person taxi queue, I caught a ride to my hotel/apartment from a cabbie who was angry I didn't have cash. Tough luck buddy, I guess when I charge it to my Visa you get audited on the tips. Deal with it. 

My apartment/hotel is nice; it's paid for by the company and has a little kitchen so I don't have to eat restaurant food every day: 
A 10-minute walk from company headquarters, but I guess I'll figure that out on Monday.

I asked the front desk where I could grab a quick donair and was told that most restaurants are closed on Sundays (at least downtown at 9:30pm, I guess). Damn! So she recommended the hotel restaurant across the street. 

I sat down in a lonely booth, one of maybe five people in this huge empty restaurant. I could hear the guy two booths down complaining about something and the server was being apologetic. Off to a good start! 
They tables have lamps so it is CLASSY.

I ordered about 5 minutes after sitting down and I took the above photo immediately after ordering. It's Montreal, so I ordered a smoked meat sandwich (more on this later). My food came disturbingly fast; if you examine the EXIF data between the above and below photos you will find they are exactly FIVE minutes apart. So this is like a wood-panelled McDonalds? 

Smoked Meat* and coleslaw hiding behind Starch Mountain. Coleslaw is a vegetable, right?

Supper was... bad. Sorry, there's no other polite words for it. But here's the upside: I now have a terrible smoked meat sandwich as my baseline experience when I go out for a fancy smoked meat sandwich! At one point, my server came by and meekly asked, "is everything... okay?" I felt sorry for him; he knew it wasn't okay. I told him it was good and tipped him well. As I left a party of four walked in and they all ordered the same Smoked Meat Combo. I held my tongue. 

Two other gripes: I feel like a weirdo not knowing any French. If I am here for a year, I promise (to the INTERNET!!) that I'll sign up for a class and put in a legitimate effort, but I feel like losery when someone says "bonsoir," ("bon swa") and I say "err.. hi." My other gripe is that I'm sick with a head cold and that just sucks all around.

To summarize: crappy/boring travel day, but I'm feeling optimistic about the trip in general. I am looking forward to what's ahead at the office, and doing some exploring in the evenings and this coming weekend!