Monday, September 3, 2018

Montréal: Cousin to the North

Allo, all!

I am super excited to share my trip to Montréal, Quebec with you.

When I moved up to NYC for the summer back in 2013, I started to hear my hip New Yorker friends talk about weekend trips to Montréal as a must-do getaway for the cosmopolitan gourmand. Later, I got a somewhat less flattering (frankly, terrifying) mental picture of Québec after reading Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, which features wheelchair-bound Québécois terrorists called Les Assassins des Fauteuils Rollents .

Putting my DFW-based dystopian fears aside, my interest in Montréal was piqued again after becoming a full-time associate at my law firm. Short weekend trips can be a good option when deadlines are looming. Finally, after a brief hospital stay, I was reconnected with my cousin, who is currently living in Montréal. I reached out to him about staying for a few days and he said, "Of course!"

I hadn't seen my cousin in at least 15 years or so. I think I was around 11 years old at the time of the last full-family gathering, and I think only one of his children had been born. He was still playing in the Canadian Football League and I was doing big things in 6th grade. Now, he's working as the Offensive Coordinator for the Montréal Alouettes.

After a super-short direct flight from NYC, I arrived at my cousin's apartment in Milton Park
(also known as the McGill Getto, as many McGill students live in this area just northeast of campus).  After a great catch up sesh, my cousin walked me to a strip of restaurants on nearby Rue Saint-Laurent for dinner.

Obvi, I had to start my trip with a classic poutine: french fries fried in peanut oil to a deep brown, then topped with cheese curds and gravy. I made sure that the gravy on these didn't have any beef stock in it, unlike more traditional recipes (Je suis végétarien).


My first true Canadian poutine at Dirty Dogs.

On the way back from dinner, my cousin showed me some of the gorgeous murals in the area, including a gorgeous one at the end of his block. I came back a few days later during the daytime when the light would do them justice.













 The second day of the trip was super hot. The Northeast U.S. was in the middle of an intense heatwave at the time, so I thought my little jaunt up to Canada was perfectly timed. I was wrong. I only made it as far as Place des Arts before the heat prompted me to call an on-demand taxi service to finish the trip to Old Port.

Place des Arts contains a ton of cultural spots like museums and performance venues all in one spot. Here, you can see a plaza for outdoor performances during the summer. 

The Opèra de Montréal to the right, Mt. Royal off in the distance. 

I feel like I actually did see quite a few people drinking Canada Dry.


"Vieux Port" means "Old Port" en francais ;)

A one-dollar coin is a "Loonie" (it has a duck, aka a loon on it), and a two-dollar coine is a "Toonie"

Cafes lining the land-bound side of the riverfront.

Artsy shot of the ubiquitous maple leaf.

Not quite sure what was going on here, but I thought it looked like a giant ball of yarn and knitting needles on top of a car.
On my way up from Old Port toward Notre Dame Basilica de Montréal, I happened across Ssense, a high-fashion-for-cool-kids store based out of Montréal. Ssense carries Balenciaga, Gosha Rubchinskiy and Saint Laurent...it's sort of like Montréal's answer to Dover Street Market. The Ssense cafe was on one of the Montréal To-Do lists I'd seen online, so I popped in. I was delighted to see that the store was hosting an installation featuring the Craig Green for Moncler Genius collaboration. While I did not see the infamous tampon jacket featured on Diet Prada, it was really cool nonetheless to see the pieces up close.






Brutalist vibes from the 6th floor cafe. 




Didn't have a chance to go in, but I'm sure it's gorgeous. My cousin's wife recommends the Aura show. 

One of my favorite days of the trip was when it was cool enough to truly flâneur my way through the sleepy, leafy streets of Montréal. I am obviously a francophile and I was excited for the opportunity to try my favorite french foods while in Québec. My cousin's wife suggested that I try to find an ephemeral outdoor market down a side street for the best baguette, and told me about a charming gazebo-turned-cafe in a park at the end of the lane. Luckily, I was able to follow her directions and snag a baguette as well as a croissant, and visit the park with the gazebo cafe. 












On my last full day, I walked over to McGill, which my cousin and I both agreed looks like it was ripped straight from the pages of Harry Potter.





I saw a ton of students moving in and going on scavenger hunts in matching t-shirts.




...and there you have it! I hope you all enjoyed the pictures, which I shot using a Sony Alpha a6000 (not sponsored). Until next time!

-Zee

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Tulum

Hola amigos!

I haven't posted in quite a while ( I think almost a year? Quelle horreur!), so sorry about that! I left off promising a second post on the Mexican town of Tulum following a post on Mexico City where I attended my friends' wedding. The bad news is, obviously, that I didn't follow up on my promise (sorry!). The good news is, I just came back from Tulum, so now is a perfect time to post about it!

This time, I actually went to Tulum first and ended up staying in Playa del Carmen for the last few days (more on that later), so I'll be writing about Playa a bit as well. I didn't take as many pictures the second trip because I was making a conscious effort to make it more of a healing/recuperative trip, so the plan is to blend in some of my pics from my first trip to Tulum.

Some  ~*Tulum Tips*~:

  • Tulum is about 2 hours away from the Cancun airport. I rented a car on my most recent trip, and this time it seemed like there was literally no street parking. What parking there was in the lots, was pretty loco in terms of price (200 pesos!). I think for stress' sake, probably best to just allow yourself to be price gouged by the local cabs, unless you are planning on taking a lot of day trips in the region. 
  • I've read cases of people taking $195 USD cabs to Tulum from the airport. Do Not Do This! Take a Blue Van for a fraction of the price. Both ways, I was the only person in my van. Thank me later. 
  • Hardier souls than me rented bikes to get around. It's an option, but it will be realllly hot. Walking along the beach is a good secondary option. At night, if the moon is full, it can be a pretty idyllic way to get around. Without a full moon, it's too dark to be really safe, IMO.
  • I was warned by a local that the Chedraui supermarket close to the hotels sometimes has problems with people putting skimmers in the ATMs, so avoid if possible (although that's one of the few spots where you can get pesos instead of USD). 
  • The "jungle side" of Carratera Tulum will have you sweating bullets in seconds, and swarmed by mosquitos in even less time. It's amazing how a few feet can make such a huge difference in terms of heat/humidity, without the saving grace of the ocean breeze. Most of the sexy jungle restos will have bug spray. Use it. Also, they typically come through with some burning Mayan resin stuff to deter the mosquitos. It smells amazing. 
  • Most of the stuff here is priced for New Yorkers/Los Angelenos/rich bohemians, so don't expect to find too many good deals just because you're in Mexico. Come prepared to pay close to normal prices if you're a New Yorker, or a premium if you live in most other places. 
  • Although Tulum promotes an eco-chic image, unfortunately, many of the hotels themselves are not that sustainable. Water has to be driven in in huge trucks which pass every few minutes, and many of the hotels and restaurants use diesel engines to provide electricity when the limited supply from the puebla is cut off at night. 
  • If you speak Spanish, use it! Even if you're not that great. I get the sense that people appreciate it. English is pretty much spoken everywhere, but you may need Spanish for some transactions. 
  • Most importantly: come with an open mind! Despite the rapid, Williamsburgian gentrification and a rather colorful and somewhat tumultuous recent history, Tulum remains a colorful, amazing place...one which I hope to return to soon :) .

Since we'll be going back and forth in time, the main idea of this post is for y'all to catch a vibe. Vamanos.






A guy working for my hotel suggested that I put this chili lime salt stuff on my coconut...total game changer. 





Had the huevos rancheros at Zamas restaurant overlooking the sea with my feet in the sand. Great experience :) (and reasonably priced!).



This dog became my bff after I gave him/her muchos huevos rancheros. 


Some sort of jungle party altar at Casa Jaguar, a restaurant on the "jungle side".



Love how trees are integrated with the buildings

One of the cool things about Tulum is that unlike many Carribean destinations, you are literally on the edge of a huge, beautiful jungle.



I love being able to look down the beach and not see a ton of tall hotels, and only a handful of people.

Gift for the female guests of the CDMX wedding. Really came in handy! (Thanks, Isa!)

Posada Margherita serves up a mean green juice. 


















No lie, a dude with a manbun crawled out from there and started to do yoga on the beach. Certainly one way to do Tulum on a budget...



Raw Love cafe is so cute (and healthier than huevos rancheros for breakfast).

The Tulum vibe is very pan-bohemian, spiritual-symbols-of-ambiguous-origin-y

This smoothie bowl was on point. 

People downplay the Tulum ruins compared to Chichen or Coba, but I think that they are gorgeous in their own right. 











So legit being able to swim right at the base of the ruins. Such a cool experience. 





Not pictured: the rumors of topless sunbathing are true. Plan accordingly.

Hammock shop in town. 



Cute courtyard. 

La Paz is a gorgeous restaurant. Full stop. 

This place is a must-visit. Tacos are cheap and off the chain. Nuff said. It is called Taqueria La Eufemia. 

Coco Tulum delivered on the coconuts

Yay Tulum!
I didn't really take a lot of pics in Playa del Carmen, as I was trying to stay in the moment. Also, I was staying in a huge hacienda-style all-inclusive, which, while attractive, was not particularly inspiring. I ended up going there to have a few days in relative comfort after spending the first few in a cabana at Coco Tulum. 

I think this pic I took in Cozumel came out pretty cool. A pleasant ferry ride from Playa del Carmen.