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Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

Fun, Food, and Friendship in Montréal

Last year I visited one of my best friends in her new town of Montreal. From pretty much the moment my plane landed in Thunder Bay at the end of that vacation, I was looking forward to returning again the next year. This summer has had its share of ups and downs, but nothing was going to deter me from getting to spend some time with Rebecca in person in Montréal again. So on August 16, I flew back to Montréal for some more fun, food, and friendship.

Fun

It’s safe to say we took everything we loved last year and doubled down on it. I’ll talk about the food separately in the next section of the post. But most of the fun simply came from being in Montréal and from walking around, both with Rebecca or on my own.

Rebecca lives in the Plateau, a very historical yet well-preserved residential neighbourhood, with Mont Royal Ave very close to her house. You could eat at a different place on that street every day for a year and still have options! We walked up and down Mont Royal so many times I lost count, both for shopping and food purposes, and also just to get to the metro station. As with last year, I enjoyed riding the metro an inordinate amount. Remember, I’m a small town guy whose city only really has a bus for public transportation, and Montréal’s metro is a really cool experience from that perspective.

Although we walked for kilometres every day, once again, we made sure we had plenty of time to chill. We spent much of Saturday afternoon just lying on a blanket in Parc Lafontaine, talking and reading. We watched a lot of episodes of Angel (which we’ve moved on to buddy-watching having finished Buffy) and even some Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Another notable and perhaps very touristy experience: we went to see the Thierry Mugler exhibition at Musée des beaux arts. Rebecca had previously visited it but wanted to go again. Although I used to work at an art gallery (with her!), I’m actually somewhat indifferent to galleries and museums, but I was happy to go with her, and I know I’ll always learn something. In this case, we were exposed to a breathtaking and stunning visual display of creativity through couture. Going to see it with someone as interested and knowledgeable about fashion as Rebecca was also the right call; the whole experience was more enlightening and enjoyable than if I had just gone by myself.

Composite of different views of the Salon de thé CHAI

On Monday, my last day in town, Rebecca had to work, of course. So I took the bus and metro into the neighbourhood (Old Port) of her office and then set off to explore on my own. I Googled for tea stores, and my first choice was a dud—I got lost trying to find it in the maze of underground shopping complexes, and when I finally found it, it turned out to be a hole in the wall with no seating. So I went to my second choice, which was much more my style. Comfy seating and WiFi, food and tea, great atmosphere. I spent a couple of hours there and then hit up a pastry shop Rebecca recommended before finally relaxing in a parkette near where she works.

While at the pastry shop I was texting with Rebecca, who remarked, "I should have asked you to buy some macarons for me." I was way ahead of her: I had, in fact, bought macarons from the tea lounge I’d visited first! They were supposed to be a surprise, but I couldn’t resist letting her know that, as usual, we were so in sync when it came to these things.

Food

I didn’t actually buy any souvenirs to take back with me, for myself or others, this trip around. (Well, okay, I bought some yarn to use, but I don't really count that as a souvenir. And I bought some tea.) Nearly all the money I spent went to food, and there was … quite a bit. You don’t realize how impoverished Thunder Bay’s food scene is until you hit up somewhere like Montréal.

My first night there, Rebecca came back to her place fresh from the gym and asked what I knew she would: "Do you feel like sushi?" The answer was yes, yes I felt like sushi, and specifically the sushi from Sushi Nanami, a restaurant we had tried together last year. It had been a while since Rebecca was there (it’s not that close to where she lives), yet the owner recognized her right away. The service was good and the food excellent.

composite of food we ate
Left column: smoothie bowls, Italian paninis, and Chinese food. Right column: pizza that we baked ourselves, chicken avocado wraps.

On Saturday night, we made pizza together. I really like to cook with my friends, and I love cooking with sous-chef Rebecca in particular—although this time, since we were in her house, I was technically sous-chef.

We also had quite a few good sandwiches (such as smoked meat on a baguette), some vegetarian food, I tried a smoothie bowl for the first time, and on my last night we got Chinese takeout from a restaurant Rebecca had always wanted to try and never known how close it was to her place. The dumplings and sauce were the best I’ve ever tasted….

Friendship

I make no bones about the fact that if Rebecca weren’t in Montréal, I’d have no reason to go there. I’m not big on travel for tourism’s sake. For me, the main goal of my trip was to spend time with my friend and enjoy activities together—and I’d say that was mission accomplished.

So much has changed in a year, for both of us. We launched a podcast together, for one! When I visited last year, Rebecca was still very new to the city. She was crashing on a friend’s couch and had just started in a job. Now, she has a place of her own and had just recently found a new roommate after her previous roommates moved out. Not only that, but she has a job that better suits her talents and some of the skills she wants to learn to help herself in her more entrepreneurial goals. She continues to post weekly on her blog, and a lot of our frequent phone chats are about ideas for the future.

Here’s my favourite part of the vacation, hands down: this year, I felt like I was seeing Rebecca in her element. Her place suits her. The vibe of that neighbourhood suits her. The whole city suits her. Getting to hear Rebecca switch to French to speak to someone, getting to ride the bus and metro to her work with her, watching her navigate the neighbourhood with confidence or describe for me what she was doing at her work … there are few pleasures greater than seeing one’s friend in their element, and that’s what I go to do a few weeks ago with Rebecca in Montréal.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t the fun or even the food that filled me up—it was our easy, relaxing, supportive friendship. I got to disconnect, from the Internet and from my everyday worries, and spend my time with someone I deeply love and respect, in a city that suits them to their core, and I can’t think of a better way to vacation.

Photo of me and Rebecca at a Sushi Nanami restaurant
Last year, Rebecca and I discovered this great little sushi place. We returned to it for dinner my first night in town.