On Saturday at 11am I wrote this on a hostel laptop:
As I sit writing this, I am in Canada. I enjoy Canada, but I am very tired right now and would love nothing more than to be back in Boston. I got 3 hours of sleep, I think Meghan may have left me here to find my way back to Boston by myself and I hate this keyboard. Ill write more later.
Memorial Day is a day to remember the people who sacrificed their lives for America by driving on congested highways for as many hours as it takes to get to the mountains/lake/beach/elsewhere. For my friend Meghan and I, that elsewhere was Canada.
I like Canada a lot. I have fond memories of it being my first adventure outside of the country in high school and the first place I drank in public legally when I was in college. Canada is Europe Light; new currency, new language but close to home. The exchange rate is also beneficial to the American traveler, which a hard characteristic to find nowadays. I hear French Guiana is nice this time of year...
Meghan knows of a spa in Bolton, about an hour and a half outside of Montreal that has a great deal on massages. For US$64.17 each, we got an hour long massage, unlimited use of the hot tubs/steam rooms and a bottle of water. I won't get into the massage details, but let's say the next time I let a little French-Canadian man rub my bare ass, he's taking me to dinner first. The steam vapor bath did wonders for my skin and self-confidence-- I must have sweat about 3 pounds of water out of my system. The paltry bottle of water supplied to me suddenly seemed very inadequate.
Once we had our fill of the spa and needed our fill of dinner, we headed for Montreal where we would spend the night. Since Meg and I are both in the hole thousands of dollars to various credit institutions, we elected to stay in a hostel. If you're living like Paris Hilton and have never stayed in a hostel, you've not lived. A hostel is a budget hotel/prison environment where mostly young travelers (there's always some 40-something dude staying there) stay. You don't find many of these in Boston (there's 3, due to some antiquated brothel laws) but throughout Canada and Europe they're as ubiquitous as "God Bless America" bumper stickers in Texas.
The only other hostel experience I've had was my most recent stay in London. It was the cheapest hostel I could find, and I stayed in the cheapest available setup. In a hostel, you pay a prime for privacy. The more of your peers who are in the same room with you, the less you pay. In London, there were seven others in the room with me, sleeping in summer camp-like metallic bunk-beds painted primary colors. It felt like kindergarten met a tenement with a British accent.
Meghan, who speaks French and frequently goes to Montreal, knew of a hostel that was cheap. "But," she cautioned, "last time I went the owner tried to make my friend Chris sleep under a table." Not wanting to hold onto a couple of extra bucks that much, we agreed on another hostel in Vieux-Montreal that was slightly more expensive, but offered free breakfast.
We walked by the hostel about three times. The neighborhood of Vieux-Montreal is beautiful-- it's like staying in Quincy Market or the North End. There's tourist shops, bars, restaurants and cobblestone streets. Our hostel (La Maison du Patriot) had no indication except the number 169 on the white door. We rang the bell and the owner, Namia, let us in.
She led us up the stairs (the walls made of exposed stone) to the "lobby," which amounted to five feet of space near the kitchen. She showed us the kitchen, and then led us to our "room." Our room was upstairs (more beautiful stone) near one of the two bathrooms. The "room" had a bed and two air mattresses on one side, a patchwork of bedsheets and an additional formula of spring and air mattresses where the boys slept. Meghan and I were sharing the real mattress. Since it was only for one night it didn't bother me, but if I return again I'll be sure to book far enough in advance to get a proper room with walls. Some of the rooms had fireplaces and stone walls which were gorgeous.
After dinner, Meghan decided to go to bed since she was awesome and drove all day long. Since I had been sitting in the car all day (and had heard some foreign accents) I decided to make some friends in the kitchen. When I got downstairs, two guys and a girl were watching the Simpsons (en Anglais) on a laptop, with bottles of lemon Bacardi and tequila being passed around.
"Hey," said the Australian, "want to have a shot with us?"
The one thing that you gain by staying in a hostel is friends. Since there's no privacy, you can't hide away from everyone. People let their guard down more than in hotels with more than one bathroom per twenty people. Even in the slummy hostel I stayed at in England, people always invited you to clubs or sightseeing. But mostly clubs.
So I joined John (the Australian), Claire and her boyfriend Aaron in a Simpsons drinking game. Sadly, Aaron decided to make a rule that every time a character sang, everyone drank in an episode that features a 300lb man who thinks he's Michael Jackson, so lots of singing was involved. Dreading a 7-hour car ride with a hangover, I sipped at my shots but still managed to drink enough tequila that my lips burned. We drank the shots with lemon instead of lime. Crazy.
John was pressed into service by Namia, and he had to stay at the hostel until 12:30am to wait for people who had reservations but hadn't shown up. John, Claire, Aaron and I hung around in the lobby, discussing Americans, travel and school. Some nineteen year-old American college students emerged from their room after a day of sightseeing to join us at the bar. John dutifully waited until 12:30 (ignoring the pleas to forget it by the Americans) for the elusive guests and then we all headed to the bar. I danced like a fool, drank Corona with a lemon in it (crazy!) and watched an Aussie, some Canuks and an American play pool.
Had I rambled about this topic yesterday, I would have sounded much like the beginning of my piece-- hateful and unable to find the apostrophe key (damn French keyboards with their accent ay-goo or whatever). I didn't get even three hours of sleep since I was out until 2:30, the bass from the bar next door was loud even with my earplugs in, the bed was hard and people started rustling their bags at 6:30. I was hungry because all I ate was a croissant and bad coffee in the morning. But once you get out of the car, get a shower and a nap things seem better, and you realize that though they exist only to make as much money on poor international travelers as possible, hostels force you to interact with people you wouldn't otherwise. And on a full, well-rested stomach, that's a good thing.