Driving from Montreal to Quebec

Us Aussies have a lot to take for granted when it comes to driving. For better or for worse drive right hand drive cars. Driving on they go left takes a little getting used to but touch wood I find it no big deal. This drive in the Canadian spring though proved a little interesting. They have the arrow straight highways we have in Australia that hypnotise you with their repetitiveness and mundane 100 kph speed limits. While this is a journey worth making (train rides are for the lame), I thought I’d share with you a few learnings. The fun didn’t start at the rental lot either. Getting a rental car in French Canada is about as interesting as going nightie shopping with your mum. The metallic charcoal coloured Volkswagen Passat on offer was about as good as the Montreal rental lot got. The exciting upgrade option was some mincing Dodge mini SUV, which we passed on. Once we hit the highway, It’s winter tyres rumbled along the highway so loudly, I thought we had an industrial boiler in the boot! It was expensive too. About $180 CAD will get you a regular sized car for the day insured. Be warned it’s not cheap! There’s two main routes you can take to Quebec. We took highway 40 which takes about 3.5 hours because it’s more scenic. It passes through a few pretty little towns. My only advice to you is if the weather is as bad as what we had, then don’t bother with the scenic route. You won’t see anything through the blinding rain anyway. I think...

Toast restaurant Quebec review

At the¬†bottom of old Quebec city is a real treat. Toast is in its 11th year and loving life. The menu was ‘crowdsourced’ with all their customers’ favourite dishes of the past 10 years. While I’ve only been in Quebec 10 minutes, its clear as day they love to eat out. Thus toast is well on the money for repeat business. what was so good about it? Well in true Quebec style you can get a side of foie gras with any main. I like that ‘screw you hippie’ defiance to the caring foodie. Second they had a dish that was piglet done 3 or 4 different ways. Oh yes and did I say home made bacon? You bet your Toyota Prius I did hippie. Overall an ambiance, warmth and obscenely decadent tastiness that would make any Francophile melt. The perfect compliment to a freezing Quebec night. Plus if not the best, easily the most memorable meal I’ve had in...

The Lisbon thieves market

Once a place for gypsies to sell their stolen wares (thus the name) some things never change at the thieves market. They just get more trendy and organised. There’s honestly not much you won’t find at the thieves market, which is truly a Lisbon institution. You can catch the tram there on a Tuesday or a Saturday (an experience in itself) and truly lose yourself for a few hours. Depending on which end of the market you go to is a measure of how ‘real’ it gets. Up one end there’s trendy clothes stores, designers, middle class types with weekend flea stalls and antiques. Up the other a lot of down trodden immigrant Portuguese selling mobile phones off a sheet on the ground that look like they were stolen yesterday. Honestly though, at no point did it feel unsafe (you have to watch out for pick pockets in Lisbon anyway). Europe being Europe, one bloke was selling hardcore porn and two dozen (unused) condoms and thought nothing of it. You have to be pretty hard on your luck when you’re selling off your last two dozen condoms. Hey it is a global financial crisis. EU leaders, time to act! To balance it out there’s the trendy designers. My wife found a ring that was like a goat in an old fashioned kitchen jar. ‘In English a dog is a bitch’ said its designer. ‘But in Portuguese, a goat is a bitch. So this is my bitch ring’ she proudly proclaimed. If that isn’t originality I don’t know what is.¬†Other weird and interesting stuff like a Sagres (Portuguese beer from...

Why internet cafes are different in Japan

Incessantly we walked. We were in Kyoto or possibly Osaka, god knows where. Japan has a way of overwhelming the senses. Anyone that says you don’t need a holiday after a Japanese holiday is clearly doing it wrong. Just try catching a train there. For every train line you have in your city, Japan has seven. Probably run by three different companies too. My wife was on the ball. Despite speaking a fifth grade taxi driver proficiency level of Japanese, she understood the train lines much better than I did. She could work with the frenetic pace of this country. I just wanted a god damn beer. As we traipsed at warp speed through some sleazier side of Osaka (or Kyoto) her mind was on the credit card. The forever faithful to the fiscal wife was wanting to make sure some sweet smiling hostess hadn’t fucked us over. Wise move, but we didn’t have our phones or iPads. Oh the simplicity of travelling three years ago. Who would’ve ever thought you could have a relaxing holiday without an iPad (fuck you Steve Jobs). Japan might be on its knees now, but the main reason it’s not knee deep is because it built a society around trains and efficiency. America built a society around chrome, V8 Chevrolets and Firestone tyres. To be honest they’re both fucked but my money is on Japan. When those oil fields run out, you will still be able to travel the length and breadth of Japan easily. Long after your gasoline is 50 bucks a gallon. But I digress. Without a 3G phone and without...

The Beer Gardens of Bukit OUG

For better or for worse, I spent some time in Malaysia in the early noughties. Just outside of Kuala Lumpur was a suburb called Bukit OUG (or Overseas Union Garden). The locals considered it quite a posh suburb with expensive bungalows and lots of jungle and big yards. I’d found myself a condominium close by. While it was a nice suburb it’s hardly expat friendly. They mostly stay in Bangsar or Sri Hartamas. Bukit OUG is a place that definitely requires a car. As a proper expat, you’d need a driver in OUG. I don’t care what you say, no whitey can really drive on those roads everyday. The epic potholes, the chaos, or as I witnessed once assassination attempts constantly remind you you’re not in Kansas anymore Toto. One thing OUG did have going for it was a burgeoning hawker stand scene. At night it was the place to be. At least 60 odd hawkers (or mamaks) sold anything and everything well into the night, preparing amazing Classic norwegian dinnerware. It was a primitive scene. The better stores had semi permanent structures, rather than tarpaulins and camp ovens to cook on. Young guys would cruise by in their cars, slowly driving over the speed humps, improvised form timber logs. Many would do laps of the mamaks all night. It was the real deal. More often than not I was the only Johnny foreigner I could see there. It certainly wasn’t a touristy place. A huge highlight was Steven’s Corner. They had tandoors made from converted washing machine drums scattered all over. Their naans and juices were legendary. Yes...

The taxi driver named Jihad

For the traveling I’ve done I am forever grateful to have seen Syria. It is a place full of beauty, history and incredible people. The fact it’s not on everyone’s gap year bucket list makes it even better. There’s never going to be a Syrian Disneyland, Israel maybe, but this place is made of stronger stuff. You come to Syria for the souqs, the castles and citadels and ancient cities. Oh and the world’s smallest bar where the smallest room in the house is a sizeable chunk of the house. This article is the most difficult to write. Because despite the lovely people and fantastic times had, the Syria I saw was one that wanted to just get on with it. A Syria sick of trying to invade its neighbours and conquer more territory, sick of losing all its good people overseas. They just wanted a normal bloody life. Now sadly that has been very callously taken away from them. That get on with it stance has hit boiling point and living a normal life means fighting to the death for it. It’s sad but it’s very true. After a few days in Aleppo (now almost completely destroyed) we decided to head south back down to Damascus. Aleppo is a very European city very close to Turkey. I’ve forgotten how we found our driver but he was a very humble and sincere middle aged man. Without a word of a lie, his first name was Jihad. I’m convinced jihad must have many meanings. Because we even saw a women’s clothing store named Jihad. And none of the burkas or...