After spending three days in Panama, I learned about the architecture, cuisine, fashion, history, sights and now truly appreciate the culture.
A weekend away to practice my French. Not really, it was my birthday celebration. Arriving on Friday evening, it was freezing around -10C. Either way, I decided to take on the worrying weather.
First, I took the 747E autobus from Pierre Trudeau International Airport (YUL) to the Courtyard by Marriott Montreal Downtown. It costs 10 Canadian dollars. My home for three days was in a good central location.
After settling in, I decided where to go for dinner. Close by, Bonaparte Restaurant was welcoming. Their savory seafood menu is amazing. I highly recommend the shrimp and scallops entree. The gourmet dinner menu was a bit of a splurge but birthdays only come once a year. Then for drinks, Notkins was a lively bistro bar with old school tunes to get anyone moving. Soon enough, it was time to call it a night.
Saturday morning, the Canadian Centre for Architecture was calling. The exhibition on display: It’s All Happening So Fast. Learning about Canada’s water consumption and views on desertification was well interesting. Then the wonderful walk along La Rue René-Lévesque was lovely seeing statues and the beautiful cathedral. Next I visited MAC, Musee d’art de contemporain de Montréal. The admission is 15 Canadian dollars. The exhibitions on display were: For time is the longest distance between two places and Le Biennale de Montréal. I spent over an hour there mesmerized by about thirty rooms highlighting modern art. You can tell I’m an art admirer. My favourite piece was an oil on canvas 2015 painting, ‘Long Distance’ by Nicole Eisenman. Staring at the work made me think about so many things at once. The coffee cup, calendar, element of writing with stationary and the screen are all there. It represented all the things that couldn’t be said for many in long distance relationships. Let’s call it a moment of realization in life.
Eventually it was time for a 1pm lunch. Strolling over to La Rue Square Victoria, I discovered Ê.A.T (Être-Avec-Toi). Translated into English, it means to be with you. It was a cool contemporary concept restaurant moderately priced and positioned in the W Hotel. There were detailed drawings and illustrations as wall décor. Also the cool vibes with ambient electronica music setting the atmosphere. The manager and waiters had excellent customer service too. I was fully taking in Montréal’s hospitality.
Exploring must be in my DNA because about an hour later, I was getting lost in Vieux Montréal (Old Montréal) and enjoying it. So many cafés and shops to embrace Canadian culture. Later on at 4pm, I met up with two friends who were staying in the gay village of the city at a hostel. Was it fun? Oh yes! Especially when they’re both named Alex and it’s happy hour forever. Drinking beer, throwing darts and playing pool in a massive basement while having crazy conversations about international current affairs was my evening. The excitement continued until my stomach grumbled. Must be dinner about 9pm. Of course coming here, I had to eat poutine at least once. There it is below and it was so filling.
To end the night at 11pm, I attended a gig for Ferry Corsten and Kungs at the vibrant entertainment venue, New City Gas. There wasn’t a long queue to enter. I saw that Canadians do dress up to go out. They party hard as well. Lots of dance and debauchery took place for around three hours. And I loved every minute of the music.
Now it was Sunday Funday! Being lazy, I ate at the hotel’s restaurant, Le Darlington. Yes it was very darling lol. Then the time came for the inevitable as the concierge brought my carry-on. A 40 minute bus ride to the airport. Taking in all of the art, architecture and beauty left to see, I smiled at the Montréal cityscape. In all, it was a great weekend. Merci Montréal. A bientôt, bisous!
All photos taken by Niya Sinckler.
Known for white sandy beaches, cohibas and rum, Cuba has a variety of historical culture to offer surrounding the beautifully preserved Spanish colonial architecture.
Crocodile shaped since Christopher Columbus landed in 1942, this warm and welcoming country has changed over time. From Fulgencio Batista‘s dictatorship to Marxist revolutionary, Che Guevara overthrowing the government, fearless Fidel Castro led the nation to a prominent place. Now President, Raúl Castro is maintaining the Communist rule of the sovereign state with style. Hopefully, the country will keep its creative charm while the infrastructure is transitioning its marketplace from foreign investment interests. You notice the little things here.
Leaving Jose Martí International Airport, where will you stay? Well “hello Havana” or should we say, “Hola”. For accommodation, Hotel Florida is a cosy colonial casa featuring a cute courtyard with authentic Cuban cuisine in Old Havana. Hotel Saratoga which I know from my first visit is a great location for exploring on foot and by eye at their rooftop bar that has numerous cocktails and excellent service.
Then Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where I previously stayed on my second visit is a lovely luxury gem over 90 years old in the middle of Vedado. Amazing art deco, beautiful blue skies, exclusive eats, seaside views, a gorgeous garden, a cool cabaret room and celebrities strutting through the lobby are what got me. This is the place to be! Taking a walk along the magical Malecón, you’ll find the Museo de la Revolución, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de La Habana and Museo Nacional de Historia de Cuba where one can learn about the art, culture and history of Cuba.
When looking for a casual lunch, support the locals by going to a paladar (family-run restaurant). La Galería (moderate) has amazing fresh fish or Atelier (splurge) offers Cuban continental cuisine, both in Vedado. For the art lovers, you will admire every inch of this island. From the classic vintage cars to locals painting portraits on the cobblestone streets, there is something for everyone. Business is also flourishing more now and I’m rooting for Cuban entrepreneurs. Fashionistas are even in town for Chanel‘s Cruise 2017 collection runway. Follow on Instagram for updates. Who knows you may even brush shoulders with the master of fashion, Karl Lagerfeld or Brasilian supermodel Gisele Bündchen, rumoured to be walking the show by the Paseo del Prado promenade claims Harper’s Bazaar.
Two blocks away, El Capitolio designed by Eugenio Rayneri Piedra stands grandiose with neoclassical architecture. Often a friendly guy, Miguel is hanging out on the steps who will take your photo with an old fashioned camera which I loved since photography is one of my passions. Say queso and smile as you’re taken back to the 1950s. Local music can be found in numerous neighbourhoods. Soon enough, the Latina in you will come out as you hear different beats and sounds around the city. Prepare your Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC, local currency) for drinks at El Floridita to delve into the era of Ernest Hemingway and sip the best daiquiri in the world.
Dinner at the popular eatery, El Aljibe is the best. It’s the pollo (chicken)! Also the open concept and again this is a family run restaurant. I love it. And of course, you get a special treat at the end of your meal. Can you say Cuba Libre y cigarro? I think yes! Dance the night away at Café Cantante Mi Habana with a range of artists representing real rumba, heavy hip-hop, rock and sassy salsa in a mixed crowd of locals and tourists aged early 20s to late 40s. For that midnight bite, stop by Cafe de los Artistas. Lastly, I would be recommend venturing to Varadero in the northeast Matanzas Province, Trinidad in the midwest Sancti Spíritus Province and the second largest city in the southeast, Santiago de Cuba to enjoy the ocean coastline.
Today marked an emotional moment as well. According to Reuters, it was the first time in decades that a U.S. cruise ship entered the Havana Bay area. Get ready to travel. Check flights and peruse hotels. Dare to discover colourful Cuba.