If you don’t know, I have been playing a card game called Magic: The Gathering for a little over a year now. The company that makes that game is called Wizards of the Coast or WotC for short and they host open tournaments in different cities pretty much every weekend. I have already gone to one of these events in Madrid with my Magic buddies from Switzerland in December last year and I wanted to go to the one in Montreal last weekend, May 19th to 21st. The only problem was that I didn’t have anyone to go with yet. So when I heard a guys talk about the GP last week at a game store I go to every week, I just asked him if I could tag along. He didn’t mind and so I was introduced to a group of people who call themselves “dem boyz”. It’s a bunch of guys who met playing Magic in Ottawa and they were a little skeptical at first. But fortunately the skepticism faded quickly. I got along great with all of them and by the end of the day, I felt like I would have known them for quite a while already. What might have helped is that I did very well in our first tournament and had the chance to represent “dem boyz” in being one of the top 8 players of about 180 people.
I really liked Montreal as a city. For some reason I did not have very high expectations but when I started walking through the streets I felt that this city was special. It combines high rises, steel and glass, public yards, art installations and a vibrant nightlife to make something that made me think “I want to be part of this”. Oh and they had swings that light up! How cool is that? Also there are these bike stations called Bixie where you can just rent a bike and drop it off at a different station, which I found is a pretty cool way to get around the city.
Anyway, after we played magic dem boyz and I went to the most famous place for Poutine in Montreal. We were really tired and hungry after a day of playing. What we didn’t know just how far off the metro network this place was and when we got there we had to wait in line before we could actually eat, but it was totally worth it. If you should ever be in Montreal, check out La Banquise.
I decided to stay in Montreal for another day to explore the city and meet Maria who I originally met on my flight from Zurich to Montreal.
So Brandon invited a couple of his friends out to a potluck in a cottage out in Gatineau Park. He had built a little cart so we wouldn’t have to carry the gas cookers (spoiler alert: it broke, Brandon fixed it, awesome). The wodden cottage was apparently open for anyone to use but we were the only people there that night. It didn’t have electricity but it had furnace that we used for heat and we used candles for lighting which set a very romantic atmosphere. We made some burgers, used the furnace to warm up some pie and played board games. Oh and we got to listen to a pretty epic concert from the frogs by the lake.
People who work for the Canadian Navy have to move occasionally when their service is required at a different station. This also happend to Audrey, a friend of Heather’s. When people in Canada move, they usually sell their house and buy a new one in the city they move to. But to sell a house it has to be made pretty first. So Heather and I helped Audrey with that. Moving boxes, painting walls and fixing wiggly closet doors. It was a lot of work but Audrey was very grateful and always treated her helpers to an amazing meal.
Heather also has to move soon so for the last week she was in Victoria to look for a new place. She was so kind to leave me the keys to her car which I was very happy about. As it turns out, buses in Ottawa are not very reliable so having a car to get errands done and go to magic events was very helpful. While she was away I spent a lot of time with the dogs. Either walking them or just chilling on the couch with them while I worked on my resume.
When Bernard and Jonathan left for the camping ground where they were going to spend the summer I had to find another place to stay. Luckily I found another host on couchsurfing.com – Heather. She lives pretty close to downtown, has a dog called Nika and a roommate Denise who also has a dog called Eva. After getting to her place by bus (which was not fun with the two heavy suitcases) she invited me to walk the dogs with her. I got to see the park and the surrounding area and the dog had a chance to get to know me.
Heather let me borrow her bike wich came in addition to a lock with another thief repellent: a coat of pink spray paint which I thought was awesome. 😀 I spent the next day exploring downtown and the parliament building as well as playing magic.
The next day Heather invited me to have lunch with her and her colleagues. She works as a Combat Systems Engineer for the Canadian Navy in Gatineau, which is the city on the Quebec side of the Ottawa river. One of those friends, Brandon invited me to a BBQ at his place. Before that though, on Saturday, which incidentally was my 28th birthday, we went out to Gatineu Park to explore the Lusk cave (BTW I totally misunderstood the name when I first heard it).
The first real place I stayed was with Bernard and Jonathan, an awesome couple I met on couchsurfing.com. Jonathan picked me up from my hotel in the morning which I was very happy about. It was very rainy and my two suitcases are very cumbersome on public transport as I would soon find out. Bernard runs a catering business which he was in the process of shutting down and Jonathan is a retiree who used to work for a software company.
I really enjoyed staying at their place. Both of them were a pleasure to be around. Very welcoming and supportive and they gave me a lot of tips on how to get set up which was very helpful for me. Their home was beautiful; stylish yet cozy. Bernard always made some veggie food for me and it was always very tasty although he was not used to cooking meat free meals. Both of them enjoyed games and they even invited one of their friends on Sunday and we had some very intense games of “Acquire” and “Ticket to ride” paired with a couple of glasses of wine.
I also made friends with their cat Inky. She was rather shy and mostly sat in the bedroom but when the sun was coming through the window in my room I got to enjoy her company. Oh yeah and I had my own room with queen sized bed and my own bathroom. That was very nice.
Apart from that I tried to get set up as best as I could. To work in Canada I needed to get a social insurance number (SIN) which was relatively easy to come by. Getting a SIM for my phone took a while because I decided to go for a prepaid plan with 7-Eleven and they mail their SIMs. Getting a bank account turned out to be the hardest part. Many places ask for a Canada-issued ID which I didn’t know at the time. The easiest way for me to get that would be to have my German drivers license exchanged for one from Ottawa. But for that I had to get it translated by an approved translator. That took a while.
I also used my time to get to know the Ottawa Magic community. One of the first things I did was attend the midnight prerelease event for Amonkhet the second day after I landed. I was super tired but it was fun and I met a lot of nice people there. One of them was the most stereotypical Canadian ever and apologized for every single play he made. Super nice guy though. 🙂
All in all the trip was pretty enjoyable. My dad brought me to the airport very early in the morning. It was cold. It had just snowed the days before and I was a little nervous. I had tried to book a second suitcase the days before and I wasn’t sure if it would all work out because I was on the phone for almost three hours with different airlines. But it did work out. I hugged my dad goodbye and got on four flights before I stepped off the airplane in Ottawa. I had some very nice travel companions. A university student who was visiting his brother in Zurich to get him over a breakup and a designer from Montreal who was comming back from a conference. Most of them being Swiss flights, the food was actually surprisingly good.
I was tired when I got off the plane. But I was glad when I got to the little hotel room, fell onto the bed and slept for 12 hours straight.
Visiting Canada again has been something I wanted to do ever since I left after my high school year in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. But it was a little harder than I imagined it to be. Getting a working holiday visa from Germany means taking part in a lottery. I initially wanted to go to Canada after I finishing university but it took me a while to get a winning ticket. In fact it took so long that I had to take a job because I ran low on money waiting. That turned out to be an adventure all by itself that involved learning some very important lessons and meeting some people that I grew very close to. But I did get it in the end.