I got back from my trip to Montréal one month ago today and my travel bug is stronger than ever. Because I have yet to plan my next trip, I figured I would share this trip with you all and some of the things I learned along the way. My cousin was taking French courses in Montréal and I decided I wanted to go visit her. I would have a place to sleep for at least a week until she returned to Winnipeg. She was staying in an apartment with two other girls in The Plateau (the area around Mont-Royal) who were attending the National Theatre School. I got home from a not-so-great day of work one night and my travel bug got the best of me- I booked a one way ticket to International Pierre-Elliott Trudeau airport. I texted my cousin and told her I’d see her in a couple of weeks.
On February 19th, I boarded the 45 minute (small) plane from Kelowna to Vancouver, with little to no plan as to what I would do when I arrived in Montréal. I remember thinking about how constructed our lives are in Western society, and how easy it is to be pushed into the school-work-marriage-kids-retire kind of life. What about exploring, learning and growing? What about pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones and becoming more open, aware people? This seems much more important to me. I met a man on the flight who’s wife had died from cancer, and we had the most beautiful conversation about life and love and healing and how much we both miss the people we love. With these things in mind I continued my travels to Montréal- journaling the whole way.
The first night my cousin and I went to a bar, drank wine and ate burritos (could not have been better). My first day was spent eating delicious food, drinking espresso, and walking around The Plateau and Mile End- both districts in the city. I found the second Ekhart Tolle book- “A New Earth”- at a used book store, and ate fresh bagels at St. Viateur (they make them right in front of you in huge stone ovens with long wooden handles- its amazing). I got a metro pass and started learning how to use the system. I met up with some friends that happened to be in the city, and had to get to Old Montréal to meet them all by myself (I was very proud of myself for getting there with my own devices). I couldn’t believe how beautiful this area was- the buildings were enormous, made mostly of rich, grey stone and intricately carved- detail that I feel is lost in much of modern architecture. I arrived here first in the dark, and the buildings looked all the more magical. The cobblestone streets- wide on the main roads and narrow between the buildings- brought me back to the streets of France and Italy that so easily stole my heart.
The streets of The Plateau had a different kind of charm- each apartment tall and thin with winding metal staircases, and each business housed in a different looking building yet somehow attached to the one next to it. No picture I took could do the city justice, so I didn’t take too many. Instead I did my best to soak it all in and be in the moment. It was hard to believe that I was in still in Canada- it felt like a whole other country. The French language was everywhere- English was almost non existent unless you spoke it first- and this only added to the effect. It was absolutely beautiful- the people, the buildings, and most importantly the culture. After only a few day- I was in love.
Downtown was yet again a whole different experience. It was as if every corner I turned in Montréal there was another cute coffee shop, another local bookstore, or another adorable set of apartment buildings to admire. The buildings went from 2 stories to sky scrapers real quick once I hit downtown. I wandered around for hours (and fell once on the ice, tossing my phone as I went down, I wasn’t embarrassed at all) just taking it all in. These times by myself allowed time for reflection, appreciation, and for everything to sink in. I could feel myself changing in so many ways; I was doing everything by myself and with my own money for the first time in my life. I had a lot of time alone and had to be content with the discomfort that comes from being out of your normal routine. It was difficult for me to just be okay with reading in a coffee shop or walking around, feeling unrooted and without a clear purpose. This in turn actually helped me realize my TRUE purpose- not to accomplish anything, but to just BE.
The two girls I stayed with are two of the most fantastic humans I have ever met. They are so inspiring in their pursuit of their dreams, and to their core are loving and caring. They really did take me in and make me feel like family- Eva and Dejah I am forever grateful to you two. We drank wine every night and sang songs we had written, we drank too much at bars and had important conversations, we went thrift shopping and went to theatre shows, we went to brunch and slipped along the icy sidewalks (seriously treacherous) – those two were the sunshine in those (literally) gloomy days.
I visited a few cathedrals in Montréal- some by myself and some with friends. I was overwhelmed time and time again at the intricacy and the dedication etched into each one. Some people prayed and some people took photos- the contrast in people’s interest in the buildings intrigued me and made the experience that much more compelling.
I could have sat for hours and just looked at the beauty Notre-Dame held. The enormity just overtook me- its hard to find words to describe these buildings. The history and the unbinding dedication that people have to religion is both moving and terrifying.
The hardest moment of the entire trip came when I took a train to Québec by myself. I stayed in a hostel for one night so I could explore the city. Everything was fine until I arrived at the hostel and realized I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do for the next 24 hours. It was incredibly snowy and cold and the Plains of Abraham were pretty much invisible. After walking around for hours and putting off going to dinner alone, I finally ended up in a pub by myself. I ate my pizza in the corner of the restaurant and listened to the groups of laughing friends and family all around me. As soon as I could I paid my bill and left. Back at the hostel I called my dad. Fighting back tears the whole conversation, I told him how lonely I was and how I wasn’t sure what I was going to do all by myself. Having traveled for years by himself, he of course knew just how I felt and just what to say to keep me going. That night I cried for a while (thank the lord the other girls in my dorm room were out) and did some journaling. I am so grateful I took the time everyday to write down what I did and how I felt- I already need to go back and look to remember everything.
I visited the Plains of Abraham Museum the next day- it was definitely low season as I was the only one there. The history of Québec really is amazing and I found a new respect for the ground that I walked on. Somebody had died in virtually every spot in that area and that was quite a profound realization. The sun came out and the sky cleared, and for the first time in my little trip to Québec I felt peace. In one way or another we all live in some kind of bubble, and every time it breaks it can be painful and uncomfortable, but it is so necessary. The sadness I felt alone was so important, and needed in order to grow and become content without other people.
The last week of my trip included spending too much money on food, drinking too much wine and sitting in lots of coffee shops. I ran up Mount Royal to the stunning view at the top, I bought cool clothes at thrift stores (which required me to buy another suitcase to bring it all home), I walked the streets of Montréal which had begun to feel like home. I made incredible new friends and created the most wonderful memories that I will carry with me for a long, long time.
All in all, going on this trip solo was the best thing I could ever do for myself. We can’t grow unless we do new things- even if they’re scary or they hurt as we are pushed out of our comfort zones and into new things. I believe growth- and uncovering what already exists under the layers of opinions and ideas that we have acquired over time- is the most important thing we will ever undergo. Growth is how we become better people- to each other and to ourselves. It is how we realize our flaws and how we accept differences- in people, places and ourselves. We learn about our own abilities and the greatness of other people. We understand the connectedness of everything, and how openness allows endless possibilities of love, experience and friendship.
Keep exploring, keep learning, keep experiencing. Never stop growing.