Giddy with excitement and relief at our arrival, Dayna and I trudged through the quickly accumulating snow to Montreal Central, as the fingers on all four of our hands faded white with the biting cold. Once in, we met a scene both entirely strange and warmly familiar. Foreign faces scattered across a festively decorated common room. Some afforded us a passing glance but most continued on, while an accented employee greeted us, ‘Buon soir!’ To step back into the backpacker lifestyle feels more familiar with each new encounter. Happy, we took a good glance around, let our spontaneity and the possibility of adventure wash over, and settled in.
I know that one must travel to get from New York to Canada, but prior to our departure – perhaps because it is so simply drivable – I cannot say that I considered it truly traveling. The province of Quebéc proved me wholly wrong, and I could not have been more delighted.
To step into Montreal or Quebéc City is to step into a long forgotten but flourishing (and very cold) piece of France. French music, french food, and the french language abounds and while everyone in city centers effortlessly converts from French to English and back again, we soon discovered that those in more provincial areas speak French exclusively – forcing Dayna and I to at one point practically mime fast food orders to a cashier’s shy amusement.
Each city’s old towns are quaint, as if plucked out an old French storybook and placed in Canada, decorated with cobblestone streets, small brick buildings and grand government structures. Each city is home to its own Notre Dame. Both Canadian cathedrals are slightly smaller than their authentic French counterpart, but each are just as miraculously intricate and awe inspiring. If I hadn’t witnessed Dayna drive over the border, the ambiance, alongside breakfast’s rich coffees and flaky croissants, and dinner’s rich wine and beer, easily could have fooled me into believing that I had ventured across the Atlantic after all.
Much of our trip revolved around Canadian food, and for that I enjoyed Dayna’s company extra. We devoured poutine (a traditional dish of french fries coated in gravy, topped with cheese curds – how do you go wrong?) at two of Montreal’s best – Mâche and La Banquise. We tried Tim Horton’s donuts, Pub des Borgia‘s french onion soup, St-Viateur’s bagels and Juliette et Chocolat‘s decadent desserts, and walked away raving after every indulgence. Outside of Old Montreal, the city is clean, modern and quiet with cuisine options representative of everywhere from Tibet to Latin America. We both were pleasantly surprised at how large and diverse Montreal actually was.
We explored. On our own, we discovered Old Montreal in the midst of a snow storm, stood amazed on the suspension bridge hanging precariously over Quebéc’s grand Montmorency Falls (which tower higher than Niagra), happily wandered through the wintery and charmingly festive streets of Old Quebéc, and met wonderful local after wonderful local, each of whom was happy to chat and suggest their favorite this or that.
On New Years Eve, we met Charlie, Mark and Rich – three incredible Englishmen – who joined us to see Montreal’s Notre Dame and hike up Mount Royal, a small mountain in the middle of the city which offers a beautiful skyline view. Affable and hilarious, humble and generous, the guys were absolute legends. By the time well-deserved post ‘hike’ drinks were served, we had accumulated a long, running list of inside jokes, couldn’t stop laughing and might as well have been one traveling crew, united for weeks.
We pregamed with resourcefully concocted espresso martinis and split ways for dinner, where Dayna and I enjoyed the company of locals who were more than happy to adopt us into their family of friends. 2016 rang in with a French countdown and impressive fireworks, and we reconvened with the Brits for a night of singing, dancing and shenanigans. While for the most part we rightfully lazed New Years Day away, the five of us had a wonderful dinner together and parted with promises to visit London as soon as the opportunity presents itself.
Two beautiful winter wonderlands, mouth watering food, constant adventures and most importantly, unbelievable company, have quickly transformed me back into that traveler, who if she is not talking about her most recent trip she is likely to be thinking about it. It was spontaneous, exciting and endlessly fun, and I can only be grateful that when deliberating a few short weeks ago, Day and I asked ourselves, “well, why not?”