4 Months In Montréal

Whenever I travel somewhere new, I always make sure to capture the essence of the trip on my blog, by writing a gloriously long post about what I did, saw, experienced, ate and so on. Fitting 4 whirlwind months into a blog post seems like a mammoth task that will take some serious paraphrasing and patience on both my and your behalf. Although I have already written a blog post on the lessons I learnt from studying abroad in Montréal for the fall semester, I wanted to write about my experience as a whole, just so I can put all my memories into one place for me to look back on nostalgically when I'm back in England sipping my cup of Tetley with a mince pie in hand (ah, British life) and wishing I was back living those memories again.

I moved to Montréal on Sunday 18th August and I will never forget the painfully awkward "hello" I meekly said to my housemates as they all walked through the door. I had never felt more British in my entire life, but luckily enough, they were all incredibly friendly and welcoming which made me feel quickly at ease. The welcome week activities started the day after, so there wasn't any time at all focus on anything other than meeting as many people I could and enjoying the plethora of fun activities that the exchange committee had planned. My favourite day activities were probably the waterpark (as this is the day I bonded with the 2 girls that ended up being my closest gal pals) and going to La Ronde, the theme park (as this was when our friendship group formed and we got to know each-other as we chit-chatted whilst queuing for rides and sharing some pretty questionable rollercoaster rides together). I will never forget that me and my flatmates hosted the first house party of the year (big up The Jay 3), on the first night of the welcome week. It's safe to say that's probably the smartest decision we ever made as a household because we got to know so many people, we set the bar high for future parties and we all bonded together as a group whilst playing beer pong (some better than others) and listening to Dance monkey by Tones & I (what a tune). 

Now, since my parents very kindly accompanied me to Montréal to help me settle in, saying goodbye was a very emotional, difficult moment because that was the second that I knew I was in Canada for the very first time on my own (aka without my family) and that home was a 7 hour flight away. Luckily, I loved my flatmates and our home environment, so being able to go back to that lifted my spirits immediately. The end of August consisted of starting classes (and swapping the ones I didn't gel with at first), exploring our edgy neighbourhood with my friends, and going to a Barbie exhibition downtown (which was the strangest but positively quirkiest exhibit I've even been to).

We started September as we meant to go on ... with a lot of fun, dancing and 1l sangrias at our favourite taco place. We decided to try out "Piknik Electronik" on the 1st September, which turned out to be such a great summer evening, although I can confirm that Techno music just isn't my jam. Nevertheless, we enjoyed sipping our drinks from buckets and throwing some serious shapes on the dancefloor (or in my case, flailing my arms as if independent from my body to blasting techno beats). One September evening, my friends and I ventured to a somewhat hidden away Japanese bar not too far from our house, and it turned out to be probably one of the classiest, most cool speakeasies in the whole of Montréal. We all felt super classy as we ordered some incredible bougie cocktails - which made a difference from our usual bad G&T's (or Vodka lemonade in my case). This month also saw us visiting multiple different spots around the city, from getting lost in the jungle that was the Jean Talon fruit market, enjoying the beautiful botanical Gardens and watching my first ever Americal Football game.

Mid-way through September, we embarked upon our very first committee-organised trip to Québec City for the weekend. We travelled there by those typical yellow American schoolbuses but let me tell you, once the novelty of riding in one wears off, you're left with an uncomfortably bumpy ride that prevents you from getting any form of sleep whatsoever. Unfortunately, we had pretty abysmal wet weather on the first day, however we didn't let that dampen our spirits (pun intended) as we had one of the most fun nights out, which resulted in us attempting to get a midnight dip in the hotel's rooftop pool (an attempt that failed miserably), so we settled for a nice warm bath at 3am instead. Overall, Québec City was such a quaint, beautiful place with charming cobbled streets and architecture that just emanated European vibes. 

Toronto was up next: we packed our bags, bundled into our 8 seater Kia and embarked upon our very first roadtrip to Toronto. It was an incredibly wholesome experience; singing along to some of the greatest songs ever made (aka Bohemian Rhapsody) and making a much-needed pit stop at A&W (by far the greatest fast food chain in Canada). After what seemed like an eternity of a drive, we found our airbnb, nestled on a quiet street in Greektown and were quick to shotgun our bedrooms for the weekend. The first day, we took it upon ourselves to visit Niagara Falls - one of the 7 wonders of the world. Needless to say, it was absolutely sensational, we all couldn't believe our eyes and spent a good while taking as many pictures as we possible could whilst enjoying the very fortunate weather we had. Thats 2 ticked off my list of visiting the 7 wonders of the world! We also managed to accidentally go to the biggest club - Rebel - on the night that Medusa was playing, so we got to dance and sing our hearts out to "Piece of Your Heart" (what a tune), until our hearts were content. Toronto was probably my favourite highlight of my entire semester abroad, since it was my first ever road trip and therefore an unforgettable moment to tick off my bucket list, and spending an entire weekend with my friends exploring a new city whilst experiencing new things together was the best thing we could have done and we shared moments that will be engraved in our minds forever (or maybe not, if we were perhaps a little too tipsy to remember them).

A second road trip ensued at the beginning of October, which saw us reunite with our beloved Kia and make the 2 hour journey up to Mont Tremblant, where we were staying in the most sensational chalet we could ever have expected. I remember we pulled up towards the mammoth of a chalet (it was simply enormous!) and we were all in utter disbelief that this is where we, a bunch of exchange students, would be spending our weekend. For dinner that evening, we sat around the table enjoying home-made burgers and cheap wine with the fire crackling behind us - it was a truly wholesome way to christen the chalet. The next morning, we woke up at silly o'clock to watch the sun rise from our balcony and boy, was it worth waking up early for. I think it's safe to say we experienced one of the best moments of the exchange in that simple moment, as the air around us was still, silent and the view was mesmerising. Later that day, we embarked upon a long, intense hike up the mountains, which provided us with phenomenal views over the lakes; we absolutely chose the perfect time to go as the fall leaves had transformed into a collage of golds and reds. We spent the nights in our cosy clothes (well, for me at least!), drinking wine, listening to music, soaking in the hot tub and enjoying some fabulous company.

The next weekend, me and my friend ventured off to New York for a few days, seeing as we are so much closer than if we were back in Europe - it was a trip that had to be done. The bus there and back was simply hideous, and our airbnb was somewhat questionable, however, we had such an incredible time enjoying delicious brunches, sightseeing as much as we could and enjoying the beautiful weather that we were so lucky to have that weekend. The highlight of the trip for me was definitely when we were traversing the Brooklyn Bridge, as I had such Sex & The City vibes, and it was just the perfect day for it. We also went to the famous Stardust Diner for our last supper and we were not disappointed - the talent of the waiters was just phenomenal and it truly seemed like we had front row seats at a Broadway Musical!

The 14th October signified Thanksgiving Day in Canada, so myself and my friends took it upon ourselves to fashion a very last minute Thanksgiving dinner, hosted at our apartment. Although we may have cheated with the turkey (we just bought cold cut turkey slices from the deli counter ... we couldn't be bother with the whole basting, cooking, stuffing bravado), we all pulled together and enjoyed such a wholesome family meal together and I felt like a true Canadian celebrating this holiday.

The latter part of October was an incredible time period for me, as I had my mum visit me for a week, followed by a week-long visit from my boyfriend. I had the most incredible two weeks with each of two of my favourite people, and it enabled me to explore the downtown area of Montréal much more, as this was where my mum's hotel was situated. Homesickness was definitely something I experienced during my exchange, so it was extremely helpful for me to spend time with my loved ones and integrate them into my "new" life here in Canada. One of the highlights of my mum's visit was spending time at the Museum of Fine Arts together, as there was an incredible exhibition of Ancient Egyptian mummies that was incredible captivating and such a lovely memory that we experienced together. My boyfriend and I had such a wonderful time together, enjoying tasty restaurants together, taking long walks around my neighbourhood and visiting the beautiful Notre Dame for the first time and basking in it's glory together. For his birthday, I booked for us to stay in a chalet in St-Agathe-Des-Monts, a quaint little town just south of Mont Tremblant, for a 2-day getaway to the mountains, which was incredibly relaxing, peaceful and a genuinely uplifting trip. 

The temperature really began to drop this month, and we even had our first snowfall of the season on the 12th! It's safe to say I was thoroughly unprepared for this and spent the majority of my time being teased (rightly so) for not dressing appropriately for the weather. Some things never change. The first half of November consisted of persistent group-meetings for assignments and a house party that we hosted (classic) at the beginning of the month, which, as always, was a great evening.

My dad also came to visit mid-way through November, and picking him up from the airport was probably one of the highlights of my entire existence, as my older sister surprised me at the arrivals gate, which was an incredibly surreal, emotional moment for me as I wasn't expecting it in the slightest. They were only here for 5 days due to work commitments, but I genuinely loved every single second, just like I did with my mum's visit, and we made some incredible memories together. My highlight of their visit was probably our spontaneous idea to go to the cinema to see Last Christmas, which we all thought was a great film (contrary to many critics' opinions), and we began to feel extremely festive afterwards, which was the first Christmas excitement I had felt this year. We also all experienced our first ever ice hockey game together watching the Montréal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, which was an interesting experience for all of us. We had absolutely no idea what was going on half the time, but it actually helped being seated amongst a gaggle of schoolboys who's incessant vocalisations actually helped us keep up with the game itself.

Our end of semester gala was held at the end of November, and it's safe to say we were utterly bamboozled at how quickly time was passing us by. It was so much fun to get all glammed up for our commemorative evening and spend the night dancing away (oh lord, you should have seen the catastrophe that was my dancing), pinching bottles of wine that were destined for other tables and drunkenly reminiscing over the incredible memories we had just all made together over the recent months.

When December arrived, I was in sheer disbelief that it was already the beginning of the end of my time in Montréal. This month was all about revising for finals (or should I say "revising"), having our last experiences together and getting into a true festive spirit with as many Christmas activities we could fit in. We decided to go to the Old Port's ice rink on the day it opened, so we could get our fix of festive skating and also spend the last of our time together. It was such a sweet experience and to top it off, we popped into the pop-up Miracle Christmas bar to grab a festive cocktail before heading home. That pop-up was genuinely my soul personified, as everything you could possibly think of had been festooned with some form of Christmas decoration. It was a great evening.  

In between my last week of finals, we had our last suppers with our housemates, and with our friendship group and it was an extremely emotional realisation when we clocked that we would never be in this same situation, in Montréal, all together again. I thought I would be so excited and ready to go home, but the day I left was such a sad, tearful day and I was so reluctant to walk out our flat's door for the very last time. As I boarded the 747 bus to the airport on Saturday 14th December, I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear (yes, I was getting some very odd looks) as I reminisced over my incredible exchange semester and all of the experiences, people and memories that filled it. If I could go back and do it all again, I would in a heartbeat. I can really say I felt so at home in Montréal; I was happy and comfortable with the life that I created there, and I will carry the memories with me to infinity. I have made the most incredible, hilarious and kind friends that I will genuinely keep for life and hopefully somewhere down the line we can reunite somewhere in Europe and create even more Shelby memories (if you know, you know).

But, I can assure you I am damn happy to be back in England, sipping a good ol' Tetley from my Emma Bridgewater mug with a half-eaten mince pie in my lap. It doesn't get any more British than that. Prochain arrêt, Paris! 


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