Saturday, November 6, 2010

montreal and quebec city, part 2

I've unpacked my bags of sandals and short-sleeve shirts from my recent trip to Savannah, GA. I enjoyed six days of southern hospitality, food and accents. I wanted to go to Savannah for about nine years or so, and the experience lived up to my dreams. I've traveled quite a few places in the past decade and Savannah has always been "next" on the list as I planned a trip someplace else. Opportunities and new curiosities led me elsewhere. Now it was Savannah's turn.

I booked this trip in March and since then I had been thinking quite a bit about this trip I started to write about earlier this year. I wouldn't be honest if I said I wasn't apprehensive about traveling alone to Montreal and Quebec City for ten days. I was a bit scared. What I learned about myself and the art of traveling during that adventure prepared me to be so much more present and appreciative of all the new-to-me experiences of living life in a different place - even if just for a few days. Looking back that trip was gift.

Over the summer I found the journal I kept while on this trip. Those words I wrote are precious to me. Great moments captured that I long forgot. And time spent reflecting on my life and feelings as I was traveling solo. As I read those pages I laughed. Cried a few tears. And remembered a true adventure.

As I'm still enjoying my Savannah memories, here are some bits of the rest of the Montreal/Quebec City story. If you haven't read the post embedded in the link above - or you've forgotten what I said (after all, I did start the story in JANUARY), you might want to read that first.


The morning sun poured through the long, rectangular window across from my cot-like bed. The chair was still propped securely under the door knob. Morning brought great optimism to my mind. And through the brightness in the room I saw a small cube refrigerator under one of the desks. Hmm, that's a nice extra.

The bathroom wasn't scary. The hallways weren't scary. There weren't many people around, it seemed. I picked up morning breakfast at a cafe down at the end of my block that became my dining home base. I even ordered in Franglaise, which prompted the cashier to ask where I was from. "The US - Minnesota," I chirped. She immediately started speaking rapidly in English - ending with a "No need to try French here in Quebec Provence- we all know English." I tried my French a few more places, and was met with the same enthusiasm to put me at ease with encouragement to just speak English. I think one merchant tipped my off that this was due to Canada being so happy when Americans vacation in their country of late - our exchange rate "sale" was of great delight to Canadians. I'd likely spend more, and merchants wanted me to feel comfortable to do so. Money = the global common language. Sigh.

With breakfast consumed, I started my walk. My res hall hotel wasn't too near a metro stop, so I mostly walked everywhere on this trip. Quebec City is much smaller, so public transportation wasn't really an option either. I believe my first full day in Montreal was a Sunday. Not knowing that I needed to manage my expectations of what Sunday meant in Montreal, it was a downer day for me. Not too much hustle and bustle out on the streets. I ventured into a small artist market by the river front, but really, that's about all that was open. I wandered the Old Montreal for hours, looking in windows and basically feeling like this was a wasted day. I sat on a bench in the sun by the river for a few hours, reading. Bench-sharers would come and go. The last was a woman who a spoke a bit of French with, then English. It was pleasant, until she started encouraging me to come visit her church and kept handing me slips of paper with Bible verses on them. I politely shared that I belonged to a church at me home, and that I really wasn't interested in attending services elsewhere during my trip. She wouldn't stop. I finally had to get up and leave.

It was late afternoon by now and I wandered into a pub about a block away. I ordered a sandwich and while waiting for it, started reading a local arts and culture paper. As I scanned what was happening over the next week, I noticed a pain in my stomach. At first it was just a twinge - probably hunger I thought. I ate my food and the feeling turned into pain. And my mind started racing: I'm sick in a foreign city. What if it's my appendix? What will I do? Will my health insurance work here? What if I need surgery? I'm here all alone. How will I take care of myself, all alone here? WHY did I come here alone? Then I started to cry. I sat crying, eating my meal for about 20 minutes. It seemed like forever - like so much time had passed - and actually I wished a lot of time had passed because I still had about five hours of the day left, and then nine more days to go.

I wish I could remember what snapped in my thoughts, but by the time I had walked back to the residence hall, I was feeling more optimistic. I walked around the hall a bit and found the TV lounge. I remember watching 60 Minutes with some other people. I also found the computer lab and hopped on the internet for a while - reading news, the weather forecast for the next day. My stomach still hurt, but the pain wasn't getting worse. I decided to give it until morning and if I needed, I'd find a doctor.

I ventured up to my room and turned on all the lights. I pulled out a book I brought to read - and it turned out to be just what I needed for the trip. It was a travel advice book written by Erma Bombeck. And it was so light and funny. I still remember bits of it - specifically what she said about traveling with organized group tours. After having been on a tour vacation now, there was a lot of truth in what she said. And I remember at the time I though - I'm so not interested in traveling with an organized tour - how restrictive! HA - how my interests changed in seven years!

Right before bed I made a chart for the remaining days and poured over my travel book. I listed what I wanted to see, and grouped close activities together. Then I put them on my chart. The next five or so days were pretty much planned out. I rarely went with the flow with anything I did at that point in my life, and making this chart gave me so much confidence and hope for this trip. I went to bed feeling optimistic. And I left the desk chair at the desk tonight.

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