Roadtripping and bike fixing

So in a rather spur of the moment way, we decided to hire a car and drive. Initially our plan was to Maine, but it turns out Maine is further than we thought, so we stopped somewhere in Vermont, which was beautiful. I was hoping to catch a glimpse of the sea, but alas, I will save that for another trip! The hills were the most fantastic sight, the trees where the leaves have fallen already make this magical grey haze across everything. And then among those there are the ones still with leaves, a shock of orange and yellow and red, and dotted between them the odd evergreen which stands out with its non autumnal colouring. And then the mountains disappearing off into the distance and eventually blending with the sky. And the long straight unending American roads, and the odd glimpse of a lake through the trees on the side of the road. It was a fantastic sight!

Driving was wonderful, as I only just passed my test before leaving England I’d not really driven before without someone there to supervise, just in case, but I didn’t crash, and they didn’t seem to mind my driving, so it worked out just fine! I even managed to do some overtaking and merging onto the highway without undue stress, so I consider this a success! It’s also given me a taste for it, I want a car and to just drive. I’ve always wanted to drive down those American roads, where they’re so straight so you can see them disappearing into the horizon. I also have to admit, I did have a moment of missing Cora, Lily, Nigel and Susan, because the two I was with were not the singing along type, and I would have quite enjoyed belting out Perfect Day, with arm gestures and all, as we did this summer!

We stopped in Burlington, enjoyed the view of the lake, wandered about the town, got some brilliant coffee in this cute coffee shop where the guy who served us was wearing a t-shirt with the caffeine molecule on it. The chemistry student in me was pleased by this! We stumbled upon an independent bookstore, and I picked up a book with an introduction by Eve Ensler, and was reminded again how wonderful she is.

On the topic of wonderful people, I think every interaction I had with people on the trip was lovely, and they all left me smiling. Sometimes those passing connections with people you’ll never see again mean more than the ones with people you see all the time. The people we stopped to ask directions from, the woman who served me in dunkin donuts for breakfast (when in Rome…), the guy at the petrol station – we had a chat about how ginger cats are superior to all other colours, there were three of them curled up behind the counter; the guys at border control – even the one on the way into America cracked a smile – which is an impressive feat in my experience! The guys who rented us the car, we had a chat about how we don’t understand how students here manage to juggle school work, socialising and sleeping, let alone anything else! The man who suggested we camp in the local school field, who looked bemused at our situation and the fact that we’d ended up in this village in the middle of nowhere, with a school, a petrol station and a year round Christmas store (weird!) and not much else!

It was a lovely interlude the school work and midterms and assignments and not once did I stress about the work I wasn’t doing. Now I’m back in Montreal it’s back to revision and assignment writing, but that’s ok. Yesterday I fixed my bike. I took it to the Flat Tire, which is a bike workshop in the students building here, where there are people here to help if you need it, and tools and cheap inner tubes and patches for punctures. I must admit, there is something extremely satisfying about having a fixed bike and oil on your hands! And the volunteers who are there to help out are also lovely and make the whole experience enjoyable, when there’s a definite potential (after having been there for 2 hours because NOTHING is going right) for grumpiness!

So, a fixed bike and a clearer mind! A good weekend in all!




A week of midterms, good food and cold weather

It feels like winter is drawing in now. Although my bike ride into uni in the mornings is still beautiful, I don’t appreciate it as much if I’m not wearing gloves and something around my ears and a scarf. Being cold is not the best, but I do love the crisp mornings, especially when the sun is shining. I’m going to go on a coat/gloves/maybe boot hunt this week, and jumpers. Who knows what I was thinking when I packed, but I didn’t bring enough jumpers. Brain was not plugged in. Or perhaps that’s just what to expect when you pack the night before…

I had two midterms on Wednesday. Who’s idea it was to schedule one at 6pm until 8 I’ve no idea, but I resent it! I was drifting off the whole way through! Let’s hope I passed. McGill students have this weird idea of what is a good grade. Apparently anything less than 90% is a bit substandard, and if you don’t get an A then, well, poor you. I think British standards are higher, because I’ve not met anyone I’d say was a genius. So I have that on the one hand, and then the other exchange students, who seem to make up most of my friends, who are all here on a pass/fail basis, so spend their weekends doing fun things and not worrying about work. I can’t win!

The drivers here are mad. I never go out without my helmet on (when I’m on my bike, not when I’m just walking down the street. That would be a bit extreme). I tell myself it’s because they have better depth perception than British drivers, but I think it’s more likely that they’re just asses. They pass SO close, they’d definitely all fail their tests if they were to take them in England! So much for a car width, you’re lucky if you get a foot! I happened to mention this in class one morning and the prof (who, incidentally, reminds me of the guy who says “INCONCIEVABLE” in The Princess Bride) told me that he gets hit by a car probably three times a year. WHAT?!? So, helmet it is for me. And bike paths as much as possible. And lights. I’m a safety queen!

I got a bagel at Fairmount Bagel yesterday. They’re known for being the best in the city. My friend Nicole said “they’re so good you don’t even need anything on them!” And she was so right! So good! We got a sesame bagel each and then walked to this awesome Italian coffee shop with a marble counter top and people leaning against it drinking their coffee and the staff knowing everyone’s usual drink. (And Gabe, it passes the sugar test – when the sugar sits on top of the espresso foam for a few seconds before it sinks through. Delish!)

Gina returned from Australia yesterday evening (at last!) and the bus stops near Amandine’s house, so we decided to stay up and wait. We cooked roasted veg – yum, and listened to her housemates record collection – we sang along at the tops of our voices to Simon & Garfunkel and the Hair soundtrack, then made the most epic dessert I’ve had in a while. Croissants, fresh out the oven, we cut them open and poured melted chocolate inside, and ate them with icecream. It was delicious! I also got a grand total of no work done. So today I’m slogging away in the library… Talking of which, I’m gunna stop blogging, and start working.

Love to you all!


What I’m thankful for

There is something rather wonderful about sitting unobserved but able to observe. Today I made myself a cup of coffee and took my laptop out onto the balcony to work. The sun was shining, and the streets are busy. It’s Canadian thanksgiving today, so no-one is at work. I think that lots of people are heading to the market which is less than a block away. Everyone seems to be smiling, it’s hard not to be happy. It’s October and the leaves are falling and there’s a crisp autumnal smell to the air. It’s beautiful. People in Montreal seem to want to be happy! On the metro, even during rush hour, people stop to help women with buggies up and down the stairs, they smile at each other as we’re all crammed in, the bus drivers seem not to mind if you’ve not got exactly the right change. I think I’m probably also seeing it all through my rose-tinted travelling glasses, where everything is better than it would be otherwise, because it’s exciting to be in a new place – but that’s ok – better to see it as better than it is I think!

As it’s thanksgiving, I guess I should think about what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful for lots of things. For the chance to be here, in Montreal, studying and loving my classes. To have an amazing bunch of people back home who have been SO good at making me feel SO loved even though I’m miles away. To have people here who have made me feel so welcome in this lovely city (Manu and Pascale, that’s you two) and my housemates who have let me move into their wonderful house and again have made me feel so at home. For the family I have in Minneapolis, it’s nice to know I’m on the same continent as you! For good food and sunny days and bike rides and laughter and funny postcards. Beautiful sunsets, and the fantastic colours of the leaves on trees at this time of year. For those little encounters with people you’ll never see again, but that leave you smiling for the rest of the day, and music that you can’t help but dance your ass off too. The list could – and will – go on forever I think. I’m thankful for life and love and for all of you lot out there.

Happy thanksgiving!


Also, I want to point out that conforming to the Canadian stereotype, the Wikipedia page for Canadian thanksgiving says “occurring on the second Monday in October, it is an annual Canadian holiday which celebrates the harvest and other blessings of the past year.” So with non of the weird stuff that goes along with the American thanksgiving, this one is actually worth celebrating!

Buskers and nice bus drivers

I love those days where one small thing will make you smile all day. At some point over the weekend I was getting on the metro and there were these two buskers, they were SO good and singing the most uplifting wonderful songs. I was almost disappointed when the train arrived because I was enjoying listening to them so much. I walked around for the rest of the day grinning and singing free falling to myself. And then yesterday, I got on the bus and I’d forgotten to renew my opus card (kinda like an oyster card) and the bus driver let me on for free. What a babe!

I had a domestic weekend, baking and cooking and not leaving the house very much. It was lovely, although I still seem to be lacking sleep and have all the work I needed to do before the weekend still to do, so I have no idea quite how I filled the time! Baking only takes so long! Gina came over on Sunday, we went to the market and bought mushrooms and eggs and fruit and cooked up a garlicky mushroomy eggy breakfast that was pretty wonderful, even though I say so myself. And then we attempted to work, and failed somewhat miserably, and then cycled in the rain to hers, stopping on the way to pick up chocolatey goods and Amandine, our French-American friend who is hilarious! We spent the rest of the day eating biscuits and drinking hot chocolate and feeling sorry for ourselves after our very wet cycle and getting a very small amount of work done. It was kinda how Sunday’s should be.

Then this week had just been rushing by. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m going to say it again: despite being warned by Elspeth that the workload was high, it hadn’t quite hit home until this week, when I realised that I have two midterms and two assignments due next week, and a presentation to my research group tomorrow. Jeez! I have yet to figure out how people here manage to socialise and get work done and sleep and eat and cook and have just a tiny wee bit of time to themselves without falling to pieces! I was in bed and asleep by 10.30 yesterday, after falling asleep in my lecture (there were only about 10 of us in the class, and it was a guest lecturer, that later my research prof was saying he thinks should have won a nobel prize – I hadn’t even told him I’d had a lecture with him, it just came up in conversation – so then I felt a guilty and embarrassed that I’d fallen asleep in this guys lecture, as he’s clearly some kind of genius. Oooops….)

Other than insane amounts of work, I am loving life. In fact, I’m enjoying the work too, I just wish I was better at time management. My cycle into uni in the morning is probably one of my favourite bits of my day. It’s usually a bit chilly still (I can’t get to grips with Montreal weather, wear a coat – it’s super humid, risk going without it – tips it down, or is super cold) and it’s got that crisp autumn feel. I ride down Parc, and there’s such a good view, it’s wide and tree lined, but loads of people about and the sun shines right down it so everything looks beautiful in the early morning light. Or today, it was misty, so all the buildings downtown looked kinda ghostly, there was a crane that went right up into the clouds, it was pretty awesome.

I hope you’re all well!