Tuesday, 25 March 2014

20 things I learnt over the past six months in Quebec

  1. Actually, not everything in shops carries hidden taxes, but it is better to assume it is than to rely on having exact change.
  2. If you don't know how much to tip someone, add up the federal tax and the provincial tax on the receipt (unless, of course, you want to tip more than 15%). Thanks Andrea!
  3. Snow isn't a magical, powdery occurrence that cancels school and makes everything look pretty for a week. It's this hideous thing that gets all muddy and gets piled up on the sides of the roads as a snowpack for literally half the year and you just have to deal with it.
  4. Any temperature above -10°C is tropical.
  5. You will accept Tim Horton as your one true lord and saviour.
  6. Wash your hair the night before. Frozen hair is cool at first but then it's not really worth it.
  7. Banking is a pain. You have to pay to use a cashpoint that's not from your bank. You are only allowed a certain number of transactions per month. You have to go to the bank in person to ask if you can set your account up to make international transfers.
  8. The winter boots you choose will make or break your year. Don't skimp on them; make sure they are sufficiently waterproof and not too heavy to walk in.
  9. The more you travel through towns of Quebec at night, the more you will realise that huge, illuminated crosses are a thing.
  10. Hockey haircuts are also a thing.
  11. Many francophones pronounce "Macklemore" the same way as an anglophone would pronounce "Michael Moore". This can cause confusion for both parties.
  12. If someone describes someone else as "English", they usually don't mean the person is from England. This word is politically loaded in Quebec, meaning an anglophone.
  13. In Canada, pitta bread is not oval, but circular?! Which is why pitta pizza is common. Not that oval pizza is against the law, or anything.
  14. Some people at home asked me whether milk-bags-in-Canada is true. I can't personally confirm this, as I buy non-dairy milks, but in the culinary section I did see a jug specifically for the purpose of pouring milk from a bag.
  15. You will spend many long-distance car journeys in the company of complete strangers and this is completely normal.
  16. No matter how good you get at French, don't be surprised if someone in Montreal replies to you in English. Probably best to go with it if they don't appear to be struggling.
  17. Primary school students will get surprisingly excited if you offer them stickers from England as an incentive to finish their work. As in, they dance and they chant.
  18. Secondary school students will shyly approach you and ask if you've met their favourite One Direction member.
  19. Back home, you will pay £40 for a plaid shirt. In Canada, you probably won't pay more than $15.
  20. When you fly home via a country where English is not the official language, and you see a poster in the airport exclusively in English in huge type, you will subconsciously wonder why it's not also in the official language in bigger type. (On Quebec signage, if there is an English translation it is required to be a lot smaller than the French.)

Monday, 24 March 2014


Ice-fishing huts!
My doorstep after the Valentine's Day snowstorm...

February weekend in Amqui

I visited my friend Louisa in Amqui, which is about 90 minutes' drive from Rimouski.

Sitting on the dog-sled (I didn't dare drive it). So glad I wore ski pants.
Breakfast + watching the Canadian men's hockey team win the gold medal

Ice hotel in Quebec City

From January to March, Quebec City's hôtel de glace is open for people to stay in and visit (before getting demolished after that period). It's a pretty impressive structure - built entirely out of snow and ice - and it was surprisingly warm inside, but I wouldn't really want to spend a night there.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Last Night in Montreal

This post is named for a book I recently read called Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel. It's an excellently written, perfectly paced debut novel. Go pick it up.

So, I spent a couple of days soaking up Montreal before my flight. Certain streets have become very familiar to me; it's weird that it's become my "default city" for the past few months. When I first visited in June 2012, I'd never have imagined that I would eventually get to know Montreal pretty well. I'd believed that was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime excursion. I'm also happy to have now seen the city in each of its dramatic seasons (if spring in Montreal is characterised by sunny snowstorms, then I've seen spring there).
This time around, I visited my favourite places but also saw a lot of stuff that I'd never got around to before. This post is going to be namedropping cafés and restaurants in the Plateau, plus a load of photos. I hope that's okay with you.

  • I must've already walked past this tonnes of times, but I finally went in because I wanted to escape the snowstorm. I was pleasantly surprised. They do six different varieties of pizza, and a slice is about $3. They've got a good selection of teas, and there's a salad bar, too.
  • This place is well-known for its breakfasts/brunches. Its vibe is kind of rock'n'roll. Its bathroom is the coolest (see photo below). As for the food, I ordered a déjeuner méditerranéen, which was eggs, potatoes, tomato and feta salad, and spinach. It was good and really filling, but that was one of few vegetarian options available.
  • Thank you for the recommendation, Ally! This is pretty near Concordia University. It had been appallingly long since I'd had Indian food, and this was a very welcome relief. Most of the meals are around $8. You get a lot on your plate, though, so make sure your stomach is truly rumbling first.
  • A vegetarian restaurant in Montreal I hadn't tried! This place was really, really nice. As my friend Andrea observed, it felt fancy inside but not in the way that made you feel underdressed or whatever. I had their poutine! There was an option for vegan cheese but I forgot to ask for it (there's nothing like squeaky cheese curds, though, let's be real). The sauce was made of mushrooms and black beans, and the chips were sweet potato. It was so tasty!
  • Who cares if I've been to Aux Vivres before? I need to tell you about their BLT. To replace the bacon, they use coconut flakes with vegan mayo. I know that sounds a little unorthodox, but oh my goodness, I can't even describe this bliss in my mouth.
  • ÉM Café
    This is a very nice café in the heart of Mile End. It seems like it would be a good place to get some work done. I haven't tried their food, but they do brunches, lunches and all the rest of it. I drank mango tea there, and I've been trying to figure out where I can get some for myself ever since.
  • This had only been open for a couple of weeks. It's pretty small and minimal-looking, but obviously the music playing is good. There are a whole bunch of free local publications on offer, in both French and English. I can't comment on the coffee as I've given it up, but the tea I had was nice; notably, you pay the same price for all the sizes.
  • So I think this is a chain, but it was the first opportunity I'd really had to experience frozen yoghurt. You can choose as many flavours as you want, as well as a variety of toppings. The price depends on weight. Here, I discovered that red velvet flavoured frozen yoghurt exists. Sometimes the world we live in is a wonderful one.

Because I'm having trouble with inserting the captions, here you go:
1. The Museum Quarter
2. L'Avenue du Plateau bathroom
3. Griffintown
4. Olympic Stadium
5. Foyer of Olympic Stadium (inside the stadium itself is where Grimes' 'Oblivion' video was filmed!)
6. Poutine at Lola Rosa
7. St. Joseph's Oratory
8. View facing south from St. Joseph's Oratory
9. Squeeeeque! L'igloo improbable by Alexis O'Hara, as part of the Underground City Art Festival
10. Street art in Mile End
11. Street art in Mile End
12. Last purchase from Drawn & Quarterly (It's a poetry book, by the way.)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Where do I go from here?

Well, it's been a few days since I arrived back in England, where the fields are lush and green rather than covered in a thick blanket of snow. I had become used to the winter landscape in Quebec - well, you don't get much of a choice - but it sure is nice to feel like everything around you is breathing. And it's even nicer to be able to wear what I want, rather than a minimum of jumper, leggings, jeans, thermal socks, winter boots, puffy coat.

Being back after almost seven months turned out to be less weird than I thought it was going to be... but then again, I haven't left my town yet. I haven't been very affected by jet lag (gimme that medal); in fact I've been pretty energetic and have fallen into good sleeping patterns. I'm trying to take advantage of this to get things tidied up and sorted out before the inevitable comedown.
My last few days in Rimouski were pretty rushed and confusing: hurried goodbyes, camping out on couches and floors, a couple of hundred dollars spent on mailing stuff home, and ruthless decisions when it came to which clothes I was going to donate to the friperie - asking myself whether a particular item of clothing belonged to a person who didn't really exist anymore.

I'm making a concerted effort not to get lazy or complacent. My first priority is resting, of course. At the same time, though, I need to find a job soon. I know it's going to be hard, but I need to get into the habit of not beating myself up about it when it doesn't go my way.

I have some photo posts from the past month coming up soon. Perhaps one or two reflective posts too, but really it's time for me to start moving on.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Coming home early

So, the big confession is that I have not been doing okay for quite a while. I have finished work and I am returning to the UK in a couple of weeks. Putting together this post is difficult and frightening but I feel like I need to issue some sort of one-size-fits-all statement.

To recap: I moved schools this term, and my new one really was fantastic. There's nothing I would have changed about it and I am heartbroken to be leaving it. But I was pulled under by a major depressive episode and it became impossible to exist and do everyday things. I took a lot of time off school and in the end it was determined that it would be better that I go home.

This is really unfortunate, as I was just starting to feel settled. The past month has been one of the roughest I have ever gone through. It will take a while for me to feel like I can get on with my life again, but at least I am now taking steps towards that point. It's extremely hard to accept that here is neither the right time nor place for me. I need to be somewhere where I can focus on my health and on feeling like myself again.

In the end, it's impossible for me to regret the time I spent in this part of the world, even if I didn't exactly picture it ending like this. Not only does regret serve no purpose, but my time over here has featured places that honestly, I would have been amped to have visited even one of, as well as meeting a few extraordinary people. Also, being in this whole foreign situation for six months has made me learn some pretty valuable things about myself - a lot of which was not easy to confront - that I hope I can apply to whatever happens next.