It’s hard to put into words the feeling you get walking down the unfamiliar streets of an unexplored place. The sights are simply breathtaking. The sounds are strangely curious. The smells, oh my, the smells.
Until today, I thought I was living a fulfilled life. After all, you really don’t know what you’re missing when you’re missing out on it. The largest providence in the country of Canada was a game changer.
When my boyfriend and I first started discussing potential vacation locations, I dreamed of going someplace far, far away. My passport sat in perfect condition at the bottom of a drawer. Forgotten. Never once stamped. I’ve dreamed of visiting Venice, London, France. But those just weren’t practical right now. At the suggestion of my boyfriend’s parents, we started looking into Québec, Canada. I’ve been to Canada countless times in the past. But never to Québec. And I had NO idea of the drastic difference.
Québec is the only Canadian province where French is the sole, official language. There has been a push for many years to make Québec a country of its own, separating from Canada. And as soon as you step off the plane, you’ll understand why. I very quickly learned ‘sortie’ means exit. And I had to follow ‘zone de récupération des bagages’ signs to find my suitcase. And before I even realized it was happening, I was saying ‘merci’ to the taxi cab driver after loading my bag in his trunk.
It’s like I had stepped foot off a spaceship, into another world. I’ve never before experienced being a foreigner. And I have to say, the feeling is absolutely invigorating. Walking down the tiny, brick streets, I’m pretty sure the huge smile on my face was permanent. It’s overwhelming to hear conversations happening all around you, yet not be able to understand a single one. I can only imagine my fellow tourists were saying the same things I was. Commenting on the beautiful architecture. Discussing the aura of the café-lined streets. Most of these chats were happening in French. Occasionally I’d overhear some English. Several other languages were intertwined as well.
I have to admit, it is a little scary being surrounded by words you can’t comprehend. You feel vulnerable. But I also realized, you feel alive. We jumped right into the exploring, wandering down ‘rues’ [those are streets], entering the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever laid eyes on.
And then there was the cuisine. For our first Québec meal, we picked a restaurant on a whim. The place sat on the corner, across from the first church we’d visited. It looked cute, with tables resting neatly, but cozily, under the wide open windows. We got lucky, snatching up a great table under one of them. Perfect view to take in the sights and people-watch. The menu was in French, but we lucked into English subtitles under each menu item. I’m a sucker for anything goat cheese, so I picked a smoked salmon goat cheese salad. Oh. My. Gosh. This is the moment I realized all the rumors about Québec are true: the food is unbelievable.
This salad gave every other meal a run for its money. But I can honestly say we never once had a bad meal. This province is known for its culinary excellence for a reason. I’d been dieting prior to the trip, but threw all that out the window here. I had to. And I’m so glad I did. Québec is also known for its poutine [french fries topped with gravy, cheese curds and sometimes other extras]. Smoked meat is also a highlight here, so I had both, multiple times [I had to see which was the best, right??]
I also enjoyed the largest crepes I’ve ever seen and experienced rabbit for the first time. All of it blew me away. And we had the best time eating our meals on tiny outside patios. The tables were in short supply, but we always lucked into great spots.
Québec City is probably the most romantic place I’ve ever visited. There is beauty around every corner and even though it has a small-town feel, we never ran out of places to check out. Discovery trips by day, strolls by night, we got lost in the city and let it guide us up and down its quaint streets.
After several days in Québec City, the adventure was only just beginning. We hopped in a cab and headed to the train station. Next up: a three hour train ride across the French Canadian countryside. This was probably the part of the trip I was most excited for. I’ve never ridden on a train and I knew the sights would be drop dead gorgeous. The ride did not disappoint. Not only did we pass spectacular sights, we were served drinks the entire way and had our pick of three different, but equally amazing, meals.
As the train pulled into Montreal, it was time for the second chapter of our trip. Montreal is also primarily French speaking. But because it is such a major city, the people are much more inclined to speak English. Because we knew there was so much to see here, and we only had two full days, we decided to be tourists to a T and take the London-style double decker bus around town. I’m so glad we did. The tour guides on board filled us in on so many interesting tidbits. And there were stops every 15 minutes, allowing us to explore every corner.
It’s a good thing we took full advantage on our second-t0-last day, because on our final day, it rained non-stop. We took the bus for a little while, then darted into the underground world known as the ‘inner city’ to buy raincoats and umbrellas. We walked in the pouring rain for much of the day. But as much as we were disappointed it was raining, we didn’t complain. The city was just as magical in the elements. And we still managed to have a full and unforgettable final day.
And I have to say, I couldn’t have had a better partner in crime to explore this beautiful province with. We were able to make lasting memories that we still can’t stop smiling about. It was a once in a lifetime trip that neither of us will ever forget. Exploring a new city really makes a bond grow stronger. We explored, got lost, indulged, learned and dreamed of the next adventure.
But we were both a little quiet on the plane rides back to Jacksonville. Reflection.
It’s hard for me to comprehend the fact that there’s a whole wide world out there…most of which I’ve never seen. Cultures I don’t know. Languages I’ve never heard spoken. Foods I’ve never tried. Architecture I’ve never admired. I was truly sad to have to leave this new place behind. I feel like I left part of my heart there. And now there’s this slight emptiness. A longing for more. I’ve only been home a few days, but that longing keeps growing. Like a craving you can’t shake. A blessing and a curse. I am so blessed to have gotten to experience this adventure. But now I want more. I want to see more. Venice. London. France. I want to experience more of the culture, of the life beyond my homeland.
I want another stamp in my passport. And then another. Obviously, they are called vacations for a reason. Rare but precious gems. But my drive has been jump-started. A fire has been lighted. And now I won’t stop until I get to see the world.