Love in Montreal

Montreal was a challenge to myself

Most of my life has been filled with great anxieties and fears.

In my final days of Montreal, I filled pages upon pages of my travel journal. This was partially due to the fact that my computer had crashed, but also because I was completely unable to sort out my mess of feelings. I loved Montreal. I hated Montreal. I wanted to go home. I never wanted to leave! My friends accused me of being manic. I cried with the frustration of nobody taking me seriously.

I came to Montreal for two reasons: 1) Because I had fallen in love with the city in 2011; and 2) I needed to challenge myself. For years I’ve been avoiding travelling to big cities alone. I’ve always needed a friend to rely on, or a link already there.

I’m not very brave. I’m anxious about 80% of the time. There are times when I don’t leave my house for days because I don’t want to deal with being in public. When I do step out, I haul on the hood and wear my darkest sunglasses. This might be a hard concept to visualize, as I’m one of the most social people going –- I thrive off of new relationships, and I could never live without a wide friends circle.

But I grew up in a small town, where I was once bullied and teased daily. There were no stoplights, never mind public transit. I graduated with 19 people in my class. The idea of attending university in the GRAND metropolitan city of St. John’s (pop. 150k) was so terrifying that I opted for the smaller campus of 2000 students in Corner Brook. Even then, I practically had a nervous breakdown when my parents dropped me off at the campus. They left me in a sobbing, disheveled mess. My poor father reputably sat by the window of the hotel all night, smoking cigarettes, worried about me all alone in that crazy dorm.

Every time I go somewhere new, it takes a great deal of convincing. If you were going to hand me my dream travel gig tomorrow in Greece, I’d still hem and haw over the details and worry myself sick. Would I fit in? Can I ask people for directions? Will people mock me?

Hence came my sudden need to move to a city where I knew NO one. Where I had no thread to pull on, and no comfortable familiarities. Montreal was it.

I cheated at first. I lived with two friends for two weeks before breaking out on my own, living in a hostel before moving into a new place. I refused to take public transit from the airport, and grabbed a cab instead. I could have paid $8 for the public bus, rather than the astonishing $50 I forked over. All because I was too self-conscious to figure it out.

I didn’t leave the apartment for two days. I was overwhelmed, by everything. The traffic. The chaos. The concept of having to find my way around. To get groceries! I did NOTHING. I tiptoed around the apartment and made up excuses to my roommates about being too busy to get out and explore. The day I did leave, to find a gym, I panicked every time someone even spoke to me on the street. I remember one guy lurching towards me, holding a book, speaking to me in French. I blurted out, “SORRY!” and took off before I could see the hurt look on his face. I don’t even know if he was a bum. He seemed nice.

But finally, in little spurts, I settled down. I made some friends, Adam and Blair. We had Saturday afternoon rooftop swim sessions with boatloads of wine. Then I moved into an apartment on Saint-Laurent with two amazing fellows named Andrew and James, and like true gentlemen, they started introducing me to their friends.

I took the Metro for the first time, alone. Gasp!

On two separate occasions, my friends April and Leila came to visit. I led them all over town, showing them my favourite streets and pubs and nooks and crannies. “You belong here,” Leila once said. “You already know this city.”

I can’t tell you how proud it made me, dear readers. To take on this whole “city gal” persona. And yet, whenever I express my nervousness over flying and taking public transit, I’m still greeted by disbelieving exclamations: “But you’re a travel writer!” I’m also human. And sometimes I’d rather sleep on a bench then ask someone for directions, just for the sheer worry that they’ll point and laugh at me.

I can’t be thrown into the madness. I must be eased in like a ship at port.

My last few nights in Montreal were pivotal. On Sunday, while I was working in my sweats, James came home to announce that a bunch of people was coming over to barbecue. The apartment was filled with a melee of young folks, from France, Belgium, the US, and Scotland. We drank boxed wine and tequila, and snuck onto the rooftop of our building where an abandoned bar still had its tables left behind. I sat cross-legged on the floor with a lovely Quebec gal and we talked about the openness of Montreal, its willingness to take you as you are, even if Quebec doesn’t always.

James and I went for cocktails atop the highest building in Montreal, the Altitude737. We walked through the chaos of Saint-Catherine, where aliens danced in the street. Literally. Food trucks doled out everything from poutine to tacos, and college kids walked around freely with open beer.

I had a neighborhood. The toothless guy who worked at Tabagie will probably miss my frequent pop-ins for half cases of beer. I visited my bookstore once a week, The Word on Milton. I shopped for groceries at Les Trois Frères.

And oddly enough, when I landed in St. John’s…for the first time in my life, I felt unhappy to be back. Unfinished. My new loft bedroom remains completely unpacked. I look at the boxes upon boxes of belongings stacked in my room, and I think, who needs all this crap? I’ve been living out of a suitcase for four months.

I love Newfoundland more than anywhere in the world, and always will. But returning home was something like culture shock. Montreal…man. Montreal is a verb.

The point is this: I force myself to do it. It’s terrifying. I force myself to speak in public, to get out there, to face my anxieties. I forced myself to live in a freaking city of 3-million people, which is literally 20 TIMES bigger than my home for the past six years.

So when you ask me incredulously, “But you’re a travel writer?” Please keep in mind that I had never even left my HOME province until five years ago. Keep your sass to yourself.

I haven’t ridden a horse across Mongolia, or hitchhiked my way around Australia. But I slept nightly on 3-inches of foam in an overheated apartment in the middle of Montreal, sampled my fair share of poutine, and once even had a semi-French conversation with a Quebecer. I found personal triumphs in everything from taking the Metro alone to finally using the bus to get to the airport and back.

And that’s how I know every experience matters.

  • August 03 2012
    Tina

    Just terrific. :-D

  • August 03 2012

    Love this post Candice. You don’t need to go do crazy things for travel to change you. In fact I wish I could have learned what I needed to without taking off for Latin America, but I’m stubborn so I had to do something extreme. I envy that your extreme is Montreal, such a beautiful place.

  • August 03 2012

    That was a great read Candice! Thanks for sharing! I know we are all human, but sometimes its nice to hear even those with the life experience that you have, do in fact still have anxieties for the zoo’s that exists beyond the rural small towns!

    • August 09 2012

      Hahaha, thanks, Jacklyn! It’s easy to hide those fears behind the Internet, sometimes.

  • August 03 2012
    Meg

    wow! so honest! thankyou.

  • August 03 2012

    You have plenty to be proud of! Moving to a new city, whether it’s across the country or across the world, is difficult for anyone. I want to go back to Montreal now!

  • August 03 2012

    Bravo! overcoming fear is the only way to really live – keep it up you small-town-girl you – not!

  • August 03 2012

    Beautifully written, Candice. Thanks for putting your anxieties out there. :-)

  • August 03 2012

    Candice,

    Oh My!! Reading this gave me goosebumps all over. It’s funny how we create opinions about people based on what we think we see and know. We haven’t met, but I have felt this affinity towards you, because of how warm and sensitive you have been to me.But you now, while I related to you as this social, super-confident being, I also perceived a vulnerability in you, via your writing (mostly). Now I know where it comes from.You challenge yourself, one step at a time, and that is extremely inspirational. Your honesty and candor are refreshing and moving at the same time.
    Good luck with all your endeavors in the future :)
    Priyanka

    • August 09 2012

      Awww, thanks, Priyanka! Appreciate your kind words, as per usual. Honesty is the best policy, right? Thanks again!

  • August 03 2012

    Thank you for sharing! Big hugs from one newf to another. xo

  • August 03 2012

    Candice – This is the best thing you have ever written. I never would have suspected some of this about you. Opening up like this makes your writing so much better. You are brave to allow yourself to be so vulnerable.

    You always seemed like a nice person but now I know a little more why I like you.

  • August 03 2012
    Susan

    Thank you. Like many other people in the world, I assume that *I’M* the only one feeling like a dithering wimp whereas all the OTHER people are sailing through life all smiling and laughing, like one big beer commercial. Gawd, I really apprecate your post. And so well written.
    And the other thing is that it inspires me. You have been doing so many things over the last few years that you said scared you and then you did them, and enlarged your life in doing so. If you can do that, maybe I can too, a little bit.
    I love your blog, Candice. Don’t ever stop, m’kay?

    • August 09 2012

      Thanks, Susan! Goodness, it’s nice to know I”m not the only one. One of dozens, in fact. Guess we’re not so special, after all!

  • August 03 2012

    Definitely one of my favourite posts. I have totally done the whole take a taxi rather than deal with the anxiety of public transit in a strange city! Kudos to you for not letting anxiety keep you from having amazing adventures!

  • August 03 2012

    I love this post, and oddly enough I was talking with a friend about this the other day. She’s going to Europe soon, the first big trip she’s taken by herself to a place she’s never been (never left Canada before). She told me she was excited, but scared, and I told her that I feel that way before every trip I take. I think it surprised her, because I’m always blathering on about how I love traveling, and how I love traveling alone. No matter who you are, no one is immune from fears and anxieties. Thanks for sharing such a great post.

    • August 09 2012

      Thanks, Alouise! Seems like most of us have travel anxieties.

  • August 03 2012

    This is such a great post! Every traveler is different, and there should not be stereotypes about what we ALL love to do or how we ALL are. This is a huge step for you, I am so glad you took the challenge and made it through!

  • August 03 2012

    I love this, Candice. I can relate to it so much. I’m always terrified that I’m going to somehow make an idiot of myself by asking a simple question, that people are going to point their finger and laugh. I’ve done so many ridiculous things to avoid asking for help before. But I also force myself to do things and go outside of my comfort zone every now and then. Thanks for sharing! :)

    • August 09 2012

      For reals! Fear of humiliation, I guess? Glad you enjoyed!

  • August 03 2012

    I am so glad to find another traveler that sometimes feels like the world’s biggest chicken! My friends would never believe me if I told them I get super self conscious when I travel…

    • August 09 2012

      Hahaha, I think my friends believe me, but I’m not so sure anyone else does….

  • August 03 2012
    Sissypants

    Thank you. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one who has these feelings and is also a world traveller. I moved to a big city from a small town 8 months ago and I’ve been paralyzed with fear since the day I got here. I’m terrified of the downtown hipsters and anyone jogging (in Austin, TX! WTF? I’m doomed.). I went home earlier this summer for a visit and that’s not really home anymore, either. I feel like a woman without a country and I’m lost. Yet, I spent 5 weeks traveling in Europe with no problems. Sometimes I think my head belongs to someone else. <3

  • August 04 2012

    You’re literally fantastic. Like, you are not a typical travel writer, but oh gosh, well, you are definitely a writer.

    I’m so glad you put yourself out here for us to see. We really love you more for it.

  • August 04 2012

    LOVED this post. I’m easily overwhelmed by stuff myself. Even though I love traveling & going to new places, I have to spend a huge chunk of each trip sitting in my dark hostel room trying to psyche myself up to go outside and deal with all the stuff. And there are some days when I just can’t even bother. And people wonder how it takes me a month to visit 3 cities…

    • August 09 2012

      Yay! I mean “booo” that we’re both so nervous sometimes, but YAY someone can relate! And you’ve taken on far greater challenges than I have…Asia. Glad someone has my back.

  • August 04 2012

    Ah I LOVE this, Candice! I’m from a teeny, tiny place too – the village I grew up in has less than 100 people, and there were about 80 kids in my school. Going to secondary school in the nearest town, Harrogate (which has about 100,000 people), when I was 11 was my first foray into “city” life…then Newcastle for university…then I decided to up and move to a city of 2.2 million in Korea!

    You’re so right with what you write here. People should never make assumptions. I get nervous and anxious too, probably for the same reasons you do – but I’ve grown from it, like you have, and will keep on growing.

    p.s. about all the stuff – whenever I go back to the UK, I’m always like, “are you SURE this is all mine?!” and then just tell my brother he can have it. Sadly he’s not into Janet Jackson CDs or shirts of questionable material with very loud (read: offensively garish) patterns.

    • August 09 2012

      Hahahaha! Wow, you’re from an even tinier town than me. Didn’t know that was possible. Lol

  • August 04 2012
    Joya

    I’m so happy for you Candice! I loved reading this.

  • August 04 2012
    Dalene

    And now…and now…look at what all you have before you, after such a pivotal time in Montreal. Good for you. :)

  • August 05 2012

    Candice, I have all the same worries and anxieties as you! Doing normal things can sometimes be extremely hard for me… answering the fucking phone, seriously — makes me nervous! I’m better at some times when I travel, and worse at others. I’ve had some days not making it outside the hostel/hotel for more than grabbing a bite to eat from the closest convenience store before running back as quick as possible with my tail between my legs. The best thing you can do is to keep challenging yourself. Was awesome to read this post and see you are doing just that. If you ever make it to Australia, would love to be your local guide, and most importantly: drink some beers together :)

    • August 09 2012

      I would never have thought of you as an anxious traveller, Brooke! Glad to know. :) And like the commenter above, I also DESPISE using the phone, and will rarely answer it unless I know who’s calling. Seems to be a common fear, huh?

  • August 05 2012

    This is a great post! I’m the same way – I love travelling and big cities and mess and people. But I am also completely terrified of those things. I’ve never really lived in a truly small town though – I think I’d be MORE scared of that than of a big city! I’m a city girl once I get over my initial terror. There are still some things I always dread to do though, no matter what – like ordering food over the telephone. I think online ordering is the best invention of all time.

    • August 09 2012

      OMG I’m so glad someone else can admit to that! Bahahaha. I HATE the telephone! Would much rather talk to someone face to face. I’m a blathering idiot on the phone.

  • August 06 2012
    Mike

    You are a wonderfully open and genuine person. Your writing in this post reflects who you really are, and that is beautiful. Keep on illuminating! …sausage.

    • August 09 2012

      Mike! I hadn’t even realized it was you who wrote this comment. Thank you kindly :) It means a lot!

  • August 06 2012
    Alietta

    Thanks for this post! It’s so different from any other travel post that I’ve read, but I can def. relate. Even as a “city gal” myself, I can totally relate with anxiety in my own and other cities. I got anxious when I landed in Beijing and realized this was going to be the hardest city (I’ve been to) to navigate. (I looked at my boyfriend and thought, “What the hell have I gotten us into.)!!

    http://foralltravelssake.blogspot.com/

  • August 06 2012

    Well said. I have this same anxiety when I go to places that are wayyyy out of my element but I find the more you put yourself out there the easier it is. But i KNOW my nerves are gonna creep up on me once I hit Asia. Eeek!

    • August 09 2012

      Oh man, can’t even think that far yet! Baby steps, baby steps

  • August 06 2012
    budgetjan

    Hi Candice, It seems like everyone can relate to your feelings. After far too many days sitting at my computer and doing nothing else, I went into the City (pop. 175,000), to take photos of a local tourist destination for my blog. I have lived most of my life in this city and it is a calm peaceful place. I met up with my husband and asked him for some paracetamol for my stress headache. He laughed “what have you got to be stressed about”. Well, I did have to leave the house and go into the city! Funny how I can travel by public transport in Morocco or Vietnam and stay headache free.

    • August 09 2012

      Hahaha, I totally loved the anonymity factor of Montreal…hated public transit. And hate being known by everyone in this small city. Can’t have the best of all worlds, right?

      • August 09 2012
        budgetjan

        Anonymity rules in my book. Agree that no one place is perfect!

  • August 06 2012

    Hi Candice, Really enjoyed this post. I am also an anxious traveller. I like the thought of doing brave adventures but I’m a bit of a wimp really. Although I did go to Boliva by myself a couple of years ago! That was an experience and although I was anxious and scared at times I am proud of myself for having done it. It is these experiences and going our of your comfort zone that makes travel so exciting. :)

    • August 09 2012

      Ahh, kudos on doing Bolivia alone. :) I’m trying to plan another South America trip at the moment, and doing it solo is my biggest challenge.

  • August 07 2012

    Aw, lovely post Candice. It’s weird that us travellers are so filled with anxiety, and obviously hard for others to understand. But it’s nice to know we’re in the same boat :)

    • August 09 2012

      Seems like the boat is getting pretty full these days! Hahaha. Thanks, Vic.

  • August 07 2012
    Leigh

    Candice – you hide your fears well. I think of you in nothing but glowing ways – a travel writer who loves to have a good time and always seems surrounded by close friends. From the outside your life looks great. And you’re doing one hell of a job conquering your fears and moving forward. My hat goes off to you – again.

    • August 09 2012

      Aww, your comment made my day, as per usual, Leigh! Thank you.

  • August 08 2012
    nancythegnomette

    Lovely post, Candice. conquering fears, in whatever form, is tough, huge, stuff. way to go. and fwiw-I have ridden a horse across the Mongolian countryside and it scared the bejesus out of me.

    • August 09 2012

      Hahaha, thanks, stranger! Perhaps I’ll do that someday…

  • August 08 2012
    Gina

    That’s so great you put yourself out of your comfort zone and totally succeeded at conquering it! Really enjoyed reading this post. I think there’s elements that nearly everyone can identify with – I know I sometimes stay quiet instead of risking making a fool of myself and then later chide myself because probably no one would have cared and I should just speak up. Hope you make it back to Montreal soon!

  • August 10 2012

    I love this, Candice. It doesn’t matter how long it took you, what matters is that you did it.

  • August 13 2012
    SpilledInkGuy

    I can absolutely relate, Candice. I grew up in a very similar environment and I HATE leaving my apartment. Well, I do, and… I don’t. I mean, it’s not like I don’t want to ‘venture out into the world’, it’s just that… well, it’s difficult. Anyway, my point is, you deserve to be congratulated for taking charge of your fear rather than letting it take charge of you… for going out there and exploring! AND for writing about it all – it’s greatly appreciated by those of us who are still working our way up to that kind of thing. The exploring part, I mean. Well, and the writing, too, really.
    :)

    • August 14 2012

      Thank you! I’m so glad so many people found it relatable.

  • August 24 2012

    YAY! Whenever I am traveling or living somewhere new, I always tell myself to “take pride in the little things.” You’ve got to! Good job and great post!

  • September 06 2012

    Great post, Candice! I think that anyone who has moved out of their comfort zone can relate, no matter how far away they’ve gone. It took me four months to work up the courage to order food over the phone in Korean, but once I did, I was so elated. Those small experiences really do account for a lot!

  • February 10 2013
    facebook fans

    Montreal is an amazing city! I was there for their annual Jazz festival a few years ago and I have nothing but good memories from it. It would definitely be a city I could live in, except for the frigid winters!

  • April 26 2013
    Tasha

    First of all, I love your hair!

    Second, Great post. You are so brave! I’m glad I’m not the only one that loves to travel but gets anxious as well. I went to France last year and it was a total culture shock. My French was poor, and I was terrified to ask for directions or anything for that matter. As soon as I warmed up to the place I left to Spain and the shock started over. Although I must say that I fell in love with Spain and teared up a little when I had to leave. I’m doing it all over again and going to India in October! AHhh!

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