My husband and I just got back from a long weekend in Montreal. After about three or so years of remarking that we were actually a closer drive to Montreal than we were to New York City (especially after we moved an additional half hour up north), we finally spent time in our closet French city.
It was also the first time I ever planned a trip entirely by myself. This was my pet project, so I was in charge of budgeting, finding/booking the hotels, and figuring out the itinerary. Some things went awry (like the part where I didn’t pack myself any socks and the one sweater I brought “just in case it got chilly” became the one thing I wore at all times because — gee — it’s fall and I’m now 4 1/2 hours northwest of an already-cold region in America), but the vacation itself went wonderfully.
We did the usual touristy stuff — we went to the Olympic Park and went up the tower and experienced the Biodome — and we lucked out in that we were in Montreal during a gorgeous Chinese lantern festival at the Botanical Garden. But we spent a good amount of time just wandering around. I had a few places on my list I wanted to see, a few streets I wanted to go down, and I walked.
Wandering around is my specialty. My favorite memories from camp don’t involve teenaged hijinx or arts & crafts, but long, wandering walks down the quiet roads. My most poignant memories from college involve getting to know my city one footstep at a time. If I had a million dollars and all the time in the world, I would spend it going around the world to wander, avoiding only the cities where I wouldn’t be able to do that safely.
It’s a wonderful way to learn the true ins and outs of a city, to understand how the neighborhoods link together. The streets become more than a step on a GPS, but an area with texture and sights and smells. There’s a moment when you wander down a new street and come out in an area you already know — a moment when things feel like they have literally and metaphorically come full circle. I have been to Manhattan at least five or six times at this point, and I feel more intimate with Montreal, if only because I spent those three days walking absolutely everywhere.
It’s safe to say I am truly in love with Montreal. There’s something about that city: the old with the new, the gritty and grimey with the stylish and sleek, the conservative with the blatant disregard for what we consider taboo. I walked from neighborhood to neighborhood, feeling like I was putting together patchwork of all the cities I have come to love over my life — how this area feels like downtown Boston, how that area feels like a neighborhood in Belfast, how this street is just like Beacon Hill and how that square is just like one in Rome — stitching them together with a steady stream of coffee from the local cafés. I got into small conversations and wondered how quickly I’d learn Spanish if I lived in a bilingual city where English was considered the second language.
After driving past Tristar Gym (home to two of my favorite fighters) like a wicked creeper, we made our way to Vermont, where we stopped in Burlington, Vermont and — you guessed it — walked around, through the downtown area and around Lake Champlain.
In some ways, I have become a lot more anchored in my life. I own a house and a marriage certificate and there’s talk of expanding out our family of two cats and a coop of chickens to something a bit more substantial. But there will always be a part of me that lusts for the piece of wandering, regardless of what scale I get it. It’s the same part of me that thrives on three completely different, completely scattered jobs, instead of one steady job with a steady paycheck and concrete goals. It’s the part of me that would love to be exactly that obnoxious person on Facebook, posting a near-constant stream of location updates and snapshots of city vistas.
But it’s also the part of me that forgoes the car on a crisp August morning, even though the roads in our town in the woods can stretch on for miles with nothing in between. It’s the part of me that finds a good playlist, laces up her shoes, and makes a different set of patchwork images with the trees and the streams and the vacant ponds. It’s the part of me that goes down an unknown road in a neighborhood next to me and comes out with a smile when she realizes that she can always find her way back.