They say that you learn a lot about someone when you travel with them, and that couldn’t be more true. “Montreal” represents a special milestone in our story, and not just because we are poutine enthusiasts or because I’m a proud Francophone. Montreal was the first trip we took together, and that trip was the first time we made the best out of a unprecedented challenge. In a way, looking back, that first trip made us feel like we were truly each other’s “the one”.
Four years ago on a cold February night
We first went to Montreal in February 2015. Why did we travel to a cold city in the middle of winter? Well, his birthday and the long-weekend was the perfect combination to plan our first trip together, and we chose this French-Canadian city for a weekend getaway. As his birthday gift/Valentine’s Day activity, I got us tickets to see the Montréal Canadiens VS. Toronto Maple Leafs. We’d be two Torontonians in Montréal, watching historical hockey rivals combatting on Valentines’s Day. It was just the perfect package.
At the time, I worked at a travel agency where I was able to score standby flights with Porter Airlines at a very discounted price. Key word here: standby flight. As successful as previous standby flights have been with this airline, I admit that I should have known better than to bet we’d be guaranteed seats on the Friday evening before a long weekend. As you may have rightfully suspected, we did not make any of the flights, despite us staying at the gate till the very last departure, hoping that two travellers miraculously wouldn’t show up for their flight to Montreal.
While we anxiously waited in the lounge with ears perked up at every announcement hoping to hear our names, we sought out Plan B and Plan C. Either we take a train or bus, or we borrow our parents’ cars. Unfortunately, none of those plans were fruitful. All the convenient train and bus routes were fully booked, and our parents laughed with a hard no when we asked if we can borrow their car for a short-notice road trip. We were forced to settle on Plan D, which was to rent a car. Luckily we managed to snatch a vehicle just 10 minutes before the rental office closed, and we ventured off to Montreal the following morning in our big ol’ GMC Yukon Denali.
Away we ventured into a snow blizzard. I mean, a complete white out snowstorm. Transport truck accidents and traffic was so bad that we along with hundreds of other people were parked for over an hour on the highway. Weirdly enough though, the winter mayhem out on the road felt more like an exciting adventure.
We made the most of our 8 hour journey to Montreal (for reference, the drive is normally 4 hours) by exploring each other’s playlists, talking and laughing, or sitting in comfortable silence awing at the picturesque snow-filled barns or flipped transport trucks. We lightened up the mood by me teaching him some French words and phrases, or him reading the road signs in a Québécois accent.
That was a huge eye-opener for me. We had only been dating for 4 months at that time, and although we always felt comfortable around each other, we’ve never faced a stressful situation up until then. Yet, the 8 hours of an unplanned road trip in the middle of a treacherous wintery road never once felt stressful. With him, everything seemed so…easy. It was actually fun journeying off through a snowstorm with him.
In situations like these I’d normally get anxious that things didn’t work out as I planned, but his composed nature had a magic way of rubbing off on me and instilling a sense of calm and ease. I learned that the most about him when I had a mini panic outside the airport car rental. I managed to keep it cool and collected all night but when I had to call our hotel to say we wouldn’t make it to Montreal that night, it felt like a defeat. “I just wanted this trip to be perfect”, I told him in a teary lament, to which he responded by holding me by my shoulders, looking right into my watery eyes, and saying to me: “Hey, don’t worry! We’ll make it work.” At that very moment, something inside of me just believed him. He was just so calm about it that I started to tell myself that maybe I should be, too.
Because we did make it work. For starters, we arrived safely. We got there just in time to check-in our quirky little hotel, shower, grab a pizza and attend our much-anticipated Valentine’s Day hockey game with Canadiens fever surrounding us.
For the rest of our three days in freezing, bone-chilling Montreal, we stumbled upon great restaurants, shops and cafés (not gonna lie, mainly to stay warm). Montreal was where I discovered I’m a cheap drunk when it comes to hot buttered rum, and till this day we shake our heads for lining up outside La Banquise Poutine for half an hour…in –35 degrees weather. Many parts of our bodies were frozen numb that night, but that poutine was worth it. At least that’s what we tell ourselves to justify our decision to do such a silly thing. We always look back at Montreal as that time we were “young and crazy”.
Thankfully, the drive back was less hectic, with the sun shining ahead of us and a bag of fresh St-Viateur bagels sitting in the back seat. Since that adventurous trip, we vowed that we had to return to Montreal for a proper city-exploring trip.
Four years later on a warm October day
Since we had a busy Summer this year, we knew we wanted secure a laid-back trip for the Fall. “Autumn in Montreal” was the natural selection. We thought it would be the perfect chance to re-visit our beloved city and to enjoy its charm as its meant to be enjoyed.
This time around, we were greeted with beautiful Fall weather. It felt like we were being rewarded for putting up with Montreal’s subzero winter on our previous visit. Since it was a gorgeous day on our first day there, we decided to check-off our favourite activity on our “must-do” list, and hiked up Mont Royal to catch some of the foliage.
We hiked all day, taking in the crisp air, the blue skies and the golden balayage on the trees. When we hiked back down, he spotted a red tree and suggested we sit by it to rest our legs before heading out to dinner. So we rested, taking in all the steps and horizons that we just conquered. At one point, he said he had to throw something out and stepped away.
When he came back, he asked me to marry him.
Me sitting on a hill and him knelt in front of me, red leaves scattered on the ground around us, a vintage diamond ring glistened out of a green velvet box in his hand.
The same hand that held mine to comfort me outside the car rental office, and the same hand that laid on my knee when we were stuck in a blizzard on the way to Montreal. To this Montreal.
It’s been exactly a month since that memorable hike, and I’m still replaying that day; his words, his smile, that feeling. From young and adventurous, to wiser and relaxed, we certainly did make Montreal work even better then we could ever imagine on that cold February night.