We're back! In one piece, too, after many travel adventures and a stop in Sacramento on the way home (not really, but close enough) for a wonderful Thanksgiving at my parents' house. The summative statement? I love Canada.
To be fair, I'm making that statement on the basis of a very limited visit to a very small part of a very large and diverse country. But I'm ready to go back again to make sure that I have it right, and I think that's a pretty good sign. Thanks to everyone who wrote with suggestions - we tried to hit as many as we could realistically, and we enjoyed every one we made it to. As a side note, the conference presentation (the reason for the trip) went very well (to my delight and relief), as did my presentation to the business meeting of my professional section. Whew!
If I had to sum up the one thing that so many of our wonderful experiences had in common, I'd say it's either kindness or serendipity. Serendipitous kindness? (Not one word, but it works.) To give just one example among many, we went to Notre Dame de Bonsecours in Montreal, on the excellent recommendation of people like greenmtngirl (I don't have a link - if you have one, send it and I'll attach!)(I'm embarrassed because someone else told me unequivocally to go because the view from the tower of the church is so wonderful, and I can't for the life of me remember who - whoever it was, you were right!). We climbed and climbed and climbed to the top of the church (263 stairs, if I remember correctly; the docent kindly told us the exact number before we started), to come out onto a breathtaking view of Montreal, laid out before us in the crisp (not to say frigid) evening air. My camera died right then (I'm convinced it was the cold), but my cell phone came through for me, and I was able to take pictures of the two remaining lifesized angels standing guard on the roof.
I loved the rampant bilingualism of both cities. It's not something that one sees very often in the U.S.; the use of languages other than English in public places is fraught in so many ways. And it may be that there were language politics playing out of which I was blissfully unaware as I moved through both cities, but I will say that I felt absolutely that people were more than willing to let me try to make my way along in French, and equally willing to help me out when my French failed me. It is rare that I get to feel like a participant in code-switching interactions (French not being a very common language around here, and my Spanish being too embarrassingly bad to try to join into any bilingual conversations that I may be lucky enough to be privy to), and I loved every minute of it, as both a linguist and a marginal francophone.
We ate. We ate like pigs, in fact, and I think the only thing that saved me from rolling home is the fact that we also walked and walked and walked. Our hotel in the Latin Quarter was a half an hour walk away from the Palais de Congres where the conference was held, and we walked all over the rest of the city - to the McCord Museum (also recommended by greenmtngrl), which had a particularly stellar exhibit on oil (the kind that comes out of the ground) and the cultures that spring up around both its use and the results of its use; to the Cathedral; to the river; and back around again. We went out to the Botanical Gardens, which were fabulous. We visited the Insectarium there (where I held a stick bug the size of my hand), and the greenhouses, where we saw flowers that I've tried to grow here, but which seemed much happier there.
Quebec was equally wonderful, although even colder. It didn't once get above -2C when we were there, which I am assured is cold, even for people who aren't from Southern California. Younger Daughter was extremely grateful for the many handknits I'd schlepped along with us.
She pretty much walked around huddled up like that the whole time. But look at that sun! It was like that right up until the morning that we left, when it snowed. The sun meant that the views of the city were stunningly clear and beautiful.
Still and yet, I'd go back in a heartbeat. Especially if I could go back when there's more daylight to explore those two cities. There was so much more I wanted to see, people I wanted to talk to, food I wanted to eat. I guess that's the best way to leave a place, right? Wanting to go back.