My plan had been to spend Thanksgiving 2023 with my parents and a few of my siblings on the family farm in the Shenandoah Valley. But, those plans changed about two weeks before the holiday. I received a call out of the blue one evening from my friend David from Burlington, Vermont. I met David a little more than four years ago. I had made the long drive from Winston-Salem to Cape Cod where I joined my father and my middle brother on the ferry out to Nantucket. We were heading out to the island to spend a few days relaxing at my uncle’s house. As the ferry crept out of the harbor, I grabbed a cold one from the bar and headed outside onto the deck of the ferry to enjoy the fading light of day and the salty air. An older gentleman started making pleasant conversation with my father and me. I quickly learned that David was a kindred spirit who could talk to absolutely anyone, and we instantly became friends.
Fast forward to early November 2023. I received that unexpected phone call from David, and he asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving. I nonchalantly explained that I was probably heading up to Virginia like I usually do. His reply? “Hey, you wanna go to Montreal?” Montreal? My mind quickly started to turn and revolve like some old machine with lots of gears. I’d never been to Montreal. “Heck yeah!” I shouted into the phone. “Let’s do this!” David spent the next few minutes telling me the plans for the three days we would be going. He then told me the best area to search for a hotel. After a couple more excited, “All right, this is going to be great!” comments, I hung up the phone.
Immediately, I opened up my Delta app and booked my flights. Then, I conducted my search for a hotel in the heart of Montreal. Within 10 minutes, my trip to Montreal was set. Six years ago, I went to the Florida Keys for Thanksgiving. This year, I would be heading up to Canada.
For the next two weeks, I checked the 10-day forecast for Montreal. The Wednesday evening before my flight, I packed everything I would need for the Canadian cold, and early on Thanksgiving morning, I boarded my flight for Atlanta. After a short layover, I boarded another flight to the land of Provinces and maple leaves.
Upon landing in Montreal, I proceeded through the usual routine of going through customs, found my bag at baggage claim and ordered my Uber to the hotel. When my Uber driver pulled up, I climbed into the back seat. He was a young man who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent, but who only spoke French. I thought to myself, “If this is how everyone is going to be, I’m going to have a hard time.” I sat silently looking out the window as the driver made the 20-minute trip to the hotel. As I rode, I reminded myself that I was now in a foreign city and I would have to play by their rules whether I liked it or not. But, the fact that I didn’t speak a lick of French only made me feel more uneasy.
Upon reaching the hotel, I exited the vehicle and thanked my driver with one of the few French words I do know: Merci. I walked down the steps into the lobby of the hotel and approached the front desk. A young woman greeted me with a jovial, “Bonjour!” “Hello,” I replied back to her, thinking, “Oh no, I’m going to look like a fool.” Instead, the dark-haired woman with glasses came back with, “Oh, hello, how can I help you?” Needless to say, a huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. After getting checked into my room, I studied the surrounding area on my phone. I had a few hours to kill before David arrived from Burlington. Not wanting to waste any time, I put on my scarf, peacoat and toboggan and headed for a quaint Irish pub around the corner. As I settled up to the bar, the bartender asked (in English) what he could get me. After ordering a locally brewed adult libation and some Buffalo wings, I sat and watched American football on the TV on the wall. A young couple making merry a little further down the bar were also Americans who were from Minnesota. There were perhaps 15 to 20 other people throughout the pub as I sat at the bar enjoying myself and feeling quite at home in Montreal.
When David arrived, I settled my tab and walked the few blocks to another pub that happened to be one of his favorites. We spent the next few hours catching up with each other, as other people David already knew in Montreal began to join us. At some point in the evening, we both ordered the traditional Thanksgiving dinner that the pub was famous for serving (even though Canadians don’t celebrate it). Needless to say, it was all delicious and just a little more special considering we were north of the US border.
Over the next few days, I used my morning runs to do my sightseeing. Despite the high of only 23° on Friday, I felt exhilarated as I ran through the streets of Montreal. As I got closer to Old Town Montreal with its cobblestone streets and old Europeans style architecture, I found myself stopping to take picture after picture of the beautiful churches, buildings and views. When my run took me to the walkway along the Saint Lawrence River, I stopped yet again to take videos and photos. The cold temperatures and biting winds out of the north weren’t going to chill my high spirits. The following morning, I decided to take a different route – this time up a gravel road with many switchbacks that led to the top of Mount Royal. After a 2 ½-mile run completely uphill, I reached the observation area that looks out over the entire city of Montreal. There were many people there, and they were all doing the same thing – taking pictures of the breathtaking views down below.
When I wasn’t running and sightseeing, I was meeting David and his friends for meals at beautiful 100+ year old restaurants and pubs. Friday evening, we attended a concert at a wonderful old venue where local musicians played hits from the 70s and 80s well into the night.
When all was said and done Sunday morning, I was ready to hop on a plane and head back to the good ‘ol US of A. But, my Thanksgiving weekend in Montreal was unforgettable and absolutely wonderful. In fact, I’ve already decided that I will be returning to Montreal in the summer of 2024 when things will be just a tad bit greener and a heck of a lot warmer!