In a Place Where Even the Police Sirens are Polite

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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