Nine things I did for the first time in the first month of 2018

With so many exciting new things going on this month, I almost forgot that January blues are supposed to be a thing!

  1. Popped to the United States for lunch

When you only live half an hour from the US border, it’s only a matter of time before you decide to drive to Jackman, Maine for lunch. This was my first visit to the US and was certainly a memorable one given the beautiful drive and excellent company. I’m looking forward to venturing further into the States for our exciting Spring Break road trip!

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  1. Fished for trout on a frozen lake

In what ended up being perhaps the most Canadian day we have thus far experienced, a very kind teacher named Ruth invited us to spend the day with her family participating in the Sainte-Aurélie ice fishing tournament. While there were no prize-winners among the six trout we ended up catching, the breathtaking views around the lake and the incredible generosity of the family who let us have a go drilling holes into the ice before feeding us many varieties of Canadian meat pies made this a pretty victorious day in my opinion.

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  1. Starred in the Sainte Aurélie Top Gear special

This was the same day as the above but was so exciting it definitely merited its own paragraph! Ruth’s family happened to own three different snowmobiles (including an ATV worth 20,000$!) and let us take turns whizzing around the lake on them whilst we waited for the trout to take our bait. I can’t really articulate the incredible adrenaline/life rush that this created, so here are some photos and I’ll let your imagination do the rest!

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  1. Had an “ice day”

Whenever I tell a Québecois how many centimetres of snow it takes to close a British school, I am met with a derisive laugh and les Anglais, ils ne savent pas c’est quoi, l’hiver!. I was therefore not expecting to have any days off work due to weather conditions, but one night of verglas midway through January was apparently enough to close all of the schools in the region as it was too dangerous to even walk outside without an elevated likelihood of falling arse over tit. My memories of snow days at home are exciting ones of snowmen and sledges, and so I feel bad that it’s too dangerous here for children to play outside when they have the day off school, but I guess they’re certainly not short of other opportunities for wintry fun!

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  1. Welcomed an old face into my new place

Towards the end of January I received my first visitor! Alice, one of my best friends from university, did extremely well to survive the mixture of jet lag and temperatures well below freezing, and showing her around Montreal, Quebec and Beauce made me appreciate once more how lucky I am to be living here. Given that someone visiting me from the UK requires a lot of time, money and in Alice’s case time booked off work, I wanted to make sure she had the best possible time. Fortunately, she’s the sort of wonderful low-maintenance travel companion who seemed perfectly happy chilling with a cup of tea at my house after a few tourism-heavy days, which made for a smooth hostess operation and subsided any stresses I had previously had about logistics and unpredictable weather-related travel complications. Now that I’ve had the test run, I’m excited to welcome two very special guests at the end of March!

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  1. Seen a good friend’s artistic vision come to life, and eaten there 

As fortune would have it, I am now living within reach of the daughter of my responsable from the school in France at which I worked during my year abroad. Leah is a graphic designer living in the Plateau, perhaps the coolest district of Montréal I have experienced thus far, and I have stayed with her pretty much every time I’ve passed through the city. Before Christmas, she was keen to show me the designs she had been working on for her friend’s new vegan café, the Dugout Patisserie, which would be opening just before Alice and I would be staying with her. I’ve never been to an all-vegan café before and so was unsure what to expect, but we had a wonderful time enjoying doughnuts (filled with homemade Nutella) and matcha soy lattes and admiring Leah’s designs, especially having seen them as little more than ideas on a screen a few weeks prior. If you’re ever around the Plateau I would definitely recommend that you pop in and support Marie-Charlotte’s new business!

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  1. Enjoyed the ice and snow sculptures at the Carnaval de Québec

We didn’t see the infamous Bonhomme, but we did see these incredible works of chilly art:

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  1. Went tobogganing with an incredible view

Another reason to pop to Québec City during winter is to ride the toboggan in front of the Château! We were very lucky with the weather meaning we could fully appreciate the beautiful view, and I’m glad to have experienced this with Alice.

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  1. Learned to “ski”

When I say ski, I mean I just about mastered stopping and starting, and didn’t quite reach double figures with the number of times I fell over. As terrifying as it was to begin with, I was starting to get the hang of it by the end of my lesson and so am looking forward to returning to the Saint-Georges slopes with my best girl friends for some Galentines fun this evening!

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All in all, a very exciting start to 2018! I’m hoping this is a good sign for the rest of the year!

Nine reasons I’m glad to have spent December in Canada

In the run-up to Christmas, I was asked many times why I wasn’t going to be returning home to the UK for the holidays. My response was that I wanted to make the most of being in Canada for Christmas, and here are the reasons why I’m glad that I did:

  1. The atmosphere at work

Cute primary students become even cuter when they’re writing you Christmas cards and asking you to deliver their letters to Santa Claus. I’ve also recently started working in a nursery, where I was treated to a wobbly rendition of Jingle Bells from children who are still young (read: lucky) enough to have naptime on their timetable. As well as leading a “giant soap bubble workshop”, I spent my last week of a very busy term organising a Christmas concert where my grade 4 students sang three songs we’d been working on, complete with heart-melting gestures, to the whole school. My favourite festive occasion however was the staff Christmas party, where we waited until the children had toddled off home before enjoying a Chinese fondue and several drinks and turning the school cafeteria into a dance floor. It was certainly a bonding experience for all involved and I feel lucky to be working alongside such fun and welcoming people!

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  1. The Narnia situation

Whilst winter has brought temperatures so low that sometimes all of my limbs begin to hurt at once (I’m talking -25 degrees with the wind chill causing it to feel like -40!) and has certainly made the driving experience more interesting, shall we say, I am still constantly in awe to be living here in the middle of the snow kingdom and to have the chance to skate on frozen lakes and snow-shoe through magical fluffy forests. More on my white Christmas later!   

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  1. Pretty places became even prettier

A stroll through the beautiful Old Québec is always lovely, but what made it more so this month was the generous sprinkling of Christmas markets and festive lights and the sound of carol singers as we eagerly warmed our hands on many a mulled wine. Nothing however could top the seasonal electricity bill going into one of the houses in Saint-Georges, which turned into a Beauce-wide tourist attraction!

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  1. When in Saint Georges…

To celebrate the winter solstice, our town held a torchlit walk across the bridge and around the island, followed by free soup and hot chocolate. It’s always good fun to go out and get involved with whatever the local community are doing, and we happened to bump into a very kind couple who invited us to their Christmas Eve celebration (known as a réveillon) which would culminate in an outing to midnight mass. It was a wonderful opportunity to experience a real Québecois Christmas in such lovely company, and certainly added a touch of magic to our own Christmas Day celebrations.

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  1. Christmas Day in my home away from home

Probably the highlight of the month was spending Christmas Day with two of my best friends at our home in Saint Georges in the whitest Christmas-card-esque setting imaginable. We’d been slightly wary of how the day might go, especially as for two of us it was our first Christmas away from home, but as soon as we woke up we knew we’d made the right call. We all Skyped our families briefly in the morning to show them the snow and then set about preparing Christmosas and a very relaxed dinner, which we enjoyed as we gazed out of the window at more gently falling snow. The rest of the day was spent watching all the right films, playing games and walking the streets of Saint Georges to admire everyone’s lights. Of course, we missed our families, but it felt incredibly adult to embrace the day as a whole new experience and do everything ourselves. I can safely say that Christmas in Canada was one I’ll never forget!

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  1. A place to entertain and to be entertained

One of my favourite places to spend an evening in Saint Georges is Café l’Aléa, a space which describes itself as ludique et culturel. This means that as well as boasting a vast range of board games (to which the lovely owner is always all too happy to introduce us), they often host a variety of events such as tea tasting, swing dancing taster sessions and writing classes. I went along with my friend Tom to a packed-out comedy night at which one of our friends was performing, and while we may not have caught every single québecois pun, it felt great to understand most of what was going on and thus be able to appreciate just how hilarious our friend’s performance was! There’s always a nice atmosphere in the café and on some cosy winter evenings I’ve even plucked up the courage to play the keyboard in the corner for a couple of hours. Here’s one of the photos I took for their competition (in which I was the runner up!):

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  1. Sharing the journey

Whilst driving on my own can often turn my car into a cathartic stage as I serenade my sat-nav, it’s not always the most cost-efficient way to travel and new company is always welcome! This is why I decided to start offering several journeys that I was already planning to take this month as covoiturage trips, something in which I’ve only ever participated as a passenger when I was travelling around Lyon during my year in France. I was pretty nervous turning up to my first passenger’s house as it had just begun to snow heavily and I’ve only been driving since September, but she was an architecture student about to head to Lyon for six months and so the amount we suddenly had to talk about did well to take my mind off the stressful driving conditions! Following this success, when my flatmate and I left for Montreal, we did so with two happy Canadian guests in tow. They more than covered our gas money and were very patient when we got lost while searching for a Tim Hortons, the latter now being an essential character trait for anyone wishing to get in my car!

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  1. Natural wonders in dramatic settings

We were incredibly lucky to spend the morning of New Year’s Eve Eve gazing in awe at Niagara Falls. I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking:

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  1. Seeing in 2018 from Toronto

The rest of our New Year’s Ontario trip was spent in Toronto itself, where we ate all kinds of wonderful things whilst warming up from our freezing endeavours on the streets of the endless city. We welcomed in the New Year from Nathan Phillips Square with the rest of Toronto (and baffled everyone around us with our enthusiastic rendition of Auld Lang Syne!) and then took the subway home for free thanks to a drinks company that had impressively covered the public transport home for the whole city to make sure people made the right call and didn’t drink drive home. Other highlights of the trip for me included having dinner with my friend Julie, a fellow language assistant from my time in Saint-Étienne, and the wonderful collection on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario, where the first piece I stopped at was a photography exhibition of the Norfolk Broads. Both of these occasions had me marvelling at the paradoxical way in which the world can seem so vast yet so small all in the same moment.

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That’s it for now! Come back soon for some 2018 musings 😊

Nine wallet-friendly ways to look after yourself upon the arrival of a long Québecois winter

A little something for when the weekend adventures are taking their toll on your bank account, it’s slightly too early to go full-on Christmas (even though Walmart’s been treating us to Mariah since Halloween) and it’s suddenly a lot colder and darker than it was before.

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Picture the scene: you get in from work with significantly less energy after a day of primary children shouting “SANTA CLAUS!” at you and a slow drive home behind a road gritter, it’s 3:30pm and it’s already getting dark, it’s too chilly to sit on the porch anymore and the public piano (of blog post #1 fame) has been removed for the winter. Your evening stretches ahead of you rather dauntingly as it still feels a little too early to commit to the pyjamas, and you find yourself wondering if you’ll be able to handle 4 months of this.

  1. Reach out

Put the kettle on and talk to somebody. I remain convinced that there are few things a cup of tea and a cuddle can’t fix, and whether it’s a quick moan to another assistant or a Skype call with a friend from home (though I try and limit these to no longer than an hour), I find that the same conclusion emerges: the change in the weather is still taking place in the same exciting country I landed in back in August, and was always going to be a part of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Talking about it with friends always puts things into perspective, meaning I can relax, wonder where Trudeau buys his knitwear, and go about my evening!

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  1. RSVP

I found that at the beginning of my stay I was too overwhelmed by everything that was going on to properly take people up on their kind invitations to things we should do au moment donné (at some point) because it felt like I didn’t have a moment to donner!  Once things begin to slow down, it’s important to realise that the offers these people once made still stand, it’s just up to you to make them happen. With this in mind, over the past week I have chased up the headteacher who invited me for dinner with her family, the friend who proposed an evening of mulled wine and chill, and the girl who commented on my Facebook post when I was car-hunting saying she loves the UK and that we should hang out sometime. It was absolutely worth putting in the effort to follow these invites up, as I had a brilliant time at all three!

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  1. Be OK with your own company

It is essential however to be prepared for the quieter periods on the Québecois social calendar (!) so that you can ensure to spend some quality time with number one and be on top form for the next get-together. Some of my favourite ways to do this are to switch up my Spotify playlists and go for a walk or a drive (hello one-woman concert, if the latter) and to rediscover the joy of reading for pleasure, something I’d feared my final-year studies may well have beaten out of me. After resigning myself to the fact that Cosmo probably doesn’t count, I’m currently enjoying turning my phone off for a few hours and dipping into Yuval Noah Harari’s fascinating yet terrifying Homo Deus or Ralph Ellison’s powerful Invisible Man. We don’t have to be connected and reachable all the time, and it can be refreshing to escape once in a while.

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  1. Try exciting new winter activities

While we may currently be at the stage where there’s not enough snow to go snow-shoeing but it’s far too cold to play on the outdoor basketball court, there are still plenty of interim activities to be trialled. The sports centre in Saint-Georges offers free skating sessions on weekend afternoons, so I am slowly conquering a deep-rooted fear by donning my second-hand skates and developing a deep and meaningful relationship with the arena wall as I wobble along. The current goal is to be able to make it around the beautiful rink at Place d’Youville in Old Québec without needing to grip onto anyone so tight I risk cutting off their circulation, but… baby skates.

  1. Keep going  

As the above can’t really be counted as exercise just yet, I try and fill my weekday evenings with some form of activity that I can convince myself will justify the poutine routine. This includes a weekly Zumba date with my housemate’s teacher, assembling the St-Georges Squad for a few games of badminton, and this evening I had so much fun trying swing dancing for the first time! Even just layering up and going for a wintery walk in the nearby countryside feels better than staying indoors, especially with the fluffy crunchy snow we’ve had recently, so it’s always worth finding the energy to turn off the “household fire” TV channel (yes, this is really a thing) and put those winter boots back on!

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  1. Be a top bae

What better way to warm up than with that fuzzy feeling that comes from radiating kindness towards those around you? Few things compare to the look on my housemate’s face when I pick her up from work 2 hours earlier than her bus, or the knowledge that the cookies I baked for a friend were what saw him through a weekend of essay writing. I’m not talking grand gestures, but if the change in the weather is getting to you then it’s probably getting to those around you as well, so why not go out of your way to make someone else’s day a bit nicer?

  1. Plan trips

Whilst the trips themselves may not be so kind to your finances, planning them is part of the fun and doesn’t cost anything! I’m very excited to be spending New Years in Toronto and so have been eyeing up Tripadvisor to ensure that no cultural stone is left unturned, while looking further ahead to Spring Break I am hoping to embark on a road trip along the East Coast – having never been to the States before, there’s plenty of research to keep me busy!

  1. Mass Netflixodus

Whilst making it out can be an achievement, it’s also perfectly okay to arrange fun nights in with the squad! Movie dates always feel nicer than watching something on your own (something I for one am terrible at anyway as I usually have too many questions…) and we are currently using the quieter winter evenings to work through a “what do you mean you’ve never seen…?” style cinematic bucketlist.

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  1. Hot chocolate

Finally, whether it’s a Tim’s (let’s be honest, no one can resist those festive cups) or a slightly more extravagant treat in one of Québec City’s tempting chocolate chains such as Chocolats Favoris or Chocolato, this is definitely an acceptable means of warming up after a chilly wander around town!

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I’m excited for a December filled with mulled wine in festive company and hopefully the beginning of ski season! Until next time!

Nine things that made October special

  1. Hikes 

Determined to make the most of the autumn sun, we spent many a Sunday this month conquering local mountains such as La Grande Morne, Mont Orford and Mont Adstock. I’ll let the photos do the talking – as you can see, it’s always worth struggling with the extra weight of my camera on the climb!   

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2. Poetry (and all that jazz)

We began Thanksgiving Weekend in Montréal seeing the sensational Rupi Kaur perform from her new book, The Sun and Her Flowers. We were all welcomed into the beautiful old National theatre with a free copy of the book, which has since become a treasured possession of mine as every few pages evokes another memory of her mesmerising performance. She delivers hard-hitting topics with a refreshing mixture of empathy and sass, and the book does extremely well to mark the transition from wilting to blooming flowers as the poetry that initially weighs on your heart becomes lighter and more hopeful.

This was always going to be a tough act to follow, but my friend and I then spent a wonderful few hours at the Upstairs Jazz club in downtown Montréal where we enjoyed dessert, sangria and the smooth sounds of the Groove Gang. One of my favourite evenings so far!

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 3. Road trips

From Montréal we took our time driving through the beautiful Eastern Townships region of Québec. We sampled ice cider in Granby, saw the autumn colours of Eastman, sneaked a free sports massage at a 160km mountain race in Bromont and visited the Magog chocolaterie. We took turns driving my car so that one person was free to take photos and gaze properly at the stunning landscape, and I would definitely recommend taking this route in the autumn (particularly if, like me, you are fortunate enough to find a road trip partner with excellent music taste)!     

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4. Feeling thankful

We met up with more friends at Mégantic and then spent the night in Sherbrooke, where the next morning we had what can only be described as a Brunch Of Dreams that set us up for a day of exploring. Upon returning to Saint-Georges the next day, we prepared an unconventional Thanksgiving lasagne together and reflected on an excellent weekend spent in company for which we were all very grateful.

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5. Celebrations

Having an early birthday in the academic year always makes me slightly worried that people won’t know me well enough to want to celebrate with me, and this time the 5000km between me and home heightened this irrational panic even further. However, just thinking back to the love and kindness with which the day was filled makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I luckily had the day off work, so I spent it treating myself at the nearby NRJ Spa Nordique with a friend before we returned home for a lovely meal out at the snazzy Rock Café with a mixture of assistants (some of whom had travelled from as far as Beaupré to be there for the evening) and their responsables. I was overwhelmed to have spent the day in such lovely company and will never forget turning 23 in this home away from home.

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6. Breathtaking experiences 

We couldn’t spend autumn in Québec without undertaking the classic Tadoussac manoeuvre, so a couple of weeks ago five of us piled into my car and we set off to see some whales. I was honestly expecting to just spot a couple of distant grey slivers disappearing into the water, but we ended up seeing 5 different species up close, including a blue and humpback whale! This ended up being one of my favourite experiences so far and I would recommend making a trip next season. As you can see, Tadoussac itself wasn’t half bad either!

 

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7. The best kind of tour guide  

Having new friends in new places made for an excellent spontaneous weekend of sushi and waterfalls in beautiful Beaupré before we ventured to Cap Tourmente and witnessed thousands of geese arriving for a pit-stop during their autumn migration, which is something I didn’t even know was a thing let alone something that would be so spectacular. Thanks again Lizzie for having me! ❤

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8. Getting all extra-curricular

As the weekend trips have been excellent so far, it can become easy to just count down the weekdays in anticipation and not make the most of the evenings after returning from work. I am thus grateful for the recent efforts of the Saint-Georges squad in getting out and playing badminton and basketball several times a week, as it’s always a good time and makes us feel slightly less guilty about the whole poutine situation. I was also so pleased to find an opportunity to get my clarinet out as I ventured further afield to Disraeli to try out their wind orchestra a few weeks ago. It’s quite the trek but everyone was so nice and welcoming that once fuel prices have calmed down a bit in Saint-Georges I’m hoping to return!

9. Looking up 

A final memorable moment from this October has to be when we all lay on the beach in Tadoussac and witnessed the Orionid meteor shower (to the ambient sounds of M83 from Ellie’s phone). The universe is always a wonder to observe, and hopefully I’ll be able to take some clearer photos of it one day!

I’m looking forward to seeing what November has in store!

9 things I love about my new home

One month into my language assistantship here in Saint-Georges-de-Beauce, Québec seemed as good a time as any for me to attempt to condense possibly the most exciting few weeks of my life into a blog update. As a self-confessed clickbait victim, I have decided to present this post in list form in the hope of delaying the rapid dwindling of your attention span. So (in no particular order) …

  1. The people

Moving to a new country is challenging, but it is made infinitely easier when you have a wide network of other language assistants in the same position as you, two welcoming Québecois housemates, a landlord who seems to own half of Beauce and an adorable headteacher who takes you under her wing and sorts you out with a phone, a car and a super-flexible timetable. I already feel as though I’ve known some of these people far longer than a month; the good days have been brilliant days and the slightly more stressful days have only proven the universal truth that there’s nothing a cup of tea and a cuddle can’t fix (shoutout to my mum for having already shipped over a second instalment of PG tips!).

 

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  1. My job

While my language assistantship in France 2 years ago was spent teaching 11-18 year olds, this time I have been placed in a primary school. The fact that the content I can discuss with them is therefore somewhat limited is definitely outweighed by the corridor cuddles, the requests for worksheet autographs and their over-keenness to contribute to my lessons. I have joined the weekly “club de course” (30mins of jogging around the village and encouraging the kids by shouting things like “ready steady go!”) and there is a teacher who offers me maple syrup coffee whenever she sees me. There are definitely worse places I could be working!

  1. Surrounding natural beauty

The scenery was one of the main reasons I wanted to move to Canada and it has certainly not disappointed. Beauce itself is beautiful; we are incredibly lucky to be so close to geographical delights such as Lac Mégantic, Parc des Sept Chutes and la Grande Morne as well as only half an hour from the border of Maine (an adventure upon which we are yet to embark). Never in my life have I felt so excited about trees, but last weekend’s “Randonnée aux Mille Couleurs” left our souffle vraiment coupé as it offered us a vast array of changing coloured leaves in all of their autumnal glory. Living in such a stunning place has given me plenty of opportunities to play around with my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-G80, most of which have resulted in candid photos of my friends gazing in awe at our new home.

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  1. The piano at Les Passerelles

Saint-Georges stretches across a valley, and in the middle of the valley there is a river, and next to the river is a public piano, and on the public piano there is a glass panel above the music stand, meaning that when you’re playing it you can watch as people pause their evening stroll or cycle so that they can enjoy the music for a while. This has definitely become one of my favourite ways to spend an evening as the sun sets over the town, and I am so grateful to have found a way to carry on playing music over here.

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  1. I didn’t choose the porch swing life…

People watching is a beautiful thing, and is made even more so when every house here seems to come with a porch with a swinging or rocking chair, inviting you to spend hours enjoying the afternoon sun and observing the latest goings-on on 128th street. If there is one thing I would bring back to the UK from North America so far, it would be porch swing culture!

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  1. The open roads

Anyone who spoke to me before I moved here will recall the fear in my eyes as I tried to convince people I would manage to buy and drive a car on the opposite side of the road, having not driven in almost 5 years (!). After a long and eventful search (involving a Mazda I was told I owned until we went to collect it and it’d been sold to a higher bidder..!) I emerged victorious with not just a car, but a 7-seater Dodge Caravan. The automatic transmission, the wide roads and almost-as-wide parking spaces meant it hardly took any time until this soccer mom got herself back on the road, and the stunning commute to work along a wide country lane that stretches out into the valley is now one of my favourite parts of the day.

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(not a wide open road but a pretty road nonetheless)

  1. L’accent des Beaucerons

We were warned that the accent here would be the strongest in all of Québec, and while the first few days of staff room bewilderment left me so lost I wondered if I really did graduate with a French degree this July, I have quickly come to understand and love the Beauce accent. To give you a flavour, the word “fête” sounds more like “fight”, which I discovered by misinterpreting an invite from a small child who, it turns out, wanted me to come to his birthday party and not some kind of organised combat.

  1. Tim Hortons

My inner basic Canadian bitch still swoons every time she sees the iconic red and white sign on the horizon. I’ve learned (or perhaps just convinced myself…) that there is hardly ever a time when coffee and doughnuts are not welcome, and the more of the menu I discover, the more I fall in love. Double doubles (double sugar, double cream, double diabetes?), French Vanilla (a hot-chocolatey hug in a bright red celebratory mug) and “Ice Caps” (the creamiest of ice coffees) are the current drinks to beat, whilst my doughnut of choice is a toss-up between the boston à l’érable (glazed with maple syrup and filled with vanilla custard) and the anniversaire Timbit, (multicoloured bite-sized joy).

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  1. Proximity to Québec City

The beautiful capital of La Belle Province lies only an hour from Saint-Georges, and we recently spent a wonderful weekend indulging our tourist sides by exploring the echoes of European architecture that are to be found in Vieux Québec, experiencing maple-taffy induced sugar comas and enjoying the promenade along Château Frontenac, the (understandably) most photographed hotel in the world. I’m already keen to visit again!

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Et voilà! Until the next time I have a list worth sharing, friends!