The One With A Christmas Catch-Up

(Alternatively titled, in Which I Write An Incredibly Long Blog Post To Make Up For A Month Off.)

I took a break from blogging over the exam and holiday period, but with classes starting back on Monday and my need to procrastinate Actual Work with literally any excuse I can find returning in full force – I’m back! Hi! Hope you all had restful and enjoyable Christmasses and New Years  ❤

The end of semester flew by in a whirlwind of essay deadlines, revision note-cards, countless cups of tea at the Tea Store in Byward (where Emily and I are close to maxxing out our loyalty cards and now know all the staff by first name), and a stoic attempt at attending Christmassy events despite it all. Emily being the ever-keen year abroader she is, as well as an enormous fan of all things festive, made sure we fitted in homemade mulled wine accompanying a Love Actually viewing and didn’t miss out on Christmas events in the city. We froze our fingers off at the annual light-switch on at Parliament Hill, queued in Arctic temperatures outside Notre Dame for the EU Christmas Carol concert (which made us feel as post-Brexit Brits decidedly glum), and, on my final day in Ottawa before the break, I joined my Canadian friend Sarya ice-skating on the free rink at the town hall.

Exams and take-home essay deadlines were not a walk in the park, but they weren’t a complete nightmare either. Props to Canadian assessment, the focus in all my modules was definitely summative – ‘prove you’ve learnt things this semester’ being the main aim. And there’s no doubt I have learnt a lot this semester,  in a variety of different areas of history, most of which I was completely ignorant to before. As a result, the exercise of essay writing utilising all of my lecture notes and assignments from the past 4 months was actually very satisfying. I sometimes feel weeks of hard work at Exeter can be made redundant if a certain exam question doesn’t come up; but here I used pretty much everything I’ve learnt, and had to craft it all into a coherent, thematic argument. This is when essays are most academically enjoyable in my mind – when everything falls into place and you get to use lots of seemingly unrelated bits of trivia to build to a good, original conclusion.

(Anyway, nerd time over.)

I have always loved the build up to Christmas; moving all the Bublé festive songs back onto my iPod, Christmas lights switch ons in town, the wrapping of presents and the mince pies and mulled wine. This year was even more special, not only because I was listening to ‘Let it Snow’ while it was actually snowing outside, but because I was counting down the days to seeing my family again. In a lot of ways, bussing up to Pierre Trudeau airport on the 22nd to greet them in arrivals was far more of an exciting prospect than Christmas has ever been. After 2 separate buses through a veritable blizzard of snow, one spilt Tim Hortons’ coffee and a three and a half hour wait in the arrival lounge later, our reunion was a pretty fantastic one. I have been speaking to my family regularly via Skype, at the start every few days, now around twice a week, but by gosh I had missed them. Hugs were had; to no-one’s surprise my Dad cried; my brother has definitely grown, again – it was just wonderful.

I really do love Canada, and a lot of people on finding out I was moving here joked that I wouldn’t come back. And it’s true, I love the size and diversity, I love the bilingualism and the bizarre cultural differences, I even love the snow far more than I expected I would (though -29 is less fun) – but I know acutely I could never stay here permanently. I love my country, and especially my family and friends, too much for that. Distance has only made me realise all the more how very special they are and how lucky I am to have them.

Christmas in Canada was a snowy, but otherwise fairly unconventional affair by our standards. My family and I stayed in Montréal until Boxing Day, and ticked off a number of a touristy things; hiking up Mont Royal alongside the cross-country skiers, seeing the Nutcracker performed by the Grands Ballets, and ice-skating in the old port on Christmas day. All of these things were lovely, but it was strange to go back to our hotel room sans Christmas tree or any cards or decorations. In a lot of ways though, those times spent chilling in the hotel room were some of the highlights of the trip. After 4 months it was just such a novelty to be in the same space as my family, and to be able to get up and get a hug from my mum just because.

Actual Christmas day was an especially unconventional one, as though we began things normally enough with chocolate oranges in our stockings and present sharing, we ended up spending several hours of the afternoon in Montreal’s A&E. That romantic idea of ice-skating at Christmas in the sunshine? All well and good until my aunt slipped and broke her wrist. Bless her – to Gwen’s credit she’s an absolute badass and was more preoccupied with upsetting our Christmas plans than concerned about the fact she’d just fractured a bone. Fortunately it wasn’t a bad break and 3 hours and one cast later, we were able to go out for a truly delicious Christmas dinner as planned.

Our Boyd Family Bad Luck continued into Boxing Day, as the hire car trip back to Ottawa was set to be hindered slightly by provincial-wide warnings of freezing rain. Freezing rain is a not a concept I was familiar with before I came to Canada, but I am more than well-accquianted now. It looks like rain, it feels like rain (though a mutant form of rain verging on hail), but it instantly freezes on contact with anything, slicking umbrellas and coats in a weird sheen of ice and transforming every solid surface into a skating rink. Entertaining you might think – less so when that solid surface is a windscreen going at 70 mph on a main highway. My Dad was hunched over relying on the lower half of the windscreen which was not quite as iced up, but all the way back to Ottawa we passed cars that had pulled over and were chipping away at their windows.

It was ridiculous and hilarious and doubled our journey time but honestly I was still just so happy to be with my family I couldn’t have cared less.

Having the family here in Ottawa was very, very surreal. Two of my worlds, which had been so separate for so long, were now abruptly colliding. It felt so strange directing my Dad around town in the car and being in the position of such knowledge about places to shop, eat and visit. There’s no doubt in my mind that after a second visit I prefer Ottawa to Montréal, and it was lovely seeing my family have the same reaction. We had sandwiches from La Botega, walked along the river in the sun, snowshoed through insane amounts of snow up in Gatineau Park, did a big Walmart shop (and bought the entire shelf of Heinz ‘British Style’ beans), visited the National Gallery, and (finally, as I’ve been meaning to do it for forever!) toured Parliament. On my brothers request, we also had a go at skiing up at Camp Fortune in Gatineau. Skiing is not something I ever thought I’d be particularly gifted at; something about being over 6 foot has always made me think it wouldn’t be best suited to me. This was mostly proven correct, hint: I’m pretty shit. Nonetheless, with my brother attempting to teach me inbetween whipping around in 360s like it was nothing, I did manage a green slope, with only a few cases of strategic falling over.

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Snowshoes on point

It was a lovely, lovely few days with them all, and over far too quickly. The goodbyes were emotional to say the least (read: I cried a lot, my Dad cried even more, even my brother might have teared up, which is saying something) as I realised I wouldn’t be seeing my Dad and bro for a good 6 months. Fortunately, I’ll be seeing my Mum sooner than that, as she’s coming over in May for my 21st. Even then, the months are stretching out before me now in a way that’s more than a little depressing.

But hey. While my final day of 2016 began emotionally, it ended with a suitable bang, as the lovely German Vicky came over later on to drink far too much wine with me and make the trek to Parliament Hill for the fireworks. This year was extra special as Canada is finally able to celebrate 2017 as the 150th year since Confederacy, so we were treated to Carley Rae Jepsen and ‘I Really Like You’ just before the countdown. If I’m honest, I couldn’t have picked a better, more cheery song to shout-sing along to at the top of my voice with a crowd of tipsy revellers. The fireworks were nothing on London’s but we could just about make them out through the snow, and I went to bed feeling happy, tipsy and full of new year cheer.

Which brings us up to the present moment really! The first week of 2017 has been a quiet one. I am still feeling a little glum about saying goodbye to the family, but I’ve been kept busy with lunches and trips to the War Museum with Vicky (as a Brit and a German the Canadian perspective was particularly interesting one on that front), not to mention 3 hourly basketball practices every day (how rapidly I’ve lost fitness in 2 weeks away is terrifying quite frankly.)

I am pining without Emily here, but she’s back soon and over Facebook we’ve mutually decided to really make the most of this semester. I imagine at this point quite a lot of year abroaders are feeling a bit reluctant to return after being treated to quality time with their family and friends at home, and Emily and I are no different. That being said, I’ve had the chance to talk to some final year friends over the break, and judging by the stress of third year I really do feel the need to enjoy and appreciate my time here. I’ve done so much this last semester, but there’s so much more I can do in the new year.

Here’s to 2017 and making it a good one! Speak soon x

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Such grin, much cheese

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