The Real Reason I Came to Montreal


I’ve shared on my blog a number of times that in May, 2012, I crawled away from the rubble that had become my life in Winnipeg. I had a good life there for some years, just by the end it had all come crashing down around me. I literally couldn’t breathe. I had completely isolated. I was going down a very dark path and I had to get off of it before it was too late. I would have drowned when at the last minute, flailing uselessly as my lungs started to fill, I was thrown a life saver. What was my life saver? Sudden knowledge that I could lead a different life- that I didn’t have to cling-on anymore to the one that no longer felt like mine.

Back in Toronto I decided not to resume life as usual. I decided to take the broken pieces and rather than rebuild right away, I decided to fix each piece. I decided that the next time I build myself a life, it’s going to be with some really great building blocks.

Thus began my current life adventure. I am a work in progress. As are we all.


I have long been a lover of travel and the personal growth that can spring from going outside one’s usual comfort zones. Many of my most memorable and life-changing experiences have happened during travels, from age 21 when I left New Brunswick for London, England, it was exhilarating to create a life starting with a suitcase and a CV, discovering who I was and who I could be along the way while having few ties to who I had been. I guess travel has become my comfort zone for periods of self-development, I feel so free to grow without the constraints of the familiar around me. It is true that not living somewhere in particular can also become my new comfort zone and eventually I may need to break that too in order to settle down. But, for now, travel presents me with situations and opportunities and meeting people that feels right.

Wherever I go my issues come with me, you can’t run away from yourself. But I want my issues to come with me, so I can work on them. In my travels, I happen upon people who become part of my journey. Notice that I don’t happen upon THINGS that become part of my journey. Life is not about things. I’m not about the sights and museums. I do like to look around me and smell the flowers and yes, even to notice the rotting rubbish and experience passing through all manners of lives. But in the end, I have no interest in writing a travel guide. My interest is in sharing personal experiences.


I am working on my writing, I hope to more and more be able to share authentic experiences with a fun and entertaining tone. Some photos thrown in for context, looking around where the experiences are happening. But history and place are not the theme of my travels.

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to spend some time in Montreal. I figured I’d find some stories to practice my writing and that I’d study and practice some French. But that hasn’t been my direction. I started with listening and repeating language lessons in my headphones everyday but then I got pulled away. Again and again. No, language is not why I’m here. In Montreal the life building blocks I am mostly working on are friendships. This is an area of my life in which I have always felt inept. No doubt that is surprising to many who know me (I am good at fitting-in), and unsurprising to others who also know me (fitting-in is not the same as belonging.)

In my severe and painful personal disconnection on leaving Winnipeg, connectedness soon after became a life focus that I realise needs to be life-long. First I had to deal with blockages. These were mostly anxieties and fears that had gotten out-of-control and were a large part of my isolation. These days I look for all sorts of meaningful activities I never would have before. In Montreal, meeting groups of strangers for dinner has been especially interesting. One thing leads to another. Suddenly I find myself drawn to Cape Breton after meeting a Cape Breton enthusiast. Bali reignites interest from hearing stories of adventure. Someone spends their winters in Panama. There’s no telling where an evening might lead. I didn’t use to be open to such evenings. Hardly ever with friends let-alone with strangers.


After leaving Winnipeg I focused on regaining my health, which I had let deteriorate over some years. I started feeding my body the nutrition it needs, and giving it the exercise it needs. Today I’m 43 pounds lighter than I was in May, 2012. It’s not as easy as I make it sound, I often want poutine but more often choose salad as I’m walking the streets of Montreal. But I sometimes let myself have poutine. I try to nourish myself first, and then I crave the junk less. But if I want to indulge in ice cream, I probably will too. But I try to find balance. I’ve talked about food before and I will certainly talk about food again because we all eat everyday and our food system is a disaster. If it were a machine, it’s like it’s been set to “harm” rather than “nourish”. The world’s abundance is at our disposal and yet it takes a lot of self-direction to eat healthfully.

Food is our biggest drug. (My Mom said that so it must be true.) It is all processed by our body. Our body breaks it down and tries to use the nutrients to supply all of our functions, including our brain functions which affect how we experience the world. Your body needs various elements in real food to operate properly, if you’re not supplying it with some real food (especially fruits & vegetables that look like fruits and vegetables) you are punishing yourself. Think about your body trying to break down dozens of different chemicals that are foreign to it when you eat processed food from a box. Your body looks at Butylated hydroxytolueine and thinks, okay, what should I do with this? Hmmm. Maybe I’ll just try . . . Food affects our mood and energy and life in ways we often don’t recognise or accept.

Our body is constantly rebuilding and it needs the right materials. Just like I’m trying to create healthy building blocks before using them to rebuild my life. No, in creating them I am rebuilding my life. My life doesn’t look like a house and a job. My life looks like a collection of healthy and loving relationships and meaningful life work. That’s what I’m building. Because too soon the pretty house became meaningless and eventually the work became without purpose except to earn money.

When I can eventually pull my journey into one story, that will be my book. First I plan to collate a book of short stories. Learning how to write – practicing writing and studying writing – is also a part of my journey. I am a work in progress and my work is also a work in progress.

If you’ve followed my blog you know that I’ve pushed myself outside my comfort zone a lot over the past two years. There have been successes and failures but an overall movement forward. I’m always carrying about some self-help books and listening to audio books and as much as possible having authentic conversations with the people the universe puts in front of me. Which brings me to Montreal.

If you had told me that in Montreal I would make progress and healing to my friendship blocks, I would have told you that when your Mother dropped you on your head, she forgot to pick you up. She left you in a little pool of your own blood, the family dog licking where it was still coming out your ears. And then your Dad stumbled in reading a newspaper while he was walking and tripped over you, knocking you down a flight of concrete stairs, your delicate body tumbling end-to-end completely smashing your cute little face and skull and any chance you ever had for even a semblance of a normal life. In other words, I would have suggested you were possibly somewhat mistaken. But that your parents were probably to blame. As all parents are. Yours particularly though. That was pretty bad.

Before coming to Montreal, I had one friendly acquaintance here, and one casual friend who I knew with my former partner. So I did not imagine this to be a location where I would end-up focusing on healing when it comes to friendships. It felt right in coming; it had long been on my radar to see what it would be like to live in this major Canadian city and to do so while it was still in full swing with summer festivals and street life. I had expected to find a few stories and work on my French. Nope. My purpose of being here has surprised me.

Author, scholar, researcher Brene Brown agrees that we humans have an essential need for connection. She ties it in to spirituality and she breaks it down further. As people, we have a fundamental need for love and to belong. I spent most of my week studying her ideas. This will be my topic next time.

Some views wandering around North of Mount Royal.

This interesting roof is below the height of the overpass, so I look at it at length as I am walking to the gym inside the large building you can see in the background.

I like urban graffiti. And it is proliferate in Montreal.


Along Van Horne perhaps still in Outremont approaching Rosemont station. Outremont is actually an upscale Montreal neighbourhood but none of the fancy bits seem to have caught my eye.

Yeah, this isn’t one of the fancy bits either. It’s just that the “fancy bits” look a bit normal and not so photogenic.


This is my first view every morning while cat sitting, very cute! I moved to a friend’s place in Outremont for a couple weeks after my month in Le Village which was on Rue Ste Catherine near Metro Beaudry. KittyKins likes to make sure he’s the first thing I see when I wake-up. He does this sometime before morning by sleeping-on and clinging-to my chest as you can see in this photo – I was very careful to hold my phone out and to the side to capture this rare wilderness moment. This evening I cut his cute little toe nails to reduce the marks he leaves when I surprise him by waking up, as I tend to do every morning. Like most humans who didn’t die in their sleep that night.

Although his name is KittyKins he seems to prefer me to call him Mather Theresa. Which is bit of a girls name and quite similar to someone else’s name too, but it’s hard to explain that to a cat. You can’t expect a kitty to know who Mother Theresa was can you. And try explaining that although she did want the ill to die in peace, which is lovely, when there was a simple known cure she withheld treatment because she didn’t actually want her patients to live or to get better. So that’s not quite as lovely. You can see my blog postings from Calcutta (Kolkata) by looking through my blog index to the right, although I don’t remember what I said in them.


Charming Birmingham, England’s Second City

What are the features that make a place unique? That make an experience meaningful? What is it about a particular city that draws me in and makes me want to stay longer? City planning contributes to making a city easier to navigate and creates positive flows where they need to be. Long histories lend to a wealth of historical architecture and fascinating back-stories as to how a place came to be as it is today. Financial success can add impressive buildings and well-maintained spaces. Civic pride will hopefully lead to the creation and improvement of green spaces. But behind all of this it is the people that make the place.

My readers may have noticed that my travel adventures do not hinge-upon the sights before me but on the people that I meet. I would be far more comfortable in a slum that has friendly locals than in a world-class city that has hostile residents. (I’m thinking about my travels in 3rd world countries and refer to actual slums, this is not a metaphor.) I do appreciate the finer things, but things do not make the experience for me. Environment is important, but the people are paramount.

For my Introduction to Birmingham I will highlight my experiences as they were sculpted by the people I met. Welcome to Birmingham, England’s Second City.

Frank and Marg

Although not Brummies, Frank and Marg are a newly-retired couple who live within 30 minutes of England’s second most populous city. I boarded our shared Amsterdam to Birmingham flight at 4PM after having departed Toronto the night before. Tired and worn-out, after saying hello to my seat-mates I quickly fell asleep.

Joe and Bob

Just Kidding! Did you think I had moved on?! That would have been quite funny, to have a section for my in-flight neighbours only to tell you that we didn’t speak. Anyway, back to Frank and Marg who entertained themselves throughout the flight with their tablets, an iPad and an iPad mini. They didn’t seem very chatty, but when I woke-up I asked them if they had traveled very far. Well they immediately opened-up like old friends who had just bumped into each other in the street cheerfully sharing tales of their travels.

“Oh my, have we ever,” says Marg with a touch of well-deserved pride, “we boarded our first flight yesterday at 8AM, didn’t we.”

“Wow, that’s an entire daytime longer than my journey, you must be knackered!”

“It’s true, we’ll get home from the holiday and need to take a holiday!”

“Was it worth the effort?”

“Oh yes, we spent for days here, then had an 8 day cruise, then another 4 days there. It was lovely, have you ever been to the Galapagos?”

“Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. . . . . . . . .sunny 21 degrees Celsius.”

“Isn’t that lovely! When we left, the snow had barely gone and now we have the full summer to look forward to!”

“We went to Borneo in December,” her husband adds,”coming home in the cold, frozen, dark winter was quite a shock.”

“Quite the welcome home,” I suggest.

“Yes, welcome home indeed,” Mary agrees.

“Have you been anywhere?” she asks.

This strikes me as such a funny question that it takes me a moment to think of an answer. I already told them I’m travelling around the Midlands for 10 weeks and for me, this is somewhere. The Midlands is their own backyard but for me it is foreign travel. I’ve probably visited near to 30 countries but after a pause I mention India, since it was my most recent travel. Brief conversation about taxi scams and harassing shop keepers and we have landed.

“Enjoy your stay!” they call as we divide in to separate EU and Non-EU Immigration queues. I should have given them my card but I didn’t just in case. If I end-up having a nasty time in Birmingham I don’t want these nice people to read about it.


“I don’t look a lot like my photo,” I admit, removing my glasses so she can get a good look at me.”

“That’s alright, I can see it’s you,” she cheerfully offers after looking under her own glasses to compare my face to my upheld passport photo. I think that perhaps women are better at seeing faces more thoroughly than are men. Guys see blonde curls where cropped white hair once stood and facial hair on what used to be a clean-shaven face and become baffled. Photo-Me-photo-Me-photo-me their eyes moving back and forth looking for resemblance. Not completely convinced, they let me go on account of having no other information that would prohibit my entry. I look at my own photo and wonder what they see. I think I also look healthier now that I’m a non-smoker, in my photo I have remarkable circles under my eyes and my skin is pallid.

“What is the purpose of your stay?”

“I’m spending 10 weeks in 10 cities and writing about my experiences. I did the same thing in India earlier this year.”

She flips through my passport to verify that story. It’s probably not the usual itinerary of an overseas visitor to Birmingham. Two separate India Visas, various stamps and dates. “How long were you here (in the UK) before you went to India?”

“Just over a week. I spent New Years with friends in London before spending a week in Cardiff. I didn’t like Cardiff very much.” I’m not sure why I added this extra commentary on that city, for all I know she could be from there herself.

“I have friends who went to Cardiff, they enjoyed it,” she mentions, “What didn’t you like about it?”

“I found the people to be harsh. I can only guess that maybe they don’t like North Americans? Everywhere I went as soon as I opened my mouth it was like I felt hate emanating towards me.”

“Oh, I don’t know, ” she ponders, “apparently they’re not fond of the English either though.” she adds in recognition of the possible truth in my account.

“So how long were you in India?”

I had thought of it as 10 weeks, but now that she is asking I realise she is seeing an in-congruency as she flips through the pages. “I left Cardiff on January 8th for Mumbai, then I departed from Kolkata on March 3rd to Los Angeles, then I returned to Canada on March 10th but I didn’t get home to Toronto until March 25th.” (I was away for 11 weeks and thought of the trip as being mostly to India, but in fact I was only in India for about 8 weeks.)

“Okay, I can see that. So, how are you funding this?” she asks, her head tilted.

“With illegal sex-trade workers I have working for me in Stratford-Upon-Avon.” I think but don’t share. This is the kind of slip-up she is looking for. Not really, but she does need to rule me out as being some sort of an illegal hoping to support myself by working under the table in the central UK, as unlikely as that sounds to me at my age. I explain my situation of settled-down security traded-in for blissful freedom to pursue my passions and she understands.

“So where do you plan to stay in the Midlands? You’re not staying in the Copthorne for 10 weeks, I’m sure?”

“From Birmingham, maybe Coventry, Northampton, Norwich (“Nor-ich,” she corrects with a smile), Nottingham, Leeds, York, Manchester, Lincoln, Liverpool, and if I have time I’d like to visit Northern Wales.”

“Where in Wales?”


“Oh, one of those names, yes, they are difficult to remember,” she laughs.

“And what will you write about?”

I give her a card with my blog while I briefly explain.

“I’ll check you’re blog out tonight!” she says, enthusiastically. I am now the last person at Immigration, there is no one left to immigrate, so she chats a bit longer. “Enjoy your stay and good luck with your writing!”

My entry verified in a friendly and welcoming manner, my first impression is favourable. Made welcome pre-arrival, now made welcome directly post-arrival. I’m feeling good about this adventure.

My passport photo, taken 2 years ago at age 37.

My very current photo in front of Queen Victoria in Victoria Square at age 39.

Sara and Jane

Having collected my considerable luggage, nearly doubled by having brought with me a folding bicycle, I follow signage towards the taxi queue. Enroute, I stop for a moment at the Discovery Centre.

“Can I help you find anything?” a friendly staffer asks as I am looking at shelves of pamphlets.

“What would you recommend for someone who is visiting Birmingham for the first time, would like to make some day trips, and will be spending 10 weeks in total visiting the region?”

She turns to her colleague and the two of them make helpful suggestions as to what information might be most useful for me.
(“Silly cow, these people make minimum wage, you can’t judge Cardiff by how these kinds of people treat you,” someone had commented on my Cardiff postings. Actually, I can, I am comparing oranges to oranges pretty much everywhere I go. Same sort of job, here-friendly, there-begrudging. Seems comparable to me.)


“Do you know the Copthorne Hotel at Paradise Circus?”

“Yes, Sir,” he claims as he opens the doors to the large interior of a typical British black cab. I say,”claims” because in recent months I very often got into taxis after being assured by the driver that they knew exactly where I wanted to go when they had no idea whatsoever.

“The weather is wonderful today!” the driver offers as way of a conversation starter. He is clearly very pleased as he excitedly mentions it.

“Amazing, I wasn’t expecting it!” It feels like a summer afternoon, after 5PM on the 2nd of May.

“Where are you from, Sir?” And the usual banter ensues except that I can barely hear him through the plexiglass barricade between us so it’s a bit strained.

Some time later I am dropped to the front entrance of my hotel within the budget I had researched to be the honest fare. I have learnt not to trust cabbies so I am very pleased when they are true. It speaks well of their city. Last time I was in London I was well taken for a ride and the driver argued his innocence of having to take the greatly lengthened route he took that cost 120 pounds by metre that I know should have cost less than 70 quid. It leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth.


“Do you live in the UK at all, Sir?”


“If you could just fill in this form then, Sir, with your passport information and such.”

An older four-star hotel, it’s a bit aged but excellent value and the perfect location for my Birmingham adventures.

Strangers from my Window

Introduced to my room, the first thing I do after dropping my considerable bags is go straight to the window with my camera. I’m on the 4th floor looking down to a courtyard-like area that is at the rear of the Paradise Forum. A main pedestrian thoroughfare continues through the building as if out-of-doors creating considerable foot traffic. A neighbourhood pub, Wetherspoons, has an outdoor seating area that is well-in-use on this lovely sunny pre-summer afternoon. Opposite another patio seating area of Woktastic is less populated. My eye falls-upon some activity. Two guys in an argument are getting physical. A punch is thrown. Another. Oh, dear. Someone steps in to break them up. They settle-down and one of them puts his suit jacket back on.

A moment later and they’re back at it again. One lunges at the other and they’re on the ground, quickly out of view behind a little BBQ fast food hut. Again they are coaxed to cease. Moments later they start-up again, first with yelling followed by blows. Somehow now on the pub patio a table crashes. An older couple stand-in, both husband and wife trying to disarm the situation.

The fight doesn’t leave the biggest impression on me, the reaction of the people nearby does. Several people have put themselves in harms way to try to stop this dispute. No one reacted as if this were a sight they were used to, people stopped, police were phoned. Clearly this was unacceptable behaviour and locals were trying to do something about it. If I had been down there I reckon I would have stayed clear so I am rather impressed as to what has motivated people to step-in.

Nowhere is perfect. But notice in these clips how standers-by don’t just stand by, but they actually get involved and try to stop the quarrel. I think the Brummies have real guts.


I exit the main doors of the hotel where I came in and stare at the map that I picked-up at the airport. The hotel is labelled on the map, but it is not drawn. I am not sure which direction I am facing. I want to go towards Victoria Square which will lead me to New Street with all the shops and services that will be useful to me. I want to set-up my iPad with a UK SIM straight away. The hotel charges 5 pounds ($8) per day for using WIFI, and I can activate having my own portable internet for an entire month for only 15 pounds ($24).

A small woman near to my age with pink/purple hair walking very quickly notices me looking dazed and confused. It’s true, I was not to bed last night and now having just arrived, I am unable to orient myself on the map. “Where are you trying to go?” she accurately ascertains. “Victoria Square.” “Come with me, I can show you.” Although she is not going into the square herself, she is going nearby. We exit the car-only driveway of the hotel and enter a pedestrian path, up some stairs, and down an exterior corridor. “It doesn’t really look like an entrance from this direction,” she explains as we enter a side-door of the Paradise Forum. At a Fork in the corridor we take a left. She walks a bit out of her way so that she can point me in the direction of the square at the appropriate exit before she continues in her own direction.

“Thanks very much!”

“You’re very welcome!” she shoots back with a smile.

(I later find a more sensible exit/entrance for the hotel through the restaurant/lounge that connects directly onto the rear walkway of the Paradise Forum. This is the way that pedestrians come and go from the hotel.)

The Black glass with Red outlines is the back/side/pedestrian entrance of the Copthorne Hotel.

Doris and Laura

Paradise Forum is a small ground-floor arcade of mostly food purveyors that is topped by the city library. Also within the library on the main level is a tourist information office. Inside, two cheerful ladies help me as I ask for several items. I eavesdrop as one of the ladies explains to a visitor before me the maps they have available. The visitor is readily content and on her way. “Could I also get a civic map please?” “Sure you can,” and she’s off to get one. Oh, and could I get a copy of the Cycling map as well? “Certainly, just a moment.” Maps in hand I wander over to the racks of brochures that I had not noticed before. Self-service, it’s probably where the welcomer had walked over to each time to get my maps herself. I return to the desk once more to purchase a few post cards, where the three of us joke about the weather being so changeable in the UK. Hot and sunny one minute, cold and raining the next. “We can have four seasons in a day!” one of them boasts.

Paradise Forum opens up onto Chamberlain Square, a beautiful outdoor space flanked by the library, the rear of the Town Hall, and the Museum and Art Gallery. The Museum and Art Gallery was built between 1884 and 1889 by the Gas company in an asymmetrical Classical style. A large clock tower, “Big Brum” rises on the left. In the centre of the square a fountain with a tower that looks like a steeple adds to the charm of the space. Taking one up a grade, a very wide rounded staircase runs much of the width leading up to the entrances of the Forum and the Library.

Town Hall is a Roman-looking Grade 1 listed building. Passing between it and the Museum one happens upon adjoining Victoria Square. This space provides one of the most iconic scenes of Birmingham which I recognise from photos. Council House stands as the prominent resident of the square, it is actually another wing of the same building which is the Museum and Art Gallery. A statue of Queen Victoria stands in the square, which stands at the top of another stately staircase with water features and lovely flower gardens. Below, some of the main shopping streets of Birmingham are accessed.

New Street must be considered the High Street, essentially a link between Victoria Square and the Bull Ring Shopping Complex. A plethora of small shops, both chain and independent, as well as other services, pubs, restaurants, coffee shops, and cafes line the streets and back-streets between the two anchor landmarks. Mid-point is the New Street Station, the main railway link of the city.

br />
“Big Brum” on the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery at Chamberlain Square.

Another view of Chamberlain Square this one showing the Museum on the left, the fountain with it’s steeple in the centre and the Town Hall on the right.

Council House on Victoria Square.

Side view of Victoria Square, this photo better shows the Romanesque Town Hall, opposite.

Front view of the playful New Street Station, Birmingham’s main rail station.

Looking up Navigation Street towards the side of New Street Station, which is new.


After 6PM on a Thursday, I am surprised to find many shops in this very well-populated pedestrian zone to be recently closed. I buy a Big Issue on the street and the friendly sales person, James, explains where I can find mobile phone stores that will be open longer, they are inside the Bullring. “Big Issue, Sir?” “Sure, how much is it?” (I am embarrassed by this question, I regularly purchased this weekly paper magazine when I lived in the UK many years ago. Back in the 1990’s, I think it may have been a pound at the time.) “Two pound-fifty. I know, it’s a lot, isn’t it.” “No, it’s fine. I just arrived to the UK today, that’s why I didn’t know the price.” I give him 3, thank him for his help and continue on my little mission.

The Big Issue is a charitable publication that helps unemployed people to make some money by selling them on the street. At the current price, the vendors make 1 pound 25 for every issue they sell. I find many of the stories interesting and I think it’s an excellent way to spend a few quid. I believe it is available all throughout the UK.



The Bullring is a large and very impressive shopping complex. Although there is just over 160 retailers, many of them are large tenants. I make my way down to the bottom level and find a recently-merged mobile phone company store that is still open. There I am immediately served by a helpful-enough Billy. He’s not Mr.Personality but he gets the job done with little fuss. I’m a rather easy customer, I want to buy a phone, don’t really care much about what it is although if it can take nice photos that could be handy. Samsung Galaxy is sold out in all three versions, I don’t want another Blackberry, so after a 3-minute selection process I end up with a Windows smartphone made by Nokia. Soon, I’ll figure out how to use it.

I wrote this chapter broken into the interactions I had with people simply so readers could see how it really is the interactions with individuals that creates the feeling of a place.

I am happy to report, with loads of things to do and friendly locals, after only 24 hours I realise that one week will not be enough time for me here. I think Birmingham might just be a bit of a hidden gem. As England’s Second City, it does not get the attention abroad that it deserves. No one has ever suggested that I visit this city, yet it really seems to be a great place.

*The names above have been altered to protect the privacy of the individuals.

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends! You can tell them my domain name, or you can click on the facebook or twitter buttons below to share a link to this specific post.

I hope you will follow my blog, just click on “Follow” at the bottom right of your screen. You will receive each new posting as an email until you click to unfollow. Thanks for reading! Cheers!