From the 17th of January to the 1st of April 2022, I am on a research stay in Montréal, Canada. You can read about my experiences - both scientific and personal - on this page.
28. March - 2. April 2022
My last adventure(s)
Writing this last article about my research stay in Montréal, I am sitting in my office in Bremen, with only some boring buildings of other institutes behind the window, instead of the amazing view onto the Mont-Royal. But again, let’s start at the beginning.
After spending one week in bed, I was finally back to work on the 28th of March. Even though I lost some time, I was able to finish all the measurements I wanted to do, which I am very glad about. Besides, I really enjoyed the last time with the colleagues in Canada. It was such a nice working environment with so nice people I will definitely miss. On my last day, I brought some self-made pastries (“Franzbrötchen”, for those of you who have been in norther Germany before) and we had a nice goodbye.
On Wednesday, I also took the chance to do some final winter sports: We went ice skating on an artificial ice-skating area in the middle of the city (and five minutes away from my work place), which was quite nice. Afterwards, we visited China town and had some very delicious dinner.
The 1st of April was the day to get back home – but before getting home, it was a quite exciting day. I still had one thing on my bucket list for my research stay that I had not done yet: Visiting a sugar shack. Sugar shacks are usually small cabins in the forest where maple syrup is produced. As the season for the syrup is early spring, the sugar shacks in this period offer some special food and activity around the syrup, and I was really eager to do that.
With some of my colleagues from our ArcTrain research group, both people like me currently doing their research stay and those working at UQAM or McGill university, we had already planned this trip for earlier. But, among others, due to my illness, we postponed it to my last day in Montréal. Anyway, the evening before, it became quite unsure as one of the people got tested positive for covid, and two others of the group were in contact with him, so they could not join. Two of us who wanted to go were still left, but to get to the sugar shack, we needed to go by car, and we both have never taken the car in Canada and did not feel comfortable with that. Luckily, in the end, we found another colleague who was interested to join and also could take a car. So with some delay and a lot of stressful moments and me fearing that I will not be able to cross this last point from my list, we were on the road and left the city.
The sugar shack we visited was actually not one of the most traditional ones deeply in the forest, but one that seemed to be a bit more sophisticated and touristic. But as we wanted to visit a place that is not too far away from the city, and also offers a vegetarian option, it was the best choice to go. You might wonder how a meal that is served with maple syrup cannot be vegetarian? Well, you have to consider that the syrup is not only eaten to sweet servings, but also but on top of savory dishes. And those traditional dishes are usually very meaty (different types of meat and sausages, potatoes, eggs, beans and so on). But I got a vegetarian alternative, which I also liked a lot – and I discovered that putting the sweet syrup on top of different vegetables and something like a vegetarian meatball is very delicious. After the savory main dish, we also got some very sweet desert - besides pancakes and little tartes with maple sugar, also the regional specialty pouding chômeur (which translated to the poor man’s pudding), which is an extremely sweet and very soft cake with a sweet maple syrup layer on top. I liked it very much!
The final experience at the sugar was to produce some maple toffees in the snow. This is done by pouring some hot maple sap into snow, where it quickly starts to get more solid. You than put a popsicle stick inside it and roll it to produce something like a lollipop – that is very sweet and very sticky! Unfortunately, it was rather worm and a bit rainy that day, so we had not real snow but only some artificial ice to produce it, but it was still very delicious.
And then, it was time to leave. With a little delay because the streets were quite busy on a Friday afternoon in Montréal – but still absolutely in time, but just not more than 2 hours earlier than departure – I arrived at the airport and checked in without issues. And suddenly, I was back on the airplane and back in the air.
It was really nice to one more time have a look over the city and over some still partly frozen rivers, before everything was done below a thick layer of clouds and the sun was going down anyway.
Without any problems and without any delay, I safely arrived back in Amsterdam, and after another four hours train ride, also back in Bremen.
To quickly sum up, I can say that I had an absolutely wonderful time in Montréal and am very, very glad that beside the still difficult covid situation especially during the beginning of my stay, I got the chance to go and do so many interesting things, and also achieved everything I wanted to in terms of my research.
Luckily, I will be back for a conference within our ArcTrain network in May of this year, and I am already looking forward to see the difference between Montréal in January to March and in May, when spring is really there. Besides, I am happy to get the chance to see some people once more.
You should never say never, but at the moment I cannot say if I will ever stay abroad for such a long time so far away, so I am very glad that I had this experience and that it was possible.
I hope you enjoyed getting some insights from my stay, as this is also the end of this blog.
Thank you for reading!
17.-27. March 2022
When spring brings unwelcomed changes…
I just read the last sentence of my last article – saying that I will make the best out of the remaining time I have here in Canada – and got a bit sad, because in the end, it did not at all worked as planned. But I’ll come to that a little later, let’s start at the beginning!
After I already felt that spring was slowly approaching, on Thursday, it was suddenly there directly. In was very sunny, and in the afternoon, the temperatures reached about 16°C, and felt like summer after having been outside at -10°C only a few days before. The changing weather also changed the life in the city a lot. Suddenly, there were people outside everywhere, enjoying the time. I have to say that it was also St. Patrick’s Day on that Thursday, so especially close to Irish Pub’s, it was quite crowded (with mostly students being out there to have some fun).
We also made use of the good weather and meet after work to try another local and not that healthy food: Beaver tails. This pastry has, luckily, no direct connection to the cute animals, besides its shape: It is a fried pastry shaped like the tale of a beaver, which gave it its name. It is then covered with some delicious sweets – sugar, maple syrup, chocolate sauce, fruits, whatever you can imagine – and very delicious! Due to the nice weather, we could just sit outside in the sun while eating, which was very nice.
As it was still so nice, we then went down to the old harbor again. I remembered that the first time I came here, temperatures were about 36° lower than they were that day, which is a change I can barely imagine. The harbor also had change, with the snow disappearing and also the ice on the river slowly shrinking. Apparently, someone was struggling with the changing weather, too: A young fox was running around on the ice in the harbor area. It was nice to watch, as I have never seen a living fox before, but he seemed to be a little stressed. We later found out that he was already lost there and people tried to get him out. I cannot find any new information on it anymore, so I am not sure what finally happened – but I hope they, or, he himself, found a way for him to leave the area not really suitable for a fox and get back to were he came from.
The next interesting event started on Saturday very, very early: We left our flat before 7 in the morning, to take an early bus to get to Ottawa, the capital of Canada. With the bus, it is a two hours ride from Montréal. Unfortunately, the weather was not that nice – grey and rainy – so the drive was not so enjoyable for watching the landscape. After we arrived in the city, we first of all went to the parliament hill.
The first thing to stumble upon there is a war monument. Besides having the years of the two world wars written on it, also 2001 – 2014 was engraved there, which confused me in the beginning. We then learned that this is to remember the war in Afghanistan. This totally makes sense, but I just did not think about it before. After that, we walked pass the buildings of the parliament. The streets still showed signs of the huge protests of truckers against covid regulations that have been going on here over weeks during the past months. Now, it was very silent, but the streets were partly blocked, so that no one could drive in front of the buildings. The parliament buildings are huge and impressive, but unfortunately, there was currently no possibility to get in there. Also, some areas were not accessible as some constructions to keep the old buildings stable are currently going on there.
From the parliament, we went into the downtown of the city – to discover that it was almost totally dead on a Saturday morning. The shops did not open before 11 am, which astonished me a bit. We decided to walk on and explore other parts of the city before. We visited the Byward Market, which is an old market in the city with some interesting little shops around, where at least some more people were around. We also stopped at a restaurant to have some brunch, which was quite good (and I decided to go for the sweet option, again, I just cannot resist it!).
While my flatmate went into the war museum after that, I decided to further explore the city. I was first thinking about taking a walk towards a larger parc alongside the river (which is, like the city, called Ottawa), but quickly discovered that it was not really accessible in the conditions of melting snow we had that day. By walking into another direction, I passed another monument, remembering the Holocaust during the second world war. I took a look and read some information, and even learned something new. While I know a lot about what was happening in Europe and Germany, I was not aware of the role of Canada. I learned that the country denied to led Jewish people enter, and it took a lot of time until it was finally possible. With those grey thoughts in mind, I walked further through the city and passed a bridge over the Ottawa.
The interesting thing is that on the other side, another city – Gatineau – is located. As the name already shows, that one is more French influenced, and also belongs to the province of Québec, while Ottawa belongs to Ontario. This is also the reason while it was decided to make Ottawa the capital of Canada, even though it is not the largest (nor the most exciting, I have to admit) city: Because it is directly bridging in a both symbolic and physical way between the two languages (and connected cultures) of the country. The walk over the bridge, along the river and back into the city of Ottawa was very nice, and I guess if it would not be slightly above 0°C and raining, but a little warmer and sunny, it would be very nice.
The last part of the day, we spend together again, and walked further through the city. It woke up a bit, but was still rather calm. Hard to say if it is always like that, or was just the bad combination of post-covid-demonstration-sleep and really bad weather, but the city seemed to be not that welcoming to us. In the end, we slowly walked back (a rather nice route alongside the water in parts) to the train station.
There, after waiting some time without any option to get a hot drink, because trains and train stations do not really matter in Canada and the only little shop that was there was closed, we jumped into the train and got back to Montréal. The train situation is really different to Germany. Trains are not used much, you are already controlled when entering and it seems to be something rather special. Also, the prices are mostly not that effective. In our case, it was only a little more expensive than taking the bus, but as it was also not faster (and trains are also running on diesel here and not on electricity, so there CO2 budget is also not an ideal one…), it is definitely not a very convenient option.
And now, there it is, the answer to the question why things did not turn out to be as nice as I imagined them to be: Ottawa not only did not convince me because it was not the most interesting city, but also because it made me ill. On Sunday morning, I woke up with some head ache, fever and feeling very but. My flatmate got me some covid tests, and luckily, they stayed negative, but anyways, I felt very bad. So from last Sunday until this Saturday, I spend most of my time in bed, sleeping, coughing, trying to get better and in between having small walks outside to get some fresh air. This is really not the way I imagined my second-last week in Canada!
But we cannot change those things, and as it is finally getting better now, I am optimistic that I can at least make the best out of my final five days (I still cannot believe that it is only five days until I will fly back home!). As there are some exciting things planned, I am looking forward to tell you about it soon.
07.-16. March 2022
The concept of time…
After the busy weekend, the next week started rather calm. It became a bit more exciting on Wednesday, which was my birthday. We had some cake at work during the day (I prepared a vegan “Donauwelle”, which is both very delicious and also a cake from Germany, so I thought it would be nice – and people liked it!) and I also got some nice (and delicious, too!) little presents from some of my colleagues. In the evening, we met in a group of four at restaurant very close to my work, where we had some very delicious dinner (and also a little cake as a desert, I have to admit). After that, we took a walk towards the old harbor. This was really nice because from there, one can see the Jacque Cartier Bridge, which is light in different colors every evening.
As the weather prediction for Saturday was not really good, I made use of the sheltered shopping area of Montréal: Large parts of the city center are tunneled, and big shopping centers as well as small shops can be found there. I mainly just walked a round to see what is offered – realizing that most things, and partly also the shops themselves, are not that different from what I know from home. But I also made use of buying some little and for the region typical gifts for some people at home (and as they might be reading here, I will not say anything, but you might suspect that it will be connected to something sweet!).
Before getting back home to have a calm weekend afternoon and evening, I stopped at Tim Horton’s, a in Canada very important fast food restaurant that is mainly known for its donuts (but also offering a large variety of other food). I took a box of so-called Tim bits, which are small balls made from the same dough as the donuts (I assume they are made from the remainders from cutting the whole in the donuts). The advantage in contrast to donuts: Without eating a lot, you can have different tastes, like some with chocolate, some with sugar icing and some with fruit filling. Definitely not healthy at all, but still delicious from time to time!
On Sunday, the weather was much better, so we went on another ski tour at the Mont-Royal. It was again very beautiful. I again felt a bit more comfortable then the last time, but still fell two times. One time was due to the fact that the snow conditions were not that good anymore, with some frozen areas where the snow has been melting a bit before. Anyway, I enjoyed the tour a lot, and we also added a tour we had not tried the last times to our trip. And, we passed by a place where an owl was sleeping in a tree, which was amazing to watch. It was just sitting there, eyes closed, obviously enjoying the sun. I totally understand that, as I also like the sun very much. It was a very nice nature experience!
At the beginning of the new week, it slowly became obvious that we made use of the last chance to go skiing, as the temperatures slowly started to rise. Wednesday evening, temperatures were around 5°C. What I also would not see as high temperatures from my German perspective really felt so mild and much like spring that I was impressed myself. The air also smelled like spring, and of course, one could hear dripping and flowing water everywhere from the melting snow.
I made use of the nice spring evening with some sun – on Sunday, the time was also changed to summer time here (I have no idea why it is two weeks before time change in Germany…), so there was even more light in the evening – and took a walk at the Mount-Royal. And while I really enjoyed these first feelings of spring, it also made me a bit melancholic, as I realized that not only the winter here in Montréal is coming to the end, but also my research stay is getting close to its end, with only a little more than two weeks left.
But I will make the best of the remaining time, and looking forward to experience the start of the spring as well!
27. February-06. March 2022
Live in Québec – past and present
The last week ended with another day outside in the snow: Together with a colleague, I took a walk alongside the St. Lawrence River and to the rapids parc – a parc which is, as the name shows, located close to water rapids in the river. It is not only a very nice area to walk (or in winter go skiing), but also very impressive to watch the water masses passing by with such a power. The weather was not as good as during out ski trip the day before, but we also had some sun. In between, it suddenly became very dark and we found ourselves in a heavy snow storm, and within only seconds, could not see anything that was further away then a few meters. But we could find some shelter, and after waiting a while, go on with our walk as it became better again.
The following week brought another very Canadian event: We went out to watch an ice hockey match, in which the team from McGill (the other university in Montréal, where my two colleagues from Bremen are currently doing their research stay at) was fighting against the team from a neighboring university. I have to admit that I never followed an entire match before, not even on television. This made it quite exciting to me. I was very impressed by the high speed of the athletes and how easily they could move on the ice (having in mind how I was happy to be able to go straight forward with ice skates). Even more impressive to me where the regularly occurring changes of people on the field. I was always a bit confused about it and worried if they have the right number of people playing at the same time. But somehow – and without any visible sign from the outside – the managed without any problems. This is probably also just strange from a perspective of someone who is mainly used to watch soccer… but I liked watching it and being impressed!
The day after was again very sporty, but this time again from my own sight. As it was very sunny, and some worse (and warmer) weather was announced for the following days, we decided to do another cross-country skiing tour on the Mount Royal. This time, I already felt much more comfortable on the skis, and as we also already new the track a bit, we were a little faster. But again my muscles showed me, both during and after the skiing, that is still something very new to me. It was already Thursday, and I could still feel a little remaining pain from our trip the Saturday before. But afterwards, it was at least not that bad again!
The most exciting thing for me this week was a weekend trip to Québec City. As trains are not really a common way of transportation here – they exist, but are neither quick nor cheap – I took a bus to get from Montréal to Québec within about three hours. The bus was very comfortable (even though I would still favor trains!), and I just set there and watched out of the window the whole time, enjoying the nice winter landscape. It was very sunny on Saturday, which made it even more enjoyable!
After arriving, I directly bought a ticket for the local bus and took another 35 minutes bus ride to get to the Montmorency water falls which are located at the northernmost tip of Québec. One can walk over the waterfalls and the steep valley below on a bridge, and have a look at the falls from different areas. It was very impressive to watch the water masses falling down. As it is still very cold here, quite some parts of the water were frozen, which made it, from my point of view, even more exciting. With the nice weather, I also took a nice walk in a parc next to the waterfalls, where a path is following the river which ends in the water falls. It was just a very nice afternoon!
Coming back to the city during late afternoon, I went to my hostel – a not that expensive but very nice youth hostel – and then took a first walk within the center of the city. I passed again the St. Lawrence River, and the huge castle of Québec, which looked very nice in the evening. Then I found myself a nice and cozy restaurant with very nice waters and had delicious dinner.
On Sunday, the weather unfortunately had changed: The sun was hidden behind a very grey sky, which brought ice rain, snow, and again ice rain throughout the day. With also quite some wind, it was definitely not really welcoming and rather cold… Still, I used my time to explore the old city in more detail, walking past the citadel, again the castle, several churches and more. To warm up a bit, I had some brunch in a café mainly offering different types of crêpes, which I enjoyed a lot. After that, I walked passed some of the main streets of the city, which have many nice little shops. It clearly shows that it is a quite touristic city, with many souvenir shops, but also many others. I mainly spend my time walking by and looking at their windows, as I am not really a fan of shopping, but it was still interesting.
In the afternoon, as it was still raining heavily, I visited the museum of civilization of Québec. It gives a very nice overview on the history of the province, which is mainly driven by colonization of France and England, and oppression of the first nations. Quite some serious and depressing topics, but it was also very interesting.
Before getting to the bus station again to get back to Montréal, I got some typical dinner (poutine, again!). The ride back home was not that exciting, as looking at the landscape is not possible when it is already dark outside, but after two days with a lot of walking, I also enjoyed to lust lean back and close my eyes…
18.-26. February 2022
Getting out there – exciting days
After a rather calm last week, this week was again full of amazing experiences, mostly related to enjoying my time in the nice company of some colleagues.
This started last Friday, when one of my colleagues from Bremen (actually Bremerhaven), who will share the apartment with me until the end of my stay, arrived here in Montréal. Waiting for her to arrive during the evening, I was thinking a lot about my arrival here which has been almost exactly one month before hers. I felt the nervousness with her a bit and was very happy when she arrived here without any issues. One thing I was a bit jealous on: She already got the result from her PCR test that was done at the airport the next days, so in even less than 24 hours! But I was very happy for her, and also for us all, as it means that the overall number of covid-19 cases is decreasing further, with less infections reducing the need of tests as well.
We directly made use of her being able to leave the flat and met with another colleague, likewise from Germany and currently in Montréal for her research stay, to visit the old harbor on Saturday. The last time I went there I could not stay that long as it was so cold. This time, it was a bit warmer, but also not that sunny. But after some time that we walked along the river side in some slight snowfall, the clouds started to disappear. Thus, we decided to take a right on the big wheel located there, la grande roue de Montréal. When we were at its top during the first round, we had an amazing view onto the skyline of the city, and also over the St. Lawrence River. Then, it suddenly started to snow again, and only a few minutes later, we could not see anything. That was a bit unfortunate, but at least we could enjoy it at the beginning, and were also glad to be in a sheltered place during the heavy snow. But of course, the snow lasted longer then the ride, so we had to get out there anyway. To still get some shelter, we found ourselves a little café close by, spend a nice afternoon there and explored the area a little more before getting home.
Sunday morning, the snow stopped falling, and it was even a little sunny, so my new flatmate and me went out for a walk at the Mount Royal. As I already went there before, I could guide here a bit – which I also already did the day before to show here the next place to get some cash, the closest supermarket and the metro station – and it showed me again that I already made quite some experiences here and are already here for one month now. The hike was nice, and until we started going down again, the sun was up, so we had a great view over the city from the top.
In the afternoon, we met with two other colleagues at a rather typical North-American diner for lunch. Typical, in that case, also meant rather meat-centric, which was a bit annoying to me as a vegetarian (preferring even vegan food). But it was fine, I had a very delicious sandwich with some veggies. After having some food, we also visited a place I had already seen before: The botanical garden and the Olympic stadium. But this time, we took a longer walk at both places, so I got to see more of the garden, which is really big and must be an amazing place as soon as the snow is gone, and also walked around the Olympic stadium. So even if I had seen it before, it was definitely worth it.
After some rather usual, but also very productive work days, the next special plan came up for Thursday evening: Again in the company of my colleague from Germany, I went to check out the light festival at the center of Montréal, Montréal en Lumière. It is taking place for about two weeks in the city center, located directly in front of the UQAM. So we met after work, and first got into a close-by restaurant to have some dinner (delicious vegetarian pizza, which was very good!). The light festival is a mixture of activities for kids with some lights (e.g. jumping on a platform to make different lights appear), huge light installations and videos projected onto the walls of buildings, some events and of course food and drinks. We first watched an ice-skating show with a great mixture of figure skating and stunt show on one of the ice-skating areas constructed at the festival grounds. After, we wanted to do some ice skating ourselves with nice music (a heavy metal night was announced in the program, so the type of music I really like), but quickly realized that a lot of people seemed to be very interested. Both at the area to borrow ice skates, and in front of the entrance to the icy surface, many people were waiting. As it was already rather late in the evening, we decided not to wait. Instead, we had a hot drink and just stood at a slightly elevated area next to the ice-skating zone and watched the people (there were really a lot of people, did not look that fun, actually…) and listened to the music. Even if it did not turn out as planned, it was really nice.
The final and probably also most amazing thing this week was happening this Saturday: we went out to do some cross-country skiing at the mount royal. We had already planned do that at the beginning of the week, and were really lucky with the weather. After some little warmer days during the week, it started snowing during the night from Thursday to Friday, and kept on snowing until Friday evening, so we had a bunch (about 10 cm, I would say) freshly fallen fluffy snow. The clouds disappeared on Friday evening, it became rather cold during the night, and there was clear blue sky with a bright shining sun on Sunday morning. And even though it was still rather cold during the morning (around -14°C), it quickly became warmer (we were around -5° during the afternoon). So we had the most amazing conditions we could get for skiing: Perfect snow, bright sun, and temperatures not too low. We met at the plateau of the mountain, borrowed some skies and started our round. I was a little nervous before, because it as been a while (which means more than 10 years, actually) since I last have been standing on skis – and that time, it were skis for alpine skiing, and I never did cross-country skiing. But after having watched it quite often since I am here, and with some very helpful advices from my colleague and also some other people on skies when I was struggling a lot getting up a rather steep hill, it was just awesome. It was just so beautiful outside – this repays for the pain I feel in my legs now and for the several times I fell on my butt, because I am definitely not that skilled yet, especially when going downhill.
After the skiing, I accompanied my colleague for another round about 1.5 hours walk to get to her place, where we got some very delicious muffins in a bakery close by and had a relaxed afternoon together.
Overall, this week has been full of nice company, next to the described nice experiences. It is really nice to not be alone in the flat anymore, and also spend some free time with other people and just enjoy the winter here (and all this helps to be able to shut down the awful news we are currently flooded with for at least some time)! There are already some nice plans coming up for the next week, so I will tell you about that soon!
07.-17. February 2022
Feeling at home: some rainy days
After having talked about my work, I realized that I missed to tell you more about the happenings of more than the last week. First I was thinking that there is actually nothing interesting to tell you, but after checking the pictures I have been taking with my phone since the last entry, I realized that there is still some interesting things to talk about.
I will start with the one thing that occupied my thoughts a lot the past days: the weather. Since my arrival, it mostly has been either cold (something between -5 and -10°C) and snowy, or really cold (between -10 and -20°C) and sunny. I really like those two weather types, because I both enjoy the sun a lot, and love watching snowflakes falling down. But in the second half of the last week, a new (and rather familiar…) third type came up: more or less slightly above freezing point and rainy. Of course, greyish and rainy weather is nothing special to me, as this is what most days in February (and January, and November, and actually a lot of days during many months…) in Bremen look like. What is new to me is the rapid change in temperature. It quickly jumped from -12 up to +5°C, within one day. The higher temperature resulted in melting snow, which made the paths in the park that consisted of snow trampled by feet very slippery and ugly. On top of that, small meltwater streams occurred in between, which made it quite hard to cross the park without getting wet feet. If this already sounds bad, let me tell you: It got even worse! After a few days, temperatures suddenly jumped back to temperatures of about -20°C. On Saturday, we started with 5°C and ended with -17°C. You might be able to imagine what this means to walking in the park: The paths that has been covered with water for some time quickly transformed into ice paths. Partly, it became almost impossible to walk there (or at least without spikes under your shoes, of if you wanted to slide instead of walking).
And this is actually still not the end of the weather story. After some grey and rainy days, a very cold (but again sunny) Sunday and also two further sunny days at the start of this week, it got grey and a little warmer again yesterday. And today, on Thursday, while I am writing this blog, it is raining. And it has been raining since I got up in the morning. Currently, temperatures are dropping again, and weather forecast says that the rain will transform into snow again during the night. So depending on the amount of fresh snow, walking might be again a quite exciting experience tomorrow. If so, I will let you know!
But let’s not only talk about the weather. I can also talk about food again, which I enjoyed a lot the past week. One day, I stopped at a bakery after work and got some very delicious and sweet reward for a productive working day, in form of a tiny cake (tartlet) and an éclair. I guess those pastries show the connection that exists between Québec and France, and I enjoyed them a lot! Another very sweet dish which also has its origin in France are Crêpes. Those I enjoyed as well the last days, in a lovely café specialized to Crêpes that is located in my neighborhood. It caught my attention during one of my walks because a giant teddy bear was sitting behind its window. After seeing him, I checked out the menu and it sounded so good that I tested it a little later together with a colleague. You might recognize from the picture, and I can also tell you: It was amazing!
The third thing I gave a try was something typical for Montréal: Bagels. I learned that the recipe for bagels here is different to that for bagels in the United States. As I have not been there, I cannot directly compare, but I can say that the bagels here are very tasty. And the two traditional bagel bakeries in Montréal I tested are also just cute. The shops are directly connected to the area of bagel production, so the smell of fresh bagels is in the air – and the ones I bought were all still warm. So it is not only a delicious food, but also a nice experience, because while paying, you can watch the people preparing new bagels.
The last thing I can report about is a “little” walk I did on Saturday. My first intention was to go in the direction of the old harbor, but was it was quite windy, I changed my mind (because I thought it might be even windier at the harbor) and started walked down one of the main streets, just in one direction. My idea was to let myself flow a little and then get back home. The problem of the very coordinated street system in Montréal is that you can see things that are very far away. So after a few minutes of walking, I spotted the Olympics Stadium of Montréal. I knew that it is quite far away, but still enjoyed walking in its direction with the view on it. And after some time, I was wondering if I could not, anyway, walk to it? So I checked the distance and kept on walking, and then decided that I already came so far that I should go until I would reach it – and I did so. In the end, I walked about 6 km, but as it was currently slightly above zero in terms of temperatures, it was absolutely fine. I took a more detailed look on the stadium, and also checked out the botanical garden that is located right beside the stadium. I guess it is much nicer when not all plants are covered by snow, but still, there were some interesting buildings (e.g. in the Chinese Garden) and it was a nice walk. And as I absolutely enjoy walking and just absorbing impressions, it was a very nice trip anyway!
General insight: my research work
I still owe you some more insights into the research work I am doing here in Montréal – so here they are!
The main focus of the whole research in the context of my PhD are planktic foraminifera – microorganisms that live in the ocean water and form a calcite shell around their body (something similar to what we know from seashells or crabs). There are many reasons you can be interested in this shell, as its formation can be influenced by the climatic condition and this information can be stored in the ocean floor for thousands of years. But I am more interested in what is going on today: I want to better understand the role of the formation of the shells of foraminifera to the carbon cycle. My regional focus is set on the Arctic (as I am, as mentioned before, part of an international Arctic research training group). Since October 2019, I have worked a lot on material from the area in which living planktic foraminifera can be found – roughly the upper 300 m below the surface of the ocean. During my work here in Montréal, I am switching my focus, because I do not only want to know more about the formation of the shells, but also about their storage. And the place where they are stored is the ocean floor – the sediments. So I want to check-out how much calcite shells of planktic foraminifera reach the ocean floor and remain there for longer timescales.
How do I do that? I work with samples from so-called sediment cores. This are long tubes that are taken out of the ocean floor and contain a mixture of sand, mud and everything else that is settling down – including shells of foraminifera that had died.
After getting the core out of the ocean and into the laboratory, samples are taken out in a certain interval, for example every two centimeters. This samples are then processed, for example sieved to divide into different sizes of the containing material. I am looking at material that is bigger than 100 µm (other people are interested in other organism remains that are even smaller than that!), but still very small (mostly smaller than 250 µm). The steps described thus far, I only know from theory, because until now, I did not have to process the samples myself. I work with material that has been collected some (partly many!) years ago, and the size fraction I am interested in is stored as no one worked on it – until now.
What do I do with the samples that are already prepared? This is rather easy. First, I check how much material is present in one cup, so in one sample. If it is a lot of material, I split it into smaller amounts. This can be done with a small splitter which consists of a small tube on the top, some tiny slides below that point into two directions, and another tube on each end of the slides. If I fill my sample inside, it will be split into two parts containing the same amount of material. If this is still too much to work on, I can do the same process again and work with a quarter of the sample (or go on until I am satisfied with the amount I have).
After that, I pour all the material I want to examine on a small metal tray with a checked pattern. This pattern helps to not loose track on what areas you have already checked, and what you still need to check. I place the tray under a binocular microscope to be able to see what I have there more precisely (with the naked eye, the only thing I see is grains…), and then the real work can start: I take a thin brush (yes, I really use normal brushes other people use for painting small and precise lines with watercolor or so), dip it into some water so that material can stick to it, and start to search for shells of planktic foraminifera in the material. Whenever I find something, I slightly touch it with the brush, so it sticks to the brush and I can transfer it onto a slide on which I can store the shells.
When I am sure that I have found all planktic foraminifera, I can put the remaining material back into the cup of the sample (perhaps some other people might want to take a look at it at some point because they are interested in some other material in there?).
But I am not done yet. Now, the most precise work starts: I place the slide with the foraminifera shells under the microscope and start to sort them. Sorting by what? By species. There is a huge variety of species of planktic foraminifera, that can be distinguished due to the shape of the shell. Luckily, as the Arctic ocean is an extreme region in terms of living conditions, the species variety here is not that big. Still, besides the most abundant species (which is called Neogloboquadrina pachyderma, if you are bored you could try to read that name out loud fluently and without errors!), there can be about two to five other species in the sample as well. And the different species can differ for example in their size and weight of the shell, which might be relevant for the carbon cycle.
After I have sorted them by species, I count them, so that I know how many shells have been present in the sediment I have worked with, and with which proportion of different species.
And what for? As I indicated at the beginning, my main focus is the carbon cycle. As the shells of planktic foraminifera contain carbon, they play a role in this cycle, which is overall very important for our climate (it is connected to carbon dioxide which we talk about frequently when it comes to climate change) and all living organisms in the ocean. I want to know how much carbon is stored, and how it is connected to the climate.
As I am still just at the start of this project (and also all my other research work is still in progress), I cannot give you any overall interesting insights yet. But at some point in the future, I should be able to tell you more.
Until then, I will have to spend many more ours in front of the binocular, as well as in front of the computer to analyze all the data I collect in the laboratory. But when I will finally have some results from the research work I am doing here, I will be happy to share it, too!
And why in Montréal? The people among you that have already talked to be about my work before (or have read this article mindful and thought a little further) might have realized that the work I am doing here in Montréal is not fare from what I have been doing the last months and years in Bremen, too. And that is absolutely right: everything I have been doing here thus far, I could have been doing in Bremen as well without any problems. Still, there are several good regions that I have come to Montréal for doing so. The first and most important reason is that the material I am working on with is stored here at the UQAM. It is very easy to access, I already checked what is there and can also decide spontaneously if I want to add some more material to my study. Of course, there is also a lot of material from the Arctic ocean stored at MARUM in Bremen (or close to Bremen, e.g. in the archives of the Alfred-Wegener-Institute in Bremerhaven), and sending samples could also be an option. But it is not the samples alone that I profit during my time here. It is also the expertise of the working group here, with the professor I am working with knowing the region and the samples from the Labrador Sea I am working on very well. Also, the exchange of ideas with researchers from different institutes is very important in scientific research, and I can definitely profit from the knowledge that is based here, with people having a slightly different focus then the people in my working group in Bremen, but a huge knowledge on many other aspects that can be important as well. And then, it is just a valuable experience to spend some time abroad, working with different people and also get in touch with a different culture.
This experience, as you can read from this blog, is very valuable and in my opinion already a good reason to come here, even if I am not doing something extraordinary I could not do at other places.
3.-6. February 2022
Of “poutine” and “patins”
So here it is, some insights on the first days and evenings I spend together with some people I already mentioned during my last article.
Thanks to the ArcTrain community, the international research training group focusing on Arctic research I am part of, I am lucky enough to already knew at least a few people here in Montréal before my arrival – at least from virtual meetings, but also because they have been in Germany before. And the essence of the time I spend with these colleagues were mainly two things that sound rather similar (in French): Poutine and patins.
The first word I also already mentioned before, in connection with restaurant. So as you might guess, this is something to eat. And not only that, it is something special in Montréal as well as all over the province of Québec, because it has its origins here. This know sounds like it is something really special, and it is definitely delicious, but also, it is a sort of fast food. Traditionally, poutine consists of (rather thick) fries, cheese curds and brown gravy. But as poutine is a very famous dish here, also a high variation is available. I am very happy about that, as traditional brown gravy is usually made with meat – not really attractive to a vegetarian as I am. So I am happy to see a variety of offers, also including vegetarian options.
I already tried a poutine twice. My first one had, as topping on the fries and cheese, some fried tofu and further vegetables, plus sauce. The second time, I had some vegetarian sausage and again some veggies in addition to the fries, cheese and some vegetarian brown sauce. Both versions were very delicious, and I might try some other toppings within the next week – let’s see!
It was not only eating the poutine which was quite exciting to me, but also the location, at least at the second try: for the first time since I am here, we went to a restaurant. It was also rather special for most other people here I guess, as they had been closed since Christmas due to the covid-19 situation. But now, with a proof of vaccination, one can go again.
The place we visited is one totally specialized to poutine, which is nice, because they have a very huge diversity in the variation of the dish. And the place is also very popular – which we realized seeing the queue of people in front of the building when we arrived. We were first thinking about ordering something to take home instead, but that would probably have taken as long as waiting, as we also would have to go back to the place of the colleague at whose flat we met before. So before my experience of eating in a restaurant, I experienced waiting outside with quite some snowfall. At least it was not that cold (meaning that it was only slightly below 0°C), and standing in the snow is definitely much better than standing in the rain, because you do not really get wet!
When we finally entered, everything was great. It probably already came out that I liked the food. But also the service was very good. For me, it was actually a bid unusual that the waitress came to our table very regular to ask if everything was fine. I am more used to the German type of service, where they come in the beginning for the order, then to bring the order, and then when they see that you have emptied your plates – or if you wave because you want to pay. But people in Canada also depend much more on the tip than they do back home, because their wage besides what they get as tip is rather low. It was strange, but I think I would sometimes appreciate if I would not have to make the people realize me if I want something from them back home.
Another thing I appreciate in the restaurant was the fact that they serve water to drink for free. What I have heard (and experienced myself) this is rather common in in many countries outside Germany, and as tab water is really not expensive (and absolutely drinkable!) it really should also be no matter there, but still it is not… They rather make you pay for water (even non-sparkling!) that has been transported all over the country and emitted a lot of CO2 during this travel just because they can make money from it.
But enough on the ranting regarding restaurants in Germany… Because I have already written much and still have not talked about “patins”. This is the French word for (ice) skates. As you can imagine, that is something easily done here with the consistently low temperatures over weeks and months. So we met (until now twice) in a parc in the middle of the city, to do ice skating on a lake there. There are several places where you can do it – also in the small parc right behind my flat – but only a few were you can also borrow skates, which I of course have to do. Most Canadian people have their own ones, and I already see that this would be really worth when you live here longer! But for me, borrowing is absolutely fine. At the start of the first try, I was still a bit insecure, because it has been some years since I did it the last time (and then, it was not in such a nice environment outside, but at an inside arena in Bremen), but I managed to move forward without huge problems. And then, I had a lot of fun! Again, something for which I guess I might do it again within the next week.
In between the evening at the restaurant last Thursday and the second round for ice skating on Sunday, I have spent the Saturday outside in the snow again. After two rather grey days with heavy snowfall, it was very sunny with a bright blue sky (and again also very cold!), so I took the metro to get to the western end of the island on which the city is located. There is the Rivière des Prairies (the river of the Prairies), with a nice nature parc at the half-island Île de la Visitation. With the sun, it was again just amazing! Besides the consistent temperatures below freezing point, the central stream of the river is not frozen (due to the velocity, probably), and the mixture of ice, water and then trees and a lot of snow was just so enjoyable.
There is not much more to talk about here, so I just let the pictures work for me (as I have already written a lot, while I don’t have any pictures of the poutine experience anyway).
26. January – 2. February 2022
Everyday life in an exceptional style
After I spend my first days here to explore everything, I am slowly shifting into some daily routine. A big part of this daily routine is my research work – the reason for which I came to Montréal.
After the first days in home office, I went to the UQAM (Université du Québec a Montréal) for the first time on the 28th of January. And when I say I went there, I am actually talking about going there by foot. On the first day, I took the easiest way – just following the street I am living at in the same direction for about 20 minutes until I reach the science building of UQAM, where the Geotop and the working group I am situated in is located. On my first way back home, as well as all following walks to and from UQAM, I took a slightly different route, following a smaller road and then walking through the parc, with the view towards the Mont-Royal. It might take a few minutes more of walking this way, but the path is definitely much nicer, too.
I enjoy those little walks in the morning to wake up, and in the late afternoon to freshen the brain after some tiering scientific and laboratory work, a lot. And every time I walk there, I realize how much I love walking on the cracking snow, watching the squirrels in the parc and watching the Mont-Royal in the distance. Everyday, it tells me that I am in a for me very special place, even though my work routine seems to be rather similar to what I am used from home.
You might have realized that I skipped any further insights on my work thus far – and I have to tell you that I will also do this now. I can say that I am very happy with the work and the people are very nice and helpful. Further details on what I am actually doing here and a more scientific perspective will follow in some of my next articles, so stay tuned for that!
It is not only the working routine that has this nice mixture of everyday routine and still high excitement about this place and new experiences, but also all other aspects of living. I get to know the city, and especially my direct neighborhood, more and more. Both during the week (mostly after work) and at the weekend, I enjoy walking around a lot. By this, I have explored the city center a little further and discovered interesting restaurants that are on my “I want to check it out”-list now. And even though streets close to my flat are becoming more and more familiar to me, I still enjoy walking there a lot! I love the houses in this area, with the outside stairs and slightly different architecture for almost every building, even if the general shape is very similar, and I some much like walking in the cold when it is sunny.
On the last weekend, I made use of the nice sunny weather to also hike-up the Mont-Royal once again. And even this was also not totally new to me, it was again amazing! I also discovered some new areas, went to the cross on top of the hill and the parc of Mont-Royal and just had a great time in the snow. It was freaking cold that day, but in regards to that, I already made my experience and had some hot tea with me this time. And I learned that even when it is about -15°C or even below, one can get so warm that one need to get rid of the gloves for some time – at least when walking up the hill on a rather steep slope.
I also had some experiences regarding going out with other people and making use of by French languages skills. Spoiler alert: Even though it is sometimes tough to understand the Quebecoise accent, I am able to get through and especially also am still able to talk in French, so my skill has not totally rusted. But what I experienced together with other people in Montréal is also something for another story – because now, I have to leave for another evening with some colleagues and some poutine! Stay tuned on what this is, why it is nice, and how I experienced my first evening in a restaurant!
23.-25. January 2022
Outside activities with up to -19°C
For sure, I used my first weekend and also some of the following days to discover Montréal a little further – even though the weather was not waiting with a warming welcome to me. On the contrary, it was extremely cold on Saturday with about -19°C as the temperature throughout the day. Nevertheless, the sun was shining and the bright blue sky, as well as my huge curiosity, brought me outside anyway.
First thing I did was getting a ticket for the metro and bus, which is a card I can put some tickets on and thus use several times. It could be charged with one-time tickets, ten tickets at the same time and also monthly tickets, which seems to be very useful. I started with a charging of ten tickets and will figure out in the next days if a monthly ticket would be worthwhile too.
As I was not that eager to walk long ways with the very cold temperatures, I decided to directly make use of my ticket, took the metro and went into the city center. I had no clear goal, just wanted to take a look around. Passing the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal (but only took a look from the outside, but might get back there at some point as I read it might be worth to go inside), I ended up at the old harbor of Montréal.
I must admit that it is a bit irritating to stand at a harbor without really seeing any water. It was not really surprising that most of the St. Lawrence River was frozen, but still I am just not used to this cold and its outcome. I took a small walk along the harbor, passing the Science Center of Montréal (which would probably also be worth a visit once its opening again) and the big wheel of Montréal (same here, currently closed due to the covid-19 restrictions).
In the end, I just had a walk and inhaled some first impressions of the city, before I went back to the metro to get home to unfreeze again. Still, even it sounds not that exciting, I enjoyed the walk and seeing some other parts of the city a lot!
The next day turned out to be much nicer in terms of the weather – at least the temperature were rising by about 8°C. I was surprised how mild -11°C can feel after having been outside at -19°C before! From what I could see from my window, it was also a little cloudy, so I thought about just having a short walk into the direction of the Mont-Royal. But after being out for a couple of minutes, I did not only feel much more comfortable in terms of temperatures, but also turned out to be rather sunny. Hence, my short walk resulted in a longer walk up the Mont-Royal until I reached a very nice observation platform.
The view from there onto the city is just amazing! You can see the skyline, the river, some mountains in the further distance… it was just great. But the walk was not just great because of the nice view from the top, but also because I really just enjoy walking in the snow.
Next to walking, there are also a lot of people skiing in this area, which also seems to be very nice. I really hope I can try that as well during my time here. And I also still have more to explore at the Mont-Royal, as I, for example, did not walk up to the Mount Royal Cross, a giant cross made out of steel at the northeastern peak of the mountain. So I will definitely come back to this place within the next weeks!
As I really enjoy being outside at least for half an hour or so, I came back to either the Parc Jeanne-Mance or also the Mont-Royal during the next days during my lunch break as well as after work. This did not only result in some further nice walks, but also in meeting some very cute and curious squirrels in the parc. It seems that they have been just fed by some people one day I was out there (despite the sign in the parc that it is absolutely forbidden to do so), and they are definitely much less shy than what I am used to from the squirrely we have back home. It’s also different species, as the squirrels here are grey and – sorry guys for saying that! – definitely fatter than ours at home!
Overall, I am still just happy about being here and the exciting encounters experiences I already had within a little more than one week now. Even with covid-19 regulations currently making it not that easy to do many things here, I am already enjoying it so much.
I also just got the message that I can go to the university within the next days, so I can finally start with what I am supposed to doing here. And I am already very excited about that, too, so you will definitely get a report on that soon!
20.-21. January 2022
When simple things become exiting
During my lunchbreak on Thursday, finally left my flat for the first time, and have been outside in the streets of Montréal for the first time after my arrival on Sunday. I was really lucky, as it was again a very sunny (but also rather cold) day.
The first time outside, I used to just explore the direct surroundings of my current home. And I quickly realized that I was not only lucky with having a really nice flat, but also being located in a really nice part of the city. Only a couple of minutes away is a parc (Parc Jeanne-Mance), which is a very nice place for some walking in the sun and the snow. Exciting for me was that the park is also used for cross-country skiing and there is an ice hockey yard. Skiing is something I only see seldomly in the context of vacations in the mountains of Germany, and I’ve never seen ice hockey outside of the television. And here, people just do it in a small park in the city. I just love it!
I also love just walking through the snow, with the creaking of the snow flakes under your feed, the bright sun in the face – and a nose that slowly starts freezing. Luckily, one item that is always in our pocket these days is a face mask. I realized that this is not only a good shelter from viruses, but also keeps the nose warm when it is about -20°C outside!
Next to the little walk I took during noon, I finally had to get some more food. So once I had finished my work of the day, I first of all walked to the next ATM (thanks to google that makes life so much easier when being in an unknown city!) to get some cash, as payment with my credit card would always costs me an additional fee of 1% I would like to prevent as much as possible. Getting cash money was already exciting, as I saw Canadian dollars for the first time. And I have to say the banknotes are really fancy, with some transparent parts and nice pictures. Two days later, I also got the first coins, which are also really beautiful. At home, we are used to boring things like buildings – here I got a 2$ coin with a bear on it!
Having some money in my wallet, I went to the supermarket – with a list of things I needed, but also some questions in my head. I am a very organized person that always makes a detailed list of what food I would need for the whole next week. The only not well-defined aspect on my list are always vegetables. If I do not plan a very specific dish, I just note down “veggies” and get a variety of vegetables, depending on what is available from regional production. I did not check before, but I had really now idea how much getting regional vegetables works in Canada. But by looking outside onto the snow everywhere, I was not that confident to get much.
Turned out that I was a bit wrong. They had plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits. Of course, a lot of them were not regionally products – and I also realized that labels like “from the United States” or even “from Canada” would not be an indication of what I would define as regional from my German point of view. But I could also find some things from Québec. Among others, I bought fresh curly kale, which I do not only like, but which also gives me some feeling of being home, as it is a very important vegetable during Winter in Bremen.
But it was not only the vegetables that were interesting to me – also the rest of the supermarket of course was totally exciting, as offered products where partly different from what I am used from home. The most remarkable thing for me (even though I only heard about it before) was that many products are offered in bigger sizes than what we are used to. In Germany, you would probably never get tetra packs of milk containing more than one liter, or any drink with more than 1.5-2 liter. Here, this is not at all an issue, and also true for many other products. What made me most happy was a glass with dry yeast, and packages of flour with 2.5 kg and more. At home, I am always searching (unsuccessfully) for those things, as I make bread myself. It is so annoying that I have to buy those tiny packages of yeast all the time, with all the plastic around it. This is much better here!
Of course, the large packaging also has disadvantages, like either making people to consume more than they would (and should) do with smaller packages, or leading to higher food waste. But for some products, which you need a lot, or in cases when you take care of a bigger group or family, this is really helpful and probably at least saving some (plastic) waste
Overall, I got everything I needed and went back to my flat happily. While I was storing the food in the fridge and cupboard, I realized how amazing it is how you can get so excited due to small and easy things. I guess one reason for me being so happy was already the fact that I was able to leave the flat and walk outside again. Being in quarantine, and all alone, is really not good for the mood. In contrast, walking and getting some sun is very good for the mood – especially when you have such an amazing landscape right beside you, with the beautiful glittering snow everywhere.
And then, the grocery shopping with the many little new things just made me realize that I am really here. I am in Canada, in Montréal. I have waited for this for a long time, as I knew I would get this chance since the beginning of my PhD in October 2019. And I was so excited about the trip and everything – and now it is just here.
I really hope I can keep this excitement, also for the little things. And maybe I will also be very excited when I’ll be back in Bremen and will stumble upon things I will then realize I missed why I was here?
I really hope so.
So always remember: We not always need special occasions and big events to get really happy. There are many small things in our word that can make us smile and brighten up our little own world!
17.-20. January 2022
New country, same mode: home office
The next days after my arrival where quite less exciting then the travel as such. As I told you before, I had to stay in self-quarantine until I would get the result of my PCR test that has been done on the airport. So the main thing I could do was what I was already used from home: set up my home office and start to work.
I quickly realized how lucky I am with the flat I found. It is very well equipped, including a height adjustable desk and a monitor. Which means that I cannot only work here like I am used to from home, but even better, because I can stand up in between. Which is actually rather nice, for example during phases of becoming tired within the day. And I am quite astonished how much I even enjoy writing longer texts like this blog while standing.
The work I am currently doing in my home office is not really exciting. It is preparational work for the lab work that will follow (hopefully soon!): There is a bunch of data from sediment cores from the Arctic and Subarctic ocean that has already been published. I already have a list of data that is suitable for my project – which is data including information on the presence of the microorganisms I am working on, planktonic foraminifera during the past 4,000 years. This data now has to be sorted to see which is really usable, and I need to get an overview on what we have, so that we can better decide what we still need to work on.
Besides starting to work, I spend my first day in Montréal trying to get some food for my days of quarantine, which turned out to be not as simple as I had though. Initially, I wanted to meet with a colleague who would have bought some essentials for me directly on Sunday evening. Unfortunately, the two colleagues I know here both had to stay in quarantine as well during that time, because of being sick or just having arrived back in Canada a few days before me. I knew that before my arrival, and thought that I could then just order some food delivery at one of the supermarkets for Monday evening. Turned out that I again didn’t reckon with covid-19: None of the supermarkets could offer a delivery before Friday, until when I would have probably already starved…!
In the end, I contacted my boss here at the university, who luckily lives rather close by, and could come around Monday evening with some food. I was glad to finally have something different than the emergency cracker and chocolate I brought with me, and very happy to know that I will not be left alone here!
Even though my first days started in quarantine- and home office-mode, it was rather different than what I am used to from home. I usually start my day by opening the window and let fresh air blowing through the flat. Well, with temperatures of -15°C and below, I quickly realized that this is not the best idea. From time to time, I slightly open a window, but really only for one to two minutes, and not all at the same time.
At home, I am used to go out for a walk at least once a day. While having to stay in quarantine, I unfortunately cannot do that. But once again, I am very lucky with my flat, as it has a roof terrace. On Monday, we had quite some amount of snowfall – about 30 cm probably – and it was very grey and windy, so I preferred to stay inside. But on Tuesday, the sun came out and I went up and it was amazing. I have a direct view on the Mont-Royal, the probable namesake of Montréal. Also, I can see different parts of the city. And snow, snow everywhere. Due to the low temperatures, I could not stay there for long, as the range to move is not that big, but I still enjoyed getting some fresh air and sun very much.
The high amounts of fresh snow also brought another activity with them which I spend one evening on: Watching how the snow masses are handled here to maintain passability of the streets. On Wednesday evening, it suddenly became very loud outside my window: There were clearing vehicles in different sizes and ways. Bigger ones to push the snow to the front and those to line it up on the sides, smaller ones to clean the pavements. And then, there were the vehicles that take up the snow and blow it into huge trucks. I read that those trucks bring the snow out of the city where it is piled up to huge mountains that remain there rather long until they will finally thaw again.
But all those huge vehicles were not the only source of noise. Already before they arrived, there were the pick-ups with loud horns to inform people that the streets need to be free. Already before, signs showing at which time parking was not allowed in the area were hung up. The horns give the people a last chance to repark their car themselves, before it would be towed away.
I sat at my windows for many minutes to watch the spectacle, and was quite impressed how quickly the snows were almost free of snow again. When I think of how difficult it is to remove snow from streets in northern Germany, where high amounts of snow would be something of 5-10 cm…
On the morning of the 20th January, I finally got the relieving message that my PCR test was negative and I am allowed to go out again. Perfect timing, because it was again very sunny outside!
But about my first experiences in Montréal outside my little apartment, I will tell you next time.
14.-16. January 2022
Going abroad during a pandemic
Next to all those general aspects making already the planning process of the trip interesting and difficult, there are the personal experiences that are highly relevant. I have never left Europe before, and only traveled by plane three times in my life. All three flights were rather short, and I was traveling with company. So flying for almost eight hours and all alone, to go to a absolutely unknown living environment already frightened me during the planning of the trip.
Nevertheless, I was eager to go, as I already experienced how much one can profit from spending some research time abroad before, and I absolutely did not want to miss the chance to see Canada. So I booked flight tickets and read a lot of important regulations for entering the country and to take care of due to covid-19.
On the 14th of January, everything finally became more serious: I did a PCR test which I needed to be allowed to go on the flight in the morning, and took a train to Amsterdam in the afternoon, in the company of my partner. As mentioned before, I am absolutely not experienced in flying, so I wanted to avoid the need to switch planes. And as there are no direct flights from Bremen to Montréal, I decided to go to Amsterdam by train (which also saves at least a little carbon dioxide emissions). The idea was to spend a nice weekend in the city together with my boyfriend before saying goodbye for two and a half months. Well, when we planned this in autumn 2021, we did not plan with covid-19 and the omicron variant. E.g. all restaurants in Amsterdam where closed when we were there, so it was not that easy to have a nice time. Nevertheless, there is still enough to visit, and just walking around the whole day (having 8 hours sitting in a plane in view...) was nice, too.
And then, there it was: The 16th of January, the day to leave. We were at the airport way to early, check-in went rather quick and after some waiting-time together, it was time to say goodbye and for me to go to the gate. After the usual check-up of myself and my hand luggage, also my needed documents - especially the proof of vaccination and a negative PCR test - were checked.
And after some more time of waiting, already with the look onto the plane that should bring me onto the other side of the Atlantic, we could finally enter the plane. Unfortunately, I did not get a seat at one of the windows. But at least everybody was wearing their face mask as it should be, covering both mouth and nose, so I still felt rather comfortable. And after some waiting time in the plane - "We are still refueling the plane" - we finally took off!
I had the feeling that I was the only person being nervous about flying and the things to come. The people around me started watching movies, reading books, sleeping... and after some time of just sitting and staring to the one window to my side which was still opened, I also started relaxing a bit. The next 7 hours and five minutes - the pilot already announced in the beginning that we will be rather fast today! - were filled with reading, listening to music, watching a movie and having some food in between.
After several hours, finally, some landscape partly covered with snow came into view. There it is, Canada! A few minutes after 5 pm, the plane touched ground again. I was rather glad that my excitement returned now, because if not, I would probably have just fallen asleep. On the clock, it was 5 pm, but my inner clock was still set to the European time zone, at which is was 11 pm now.
Excited to be able to soon see my apartment (and be able to go to bed), I left the plane, to be quickly stopped again by a long queue, which was pointing in the direction of the signs of passport control. It was a long queue, and there were very many people. I realized that I might have to wait another two to three hours until I would finally reach my bed. At least I could use the time of waiting to send some messages back home to let my beloved ones know that I have arrived safely.
About 1.5 hours later, my passport was checked, I quickly explained the reason why I was entering Canada, and could move on to grab my suitcase. But as we are in a pandemic, this was still not the moment to leave the airport. First, I had to queue again for another PCR test. I was told that I would have to wait about 5-6 days until I will get the test result, and until then, have to stay in self-quarantine at home.
After the test was done, I could finally leave the airport. I bought a bus ticket and stepped into the bus into the direction of the city center. Luckily, I was already told before that the names of the bus stations are not always announced, so I asked the driver to let me know when we would reach the station where I have to get off. He was really nice and told me he would do so. After a few minutes of driving, a kind man sitting next to me asked me if it was my first time in Montréal. Apparently, I could not hide my nervousness. I agreed and when I told him where I wanted to go, he explained to me how much time it would take until we would reach the station. Not being left alone with my anxiety was very nice!
After arriving at the bus station, I had to get onto another bus for a couple of minutes, and walk another 5 minutes through the dark and rather cold streets, before I arrived at the apartment. But here, all went out as planned: Door opened easily, I found a very nice flat, the WiFi was working and I felt relieved of having arrived.
At 20:30 local time - 02:30 in Bremen - I finally fall into my bed, could calm down and fall asleep...