How traveling alone can by fulfilling and eye opening
This week, I took a trip to Boston for work. Flight prices were cheaper to return on Sunday rather than Friday or Saturday, so I decided to make a trip out out of it. I also have a life goal of visiting all 50 U.S. States, and I was missing Vermont. I figured if I were that close I should take advantage of the opportunity.
I was in Boston from Wednesday through Friday, and I caught the string of extremely warm February weather. It was in the high 60s and low 70s for all three days I was there. I went on a beautiful morning run on Thursday in 50+ degree weather.
Views from my morning run in Boston
I’ve been to Boston three times before, but each time I’m back, I’m captivated by the sheer amount of history you can discover. Taking a stroll through downtown you stumble upon 200+ year old buildings and sites of the American Revolution. On Friday, I created my own 13 mile walking tour. I strolled from Cambridge to Faneuil Hall to the Back Bay.
Part of the 13 miles of walking I did in Boston on Friday
The highlight was crossing the Harvard Bridge at night—you can stand in the middle of the Cambridge River and get views from all around Boston. I’d post a picture, but I don’t think the ones I took even come close enough to do it justice. If there’s one thing I recommend doing in Boston, it’s this.
The Gates Tower as part of the computer science building on MIT’s campus in Cambridge
Early Saturday morning, I rented a car and headed for Montréal in Quebec, Canada. Along the way, I stopped in Concord, New Hampshire to get a look at their state capitol (I’m also a political nerd). I had gotten up at 5:45am and was extremely hungry. I found a cute little bakery across the street called The Crust and Crumb Baking Co.
My delicious blueberry scone with the New Hampshire capitol in the background.
That was one of my favorite aspects of this trip: being able to wander around, taking my time getting to destinations. If I saw a side street that looked interesting, I turned down it and rerouted. I was nice to just explore.
From there I continued on to Canada. Crossing the border was surprisingly uneventful and simple. I pulled up, presented my (newly obtained) passport, answered a few questions and then kept on driving.
I knew Quebec was a mainly French speaking province of Canada, but I didn’t realize how immediate the French would be. Initially, there were no English road signs to be found. You can discern the meaning of words based on their context and their similarity to the English equivalent. Luckily, through Sprint I had 1 GB of data to use while in Canada, so Google Maps continued to function (I had also downloaded some of the maps just in case there was a snafu). Once I got closer to Montréal, signs started to appear in English and French.
A typical road sign in Montréal
One of my favorite things I did in Montréal was visiting Mont Royal. It’s a large hill that provides amazing views of downtown Montréal and the St. Lawrence River. I hiked up through the snow and ice. I about fell a few times, but I made it to the top and FaceTimed my mom.
The amazing view as seen from Mont Royal
I was having a great day. But then the rain struck. We’re not talking about a light drizzle. It was a full on downpour. I knew I only had 6 hours or so in the city, so I decided to suck it up: I zipped up my coat, put my hood up and trekked through the rain. By the end of the day, I was completely soaked through.
I then walked through Old Montréal. It’s what I picture Europe to be like. It was a series of old, crooked, cobblestone-lined streets with small shops and restaurants located along the way. In the neighborhood is the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal, a historic Catholic basilica.
A rainy shot of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal
My last stop in Montréal was to visit the Mile End neighborhood. It had been recommended online and by some folks who had visited Montréal before. If you don’t know this about me, I’m a big fan of public rapid transit systems. Even though it was raining—or really pouring buckets—and I had a car, to get to Mile End, I decided to take the Montréal Metro. I’m so glad I did.
The train was unlike any other I had seen before. All of the cars were connected, so you could freely travel throughout the entire length of the train. There were also large video screens indicating your progress. What I most appreciated from the experience was the sheer exposure to how bilingual Montréal was. There were pockets of people speaking English, French and what I presume to be Mandarin.
I was on the train for about a station and a half when I realized that the overhead speaker was providing instructions purely in French. I also realized I didn’t really know how many stops I had to go, etc. I quickly pulled out my phone and found my way. It felt oddly eerie hearing the practically computerized voice give instructions that I didn’t understand.
A Montréal Metro train approaching the station
I made my way to the restaurant and back. When I exited the station and started walking to my car, I experienced my first Franglish conversation. A Montréaler, about my age, approached me and presumably asked if I knew where a certain street was. Rather than getting nervous and speaking English right away, I said:
Désolé, je ne comprends pas le français
(or “Sorry, I don’t understand French”)
I received a confused look. I think I blended in just enough to trick him into think I was from the area. He switched to English and asked me where a street was. I replied that I wasn’t from Montréal, handed him my phone and let him look around on Google Maps. He was extremely thankful, as was I to not fulfill the stereotype of the fumbling American tourist.
After that exchange, I jumped in my car and headed for Burlington, Vermont where I would spend the night and a little bit of the morning. I woke up the next day to a 27ºF windy day. I first walked to Lake Champlain. It’s a much larger lake than I realized, appearing almost as a coast of an ocean rather than a lake. There are beautiful rolling hills in the background. I can only imagine how nice it would be in the summertime.
My view of beautiful Lake Champlain
I then spent the next 3 hours eating my way through Vermont. I stopped by the Penny Cluse Cafe. I was told it was a popular spot among locals, but I was a little surprised to see a line out the door at 8am. In half an hour, I knew why. I got buckwheat pancakes with pure Vermont maple syrup. That’s hard to beat.
I then bought a doughnut (as a gift for Katie, the doughnut lover), some maple syrup for my father and stopped by the Ben & Jerry’s factory to get myself a fresh scoop of Cherry Garcia. Needless to say, I skipped lunch that day.
A scoop of Cherry Garcia at 11am. Other people were eating ice cream then, too so you can’t judge me.
I started the drive back to Boston to catch my return flight and stopped by Montpelier, Vermont to take a peek at the Vermont State House (remember, I’m a political nerd 🤓).
The State House in Montpelier, Vermont
After I booked my flight a few weeks ago, I noticed I could upgrade to first class. I decided to go for it since the airfare was mainly covered through work. I just paid the upgrade fee myself. At this point, I was getting pretty exhausted from waking up early, walking around (I average 9.8 miles a day) and driving. Flying first class turned out to be just what I needed.
I received warmed nuts with my drink (ginger ale and Tito’s vodka). My meal consisted of a salad, filet with asparagus and quinoa, roll and warm chocolate chip cookie. The seats were large, and my 6’3” self could cross my legs with no problem. For years I’ve squished into my seat, but I could finally stretch out. There were large touch screen displays, and I tracked my flight while we were in the air instead of watching a movie.
I had to squeeze an awkward selfie in. Here I am with my ginger ale and vodka.
Yes this was #2. Yes they were strong.
I was able to accomplish some New Year’s resolutions, and I got one state closer to reaching my goal of visiting all 50 U.S. States. I also learned a lot throughout my trip. Traveling by yourself can seem daunting or lonely, but I actually appreciated the time for introspection.
I’m also normally a strong planner—I like to know when I’m visiting what—but this time I allowed for more exploration. I turned down interesting streets even if it added time to my trip. I made a spur of the moment decision to drive by Dartmouth College just because I wanted to. It was good to remember that not everything has to be planned.
Map of the U.S. States I’ve been to thus far
I made a realization of how difficult it must be for individuals to move and not know the native tongue of their new country. I need to exhibit an increased patience when I encounter an immigrant, tourist or individual that doesn’t speak English. I was in a largely bilingual city, and even then I felt confused or embarrassed at times.
Lastly, I let myself have a little fun. I’m normally very frugal and would roll my eyes at the people flying in first class. I think I’ve consistently ordered water at restaurants for the past 15 years of my life (Sprite used to be my go-to). Instead, I ordered what I wanted, and I splurged to fly in first. These aren’t things I will do again soon, but it was nice to take myself on vacation. Hopefully you can too.