A Very White Christmas…

By James Walley, McGill University, Canada.

Having never spent a Christmas outside the bustling metropolis of rural Cheshire I was extremely excited, albeit slightly apprehensive, about spending the festive period away from home. As long as I’ve known that I will be partaking in the study abroad program, I have always been fully committed not to go home for Christmas and originally planned to use this time to travel. However, I luckily finished my semester earlier than expected and was able to take advantage of cheap mid-December flights to Cuba and returned in time to spend Christmas and New Years in Montreal.

topes de collantes
Topes des Collantes rainforest

After an incredibly intense assignment and exam filled end to the semester at McGill it was a huge relief to be able to finally relax and leave the Arctic winds for the Caribbean sun. Cuba is an incredibly fascinating country and I would recommend anyone studying in Canada in the future to take advantage of the cheap flights and pay a visit. Havana truly is like stepping back in time, with 1950’s cars dominating the roads, beautiful colonial era architecture lining every street and revolution propaganda appearing everywhere you look. Another highlight of the trip was our stay in the quaint World Heritage town of Trinidad, in the foothills of the Sierra del Escambray mountains. With close access to Topes de Collantes national park, Valle de Los Ingenios (Valley of the Sugar Mills – also a World Heritage Site) and stunning beaches, this rounded off an action packed week and well earned break.

Havana being Havana

Having left Montreal in rain, we returned to snow… and lots of it. The 40 degrees temperature change took a while to get used to but before I knew it I was back to calling a -15 degree day “pretty warm”. This year certainly was a White Christmas which created a very festive feeling that’s often struggled to be felt in the dark, wet and gloomy Christmases that seem to plague my memory of December weather back home. For Christmas Eve many of the exchange students that had chosen to remain in Montreal for Christmas came together for a huge dinner, followed by an equally huge lunch on Christmas Day. So Christmas was spent drifting in and out of a food coma, just as it should be, with spirits on a high and home sickness on a low.

Now I see why my landlady was so insistent on us using the snow shovel

Shortly after Christmas a close friend from home flew over to spend New Years with me in Montreal. After so long without being in the physical presence of any familiar faces from home it was nice to finally have that connection and be able to talk about everything that’s going in back in the ‘shire. The week was spent showing off this beautiful city whilst obviously getting into the New Year spirit, which was topped off by the hugely impressive fireworks show and subsequent NYE Festival at Montreal’s Old Port.

Obligatory NYE fireworks photo

With his departure came the return of reality and the beginning of the Winter semester. Whilst it may be cold, I have armed myself with ice skating and ski equipment so I’m ready to get stuck into the Canadian winter. I’m looking forward to keeping you all updated, whilst providing any of you future exchangers with tips learnt from my experience!

Remember to drop me an email on james.walley@mail.mcgill.ca or james.walley@student.manchester.ac.uk (checked less regularly) if you have any questions!


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