I'm sitting at a small table in a busy cafe, Cafe Nero, it's a chain here that remains me of Starbucks but is more homely. Sipping on a Cappuccino I absent-mindedly listen to two men talking next to me. I can't understand a word: they greated each other with a "As-Salaam-Alaikum".
Mind you, even if they spoke English there's a good chance I would be at a loss as well. The accent is thick here for me...
So, a few days ago I was sitting at my flight's gate at the Montreal airport, having bid farewell to my parents over a gigantic plate of stale nachos. I don't know why, but I felt nervous, more than the first time I left, I felt more excited back then. This time I was nervous and anxious for reasons I cannot explain. I'm not trying to get away from anything this time and had been looking forward to this day for a year and a half... Maybe it was because this time I knew how long I was going to be gone?
The feeling dissipated once the plane left the ground and I was about to relax enough to fall asleep on the flight, a first for me.
I barely made my connection from London to Leeds. Some man tried to get past me at the security check and I showed him my ticket so he could see that I was pressed for time as well. We were getting in the same flight! The British man became more friendly and warned me of strong winds near Leeds, making the flight more... exciting. He was short and ginger and looked a lot like Simon Pegg, and in my mind I built an image of an entire nation populated by Simon Peggs.
London Heathrow was clean and well organised (besides the connection security) and the Leeds one was small and plain in retrospect.
I got my bag and met Ben who was enjoying a beer in the getting area. Awkward hugs ensued, but the excitement of seeing each other after so long quickly took over and it was like we saw each other just last week.
A quick bus ride through Leeds to go to his house and I was already in love with the country... Beautiful stone and brick houses sided the road and in between those I could see green rolling hills dotted with sheep and lined with old short stone walls... So close to the city!
Jen met us shortly at their flat with a friend and we went for a walk to the grocery store, all the while I was walking wide-eyed, looking at the architecture who seemed common here but it's only found in Old Montreal back home, or on Sherbrooke street. Me and Ben have very similar interests which include a natural curiosity for history and so he proved a pretty able guide.
We met another of their friends at the grocery store, where we looked for maple syrup (for advice on which one to get next time) but since it was "a shit one" they didn't have any.
I tried to take it all in, looking at my favourite thing to observe: the people. Canadians have a reputation of being nice, well, Brits put them to shame. No one taking the whole sidewalk, everyone talking to the clerks and such...maybe because it's a smaller town than Montreal (700,000)...our walk was pleasant. We stocked up on proper English foodstuff (including black pudding, which I only discovered post-meal that it's made of dried blood) and Cobra beer and went back to the flat whet we all shared beer and Sortilege.
That evening we went to a pub for food and trivia (couldn't really understand the organiser) and again it was beautiful. Big red benches instead of just cheap wood chairs, nice ambiance and a selection of beers I've had never tasted... great first day and welcome group!