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A Reading week escape...

Hey everyone! My name is Mathilde, and I’m a third-year Psychology student at McGill. I recently joined the Simplify McGill team, and I can’t wait to share my knowledge of the school and the city with you over these next few weeks.

To mark my introduction to the team, I’m going to share some highlights from a spontaneous trip to Europe I recently took. In need of some excitement after what’s been a challenging couple of years for all of us, I booked a flight to Helsinki, Finland, to visit a friend over the winter reading week – with plans to explore as much of the region as I possibly could in the space of 14 short days.

Mid-afternoon one snowy Friday in Toronto, I drove to the airport with my single carry-on and my Lonely Planet in hand. After a six-and-a-half-hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany, followed by a 3-hour flight to Helsinki, I arrived in another snow-bound landscape, reminiscent of the one I’d just left, but one full of unknowns and adventure.

That same afternoon we were boarding a ferry that crosses the windy Baltic Sea to Stockholm, Sweden – hauling already jet-lagged and exhausted bodies into a tiny cabin for some much-needed sleep. But sleep never came. We spent the evening laughing and singing with other travellers on the main deck as the boat ploughed through the Baltic waters and into the vivid pink sunset that welcomed the next day. We docked in Gamla Stan – Stockholm’s old town – which bears a strong similarity to Montreal’s Vieux-Port in the aesthetics of the cobbled paving stones and narrow streets.

The quiet streets of Gamla Stan.

After checking into our 10/night hostel, we started our adventure, stopping first for breakfast bites at a local favourite; a bustling spot called ‘STHLM Brunch Club’ that draws lineups that span the block. We devoured their famous fluffy pancakes with blueberry compote, lemon curd, and cream cheese frosting before heading out to explore the city. We wandered aimlessly, nosing through stores in busy retail streets, local parks, and an outdoor skating rink filled with chattering school kids and weary parents. Later that night, in a newly opened bunker restaurant with cushions for chairs, we were invited to sample a new menu, promising honest feedback in lieu of payment.

One of the most spectacular moments of my trip was a morning hike up to Monteliusvägen, a narrow footpath along steep cliffs that offers incredible views of downtown Stockholm. Under clear blue skies and above the frigid waters of Riddarfjärden Bay, you can see the beautiful outline of the city, much of which is still standing since the early 20th century and escaped the devastation of World War II.

A picture taken on top of Monteliusvägen, overlooking Gamla Stan.

We flew back to Helsinki three days later on a tiny airplane that cost 20 (about $27 CAD). The flight landed late evening, and early the next day we made our way down to Cafe Regatta, a 120-year-old red-cottaged café located on the banks of the Baltic. With its outdoor seating and fire pit, it brings a small piece of the Finnish countryside to the middle of Helsinki. We spent the rest of the day skating, wandering through the city’s outdoor markets, and marvelling at some of Helsinki’s monuments, including the Helsinki Cathedral; a church built in the mid 19th century as a tribute to the Grand Duke of Finland. That evening in a local bar, we noticed the local student population dressed in their customary attire – baggy overalls covered in different coloured patches that represent their school and year of study. It’s a fun community feeling and needless to say, we felt the odd ones out.

The Helsinki Cathedral.

One additionally wonderful thing about being in Europe is the proximity of different nations to each other, and the abundant and inexpensive flights you can catch to almost any one of them with Ryanair. And so, we ended up in Milan, Italy for the final few days of the trip.

Sharing a pistachio croissant in a secluded and quiet Italian café before heading towards what is arguably Milan’s main attraction; Duomo di Milano, we were met with this majestic cathedral that took nearly 6 centuries to build. Today, the area is a tourist melting pot, with rooftop restaurants and bars overlooking the square, and people spilling out of the shops, clutching balloons and gelato.

The intricate Milan Cathedral, built from 1386 to 1965.

An Italian tradition is Aperitivo; the local happy hour that takes place between 18:00 and 20:00, where friends socialize while drinking sunset-hued cocktails and snacking on a selection of cheeses and salami. My friends and I celebrated this tradition in a local terrasse and sipped on Aperol Spritz as the sun set over the square.

Now back in Canada, my body is paying a heavy price for 2 weeks of solid fun and adventure, and I’m sipping nothing but hot water with lemon and honey and wishing for those days in Europe. This was a trip I’ll never forget.


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