A week ago I was walking around Montreal with a band of romance readers and writers. Stopping to shop and eat while discussing our favorite romance novels, twitter culture and just generally enjoying each other's company. I am still a bit amazed it actually came together.
Last August my husband and I took a trip to Quebec. Our kids were away at camp so we had an opportunity to travel on our own. As soon as my husband suggested Montreal I messaged Kay (@miss_batesreads) about meeting up. Kay was generous with her advice as I planned, giving us great suggestions for our sightseeing itinerary and hotel suggestions near downtown. When we arrived in Montreal Kay graciously introduced us to her city, and we had a lot of fun together. It was fabulous to have the time to chat face to face about romance after reading each other's reviews for years. When we tweeted about our trip, our mutual friend Elisabeth expressed jealousy and how she wished she could have joined us. We casually joked that it would be a fun thing to do again and that maybe Elisabeth could join us. And the bam all sorts of other twitter friends expressed an interest in going, if we could organize something. So we did.
We polled people to decide a date, opened up a little website to collect itinerary ideas and post hotel suggestions, we put together a very infrequent newsletter. We envisioned a casual and informal gathering. All the chatting and meal sharing we love at conferences without the sessions. We understood some folks would be traveling with spouses, friends, children or have other commitments so everything would be optional. Although only a fraction of the people who expressed interest were able to make it at the end of the day we were amazed how many people actually made the trip. (and incredibly thankful it wasn't much larger...getting dinner reservations for our crew was challenging enough!).
Most of us at #MTLrom were from the eastern half of the continent (Susanna Kearsley, Rain Merton, Laura Curtis, Elisabeth Lane, Tamsen Parker and me) but Super Wendy came to us from LA and ValancyBlu and VaVeros made the incredibly long trip from Australia.
We opened up our trip by meeting for dinner at a very casual fish and chips restaurant downtown and after dinner we ended up wandering down the nearby streets, enjoying the street art near the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and walking through the McGill campus. We eventually made it back to our hotels and crashed for the night.
The next morning Kay lead most of us to The Libertine Bakeshop where we spent a great deal of the morning laughing and talking while enjoying delicious pastries.
We eventually headed to Old Montreal and walked the tourist filled streets and after a few tries found a quiet little place for lunch.
We stayed well past when we should have left and it was only Elisabeth's well tuned ear that noticed that the kitchen sounds had turned into closed up/cleaning up sounds. The staff had been remarkably gracious and let us camp out at our table well past closing. Kay then led us in an excursion through The Underground City, the interconnecting passages that connect many buildings downtown, finally bringing us to the romance section at the Indigo Bookstore downtown. We had fun finding our favorite authors on the shelves or grousing about the shrunken HQN Category section.We shared recommendations with each other and eventually with unsuspecting readers that stumbled upon us while we were occupying the aisles.
We eventually dragged ourselves away, and made it in time to meet the rest of group for dinner at fancy burger place not far from the hotel. We stuff ourselves silly with fries, onion rings and groused about books over cocktails and beers before resting our aching feet for the night.
Saturday morning started at another coffee house, Cafe Myriade before we piled into the metro explore Boulevard St. Laurent and the attractive neighborhoods nearby. We visited a giant mural of Leonard Cohen, and stopped in at Guillaume Bakery. We then chatted with some very nice firefighters and found a nice lunch at Dieu deu Ciel! (which got incredibly busy shortly after we arrived!)
After lunch there was more shopping and then a bus ride up to Mount Royal Park, the volcanic hill around which Montreal is built. We spent several hours just resting in the lush green park, enjoying the sounds of families enjoying picnics all around us. We chatted about romance (of course) but also health care, patriarchy and families. We finally got caught in a fast moving torrential rainstorm as we waited for our bus back to downtown. We had been incredibly lucky up to that point. The weather outlook for the weekend had called for lots of rain but we only had been sprinkled once early and were able to find shelter quickly during the second storm. A little damp, and a bit mud-splattered we made it to Fiorellino for dinner. Despite the hilariously tall tables I enjoyed dinner immensely. It was simply a joy to look around the table and see everyone in conversation, and to overhear the wide ranging topics being discussed. It is just so fabulous to chat with my "invisible" friends in person, to hear the sound of their laughter, or observe their most intent expressions. Many of commented on how great it is to be able to read a tweet and hear it in the voice of our friend now that we have spent time together.
On Sunday we went many different directions. Some folks started heading home or went off to explore on their own, others went to church with Kay, or traveled with me to the knitting shop next to it before heading to the Jean-Talon Market for lunch. We eventually found our way to Kay's lovely apartment, and the amazing meal she had assembled for us there. There were sweet and savory Greek delights, lots of books to rummage through and even more talking to do. Wendy, Vassiliki & Kay explained category romance to the rest of us, and then we all decided that Kay and Vassiliki really need to write one with an authentically Greek hero (Greek hero that doesn't dance, pshaw!). I am incredibly thankful that Montreal's Metro runs late into the night because we didn't venture back to our hotel till quite late. I don't think anyone really wanted to say goodbye.
On our drive out Montreal, Elisabeth and I were in agreement that we loved the weekend and both want to do this again. We are both willing to organize another meet-up next year. However we are thinking of taking the meet-up to a new city, (possibly Chicago) with the idea that it could rotate around. It is just a happy notion at this point, but so was this meet-up, so maybe this idea will take off too!