Montreal – Not what I expected

It was another short taxi ride to the train station on Ottawa on Remembrance day in Canada.  I figured I’d check out early and make my way to the station in case there were any roads blocked off or traffic was a nightmare, but as it turns out traffic was normal and I got to the station with plenty of time to spare.  I didn’t know what to expect of Montreal but I was pleasantly optimistic having enjoyed my stay in Ottawa.

Having found my seat on the train I was organising myself and had my tote sitting on the seat next to me.  Five minutes later a man approached and he said “Hi” and stood there.  So I replied “Hi’ back and looked at him wondering what he’d wanted.  Now because my brain wasn’t working entirely one would correctly deduce that my bag was on his seat and he wanted me to move it, but instead of just saying this is my seat he said “Did you think I was hitting on you, that’s my seat?”.  I was confused at first and I thought why would you say something like that, but he turned out to be a pleasant sort of fellow even if he seemed to be surrounded in a cloud of weird.

The remainder of the trip passed by with relative ease.  We arrived to Union Station a few minutes behind schedule, but I managed to find a free tourist map thinking I’d walk to my hotel located close to Chinatown.  Arriving in Montreal it was very surreal.  This was the first time I felt out of my comfort zone because everything was in French.  The signs, directions and worse I exited the train station to a mind chilling cold.  Ottawa gave me frozen ears, but Montreal froze me all over.  A good thing that I had my puffer jacket with me!

The streets were empty, there were the occasional people or vagrants that I passed as I walked in the wrong direction.  Seriously I have the worse sense of direction and I even had a map!  Four blocks later realising the street names didn’t seem to be matching what I was looking for I realised I’d turned the wrong way.  One thing I hate is wasting my time and I grumbled my way back to my starting point at Union Station.  Though I will concede it wasn’t entirely wasteful because there are some beautiful architecture there.

Walking my way slowly towards my destination I came across the St Patricks Basilica and it was very beautiful sitting high on it’s steep hill.  The park at the bottom was stunning (I just love the Autumn colours) and there were tons of squirrels scurrying around.  But these weren’t the jittery ones I’d encountered in New York, they were psycho squirrels who came right up to you as if to say “What you want lady?” and found myself shooing the little buggers away.

I climbed the stairs to where the Basilica presided and I thought why not go in and check it out.  It literally took my breath away.  I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was inside, having never come across anything like this yet.  I managed to take a few fuzzy pictures before I walked back out into the mind juddering cold.

Navigating through the streets I came across Chinatown which you couldn’t really call a town, it was two street blocks, as I hobbled my way to my hotel.  I was sick, tired and absolutely freezing but about 20 minutes later I got to my hotel.  The Hotel Roberval on Berry Street.  This hotel was again a studio type room, with a bath (yay) and free continental breakfast daily.  It was basic but a good stay and great value.  I desperately wanted to rest because I wasn’t feeling very good at all and I thought with an early night I would be well rested to explore the very next day.

I had a steaming hot bath, ate the fruit and muesli bars I had picked up then turned on the television to be met by French television.  It was interesting to watch Thor in French but I figure people watch that kind of movie not for the great dialogue but for the visual effects and while I had no clue what they were saying, I really enjoyed the movie.  Then I drifted off to a dreamless sleep.

The following morning I was starving and looking forward to my continental breakfast.  I headed on down as soon as it was available and gave my ticket to the cook.  I then proceeded to fill my plate with pastries, fruit salad, cream cheese and a coffee.  The pastries were standard, the fruit salad was disgustingly sweet and I couldn’t finish, but the coffee was the worst thing I’d ever had.  It was terrible.  Thinking it couldn’t possibly be that bad I stupidly took another sip and almost vomited up my meal.  What was I thinking?  Breakfast was a bust, and me without coffee in the morning meant a sluggish start.

I mapped out my travels for the day and decided to start with Old Montreal.

I took my time and found myself marvelling at the beauty of the city.  Beautiful old buildings, quaint streets filled with gaudy tourist shops, and I found the Notre Dame Cathedral also.  I didn’t actually go inside however just managing to snap pictures from the outside because it was a $5 fee to enter.  Having viewed the St Patricks Basilica I figure churches all look the same inside really.   Some are just bigger than most.

The remainder of the day was then spent navigating through the city, and I realised the reason why the streets seem empty because there is a whole network of shops and malls below ground along with Montreals subway system.  Maybe in warmer weather people venture out onto the streets but it was absolutely freezing if you didn’t have the right cover.

Though I thought Montreal was beautiful I still hold a certain dislike for it.  I think it maybe because of a few factors being that I was sick, there were many vagrants, it was cold, and I’d just been in Ottawa which was by far prettier.  I couldn’t actually wait to leave so I ended up heading to the International Airport four hours before I was due to fly out.  I really wished I had stayed in Ottawa longer and taken more time to explore.

 

It was a $10 bus ride, the stop right outside the Berri UQAM (subway) a block from where I was staying, and it took me all the way to the Pierre-Trudeau Airport.  The bus was 40 minutes travel time.  Then, though I didn’t realise it at the time I actually went through USA customs in Canada.  Very quick and efficient, it puts Australian/NZ immigration to shame.

Then it was a quick flight back to NYC my second favourite US city to cap off the end of my vacation!

Broke in the New Year? Find ways to reduce your costs and save save save!

It’s more than likely we’ve all had a spendy Christmas, some more than most.  There’s not only the cost of purchasing presents for all our loved ones, but also the added costs of financing family eats on the special day, as well as keeping the kids entertained during the holidays.  For those struggling financially it can eat up a large part of the cash.

The important thing is not to get down about it, but to work out a solution and begin working towards that goal.   As most people who know me personally, I am all about fixing and finding a solution rather than wallowing.  It’s not easy either, because temptation is ripe but eventually if you make something a habit, it becomes normal.

For instance when I began to look at my emergency fund, I realised how much smaller it could be if I lowered my cost of living.   Slowly I began to do without certain things, and focussing on setting aside as much money as I could when I could.  These became new habits and now they are no longer habits but my normal.  It didn’t happen immediately either.  I had to learn which took time, wasted money and even now I am not fantastic at it just good enough to be satisfied while looking to improve.

The first things I looked at were my necessities.  What do we really need to survive?

It’s simple really, food and shelter.  Anything else is a want unless it’s something one needs to support that food and shelter.

FOOD – A necessity

In the month of October 2016, I did a Grocery Budget Challenge to challenge myself to stick to a set amount per month.  Full confession, groceries are my nemesis because I love to grocery shop and it got a little of control to where I would be heading off to the supermarket every second day.  Sometimes this would result in my missing out a monthly haircut in order to maintain my budget!

Currently I am able to temper my desire to grocery shop and have learned ways to cut down this nasty habit with a great side effect being that I rarely ever feel the desire to go out for coffee or takeout.  In turn what was initially difficult became normal.  How do I do this?

  • I never buy take-out food, unless I meet a friend for a meal out.
  • I never buy coffee unless it’s part of my grocery list aka the instant kind or I am meeting a friend per the above.
  • I shop the sales and mostly buy vegetables and fruit in season.
  • I eat beans, chicken, eggs and canned tuna as my main protein sources to reduce the cost of meat.
  • I restrict the amount of times I shop for groceries.
  • I only buy what is necessary and never waste food.
  • I batch cook (Egads!).  I ain’t the best cook in the world but I’ve learned as long as what I cook is tasty I’m not inclined to buy takeaway.

SHELTER – Another necessity

I currently rent and more than likely will remain a lifetime renter. It would be absolutely awesome to own my shelter but if I can’t, life isn’t so bad and this is how I keep costs down in a very expensive city.

  • Shared living.  I live in a shared housing arrangement, where I have my own walk-in wardrobe and bathroom.  If I were to have my own apartment my rent would have increased my almost 100% on what I am paying now or at the very least be 45% of my current wage.  You can see why the shared housing arrangement is financially appealing for me.
  • Power and water is included in my rent.  No separate quarterly bills to look forward to!

This arrangement is unlikely to go on forever but I am happy to maintain the current status quo for a few more years yet.  It’s the choice I have made to save money.  If you’re looking at reducing your costs in this area, consider smaller dwellings, different suburbs and yes sharing the cost with others.

HOUSEHOLD BILLS Power/Internet/Phone/Cable/Insurance

This covers what most households will have in their standard budget and one thing people should examine closely if money is a problem.  The first question to ask is do they really need it?  If so why?  If the why is figured out then find a way to reduce that cost.

From plugging up the cool draft in your homes with foam tape, to eliminating digital TV, (let’s face it that definitely ain’t needed) or cutting off the home phone.  Even the internet I consider to be a luxury though some may argue it’s a necessity.  Granted there are some situations in which it may be requirement.

Either way at least some of this can be eliminated full stop and some costs can be reduced by using plain old common sense.  The best motivation however in  eliminating/reducing these bills is asking yourself the question, if it was a choice of having these bills or losing your food and shelter, chances are you would more than likely choose food and shelter.

LIFESTYLE

Luxury items, cars, televisions, new computers, new phones the list is endless.  My motto is if you can’t afford to buy it outright then you can’t afford it at all, and let’s not forget the cost of maintaining something that is expensive to own.

If you have a vehicle do you really need it or are you holding on to it because it makes life easier?  Owning a teenaged Toyota I can assure you it’s expensive maintaining one paid off vehicle.  I definitely don’t need a car, I can survive easily using my two feet and public transport, but it is a luxury that for now I can afford and choose to minimise the costs of owning a vehicle in my own way.  The important word in this statement being that I can AFFORD it.

The same principle applies to televisions, mobiles, and other digital masterpieces that 20 years ago wasn’t even on my radar.   Not to mention every day items that can be purchased from thrift stores for a fraction of the price brand new or borrowing from the local library.  Get my drift?  Search for ways in which to entertain yourself and there are plenty of resources for free or at a lower cost.

I could preach on but at the end of the day making small changes eventually becomes a habit until it’s not.  It’s not easy at first, change can  be difficult, until one day it becomes normal that you won’t even have to think about it anymore.

Ottawa gave me frozen ears

Ottawa is the capital of Canada but for whatever reason I confused it with Quebec City and it wasn’t until I was two months away from my trip that I realised I had been researching the wrong city.  Talk about a duh brained moment!  Luckily I discovered my folly before I even got there or we may be having a different post right about now.

Waving goodbye to Toronto I caught the train to Ottawa and you know what?  I really like travelling on trains.  They are so comfortable though the decor is quite aged, but it beats flying and travelling by bus any day of the week for me.  Maybe one day I’ll come back and do a train trek across Canada because I think it would be cool!

It was just under five hours travel time to Ottawa from Toronto and I arrived without any hiccups.  Initially I was going to walk to my hotel but decided I didn’t want the hassle of navigating so I caught a taxi.  It was just over $13 to my hotel which was called The Business Inn on Maclaren Street.

Upon arrival the Inn looks seedy and not very welcoming with it’s the decor BUT don’t let that put you off.  This was the best place that offered the best value for money you could get.  Aside from it being close to downtown Ottawa it is huge.  It offers multiple levels of large studio apartments that supply everything including a computer with and printer.  Not to mention the awesome breakfast provided for free between the hours of 0700-1000.  They also provide snacks and bottled water to take with you after breakfast as well as unlimited use of free washer/dryers.  If you ever want to go to Ottawa stay at this place.  It’s a good deal!

Having sat on a train for five hours I was eager to explore and not realising the temperature had dropped to a ‘balmy’ 4 degrees all I took with me was my puffer jacket.  Bad choice because my ears froze as I eagerly explored Ottawa.  Walking up Elgin street I passed the NZ embassy and a little park and in the middle of the street was a  memorial with the body of an unknown soldier.  This place was to be the centrepiece for Remembrance Day in Canada that was to occur the day I left.

I then decided to investigate the Byward Market and had a chocolate croissant with a coffee.  It was kind of cool too.  I then walked about some more but decided my ears were too frozen to do much else and decided to head on back to my hotel saving the rest for the day after.

I woke early in order to get me some of this breakfast I’d read so much about and boy was it worth it.  From bagels, to muffins, to waffles and fruit it was delicious.  And I thought I could eat, but this tiny lady about half my size polished off double what I ate.  It was quite amazing and I reiterate she was tiny little thing but dang could she put it away!  I then grabbed a little snack bag out of the refrigerator and wet back to my room to get ready for another long day of walking.

Now I only got to explore a tiny part of Ottawa.  One because I hadn’t expected to like it so much and I didn’t think I needed much time there.  Two because I hadn’t planned it well at all considering until a couple months before I was researching Quebec City and had given up on this destination.  Big mistake.  Ottawa is stunning!

With Winter approaching it is much like a fairytale city.

And I thought Niagara Falls was pretty but Ottawa put it to shame.  And because I can’t put into words I’ll let my pics do the talking

Then I saw the scariest sculpture I have ever seen

And met this mute fellow too on my explorations.

Ottawa I regret going to Montreal because I could’ve spent more time is this lovely city.  Hindsight is 20/20 however and now I know and have a fabulous reason to go back.  I’m thinking spring next time because Autumn was definitely stunning with it’s multitude of colours.

 

Budget Time

Happy New Years!

Financially December turned out to be a complete write-off and I’ll admit I stopped tracking  because of the amount of money outgoing.  We’ll just put it down to it being Christmas and leave it at that.  I also spent money on a few things that were not needed but wanted.  My top buys were a new laptop tote bought on sale at 30% because I plan to travel with it more.  I also purchased the best scrubbing brush with a long handle that will save my back when cleaning my shower and tiles.  Last of all a wonderfully cheap but totally awesome mini vacuum from Big W.  Seriously the sucking power behind this little machine is unbelievable and it’s a great score at $39!

So yeah December though good things happened was a financial failure!  But now it’s the first of the month of 2017 and it’s time to get my money ducks in order, because my piggy banks need replenishing.

January Budget

  • Rent $880
  • Internet $30
  • Gas $30
  • Groceries $200
  • Haircut $31
  • Spending Allowance $40
  • Laptop Tote $78.38

A grand total of $1289.38

You’ll notice a new line item in there.  I’ve made an executive decision to get internet for this here blog and currently have opted to prepay on mobile broadband.  Double Data on prepay with Optus to 05/02/17 so that price gets me 8GBS for the month on top of the 17GBs I get on my smart phone.

I am also paying off my laptop tote interest free of course.  I can’t help it when I see an interest free deal I always take part in it.

Also I have prepaid my mobile and car insurance bill already so these are not included for Januarys budget due to the fact I will have reduced income this month.  This way it’s already taken care of.

Have you got your budget in order?

Niagara Falls

My grandparents had visited Niagara Falls years before I was even thought of and had brought back a memorial bronze plate which sat on the mantel above the fire place.  It always held some kind of wonderment and curiosity for me and I got to fulfil that desire finally.

I had options to do a day tour to Niagara and back including a few other excursions.  After reading up on it, I decided though it sounded good I wasn’t interested in doing anything else so that idea was nixed.  Instead I decided to catch a train there, spend the day and then return the same day back to Toronto.

My train departed from Union Station and it was just over two hours travel time to Niagara.  Arriving just after 10am I had a whole seven hours to burn before I would need to be back for the return train to Toronto.

The train station itself is located four kilometres from the Falls and offers the options to catch a bus or taxi there.  I decided it wasn’t too far a distance to walk and ended up taking a roundabout route because for the first few blocks I had little idea as to where I was going.

There was no signage and no free tourist maps of Niagara (as I later discovered because their information centre sells these), but I found a map at a bus stop outlining the city and all the bus routes.

Congratulating myself on my cleverness, I took a snapshot using my phone and navigated my way down to the falls from there.

I walked through downtown Niagara which was for lack of a better word, a dump.  Shops were empty and downtrodden and I half expected some rednecks to come out and take pot shots at me.  Not a great selling point for the township in any sense but when I got to Niagara Falls I understood the reason why.

It is quite the tourist mecca and downtown Niagara would never stand a chance with this place stealing all the business.  One might even wonder why they have a downtown area at all considering, but I guess they need to have a place for the regular folk to go without having to face the hordes of tourists.  It is very cheesy but hey gotta keep the tourists happy they are the money makers I guess!

By the time I arrived I was starving and thought it best to get some sustenance before I trekked down to the Falls.  Spotting the Ihop sign I decided to dine in and why oh why I chose Ihop I don’t know.

The food isn’t great, my having encountered this place in San Francisco, but my only excuse is sometimes a grumbling tummy incites me do irrational things.  I ate seasonal pumpkin cinnamon pancakes, scrambled eggs and hash brown.  The pancakes were tasty and you can’t really dress up scrambled eggs but the hash brown was down right horrible.

Still not one to waste food I ate everything and drank a whole jug of coffee before paying and getting out of there.

This is what I discovered…..beautiful lush parks, well maintained and gorgeous with Autumn colours. 

Then a few minutes later I came upon the Falls and WOW is it worth the trek!

One would never imagine it was only five minutes from that tacky tourist strip.

 

Niagara was simply magnificent to behold in all it’s glory.

I spent hours walking between the two Falls, taking a trillion photos and enjoying the sunshine and even jumped for joy in the fine mist created by the Falls.

You can easily see why the Canada side is deemed to be the best side because it is stunning.

Then because ever the tourist, I hit up the few tourist shops that were open and there some fantastic items in there, all made in China!  I gest, but there were gigantic cardis, winter boots and other cool winter paraphernalia including the biggest teddy bear I have ever seen.

It was just as well that I only travel with carry on because I was tempted to purchase a few things for winter next year.  Instead I opted to buy a Roots purse and left it at that.  Though I did get annoyed when I realised the advertised price was not the end price due to the sales tax.  A marketing ploy perhaps?  It turns a great price into a turd when it is whammoed by the steep sales tax.

I then explored along the riverfront once I had my fill of the Falls and found a Starbucks on the bottom floor of the Sheraton Hotel.  It seems I found the only Starbucks in the world that didn’t have Wifi and they said I couldn’t use the Sheratons because the Sheraton required a room number to enter in.  Undeterred I logged onto it anyway.  It required a room number and name so I chose a a random room number and a generic name figuring the Sheraton could afford it.

Resting for an hour or so because my feet had walked excessive kilometres that day and didn’t include the walk back to the station, I admit I entertained the idea of catching a taxi, but decided to walk instead.  This time I took a more direct route and simply walked along the river back to Niagara Station.

I passed the Rainbow bridge which crossed to the USA border.

And I took a few pics further along of the river.

 So pretty it belonged in a fairytale.

Then it was back to Toronto with a wistful goodbye.