Thursday, July 30, 2009

Day 8 - $578.90 – The True North Strong and …Expensive

Imagine, if you will, a lovely city with a strong and vibrant downtown centre. Perhaps it is the capital city of say, a large multi-lingual country. This city would have arts and culture to spare. It has beautiful architecture and lots of sightseeing available. It has guides, and tours, and busses, and maps galore. And it’s cheap!

I was with you right up until that last bit.

The thing about Ottawa is that it has all of the above. It’s really nice city to walk around in, it has parks and museums and art galleries. It has the Rideau Canal and Parliament Hill. It also has tours offered on every street corner for every conceivable taste. It’s great – if you have a lot of money.

Because Ottawa is catered towards either tourists or government workers, everything is super expensive. I couldn’t find a grocery store near my hostel, so I went to the Byward Market (a large farmers market-ish place downtown, much like the Forks in Winnipeg but bigger) to try and find something cheap for lunch/dinner. The cheapest thing I could find was a Greek stall that gave me a plate of spanikopita and salad for about $9.

I did however, have to splurge on an “Obama cookie.” It was $2.50 worth of Harvard educated shortbread, and it was delicious. Apparently, when Obama visited Ottawa, he took a day trip to the market, and visited a bunch of stalls, including this bakery, which had a life-size picture of Obama at the market holding the cookie that he bought from them. The best part? The cookie wasn’t even for him, it was for Sasha. You know politics in your country is a little boring when…

Ottawa actually did make me feel very patriotic. I walked around the Parliament building and saw the Library of Congress, which are beautiful buildings. I saw the war monument, and the Museum of Civilization. At night, I went back to the parliament building to see the sound and light show that plays daily (for free!) It was cool, they used the building as the backdrop to play a movie across it, and the show detailed the history of Canada and talked about our arts, culture, heritage, sports, and music. It was quite the celebration of Canada. At the end of the show, O Canada played, and everyone around me stood up and sang along. It was a very cool moment, as a Canadian traveling across the country for the first time. I felt very much like a small part of something much bigger.

That’s not to say that I didn’t have troubles in Ottawa. I learned that I can read a map really well, I just have to correctly identify my end destination. When I got off the bus at Ottawa U, I was actually about 3 blocks from my hostel. I however, located a different hostel on my map, and so on I walked, carrying about 50 pounds on my back. I walked for maybe 25 minutes in a complete circle before I found my way to the correct building.

I’m lucky I did reach the hostel, though, as it’s definitely one of the cooler places I’ve stayed. It’s a converted jail, and the cells are all still intact. I slept in cellblock three. I usually listen to my iPod while falling asleep in hostels to block out the ambient hostel noises, and last night I chose Johnny Cash. I felt it was appropriate.

I hope my girl on the outside brings me some cigs and a nail file pretty soon. Being locked up in the joint can do strange things to a person…

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Day 7 - $529.13 – Sacre Bleu! I Don’t Speak French!

Some of you more keen observers might notice that the budget has risen dramatically in the last two days. No, I didn’t go out and splurge on the best casinos that Montreal has to offer. I also didn’t become addicted to pharmaceutical grade painkillers and need to feed my habit, nor did I need bail money.

I needed a bus pass! For $208, Greyound has a pass that allows me to ride as much as I like for the next 15 days. Which will get me to…conveniently…Vancouver! Huzzah! So even though I have spent over half of the budget, all of my transport should be taken care of till the end of the trip. I hope.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not money conscious. Lately I’ve been a little too focused on money, and I’m wondering if I can make it. I think I can, but it’s hard knowing that half your budget is gone and it’s only been a week…But I’ll just breathe and remember that I planned it that way!

Anyway, back to Montreal. In an effort to have full disclosure, I should tell you all that Montreal was one of only three cities across Canada that I had planned to stay with family. I was born there, and my aunt and uncle still live there, so I knew I didn’t have to worry about a place to stay.

That being said, I still had to figure out what to do, where to go, and how to get around. Montreal has a great Metro and bus system, so you can get anywhere you need to go for relatively cheap, but that isn’t always so easy when you don’t speak French. I tried my best, and usually if I stared at signs long enough I could figure out what they were saying. I looked a little on the slow side, but it all worked out because I’m alive and I haven’t accidentally joined any Montreal cults, or musical theatre troupes, or youth groups…That I know of.

I spent my first day wandering around downtown and in the gay village. The city of Montreal decided to block off about 10 blocks of Saint-Catherine St from cars, so all summer it’s just a big pedestrian walkway. There are tons of clubs and bars, lots of restaurants to choose from. It’s a very lively area, and it’s the heart of the gay neighbourhood.

I walked around there until I had the pleasure of going to CBC studios for a live interview. I was so nervous, I’m surprised I didn’t lose my voice. The CBC people were lovely and it was very fun and surreal to be invited there. After the interview I met up with an old friend and we walked around together for a while. She took me to a place on Saint-Denis where you can get $2 noodles. Seriously. $2. They are just plain chow mein noodles with a thick peanut sauce, and a McGill student probably invented them one night after too much cheap weed, but they were amazing! Really, the perfect $2 fix for your hunger. We met up with a few of her friends to walk around Chinatown (another place for incredibly cheap eats) to have dinner, and then went to a club called Skyy to share a picture of sangria and sit on the rooftop patio. A great night.

On the way home from the bus stop, though, something weird happened. This guy approached me, saying hello in French. Mustering my command of the language, I said that I don’t speak French, and kept walking. So he switched to English in order to tell me “you are beautiful girl?” (He seemed unsure of the sentiment, so I’m punctuating it with a period.) I said thanks, and then he said ever so romantically, “you show me your apartment?” It’s too bad he was trying to pick me up on a dark street corner, because clearly, this guy is a winner. Marriage material.

The second day I had a phone interview with CBC Winnipeg in the morning. The interview was a lot of fun and I was still nervous, but this time it was over the phone so no one could see my hands shake. (Thanks for listening, family.) I went out during the day to pool at the top of Mount Royal park and got to swim around for the reasonable price of $5. Then I walked back to the metro through Mount Royal Park and down through the Plateau area. I got taken out for lovely Mexican food by my aunt and uncle that night, and then early this morning I left for Ottawa.

I love Montreal, and even though I have visited before, I think it’s one of those cities where new things are always popping up, so it’s always an interesting time. There is so much nightlife, culture, good food, good music, so much to see.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hi Baba

So, thanks to CBC Winnipeg and Information Radio for having me on the show this morning. If you haven't heard the interview yet, head on over to and check it out!

I'd also like to thank Kyle Mullin from The Daily Gleaner in Fredericton for his great work. You can check out his profile of me and the trip here.

I didn't expect to get any media attention at all for this trip, so this has all be lovely and really appreciated.

I'll be back to regular posts tomorrow with my two-day coverage of Montreal!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Check This Out

Just a quick note here to say that I'm being interviewed today at 4:30 Montreal time on CBC Radio. The show is called "Home Run" and it should be a fun time. Try and listen in if you can!

Day 5 - $293.48 - Like the Ritz, With More Concrete

Now, we all know that travel isn’t all glamour. It’s hard work to be on the move, and it can be very tiring.

But sometimes, friends, we get lucky. We are in the right place at the right time, and the fates smile down upon us.

I’m referring, of course, to my sleeping quarters in Quebec City. Originally, I had planned on getting into town sometime in the early morning, stowing my pack in a locker in the bus

station, and wandering around town for the day. However, Acadien bus lines had other plans in store for me. The bus schedule was revised just a wee bit, and I ended up arriving in the city at roughly 3:30 AM. And I don’t speak French.

What’s a good traveler to do? If you’re like me, you wander around for a few minutes, and then, when no one is looking, you unroll your yoga mat under a chair inside the bus station and hunker down for a few hours of sleep. And might I just pay a few compliments to the cleaning

staff of the Quebec City bus station? The smell of ammonia, the chewing gum glued to the underside of chairs, the thin film of dust in the corners…what inspired decorations! What character! This building also had a hard-as-a-rock concrete floor and limited heating, which all combined to create a sleeping experience I won’t soon forget!

I did manage to get a bit of sleep before waking up at 6:30 with a large boot in my face. Apparently, this man didn’t see me lying under that chair, but thought it was the most hilarious thing he had seen in a very long time. He even bought me a muffin for breakfast. Now, I don’t want people to think I’m a vagrant, but when you sleep in a bus station, who are you to say no to free food?

After I got cleaned up a little, I started wandering around the city, which is just gorgeous. I saw the old walls of the city, and all of the streets are tiny and cobblestone. The houses and shops are all jammed on top of one another, and

everything looks like you’ve gone back in time.

I was lucky that there was a free bus that ran right from the train station to the centre of downtown, I hopped on and off that bus all day in an effort to see as much of the old city as possible.

After wandering around for an hour or two, people started waking up and the city filled up more. I was looking at some sticky buns outside of a patisserie longingly, when a young couple stopped by me. They started arguing about whether the shop was too expensive, and before I knew it, I was barraged with questions in French. After I looked very confused, they started speaking in English and I had made two new friends. While walking around with Luc and

Jacqueline, I got to explore more of the city than I would have been able to see by myself, and I

got the inside perspective. One of the best bars in town? Le Drague, the gay bar off Rue Saint-Jean, which specializes in drag queen karaoke. How can you not love that?

I also had quite a cheap day because Mike and Laura gave me a little care package of food to take with me on the bus, so I didn’t have to buy food. Although that sticky bun would have been sweet….

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Day 4 - $288.35 - A Three Hundred Pound Dude in a Kilt

Fredericton is a town of many things. It has a happening downtown, with lots of great restaurants and cafes to go to. It has a beautiful trail system to walk down or ride, and it runs all the way across town.

It also has a lot of big dudes in kilts.

I happened to get to Fredericton as the Highland Games were starting, which is a festival that celebrates the Scottish heritage of many of the city’s residents.

Which brings me back to the kilt.

Why, in a sport that involves lifting a huge tree log and throwing it away from you, is it necessary to wear a kilt? I saw the games, and most involve some variation on the

following scenario: A big hulking guy lifts a heavy object and then hurls it away from him. But why the kilt?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the kilt. I just don’t see the necessity. But I do love seeing huge men whirling around like mad, flinging metal balls

and poles, while their kilts fly up and around. As a woman, there’s almost a poetic justice in that.

Other than the Highland games festival, I got to see quite a lot of Fredericton, thanks to the amazing Mike and Laura. They took me everywhere: Artillery Beach, the legislative building, the farmers market (which has the world’s best samosas. Remember my love of the nachos in Halifax? I have found a new object to bestow my affection upon.)

All in all, it was a pretty successful day. I spent a little more than I wanted because the Highland Games didn’t have a student admission fee, and it was $10. That was my food budget for the day! But it was worth it, just for this:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day 3 -$258.07 – “Hey! Nice Flip Flops!”

So, I have a confession to make.

I, like many people, occasionally partake in some recreational sandal wearing. Sometimes, when I’m with a group of friends, I slip on some sandals. I never wear them alone, just at parties, really. I can stop wearing sandals whenever I want.

Wait, what do you mean, wearing sandals isn’t something to be ashamed of? I don’t understand. Are you telling me that lots of people enjoy a nice pair of flip flops every now and again?

I ask this because, apparently, flip flops are passé in Charlottetown. I was walking down the street last night, holding my yoga mat and wearing the aforementioned offensive items, when a young gentleman driving down the road leaned out of his pickup truck (classy) to yell


I’m still trying to figure this one out. Was this an insult? Was this a pickup line? Did he really enjoy my taste in footwear? One might never know.
In other news, I broke down last night. I just couldn’t take it anymore. When I got back to the hostel, a whole group of people were going to do it, and they peer pressured me to join in. “Come on, it’ll be fun.” So I did it too.

I watched Anne of Green Gables. The whole thing.

I have to say, I don’t get the allure. Anne spends the whole movie doing stupid things and then talking her way out of them. But she doesn’t do one stupid thing. She does a million of them, and then they all get solved in two minutes. So there’s no story line, there’s just a long series of vignettes. Anne in trouble, Anne laughing, Anne in trouble, Anne laughing. This goes on for nearly five hours! I won’t even go into the not-so-subtle lesbian undertones between Anne and Dianna.

Today, however, I left Charlottetown by bus, heading for Fredericton. I had a pit stop in Moncton, just long enough to run downtown and find a pint of their famous Pump House Blueberry ale. It was good, but I preferred the Garrison Raspberry Wheat beer I had in Halifax.

However, once I got on the bus to Fredericton, I found that it was packed. There was only one seat left, and it was beside a girl roughly my age. I sat down, started talking, and before I knew it we started watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s together on my laptop! She was so sweet, she gave me her number, and I may have a tour guide tomorrow around town! So here’s a shout out to Christine, who shared a chocolate bar with me, and I thank her very much for that.

I got to Fredericton amidst pouring rain, which is no big surprise on the East coast. I got picked up by the lovely couple I’m staying with here, Mike and Laura, and they made me a fantastic soup for dinner and then took me out to a few bars in town. Most of them were pretty quiet,

but that’s also because the weather was so shite. However, Mike bought all the drinks, so I really can’t complain. They also planned a whole day of things to do tomorrow, so I think I’m in good hands. After spending the day in Fredericton, I’m off to Quebec City overnight. I only hope the weather gets better for Quebec. I’ve had enough rain on the East coast to last a lifetime…or at least ‘till I get to Vancouver.

P.S: I was also interviewed today by a reporter from the Daily Gleaner here in Fredericton, the daily newspaper. So if any of you have access to that newspaper or can find the story online, the story should run on Monday. Thanks New Brunswick!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Day 2 - $113.18 – It’s Like Pleasantville Over Here.

Do you know the definition of quaint?

Because this, friends, is effing quaint. Not only do the street garbages have little doors and roofs, but there is a Waste door, a Recycle door, and a Compost door! They compost on every street corner.

This whole island is quaint. It’s idyllic. It’s homey…

It almost makes me want to punch a toddler or strangle a puppy, just to create some action over here…but I wont. Probably.

To be fair to Charlottetown, it’s ridiculously beautiful. It is a nice sunny day, the streets are all tree-lined, and because of an old building rule, you can see the water from almost everywhere in town. They even had fresh strawberries in buckets for sale. Which, by the way, was such a bargain. A dollar a bucket is unreal. Even if eating that many strawberries by yourself will throw your digestive tract out of whack.

It’s so perfect here; my biggest complaint is that I almost got out-polited by a grandmother. No joke. We were both waiting to enter through a door, and I said “after you” and she said “no, you were waiting” and I said “no, please, you first” and THIS WENT ON AND ON. I finally barged in front of grandma while I thanked her four or five times. I’m such a badass.

The other thing about PEI is their economy is based so heavily on tourism, that some things are really overpriced. Also, the entire island is obsessed with Anne of Green Gables and lobsters. I tried some lobster-flavoured potato chips, which were surprisingly tasty, and I treated myself to a lobster sandwich for dinner/lunch. You kind of have to eat seafood out here, there’s nothing else. It was puppy-strangling-ly delicious, though.

So, I bought some food today, my bus ticket to Charlottetown, a hostel stay, and some souvenirs, which brings my new total of money spent to $113.18. I‘ve decided to record a running total of the whole trip expenditures, rather than the day to day, because it’s easier to follow that way. Also, it helps me keep track of everything. The way I’m going, I’ll be broke by Toronto. Someone remind me that there’s a BUDGET to this, ok?

Tomorrow I’ll be traveling to Fredericton with a stop in Moncton on the way. I’ll be staying there with a couple who offered to put me up, despite never having met me before, but just based on the word of someone who had also just met me. That’s the cool thing about this project. People are so giving if you only ask for it. Anyway, Mike and Laura have offered to put me up, and I think they’re going to show me around on Friday. Should be a good way to wrap up my time on the East coast.

Day 1 - $11.10 – A Little Slice of Heaven

What do you get when you cross a pizza place, a pizza place, a pizza place, and a church?

Pizza Corner.

Halifax young’ns love this intersection where three pizza places sit adjacent to a church, which provides the ultimate seating arena after you buy your slice. It’s the perfect place to stumble to after the pub, most of which line the downtown area in a few square blocks. The few I saw were impressively stocked (Maxwell’s Plum offers 60 different types of beer on tap. Sixty! That’s just insanity!) and the food was pretty good, not to mention cheap. Happy hour is big in Halifax, and for $5, you can get a decent amount of booze for your travelers tummy.

The rest of downtown is filled with cool shops and touristy findings. Because the waterfront is right nearby, there are a lot of tours and things to partake in if you’re interested. I didn’t do any of them, I prefer the old fashioned way of learning a town’s layout – walking around until you get lost and then finding your way out again.

One of the cool things I stumbled across in my wanderings is a very cool candy store called Freak Lunchbox. It’s packed to the brim with candy from all over the world, and it’s a little expensive, but it’ll satisfy anyone. I also found some awesome jewelry at The Black Market, and walked around Pete’s Fruitique, which has great fruits and veggies.

The best part of the day, though, was the nachos at the Shoe Shop. It’s a weird name for a pub, I know, but it fits the place to a tee. The bar is actually an amalgam of four buildings, and it’s all fitted with mis-matched chairs and trees inside the bar. It was quite the atmosphere, and the nachos were the best. Seriously. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say they are the best nachos in Canada. Now, I know I just started this trip, but I’ll go ahead and say that I don’t think I’ll find better nachos. These were perfect.

I spent some time at Reflections at night. It’s a LGBT bar, and I had perfect timing, because I arrived in the middle of Pride week! They had a tribute night to Madonna and Michael Jackson complete with video screens playing the music videos. There were quite a few people dancing and getting their freak on, which was a lot of fun. The drinks were expensive, though, and there was a cover.

So, best memories of Halifax:

1. I already mentioned the nachos, right?

2. Walking along the waterfront and in Point Pleasant Park to touch the Atlantic Ocean.

3. The historical building district downtown. There are some amazing buildings, quite beautiful to see.

Catch you in Charlottetown…

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

First Stop: Halifax

Well, I arrived safe and sound in Halifax. There was a little girl sitting beside me on the plane from Toronto who tested the capacity of my eardrums a little bit, but other than that, I'm alive and well and ready to start the journey!

Tomorrow I'm going to walk around downtown. I'd like to explore the waterfront and some of the historic parts of the city. But this trip is all about doing things on the cheap and finding great surprises in every city. That's why I'm meeting up with a few people over the next two days to figure out exactly what makes Halifax so amazing. 

The adventure starts tomorrow!

Monday, July 20, 2009

What is this all about?

So, I made a little video explaining what this trip is, what I'm trying to do, and why. Hope this clear up any questions you have about this project. Let me know what you think!

You can also follow me on twitter here