Tag Archives: transportation

Bonjour, Canada

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This past week, I took a solo trip to Montreal and Quebec City in Canada. It was about a 2 hour flight from DC, and studentuniverse had some great discounts so it was approximately 220 USD for a round trip. 

Having been to cities like Toronto and Vancouver, I initially thought Montreal and Quebec City would be similar – but boy, was I wrong. Unlike the cities I’ve been to previously, Montreal and Quebec City are the most bilingual cities in Canada – more than 70 per cent of its citizens speak English and French. In Montreal, casual conversations are often heard in French, but even more so in Quebec City. Both cities lie along the Saint Lawrence River, so I was treated to many panoramic views of the seaway and the river right in the heart of both cities.

For my first stop in Montreal, the highlight has got to be the biodome. Think of an indoor zoo with controlled conditions – that’s the gist of the biodome. Wildlife roamed right before my eyes and I got to see animals like capybaras, sloths, penguins and salamanders. It was right next to the Olympic stadium, so I managed to kill 2 birds with 1 stone in a single day.

Montreal has the highest food per square metre of any city, second only to New York City. Poutine, arguably the national food of Canada, on the surface may just seem like fries with gravy and bacon bits sprinkled on top. Here, poutine is an industry, a franchise – flavours and toppings are unlimited; even the choice of fries can be chosen. Smoked meat, is another one of Canada’s famous dish –  it is a type of kosher-style deli meat product made by salting and curing beef brisket with spices. The brisket is allowed to absorb the flavours over a week, and is then hot smoked to cook through, and finally steamed to completion.Old Cities

Both Montreal and Quebec City have old towns, namely Old Montreal and Old Quebec City. Respectively, these are the oldest living areas in both cities and are preserved till today. Stepping in felt like entering old-style Europe – colourful buildings and town squares with a centralised water fountain.  Old Quebec City also houses several UNESCO heritage sites, such as Place Royale.

In both cities, the subway is very convenient – as someone who doesn’t own a license, I was able to get around both cities really quickly. The bus is also a good substitute for the subway as it penetrates areas of the city that the subway does not serve – bus transfers are almost always complimentary within 2 hours so remember to retain your bus ticket!

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Preparing to Leave and Preparing to Arrive

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As the exchange program begins to enter its final phase and people start to make plans for the summer, it hits you that you are just not ready to leave. You have made a home for yourself in the dorms of Foggy Bottom – between your routine, your friends, and late night trips to the Lincoln. However, as one exchange group gets ready to leave another is getting ready to arrive. Here are just a few pieces of information I wish someone had told me before arriving!

Transport
As most people in the exchange program are from cities with extremely efficient subway systems, the DC metro does not exactly fair well in comparison. It’s great for getting yourself from A to B but it is not something you will use on daily basis.

Do not fear! Uber in DC is ridiculously cheap that it works out better catching a ride than waiting for a subway. If travelling in groups make sure you fair split it!

Money
American bank accounts are very straightforward to set up and if you head up to Bank of America they will give you your own personalised George Washington debit card. Although a lot of students didn’t set up accounts it makes like so much easier. Exchange rates can fluctuate so it’s easier to be using American dollars. Also, with an American card you can use the app Venmo and save yourself the hassle of keeping tabs.

Food
Food in DC can be expensive. However, there are cheaper ways to go about it. It is worth doing a trip early on to either Safeway or Walmart to stock up on supplies that will last you a long time. Group cooking also makes like 100 times easier. Once we had settled into our group we decided that it would be one person’s turn each day of the week to bulk cook dinner. That way you only have to buy and cook once and yet get a homecooked meal every night of the week (results may vary depending on whether or not you or your friends can cook!)

Packing
Depending on the time of year you are coming to DC do not buy a whole new wardrobe for weather that may never arrive. Luckily, winter never really arrived this year and I was spared having to spend hundreds of dollars making sure I didn’t die of hypothermia. I’m just glad I didn’t buy snow boots before I arrived!

Bring two suitcases! It may be a hassle to lug from airport to airport but trust me five months is long enough that you are better off bringing more than you need. I only brought one and there are so many things I wish I had with me.

Bring toiletries! I expected toiletries to be the same price as the UK. However, they are about three times the price here. Stock up on face wipes, dry shampoo and any kind of medication you may need over the course of your time here.

Tax and Tipping
Have fun with this one! I still haven’t fully grasped how it works and it normally just ends up with a bunch of confused foreigners around a dinner table trying to do math. It’s just something you have to accept. Tax is not included in the price of anything and is typically 10% for restaurants, bars etc. Tipping varies but around 15% and 20% is fine.

Travelling
Travel within the US is more expensive than Europe. However, check out skyscanner for cheap flights (search everywhere at any time for really good deals) and you can find some good flights.

Megabus will get you up to Baltimore, Philly and New York cheap enough. Don’t bother flying or taking the train as it is so much more expensive.

Phone
Phone contracts are notoriously expensive in the US. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive. Check your home providers deals for overseas use as it might be cheaper. I currently pay $27.50 for 2GB with T-Mobile (although there are some better deals).

Most importantly – just go have fun!