A Travellerspoint blog

Ben & Jerry’s and Boston

overcast 10 °C

Today marked the first day of a weekend-long trip to Boston with the McGill International Student Network. After struggling to wake up at 5 a.m. I was soon on the bus, across the border to the States and a few hours later at the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Vermont. I went on a short tour through the factory seeing, learning and tasting the ice-cream making process – yummy pistachio ice-cream!

The drive from Ben & Jerry’s to Boston was, at times, very mountainous but not too long, soon I was in Boston. As soon as I arrived I noticed the obvious lack of snow; I couldn’t believe it! It was also a warm 10 degrees and I saw grass for the first time this year! After settling in to my hotel room, I had dinner in a Thai restaurant and then did some night-time exploring. I walked through the Boston waterfront and Holocaust Memorial, which was a series of glass towers with steam emitting from vents – it was a moving and emotive experience.

Posted by mccardj 17:57 Archived in US Virgin Islands Tagged boston_ben_and_jerry's_ice-crea Comments (0)

Differences between Montreal and Australia

all seasons in one day -5 °C

Below are a list of differences I’ve noticed between Australia and Montreal sorted into categories:

1. Temperature: Probably the most obvious one, but it’s cold here. It’s always below 0 °C here and typically hovers between 0 °C and -10 °C, which I have thankfully adjusted to. 0 °C is now warm for me! However, it does reach below -10 °C and even -20 °C and when it does it’s freezing! Combine that with what’s known as the ‘wind chill factor’, which is how the temperature ‘feels’ like due to the wind. The wind chill factor can drop the perceived temperature well past -10 °C and if you’re not adequately protected you will soon freeze.
2. Weather: There’s not many days where you can see the sun. If you’re lucky a couple of times a week is all you’ll get. The other times the sky is covered in clouds.
3. Snow: Another obvious one, it actually snows here! It is really cool. I do love the snow, the look and feel of freshly fallen snow is so delicate and beautiful. The way it transforms and completely smothers entire streets, buildings, cars and everything that gets in its path is astounding. One day you can see the bitumen on the street, the next day it’s completely gone suffocated by a blanket of whiteness. Walking through it can be very difficult though, particularly when it’s not smooth and soft – your boots get saturated in snow!
4. Sludge: When the snow gets driven or walked on it turns a disgusting brown colour and gets mashed up, so when your walking the sludge gets splashed up onto your boots and pants which means (a) you can’t wear nice pants and (b) you have to clean them all the time – arrgggh! It’s even worse when it rains or the snow melts and becomes mixed in the sludge, not only do your pants get filthy they get wet too ☹. It’s just something you learn to try and avoid.
5. Snowploughs: Apart from Homer in The Simpsons as Mr Plow (yes it is unfortunately spelt the American way), I had never thought about them before – now I have to! They generally plough the road at night time and come in all different sizes, from baby to medium and then gigantic. You don’t need to see them to know they’re there either – you can hear them! Also because they can get pretty big you need to watch out for them when walking the streets – I was almost run over by one once!
6. Double sets of doors: Because of the really cold weather, most buildings have two sets of doors to walk through. An outer door that leads to the street and another set of doors to get to the inside of the building. And there are no automatic doors, which are ubiquitous in Australia.

1. Because it’s winter you have to wear very warm clothes or you will freeze – no joke! When I’m out and about I wear thermals for my upper body, a long-sleeve shirt, a jumper or hoodie and a coat, and thermals for my lower body and pants, of course. On my head I wear a beanie and gloves on my hands, without these essentials you will soon lose the feeling in your hands and ears, which I can tell you from experience is not pleasant. However, because I am always well-layered I rarely feel cold.
2. Heat: Probably to your surprise it does get very warm and sometimes too warm here – inside. All buildings, rooms, staircases, everywhere indoors is heated to at least 20 °C and even up to an excruciating 30 °C. So when I enter a building I have to remove my beanie and gloves because otherwise I will become over-heated, and when I’m staying at a place for a considerable time longer, for example in lectures or at a restaurant, I remove my coat and sometimes jumper too or I get too bloody hot and madly perspire. Although, it is nice when I go outside, my body still feels nice and toasty for several minutes until my body heat adjusts to the rapid and large drop in temperature.

1. French: French is the official and native language of Montreal and Quebec. The majority of the population speak it and it is required by law that all government signs, like road signs, are written in French. I love the French language and the accent and am really surprised at how many words are morphologically similar to English or are English! It reminds me that English is a melting pot of other languages, like Latin and French. As posted in previous blogs I have learnt some French and am very keen at learning as much as I can while I’m here. When buying things, the attendant usually assumes you speak French and will greet me with a ‘bonjour’ or ‘halo’, to which I normally respond likewise. It gets trickier when ordering things, but I’ve learnt to speak in English first, otherwise I will get a barrage of French to which I respond dumbly with a ‘I don’t speak French’.
2. Semantics: To my surprise Canadian English and in extension American English employs many more differences in semantics than Australian English than I expected. For example, ‘university’ is called ‘school’, ‘lecturers’ are ‘professors’, a ‘semester’ is known as a ‘term’ and ‘subjects’ are ‘courses’ and ‘courses’ are ‘subjects’, which gets confusing. Apart from university-related differences, other examples include ‘hard liquor’ instead of ‘spirits’ and ‘ketchup’ for ‘tomato sauce’. Another instance of differences is when I tried to order a jug in a bar. I received a confused look in reply. It took some explaining of a large amount of beer from the tap to discover that they call it ‘pitchers’ here. And because ice hockey is the national sport, it’s not called ‘ice hockey’ it’s more affectionately known as simply ‘hockey’ – to Canadians there’s no other type of hockey. To avoid confusion I have assimilated to the Canadian way of speaking, except I don’t end my sentences with an ‘eh!’

1. Tipping: Before arriving here I knew it was customary to tip, around 10-15% of the total bill. You are expected to tip for just about every service, including, taxis, restaurants, pubs, bars, delivery drivers, etc. Being from a country that rarely tips, I found it hard to tip people for things that I’m paying them to do already. To me it is ridiculous to tip a restaurant $15 for a $100 bill where you received poor service or poor quality food or both – it’s bizarre! Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that people should be rewarded if they’ve provided excellent, outstanding service, but I shouldn’t be expected to pay another $5 for a taxi to drive me 10 kilometres. The upside of this though is I’ve found people like taxi drivers are really lovely to talk to and are helpful at providing directions and other things, but I reckon they only do this for an extra tip which is kinda sad. This is one of the worst, and thankfully few, things that I hate about Canada. I later found out that most people in the hospitality industry are paid at or below the minimum wage, for example, I know a 22 year old who works at Tim Horton’s, a coffee shop, and is paid $9.50 per hour, compared to Australian standards that is illegal. It is therefore expected from customers to tip the staff to lift up their wage above the minimum. To me I don’t think it’s fair for the customer to directly pay the wage of the staff, we should be paying for the service we receive, not the actual person. This system means you can receive tips from as little as $1 to unlimited really, depending on your industry and quality of service, your tip (and part of your income) is usually totally dependent on the customer, different customers tip different amounts, and having to rely on this every day is unfair – I think I would find it quite stressful personally not knowing how much I would be earning per hour.
2. Smoking pot: It seems strange to put this category under ‘Customs’, but with great sadness it is true. Just like the States, Canada seems to be a very potty country, pardon the pun. It seems a large majority of university students have either tried pot or smoke it on a regular / semi-regular basis and it can be easily sourced. Although I’ve never seen anyone smoking yet, from the stories I’ve heard from many different people this issue is very widespread and accepted in Canadian culture. I know no country is impervious to drugs, however, it appears that the government and authorities are looking the other way when it comes to this problem. Perhaps they’re powerless to stop it, but more likely are unwilling to stop it. I realise I may be a bit harsh in judging this and I certainly don’t have all the evidence, however, I’m expressing my opinion based on what I’ve heard from locals. Fortunately, it is relatively easy to avoid this kind of stuff and stay clean. Clearly, this is another one of the few things I hate about Canada.
3. Driving and Roads: Obviously, people drive on the other (not wrong!) side of the road here. This has proven difficult for me at times when walking across the street and trying to judge where the turning vehicle is going to turn – either in front or behind me as I cross the street. But it’s ok I haven’t been run over! Strangely, there’s heaps of one-way streets here, it could be because when the city was built the side streets were designed to accommodate for only one-way traffic so the streets could be narrower. This generally makes walking a breeze because you only have to look one way, but it’s important to remember what streets are one-way only and in which direction they are one-way too or you’ll get run over! It is expected that because people drive on the right side of the street, they’ll walk on the right side too, just like we tend to do in Australia but on the left instead. I’ve had to adjust to this, which has proven rather easy, because, if not, I get bumped into.
Continuing this road-related topic, upon coming here I found it quite surprising that there’s very little pedestrian lights, you know, the green and red walking man. There are some on main roads, and they have a countdown clock which is hilarious, but on most other roads there’s no pedestrian lights at all. This isn’t really a problem though because you use the traffic lights as pedestrian lights or you can simply jaywalk!
One final point about the roads is their condition. One would expect the condition of the roads and footpaths would be top-notch considering they are covered in snow for half of the year making them very difficult to see and potentially leading to injuries, but surprisingly, this is not the case – they are horrid! They’re massively cracked, treacherously uneven and incredibly bumpy and holey. It appears the government isn’t concerned about maintaining the condition of the roads and footpaths. Compared to the roads in Australia, particularly in the centre of a major city, they are far below the standard of a developed country, possibly something you’d expect in a developing country. I can’t believe the locals live with it! But it’s something you get used to, you learn to vigilantly watch where you’re walking at all times!
4. Cars: Of course, the car brands in Canada are different to brands seen in Australia. Many, many I have never seen before, like Dodge, but that’s not the interesting thing. What’s interesting is that in Montreal cars aren’t required to possess a front licence plate, only a rear one. It’s a small difference, but notable.
5. Rubbish and Recycling: Similar to any other developed country, rubbish is collected weekly from outside your house, but, unlike Australia, Canada, specifically Montreal, do it differently. Here in Montreal, the rubbish gets collected on one day and the recycling on another – that’s nothing special. Expectedly, you put your rubbish and recycling in a bin, but if you overfill your bin, no worries, just chuck your rubbish and recycling, there is no recycling bin, beside the bin and it will still be collected, this does not happen in Australia. If you overfill your bin, too bad! Unfortunately, this does mean that rubbish gets discarded all over the streets, particularly when the rubbish bags get broken or something – the streets are pretty filthy. Montreal takes it one step further when it comes to recycling. Instead of recycling all of your recycling materials together, you can drop off your bottles and cans at local collection depots and receive 10 cents for every bottle and can you deposit. In Australia, this initiative is only used in South Australia and for good reason. I strongly believe that paying people money for recycling their bottles and cans is absolutely pointless. Not only is it a complete waste of taxpayers’ money, money that can be better used on health, education or better environmental initiatives, but it also sends the wrong message when it comes to recycling, that you should recycle because you will get financially reimbursed, rather than you should recycle to preserve and protect your planet: it promotes selfishness instead of altruistic behaviour.
6. Taxes: Unlike Australia, North America as a whole does not include taxes in the price of the item. Tax is added afterwards because it varies from province to province or from state to state, some regions need more money and consequently have higher taxes, while others don’t and have lower taxes. Tax is not uniform at 10% like Australia, it can vary dramatically from 8% to 18%. I have sometimes forgotten about this when purchasing an item. I have seen an item priced $9.95 and then when I’ve gotten to the counter to purchase the item it comes out as $10.50 or something. This system also makes it near impossible to have the correct change ready before purchase. It is slightly annoying but not a big deal.
7. Currency: Canadian currency is relatively similar to Australian currency. All of the coins are the same as Australian currency but with one exception – penny. Both American and Canadian currency have pennies; they are worth 1 cent. They are small bronze coins that are totally useless – they accumulate in your wallet making it fat and weighing it down. Just like the frustrating and superfluous 5 cent coin in Australia, the penny in North America is even more frustrating and superfluous. A good way to get rid of your pennies is through tipping. The Canadian currency denominations are 1 cent (penny), 5 cents (nickel), 10 cents (dime, surprisingly the dime is actually smaller than the nickel even though it is worth more), 25 cents (quarter), 50 cents (very rare), $1 (called a ‘loonie’) and $2 (called a ‘toonie’). Instead of a 20 cent coin, North Americans use quarters, which is fine, but the fact that 50 cent coins are rare means to purchase an item costing 75 cents you need three quarters. Canadian notes are the same as Australian notes and just as colourful – I really liked them! Overall, Canadian currency is simple and easy to use.
American currency is the same as Canadian currency, but $1 coins are rare and $2 coins even rarer, instead there are $1 notes (called ‘bills’ rather than ‘notes’), which I actually like. I don’t like having a heavy wallet filled with coins and it is hard for me to find coins in my wallet so having $1 bills instead of coins was preferred and easy to use – I liked them! American notes are the same as Canadian notes in denominations but are mostly just green and the same size, which made it hard to find notes quickly. However, some notes are partly coloured in reds and blues such as the $10 bill.
8. Toilets: No my amazement, North American toilets do not utilise dual flush like Australia. There is simply one lever for single flush. Clearly this unnecessarily wastes countless amounts of water, which makes me feel uneasy every time I flush the toilet.

1. Classes: I’m not sure if this goes for the whole of Canada, so I’m just going to comment and reflect on what I know about McGill University. Classes are 1 hour and 20 minutes long (yeah I know, it’s long!) and they start on the half hour, for example, 8:30 a.m. Apart from that though, the structure of classes are pretty much the same as Australia. The lecturer stands at the front with a microphone talking to the class and uses PowerPoint slides to guide him or her. They’re open to questions during class and are happy about explaining difficult concepts in more detail and easier to understand language. Students are generally the same too as in Australia, they mainly listen to the lecturer intently, although, there are, of course, some of them who are on Facebook or surfing the net, like me sometimes! Despite this, McGill definitely has a bigger study culture than The University of Melbourne and probably most Australian universities, which could arise from the subjects themselves.
2. Assessments and Subjects: As I just said, McGill has a bigger study culture than most Australian universities, but that isn’t because the level of difficulty of the subjects are harder, they’re probably on par with Australia, rather it’s the amount of content covered and the many assessments. As the lectures are 1 hour and 20 minutes long, longer than the standard 50 minutes at The University of Melbourne although I did have some 1 hour and 50 minute lectures, far more material can be covered than universities back home and the lecture notes reflect that – the notes are 50-60 slides per class! That’s not the big issue though, it’s the assessments that are important too. For my science subjects at university back home, I usually have a mid-semester exam and a final exam with no assignments, and for my arts subjects, like psychology, I have an assignment and final exam but no mid-semester exam. This is what I expected upon arriving here, but alas that was not the case. Here, you have a mid-semester exam, a final exam and an assignment – all three! Some of my assignments are worth a mere 20% which is ridiculous but that’s how the system works here. This additional workload certainly means more studying. On top of that, the majority of students study 5 subjects per semester (not the usual 4 subjects at home) for the same amount of contact hours, about 15 hours per week. So this means more assessments and thus more workload. As much as I love McGill, I couldn’t study here permanently – I’d miss The University of Melbourne too much!
3. Essays: I was very surprised when I discovered that McGill doesn’t set word limits for essays, instead it uses number of pages. For example, essays would be set at a maximum of six pages with one inch borders all around and no word limit. I definitely prefer the Australian system of setting a word limit because it made it easier to format and keep track of how much you’ve written and how many words remain, but on the up side it was easy to extend the size of your essay, just press Enter a few times and you’re in busy.

To be continued…

Posted by mccardj 19:21 Archived in Canada Comments (0)

A grand, old castle!

all seasons in one day -1 °C

In the morning, Kristyna and I walked to Kensington Market, a multicultural market offering food, clothes and knick-knacks from Tibet and Nepal to Europe and Asia. We didn’t spend too long there because we wanted to reach our target destination which required us to take a tram and bus.

We soon arrived, without getting lost!, at Casa Loma. Casa Loma, Spanish for Hill House, is a gothic style castle built for Sir Henry Pellatt in 1911. With 98 rooms, a lift, two secret passages, organs, towers and five acres of gardens it is an incredibly impressive building. It was used during World War II for construction of sonar devices used for U-boat detection. Kristyna and I spent ages wandering the many rooms and learning about the history of this grand, old building.

After Casa Loma, we headed back downtown to have lunch at a Japanese sushi restaurant. We ordered a diverse mixture of sushi from tuna, salmon and butterfish to prawns and beef – it was absolutely exquisite!

We then met up with Yoselien, who somehow managed to find herself in a police station thinking it was a museum and got to know the local cops, and strolled through the waterfront together.

That evening we all took the train to meet up with Michelle to have dinner at her house. We met her wonderful family and had a sumptuous meal of beans, liver, fish and salad for entrée, chicken for main course and fruit and apple cake for desert – yummy! We all then headed back downtown to party at a pretty cool bar with cheap $3 Jack Daniel’s. What a day! ☺

Posted by mccardj 10:47 Archived in Canada Tagged castle sushi casa_loma japanese_restaurant Comments (0)

The breathtaking beauty of Niagara Falls

overcast 0 °C

Today was probably the second best day of the entire trip (after dogsledding of course!) – Niagara Falls! Yoselien, Kristyna and I took an early bus to Niagara Falls, located about two hours south of Toronto. After arriving in Niagara Falls we visited the main tourist area of Clifton Hill. Upon seeing it we were open-mouthed with amazement. It wasn’t a nature park like we expected, the entire street looked like Disneyland. It had enormous rides, attractions and shopping places, including a huge Ferris wheel, which Kristyna and I rode on. Because it was the off-season it wasn’t too busy so it was easy to walk up and down the street checking-out what the different shops had to offer. We probably had the best pizza ever at Boston Pizza for lunch – it was so tasty!

After lunch we went to see the main attraction – the Falls! We saw both the American Falls and Canadian Horseshoe Falls and both were absolutely spectacular. We were able to get up really close to the Horseshoe Falls and got quite wet but the natural beauty and ferocity of the falls were worth it. We spent ages shooting photos and just taking in the majesty of the falls – we didn’t want to leave!

Unfortunately, we had a mere four hours in Niagara Falls before we had to head back by bus to Toronto. Upon arriving in Toronto, we all ate an exquisite seafood dinner, a combination of swordfish, salmon, scallops and prawns on rice.

To finish off an amazing day, we walked to the nearby CN Tower. The CN Tower is the highest observation tower in the world standing at about half a kilometre high! After a quick sixty second lift ride to the top, we were soon standing and looking down on downtown Toronto – what a magnificent view! Because it was evening, all of downtown Toronto was lit up by a myriad of lights presenting a breathtaking view. We toasted the end of a brilliant day with some Malibu!

Posted by mccardj 10:42 Archived in Canada Tagged toronto niagara_falls cn_tower Comments (0)

Skating and Toronto

sunny -2 °C

Our last activity in sunny Ottawa was a morning skate on the Rideau Canal. The Rideau Canal does a circuit of downtown Ottawa and is the largest skating rink in the world, and it’s all completely natural. We skated about six kilometres and really enjoyed our morning exercise.

After skating and checking-out of the Jail Hostel, we took the train to Toronto. Five hours later we were in Toronto. Toronto is very similar to Melbourne: it has massive skyscrapers, trams, a waterfront similar to the Docklands including a beach, is quite modern and is a bustling population of people and cars.

Kristyna and I stayed at the Global Village Backpackers Hostel, which was located close to downtown Toronto. For a hostel it was about average, quite smelly and the majority of people were surprisingly over 30 years old, but it was alright to stay in. I’ve definitely had enough of hostels though, I’m ready for hotels!

Tonight Kristyna and I met up with Hilla and Tobey for dinner in Chinatown. I had the most delicious dumplings for entrée I didn’t feel like a main course after that! Kristyna had general tao chicken but didn’t realise it was spicy because she didn’t see the pepper next to the dish on the menu, consequently she drowned dozens of glasses of water.

Posted by mccardj 10:36 Archived in Canada Tagged toronto ice_skating Comments (0)

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