Back Behind the Wheel

One of the perks of housesitting for my parents is that I have access to their car. That’s great in theory, but I have driven all of a week in the last ten months and the greater Montreal area is one of the most harrowing places I’ve ever driven. I went out for a very short run on Saturday to run errands within Chambly, but tonight was the big test: driving my parents to the airport in Dorval and then getting back home!

Despite traffic, the drive to the airport was quite easy since I had navigators. Like when I drove on Saturday, I found that the biggest stress was driving their new car with all its gadgets. I could have used one of those gadgets on Miranda, though, rearview mirrors that flash if there is someone in your blind spot and beep at you if you put your flashers on when someone is in your blind spot. That’s a feature I’d love on my next car!

When we got to the airport, they explained to me where the “cellparc” is. That’s a great feature at PE Trudeau Airport where you can park for up to an hour for free to wait for an arrival. There has to be someone in the car who has a cellphone. So when I go pick up my parents in three weeks, I will just go there and they will call me once they’ve cleared customs and have their luggage, then I will swing around and pick them up. That will save a hefty parking fee.

Then, I had to go home. They’d showed me the route when I arrived last week, but I wasn’t in a mindset then to remember much, although some landmarks stuck in my head. I was pretty sure I was headed in generally the right direction and that I’d hit a bridge to the South Shore, even if it wasn’t the one I meant to take, but I could get home easily from any of them even if I went out of my way. So I was very happy when I saw the first sign telling me I was indeed on the way to the Honoré-Mercier Bridge that I wanted to take. There was no traffic at that point, so the drive was very easy. I was exhausted when I came in, though!

I’ve got a big day of work tomorrow, but Friday should be focused on getting together my documents for my residente temporal visa application so I can go to the consulate on Saturday morning. If my request fails in Montreal (I hear that service here is abysmal), I’ll make a second attempt at the embassy in Ottawa. But I’m optimistic that I will be fine here as long as I have all my paperwork and proceed in Spanish. I’m having fun reading all the Spanish legalese to make sure I have everything and have no idea how people who don’t speak Spanish get through this process.

My host in Mexico keeps sending me teaser photos of where I’m headed and it looks so much like Isla that I’m really getting homesick! Who knows, I may change my mind about moving to downtown Mérida. 🙂

Sticking It To Canadian Telecom

I spent $160 for mobile service the ten months that I was in Europe. The breakdown is:

-$55 for three months in Bulgaria because I was paying per minute, text, and MB and didn’t realise that I should have been buying a package.

-$12 for 10 days in Serbia, for which I got unlimited calls and texts and so much data that I ended up using it to do my iOS updates.

-$30 for two months in Spain, for unlimited talk and text and a generous data allowance

-and $62 for two months in England, which was a more premium package with international calls, unlimited UK calls, unlimited texts, and something like 10GB of data.

There are so many Canadian plans and they vary from province to province, but as a point of reference, Bell Mobility starts at $32 a month (plus tax!) for 200Mb of data and limited talk and text. Realistically, I was looking at about $200 to get me through to my departure from Haven in May.

My original plan had been to keep my Mexican SIM topped up and use that in Canada since you can do that at the same price as if you’re in Mexico, but being an idiot, I forgot to top up.

Well…

TelCel is very generous with giving free gift balance and kept my account topped up the whole time I was gone. I just put 15CAD (200MXN) onto my account and got a package good for 30 days that has unlimited talk and text, plus 1.5GB of data, all good within Canada, the US, and Mexico. Bell’s most expensive plan ($66 plus tax) doesn’t even come close to that.

Any Canadians who go to Mexico on holiday should unlock their phones and get on a Mexican plan while down there, then cancel their service at home and tell Bell, Telus, etc. why. Now, I’m not sure if a Canadian number can call the Mexican number for free, but there are workarounds that would make this little protest painless. Canadian telecom prices are out outrageously out of sync with the rest of the world and it is time for us to revolt. As for me? Bye-bye Canadian telecom! You’ve seen the last of me!

Hove to Gatwick to Iceland to Quebec (With Bonus Views of Greenland)

I was awake just before my 5:30 alarm this morning. I quietly slipped out of the house by about 6:10, with my train to Gatwick being at about 6:30. I was surprised that it was already light out at that hour. Moira had given me a heads up that the café at the Hove station is decent and inexpensive, so I grabbed from there a coffee to go with the croissant I’d bought at Tesco’s last night.

Train was on time and rather full as I’m imagine it’s a commuter since it goes to London Bridge. It was a quick trip to Gatwick, even with stopping to attach more cars at the stop prior to the airport.

Wow Air hadn’t let me check in online and their website said that the counter would open three hours before my flight, so about 7:50, but it was open when I got there at about 7:20. As I suspected, I had to check in in person so they could examine my carry-on luggage. Their scale is inaccurate as it weighed my suitcase as being quite a bit heavier than it is, but they let it through since my other bag was under the limit. I then had an absolutely painless and quick trip through security, complete with complimentary full body massage…

I then had a couple of hours to kill. I popped into a Boots to get some water and saw that they had a meal deal for just £3.50, so I grabbed a full litre of water, a bag of crisps, and what turned out to be an amazing Moroccan style chicken wrap complete with raisins. I would regret not buying more food…

We boarded on time and left pretty much on time. The cloud cover was very thick.

Before I knew it, we were approaching Iceland.

It looked like an alien world!

The highway seems to be out in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

We arrived at Keflavik Airport a few minutes late. I only had a one-hour layover, so I was glad I was right at the front of the plane. I really wanted a bathroom and food, but my first priority was to check the status of my flight to Montreal…. Delayed one hour. I was actually happy about that! The bathroom and food lineups were insanely long and I wouldn’t have been able to do either with my original layover length.

The bathrooms were impressive. Each cubicle is its own complete little bathroom!

What was not so impressive was that the bathroom was flooding and most of it was about to be shut down. You can’t see it well in this picture, but water was pouring through the ceiling!

Food was incredibly expensive, and not just by airport standards. I knew that if something was, say, 1,500 króna, that meant it was roughly 15USD, and from  that, I could get to the rough Canadian price. I bought their cheapest sandwich, ham and cheese (no mustard as that was several dollars more expensive),a yoghurt, because I’d been told I had to try this brand…

and some Icelandic chocolate…

…which was very odd and not very chocolately. More vanilla-y. You can tell just by the colour that it’s not normal chocolate.

My meagre lunch will end up costing me about 20CAD. But, hey, I get an Icelandic charge on my Visa statement this month. 🙂

Before I knew it, my Icelandic stopover was done.

After a snooze, Greenland was upon me…

Which was good preparation for the mess that awaited me in Montreal!

It was a really easy and effortless travel day, yay! Now, I’ve been up almost 24 hours and it’s way past time for bed…

Brightoned Out, But So Glad I Went

I forced myself out of bed early this morning for two reasons: 1) to get a bit of work done so I wouldn’t have a daunting amount left after my outing; 2) to encourage me to get to sleep early…

My destination for today was Brighton proper. My host strongly recommended that even though it’s only a 3mi/5KM round trip on foot that I buy a £2.90 return ticket and go on the train to save my energy, which I think was very good advice. I headed out around 9:45 to take the 10:08 train, but I got in with plenty of time to catch the 9:59 even with having to stop to collect my previously purchased ticket.

That put me in Brighton just past 10:00 and I headed out of the station to my first destination of the day. There was plenty of signage and clues that I was heading to the touristy part of town.

The first touristy thing of interest that I saw was the Brighton Dome, an arts venue. It is part of the Royal Pavillon complex and is quite impressive from outside!

I walked around the Dome and got my first view of the Royal Pavillon. Keep reading for more details, but let’s just say that I was not expecting this in Brighton and am so happy my host and her decorator put it on my must-do list! There were even palm trees by it, adding to the exotic feel.

I wandered up North Street to find a second breakfast.

Then sat in front of the entrance to the Royal Pavillon to enjoy my last sausage roll and really good coffee from Greggs.

Then, it was time to enter what is, bar none, the most incredible building I have ever had the privilege of visiting.

Unfortunately, interior photography is not allowed in King George IV’s seaside pleasure palace. But the are tons of high resolution photographs on the palace’s website. Please head there now to at least look at photos of the banquet hall and its dragon chandelier. This palace was sold and completely stripped by Queen Victoria, who did not find it a suitable home for her family, but was bought by the city and carefully restored over the years to give an inkling of how sumptuous it was in the days of George IV. Spoiler: while the outside is of decidedly Indian influence, the interior decor is of Chinese influence!

I could have spent a day going through the palace as there were so many exquisite details to take in, but it was overrun by school children and hard to visit leisurely. 🙁 I think the music room was my favourite, but the dragon chandelier that is just two feet shorter than Miranda (!) was the most memorable feature.

Entrance to the palace is £12.50, or you can buy online a combination pass with the Brighton Museum for £15 (plus play an additional £2 for the palace audioguide if you want to get any real value out of your tickets). So the museum was my next stop.

It’s adjacent to the Dome.

The museum has a hodgepodge of exhibits, most of which are behind glass, so difficult to photograph. The building held  more interest, to be honest. Here are photos of a few things that caught my eye.

The tiles are gorgeous and have so much depth!

I enjoyed making a motif of Iranian-style tiles.

This turquoise colour is very traditional in Iran.

This pot looks like a beautiful work of art, but is a”stealth bomb.” The background of the images are of unspeakable wartime horrors.

This stack of crockery has a rod going all the way through it to hold it.

There was an exhibit about how Brighton was the place to come for a “dirty weekend.” This is very much England’s Sin City.

The mosaic floor in parts of the museum was a work of art.

This French-inspired bathing costume was the standard in Brighton for a long time.

I really liked these.

This one looks like a rainy day viewed through a window.

This one is deceptively simple. So many colours in it!

Frankly, at £5.20, I don’t think the museum is worth a detour unless you pair it with the Royal Pavillon and basically get in for half price.

I was ready for lunch when I came out of the museum and knew where to go, a little Japanese restaurant right in front of the Dome. Get this. I was thinking I wanted Asian noodles for lunch and was going to ask my host if she could recommend a place, but she beat me to it! It’s rather scary how well she’s gotten to know me! The restaurant is Pompoko and it was super busy, always a good sign. I went with their lunch special of udon noodles with prawns and squid. This picture is terrible, but if you squint, you can see how they cut the squid to make it more tender. This was crazy good!

I then meandered my way down to the water.

My destination was, of course, the tourist trap that is the Brighton Pier.

The pier is free to access, so I got to take it all in without spending a penny. The entire structure is owned by one company so prices are the same throughout all the shops. Not much was open today.

There are free deck chairs to use on the pier. I imagine these go very quickly in the hotter months!

At the end of the pier are a bunch of rides, some for kids, some for adults.

I learned while watching a programme recently that that tower at the back with a slide is called a helter-skelter.

I eventually reached the end of the pier. I’m looking towards France here.

Spot the annoying typo.

The last thing on my list was to walk through “The Lanes,” Brighton’s shopping district in a maze of narrow lanes not unlike the bazaar in Sarajevo.

On the way there, I paused for a gelato, surprising myself when I picked “sour cherry,” which was exactly that, with very tart fruit contrasting pleasantly with the smooth vanilla ice cream.

Brighton Square.

This block of flats does not suit the ambiance of the neighbourhood.

Most of the shops in The Lanes sell jewelry.

I didn’t linger long and decided that I was ready to go home after having a beer.

More pretty tile work at a hotel.

Another church made of flint.

This pub seemed welcoming.

I ordered a half pint of bitter and was offered a choice of four. I went with their darkest and strongest, Laine’s Best Bitter. So pretty! One of the options was an American pale ale, so I’m thinking that’s what I have to look for in North America.

I then meandered my way back to the train station.

But took a detour up a very steep hill to check out St. Nicholas’ Church.

I am fascinated by the use of the flint as a construction material. It is exquisite!

And here I am back at the Brighton train station, where there was a train only going to Hove leaving in two minutes. Talk about good timing with trains today!

I’m glad I went to Brighton for the day, but it’s definitely not a place I would care to return to and I’m happy I stayed in Hove. As I’d been warned, Brighton proper is very dirty, run down, and full of panhandlers. It’s also very tourist and gaudy. I can imagine that there are much nicer places to go for a seaside holiday in England. But the Royal Pavillon is worth the detour!

When I got into Hove, I had the bright idea of picking up my ticket for Gatwick tomorrow to save me a step. Well, I witnessed a distraught young girl have her money eaten by a machine. She said that there’s never anyone working at the Hove station and that when this has happened in the past, she was never able to get her money back. A nice man stepped in to buy her a ticket on his card before I could offer, so she was able to get home. But that sure validated my feelings of hopelessness the other night when I missed my stop!

I popped into Tesco to pick up a pizza and a small bottle of wine for dinner. One of the first things my host showed me in her kitchen was how to use the grill to heat up a pizza, so I knew I wouldn’t have any trouble doing that for my dinner.

Now, my host is the lovely Moira! I don’t like to say where I stay when I’m there, but I can finally give a shoutout to her and her  Airbnb listings. Coming home tonight, I marvelled that I’ve been living with her a full week and haven’t gone nuts yet! 🙂 Her home is unfussy, cosy, clean, and so welcoming. I could make meals at home if I wanted, watch telly in the lounge with her in the evening, and just live my normal routine. It says a lot that I felt comfortable leaving the door to my office open while I worked and didn’t feel the need to squirrel myself away to be as invisible as possible.

My European adventure has wound down. If I have time to grab a late lunch in Iceland tomorrow instead of just rushing through the airport, that will be icing on the proverbial cake! It’s been incredible and I feel so grateful to have had this opportunity.

Now, it’s time to go pack. I’m told WOW Air is extremely strict and won’t let me on with my purse in addition to my backpack and suitcase, so I have to get everything packed the way it was when I came over here. Even though I actually have less than when I arrived, I’ve been struggling with the packing, so I really need to go spend some time on that. Then bed, because 5:30 is going to come really soon…