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…

Recap of the Best Year of My Life

If I measure 2016 by the one yardstick that matters to me, how much I travelled, it was the best year of my life. That’s hard to reconcile with how horrible the year was to the world in general, but it’s my truth.

This was a rare year of my life where there was enough money to do what I wanted to do. I prioritised paying for the big stuff, like making sure I had a roof over my head, could get from point A to point B, and that I stayed healthy. I savoured the little stuff I could afford. I refused to be a glass half empty person and bemoan that I couldn’t do X, Y, or Z because of a tight budget and instead celebrated that I was wherever I was at that moment.

I covered so much ground this year that you might have forgotten where I started. So here’s my 2016 travel retrospective.

January started in Mazatlán, Mexico. It was the second year of my life starting there and the novelty hadn’t worn off! I spent many hours cantering on a beautiful tropical beach, a weekly ritual that made me feel like the richest and luckiest woman in the world.

The lagoon at the Isla de la Piedra botanical gardens.

The lagoon in Mazatlán’s Bosque de la Ciudad.

February brought me to Mérida, in the Mexican state of Yucatán, on a scouting mission in anticipation of possibly moving there!

I saw ancient Mayan ruins!

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

The Mayan ruins at Uxmal.

March had me discovering the wonderful botanical gardens right in my backyard on Isla de la Piedra.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra's botanical gardens.

The lake at the heart of Isla de la Piedra’s botanical gardens.

April found me seeing Monument Valley

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

…and exploring Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

Landscape Arch, Arches National Park

…and the town of Moab, Utah.

May took me to Cody, Wyoming

downtown Cody, WY

downtown Cody, WY

…with plenty of time to explore the Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

Sacagawea at Center of the West

… and a Japanese internment camp

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

Heart Mountain Interpretive Center

… before going home to Haven…

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

Sunset at Haven, May, 2016

… before getting on a plane and technically visiting my last Canadian province.

2016-map-1

So June took me to London, England (really!)…

London from the St. Paul's Cathedral

London from St. Paul’s Cathedral

2016-map-2

… and to Bulgaria!

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria

Malak Izvor, Bulgaria

2016-map-3

July took me on two trips to Sofia, Bulgaria.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia

August took me to Plovdiv

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

Plovdiv from Nebet Hill

… and across Bulgaria in a Chevy to Nessebar

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

Old Nessebar, Bulgaria

…to Soviet ruins

Buzludzha

Buzludzha

Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

Tsaravets Fortress, Veliko Tarnovo

…the scenic town of Teteven

Teteven

Teteven

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

Prohodna (Eyes of God Cave)

…the Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

Etropole Waterfall

…and a the magnificent 15th century Glozhene Monastery.

inside the Glozhene Monastery

inside the Glozhene Monastery

September saw me quit Bulgaria for Serbia and finish the month in Belgrade.

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

Zemun, Belgrade, Serbia

October found me in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo, BiH

Sarajevo, BiH

Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

Old Kotor, Montenegro

…blipping through Albania

an Albanian fortress

an Albanian fortress

…staying out too late in Prizen, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

Prizren, Kosovo

…not being impressed by Skopje, Macedonia

Archaeological Museum, Skopje

Archaeological Museum, Skopje

2016-map-4

…ambling through Barcelona, Spain

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

2016-map-5

… then through Alicante

Alicante, Spain

Alicante, Spain

… before settling in Almería for seven weeks.

The port of Almería

The port of Almería

November was spent in lovely Almería learning to live in the real Spain.

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

Pedestrian street in downtown Almería

December saw me in Málaga for a few days…

Málaga from the top of the itinerant Ferris wheel.

2016-map-6

…before jetting off to end the year and ring in 2017 in Amsterdam, Netherlands!

Quintessential Amsterdam scene

2016-map-7

What a journey 2016 was, from getting more and more comfortable in Mexico to becoming a seasoned European traveler!

But the most amazing thing that happened? I was offered my key to Mexico. So my 2017 is well plotted. But before I return to the blistering tropical heat of the Yucatán, England, Quebec, and Haven beckon. So clichéd as the saying is, the best really is yet to come.

Happy New Year to all of you lovely readers!