I randomly decided to take a trip down to New York City (New York, USA) for a mini trip this summer. I lined up the trip with a weekend my brother would be there, so we were able to see each other on the first day. NYC is about 6 hours and 300 miles (482 km) from where I am in Maine, but I decided to fly, especially because I had accrued a good amount of points on my JetBlue rewards credit card. After using my points, my flight only ended up being around $11 for taxes and fees! Pretty rad.
My flight was for early in the morning, but the evening before, I got the dreaded text about a delay. Of course, you still have to arrive as if it was scheduled as planned in case things changed, which meant I was up around 3:30 AM and at the airport for 4:30 AM. With PWM being such a small airport and not having any baggage to check (plus being pretty certain about the 3+ hour delay), I only arrived about an hour in advance, which is a lot closer than I normally would.
After I arrived, I had an hour and 15 minute subway ride to meet my brother at Russ and Daughters, a fancy restaurant in Manhattan with great reviews. The subway was quite the adventure: AirTrain (JFK Terminal 5) for 5 stops, transfer to A (Brooklyn) for 12 stops, transfer to F (Manhattan) for 4 stops. And then, I was there! I always forget how big NYC is. It’s pretty normal to spend an hour+ on the subway, especially traveling between boroughs.
Aside from not being bougie enough to understand half the menu, it was great! While it was a bit pricey, I’d say it was normal for New York and a middle-to-higher-end restaurant (about $30 each with tax/tip).
Our day was a bit disrupted because of my delayed flight and arriving three hours later than expected, but we made the best of it! He was only in NYC for the weekend and had other plans as well, so it was just Saturday we had to reconnect.
We took a look at interesting things to do in Manhattan and weirdly decided upon the Museum of Sex, which I will cover in my next post!
First Pride adventure of the summer was down to Boston! I took a bus (which I almost missed) and got there Friday afternoon. I spent some time with one of my sorority sisters, and we went to the parade and festival on Saturday!
Portsmouth Pride: June 22, 2019
I went down to New Hampshire just a day or so after returning from my trip to Montréal! It was a super brief trip. I left around 10:00 AM on Saturday, we went to the festival around noon and stayed for a few hours, we had dinner, I spent the night, and left early the next morning! So, about 4 hours of driving and 200 miles over the course of 24 hours! But, I got to see two of my sorority sisters who live down there, and I hadn’t seen them in a while!
To start off our second day in Montréal, we had breakfast at Tim Horton’s – obviously! This is a very popular chain, comparable to Dunkin’ Donuts in the northeastern United States. They used to have some locations in mid and southern Maine but just about all of them have closed. I don’t know what it’s comparable to in other parts of the US, but basically, it’s a fast food coffee/breakfast food type shop. Nothing that exciting and to write home about, but they are notorious for their “iced capps” (iced cappacino) which are delish. When I lived in northern Maine (which is close to the Canadian border so they have Tim’s there still), my coworkers and I had a weekly (or, uh… biweekly sometimes) iced capp date to decompress. Anyway, long story short, Tim’s is a must-do if you go to Canada.
Even though we drove to Montréal, we primarily used public transportation to avoid a few things: parking issues, traffic, and driving in a congested area that we’re not familiar with and signs not in our language. We drove over to Tim’s because it was right down the street, but then we went back to our Air BNB, parked, and walked about five minutes down to the Du College orange line subway station to take the 30-minute train ride downtown to get started on our adventures for the day!
If you are traveling in a city with public transportation, I highly highly highly (did I say highly?) suggest downloading the Citymapper app. You can also utilize it as a website, but I’m not familiar with using that feature. I’m know there are some apps/websites that are similar, but this one has helped me for years without fail. Not every single city is on there, but just about everywhere I’ve been to has had it, including out of country locations. You enter where you want to go, and it guides you step-by-step on how to get there. If you are utilizing public transportation, it tells you what station or bus stop to go to, where and when to transfer, how many stops, etc. It literally has saved me. I wouldn’t have survived living in Boston without it. (Okay, Citymapper, I hope you’re listening; I want some funding for promoting you).
We started downtown at the Tourist Information Centre of Montréal. This is in the Old Montréal area. I typically like to start my trips with a bus tour to get an overview of the city, some history, and my bearings on my location. While these tend to be pretty touristy and don’t show you everything, it’s a good start. We overlapped our bus tour with the Montréal Passport, which gives you access to quite a few major attractions in Montréal. Again, these are pretty touristy, so it’s important to explore other things as well. This is something I’m constantly learning – how to get “off the path” so to speak and see more of the city and a better sense of life and culture. You tend to mostly see the “hub” of things and major sites but not the neighborhoods and things like that. But, I certainly enjoy a lot of the common touristy things to start off.
We bought bus tour tickets for the Gray Line 48-hour hop-on hop-off tour. So this is deceiving. It’s not actually 48 hours. It’s two days. So if you buy it on a Monday afternoon, you’re only covered for the rest of Monday and then Tuesday. This was fine because we only planned on taking a few rides. We started by doing a full loop of the bus tour (rather than hopping off, hopping on) and hearing some interesting history from the guide. This was in English, although most things in Montréal are offered in English and French or just French. With this being a common tourist bus tour, it made sense they offered it primarily in English, but I believe they also had bilingual tours. The bus tour was about $44 USD for each person, coming to a total of about $85 USD (or approximately $112 CAD). Before we hopped on the bus, we took in a few beautiful sites around the Tourist Information Centre.
I can’t find a map online that has a visual depiction of the route that the bus takes, but it stops at the following locations:
Place Jacques Cartier
Place Ville Marie
Quartier des Spectacles
Fine Arts Museum
Saint Joseph’s Oratory
While we were at the Tourist Information Centre, we also bought the Montréal Passport, which gives you access to a few dozen attractions/sites. Unlike the bus tour, this is actually for a full 48 or 72 hours from the time that you first use it. We got the 72 hour pass figuring this would cover most of the sites we would see over the first few days. It was fairly pricey, about $98 a person (for a total of $195 USD) or approximately $255 CAD. While it is a bit pricey, it covers quite a lot:
While I’ve had many recent travels to Canada, I had yet to go to Montréal! This was an impromptu trip with no real plans ahead of time, and I was excited to go on this adventure with my partner, Brady! This was his first time in the great land of Canada, so that was another exciting part of the trip.
Montréal is the most populated city in Québec and second most populated in Canada. Its name comes from the large mountain in the city, Mount Royal. The city was originally named Ville Marie (“City of Mary”) when early settlers founded it in 1642 and was formally incorporated as a city in 1832. Montréal is actually an archipelago, with the heart of the city being on the Island of Montréal. It is between the Saint Lawrence and Ottawa rivers. The city has a population of approximately 1.7 million (2016) with a total of 4.1 million (2016) in the greater Montréal metropolitan area.
We left early Saturday morning for the 220 mile (355 km) trek to Montréal! It took us about 5-6 hours with stops added in. First step was saying our goodbyes to our doggo, Sage! Then we were off!
To be honest, I slept most of the way there, even though we were going to split up driving. Whoops. So, I can’t speak to much of the drive, but it went fairly smoothly! Border patrol is intimidating as always, but it’s pretty low-key at Canadian borders so I’m not sure why I get so tense everytime!
We arrived late afternoon and headed to our Air BNB to get settled in! This was my 6th stay in an Air BNB, and it was a great experience! Our host, Dominic, was super friendly and responsive, and the place was great (see listing here and pictures below).
Next stop was making plans for the evening! We decided to head downtown to the busier part of the city. One of the great things about our Air BNB was that it was literally a five minute walk to the Du College subway station (they refer to the subway as the Metro, and the bus as… the bus). This was surprisingly my first time ever taking Canadian public transportation!
It being a Saturday night, I wanted to check out the nightlife! We bought tickets to go to Newspeak Montréal and headed downtown! First things first, it was nearly impossible to find the place. It literally wasn’t labeled at all. This became a recurrent theme in Montréal like everywhere. We finally found the place after circling a few blocks, but then we ran into a pickle with not having our IDs on hand. So, the bar/club scene ended up being a no-go for the night, but we made the best of it!
We walked around more in the “nightlife” area (which is primarily centered around Crescent Street and the surrounding streets). We stopped to have dinner at an Italian place called Da Giovanni. It was good, and then we headed back for the night to rest up for the next day!
For our five year anniversary, Brady and I took a weekend getaway to Portsmouth, NH! This is just under two hours from where we live, so it was far enough to get away but still close.
This trip was pretty difficult because my goldendoodle, Mollie, had passed away less than two weeks before. Needless to say, I was a pretty emotional mess and did not feel like celebrating or going away. But, it ended up being okay, and I knew it was important to still go forward with our plans.
We stayed at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Portsmouth. Portsmouth is pretty small for a city, so it wasn’t that expensive to be close to the hub of things. And the hub of things is relatively small anyway. I’m sure there’s more going on during the summer especially around the water, but we were here in February, so it was 1) cold and 2) not high-peak tourist season. We usually stay in Air BNBs, but we decided to go with a hotel this time in part because my mom gifted us some funds to use towards the trip. And especially since our focus was more just on spending time together versus trying to do lots of sight-seeing (which there’s not a ton of anyway), we wanted a nice and private space. We left on Friday and got down to Portsmouth by early evening, and we stayed until early Sunday morning.
And then we were back to Maine after a great weekend getaway and back to the real world!
Boston is super close to me – about two hours driving or closer to three via train. In my state, everything is super far away, and Boston is closer than mid-Maine is to me! One of my best friends and sorority sister, Karlee, decided to take a day trip down just to have some fun and see a few things. We left from our University and took the 110 mile or so drive down to Boston, Massachusetts (USA).
Our major activity of the day was visiting the New England Aquarium, which is typically a pretty busy and packed place with lots of children, but it wasn’t too bad this time. Tickets tend to be a little bit pricey (around $30 USD for adults), but there is a lot to see, and it’s a nice outing. It’s certainly not something I would do over and over again, but I have been a couple times. The Aquarium is located near Government Center/Quincy Market/Long Wharf in the Central Wharf right on the river. In addition to the exhibits, the Aquarium also has an IMAX theater and a Whale Watch, which I’ve never done (and haven’t been of huge interest but maybe some day!).
Next, we headed down to Cambridge in the Kendall Square area to visit my brother who attends MIT. We had lunch together at Chipotle (classic), but he had to be back on his way to his physics-science-research-smart kid-stuff.
After, we headed over to Charlestown to visit one of our other sorority sisters, and after a few hours, we were on the road back to Maine!
This was perhaps my most intriguing trip, yet. The background of this is that a sorority sister posted a link on my wall saying, “You should apply for this!” JetBlue was looking for individuals to apply for an all-expense paid volunteer trip to an unknown destination for four days. You wouldn’t know the destination until you were on the plane! Well, why not, I thought, it’s a long-shot but it’s six questions.
A few weeks later, I shockingly got an email that I was accepted into the JetBlue Check In for Good contest – one of 50 out of 40,000! I was able to take one guest, so I chose another sorority sister who was very involved in volunteerism as well. The trip was basically in the middle of the week, so getting time off from work, school, and my internship was stressful, but I was not going to turn down a crazy once-in-a-lifetime experience! They gave us a packing list and some basic details, but that was it!
Our first step was to get to JFK Airport in New York. We booked a flight out of Portland, Maine, early in the morning on Tuesday, November 27. Aside from this flight, all other expenses were paid, including airfare to “Destination Good” (the location to be revealed on the plane), resort accommodations, travel to and from the airport, meals, etc. Our flight was scheduled to leave Portland at 5:36 AM…. we were delayed…. a lot. Due to the snowy and icy weather, the plane had to wait in line for de-icing. We had a set time we were supposed to be at JFK. I was so anxious and convinced we were going to miss it.
After about an hour and a half of being delayed, we were up in the air! We made it to the proper JFK gate later than we should’ve, but we made it 15 minutes before the plane boarded! Thank goodness we weren’t delayed any longer! We were given our welcome packet that included the envelope revealing our destination: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic! (I do have a little secret – the flight attendant on our flight from Portland looked up our gate number and revealed the destination to us while we were on our way to JFK because we were concerned about the delay. They looked at us so weird when we said we only knew the gate number and not the destination! Other passengers were very interested in the program and how crazy it was to just hop in a plane to somewhere unknown!) We still were excited and pretended to be a little bit surprised 😉
On our last day (Monday), we decided to stop at one more site and then begin the trek back to Maine. When I was in Ottawa last, I had went to the Canadian War Museum and loved it (see blog post here). It covers war history from way back until modern day.
This museum is one of Ottawa (and Canada’s) highlights.
The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum regarding military history “from the first recorded instances of death by armed violence in Canadian history several hundred years ago to the country’s most recent involvement in conflicts” (Wikipedia).
There are 3,000,000 artifacts and items in their collection and 500,000 annual visitors. The museum has its origins in 1880 where it was a collection of military artifacts. Its current location opened in 2005. “The Museum’s collections are among the finest military holdings in the world, including rare vehicles, artillery, uniforms, medals, personal memoirs” (About the Museum).
Admission was a little pricier than other museums in the area, but that’s relatively speaking. The cost was $17 CAD for adults and $13 CAD for students, including college students (about $13 USD and $10 USD respectively). One thing I love about Canada (and in England too) was that they offered a lot of student discounts. Even a few dollars here and there helps!
While my mom and I are certainly not history buffs, we still loved the museum! I would love to bring my dad here because he has huge interests in history and war history in particular.
There’s a lot of somber things at the Museum. For example, on the outside of the building, the words “Lest We Forget” are punched out in Morse code. When you walk into the Regeneration Hall, a recording of the wind going through the holes during the construction of the Hall. In the main lobby, there is a block of concrete suspended that holds the tomb of Canada’s Unknown Soldier. There’s also some artifacts such as a piece of the Berlin Wall, Adolf Hitler’s car, and a piece of one of the 9/11 airplanes (all pictured below).
The Regeneration Wall was awe-inspiring. “The highest point in the museum is called Regeneration Hall. This strikingly narrow space features angled walls that tower dramatically over visitors. Rising up with a tightly framed view of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, Regeneration Hall is a physical representation of hope for a better future” (CWM: The Regeneration Wall). I just love this. It was hard to get a picture of the Peace Tower through the window, but you can see it a little bit. This is one of those places that can’t really be shown through pictures. It gives you an idea, but you can’t really get it unless you are there.
After this, we began our trek home! We were pretty tired from such a busy trip! I surprisingly didn’t take any photos on the way home – probably because I was either driving or sleeping for basically all of it!
We did stop at a Subway half-way home, and there was absolutely nothing in English. That was really the only time during our trip where we experienced not being able to communicate. For the most part, everything was in both French and English. Particularly in Ottawa and Toronto, English is pretty dominant. Driving through Québec, French was the dominant language, but English was almost always provided.
It was a wonderful trip with lots of relaxation and site-seeing! It was also great to be able to experience this with my mom and have a fun trip! Until next time!
We started our third day (Sunday) by going back to Le Nordik Spa-Nature for our massage. They were booked out our first day, but we decided to go back for that. We had originally thought we might spend two full days at the spa, but we decided to go for the massage and then head into Ottawa for some exploring on our last full day.
Le Nordik Spa-Nature
Obviously I don’t have photos of the massage or the inside of the room. The photo above of the massage room is a sample from their website. I wish I had some more photos, but I guess it’s not super necessary! Some things can just exist in memories! It was super relaxing and amazing, and I would do it everyday if I could! We joked around about our bougie selves because clearly this is not something we do on the regular. We arrived early and our massage was at 10:00 AM. We had separate rooms (didn’t do that whole couple-massage-in-the-same-room-type thing because uh #no), and my mom was super chatty with her masseuse which I thought was hilarious. I feel kind of awkward with someone touching me and being all mostly naked, but I take the mindset of, “I’ll never see you again.”
After that relaxing start to the day, we headed to downtown Ottawa!
Here’s a brief snapshot of the stops we made:
Supreme Court of Canada
After heading downtown, we stopped by the Supreme Court and took some photos. When we went in, there wasn’t a tour for a little while, so we walked on over to a few other sites before heading back for a tour.
Bank of Canada Museum
The Bank of Canada Museum is literally a two minute walk from the Supreme Court – one block down and across the street. This is one place I went back in May (see blog post here), and it’s pretty cool. It’s on the ground floor of the Bank of Canada, and it opened up in the 1980s. It’s a free museum with lots and lots of technology and interactive exhibits. We took a short visit through just to see what it was all about and then headed over to Parliament Hill!
Parliament was super cool! We didn’t do an inside tour (but I did last time, see blog post here). It was cool to just walk around and see Parliament Hill (or colloquially The Hill). There are three blocks. The Centre Block contains the Senate and the Commons chambers. The Peace Tower, a 306.5 foot clock tower, in the middle truly sets the building apart. The Library of Parliament is also in this building, and it is the only remaining part of the original Parliament that wasn’t destroyed after a 1916 fire.
The East and West Blocks contain offices for ministers and senators and general meeting and administrative places.
In front of the Centre Block is the The Centennial Flame, which commemorates Canada’s 100th anniversary as a Confederation.
Supreme Court of Canada (Take 2)
We headed back on over to the Supreme Court of Canada for our tour. It was super fun and informative, and while I also checked this out last time, I feel like I learned new things and the experience was still unique!
They have three levels: the trial courts, the Federal Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. The SCC also offers free tours (check on the dates and times because some require a reservation) which was great. We learned a lot about the history of the SCC, its creation in 1875, and how it functions today.
Royal Canadian Mint
Next stop was the Royal Canadian Mint! There are mints located in both Ottawa and Winnipeg. The Ottawa Mint makes collection coins and investment coins, while the Winnipeg Mint makes circulation coins and oversees the production of bills. While they do change the inside as technology changes, the outside is preserved in its castle-like form. I was only allowed to take photos outside and in the gift shop, so I don’t have a lot to show! The tour was really interesting and lasted about 45 minutes. It only cost $6 CAD (about $4.65 USD), which was also really great. This is definitely a tour I recommend! This was the second time I did it, but it was good this time around, too!
Holding 28 pounds of gold, worth $650,000.
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
Notre-Dame Cathedral is the largest and oldest standing church in Ottawa. Construction began way back in 1841 and was completed in 1846. My last time visiting this church was actually because I stumbled upon it getting lost trying to find the Mint! At least this time, I knew where we were going and could guide us!
At this point, we had had quite the full day and decided to head back after visiting Notre-Dame to our Air BNB to rest up for our last day in Québec/Ontario and our trip home! We watched some Netlix, had some dinner (and a few drinks), some laughs, and hit the hay early!
After settling in to our Air BNB the evening prior and having our trip to the lake, day two was for getting to the core of our trip: Le Nordik Spa Nature! This is a beautiful nature spa just over the Québec border in Chelsea about 30 minutes or so outside of Ottawa, Ontario. I went here when I visited Ottawa back in May (see blog post here), and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to go back and wanted a road trip, and my mom was interested, so here we are!
Here’s a little bit of a run-down about the spa and how it works.
The big thing about Le Nordik is their thermal cycle. This is where you start in hot (such a one of the saunas or hot tubs) for about 5-15 minutes, and then in a cold pool for about 15 minutes, and then a period of rest.
To see more photos and learn more about the basics, go to their website here. For more info on prices, go here. I can’t quite remember how much we spent this time around, but it was very similar, if not the same, as to the prices I paid back in May 2018. The all-day spa access was around $70 CAD (about $50 USD), and we decided to get a massage, which was about $108 CAD (about $75 USD). We also spent around $15 USD on drinks, but we brought our own food to keep in the locker for mid-day snacks (which is against their rules so you gotta be stealthy). The food there was super pricey, and we were trying to be reasonable with prices, so that’s why we bought groceries and had breakfast at home and lunch on the go.
When we went the first day, I was insistent on getting there as early as possible because I’ve heard they’ve gotten full before. I had gone on a weekday back in May, and I was nervous with it being a Saturday that increased attendance may foil our plans! We got there before it opened and waited in quite a long line, but we made it in and my worries were unnecessary (per usual). Their massages were actually booked out for the day, though, as people can register for those in advance. We decided we wanted to try that out because obviously it’s not something we do on the regular (or ever), so we booked a massage for early the next morning. But Saturday was our day to enjoy the spa access with all the pools, saunas, hot-tubs, aromatherapy, and relaxation!
Arriving and waiting!
Next, we were on our way back to the Air BNB for the night. We got take-out dinner and got supplies to make drinks. It was quite the adventure trying to find alcohol, and we went to quite a few different places! We had tried the night before, too, but everything was closed. Who would’ve thought! The best part is we forgot a shot glass, and there weren’t measuring cups that would’ve worked. So, mom suggested using the the cap to the cooking spray as it was a similar size. It was super funny, but it worked! And now that cap is in our shot glass display case 😉
Next, we were off to bed and ready to hit up Le Nordik in the morning for our massage, and then onto Ottawa to explore some sites!