Thursday, November 4, 2010

Getting Around Ottawa

Fortunately for visitors, many of the capital city's major tourist attractions are within walking distance of Parliament Hill. Ottawa's sidewalks are both wide and clean, and you can do most of your sightseeing on foot, using public transportation to cover the longer distances. The region of Ottawa-Carlton operates OC Transpo, a 130-route bus network. Fares are among the most expensive in Canada, with a two-tier system that charges more for traveling during rush hour, Can$2.25 per ticket. You need the exact fare unless you buy tickets in advance. These are available at newstands and corner stores. If you need to change buses, ask for a transfer, which can be used for up to an hour. It is possible to get a transfer for use on the separate Hull bus system across the Ottawa River, although you may have to pau a little more. All routes meet downtown at the Rideau Centre, and the stops are color-coded according to the route.

If you are using a car there are several reasonably priced municipal car lots - look for a green 'P' sign. Taxis can be booked by phone or hailed at stands outside major hotels.

Bicycles are a good way to explore a city that has some 150 km (93 miles) of scenic paths. The Rideau Canal, that crosses the city from north to south, is bordered by delightful walking and bike paths.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Getting Around Montreal

Montreal's bus and subway network is integrated so that the stations connect with bus routes and tickets can be used on either. Be sure to get a transfer ticket, which should take you anywhere in the city for one fare. Known as the Mètro, Montreal's subway is clean, safe, and air-conditioned in summer and heated in the winter. It is by far the fastest and cheapest way to get around town. Free maps are available at any of the ticket booths. Visitors can buy a Tourist Pass for one or three days at major hotels and at the Visitor Information Office downtown.

Driving is not recommended here, as the roads are busy and parking is severely restricted, especially in the old town. It is best to use the city's park-and-ride system. Cabs can be hailed in the street. They have a white or orange sign on the roof; the sign is lit up when the cab is available.

Many streets in Montreal now have bike lanes. The Great Montreal Bike Path-Guide is available free at the tourist office. Bikes can be taken on the Métro anytime except during rush hour, from about 7am to 10am and 5pm to 7pm on weekdays. There are some lovely bikes paths, such as the waterfront trail on the historic Canal de Lachine, and those that lead through Cité du Havre and across Pont de la Concorde to the islands. There are a number of bicycles shops offering daily or weekly rental; they generally riquere a deposit of Can$250 or more in addition to the daily rate.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Quebec City

The charming narrow streets of the old city are best seen on foot, especially since most of the historic sights are located within a small area of the walled city. If you need to travel farther to see one of the more distant sights such as the Mussée du Québec, the bus system is frequent and reliable. Fare are cheaper if you buy a ticket before boarding and are on sale at several outlets in grocery stores and supermarkets. There are also oneday passes for Can$4.60. The bus station is in the Lower Town on Boulevard Charest Est. Most of the main routes stop centrally on the Place d'Youville in the Old Town.

Taxi stands are located in front of the major hotels or outside city hall. House-drawn carriages or calèches may be hired for a gentle trot around the Old Town, but expect to pay Can$50 for 40 minutes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Getting Around Toronto

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) operates a huge system of connecting subway, bus, and streetcar lines that serves the entire city. It is one of the safest and cleanest systems of its kind anywhere in the world.

There are two major subways lines, with 60 stations along the way. Be sure to get a free transfer pass if you intend to continue your trip by bus or streetcar after you leave the subway.

To ride buses and streecars, you must have exact change, a ticket, or a token. Tickets and tokens are on sale at subway entrances and stores. The "Pick up a Ride Guide" shows every major place of interest and how to reach it by public transit, and is available at most subway ticket offices. A Light Rapid Transit line connects downtown to the lakefront (called Harbourfront). The line starts at Union Station and terminates at Spadina/Bloor subway station.

It is easy to catch a cab in Toronto; they can be hailed in the street, called in advance, or found outside hotels. There are several outlets that rent bicycles, but as downtown Toronto is busy with traffic, it is best to confine your cycling to the parks. The Martin Goodman Trail is a well-marked scenic bicycle route along the long, scenic waterfont.

As in Vancouver, you will need the right coins for the bus. The regular adult fare is Can$2 across the whole system, and transfers are free for up to an hour. If you are going to be in Toronto for an extended period, it is worth considering a MetroPass for one month, or you can buy 10 tickets or tokens for Can$17. There are day passes for use during off-peak hours.

Ferries to the Toronto Islands run several times an hour at peak times in summer and continue well into the evening. There is also a road bridge.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Student Travelers

With an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), full-time students are entitled to substantial discounts on travel as well as galleries, museums, and many other tourist attractions. The ISIC card should be purchased in the student's home country at a Student Travel Association (STA) office in the nearest city.

There are also a wide range of bus and rail discounts available to students, such as the "Go Canada" Accommodation and Coach Pass, which offers both reduced-cost travel and stays in youth hostels across the country. The pass can be booked through local agents specializing in student travel.

VIA Rail also offers students the "Canrail Pass", which allows a period of unlimited travel on all routes. Reasonably priced accommodations are available on university campuses in the larger cities during local student vacations.

There are also comfortable hostels throughout the country, most of which are affiliated to the International Youth Hostelling Federation (IYHF). Eating out is inexpensive, so students can easily find great food on a budget.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Toronto is an enterprising city. Located on the banks of Lake Ontario, it was originally a native Indian settlement dating from the 17th century, and, after 1720, a French fur-trading post.

Fought over by the US and Britain in the War of 1812, Toronto has since been a peaceful city, growing dramatically after World War II with the arrival of over 500,000 immigrants, especially Italians, and, most recently, Chinese.

The first place to start a visit must be the CN Tower, the world's tallest free-standing structure and the city's most famous tourist attraction. From the top it is easy to pick out the sights of the city, and from the bottom a short stroll leads to the Skydome stadium or the banking district. To the north of downtown is the boisterous street-life of Chinatown and the superb paintings of the world-renowed Art Gallery of Ontario. Beyond sits the University of Toronto on whose perimeters lies the fine Royal Ontario Museum and also two delightful specialty collections, the historic Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art and the comtemporary Bata Shoe Museum.

A quick subway ride takes the visitor north to both Casa Loma, an accentric Edwardian mansion that richly merits a visit, and Spandina House, the elegant Victorian villa next door. Many more attractions are scattered around the peripheries of Toronto, including Toronto Zoo and the Ontario Science Centre. The McMichael Art Collection, in nearby Kleinburg, contains an outstanding collection of paintings by the Group of Seven in a modernist setting.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Paying and Tipping

It is possible to eat well in Canada for a bargain price. A snack in a café seldom costs more than Can$5. In a good restaurant, a three-course meal and a shared bottle of wine often costs between Can$30-$60. Even gourmet dinners can start at Can$50. Fixed-priced menus are common. Luncheon items are generally less expensive, and are often similar to the evening menu without the linen and candles.

Restaurant tax is the 7 percent GST (Goods and Services Tax), plus a varying provincial sales tax, applicable everywhere except Alberta. Taxes are included on the final check as percentages of the total. Tipping in most restaurants and cafés is expected, and should be about 10-15 percent of the check. Service charges are not usually included.

Europeans should note that tipping is expected in bars and nightclubs. In common with most countries, a tip should increase if you are bringing a larger party to a restaurant and for any exceptional service. Penalizing staff for bad service is not common.
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