Sunday, August 8, 2010

Reflections on Traveling in Canada

Just a few reflections on spending two months in Canada over the last year. In many ways it is very similar to the US while still being a foreign country. They drive the same cars on the same side of the road as we Americans do but when you see a speed limit sign that reads 80 don't go 80 mph or you will learn more about the Canadian legal system. Our simple rule was to multiply by .6 to get a close estimate of the actual speed limit in kilometers. The same rule applies to distances so don't get discouraged when you see a sign at two in the afternoon that says your destination is still 100 km away, it is really only 62 miles. We found most main roads to be smooth and very well maintained but the farther off the beaten path we traveled the worse the roads became. That said we are from Pennsylvania so we are very familiar with potholes. We only encountered one low underpass, but it is important to know how tall your rig is in meters. Our 12'6" translates to 3.8 meters. Another metric issue is temperatures that are reported in Celsius so when you hear it is going to be 25 you don't need to get out the winter clothes. Near the end of our visit we learned this little trick to convert temps to Fahrenheit. Double the Celsius reading and add thirty. While not exact it will give you a good idea of how to dress. That said in Newfoundland you ALWAYS need to dress in layers because the weather can change by the hour or by driving 25 miles down the road.

Money is another thing that is similar as they use dollars and coins that are the same denominations. But, the first time I got change that was all coins I thought the clerk had made a mistake not realizing she had given me loonies (dollar coins), and toonies (two dollar coins). We did find several campgrounds that would only take cash and so we had to exchange money. The first time I went to the bank the fees made the exchange even, even though the US dollar was worth more. Also, the bank would only exchange smaller bills not Ben Franklins. I later discovered that the banks (Scotiabank and Bank of Montreal) did not charge for using there ATMs and my local bank gave us the best rate so it was the best way to obtain cash. We still used the credit card where possible and even with the 2% fee per transaction, the exchange rate was better than exchanging money at the bank. We found just about everything to be more expensive than in the US. Make sure you stock up on all the nonperishables you can carry as replenishing your cabinet will cost you dearly. One thing that is very expensive that you are allowed to bring into the country in only limited quantities is booze. Wine that Nanc buys for seven dollars here was double that and a "12" pack of beer was nearly $24.00. We did find alcohol to be less expensive in Quebec. Most food was more costly in both grocery stores and reatuarants. Meals were usually bland, but the fish chowder, brewis, jigg's dinner and salt fish were all excellent. All the local seafood we had was great from the Newfoundland fish and PEI mussels to the lobster we had in Quebec. Another major expense is fuel. Don't get excited when you see gas for "only" $1.00 because that is per liter and translates to about $3.80 a gallon. We paid $4.00 a gallon for diesel in Newfoundland. Campground costs, just like here, vary greatly. Last summer in Vancouver we paid $318 (US) for a week and Pippy Park in St. John's was $285. They are both urban parks with easy access to the cities and in places where there are not a lot of options. Our cheapest campground was the Viking RV Park near L'anse aux Meadows that was only $10 a day Passport America rate.

Language is an area where Canada is both the same and different from the US. While signs were written in English and it was spoken everywhere except Quebec, the dialect of Newfoundlanders was often very difficult to understand. Our whole time in Quebec was with Jean Paul and Celine Dugas so we always had someone to translate, but there were many people who spoke little or no English. We found that a friendly smile and a bonjour would often be enough to get someone in Quebec to use a little English with someone like me who does not understand French at all. Because of the language, being in Quebec seemed more like being in Europe than North America, so it is a less expensive way to have a wonderfully different cultural experience.

For natural beauty many places we have visited in our travels have been wonderful, but seeing icebergs, puffins and so many whales were all near the top of our list for great natural spectacles. These are things we would not have seen in many other places we can get to by RV. There are a couple of natural things about Canada that really bugged us and they are the black flies and mosquitoes. At times they were so bad they even chewed on me but Nanc, who is a real bug magnet, was eaten alive. That said, I'm sure there are places in the states that are just as bad but we have not been anyplace where they were this bad since going on the road.

Communication can be an issue as our Verizon air card would work but for a very, very high charge. We never used it because more than half the campgrounds had wi-fi and most local libraries had hot spots. Our phone worked, but once again it was expensive. We used it sparingly and our bill was still high, but not as high as signing up to extend coverage to Canada for our stay. One thing we discovered was that we could not access our voice mail so for our entire visit it showed a message. We just had to figure if it was really important the person would have tried again.

The first and last thing you must be prepared for is crossing the border and you need to check both the US and Canadian customs web sites. We crossed the border three times in the last year and the first time we made the mistake of crossing in the truck (commercial) lane and were reprimanded but allowed to pass without a problem. Crossing to little Campobello Island was an experience, as going in the Canadians searched the rig and returning two hours later the Americans did the same. The third crossing was totally uneventful even though that was for our longest stay. Don't forget you now need a passport to get back into the US. Overall we give our Canadian experience an A and look forward to adding additional provinces to our map.

1 comment:

Rick and Paulette said...

As a Canadian, and an RV'er, I'd have to give your review of traveling experience in Canada an 'A'. Reading it, I found myself agreeing with what you said and thought it was pretty accurate.

We spend about 4 months in the US each year and love it. I'll have to sit down some time and write a blog about some of the differences we find between Canada and the USA. There seems to be far more similarities than differences though, at least that's been our experience.