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Posts Tagged ‘last minute’

I went to visit my old roommates in Toronto last weekend. Because of my rather limited budget, I looked on Craigslist for a drive from Montreal to Toronto. I figured it would be cheaper and faster, than the bus.

I quickly found a guy going to Toronto at the time I wanted. Perfect. I sent him a text. “Hi, I’m looking for a ride on whatever day at whatever time. Do you still have room?”. He replied that he did have room. I confirmed my spot with him and went on to ask: “What is your name and what kind of car am I looking for?” I didn’t get a reply. At the time, I thought it was odd, but didn’t think much of it. In fact, it made me a bit frustrated at this guys lack of organization, but nothing more.

I went to the pick-up spot at the agreed-upon time. There were no parked vehicles. Terrific, I thought. I texted the guy: “Hi, I’m here, what kind of car am I looking for?”. His reply was “I’m here too.” This guy was too much. Eventually, he found me. Turns out he was parked around the corner (to be fair, I would have easily spotted him if I looked around the corner). I got into this guy’s white van with 9 other people. Clearly this guy’s business is shuttling people from Montreal to Toronto.

We set off in the van and were immediately instructed to put on our seat-belts. Safety first. We started driving and I quickly noticed that we’re going in somewhat of a circle. We were obviously not heading for the highway towards Toronto. Out driver looked back. “Sorry guys, you see that white van following us? That’s an undercover cop.” Awesome. We continued to drive around downtown Montreal for a few minutes until our man at the wheel turned around once more to give us a bit more information. “That police unit will follow me until I get on the highway and then he’ll call the Ontario police and they’ll stop us. I’m going to try to lose him.” We drove around some more. He gave out more advice. “If he stops us, we’re going on a tour of downtown Montreal. Is anyone here not a Canadian citizen?” One girl timidly raised her hand. That can’t be a good thing. We did a bit more driving until finally getting right back to where we started. “Ok guys, I’m going to drop you off here. Go meet me at another metro station. If the cops stop you, they might try to scare you and say they can search your stuff. This isn’t true. If anything happens, just don’t say anything. When I stop the van, file out as quickly as possible and meet me at the other station. I’ll try my best to get you to Toronto.” We filed out and rushed into the metro. We quickly made our way to the other metro and waited for our driver. We wait about 20 minutes. Eventually, our wheelman showed up. He had a sad face, like he had let us down. “Sorry guys, I can’t leave this morning. They kept on following me and I couldn’t rent another vehicle. You’re on your own for now, but I’ll be heading out tonight, if you’re interested…”

Well, that complicated things.

Since we were at the bus station, I noticed there was a bus leaving for Toronto in 30 minutes. Great. Just enough time to buy a ticket and grab a seat! I went to the ticket counter. The tickets were 60$. This is for a ticket on Megabus, the allegedly discount bus line. The ticketlady told me they were cheaper online, so, being as I am, I quickly thought of way for me to buy it online. Then… Brilliant idea! The school library. I knew it was just a block away, tucked away somewhere between the buildings of downtown. Exactly where, I wasn’t sure. I ran to where I thought might be a good spot to look for it and wandered aimlessly for a few minutes. My bus was leaving in 20 minutes. Eventually, a student walked by, and I asked if she knew where the library was. By chance, she was on her way there too. I awkwardly followed her. Turns out the directions to the library are very clearly indicated. They started just around the corner from where I asked the girl for directions. I finally got to the library, loaded up my account with some money (I didn’t need an error message saying I had insufficient funds as I tried printing the tickets!) and rushed to the computer lab. 15 minutes left. I tippity-tapped my way on to the Megabus website and tried to find my ticket. Apparently Megabus doesn’t sell tickets for trips leaving in 15 minutes. Nuts! Buying an online ticket was impossible. I was cursed! I logged off the computer and ran back to the bus station. 10 minutes. I went back to the ticketlady and asked for a ticket. I cringed as I accepted the 60$ price tag for a seat, but at least I was on my way.

I sat in the bus for an hour before it actually left. Apparently they had engine problems, so we left late. I wasn’t impressed, but at least I was on my way to Toronto. 7 hours later (8 hours after the posted departure time), I rolled into the Toronto bus station and started having an awesome weekend.

On my way back to Montreal, I used the same rideshare guy. I got home safe and sound almost exactly 6 hours after we left (and it only cost me 30$!).

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First thing I have to say is that it’s nice to be back in civilization. I’m actually blown away at having 24 hour power, cars on the street and cabs with air-conditioning. Blows my mind!

I flew right into Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City for non-colonists) from Burma (Myanmar for non-colonists). I almost missed my flight since I had to transfer in Bangkok and go through immigrations since I didn’t get the transfer set up. Big mistake. Luckily Elise found me a good line at immigration and I got on the flight 10 minutes before take off.

I’m really digging Saigon. There are so many scooters here, it doesnt’ make sense! The traffic is outrageous. Cars and scooters are everywhere. Honking and breaking. It’s chaos, but it’s cool. I like it. Vietnam has a huge negative stigma about it as it’s a place where you will get robbed. I’m being careful, but I feel on edge. I hate that feeling. Makes me feel closed to others.

Since I’m back alone, I’m going to power through things here. First stop is a day out and about Saigon. Check it out and see what’s going on. Then, I’ll take a two-day Meekong river tour with a homestay. It’s probably the only way I’ll get to see this river and it’ll be cool to sleep at a person’s house (however touristy that will end up being). I’m not too sure what to expect, but it might be nice and maybe I can meet a new travel partner (Elise is in Thailand now). After the Meekong, I’ll check out the Cu Chi tunnels and get a feel for the war. It’s a bit weird because here is a place that fought the West and won. Though there are no bad feelings against “us”, it’s weird to see big Communist posters.

After seeing the city and its surroundings, I’ll head up north a bit. I can’t go too far up because my VISA limits me to an exit date, but I’ll still get to check stuff out. It’s a new chapter in this little trip of mine, and though it has a different feel from the last one, I plan on making the best of it.

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I finally got my E-2 work visa yesterday (Friday) around noon. Since my contract starts on Monday, I went ahead and booked a flight for Korea leaving on Saturday (getting me there on Sunday at 4pm). This way I don’t have to miss the first day of my contract. Obviously, my Friday afternoon was packed with preparation and stuff. Turns out my life fits in two bags and a backpack weighing little over 110lbs.

My ittenerary is as follows: Charlottetown – Toronto – Vancouver – Seoul. The whole thing taking around 21 hours. My flight from Charlottetown had chef and tv personality Michael Smith on it. Pretty cool stuff, but I feel bad because I have him the stink eye when I got in. I like the guy, I was just super tired.

Anyway, I’m sitting here at Vancouver International, which turns out is a really hip airport, awaiting my 11 hour flight to Korea and I’m starting to wonder why I’m doing this. I feel like a kid who got on a crazy intense rollercoaster. The bar is locked and the car’s started going up the steep slope. He knows it’ll be fun, but anticipation and the unknown is frightening.

Hopefully I won’t lose any loose change in the loops.

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Thursday July 10, 2008

I got to Charles de Gaule Airport without any problems, but actually getting there wasn’t my biggest fear; it was getting into the country. At the customs booth, I was ready. I had my “just visiting” story down and I had the “I’m just a tourist” look down. As it happens, I didn’t need it. The customs officer just stamped my passport and let me right in. No interview, no questions, nothing . Thank God.

I grabbed my things and started heading off towards Terminal 2 where I had a train to catch. After wasting about an hour looking for the terminal, I got my act together and found it just in time. When I say just in time, I mean it in the most litteral way. When I found it, the train lady was blowing her “all aboard” whistle. I asked her if this was the right train, and she literally pushed me in. I’m not sure if I’m conveying how frightening this was, but making a train with a 40lbs pack on the literal last second is exhilarating, but not something I’ll ever aim to repeat.

Also, it turns out I had a ticket for a TGV ride, some I was expecting to be much cooler and futuristic.

After a transfer in Lyon and 5 hours of travel, I finally reached Annecy. I don’t have the proper vocabulary to describe how spectacular Annecy is. I would image this is where words like beauty, romance and magnifique got their start. But for all it’s beauty, it’s a huge pain to navigate (like any European city).

I decided to take a supper break at a nice little Italian restaurant where I sat next to a man finishing his meal. He saw the Canadian flag on my backpack and we had a great chat over my supper (his desert).

The view that greeted me in Annecy

The view that greeted me in Annecy

Now that I regained some energy, I decided to try to find my hostel. I had a vague idea of it’s location, but nothing concrete; I was following bus stop signs to find it. I’ll admit. I had no idea where I was going. On my way up a steep hill (I was pretty sure it was the right direction), a generous couple who had seen me around town decided to give me a lift. Awesome!

I got to the hostel, settled in and decided to take a nice evening stroll by the lake. This place is as beautiful at night as it is in the day.

When I packed it in for the night, I finally got to meet my roommates: an older Frenchman, a Thai and a Scott. The Scott said he was going to hike up the Semnoz in the morning. Maybe I’ll go with him. I might as well check out the view since I’m here.

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