North America

North America

Victoria, British Colombia

5 Things to do in Victoria, BC on a Budget

Victoria, British Columbia, located on beautiful Vancouver Island, is a popular tourist destination in Canada. However, as so many tourist destinations tend to be, Victoria is not exactly known for its affordability. As someone who’s lived in the city for the past few years, I can attest to the high costs both of living in and touring around Victoria, but if you know where to look, you can still find breath-taking and exciting activities for just a few dollars, or less.


1. The Problem: Flowers and expansive green spaces are the epitome of peace and tranquility, but Butchart Gardens’ ~$30 price tag may just be a tad too costly.

The Solution: A stroll through Beacon Hill Park

The Butchart Gardens are a stunning masterpiece of color and life – but the entry fee could leave you gasping for air. In my opinion, the best way to get a free taste of all that glorious west coast flora is to wander through Beacon Hill Park. Not only will you see beautifully arranged flowers, you’ll also catch sight of various duck species, free-roaming peacocks, and possibly a Great Blue Heron!

Beacon-Hill-ParkCourtesy of Wikimedia Commons

(Resident note: If you go for the flowers but stay for the wildlife, you’ll want to wander into the adjacent petting zoo, too. Bonus: the Pacific Ocean is just a block away.)


2. The Problem: Victoria’s lively local music scene comes with a hefty price tag.

The Solution: A walk down Government Street

Government Street in Victoria is where all the buskers come to roost. At any given time, you might catch sight of a ukulele player, an acoustic guitarist, a harpist, someone playing the hammer dulcimer, or Darth Vader on the violin (yes, really). Absorb it all as you walk, or sit for a while with your gelato and toss a dollar or two in the hat.


3. The Problem: You’re dying to surround yourself with the Pacific Ocean, but hiring a boat or catching a whale-watching tour is a bit beyond budget.

The Solution: Take to the sea on your own terms

There are many ways to get out on the ocean in Victoria, most of them affordable. You can rent a paddleboard or kayak (usually about $20 an hour) or wade in at Willows or Spiral Beach, both just a 10-minute drive from downtown. If you’re eager to feel the rumble of a boat engine beneath you, you can always catch the water taxi, which costs just $6 and will take you from place to place throughout the Inner and Upper Harbours.

Breakwater

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

If you want to be surrounded by water but stay on dry land, the Breakwater is the place to be. Jutting more than 2,500 feet into the ocean, this raised path prevents waves from shaking boats in the marina, and really lets you feel you’re in the midst of the sea. On a windy day, you can walk along the stepped side and get thoroughly soaked, or stay above and just enjoy the salty air. Breakwater Lighthouse perches at the end of the wall, so you can check that coastal must-see off your list, too.


4. The Problem: You bypassed the Vancouver Aquarium, but would still love to see some aquatic wildlife.

The Solution: Hit Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf is a quaint little floating house neighborhood just outside downtown Victoria, complete with gift shops, kayak rentals, and delicious food. The main draw, though, might be the adorable seals that flock to the pier. The restaurants sell little cups of fish bits to tourists eager to feed them, but watching is just as much fun. At any given time, there could be five or six of the spotted, puppy-faced creatures vying for your attention (not to mention dozens of seagulls), and their entourage might even be joined by a hungry otter.

Courtesy of Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons


5.  The Problem: It’s Victoria, so, you’d be remiss if you didn’t take tea like proper British royalty. But a formal Afternoon Tea comes with a royal price tag.

The Solution: Opt instead for a cup o’ tea at The Empress

Afternoon Tea at any of the ritzy dining locales in downtown Victoria can cost between $40 and $100 dollars – it’s a neat and yummy experience, but not practical for many. Just because you can’t swallow the price tag, doesn’t mean you can’t sip fancy green tea in itty-bitty cups while brushing shoulders with the rich and fabulous.

The Fairmont Empress, a beautiful waterfront hotel that first opened in 1908, serves pots of tea in their swank dining room for $8. It’s well worth the cost to sit in luxury in the splendidly renovated space, among ivory pillars with gold accents and regal wood floors. Savour each drop, and don’t forget to lift your pinkie!


Whether you’re flush or pinching pennies, Victoria is a welcoming city filled with great architecture, delicious eats, and loads of things to see and do. Next time you’re in town, don’t let a thin wallet keep you from experiencing everything this west coast treasure has to offer!


A full-time freelance writer, Shannon Kirk is a transplant from the Canadian prairies, and now makes her home on beautiful Vancouver Island. From traveling to alternative health to fantasy, her enduring love for the written word means she’s always eager to learn about a new topic and share it with a passionate audience. You can find Shannon typing away at www.shannon-kirk.com.

If you’d like to submit a guest post to Beyond my Border, contact me!

 

twin peak san francisco california

Across California on $15 a Day

How do I put California into words?

The reflection of the San Clemente pier on rhythmic waves during a sizzling sunset.

The unpleasant heat wave glazing Hollywood Blvd.

The fresh oysters off the Santa Monica Harbor.

The steep valleys and high hills that define the streets of San Francisco.

How do I define California?

Vast, diverse, patient.

Unsurprisingly, California is not your typical budget friendly getaway.  But since I was offered a travel scholarship to attend a conference in Orange County, CA, I jumped at the opportunity to acquaint myself with some of the most mentioned cities along the West Coast.

My grasp of the Golden State was a 20-day venture along the Pacific shoreline. In the land of opportunity, an endearment often associated with the late-19th century California Gold Rush, the pursuit of new beginnings and great wealth instigated one of the largest mass migrations to the western hemisphere. From the rich and fabulous to technical accessories, the evergreen state has become the epitome of the American Dream.


Los Angeles

Orange County

I arrived in Orange County expecting hot weather and beach sightings. In fact, my 20” x 14” was packed with short shorts and summer dresses. However, the April night proved incredibly resilient to global warming. A bit dazed by Orange County’s similarity with my hometown, my friend drove me through wide streets and high lights to his apartment near Main Street.

During the conference, we stayed at Chapman University. The campus was located a few minutes away from a street dotted with restaurants, bars, and palm trees. It was then that I found myself officially in California.


Huntington Harbour & Newport Beach Port

Huntington Beach and Newport Beach are both popular coastal areas in Orange County. The harbors each house a wooden pier that dips deep into the sea. Their sandy pavements are streets away from restaurants & pubs, unifying calm ocean waters with the hype of weekend outings.


Santa Ana

Just south of Orange County, sits a more vibrant Santa Ana. My friend took me to a community brunch featuring homemade delights and freshly squeezed orange juice. A Mariachi band played on stage while desserts, breakfast items, and fruits lined the street. The happy-go-lucky atmosphere brought me back to days of Berlin’s buzzing Christmas markets.


Disney pass

 

 

During brunch, I began chatting with a lady next to me. Tina turned out to be a Disney executive just home from Shanghai’s park opening preparations. After exclaiming how surprised she was that I’ve never been to Disney, she offered me a two-park inclusive ticket to the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

So I dropped my plans, picked up my bag and spent a day at Disney.

 

 


She definitely made a childhood dream come true.

Disneyland park


L.A

Having spent 6 days in Orange County, I couldn’t wait to get to LA and revisit my city roots.

A youth ticket from Irvine to LA Union Station was $8.00 through Metrolink. When I arrived at LA’s fabulous central station, I made the stupid, determined mistake of locating a nearby metro by foot. No surprise here, but I swear no one, I mean no one, walks the streets of LA-especially while dragging a piece of luggage.

On Google Maps, the nearest station was some 25 minutes away. However, the seemingly short walk became incredibly miserable under the LA heat.

LA by foot

Read: How I navigated L.A by foot.

Santa Monica

After two days hopping around downtown LA, I headed for a short visit to Santa Monica. The city houses a gorgeous 10-mile beach that sits right across a restaurant/ store-lined sidewalk. Artists, performers, beach walkers, dogs, bikers, rollerbladers fill the roads, pumping energy into the already lively neighborhood.

My friend took me up the Malibu Mountains to catch the sunset. We also struggled to settle down for some yoga along the road, which was deserted by but one vehicle every 20 minutes.


Santa Barbara 

Santa Barbara is an upscale resort-like beachside city that sits in front of the Ynez Mountains. With its red-tiled rooftops and cream-colored walls, the whole city oozes a warmth reflective of its Spanish colonial heritage.

It wasn’t just relaxing, it was blissful.

I took a bus from LA to Santa Barbara that cost a hefty $80. It was a quick two-hour ride that placed me beside a contract firefighter that goes on week-long excursions into the wild.

As a professional chef, my host and her husband live in a cozy apartment near the cozy downtown core.  Thomas runs a wine tasting service that takes customers to different wineries in and around the city. It was obvious that I hit jackpot staying in the land of wine with two people who specialized in wine and dine.

I spent a few days walking along the Santa Monica Harbor and slurping fresh oysters in dozens. My host also took me up Lizard’s Mouth to catch the sunset embracing the city and sea below.

Oyster in Santa Barbara

Lizard’s Mouth

The hidden gem is a half-hour drive from the Santa Barbara city center. Tucked away in the middle of some mountain hills, it overlooks all of the city. To the south, the city sits quietly against the Pacific Ocean. To the west, the sea stretches out endlessly.

We reached Lizard’s Mouth right around sunset. A trail led us to a huge platform that tilted towards a cliff meters away. Not a fan of heights, at one point, I found myself on all fours, praying to the almighty that I wouldn’t get blown right across the rocky formations into the wild. However, my host jumped around the rocks like no one’s business.

Once we reached the viewpoint, it was all worth it. The area was secluded, peaceful, and definitely one of my favorite sightings in California.

Lizard's Mouth Santa Barbara


San Francisco

It was a sunny midsummer afternoon when I reluctantly left Santa Barbara, catching a $45 rideshare to SF.

I spent the first day wandering downtown. Immediately, I felt a close bond with the city. Unlike LA, people actually walked on the streets in San Francisco! But for those looking to visit, try to avoid the Tenderloin area. I mean, being cat called is one thing, but being followed by a group kite high in the middle of the day was just not a fun time.

Chinatown

SF’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America and the largest Chinese district outside Asia.

Stepping into Chinatown was as if I was like being transported back into 1960s Hong Kong. It’s a mixture of foreign-familiarity that many Chinese associate with these pagoda rooftops and dragon gates. Spoiler alert: much like lemon chicken or orange chicken on display in Asian buffets, this stereotyped nonsense doesn’t really exist in China. 😊

Unlike the traditionalist approach as taken by Chinatown, my lunch was spent somewhere a tad more modern. Situated on Howard St, Gold Club is a gentlemen’s club with booming music and dancing ladies. To draw crowds on weekdays, they serve a free all-you-can-eat buffet with a $5 entrance fee.

Visiting clubs, especially strip clubs, in the middle of the day is a completely new territory for me. In my sweaty tank top and slippers, I was surprised that they actually allowed me entry. It was a drastic change stepping into a strobe lights-filled, bass-blaring showroom on a sunny afternoon. Neon signs aligned the walls while a go-go dancer performed striptease on stage. I don’t think I will forget the experience of stuffing myself with pasta and fried chicken while being entertained anytime soon.

Moutainview & Menlo Park

Google

Silicon Valley is yet another one of SF’s must visits. From Apple to Google, some of the biggest tech firms’ HQs sit just outside of the city. Luckily, I had a few friends that worked at Tech giants making bigger dollar bills.

Knowing how hyped these co-working campus spaces are, I decided to pay a visit.

The Caltrain from SF to Mountainview is a bit over $8. After arriving, my friend picked me up and brought me to the Google Campus. Since he had to get right back to work, I grabbed a Google bike and rode around the humongous campus. Note: the bikes are employees only since they are in such a horrible condition. However, so long you don’t vocalize your civilian status, all is well.

google hq

The campus is divided into several sections. After half an hour, I decided that there really wasn’t much to it other than the area immediate the newly renovated Googleplex. To be honest, the rest of the buildings on campus were rather dated. Nonetheless, it had a vibrant vibe. Lawn chairs filled the open space and several food trucks sat in the front of the complex. There were open grounds for volleyball and other pastimes. Rumor be true- the inside of buildings also housed loads of recreational entertainment.

google hq

The beauty of being the guest of a Google Employee is that we get a visitor’s badge that accessed certain buildings and binge eat at cafeterias. Cafeteria really isn’t the right word, as the amount of variety on display can put a buffet to shame.

Facebook Campus

Around noon, I took on another daunting task-Google to Facebook by foot.

I obviously made an incredibly stupid mistake thinking that a 20-minute drive on Google Maps would be a 40-minute walk tops.

Nope. The entire walk across highways and hills took me a good three hours. By the time I arrived at Facebook, my face was completed sunburnt from the California rays. Thank god for the view, and the occassional Starbucks.

The best way to get from one campus to another is a rental. If not, Uber becomes a great alternative to dragging yourself across plains and roads.

Personally, I thought the Facebook Headquarter was a lot more exciting than Google’s. Unlike Google, Facebook had a pretty strict entry policy. You can’t even access its campus without knowing someone on the inside who is willing to accompany you in. My friend told me that he has encountered people who’d wait in front of the doors just to swing a visitor’s badge.

I could see why.

The Facebook campus was like a beautifully designed village. From bike shops to ice cream parlors, little stores lined the sidewalk. It may not be as big as Google, but FB HQ could be navigated without difficulty. Trying not to embarrass my friend too much with my tourist status, I whipped out my phone for a couple shaky videos.

Of course, I had another fantastic meal.

Golden Gate Bridge

The last main sighting in SF was without a doubt, the Golden Gate Bridge.

Towering over the Golden Gate Strait, the bridge has become a symbol for San Francisco. At 1,280m, the structure is noted as one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The stunning orange contrasts the ataractic blue, forming a spectacular sight that draws people from around the world.

Using public transport, you can reach the bridge by GGT bus (Routes 30, 70, and 101) from downtown. This is largely recommended by the city since parking is extremely limited near the bridge. However, for optimal views, we took a rental up the summit that lies behind the bridge.

Around 20 minutes up the hills, we stopped at Marin Headlands. The scenic point had a clear view of the Bay Area. The city formed a beautiful backdrop to the beautiful landscape. To the South-East, the bridge sat magnificently against the waters. To the South-West, the Pacific stretches on endlessly into the beaming sunlight.

Twin Peaks

Before the day ended, we decided to drive down to Twin Peaks to catch the sunset. The summits sit right around the city, providing a beautiful view of San Francisco.

It’s safe to say that California lived up to its fame. The Golden State was welcoming at worst, oozing a lazy-comfort of a land that has been graced by constant sunshine and warmth. Its people were happy-go-lucky, an easy going crowd that substituted stress & hustle with Wednesday farmer’s markets. Of course, I only lived one side of CA, but I live its good vibes happily.

Aside from the places mentioned, there are much more to the land of the free. You can integrate a number of the following within the cross state trip for a more enriching experience:

  • San Diego
  • Yosemite/Sequoia and Tahoe
  • Point Lobos State Natural Reserve
  • Salvation Mountain
  • Calistoga
  • Central Coast
  • Paso Robles
  • Morro Bay
  • Oceanside
  • Ojai
  • Big Sur

Total Cost

I spent a total of 18 days running around California. Since I didn’t have to pay for the flight or accommodation, most of my $ went towards food and rides.

I spent around $170 on transportation between the three cities/ varies counties. Since a number of people helped me out along the way, even those costs were greatly minimized.

In LA, I exhausted $30 on a number of random things. In Santa Barbara, most of the money went towards oysters. With a few drinks and outings here and there, the total amount I spent traversing CA was around $280, which is just over $15 a day.

If reading this makes you consider Couchsurfing, you can go ahead and read whether the option is right for you. If not, you can consider some other budget accommodation options.

Happy Travels! 

 

 

 

LA by foot

Taking LA by Foot | United States

Los Angeles did not fail to amuse. Within a day of my arrival, I’ve witnessed the transaction between a movie scout and an aspiring actress in downtown Hollywood, the attempted suicide of a man atop a 40-story building, the numerous homeless folks along the tourist-filled blvds and the massive celebrity mansions in the secured streets of Beverly Hills.

LA without a car is not suggested, but possible. I was able to mission through my two-day stay with lots and lots of walking. Needless to say, I was the only one in the streets of LA dragging my luggage around like a complete idiot.

Three days before my arrival, my host canceled my stay at his flat downtown LA. Fortunately, his friend agreed to house me in his condo in Studio City.

Union Station, LA

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With its red brick rooftop, beige walls and palm trees, the LA union station is the epitome of  Sunny California as seen on 90210.

Since it was a bit ways from the beach side, downtown LA oozed dry heat, the sort that causes breathless heaves and burnt shoulders. I dragged my luggage out of Union, and became instantly thankful for the amount of Starbucks in this town. I’ve never been interested in Starbucks– we’ve got Tim Horton– the cheaper, less classy version in Canada. But Starbucks became a pit stop between all my destinations. With its free WIFI and AC, I was more than willing to spend a few hours in between my walks and just sit and chill. I’ve always said I’m the worst kind of traveler- I’d sleep all day if I could.

Downtown LA

north america los angeles downtown

Drew’s friend, my host Jamie, was the most interesting person. He lived in the San Fernando Valley, home to (apparently) rich porn stars and an extensive network of adult film producers.

Before the 2008 crash, he was a mortgage broker in LA, riding the big buck and partying night and day. Basically some next level Wolf of Wall Street fiesta.

The crash left him devastated. Within two months, he packed his bags and moved to Alaska to work on a fishing boat. The man went from partying away his 6 figure income to slaving 16 hours a day abroad a sailboat. Talk about dramatic life changes!

Hollywood Sign

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After wandering around Hollywood Blvd, I was stopped by one of those ‘2 hour tour bus’ sales people. Since I didn’t have a car, this was undoubtedly the best way to venture around LA. Nonetheless, the given price of $50 was pretty expensive for my liking, so I negotiated for a student discount.

One of the perks of traveling alone is all the benefits. There is always that extra solo spot no one else would want to fill, always that extra conversation with strangers that wouldn’t happen if not by yourself.

I began chatting with Moses, the man at the counter. He ended up giving me the ticket for USD $14, which is really quite a steal for a 2-hour guided tour around the ins-and-outs of LA. He even went out of his way to buy me a water for the trip.

Despite the cheap tour, I wasn’t much of a fan of Beverly Hills, Sunset blvd, Hollywood Hills and all those other fancy celebrity residential areas. In spite of the beautiful mansions, these gated communities were too quiet.  They lacked the excitement & glamor I associate with the whole entertainment industry. Incredibly ignorant, but I was kind of hoping to spot some craziness during the mid-day summer noon.

Monica Lewinsky home

Interesting to see Monica Lewinsky’s home standing in the neighborhood.

Perhaps I am just a tourist at heart. I can’t keep myself away from the obnoxious scene downtown Hollywood provided. I absolutely loved every second of the buzzing streets and spent the rest of my evening wandering among the buzzing crowds.

Following the celebrity house tour, we were dropped off at Hollywood and Highland, which was the downtown core of Hollywood blvd. The two must-sees in the area are the TCL Chinese Theater and Dolby Theater.

TCL Chinese Theater

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The TCL Chinese Theater is a magnificent theater palace in Hollywood. Located at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard, it is just a block down the street from the Hollywood and Highland station. It has the exaggerated features of Chinese architecture and contains the largest IMAX theater in the world. In front of its doors, a select number of celebrities– the “Forecourt of the Stars” graced the cement floors with imprints of their hands and feet.

Hollywood and Highland Center

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Dolby Theater is located just beside the TCL Chinese Theater. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to visit the former. I was completely awestruck by the Hollywood and Highland Center. It encompasses the Dolby Theater and various restaurants, bars and stores. If you walk to the back of the complex, you can vaguely see the Hollywood sign atop the hills.

I spent the rest of the night wandering along the rooftop of the Highland Center, watching street performers and vintage cars from the terrace.

11

Hollywood night cruisers

Every Friday or Saturday night, Hollywood Blvd would be crowded by night cruisers. It’s neat to see these beauties roaming the streets of LA. The line went on for miles with hundreds of onlookers gathered in the streets cheering them on.

Of course, I couldn’t end the night in Hollywood without chatting up love, drugs & rock n’ roll with a dapper stranger. So in came ?, who egged on the fun with his travels across the country.

man in LA

LA definitely did not fail to amuse. While there wasn’t a celebrity sighting,  people in LA were one of a kind. I met too many fun spirits running around town.

Total Cost

This is one of the days where I went over my $15 budget/day backpacking California.

  • Public transit ($1.75/way).
  • $2 burger at 7/11,
  • $3 ice cap at a coffee shop and,
  • $5 meal at McD,
  • I spent around $27.5 (including my 2-hour bus tour).

If you have other questions, feel free to shoot me a message!

Pin for later!

Happy Travels xx

things to do in Quebec city

A Day in Quebec City | Canada

Quebec City tu dis? (Basically all the French I know after 4 months in Paris, a month in Quebec and numerous years of class)

After coming home to Canada from my 5 month trip around Europe, I was pretty depressed. While I love Toronto to the moon and back, these North American cities just lack the charm of the small streets, rich cafes and altogether laid back atmosphere of Europe.

But I was completely smitten by the charm of Quebec City. Although I only had one day (10 hours) in the city, I managed to see a handful of tourist attractions by foot.

Château Frontenac

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The Château is one of the most luxurious hotels in Old Quebec. Its castle like structure overlooks St Lawrence River. Visiting the hotel and having lunch on the terrace is a great way to spend the morning. Often, musicians would showcase their talent by the Champlain Monument.

Wikipedia tells me that the Château is the most photographed hotel in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised, as its magnificent physique compelled me to take loads of unskilled and vaguely satisfying pictures. The hotel itself was built to attract wealthy travelers. With the average rate for a standard room ranging from $229 – $741,

 Not today Satan

Old Quebec

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The walk from Château Frontenac to the lower town of Old Quebec was fast. It was a downhill hike that lasted approximately 10 minutes. The neighborhood was crowded with tourists and restaurants. Cafes and gift shops lined the streets. We had lunch at one of the little cafes and enjoyed the view.

Despite Quebec City being some 5000 km away from the tip of Europe and divided by the roaring Pacific, the city maintained old school charm and sophisticated class. Yet, it was nothing like Paris’ uptight mannerisms. Rather, it reminded me of cities along the French Riviera- simple, relaxing, happy.

Then again, I was on vacation.

After a few hours, we headed back uphill to catch a bus towards the Montmorency Falls.

Montmorency Falls

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Montmorency Falls is a waterfall some 12 km away from Quebec City. There are several ways to muse at the waters- either partaking on an hour long walk from its tip top to the bottom, or by cable car for CAD $10 one way. You can also get a bit crazy and hop on a zip line for $25! Of course, I opted for walking along the stairs. It was a magnificent view, having the waters below me while crossing the bridge and befriending a rainbow. To get a bit more wild, stand on the platform just beside the waters as seen above. You will be showered and set for days, within seconds.

Coming from Toronto, I have to say the waterfall is nowhere near the magnitude of Niagara Falls. But angry not Québécois, Montmorency is 30 m higher than Niagara*

Back in the City

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Following the Montmorency Falls, we had some time to walk around the city. The streets were much quieter away from Old Quebec and tourist areas. While the bar was a bit far from the key tourist zones, Le Bureau de Poste is a great place to have a quick bite. The bar has the authenticity of a bar/restaurant but is less than the price of a Big Mac! In fact, their entire menu is priced at $5!!

quebec city

We ended the night by walking along the city wall. The wall had a beautiful view of all of Quebec City. It was great to have a bite in peace while overlooking the streets that buzzed with traffic and people.

Total Cost

The #800 bus between the Montmorency Falls and the city was around CAD $3.00 for a single trip. In terms of food, we had a delicious burger at restaurant Le Chic Shack just across the street from the Château. Their burgers are extremely tasty despite being a little pricey. You can visit them here. The restaurant provides a nice view of Rue de Fort, but it can get pretty rowdy with all them tourists.

Otherwise, I spent CAD $10 or so throughout the day. Unfortunately, we didn’t end up eating at Le Bureau de Poste due to its massive line. But feel free to pay them a visit here.

Happy Travels xx