Halifax – overall 11/10, just don’t get the seafood chowder

Wow realized I saved this nugget in drafts. Now that we’re all flying off to our “vacations” (read 2-weeks of ++ trying to impress preceptors) and I’m currently stuck in the airport due to a flight cancellation, thought it might be nice to finally finish this.

Because you know, never start what you can’t finish.

Anyways, Halifax.

This blog post goes all the way back to a trip I took in December 2016. Originally, I had inadvertently signed myself up for a urology rotation at Valley Regional Hospital, Kentville, which is about 2 hours away from Halifax. I really didn’t realize what a remote location this was until my first day, when every single doctor I met asked me “how on earth did you find your way here.” Needing to meet some of the movers and shakers of Nova Scotian Urology – to ultimately fulfill my dream of inserting foley catheters and estimating prostate size – this was obviously not the brightest choice. The administrative staff at Dalhousie was a dream, and I was able to transfer over to the big city with little to no issue. So for those of you doing a urology rotation at Dalhousie, be grateful for all the planning that goes on for you behind the scenes.

Here’s a short guide of do’s and don’t’s while you’re on your Halifax rotation, including where not to get seafood chowder.

Housing: 

So I was pretty lucky in that two of my medical school friends *Chad and *Rudy took me in. Considering the pretty pricey short-term rent around the hospitals, I was really really grateful and bought them some hipster, small batch coffee-flavoured vodka as a thank you gift. *Chad was not a fan. In fact, I think *Chad almost threw up from this experience. We stayed in a pretty beautiful 2 storey house right across from the Halifax Infirmary (HI), which is where many of the surgical clinics and the emergency department are. This house had 3 bedrooms, one and a half bathrooms and a large open kitchen. They found this place on Airbnb, so highly recommend this app if you’re looking for a place to stay. Another option would be to go on the medical student Facebook page. Overall, I would say aim for between $250-350/week for a shared accommodation, and closer to $600-800 for a single, of course it’s always cheaper to stay with other people.

Something to note, there are several hospitals within a 10-15 minute walk of one another, the HI being on Robie St., and the other two, Victoria General and IWK (also where the Children’s Hospital is) on South St. Regardless, if you live somewhere close to one of the hospitals, you’ll be close to them all.

Transportation:

There’s no uber here so it’s either walk everywhere or take taxis. Taxis are actually pretty convenient, they’re fast and there’re quite a few companies. For a 10 minute ride it’s about $6-7. The only issue is that they charge you extra if you have more than one person, and it’ll bring the cost up to around $9. The week we were here it was freezing so YOLOCO, basically took cabs every time we went out. I guess there’re buses here, but I try and avoid buses in winter because of all sick people (would rather not have people coughing and sneezing on me before I get to the hospital).

Touristy things (from things to skip to things you should go to):

  1. Halifax Public Gardens – I would skip this. Everything’s dead in the winter. I guess if it’s snowing it’s nice, but then again, if it’s snowing here it’s probably snowing everywhere.
  2. Halifax Central Library – it’s really nice from the outside and I’ve head the coffee shop on the inside is quite nice. Great for studying if that’s what you’re into.
  3. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic – ok honestly, I spent most of my free time eating, checking out the bars and following this tourist map *Chad and *Rudy got from the tourism centre. If you’re not like me and you enjoy going to museums and being cultured, it was ranked #6 out of 132 things to do in Halifax.
  4. Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 – see above
  5. St. Mary’s Basilica – did not actually go inside but it’s nice from the outside.
  6. Alexander Keith’s Brewery – we actually wanted to go to this. You don’t have to make a reservation, and they’re open on weekdays and weekends. Tours are about 1-2 hours so this would be a nice weekend activity before going out for dinner.
  7. Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market – this was interesting, I love farmer’s markets so I spent about an hour here. They have everything from baked goods to fruits and vegetables to artisan small-batch liquors (where I got that coffee-flavoured vodka from). Would recommend checking it out, it was created in 1750, a year after the founding of Halifax. One note, it was a lot smaller than I expected, so you could start your day here like I did and move uptown.

Food and Drink

Probably my favourite section. Halifax is actually known for having the most bars per capita. So here’s a list of some great bars and restaurants (totally not exhaustive, please go on Yelp, my #bae on electives or Dr. Google to find more gems):

Bars: 

  1. Noble – we actually came here twice! It’s a really neat Speakeasy that requires a secret password to get into. The front is called Middlespoon and is more of a dessert, casual drinks place. To get into Noble, you have to subscribe to this page by email, and they’ll send out the password every Thursday. The drinks were really delicious and fairly strong. They’re a bit more expensive, $12-15, but they’re definitely worth it!
  2. Stillwell – It’s super hipster, they have a million beers on tap and lots of different flavours and ciders to try. They’ll let you sample as well if you’re unsure of what you want. We came here on a Saturday night and it was packed. Would definitely recommend checking this place out if you’re into craft beers.
  3. Durty Nelly’s – this was on the tourist guide for lunch, but it’s an Irish pub with brews and food. I’ve heard it’s pretty popular so check it out, all the bars are relatively within the same area!
  4. 2 Doors Down – we all really loved this place. They had amazing food and they have an extensive drinks list as well. Great ambiance, service and reasonably prices. Would definitely recommend (also has 4.5 stars on Yelp so that was a pretty strong selling point for me)

Food:

  1. 2 Doors Down – see above
  2. Ardmore Tea House – supposedly Halifax’s best brekkie. They’ve been serving comfort food since 1956. In addition to your typical pancakes, eggs, bacon etc, they also serve interesting local features like Newfoundland steak and cod cakes. Location: 6499 Quinpool Rd, Halifax. Phone: (902) 423-7523
  3. Battery Park Beer Bar – this place has a lot of locally sourced food that pairs well with beer. It’s reasonably priced and a part of Taste Halifax Tours. Haven’t actually tried it, but their instagram is bomb so. Location: 62 Ochterloney St, Halifax.
  4. Brooklyn Warehouse – this restaurant reminds me of Berkeley. No seriously, they have their own vegetable garden and a strong commitment to local, fresh, seasonal cuisine. They have rotating specials on a chalkboard and have an extensive list of wines and craft beer from the region. Location: 2795 Windsor St, Halifax. Phone: (902) 446-8181
  5. Chives Canadian Bistro – a menu of “Canadian” cuisine (and here I thought Canadian cuisine was poutine and maple syrup), with innovative meals created by chef/owner Craig Flinn (author of many best-selling Canadian cookbooks). The decor tries to incorporate elements of Canada like rock, water, sand, trees and whatnot and uses seasonal, local ingredients. They have a moving menu, so in the words of Forrest Gump, “you never know what you’re going to get.” Location: 1537 Barrington St, Halifax. Phone: (902) 420-9626
  6. Five Fishermen Restaurant and Grill – disclaimer: have not tried this place, but heard about it from several staff and residents. It’s known for its Alberta Angus beef and great seafood selection. There’s a fine dining area upstairs, and a more casual grill downstairs. This restaurant has numerous awards from the Wine Spectator with an extensive wine list. The building dates back to 1817 and was originally an art school, and later was transformed into a mortuary for victims of the Halifax Explosion and the Titanic. Apparently there’s some supernatural stuff going on here so maybe you’ll get lucky and get one in your selfie? Location: 1740 Argyle St, Halifax. Phone: (902) 422-4421
  7. The Auction House – So this is a restaurant located in an auction house dating back to 1840, and auctions are still held daily here. It’s a taste of local culture and history, in the setting of upscale pub food and drinks. It’s one of the city’s oldest buildings (built in 1765). There’s also live music and it’s across from Parade Square. Location: 1726 Argyle Street, Halifax. Phone: (902) 431-1726
  8. The Bicycle Thief – we came here on recommendation (both from people and from Yelp reviews) for a nice dinner and it really was delicious! I ordered the Cioppino, which was huge, and came with an abundance of seafood as well as a side of garlic bread. I can’t really remember what my friends ordered, but I’m fairly confidence that they enjoyed their meals as well. In total, I spent about $40 after tax and tip. It’s a little on the pricey side, but isn’t that what our line of credit is for?
  9. The Old Apothecary Bakery & Cafe – I visited this cute little cafe on my traipse through the city. It has a cool old-age hipster vibe going for it and adorable cakes and pastries. Everything here is made from scratch and locally sourced as much as possible, and I can vouch for the fact that everything smells delicious. Amazing croissants (of various varieties) and eclairs. It’s also a great study space with big tables, and it’s fairly quiet. If you want a change from your typical Starbucks, check this place out (just make sure to stand once in a while, all those pastries can’t be good for your waistline). Location: 1549 Barrington St, Halifax. Phone: (902) 423-1500
  10. The Wooden Monkey – for all those vegan and food sensitive people, this is the spot for you BUT they also offer things like fish, bacon wrapped scallops and bacon cheeseburgers for all those people who die without meat at every meal (menu). They note all the gluten free options, as well as anything with dairy or nuts. They have a mix of different foods with everything from seitan sandwiches to chocolate tofu pie to lamb burgers. Location: 1707 Grafton St, Halifax.

Huffington Post also has a great updated list and review of restaurants to visit

 Places outside of Halifax worth seeing if you’re there for 2 weeks:

  1. Wolfville – so I like food. And clearly the people of Wolfville like food too. However, disclaimer I have never been to this place. When I was in Kentville (small town with small population), apparently the place to go for a nice dinner was this town approximately 15min drive away. Would appreciate if someone could let me know if I’m talking out of my a**.
  2. Peggy’s Cove
  3. Blomidon Provincial Park
  4. Fisherman’s Cove

Honestly have never been to any of these places. Please see this blog for a much better explanation AND a guide to your weekend outside of Halifax.

Overall I had an awesome time in Halifax. It has a small town vibe but with tons of great bars, live music, yummy food, really really nice people and everything you need is mostly within walking distance. Especially if you live in or near downtown Halifax. Some final tips:

  1. Moksha here (like all Moksha’s) have a $40 for 30 days introductory pass. If you think this is your first and last time here, take advantage of all the introductory deals you can! I think I went to 5 or 6 yoga classes, but it was a great break from the freezing cold wind outside.
  2. Do not wear flats in winter. Because it will suck a lot and you might fall on your face like I did (it might’ve happened twice).
  3. I heard summer is really beautiful here. Honestly please enjoy the outdoors and the festivals and all that happy instagram stuff because we only get this “vacation” once.

Have fun! Feel free to message me or comment if you have any questions about Halifax, urology or surviving in the middle of nowhere.

 

 

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How to YOLO in Chicago

A couple of months ago, one of my high school best friends messaged me and asked if I wanted to go to Chicago for Labour Day long weekend. Well, if you know anything about me, if it involves “traveling” and “long weekend,” I’m in 95% of the time. As medical students, we’re often asked to sacrifice our time, our relationships, and sometimes our sanity on our road to becoming real, productive members of society.

We’re about 2 weeks into our second year, and I’ve found this to be true: if you don’t take advantage of weekends, medical school will take advantage of you; thus, I booked a pretty expensive flight to Chicago, ready to go on another whirlwind adventure.

So how long was I in Chicago exactly? 2.5 days – short, but 100% worth it.

Here are some fun facts my friend researched:

  1. Did you know that Picasso, Joan Miro and Marc Chagall all have contributed artwork to the streets of Chicago
  2. Jazz was invented here
  3. House music started here
  4. Improv comedy was invented at the University of Chicago – the original theatre is still running
  5. The world’s first skyscraper was built in Chicago

Here’s a basic map of what we did to maximize our time in the windy city. If you only have a couple days here, the things I starred I HIGHLY recommend you check out:

Friday (0.5 day):

Saturday (day 1.5):

Sunday (day 2.5):

If you’re still reading, here’s a more fleshed out version of our weekend in Chicago:

I left Toronto at 5:30pm on Friday (after being responsible all morning eg. actually going to class and attending meetings), and got there at 6:45pm. Once I got there, I discovered something brilliant, that would change my entire experience in Chicago. UBERPOOL. My drive from ORD to our AirBnB in Hyde Park was about an hour and 20 minutes, and cost me $20 USD (crazy I know). Once I got there, me and my friend were starving, so we of course called another Uberpool, and decided to go check out the bars and restaurants in Lincoln Square.

After driving for about an hour though, we quickly realized that the restaurant we were trying to go to didn’t seem to exist, and asked our driver if she had any recommendations on where we could go to eat and drink (it was now 10:40pm). She suggested we check out Division St., which is a long street that’s known to be pretty fun on weekends. After another 30 min (total drive time = 2 hours), we discovered Pub Royale, and decided to grab drinks and food here. In total, our UberPool cost about $24 USD, which is incredible considering we drove for 2 hours.

I really loved Pub Royale, an Indian style pub. I highly recommend you check this place out if you’re in that area, they have great Indian food and drinks. My friend ordered the Chicken Tiki Kati Roll, which she repeatedly told me was amazing, and I ordered the eggplant curry, which was delicious and just what I needed at 11pm at night. After talking, drinking and eating for 2 hours, we decided to head home to get some rest before a big day tomorrow.

On Saturday morning, we leisurely woke up at 10am, and headed downtown to check out the Art Institute, after grabbing some coffee at Bowtruss Coffee Roasters. I loved the art institute – they had an incredible collection of Impressionist Art, and I loved their special exhibits. The student price is $19 (adult is $25), and I have to say, you could really spend a whole day here (Open: 10:30am – 5:30pm most days, 8pm Thursdays). If you only have a couple hours though, here are my favourite exhibits/collections:

  • American after the fall: Painting in the 1930s
    • Edward Hopper
    • Grant Wood
  • The New Contemporary
    • Andy Warhol
  • European Painting and Sculptures
    • Monet
    • Renoir
    • Dali
    • Picasso
  • Photography
  • Thorne Miniature Rooms
  • Chagall Windows

The Bean of course is pretty iconic – but I recommend going when it looks like it’s going to rain. There are always so many tourists there when it’s sunny, spare yourself and go on a cloudy day.

Sooo skipping to that evening, I highly recommend trying the doughnuts at Glazed & Infused, they’re really delicious, fresh, free from preservatives and all natural (whatever that means). They have a lot of creative flavours, although my favourite by far was the red velvet. They have a 2 for 1 (or 2 for 2 depending on who the cashier is), so make sure you stop by during happy hour!

After drowning our palates in sugar, we headed out to grab drinks before seeing the comedy show at Second City. I’ve always wanted to check out Three Dots and a Dash, a Hawaiian themed tiki bar, so we found our way to the alley and the unmarked door with glowing blue lights. It’s easy to miss this place before the crowd gets here, but basically look for the security guards standing outside of club-like venue in a shady alley. They have the most amazing decorations and drinks, and the bartenders are super talented. I highly recommend the Missionary’s Downfall ($14) and the Banana Daquiri ($13). The first is sweet and tart, while the second one just taste like sugar, fresh bananas and lots of rum. We spent a couple hours here, but it turns into a club around 10:30/11pm. When we left around 10pm, the lineup outside was down the block, so it’s probably a good idea to eat and drink here, then stay for the party after.

The show, #DateMe: An OkCupid Experiment, was next on our agenda.

LOVED it. We originally wanted to see the Second City improv but it was sold out, so we bought tickets for this instead ($39 after taxes). It was really hilarious, and the the improv bit was gold. It was witty, relatable and apt for our generation. We were super lucky since our Airbnb host was one of the production managers for the show, and reserved amazing seats for us with 25% off our orders. That being said, COME EARLY since there’s no reserved seating, and the theatre is pretty intimate. There were a ton of couples there – it would be perfect for date night.

Sunday was another perfect day. We started the day off at Obama’s favourite diner, Valois in Hyde Park (I recommend the veggie egg white omelette with a biscuit – $7). He’s from Hyde Park, so you see lots of shout outs throughout the neighbourhood. After, we took public transit to Bucktown/Wicker Park and wandered around for the next few hours. There are tons of stores, bars and restaurants here, and you could easily spend half an afternoon browsing, eating and drinking. Also, if you come around 4pm there are tons of happy hours to be enjoyed :). Skipping ahead to deep dish pizza, here’s my two cents:

  • Lou Malnati’s: I tried this the last time I was in Chicago. It was good, but it’s a chain restaurant and there’re definitely better deep dish places in the city. If you’re looking for truly amazing or iconic deep dish, I would skip this place. It also has a super long wait time once you sit down, but that’s because deep dish apparently takes a long time to make fresh
  • Giordano’s: another chain, you can actually get this at the entrance of Navy Pier. I’ve never tried it, but again, probably not the best or most iconic
  • Pizzeria Uno: we decided to eat here because it’s the birthing place of deep dish pizza. It’s pretty famous, the pizza was delicious, and the wait wasn’t too too bad (we got there at 6:30pm and were seated by 7pm). I recommend it!
  • Pizzeria Due: I think it’s owned by the same people as Pizzeria Uno. It’s right across the street and it’s the “second” deep dish pizza place. The wait is similar, about 30min-1 hour and I imagine the pizza is similar to Uno (the menu is the same)
  • Pequod’s Pizza: A local told us to try this place for deep dish pizza. Supposedly it’s really good but we never tried it. If you do, let me know!

I ended up busing home from Chicago, which took about 12.5 hours total ($89). It wasn’t too bad, but we did have to change buses 3 times, so don’t expect uninterrupted sleep if you’re taking the Greyhound. It also gets super cold on the bus, so wear pants and bring a sweater.

Overall, I had an AMAZING time in Chicago, and am so looking forward to the next time I get to visit again. If you have any questions about my trip or want any input on your own trip, feel free to contact me with comments and questions :).

In the mean time, can’t wait to bury my head in my books for the next couple months, stay tuned for my next exciting adventure: USMLE STEP 1 (Note: sarcasm – I’m literally terrified of getting my ass whooped)

Side note: I can’t believe I ran into one of my old Berkeley/PhiDE friends here (TWICE)! She was here for a wedding but we literally kept running into each other. When they say it’s a small world, I guess they really mean it :p

 

 

Geneva – Part I

Can I just say I feel incredibly lucky to be able to do the things I do, chase my childhood dream of becoming a doctor and meet truly incredible people along the way. Your early 20’s are years of uncertainty, challenge, excitement, new experiences and endless reflection. Sometimes, it’s easy to obsess over the things that go wrong, but the world is big and beautiful, people are kind and understanding, and – sorry, cliche – adventures await those who are ready. So here’s the first of a 2-part segment on Geneva. It’s going to be a pretty long post, but main headings are in capitals and bolded. Read further for more background on the exchange, daily living hacks and some reflections on my experience. The second part will cover weekend traveling, advice for people traveling to Geneva and the next phase of my 7-week summer electives!

4 amazing, magical and challenging weeks later, it’s time to say goodbye to this city. I’ve seen some truly spectacular sights, made some lifelong friends and gained knowledge in plastic surgery and surgical skills, as well as learned how to be a better clerk.

IFMSA & EXCHANGE BACKGROUND
A little background: I came to Geneva with the IFMSA (international federation of medical students association) for their professional exchange that happens every summer. It’s open to medical students from all over the world. Some of the exchanges require students to speak only English, while others, like mine, require proficiency in a foreign language (French in this case; different Swiss cities have different working languages – eg. Geneva is French, Zurich is German etc). If you’re in medical school or are going to attend medical school, I highly highly recommend checking out or applying to this program: http://ifmsa.org/professional-exchanges/

If you want to learn more about this program, feel free to message me, and I’m happy to answer any questions you might have!

GENEVA – background and interesting facts
This city, despite being well known all around the world, only has a population of about 200,000. It’s extremely multicultural, although most people speak English here. In fact, it’s so multicultural, it can be difficult to actually learn and practice French. Many offices in Geneva communicate in English, so if learning a new language (or practicing a rusty one) is one of your goals, there are lots of opportunities out there, including language exchanges that happen every week! There’s one hosted by the Geneva Interns Association every Tuesday. When I went, they met in front of the Reformation Wall in Les Parcs des Bastions, which is super close to vielle-ville (the older, more historic area), and close to the hospital (Hopitaux universitaires Geneve = HUG). I highly recommend joining their Facebook page, where people also post about upcoming intern events, hikes, housing etc. It’s great if you’re here alone and want to meet other young people, or if you just want to expand your network!

GIA link: https://www.facebook.com/GenevaInternsAssociation/

The GIA also published a super useful handbook that goes over basically everything you need to live in, get around and go out in Geneva: http://internsassociation.org/useful-information/welcome-package/#.

The other exchange I heard about was the Mundo Lingo Language Exchange. They also meet Tuesday nights at 7pm at Ethno Bar in Jonction: http://mundolingo.org/geneva

Interesting fact: just like we call our dollars “bucks,” I learned from a local that they call their Francs “balle.” For example, 2000 Francs would be “deux mille balle.”

HOUSING
Housing in Geneva can be incredibly expensive, but IFMSA provides accommodation for you with a host family. My host family was extremely welcoming and friendly, and made sure to make me feel comfortable. They lived in “Les Avanchets,” which is a stop on the 14/18 tram line. It was about 25-30 min away from the hospital, which is considered “far” in Geneva.

Some popular areas for students are:

  • Paquis/Nations – known as the “red light district” of Geneva, but still super safe, really convenient and near Gare Cornavin, the main station in the city. I would recommend checking out apartments in this area! A lot of students are interns at the UN, which makes living near the Palais very attractive.
  • Eaux-Vives – ok so Geneva is pretty small, and all the neighbourhoods I would say are relatively within walking distance to each other. This area is by the water and there’s a huge park as well. I really love this area, and I would’ve lived here if I had the option.
  • Plainpalais/Centre/Acacias – a lot of students live in these areas too! Really easy access to public transportation, close to la rue d’ecole medicine (more about this later), as well as museums, nightlife and grocery shopping.

For more info about these and other areas, here’s a link to a map! https://www.euruni.edu/blog/where-to-live-in-geneva/

TRANSPORTATION
Getting around Geneva really is ridiculously easy. The trams and buses go everywhere you need to get to, and since Geneva is so small, you could probably walk to most of your destinations anyways. If you’re staying here for any longer than a couple weeks, I HIGHLY recommend getting the monthly bus and tram pass that covers the entire Canton of Geneva. Remember though, to ask for the student/under 25 price when you’re buying your pass. It’s only 45 francs for the entire month, and we definitely used our passes A LOT. If you’re over 25, I think the pass is around 100 francs, but I would check to make sure! Regardless, each single ride is 3 Francs. Although tickets don’t get checked a lot, mine were checked twice in the span of a month. The fine is pretty hefty so it’s probably not a good idea to take chances.

If you’re traveling outside the city and you plan on visiting all the other beautiful cities in Switzerland, I also HIGHLY recommend getting the Swiss Pass Half Fare Card (http://www.swisstravelsystem.com/en/passes/swiss-half-fare-card.html). It’s something that me and the other exchange students regret not purchasing during our first week in Switzerland. You can visit the website for more info, but the gist of it is that 1) you get a 50% discount on most trains, buses and boats in Switzerland and 2) You get free entry to museums and discounts on a number of tourist attractions like the Gornergrat train in Zermatt. It’s worth it in my opinion if you’re traveling to more than 3 or 4 destinations outside of Geneva, since train tickets can get quite expensive.

Also, for cheaper tickets, check out the Super Saver tickets on the SBB website. These are cheaper tickets – up to 50% off the regular price) – that have set times for departure. The only downside to these tickets is that if you buy tickets at the normal rate, you can travel at any time in the day. With these ones, you just have to coordinate with your friends and make sure you don’t miss your train. One of my local medical school friends told me about the Super Saver option a week into my trip, and I saved a ton of money on traveling this way

Super Saver tickets: http://www.sbb.ch/en/travelcards-and-tickets/tickets-for-switzerland/supersaver-tickets.html

FOOD & ALCOHOL (I promise, both can be very affordable if done right)

Food, I think we can all agree, is pretty important. Now, some people will tell you that it’s way cheaper to buy your groceries in France, but I’m a) really lazy and b) would rather spend my day visiting tourist attractions than trucking to France (ok, it’s really only about 20-30 min away from Geneva) and carrying my groceries all the way back home. Warning, most grocery stores are closed on Sunday, so you basically have to get your shopping done between Monday – Saturday. Stores also close earlier here, but if you really need to get some shopping done, I recommend going to Gare Cornavin (the central train station), where there’s a Migros open until 11pm, or the airport, where the Migros is open 7 days a week. Both are slightly pricier in my opinion than normal Migros and carry far smaller selections than regular stores.

So here’s my perspective on the grocery stores available and pricing, listed from cheapest to most expensive:

  1. Lidl

Pros: Honestly probably one of the cheapest grocery stores I’ve EVER been to. Considering I mostly lived on a diet of muesli, bread, cheese, smoked salmon and sauteed vegetables, I could buy a week’s worth of groceries here for about 40-50 Francs (1 Franc = 1.3 CDN, summer 2016).  Considering how expensive some things are in Ontario, I would argue that grocery shopping in Geneva was actually cheaper for me than back at home. They have a lot of sales, so make sure to look out for the reduced goods, which are marked by “Action.” They also carry the really famous Swiss chocolate brand “Cailler” which I absolutely love. Also is pretty cheap as well, eg. one 750ml bottle of vodka for 10-15 Francs or one 750ml bottle of wine starting at 3-4 Francs. Lidl’s are generally open Monday – Saturday, 8am – 8pm (take this with a grain of salt since grocery stores vary in opening hours). It’s like the Food Basics or Buy More for Less of Canada, but with better quality food.

You can buy most of your basics here: bread, cheese (pretty large selection, promise you’ll find one that you like here), smoked salmon and meats, yogurts, cereals and other breakfast foods, staple items like canned beans and other goods, chocolate, alcohol, limited selection of fruits and vegetables.

Cons:  So the only con I can really think of is that they have a pretty limited selection of fruits and vegetables. The selection they do have is generally pretty inexpensive though, so I like to come here for my staple goods, then stop at Migros for fresh produce.

2. Denner

Pros: There was a Denner really close to my place, at Balexert, the largest shopping mall in Geneva. I love Denner’s. It’s pretty similar to Lidl’s in pricing, but I would argue that they have a larger selection. They also sell alcohol here, for around the same pricing as Lidl, but with a larger selection of wines (YAY!). Since it was so convenient, I would generally either get my groceries here or Lidl, and it would come to about 50-60 Francs for a week’s worth of groceries. They have this amazing freshly baked bread with a criss-cross pull-apart pattern that’s a little bit sour, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Highly recommend it for making cheese and smoked salmon sandwiches!

Side note: they have this AMAZING Denner brand Gruyere sliced cheese. It’s pretty cheap, about 4 Francs for 200g, but it’s really delicious sandwiched between some of my favourite bread.

Con: Ummm, none? Really I love Denner’s, it’s probably my favourite grocery store chain in Geneva. They generally open Monday – Saturdays from around 8am to 6 – 8pm.

3. Manor Food: This is going to be a short description since I haven’t been here, but based on my friends’ reviews, they have pretty good, fairly inexpensive prepared foods. They also have a buffet like restaurant where you can choose what you want and pay for it at the front. It’s like Marche in Toronto for those of you from the area.

4. Migros

Pros: it probably has the largest selection out of all the grocery stores and is the most accessible. Like I mentioned earlier, they have a Migros at Gare Cornavin which is open until 11pm, as well as one at the airport that’s also open late. I would’ve shopped more here if I wasn’t trying to save money over the summer to travel and go out! It’s kind of like the Safeway or Fortino’s of Canada.

Cons: It’s a bit pricier than Denner and Lidl, which is why we eventually stopped shopping for groceries there, but it’s worth it if you want a larger selection and arguably fresher foods. You can also get prepared foods here that won’t break the bank. BUT THERE’S NO ALCOHOL HERE – SO IF YOU WANT TO PREGAME MAKE SURE YOU MAKE IT TO A LIDL, DENNER OR COOP BEFORE THEY CLOSE AND NOT ON A SUNDAY.

5. Coop

Pros: It’s really nice inside. Great selection and lots of organic options. Did not shop here at all though since it’s the most expensive out of the grocery store chains. That being said, it’s not THAT much more expensive, so check it out if you’re curious! They also sell alcohol here, and it’s about the same in pricing as Denner and Lidl.

Con: It’s expensive, and you can probably get similar quality food for way cheaper at Lidl, Denner or Migros. It also seemed like there were more of the other chains, but that could also be because I wasn’t looking too closely.

6. Globus: Also have never been in here BUT I hear they have a great selection of gourmet and artisan groceries. If you’re feeling swanky or are craving something that isn’t local, check this place out! There’s one on Rive.

For more info, I found this blog super helpful: https://livingingeneva.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/discovering-genevas-grocery-stores/

Overall though, here’s some advice I gathered from my 4 weeks in Geneva:

  • If you eat breakfast at home (generally I had muesli mixed with yogurt, half a banana, some added nuts and some honey or bread + some sort of topping), and bring a lunch to work, your food costs will be very low. I ate out with my friends about once every 2-3 days, which tended to be more expensive. A normal meal will generally run between 20-30 Francs, and a glass wine at dinner will cost between 4 to 10 Francs. But since you’re only in Switzerland once, it’s definitely worth it to check out fondue, raclette, and other local specialties before you leave. I personally love fondue, and I would recommend Cafe du Soleil if you’re here in the summer, since a lot of fondue places are only open during the winter or late at night (fondue starts at 9pm at Bains de Paquis).Otherwise, I heard Gruyere is really good, and there are 2 locations in Geneva.
  • If you’re working at the hospital (Hopitaux Universitaires de Geneve), they have a really great salad bar that’s extremely reasonable. I think the food there is subsidized for hospital employees.
  • Picnics are super fun! You can bring wine, bread, cheese, dried fruit and other goodies to Parcs de Eaux-Vives for a really nice lunch or dinner by the lake. There are a ton of events held there as well, including salsa and jazz nights, and UN events.
  • ALWAYS PREGAME IF YOU’RE GOING CLUBBING. As a student, this should be a hard and fast rule. Drinks are extremely expensive at most clubs (20-40+ Francs), and it’ll be hard to get a good buzz going if you go completely sober. Plus, pregaming is really fun and no one really goes out here until after 12am. Most clubs and some bars are open until 5-6am.
  • Be open to meeting new people. The people in Geneva are really friendly, and we made a lot of friends just by joining people at their tables and communicating in French and English.
  • Don’t dress like a slob when you go out. No one likes a slob.
  • Take Uber if you’re coming home after the trains stop. It’s a lot cheaper than taking a taxi, but way easier than walking home if you live far from where you’ve gone out. Honestly, Geneva is pretty safe, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: GOING OUT IN GENEVA

It can sometimes feel like people never go out in Geneva, but that’s not entirely true. Me and my friends found some places that we really liked (and some places we really didn’t), but here’re some of my reflections on our nights out. If you want to learn about more bars or want more info, check out this post from Timeout Switzerland: http://www.timeout.com/switzerland/bars-and-pubs/best-geneva-bars

Bars

  1. Le Chat Noir – I would call this a bar/club. The night we went (Saturday), it had great pop/EDM music playing and lots of people. We had a ton of fun here, and would definitely recommend it! Drinks are ok, I think they’re around 15-20 Francs each, which is pretty standard for Geneva.
  2. L’Apothecaire – We went here on our first night in Geneva. It’s the younger sister of L’Atelier Cocktail Club in Eaux-Vives, this bar is easier to find, on the main road to Plainpalais. This place has great cocktails, and I would recommend asking the mixologists to make you something new! Drinks are generally around 20-25 Francs here.
  3. Rooftop 42 – loved this bar! The main reason to visit this bar is its rooftop. It’s above a commercial building on Geneva’s posh Rue du Rhône and has a beautiful outdoor terrace sports a fantastic view over the city, lake and jet d’eau. The drinks are somewhat pricey, around 25 Francs a pop for cocktails and 9 Francs for shots, but it’s worth it for the view and chic atmosphere. It’s also popular during weekdays if you want to go out but don’t know where!
  4. Cafe Jules Vernes – Went here on one of our last nights in Geneva. It’s really close to the hospital, and they also serve tapas if you’re hungry. I really like the Apersol Spritz, but I also liked the drink that the bartender made for us that was halfway between an Amaretto sour and sex on the beach. Drinks run for about 15-20 Francs here, and a cheese plate is 16 Francs (it’s huge though, so it was more than enough for 1.5 dinners).
  5. L’Atelier – One of the best places in the city for cocktails. Again, it’ll run you about 15-25 Francs a pop, but they have great mixologists and a creative drink menu. Great for a classy night out.
  6. Williams – so we found this hole in the wall bar that we really loved. They had shots for 4 Francs, and the bartender kept pouring us free shots of a homemade concoction (sounds sketchy I know, but it was kind of like jagger + whiskey + cinnamon). Great for watching the soccer games and pretty empty! This was in the Paquis area, but we couldn’t find it again when we tried to go back.
  7. Rue de l’Ecole de Medicine – Translates to “Medical school street.” There are a ton of reasonably priced bars on this street with nice patios in the summer. A glass of wine here is generally under 5 Francs, so a lot of students and interns come here. It’s in the Plainpalais area, so it’s super easy to get to as well. I would definitely check out the bars here and just walk around for a bit until you find one you like. It does get pretty crowded after work and on weekends, so if you have a big group, I recommend coming earlier.

Ok so this was a pretty long post about Geneva. I hope this has been helpful (or at least somewhat entertaining). Will follow Part I up with my weekend travels around Switzerland and anything else I think is important, that I think of between now and then. Ciao for now 🙂

 

My trip to Iceland 2016

Ok, so I guess this post is a little (maybe a lot) different from what I normally post. But after writing this up for a friend, I thought it might be helpful for other people who had questions about Iceland and wanted a firsthand perspective from someone’s who’s about to leave. Feel free to share this with anyone heading to Iceland soon, it has somehow ended being the hotspot of 2016, and after spending a week here, I can definitely see why!

For your reference, 1 CAD generally equals about 100kr so you can just take 2 zeros off the ticket price. Currently, 1 USD is about 125kr, so if you have some USD saved up, it’s probably better to use those here. 1 Euro is a little more than USD, about 140-150kr.

Normal meals are generally $20-30 USD, nice dinners can be more pricey, and cost you anywhere between $40-100 USD. Taxis are extremely expensive here, but popular when people are heading home after going out on weekends. Tours can be anywhere between $60ish all the way to +$400 for things like paragliding and helicopter rides to the glacier. Overall, you definitely have to budget extra for your trip, Iceland is expensive if you want the full experience and want to go on guided tours. For my week, I budgeted about $1200 (my flight was only $300 CAD, about $260 USD). I probably used about $800 overall. However, it’s worth it to not think about budget if you can! Do things that you want to do and explore this amazing country! Since you’re already here, you may as well have the adventure of a lifetime 🙂

1. How to get around:

If you’re just staying in Reykjavik, you can get around by foot. You can walk from one side of the city to the other in basically 30 min max, and everything that you’d want to visit is within walking distance including all the museums, the church, the restaurants, the harbor etc. If you want, you can also take a taxi, but they’re extremely expensive (think around 50 dollars for 10-15 min). Otherwise, you can rent a bike from Reykjavik bikes which is on the pier, nearby Elding Adventures, which is one of the biggest whale and puffin watching companies. I would say one day in the city is more than enough, since there’s not really that much to do there other than eat, visit museums and party.

2. Where to stay

I stayed at Loft Hostel my first 2 nights, which is literally right downtown. It probably has the most convenient location out of all the hostels since it’s extremely central, and close by all the bars and clubs. It’s also on their main street Laugevagur, and you can walk to either direction from the hostel to hit different sites. I would definitely recommend it, but it might be booked up for some of the dates since it’s really popular. I spent about $125 on 2 nights in a 8-person bedroom.

  • You could also stay at Kex. It’s a little bit out of the way (about 15 min to Laugevagur) but a lot of young people stay there and it’s supposedly the “party hostel.” We never visited, but you could check it out online!
  • Another option is Airbnb. I stayed in one for 3 nights once my friends got to Iceland it was really great! It was clean, close to city center (not as close as Loft though), and a lot cheaper – it was $90 for 4 nights for a 3-person bedroom.

3. Things to do Definitely do the tours if you don’t plan on renting a car! I HIGHLY recommend renting a car and doing the routes yourself because you can stop and hike and see different sites that aren’t on the tour rout. You also get more time to take pictures and go off road etc. If not, here are some must do tours:

  • 1. Golden Circle + Snorkeling (or scuba diving) in Silfra (whole day tour) This was AMAZING – we all agreed that this was an incredible day, and the snorkeling was so fun. You get to swim between 2 tectonic plates and the water is incredibly clear! This tour also includes Gullfoss waterfall, geysir (world famous geysers), Kerid (the giant crater filled with water in my profile picture), some of the best ice cream in Iceland and their national park: pingeveller park.
  1. 2. River rafting (whole day) I didn’t go on this because I’m going in Geneva as part of my program, but I heard it was really incredible. You get to see a ton of nature, and you get to jump off a cliff into the water. Heard really really great things about this tour.

    3. Southern Tour (whole day) I didn’t get a chance to do this because I left today, but my other 2 friends are doing this route. I’ve again heard really really good things about it, and it’s a must do if you have time.

    4. Blue Lagoon (a few hours) Ok, you actually have to do this. Me and my friends went on Sunday night at 10pm, and it was nice and quiet, but incredibly relaxing and beautiful. It was also really fun because we hung out with some new friends (try and go with friends, it makes it a lot more fun). I would recommend the standard ticket. You have to prebook your ticket to the Blue Lagoon though, but I would recommend going to the tourist center and having them book the ticket and the hotel transfer for you. They don’t charge commission since they’re government operated.

    5. Snaefellsnes Peninsula (the ae in Snaefellsnes is actually a letter in their alphabet so make sure to type it in right to your GPS)

    We also went North and Northeast/west on our first day driving. Highly recommend this, you get to see a lot of change in scenery and there are hiking routes along this route as well. I would take a tour if you don’t have a car. You could probably combine it with horseback riding along a volcano. HIGHLY recommend horse back riding on the Icelandic horse, they’re super unique and they actually have a different pace than other horses called the “tolt.” It’s like the trot but way more comfortable and the horses are extremely calm and used to tourists.

    6. Paragliding I actually booked this, but I wasn’t able to go because of weather. If you can spare around 300 dollars, this is definitely worth it. I’m planning on going the next time I’m in a Scandinavian country because you get to see EVERYTHING from high above. It’s also more active than a helicopter.

    7. Glacier walk Also by recommendation, I heard this is fantastic. We actually encountered the glacier on our drive, but we could climb it because a) it’s dangerous for cars to go up there and b) we didn’t have proper hiking gear.

     

    8. Whale watching We bumped into this woman who saw 16 whales on her tour, including Minke, gray and some other type. I’ve been whale watching a lot in Vancouver, so it’s not something that really appealed to me, but it’s definitely a huge  tourist attraction!

    4. Where to Eat OMG THE FOOD HERE IS AMAZING!! THE SEAFOOD IS SO GOOD. The food here can get pretty expensive if you eat out all the time though, so what I did was made my own breakfast and lunch, then bought a nice dinner the 2 nights I was here alone. When my friends got here, we did the same thing, but packed things we could take on the road.

    – there’s a really great bakery that’s covered by graffiti on the outside. It’s the best bakery in Reykjavik and it supplies a lot of the restaurants. They sell bread (you have to try the Icelandic rye bread), cinnamon buns, cookies and other baked goods. They often sell out though, so go in the morning or early afternoon if you want a good selection! It’s also not very expensive, so what I did was buy bread and some Icelandic butter (which is really really good because of all their cows) and bought some smoked salmon from the grocery store (go to Bonus, it’s the cheapest, smoked salmon was about $4 for 100g) and made my own breakfast and lunches.

    – Cafe Loki: they’re really well known for their rye bread ice cream. Definitely try it! I got the platter II, which was 2 pieces of rye with fish spread on top and bread ice cream. Loved it! It was about $20.

    – Lobster soup: There’s this really small restaurant on the pier that sells really good lobster soup and fish/seafood skewers. The scallop skewer was probably one of the best and freshest I’ve ever had and it was less than $20 for like 6 huge ones.

    – Fish market: if you have spare budget, definitely go to this place! It’s pretty pricey, but it’s said to be the best restaurant in Reykjavik (probably Iceland?). Your dinner will be about $60-80, but delicious. You have to make a reservation though because it gets really really busy for dinner.

    – hot dogs: ok, I think this is overrated. I’m pescatarian but my friends got them and said they were meh for a lot of money

    – ice cream: Icelanders LOVE ice cream, there’s a really good organic, nitrogen made ice cream place called Valdis. It’s right downtown so you can go after dinner.

    – Fish and More: went here for dinner and got their fish stew. SO GOOD, and it was only like $20. Highly recommend as well!

    My only regret is not getting an actual lobster here. I heard they’re super delicious and fresh.

    If you want to be more social and meet people, you can also go to the hostels for lunch and eat their soup and bread. Loft has this, and it’s pretty cheap in comparison to other food options.

    5. GO OUT – the nightlife is definitely one of the highlights 🙂

    You have to go out in Reykjavik. It’s literally light out until the wee hours of the morning and then some, so basically you have light 24/7. It’s crazy, people party until 6/8am here. Unfortunately I’m not that crazy so I mostly stayed out until 5:30/6, but literally the sun never sets. Definitely pregame a lot though, because drinks are insanely expensive. On the flip side, there are 5 million happy hours with great deals, so download this app: Appy hour (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/reykjavik-appy-hour/id536126333?mt=8), and it’ll tell you what times, where and what deals each place has. Things close earlier on Weekdays though (1am, 2am max) so make sure you go out on Friday and Saturday!

    Overall, I LOVED this country. It’s so beautiful and amazing and fun, and the people are incredibly welcoming and friendly. We’ve gotten everything from free beers after the Eurocup game to free shrimp skewers, to having park rangers drive us to our destination because we were late and parked too far. You’re going to love this place, super excited for you!! But definitely plan out your trip beforehand because there’s a ton to do, as long as you’re prepared. Also, plan out your routes if you’re driving at all, because on certain routes there are literally no gas stops and no people.

     

    If you read this and have any questions or want more details about what we did on our trip, feel free to email me: ada.gu@medportal, and I’m happy to answer any questions!

    Here are some resources that we used, or might be helpful:
    1. Self driving tours (don’t waste money on buying “self-drive tours” – plan it yourself!)
    – Golden Circle: http://expertvagabond.com/golden-circle-iceland/
    – South Coast Adventure: http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/2015/01/drive-it-yourself-a-south-coast-adventure/
    2. Guided Tours
    – Reykjavik Excursions (probably the largest company offering tours, they’ll have everything you’re looking for, but they might be more expensive so do your research first!): https://www.re.is/day-tours/?gclid=CMmW1tHVz80CFYTGGwodxagFUw
    – Extreme Iceland (have a lot of very active tours, similar to Reykjavik Excursions): https://www.extremeiceland.is/en/activity-tours-iceland
    – Iceland Travel (didn’t use them at all, might be good to check out prices though): https://www.icelandtravel.is/day-tours/#/?rows=15&q=&sort=sort_i%20desc
    – Grayline Tour (also a very big company in Iceland, compare prices): http://grayline.is/tours/
    3. Snorkeling (book ahead!)
    – Dive (wouldn’t recommend it because their tours are huge, >10 people, choose a smaller company where you’ll get a more intimate experience): https://www.dive.is/diving-snorkeling-tours/snorkeling-day-tours/silfra-snorkeling-day-tour/
    – Arctic Adventures (almost booked with them, about 3000kr more than the tour we ended up booking though, sometimes you get discounts if you book online): https://www.adventures.is/iceland/day-tours/snorkeling-and-diving/
    – Adventure Vikings (LOVED them, we booked with them, and our tour only had us 3 and 3 other people. By far the smallest group and also the cheapest at 48,100kr for 3 people): http://adventurebox.is/tours/snorkeling/