Debriefing

It’s been now more than one month since I’m back in France, and I am now able to provide you a debriefing of my semester abroad so you’ll know what to expect if you choose Antigonish as your destination! 🙂

1. Do not go there if you’re a city person.

Yes. And I am… Antigonish is a very small town, and whatever that’s interesting happens on campus or on Main Street. There is no bus network in town, and some places, like grocery stores, are not always close by feet, so you might require a taxi ride for every big move: it’ll cost you $7 for a one-way trip. However, despite this, you can find whatever you want in Antigonish. There are some very good restaurants (I personally recommend Pizza Delight, the Tall and Small Cafe and Sense of Japan), 3 pubs (I recommend the Townhouse for its quality drinks and Irish feel) and a mall where you can find several clothing shops, a bookstore, a pharmacy… You won’t find any nightclub though: two pubs have a dance floor but they close at 2 am at the latest.

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Trip on Cape Breton Island (on a very foggy day…)

So being stuck in Antigonish is not really a problem: as long as you have some money, there are things to do. Money will also allow you to get out of Antigonish: for example, if you wish to explore Nova Scotia, the only way is to rent a car: you have to be at least 21 to rent one, have an international driving license, and prices start at $42 per day. There is a railway crossing Antigonish but no train station… It is also quite easy to go to Halifax and its airport: 2 buses per day take you there, for $35 (one-way trip). Once there, you can go anywhere in America – there were even some interesting rates for the Caribbean while we were here 🙂

Personally, even if I had a good semester in Antigonish, I really missed the city life while I was here (that’s maybe why I wrote so much about New York and Montreal). I spent several days doing totally nothing apart from watching TV series because there was nothing to do… So maybe if you plan to go to Antigonish, try to prepare a budget for travelling around.

2. SNOW. Everywhere. Every time.

To put it in a nutshell, I met snow the day of my arrival in Antigonish and left it when I left the city! While I was there, the average temperature outside was -10°C. And we had maybe 5 or 6 big snow storms – basically, once we thought we were going to see the grass again, there was one. We even had a snow storm that made the campus closed on April 1st!

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But I got used to the cold weather, and even to the snow. Canadians are used to snow, so the roads and paths are cleared very quickly and you don’t get in trouble for walking to your classroom. I went to Antigonish with my French winter coat, some hot gloves, scarves, a woolly hat and lined boots, and I was okay (I didn’t buy anything there). The part of me that was the coldest when I was outside was my face, but there’s nothing much you can do about it, apart wearing a hood on it (which is something I didn’t resolve myself to do). So it takes a bit of time to get used to it, but once you are, you are fine. I really got tired of the snow though.

3. People are so nice, but…

This is not proper to Antigonish, but to all Canada I guess: Canadians are so nice and friendly. For example, if you’re walking far behind them and they are opening a door, they will wait the 10 seconds that separates them from you by holding the door. They also open the door of their apartment or house very easily: they are very welcoming. I also felt like they don’t judge people at first sight, as we are sometimes often doing in France. They have no problem with going to class in pajamas, which is impossible to imagine in France!

However, even though they are really nice during a group work in class, I feel like (this may depend from the persons) they don’t really ask you questions, you have to do all the talking. And once they exit the classroom they are not talking to you anymore: they already have their friends and don’t really try to talk to the foreigners. So that’s why I personally did not friend any Canadian while I was in Antigonish.

4. This is not a vacation

Nope, not in St. FX. Even if at first, it seems like it: you have very few class hours in a week and a three-days-long weekend every time. But you have to be well organized: when we went to New York during the Reading Week Break, and at the end of the semester, we were all overwhelmed with work, and I really thought I wouldn’t be able to handle everything (I even asked for an extra delay for a paper work).

When it comes to midterms, don’t expect a preferential treatment, you’ll be marked as Canadians are. The questions are also very precise, and can be either about the lesson or either about the readings you had to do. You better have a good knowledge of what you are talking about, because it is very hard to babble. The good thing is that in some topics, you can choose if you’d rather pass an written exam or an oral one: if you have some difficulties when it comes to speaking in public, this is a good option. The professors are very available to answer your questions, in real or by e-mail, and the exchanges are sometimes informal. But in my opinion, St. FX is a university in which you have to be very serious if you wanna get all your chances to pass your semester.

Conclusion

I had a great semester in Antigonish, where I experienced the North-American way of life one more time. Choosing Antigonish also made me able to go to New York twice in a semester, and also Montréal and Boston, which has to be considered!

However, if there is something I personally regret about this semester, it is not choosing a city instead of a town: I really missed the city life while in Antigonish; Montreal may have been a better choice for me. If I had to reorganize my semester abroad again, I’ll think I’ll choose a country where the culture is a bit more different, probably in Asia. The Canadian culture is different of the French one, but it keeps being an Occidental one, which means the differences were a bit predictable. Next time I’ll look for a bigger change of scenery! 😉

But on the whole, I recommend Antigonish for anybody who’s willing to (re)discover the American way of life in a human-sized town, and St. FX for anyone who wants to get a quality, student-centered education during this semester.

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In the city that never sleeps again!

Montreal was the end of my Canadian trip, but not my American journey! 😉 My parents and I wanted to see New York and Boston before going back to France, so we went there by car from Montreal. We started with New York for 4 days (from May 2nd to May 6th) and ended up with Boston where we stayed one night (from May 6th to May 7th).

I’m not going to write another long article about how much I love New York, there’s already one down this blog- however, I have to add some things after this second visit. First, New York is even more beautiful during spring, but also way more crowded.

Also, renting an apartment that is too far from the city center can be stressful: this time, ours was in east Queens, 30-35 minutes of subway away from Manhattan. The weekend we were here, a subway train derailed, paralyzing a whole subway line for the weekend, which was a problem the first evening: we had to switch lines, we kinda got lost, had to find a taxi… and arrived home 2:30 hours after leaving Manhattan because of that. So in order to avoid such problems to happen, try to find an apartment that’s closer to Manhattan.

And my last advice would be to also visit the neighborhoods that are a bit less touristic: Greenwich Village and Brooklyn Heights are also worth the visit for example.

First day – May 2nd

  • Grand Central
  • Times Square
  • 5th Avenue
  • South Central Park, around the Pound
  • The High Line (Chelsea): very well-organized walking area on an old railway track, from which we can spot lots of architecturally interesting places
  • Circle Line Cruise: a cruise around Manhattan. You also get pretty views from Brooklyn and get really close of the Statue of Liberty!

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 Second day – May 3rd

  • Washington Square Park
  • Greenwich Village
  • SoHo
  • Little Italy
  • Chinatown
  • Financial District / Wall Street
  • Top of the Rock

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Third day – May 4th

  • MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art)
  • Brooklyn Bridge Park
  • Brooklyn Heights
  • Brooklyn Bridge

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Last day – May 5th

  • East Village
  • Flatiron Building, NYC’s first skyscraper
  • Macy’s (Herald Square)
  • Upper East Side / Park Avenue, where NYC’s richest people live. The day I was here, a famous gala, the MET Gala, was organized. Lots of people were standing in front of the MET, waiting for something, but I didn’t know what so I keep walking. The next day, I saw that the most famous stars of the world attended this gala…

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Boston – May 6th & 7th

Boston during spring is even better than during the winter. My second visit there clearly confirmed the crush I had on this city!

  • Beacon Hill, a residential yet touristic area with gorgeous apartments and stone-paved streets
  • Quincy Market, the best place for eating delicious food quickly (or not) and buy souvenirs
  • Waterboat Marina offers a pleasant promenade with pretty views on the bay
  • Boston Common Boston Public Garden
  • Newbury Street, the best place for luxury shopping and hype restaurants
  • Little Italy, Boston’s Italian neighborhood, a not-specially-made-for-tourists area

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Je reviendrai à Montréal

And here we come to the very last step of my Canadian journey: Montreal!

Caroline, Delphine and I met up with three friends who spent their semester in St John’s (Cécile, Maryse & Quentin). We rented a great apartment for one week in le Plateau-Mont-Royal, one of Montreal’s most dynamic boroughs, very close of the city’s downtown.

1st day – April 24th

We started our visit of the city by climbing the hundred steps of the Mont-Royal Park, where once on the top we stopped for a while to eat some smoked meat sandwiches (typic of Montreal) while enjoying the panoramic view of the city.

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We then walked in the park for a while before going downtown. We did a little bit of shopping there and went to the Old Montreal where we explored the streets looking at the nice architecture.

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We then approached of the Cirque du Soleil in order to get to know how it worked to see the show, and decided to went back home, already tired of our day.

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2nd day – April 25th

We started the day with a visit of la Petite Italie, Montreal’s Italian neighborhood. We found there an amazing bakery of Italian cookies and pastries, it was sooo good!

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We then did a little grocery shopping at the Jean-Talon Market, where we found good vegetables, excellent maple syrup and good food for lunch.

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The day was then finished for me: my parents were supposed to arrive in Montreal in the afternoon so I went back home waiting for their message so I could go see them. They rented an apartment in a lovely street in the borough of Saint Edward, which is north le Plateau-Mont-Royal. The architecture in this street is typical of Montreal!

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Third day – April 26th

I woke up quite late in the morning this day: almost everybody has left to visit a museum. We then moved all together in the afternoon to the Eaton Center, one of Montreal’s biggest shopping center.

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However, we arrived at 5:30 pm, and at 6:00 every shop was closed! So we decided to explore the Underground City, and gosh that place is such a labyrinth! It must be very convenient during the winter though. Caroline, Maryse and Quentin then went to the show of the Cirque du Soleil, and Cécile, Delphine and I went for a Starbucks in the Old Montreal (their Maple Macchiatos are the best). We then decided to go to a sushi restaurant and had a great evening!

Fourth day – April 27th

I decided to spend this day with my parents. We had lunch at their apartment and then went out for a visit of the neighborhood of Outremont. There are no monuments in this area, however the houses are all gorgeous (especially on Maplewood Street).

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I also showed them the Mont-Royal Park even though I’ve already been there, they couldn’t miss this place and the weather was sunny at this time so we took some great pics.

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I then went back at my place to eat with my friends, and in the evening we all went for a drink in one of Montreal’s several pubs.

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Fifth day – April 28th

We finally visited the neighborhood we were living in this day. Le Plateau is a sweet area, where vintage buildings are next to street art masterpieces and stylish thrift shops.

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This day, we also had lunch in a sushi restaurant with 3 classmates from ESDES (Capucine, Camille & Laurie) who were studying at Concordia University this semester. We exchanged about our experiences in Canada around lots of great meals.

After the dinner, we split up and we went to Outremont, then home.

Sixth day – April 29th

We went back to the Old Montreal in order to go inside the church you’ve seen a few lines before. The entrance was not free but it was definitely worth it: the inside of this church was awesome! Once the visit done, we had a cupcake in a coffee shop that Camille advised us to go to the day before – their maple and caramel cupcakes are divine.

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We then went to the Jean Drapeau Park, on an island facing downtown Montreal. We saw the Biosphere and stopped for a while in the kids’ play area :p

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Cécile, Delphine and I then attend that night’s Cirque du Soleil show. And wow! That was an outstanding show, mixing music, circus, theater… Definitely worth the price (we paid $60).

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On our way back home, we saw how beautiful Montreal could be at night too.

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Last day – April 30th

This day, we didn’t visit anything – everything was just about packing our luggages and cleaning our apartment. However, I had a Poutine at La Banquise with a friend from high school that chose to study in HEC Montreal. This restaurant claims to serve Montreal’s best Poutine, and I must say my dish was pretty awesome so I guess they don’t lie. :p I then joined my parents at their apartment and we all got ready for our trip to the US planned the day after.

On the whole, even if there are not plenty of things to see in the city, I had a very good time in Montreal. The ambiance here is great, very relaxed and friendly, not as stressful as in our European cities, even though Montreal is home of 1,650,000 inhabitants. It is a city in which I could totally see myself live in the future, and the fact that they speak French would only make things easier.

French language in Canada

Before writing my article about Montreal, I’m going to tell you a bit more about French language in Canada 🙂

French is the mother tongue of about 7 millions Canadians (which represents nearly 23% of the Canadian population), and is spoke (or can be spoke) by 11 millions of them. Most native French speakers live in Quebec, but there are also several French-speaking communities in other states, such as the Acadians in New Brunswick.

French is one of Canada’s official languages (the other official one being English). This involves that government services must be delivered in the two languages, and in the daily life this bilingualism can be seen on product packagings or on signs of State organisms, such as the Post.

But the official status of French is different depending of the provinces: for example, in Quebec French is the only official language ; in New Brunswick, the only bilingual province of Canada, French and English are both official languages ; and in Canada’s northwest territories such as Nunavut or Yukon, French is one of the several official languages. Let’s focus on Quebec as it’s the only province where the only official language is French.

Québec

In the province of Quebec, more than 80% of the population speak French as their first language, and 95% as one of their languages. In written Quebec French, almost every English word is translated in French: we can see it on the signs, on shops or on movie posters.

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However, spoken Quebec French involves a few anglicisms, and some French words are used in a way that makes sense in English, but not in French. For example: “tomber en amour” means “falling in love” in Quebec, being literally translated from English, while in France people say “tomber amoureux”.

Some French words are even different in Quebec: for a drink, Quebecois say “breuvage” while in France people say “boisson”. Sometimes it can be really confusing: in Quebec, “dîner” is lunch, while in France “dîner” is dinner… And Quebecois have a very specific accent that can be hard to understand at first for Frenchies. The funny thing is that this accent they have while speaking French instantly disappears when they speak English!

An other thing about Quebec French is that people use “tu” way more often than in France. “Tu” being the informal “you” in French, in France it is used only for friends or family, or when talking to a younger person. In Quebec, waitresses, cashiers or even unknown people use “tu” when talking to us, which is a bit surprising at first, but in the end feels more friendly.

I’m going to end this article up by analyzing this ad I’ve seen in the Montreal Subway, which depict clearly the differences between Quebec French and France French.

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The slogan “on se ramasse tous ensemble” (which could be translated as “we’re collecting ourselves all together) does not mean anything in France French… but “we’re all falling together”! Plus the word “corvée”, which means “chore”, seems like a bad choice as the goal of the ad is to motivate people, but this works in Quebec French.

Geopolitics

Political system

Canada is a federal parliamentary democracy as well as a constitutional monarchy. Queen Elizabeth II is officially at the head of the state (we can notice her on the $20 bills by the way), and “The Crown” is the term used to represent the power of the monarchy.

Front of New Canadian 20 Dollar Bill

However, Elizabeth II is not physically present in Canada: the Governor General of Canada, currently being David Llyod Johnston, represents her. The Governor has two residences in Canada: one in Ottawa (Rideau Hall) and one in Quebec City (Citadelle). The Governor General of Canada does not participate to the political decisions, however he must assure the continuity of the State and the respect of the Law. He also nominates the members of the Executive.

Canada is also a democracy because the power of making laws and apply them belongs to persons elected by the population, and their mandates do not exceed 5 years, as stated in the Constitution. Canadian Parliament is formed of two rooms: the Senate and the House of Commons. Canadians elect their representatives during legislative elections: these are the only direct elections in the country. The Prime Minister is then nominated by the Governor General, who chooses the leader of the party that has the most seats in the House of Commons. Canada’s Prime Minister is currently Stephen Harper, head of the conservative party.

Maybe a little diagram will be better to clear things up, as this is a topic that is quite complicated:

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So this was for the Federal government. But Canada is constituted of 10 provinces and 3 territories, and each one has its own provincial or territorial government, responsible for things such as education or health care. And lastly, there are also municipal governments, responsible for things such as streets, security services and other local matters.

Conflicts (internal & external)

There was an external regional conflict in 2006: a land in dispute in Caledonia about 40 hectares: some want this land to be given back to the Native people, while others support the project of Enco Industries, which is the development a residential subdivision. Otherwise, Canada is not involved in any external conflict at the time.

Concerning internal conflicts, I assume there are few tensions inside the territory of Canada: during my semester, I never heard on TV remarks concerning any big conflict in Canada at the time. In France, we heard about the Quebec student protests in 2012, but this topic has been apparently solved.

 

Canadian ad

There are not many Canadian ads available on the Internet, and most of the “original” ones are from a Canadian beer brand, which slogan is “I am Canadian”. The ads of this brand basically show stereotypes about Canada. The aim of this article being to analyze the cultural differences the ad reveals and how the ad I chose would be perceived in France, using one of these ads would be pointless – these ads only suit the Canadian market. But you can still watch them by searching “Molson I Am Canadian” on YouTube if you want, most of them are funny!

Instead, I decided to choose this ad, which had a bit of an Internet success earlier this year and arouse lots of reactions (maybe you’ve already seen it):

Broadcasted on the main Canadian TV channels, this offbeat made-in-Canada ad denounces discriminations towards gay people in Russia, where the last Olympic games took place. In order to do so, the ads uses humour, and aims pretty much everybody – maybe not children though, the ad being quite suggestive (but that’s what makes it surprising). I also like the fact that this ad is not about Canada’s politics, but about an other country’s.

I think it reveals Canadian’s open-mindedness about the question, in a country where it’s been almost a decade since gay marriages are allowed in the whole country (2005), and even more for same-sex adoption (1999). But apart from the gay rights issue, from what I saw, I can say that Canadians are more open-minded than us in general: for example, they are very friendly and want to get to know you better even if you just arrived in town, or even if you just order something at their store… So this ad just shows a part of their open-mindedness 🙂

Yet, Canada is not the only country that has made an ad about this political issue: even if Canadian operator Bell also included a gay couple in its Sotchi-related ad, a Norwegian sports retailer also created a buzz on social networks with this ad.

But back to the main ad of this article: if this ad was broadcasted in France, I think it would encounter lots of critics, or at least very mixed reviews. Its suggestiveness would probably make it censored by the CSA, and gay rights are still a sensitive subject in our country at this time. It is also very very rare that an ad about another country’s problems and/or politics is on our screens, apart from NGOs’. That’s why I found this ad interesting: it is funny, and yet unusual for us.

New York, New York!

Long time, no speak but I’ve been very busy in February dealing with midterms and a few group works. And I’m back with heavy stuff!! 🙂

Indeed, Caroline, Delphine & I took advantage of the Spring Break (well, okay, it’s called Reading Week Break at St. FX) to escape Antigonish in order to visit a bigger city. And we ended up in New York City for three days! (just kidding- this trip was planned weeks before). This was our first time ever in the Big Apple.

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We rented an apartment in the neighborhood of Astoria. The apartment was as expected, it was very well-furnished and the owners were very nice. It was 1 minute away from the subway station, and 10 minutes away from Manhattan by subway. Living in this neighborhood allowed us to experience life in the Big Apple as true New-Yorkers 😉

Here’s what we did, this could maybe give people an idea of what you can do in NY in 3 days. Regarding all the things we visited, this might seem like a rush, but it wasn’t: we always had the time to fully enjoy what we were doing/seeing.

First day – February 25th

We were at the Empire State Building very early in the morning (8:30) in order to avoid the long waiting lines to go to the top. And it was worth it: we did not wait at all! Once on the observation deck, the view was just incredible. The Empire State is the tallest building in NYC so you can see the whole city and even farther. The morning light was beautiful!

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We then bought some souvenirs and moved on to Grand Central (you know, this mythic train station you see in several movies and TV series!). Very impressive as well! The whole station was beautiful. I would love to take my back-home train here.

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We then walked to Times Square. This place was, again, impressive (but “impressive” is, along with “huge”, a word that could be applied to the whole city though). Seeing all those ads and tall buildings is unusual yet very enjoyable.

We then did a few hours of shopping on 5th Avenue before going to the Top of the Rock situated at the top of the Rockefeller Center. It was 4:30 in the afternoon, the sun was going to set in a few couple of minutes so the view promised to be amazing, yet there was not much waiting line. Once on the top, the view was awesome: this observation deck is at the very top of a skyscraper and you have a full view on the Empire State Building on the South side, and on Central Park on the North side. This was my favorite view of NY.

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We went back home, tired by all the walk we’ve done this day!

Second day – February 26th

We’ve started the day by going to Brooklyn, in order to see the two Manhattan-bound bridges there (Manhattan Bridge & Brooklyn Bridge), as well as to have a panorama of Manhattan.

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We then did some shopping in the area, before going back to Manhattan in order to visit Chinatown and Little Italy. Chinatown is very surprising: although it is in Manhattan and a few blocks after the financial district, the buildings are not as high as in the rest of the peninsula. Moreover, everything is written in Chinese and apart from tourists, there are almost only Asian people hanging out there. Little Italy is quite disappointing though: it is basically constituted of two short streets full of Italian restaurants and cafés, right in the middle of Chinatown. We then moved to SoHo, one of the trendiest neighborhoods of New York. Caroline and Delphine then joined Times Square to see a Broadway show, and I went back home.

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Third & last day – February 27th

We wanted to walk a bit in Central Park just before leaving NY- after getting a bit lost in the subway, we finally arrived at the right place, and that’s what we did! Unfortunately, there was snow this day: we didn’t get to see the view of the park surrounded by all the skyscrapers (which is Central Park’s specificity) because it was too foggy. Central Park must be way more enjoyable during the other seasons.

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We then moved to the famous MoMA (the Museum of Modern Art). We were at first very disappointed because the first three floors are mostly showing drafts, plans and photographies: we fell like loosing our time. But on the last two floors, lots of masterpieces were exposed, so the visit ended well.

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We then ate in a restaurant and continued the day by making a lot of shopping (buying clothes and souvenirs) on 5th Avenue and in Herald Square. We then moved to Times Square in order to eat a cheesecake in a bakery that a French friend in Antigonish has advised us. We bought it and ate it while resting in the free-access lounge of the Mariott Hotel, just in front of the bakery. It was sooo yummy!

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For our very last sightseeing visit in NY, we wanted to have a view of the whole city by night. We heard that the free ferry that is going to Staten Island offers great views on the city and the Statue of Liberty, so we decided to move there. We took the subway to go there, as it was late (11 p.m.) and situated at the very South point of Manhattan.

And that’s when some kind of misadventure happened to us: while in the subway, one stop before our arrival (and the terminus), everybody that was in our subway car got off. The train then drove a little bit, and stopped a couple seconds after in the middle of the tunnel, without any announcement… 6 or 7 minutes after, the train still hasn’t started again and there was absolutely nobody in the subway cars next to us. We – well, particularly me to be honest – freaked out and imagined we missed the terminus, that we were going to be stuck all night there, with the lights off, no battery on our cellphones and no service anyway… So we pulled the emergency break. We then moved in the upper subway cars (in the NY subway, there are doors connecting the different cars) and finally saw two men who told us the train was going to start again very soon. We did this for nothing…

A few minutes later, the driver went up to us and asked why we did that. We explained her the situation and, despite one of her colleagues yelling some very nice things like “punish them!” in her talkie-walkie, and probably because she saw we weren’t American citizens, she told us it was okay and that the train will start again once she’ll fix the emergency break issue, in a few minutes. It finally did, and we arrived safe and sound at the good station, without having to pay any fine or stuff. More fear than pain!! But we still paralyzed an entire subway line for a few minutes in New York City…

Anyway. We took the ferry to Staten Island and had a nice view on Manhattan, the New Jersey, and the Statue of Liberty. We then stopped for 30 minutes in Staten Island before going back to Manhattan and home.

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This is how our NY exploration ended! Financially speaking, our trip was supposed to be pretty cheap for NY: spending just a little more than 200€ per person was expected. This estimation was made including the price of the monuments’ entries (very expensive in NY) and of the housing. But this budget was exceeded (a lot) by all the shopping and restaurant-eating we’ve done…

On the whole, and if we take off the time lost loosing ourselves in the subway (NYC subway is not tourist-friendly at all in my opinion…), our trip in New York was just amazing. I am looking forward going back there again!!

Boston

Although New York City was the highlight of our Spring Break, we also spent one day in Boston, guided by an American friend that is also studying in Antigonish. We hang out in the city and walked in the downtown areas. We also had a walk on the campus of Harvard University and had a panorama on the whole city from Boston’s tallest building, the Prudential Tower. Below are some photos 🙂

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Boston is a very lovely city, much smaller than New York (600,000 inhabitants while more than 8 millions in NYC) but also less busy and stressful. We absolutely loved the ambiance here and the European feel of the buildings (some places could totally be in Ireland or in the UK). We’ll definitely go here again!

Now that Spring Break is over, we’re back in Antigonish. With lots of work to do! Who ever said being an exchange student was like being on holiday…?

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