Sunday, 6 March 2016

Moving cities

I'm moving to Montreal in the summer. The reasoning is simple enough: my wife found work there, and my postdoc position is close to 4 years old now. As much as I loved working my Halifax-based project, postdoc work is -almost by definition- temporary. All good things must come to an end. In the meanwhile, I'll aim to do more road races in Halifax, and hopefully the Calgary half in May.

I have already experienced Montreal for six years, though fewer if you count the first two were shrouded by cultural ignorance. Growing up in Ottawa, when you first see what a real city looks like, at first you don't know what to make of it. Happily Ottawa has gotten a lot better since I left it in 2005.

Not sure what my job will be in Montreal, but it's time to move regardless. Good thing there's lots to do either way. So all my life has been spent in three Canadian cities. Hardly worldly, but each has afforded me a slightly new perspective. Each city holds their stereotypes, some true, others are blatantly false.

Misconceptions, clarifications:

Montreal is surprisingly flat, almost as flat as Ottawa. There's the mountain, yes, but Lachine Canal, Parc Maisonneuve, the and north/south/east/west end of the city? You won't find many hills that aren't bridges. Halifax, meanwhile, is quite hilly, in the best possible way. I will miss those hills.

Halifax peninsula has an amazingly vibrant running community. It's a well-kept secret how many good runners come from Nova Scotia, particularly in Antigonish and Halifax. It's hard to notice since few races encourage all the talent to show up at once. But if you look carefully, we produce a disproportionate percentage of quality runners than most provinces.

Halifax is not a fishing village. We barely eat fish, in fact. Lobster is for the tourists, the seafood selection here is nothing special, nor are the prices.

Alcohol is not cheap in Halifax. Prices are on par with Ireland, which holds a similar mistaken identity. Newfoundland and New Brunswick are worse, mind you, but $14 for a six pack is still 50% more than what you might pay in Quebec. Intriguingly though growlers and microbrews have made a big impact here, and changing the outdated Keith's image of the city.

Montreal is not 100% francophone. A shocking number of anglophones avoid Montreal because they worry about its lack of english. It's like avoiding a certain grocery store because you're not familiar with all its foods (well, some people do that too...). There are many languages in Montreal (Russia, Italian, Spanish, English, Chinese, Portuguese, etc). Get over yourself. Worse yet are those who show up in Montreal expecting a 'party experience'. They can go screw themselves. If someone tells you Crescent street is 'the place to be, they have no idea.

Montreal really does have better, and cheaper, food than everywhere else (except Vancouver, maybe). Ottawa has a few decent farmer's markets (not downtown), and pretty good bagels. Halifax has neither. It takes a lot of creative force to find inexpensive, quality food in the maritimes. Apples we got, but bagels no sir. In fact, the apples are also terrible price in comparison to Montreal. Whether you cook at home or go out, Montreal's selection is superior, hands down. I will not miss Halifax for that.

Halifax and Montreal are both very walkable cities, it's true! Of course if you're off the Halifax peninsula, you live in your car just like everywhere else. I was pleasantly surprised how liveable the downtown area is without a car. I keep a pack of bus tickets for special occasions, but otherwise get to work and other places almost exclusively on foot. Montreal has a much larger bus system, so a walking/bus combination is the way to go. Meanwhile Ottawa is a world of cars and bikes; the distances are just too far to go on foot.

Renting is cheaper in Montreal than Halifax. Really quite incredible that a larger city would cost less to live in, but there you have it. Keep in mind there are many caveats to add, but close to the truth than you might think. This assumes you are renting, which I prefer to do. Someday I may post about my limited knowledge of renting versus owning. For instance, it's not openly acknowledged by all homeowners that about half of all monthly mortgage instalments go towards interest payments (and that's only with the 4% interest rates of the last 8 years). You may argue about getting equity, sure, but seems those same people assume their home will double in value (it won't, not anymore). I earn a modest salary and overpay in rent, but the lack of car and borrowing means I keep a third of my income as after-tax cash. And I can move on a moment's notice, which in my line of work is rather important.

Now that I'm veering towards rant territory, I'll end things. Halifax, home for now. Montreal, home beginning July.  Let's see how this goes.

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