Canada Trip Part 2: New York City to Montreal, Canada

If you’re following along on our summer trip to Canada, check out the first post in this series covering the trip segment from Raleigh to Philadelphia.  In this second part of our trip report, I cover New York City and the drive to Montreal.

New York City

Mrs. RootofGood and I have visited the Big Apple in the past, but our kids have not.  On our first day in NYC we had lunch plans with Mrs. RoG’s coworker around noon, and we wanted to visit her firm’s equities trading floor before the markets closed, so we decided to drive into midtown Manhattan and park somewhere close so we could ensure our timely arrival.  The tunnel toll from our hotel plus parking all day in Midtown was $30 – about the same as transit fares from the hotel into NYC and then MTA transit fares for the subway in NYC.  Parking in NYC is expensive, but so are transit fares for a family of five.

The traffic was surprisingly bearable.  Except for Times Square, it wasn’t any worse than other mid size or large cities.  Yeah, New Yorkers have a love affair with horn honking, but that’s just how they say “howdy” up north it seems.  So I returned their greetings with a friendly wave back of course.  Now I can say I’ve braved the New York City traffic and kept both bumpers intact.

Times Square

Times Square

After a day of touring mid-town and the financial district, checking out the World Trade Center Memorial, and taking the Staten Island ferry to get a free maritime view of the Statue of Liberty (our kids’ top choice of things to see on the entire trip), the family was worn out.

statue-of-liberty

Statue of Liberty in the harbor. View from the (free) Staten Island Ferry.

I left Mrs. RoG and the kids in Zuccotti park, the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, and jumped on the subway.  I quickly retrieved the car from the parking deck and took the scenic route to the financial district by skirting the southern tip of Manhattan on FDR Drive (who knew there was a freeway in lower Manhattan??).  We made a hasty getaway (again, except for Times Square) and returned to our hotel in one piece.

New World Trade Center building

New World Trade Center building

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

While exploring Manhattan, I was checking out the street vendors selling all types of food.  We didn’t buy anything from the street vendors, but the prices and options looked great!  The most amazing were the fruit stands selling fresh fruit at the same prices as the grocery store (3-4 bananas for $1, 2 apples for $1 or 1.50).

Our second day in New York City was the Fourth of July.  For non-Americans, it’s the day we traditionally eat a lot of hot dogs, drink a lot of beer and watch things blow up in the sky.  There’s no better way to celebrate a couple hundred years of independence like drinking yourself into a horrible hangover, eating yourself into gut wrenching heartburn, and for an unfortunate few, suffering third degree burns when blowing shit up goes wrong.

How to make it through a long day of sightseeing with kids: rest often.

How to make it through a long day of sightseeing with kids: rest often.

On this day, we took buses or the subway everywhere and left the car at the hotel.  Mrs. RootofGood says this was a smart decision (guess she didn’t like my NYC driving?).  Our daughter found a subway card with $17.50 remaining on it (we got lucky).

We tried to visit the Public Library, but being a holiday, it was closed.  We wanted to show the kids what that particular library looked like inside (it’s beautiful, if you haven’t seen it).  We continued down 42nd Street to Grand Central Station and started looking for lunch places.  By this point, the rain started.  Thanks, Hurricane Arthur.  We decided to head back to the hotel, grab some pizza, and rest up before the evening’s big festivities.

new-york-public-library

New York Public Library.  Closed on the Fourth of July.

What big festivities you might ask?  Fireworks over the harbor.  New York City’s fireworks are supposed to be the most fabulous in America.  We left the hotel around 8 so we could get across Manhattan and in position to overlook the East River by the 9:20 start time.  We made it in plenty of time, but the view wasn’t great.  Three million people showed up before we did, and all of them (particularly the tallest ones) stood right in front of us.

I had a great view of a six-foot-four guy’s snazzy haircut and the back of his neck.  The folks behind us had a great view of Mr. RoG Jr’s back (he was sitting on my shoulders).  What we saw of the fireworks wasn’t that spectacular at all, but maybe we just had a really crappy vantage point.  However I think we were in the right place, as the six-foot-four native New Yorker repeated multiple times that “this spot is sick, man, just sick”.

We also had a true authentic New York experience while watching the fireworks.  A smell somewhere between decomposing dead bodies and sewage continually wafted through the crowd, only intermittently drowned out by the scent of wacky tobacco smoke (who knew it was legal in NYC?).  We can check off the box next to “See NYC Fireworks Over the Harbor”, and won’t bother with the crowds again.  We decided to rest in the park for a while to let the post-fireworks crowd dissipate before navigating the transit system back to our hotel.  We waited a few minutes too long and had to catch a different bus back to New Jersey that dropped us off a few blocks farther away from our hotel.

resting-after-fireworks

One note about our hotel.  We stayed in North Bergen, New Jersey at the Super 8 motel.  Super 8 motels get stereotyped as being seedy dives.  In reality, most are seedy but a few are decent.  With the advent of the online review, it’s deceptively easy to distinguish between real crapholes and those that are clean but basic places to sleep at night.  After searching for a reasonable place to stay in NYC, we decided the Super 8, with its free breakfast, free wifi, free on-site parking, and close access to a transit line were perfect for us at a price under $100 per night.  Good luck finding that in Manhattan (with two queen beds).

super-8-beds

super-8-desk

super-8-bathroom

I also got to experience something I’ve only read about online – how they pump gas in New Jersey.  You can’t pump your own gas.  There is an attendant that pumps the gas for you.  Apparently New Jersey residents are particularly inept at proper refueling practices, or the gas pump attendant’s union has a particularly strong lobby (I’ll let the reader decide which is more likely).  I’m not sure if you’re supposed to tip those guys, but I didn’t.

Dinner for under $20.  NY style pizza.

Dinner for under $20. NY style pizza from “Hot Pizza”.

 

The Drive to Montreal, or Murphy’s Law Happened

The roughly six hour drive from New York City to Montreal started out great.  We were making good progress most of the morning and into the afternoon.  I found the best Taco Bell in the world en route.  It was so good that we got an extra bag full of Mexican fast food to go (which proved genius a few hours later!).

Taco Bell.  My favorite fast food.

Taco Bell. My favorite fast food.

Then we suffered a catastrophic tire failure in the middle of the Adirondack Mountains (in the middle of nowhere with no cell coverage). It seems something punctured the sidewall and we started to fishtail a little on the mountain roads. Disaster averted though, as I pulled over to the shoulder and began the task of damage control. After pulling all the luggage out of the car and attempting to remove our spare tire, we found out the bolt securing the spare to the trunk tire compartment had corroded and fused to the car’s body. No amount of pliers or force could remove it, so I began prying and smashing with the tire iron. After an hour or so, the NY State police showed up and had zero tools to help, but did set out some road flares and shoot the shit while I continued hammering and prying away. Eventually I ripped the metal loose and freed the spare.

We couldn't have picked  a more scenic place to have a flat tire!

We couldn’t have picked a more scenic place to have a flat tire!

The spare was installed and then inflated using my emergency tire inflator (don’t leave home without it!). We faced the tough choice of driving through 60 more miles of back country then another 80 miles to Montreal on a spare tire (at 50 mph max!) or trying our luck finding a tire shop open at 8 pm on a Saturday night on a holiday weekend. I gave the spare an 80-90% chance of surviving to Montreal. We played the odds and headed north to Montreal. The spare survived but my dignity did not after driving 50 mph while surrounding traffic zoomed by at 80 mph.

Car trouble was the biggest risk I had identified for our trip to Canada, and we managed the situation just fine when it happened (due to having mostly the right tools).  I could have paid more attention to our route, since I didn’t realize we would be traveling through the sparsely populated Adirondacks en route to Canada.  Honestly, I didn’t even know the Adirondacks were in New York!  It was a nice surprise to see the beautiful mountain scenery, placid lakes, rippling streams, and rolling hills.  I suppose we were able to drink in more of the scenery since we were only traveling 50 miles per hour on the spare tire.

adirondacks

Adirondacks

By this time we were running a few hours late checking in with our AirBnb host, but the bad luck didn’t stop there. The bridge across the St. Lawrence River in Montreal was closed due to fireworks (5th of July?) so we had to find our way around Montreal and to our apartment. At night. On a spare. Without a good GPS. We eventually made it across the river, only to find out the fireworks attracted a cluster bomb of people and cars to downtown which took another hour to navigate. Our host graciously met us at the apartment five hours late.

Then we found out the internet wasn’t working. This makes it hard to get your bearings when all your trip planning is hosted in the cloud and you’re relying on cloud based GPS and mapping. And it makes it hard to find a tire shop near you.

By midnight, our string of bad luck ran out and the rest of our stay in Montreal was quite pleasant (read about it in the next installment).

 

Expense Summary – Raleigh to Montreal (6 days)

CategoryNotesCost
Restaurant Meals$26/day156
Groceries$1/day5
Gas ~1,000 miles89
Parking$8/day48
Tollstolls along I-95, tunnel into NYC44
Transit~$6/day36
Four Points by Sheraton (Philly)3 nts, 12,000 SPG points0
NYC Hotel (Super 8 N. Bergen NJ)2 nts, incl. $50 off coupon @ Expedia192
Barclay Arrival Plus Card bonus$50 travel bonus applied to hotel stay-50
Entertainment/Admission Feesno admission fees on this segment0
Souvenirsnope0
TRIP BUDGET Raleigh to Montreal6 days at $87/day$520

I tracked our expenses while on the road using Personal Capital.  Overall, we kept below our budgeted $125 per day.  This was a little surprising since we were living out of a hotel and doing a lot of driving.  Our $32,000 per year retirement budget includes a little over $5,000 for vacations.  That means we could take nine or ten of these six day trips each year!

new-york-financial-district

 

 

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14 comments

  • Glad to hear the spare tire held out! I’m really impressed with how low your expenses are–nice. Also, who knew a Super 8 could be so charming?
    P.S. I love the family photos–your kiddos are adorable.

    • We were very glad the tire held out, too. I was almost certain it would (as long as I kept to the recommended speed) and the odds of finding a tire shop open at 8 pm on a Saturday (or any time before Monday morning) were close to zero I figured.

      That Super 8 was really nice. Basic but clean and new. I can only imagine what $96 per night (including tax) would get us in midtown Manhattan proper (if we could find anything at all!).

  • Great to read a southerner’s take on NYC – you guys did great! I lived and worked in NYC for a while and rarely drove into Manhattan unless it was at night to go out for nightlife. Every time we visit now we leave the car parked in the suburbs and take public transport. You are right though, with 5 people it adds up fast.

    • I think the walk/transit vs drive decision for NYC usually ends up on the walk/transit side. With the 2 year old, having a car for a mobile base camp (and to allow him to sleep during rides) was nice. And after paying 4 fares, you’ll pay almost as much to drive and park. We figured we were saving so much by staying just across the river in NJ that we could treat ourselves to the luxury of driving if we wanted to. Although navigating transit is amazingly simple with the google maps transit tool.

  • Great job all around. The Adirondacks are my old stomping grounds; even better to see them from a motorcycle. Incredible how much you guys were able to keep the costs down, to see much of the savings taken by tolls and fees in NY state. One of the biggest reasons we got out of that state; can you imagine dealing with those costs every day? Looking forward to your thoughts around Montreal and Canada in general. Great places to visit but also not cheap.

    • The tolls aren’t fun, and neither is paying for parking or transit. It definitely makes me appreciate smaller cities (like Raleigh) where parking is free, transit is cheap ($1/ride, $2/day pass), and there aren’t any tolls except a new freeway on the edge of town. I lump the tolls and other fees into “travel costs” and it’s just another part of the vacation expenses.

      Canada was surprisingly not very cheap. We managed to find a dollar store (Dollarama??) and it offered prices more in line with what we see in the US. Grocery stores were noticeably more expensive for everything.

  • Well your family must be real troopers. We took our kids (10 and 12) to NY last year and spent an afternoon in Manhattan. Thank goodness we had relatives in Hudson (upstate) and in Brooklyn so we had just the afternoon in Manhattan. Loud! Expensive! Exhausting! My hat’s off to you for toughing out a couple of days there. We do much better with a water element. In fact, our best vacation ever was in . . . North Carolina (:-)) in a condo on the Atlantic during just-barely-off season ($200 for the week!). Enjoy the rest of your trip!

    • I think we all enjoyed NYC. Always a neat place to visit for a few days! But yes, it’s loud, and can be expensive and exhausting if you let it. We took plenty of rest breaks in the parks around the city, which helped with the exhausting part.

      Congrats on finding NC’s wonderful (and wonderfully inexpensive!) coast. We love Topsail Island/Surf City. Very quiet any time of the year, and almost desolate off season (when we prefer to go). The place we have rented for the past few years was $700-800 per week all-in during the late September off season. That’s for a 4 bedroom oceanfront house where you walk straight onto the beach. It’s hard to beat the solitude and price if you want to relax for a week and enjoy the beach. The temperature gets comfortable in September, too (70’s, maybe 80). I don’t see how people have a good time at the beach when it’s 90+ degrees. That’s just hot.

  • That Super 8 looks pretty decent and a great price for something that close to NYC. I tried to watch the Macy’s Fireworks years ago…I had a great view but to me it’s not worth it. You have to get there early…very early. Same thing with New Years in Times Square…I can’t bother with the crowds. Montreal seems like a trip we’d like to take…though I’m not sure our one year old will like the long road trip. We drove up to Boston and I’m not sure I want to go much farther than 4-5 hrs with him.

    • That Super 8 had great reviews and I figured it was worth a shot. Compared to hotels in the sub-$150 price range in Manhattan proper, the Super 8 looked like a good bet. And it was.

      I’m with you on the huge crowded events. Yeah, they are neat but dealing with the crowds all day makes it an uncomfortable experience. It was Mrs. RoG’s idea, and we’re both glad we tried to see the fireworks in NYC once. But that is it for us. And now we know what it would be like to go to NYC new year’s eve (except it would be way colder!).

  • Flat tires can certainly deflate a trip fast. Did you end up buying 1 new tire?

    Thanks for the detailed update on the trip.

    • We went ahead and replaced all four tires. Only 1 tire had any real significant life left, so we kept it as a replacement in case we puncture 1 tire later. I was hoping to get through the trip then replace them but apparently the car was out of alignment and we had a lot of irregular wear on the front tires.

      4 new tires and an alignment: $600 USD. Maybe $100 more than what it would be at home with shopping around and discounts (so not too bad).

      • tires are incredibly expensive in MTL, what we frugal people do here is order online on tirerack, ship it to an installer in plattsburgh (ie. sears) and take a 1h30 drive down there to install, discard old tires (important), spend the afternoon at the municipal beach then drive back to MTL. My savings over the years ranged from 200-400$ depending on exchange rate and type of tires plus you spend some times with the family on “the beach” 🙂
        I always feel bad for the local tires shops when I do this but in the end my pocket comes first ..

        • Sounds smart! I just went to Canadian Tire and paid whatever they asked. I think it was $530 for the tires and installation, and $70 for the alignment. That’s what I pay for alignments in North Carolina, and the tires are at home are normally around $300-350 plus another $75-100 for installation and tire disposal/environmental fees.

          The biggest difference is probably that I get tires sales tax free in NC by ordering online, whereas I paid 15% tax in Montreal. That explains most of the extra cost. Our Accord takes the small 15″ tires, so they aren’t too expensive luckily.

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