Residential Experiment #3: The Plateau Row Home (Montreal)

Montreal 2011 (36) (1024x680)
One of the perks of living in various places for a few months at a time is finding out what you do and what you don’t like as your home. Given that we eventually want a stable home, these residential experiments help us understand what our ideal home might look like, and where it may be located. Thus, in an effort to keep track of what we’ve learned, this is one of a series of posts where we evaluate the places in which we temporarily resided.

Nickname: The Plateau Row Home

Location: Montreal, Quebec

When: Summer of 2011

Basics: 1 bedroom plus office ground level row home on a tree-lined street in Montreal’s famous Plateau neighborhood.

As soon as we stumbled onto the idea of living in a number of places around the world, Montreal landed at the top of our list. Aside from gallivanting around the globe, we are honestly trying to find a place to grow some roots and start a family.

Both of us had visited Montreal on various occasions and felt a strong pull towards it. Our respective crushes on Montreal are quite reasonable considering Montreal is consistently rated as one of the world’s most livable cities, was called “Canada’s Cultural Capital”, and was also named a UNESCO City of Design.

The day we moved in we went for a walk through the neighborhood and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was “at home” – comfortable, safe, and relaxed. Despite the fact that Montreal is only a few hours east of where Marina and I did our graduate work, given the language and cultural differences between the two provinces, it really feels like a foreign country.

Since we were now out of our home province, both Marina and I were working 100% remotely – a goal I had set for us earlier in the year, when Marina was still working full-time at the university while I was working from home. While I certainly loved the flexibility afforded by remote work, the sense of isolation started gnawing at me over the latter months in Kingston. Having both of us working from home made the situation much more appealing, as we were able to share meals, discuss projects, go for walks, and run errands during the day together. The downside of both of us working from home was that we would sometimes distract each other – when one wasn’t being productive, the other one also struggled.

Our place was located just off of a main (but only two-lane) street with multiple independent grocers, bakeries, cafes, butchers, gyms, parks, restaurants, etc. This meant that we walked essentially everywhere, while our car was merely a nuisance. If we were to stay longer, I would have sold our car and simply used public transportation (nearby and efficient) and signed up for a car-sharing service for those few instances each month when we might require a vehicle. In addition, Montreal has a fantastic segregated bike lane system that runs across most parts of the city and is used by many locals – one of the best I have seen anywhere. Thus, biking would have been another option.

During this residential experiment, I think we learned much more about the type of area in which we’d like to live rather than specifics of our dream home. Being able to walk or bike to essentially everything you would ever need is very important to us, possibly more important than other factors. Also, having access to green space where we can go for a run, or walk, or throw a Frisbee around, or have a picnic is key. Reliable public transit that could take you (almost) anywhere you would ever need to go really made owning a car redundant. Lesson: the less we have to use our car, the happier we both seem to be.

Our street: the car had to be moved twice weekly

Montreal is a city with countless cultural events occurring on an ongoing basis. Having access to these events also made a big difference – we never felt bored. For instance, we attended Formula One, the Just for Laughs Festival, Fireworks Competition, and bumped into Bradley Cooper, during our short stay here. There was always something to do, and this, we learned is also critical to our happiness. Thus, we now know that we need to be living in a relatively large city (Montreal is the 2nd largest in Canada, and the 15th largest in North America).

Our actual home was rather quaint and sparsely furnished, but it had a fantastic office space with a wonderful view of the street, as well as a small deck in the back for soaking up some sun. Having a dedicated office area to do my work was a definite bonus over the dining room tables I had been using in the previous two residences. While we had yet another budget television set, given the lack of cable, we never really turned it on. Instead, when faced with some downtime, we would go for a walk. This, once again, reiterated what we already learned – we’re better off sans television.

Here is a detailed summary of items that either improved or tarnished our experience in the Plateau:

The good:

– All our wonderful new Montreal friends (whom we now dearly miss)

– People outside all the time

– Tolerant and less materialistic society (at least in our immediate neighborhood)

– Strong focus on family

– Great active transportation options

– Dedicated office space

My "office" (the space is empty as the photo was taken when we were moving out)

– Close enough to walk to anything we needed

– Running space (at La Fontaine park)

 

The bad:

– Parking is a major headache (had to move car twice a week for street cleaning, and sometimes could not find a spot on our street – same goes for guests who visited)

– In our neighborhood French was the predominant language and many individuals spoke next to no English. This was only a problem because I tend to be a rather social person and my French is terrible, thereby severely limiting my communicative abilities. If we stayed longer, I would take French lessons though I am well aware this would always be an issue for me.

– Far from most friends and family

In conclusion, we both miss Montreal and see it as a potential place to live at some point in the future.

Peter

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Residential Experiment #2: The Retirement Condo

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One of the perks of living in various places for a few months at a time is finding out what you do and what you don’t like as your home. Given that we eventually (though, not any time soon) want to buy a home, these residential experiments help us understand what our ideal home might look like, and where it may be located. Thus, in an effort to keep track of what we’ve learned, this is one of a series of posts where we evaluate the places in which we temporarily resided.

Nickname: The retirement condo

Location: Kingston, ON

Dates: March – April 2011

Basics: 2 bedroom corner condo unit on lake Ontario within 2 km of downtown and the nearby university. The vast majority of residents were above retirement age.

After our experiment in reasonably rural living at The Cottage, we decided to finish off our stint in Kingston while staying a bit closer to civilization, and particularly closer to the university where Marina was working.

We were well acquainted with this condo property as our good friends, Ian and Katie, lived here for a number of years while we were all in graduate school. We had very fond memories of this property so we jumped at the chance to temporarily live there ourselves.

In contrast to our prior home, here we had 2 bedrooms. However, we generally found we had no use for the second bedroom as once again I settled in at the dining room table as my office space. Of course, if we were settling here more permanently, the 2nd bedroom could have easily been turned into an office, thus clearing our dining room for more appropriate activities – such as dining.

Peter's office space

Being quite a bit closer to work meant Marina was able to walk to work on most days (weather permitting) instead of taking the bus (the norm at the Cottage). Also, we were close to a park, a convenience store and a Tim Horton’s coffee shop. While this was a significant improvement in the proximity of the essentials from our last place, we still felt fairly isolated.

One of the highlights of this place was the lake view (see above), which would have been particularly spectacular in the summer time – had we stayed long enough to see it. Every morning, as Marina got ready to go to work I would transfer from the bed to the couch and soak up the sun that would stream through the large windows overlooking the water. This was a wonderful way to start the day while sipping a cup of tea.

Peter's morning wake-up couch

Being close to a park also meant that we had some nice running routes to take advantage of. Additionally, all day long I would see people from my “office” window running by and this certainly was a nice motivator to get off my butt.

In contrast to the Cottage, which we found to be great for hosting dinner parties, the kitchen/dining/living room arrangements at the Retirement Condo were less conducive to having people over. The kitchen was very small, with little counter space, which made making cooking a nuisance. Since the dining room could only hold 4 people, our dinner parties had to be small. Finally, due to awkward seating arrangement and lack of adequate living room furniture, even having a few people over for a chat and a drink was much less natural than at our previous home.

This residence came with a fairly budget television but a reasonable number of cable channels. I found that merely having that television meant that more often than not, we would automatically turn it on during meals, or when vegging out, rather than reading, talking, or doing something else more productive. This once again suggested to me that not having a television, and specifically not having cable or satellite is the way to go. Having the option to turn it on and tune out was just too easy and I felt as though we wasted much more of our time passively consuming poor quality content. Having a television for purposes of watching a movie or documentary every once in a while is fine, and I think this may be the way to go when we settle down. But having a large selection of channels simply steals hours of your life. I’d rather do something more productive.

On a positive note, given that this was a condo, I didn’t need to worry about shoveling snow (which took up many hours at the cottage), or mowing grass, or remembering to take out the trash at specific hours. This was all taken care of, and when the garbage became full, I simply walked it over to the garbage shute and deposited it regardless of the time or day.

Here is a detailed summary of items that either improved or tarnished our experience at The Retirement Condo.

The good:

–          Great view

–          Communal pool

–          Morning sun exposure

–          Proximity of running routes

–          Ability to walk to a select few places (convenience store, Tim Horton’s)

–          No need to worry about garbage disposal/snow shoveling/grass mowing

The bad:

–          The presence of cable television

–          Small kitchen with limited counter space

–          Uncomfortable and small dining area

–          No dishwasher

–          No air ventilation in washroom = very steamy showers

–          Poor fridge design (left side freezer full length of fridge)

–          Awkward entrance (door opened in a direction making getting in and out more difficult than necessary, especially given the small foyer)

–          Outdoor parking

Conclusion:

Feeling less isolated from civilization, particularly when you work from home is very important. Simply knowing that I could walk to the coffee shop or convenience store, or to downtown (in 30 or so minutes) made me much less anxious about being isolated. Nevertheless, there were still only a few things in our vicinity, and I would have still preferred living closer to a city centre. Living in a condo is certainly easy as most things are taken care of on your behalf – you pay a condo fee and forget about maintenance hassles. Maybe if I was a more handy person, I would have preferred to do these tasks myself, but I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t admit I would much rather spend my time doing something else. Finally, the lack of neighbors in our age range made making new friends a bit tough.

Peter

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