O Canada, Where Have Your Bargains Gone?

MATT GROSS The New York Times 05/19/2008 08:12
O Canada, Where Have Your Bargains Gone?

ONCE upon a time, not all that long ago, there existed a magical country that was a lot like the United States, only less expensive. Its enchanted currency — the other dollar — allowed Americans to indulge as they could not back home. This delightful fantasyland was called Canada, and for centuries it was synonymous with frugality.

No more. With the precipitous decline of the United States dollar, Canada has slid off the budget-travel map, and nowhere is the challenge to stay frugal greater than in Toronto, a city of 2.5 million whose ascendancy is not merely attributable to fluctuating exchange rates. Toronto has, in recent years, become a hub of development, an eating-and-shopping paradise and even a celebrity magnet: Jay-Z held his bachelor party at the Lobby Bar and Restaurant, where the Zen Margarita costs a whopping 25 Canadian dollars (about $25 U.S., give or take a buck, since the two currencies have been close to parity since last fall).

As the Frugal Traveler, however, I live for this sort of challenge, and so in late April, I set off for Hogtown — so nicknamed for the abattoirs that once dotted downtown — to attempt a weekend of revelry on a budget of $500. I arrived early on a sunny Friday afternoon, winging in on Porter Airlines, a budget carrier that at the end of March began nonstop service from Newark (with one-way fares as low as $99; see http://www.flyporter.com/). Not only was the flight itself surprisingly pleasant (free red wine — in an actual glass!), but it landed me at the City Centre Airport, on an island but right downtown, just a 400-foot ferry ride away.


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