I’ll be honest, before my boyfriend surprised me with tickets to Canada for my 21st birthday, I knew very little about Canada; other than that it is the home to maple-loving people, a progressive Prime Minister and a relatively ambiguous stance on marijuana.
Over [our] winter break, we rugged up and flew over 18 hours East with Air Canada to the multicultural metropolis of Toronto. I was actually a little embarrassed to find that my perceptions surrounding Canada’s climate were a bit off and upon our arrival, I quickly shed my chrysalis of woolen scarves and trench coats.
If there is one thing I can be certain of, it’s that Canadians are the cutest people on earth! They refer to their two-dollar coin as a toonie (a portmanteau of the words ‘two’ and ‘loonie’), and their $100 note is a maple-syrup scratch and sniff! The only undesirable thing about Canada is their watered-down coffee, which is not dissimilar to sex in a canoe, f#%king close to water.
Toronto, Ontario Highlights
The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM): One of Toronto’s gems is its incredible museum, which appears as a crystalline looking structure clinging to the side of a classic Neo-Romanesque style building. During our visit, the museum was exhibiting the magnificent work of Dale Chihuly, whose hand-blown glass sculptures is the stuff of fairytales. Chihuly’s towing gardens of glass really provided for an incredible visceral experience.
Yorkville: Toronto’s most celebrated neighbourhood would surely have to be Yorkville, which is comparable to the likes of Fifth Avenue, New York. It was not the high-market shops of this neighbourhood that charmed me the most, but rather, the cute little coffee shops, delis and Victorian architecture. Dean and I parked ourselves at ‘The Oxley’ every second night of our stay, where we had the perfect view of the cobble-stoned streets over an old-fashioned and a G&T. The cocktails in Toronto are generally very reasonable priced, due to the low-cost of spirits in most of North America. Ordering a nice bottle of wine over dinner is a different story…
We also found the service in Canada to be the best we had ever experienced (a pretty shocking departure for the lack thereof in Australia). Owing to the low minimum wage in Canada, wait staff really work for their 15% tip.
Baseball: I know that it may come as a huge surprise to you all (sarcasm intended), that I am actually not a huge sports fan. I have always considered watching a live game of cricket to be about as pleasant as colonic irrigation. However, it seems almost rude to pass up on the opportunity to attend a Canadian baseball game and I must concede that I was quite impressed. The atmosphere in the Rogers Centre was extremely vibrant, with most of the attendees decked out in the Toronto’s Blue Jays jerseys and caps. There were many wonderful and tempting options food wise, consisting of hot dogs (out of a van I might add) and beer. Though I did pass up on this wonderful cuisine, I couldn’t resist getting very caught up on the vibe of the game and by about the fourth inning, considered myself an aficionado of the baseball. Although the LA Angels smashed the Toronto BJs (lol), it was such a fun experience, and I might even consider branching out to tennis, soccer and possible rugby. But to be clear, I’m still never eating a sausage out of a truck.
Niagara Falls: If you are travelling to Toronto, then a day-trip to Niagara Falls is a MUST! The town, Niagara, is surrounded by some lovely vineyards and is similar to a mini Vegas. (Think bright, neon lights, fast-food chains and theme-park rides). It seems almost surprising that this sprawling metropolis would be situated right next to one of the great wonders of the world.
The Falls themselves are just as stunning as you would imagine, and for a very affordable $22 ferry ride, you can get right up on the tumbling waterfalls. WARNING: be prepared to get completely drenched. Interestingly, the Falls cross the Canadian-US border and the ferry will only take you so far.
Distillery District: One of our favourite culinary experiences was in Toronto’s Distillery District. The area is comparable to Brisbane’s Teneriffe, with a lot of exposed brick and converted warehouses/wool stores. We were told to head to the Mill Street Brewery, but were unwilling to wait for an hour for a seat so we ended up at the Pure Spirits Oyster House and Grill. Canadians enjoy their oysters with grated horseradish, which is a different experience for me, but wonderful nonetheless. Naturally, the best oysters in Canada seemed to come from the more coastal area of Vancouver (no surprises there). Toronto oysters were very small, though very sweet.
CN Tower: Canada’s famous communication tower is the most notable structure along Toronto’s skyline. It looks like a UFO which has been skewered. As one of the city’s biggest attractions, we simply felt like we couldn’t miss it. We made a day of getting to the Tower, walking through the beautiful Queen’s Park. Unfortunately, like all tourist attractions in major cities, there was a line about a mile long to travel to the top of the tower (amongst other annoyances, including screaming babies and Americans) and was obviously very overpriced. The 360 degree view from the top was absolutely breathtaking and provided the best view of Toronto in town. The cocktails contained the most miniscule quantity of alcohol possible (typical!).
AGO: The Art Gallery of Ontario definitely inspired us! Though it lacked any significant household names as far as the art went, we were very impressed by the contemporary exhibition of House Music, with Chicago artist Theaster Gates.
The Lakehouse: We were absolutely blessed to have our lovely hosts invite us to spend the weekend at their beautiful Lakehouse at Lake Simcoe, Orillia. Some of the suburbs around Toronto have the most stunning, huge houses (such as Oakville), and this place was no exception. Many houses in Canada have an underground basement, which is the ideal place for a cellar. We spent the entire afternoon sipping champagne, nibbling canapés and looking over the lake at the sunset. It was the ideal way to cap off a perfect stay.
Vancouver, British Columbia Highlights:
We spent the second-leg of our journey in the picturesque city of Vancouver. This city is a lot more laid-back than Toronto and is surrounded by a stunning mountain range. Van was very similar to Queenstown in New Zealand, insofar as its appearance goes (albeit on a MUCH larger scale).
Grouse Mountains: We voyaged up Grouse Mountain at the start of our trip, stopping at Capilano to cross an incredibly impressive suspension bridge. I would recommend consuming alcohol after, not before crossing the bridge because despite the great benefits of a bit of ‘dutch courage’, if you wobbled over the edge, you would most certainly fall to your death. The cliff walk was also quite impressive, although a bit anticlimactic following our incredible suspension bridge climb (thank god I wore flats, for once).
From there, we proceeded up the side of Grouse Mountain in a cable car that went almost vertical. Vancouver is nothing short of blessed with its incredible national parks and Rocky Mountains. These parks are teeming with wildlife, such as deer, moose and bears. I was reluctant to attend the bear show at the top of Grouse Mountain because I was concerned that they would have trained the animals to perform tricks. Thankfully, they had a number of wild bears which had wandered onto a fenced off park of the reserve, and we were simply provided with a running commentary. Phew
It’s also good to note that there is a restaurant at the top of Grouse, and the staff were very accommodating in making a fantastic Irish coffee for Dean and I (because we were tired, but also needing a sneaky hit of whiskey 😉 )
Vancouver Art Gallery: When you hear that there is a Picasso exhibition in town, then it naturally becomes the number one priority on the itinerary. Though the exhibition was not the largest one I had ever seen, I was extremely impressed with how it had been organized by the curator, providing an explanation of Picasso’s evolving style, in accordance with his various muses. Picasso never fails to impress me with his work, and the Vancouver Gallery really did him justice.
I was a little disappointed by the decision made by the gallery to forewarn visitors of a series of naked, postpartum images of mothers by describing the series as ‘explicit’ and possibly ‘not appropriate for young viewers’. Honestly, anyone who is able to sexualize those types of images needs some help.
Gas Town: My favourite night in Vancouver had to be our romantic dinner in Gas Town, which is the city’s distillery district equivalent. The cobble-stoned streets of Gas Town are lined with trees covered in fairy lights and are full of century brick buildings. On a main street corner was the most adorable steam clock, which sounded a little jingle ever hour. Apparently, there are only six other working steam clocks in the world! We sat on the patio of a traditional Italian restaurant at night, with a bottle of cab sav and a plate full of seafood, and I was convinced that we could have been somewhere in Florence.
FlyOver Canada: When Dean and I stumbled upon a 4D movie of Canada’s landscape, we did not have high expectations. I attended a 4D film at Australia’s movie-world once and the pinnacle of the technology when the audience was sprayed with a little bit of water. FlyOver Canada is an incredible virtual flight ride which takes off into a huge domed screen (think 360 degree views). In a suspended chair, with my feet dangling over an impressive 4-storey spherical screen, I truly did feel as though I was flying. The special effects included wind, mist and scents. There is no doubt that it was a worthwhile experience.
Third Beach: It was recommended that we head to third beach to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city. After a busy day, we cabbed our way to Ferguson Point in Stanley Point, with a bottle of wine (naturally!) and enjoyed one of Vancouver’s best naturally sandy beaches, which is surrounded by trees, shielding visitors from any urban noise. Third beach seems to be the place that attracts hippies who enjoy partaking in the communal enjoyment of a blunt. Luckily, Toronto had already accustomed us to the strong smell of marijuana, as it is often publicly enjoyed on the street, particularly in downtown Toronto.
Victoria, Vancouver Island: Not to be missed is the incredibly beautiful Vancouver Island. Whilst it is possible to reach the island via a two-hour drive and one hour ferry ride, a much more relaxing option is a 30 minute sea plane ride. Though a bit pricey, the sea plane is definitely the way to go, providing a wonderfully scenic view of the Canadian coastline and a number of islands falling within the territory of the United States.
Vancouver Island was by far the most stunning area that we visited during the entirety of our holiday. Victoria was once a British naval base and this is clearly reflected in the charming nineteenth century architecture. The entire town is brimming with charm and character, from the local Pub, to the old Parliament building.
Typically, I aim to travel to countries which are culturally different to Australia. Though Canada is not a strict departure from what I may be used to at home, it is the ideal destination for a brilliant degustation journey, relaxation, with a touch of adventure (if you are the outdoorsy type).
With a bit more time on our hands, I almost certainly would have ventured to New York from Toronto and possibly also Quebec. Canada’s French influence is quite prominent in many provinces, such as Quebec, with Canada being the only country in the world with a bilingual constitution. Whilst we travelled to Canada in the summer, one can only imagine that it would be a completely different experience in the winter. Dean took me on a ski trip to Queenstown once and though I like to imagine that I am now a bit of a pro, I am actually similar to Bridget Jones. My God you can collect some speed if you don’t move your feet! At one stage, I almost took out a whole ski class of five year olds
But I digress. Canada is a brilliant country, with beautiful people, impressive architecture and an incredible national history. It certainly is a country that belongs right at the top of the bucket list. Needless to say, we will definitely be back!