Back in the 90’s there used to be a very silly joke circulating gaining popularity when we had a huge migration wave of Czech Roma to both UK and Canada: How do you say in the Romany language close? — Calais! And how do you say far? — Toronto!
Thanks to this migration wave, the visa regime was re-introduced for the Czech citizens (and Mexicans too) in July 2009, and it got lifted only recently in November 2013. I have never been a fan of visas, so I was taking Canada out of my travel plan for quite some time, but now it is July 2014, and I managed to get into the country with little expectation and I was leaving eight days later totally fascinated. So what is so gorgeous about the Maple Leaf Country?
That’s probably the first thing that you would come across to when getting off at the airport – the locals! Especially if you come from Central (ehm, Eastern) Europe, then you are not used to being approached by people around you or even having strangers talk to you and behave nicely. It was so refreshing that I even became a more outgoing person afterwards and I caught myself talking to strangers after landing (and spending seven long hours at the Heathrow airport because I missed the plane home), the Brits, however, did not reply in a vigorous manner.
2. Water for free
Although the Czech Republic is having an initiative to get tap water to the tables for free (http://www.kohoutkova.cz/), in Hungary it is another story. Water is considered to be a part of the drink list with a price tag. In Canada, every restaurant would (without even demanding) give you a glass of water with loads of ice and some lemon slices. Simply a got to love if you are an aquaholic.
3. Mint with the bill
Czechs have their Hašlerky; Canadians managed to get this to the perfection and after a meal with the bill you get to choose from various mints. Bad breath elimination pill.
4. Toronto feels like a very safe place
I visited several European metropolises ranging from London, Paris, Vienna or Berlin and South American Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo and Fortaleza, wherein some of them I felt safer than in the other one. But Toronto goes on top of my list, with 2.6 million inhabitants, you can quite safely walk in the streets at night even if you are a girl in high heels in a good mood.
If you come from a country with no sea, the access to seafood gets very limited – basically, you can go to overpriced poshy restaurants to get seafood that was travelling by plane and it took several hours or you can get frozen seafood, which by definition is far from fresh. The first lobster I ever ate was on my birthday in Dec 2013 during my holiday in Jericoacoara. During my stay in Moncton, NB, I made a promise that every day, I would have a little lobster and so I did. There are places in New Brunswick, where catching, selling and marketing lobster is the primary business activity (like Alma).
I was amazed when I was leaving Moncton that even at Airport, people would bring boxes with live lobster through the security check and into the plane, apparently in Toronto, there is not so much lobster availability. If you never tried lobster, give it a chance, it has very delicious meat and most of all: it does not smell like seafood!
Canada is big, cars are bigger, roads are nice and not bumpy at all (for a person regularly driving on this highway)! It surprised me that the maximum allowed speed on highways was 100 km/h. Not long time ago, I was reading an article (which I can’t find anymore), how it is very hypocritical of our current society that we drive so fast (ah yeah, German highways have no speed limit) and that all the safety buzz is done just to have the producers of child seats flourish. After driving in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I would be for dropping the speed limits.
7. Metric system
Canada decided to convert from imperial to the metric system (more about the change here) in 1970’s. It is quite refreshing to travel to North America and be able to understand how much food you will be getting, how big the drink is and how fast you can drive. However, people still use both; some restaurants offer meat and wine in oz and if you ask the waitress how much it is, they need to ask the cook as they are unsure of the exact answer.
8. Stunning landscape
If you live in Europe, it is sometimes hard to be able to run away from the hustle of the cities and be entirely alone in the countryside. This turns the other way round if you are in Canada. There, being alone is quite natural. Especially if you go to New Brunswick 🙂
I enjoyed the endless roads, the options to stop and get out of the car, breathe in, watch the sea and feel free. A feeling that was so fulfilling that I did not want to leave and was secretly drawing a plan B, C, D, E, F to be able to stay a bit more.
9. Funny people
My very first encounter after landing was with a lady managing the queue for the passport and immigration control. To be allowed to enter the country, you have to fill in a simple questionaire, which has two parts. It turned out that the left part is unnecessary. While we were queueing up, the lady was collecting the remaining parts with the words: “Please, fold your form, tear the left part and hand it to me as I am all the time slipping on those suckers.” She made me laugh for the very first time since I left (yes, I am a flying hater). Canada is full of people that would start talking to you instantly, people that talk to themselves loud, people that enjoy interacting and expect the same in return. Visiting Canada made me a bit more talkative girl.
10. Lone dining
One evening, right after the fire evacuation of my hotel, I ended up being alone for dinner. One would say, something you would not like to do, but not when you are in Canada. I brought with myself postcards, reading, phone, everything, but ended up being entertained by the staff of the restaurant and a couple sitting at the next table. You are simply never alone in Canada.
11. Tim Hortons
They are everywhere: people walking with oversized cups and sipping from the here and then. These are not crazy sippers, but customers of Tim Hortons, who just cannot imagine their day to start without a cup of this highly addictive, but very delicious hot beverage. There are even people that get up in the morning, go to Tim Hortons for coffee, go back home to get ready for work and on the way to work, get another cup, where else than in Tim Hortons. The rumours on the internet say that they add nicotine to the coffee, which are addressed on the company website:
“Tim Hortons would like to clearly state that there is absolutely NO nicotine or MSG in our coffee.”
When I did a little research, I found out that there is also Tim Hortons in Abu Dhabi (maybe a lot of Canadians living and working in this pearl of East?). One thing that did disappoint me about the coffee is that they could not get me my favourite soy milk to make it brownish. And yes, Tim Horton was a popular ice hockey player.
12. Weekend bonuses
In Europe, weekends are times when working people get out and help boost the economy by spending their incomes (as they are utterly busy during the week to do so then). In Toronto, however, you get encouraged to do some spending by for example getting a daily public transport pass, which you can share with the family (way to avoid people driving around?) or one more adult person. It becomes especially practical when it is heavily raining outside and you want to explore different multicultural parts of the city.
And yes, the pass looks like a scratch card! Very tempting not to scratch all the little windows. You never know, if you could win something, he?
13. Niagara Falls
There is an eternal fight, whose Niagara Falls are nicer. As European, I did not even know that there are more – the Canadian (Horseshoe Falls), the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls.
I visited the Falls from the Canadian side and was quite surprised by the popularity of the site, by the entertainment park next to it and also by the sound the Falls were making. It is an impressive amount of water.
It must have been an impressive view this winter when the Falls froze.
Last but not least, it is the language. It is refreshing to visit a country, where you speak both the languages (as opposed to living in Hungary, where getting by is lately changing into a true challenge for me). However it is true that the French sounds a bit different from the one that I learned at school and that English has a bit different intonation and sounds a bit funny, but all in all, it works and that is what matters.
I know this is an overly positive post, but I was rally impressed by Canada and to be honest, I am already thinking of how to make it back. It takes roughly five days to travel from east to west, I have seen just a little bit (New Brunswick and Toronto), there is still more to discover. Hope to be coming back soon!
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