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Discover: Canada

Words: Abhishek Kulkarni

Thought Canada was all about the Instagram-worthy sceneries? Read on to discover a whole new side of this beautiful country.

The second biggest country on the planet flaunts beautiful landscapes, mountains, glaciers, beaches and the majestic Niagara Falls… Instead, here I was, chasing BeaverTails… Curious? Well, let’s find out!

There is something called as the hook of a song. And I am sure that you have numerous songs with certain parts that just make you fall in love with them; we are all victims of this. They are basically catchphrases that compel you to latch on to them. Despite witnessing some majestic architectural marvels, spectacular buildings, empty roads (yes, a rare sight for us Indians!) and a lot of ah-inspiring moments, my hook for the entire tour was BeaverTails. It’s that mouth-watering… Okay, no… Let me take you to the beginning of this journey and tell you about where I spent five of the most beautiful days of my life…

QUEBEC CITY
With an early start from Mumbai, we took a back-breaking flight to Toronto with a layover at Frankfurt. On reaching Toronto, the itinerary directed us to our first destination, Quebec City. The old architecture had an effortless charm to it, and the weather too was pleasantly cold. Not the kind that sets your bones on constant vibration, but just the right type of chill. We reached the hotel in the evening and without wasting much time, freshened up and decided to take a stroll near the hotel. What amazed me the most was how almost the entirety of the population were French. And the reason behind this is because Quebec was one of the earliest known French colonies, established in 1541. The vibe of the city is pretty French in nature and every nook and cranny makes you feel like you’re lost in the streets of Paris. Seeing the streets lined with nightclubs, we decided to enter one and called it a day with a glass or two of some brilliant wine. But I actually don’t remember how or when I got back to my hotel. And do not even bother to ask me the number of shots I had! We had an early start the next morning and after filling our bellies with great food, our task was to explore the city on our feet. Yes, we decided to walk! I usually don’t prefer walking, but in Quebec, the commoners choose this over other modes of transport. Well, when in Rome… Or in this case, Quebec. We visited the Notre-Dame Church in Old Quebec first. After which we explored the Old Town some more, where we found museums, mansard-roofed houses, and cobblestone streets. This side of Quebec has an irresistible charm to it.

Streets of Old Quebec City

What’s worth mentioning is the Grand March. It’s a march from one corner to the other of the city. What you simply need to do is to register yourself and join the troop. It is held on a Sunday, every 15 days between October and December. And we were lucky to be in Canada at the same time. You ask what they do? Well, nothing! The purpose is to get to know and meet new people while you walk around discovering the beauty of Quebec. I wonder if we could have a meet and greet session like this in India too! With just a day for each city, we had to skip a lot of places in Quebec, but all that I could see of Quebec, it is now amongst my favourite destinations… actually, no… it is THE favourite destination and I have promised myself to visit it once every year. The day ended with a visit to Saint Jean Street that was filled with nightclubs and restaurants, and after a long day, wine was my companion for the night again.

Modern Fountain by Charles Daudelin in front of Gare du Palais train station, Quebec, Canada


MONTREAL
Catching up on a good night’s sleep, and a heavy breakfast the next morning, we started our journey to Montreal, and the Orleans Express train gave us more views of the picturesque terrains, countryside of Canada, and the Grand Lake. As we reached Montreal and had our lunch, our guide was waiting for us to get on the hop-on hop-off bus to take us to the Notre-Dame Church. Yes, every city has one in Canada, and this was as regal as the one back in Quebec. The architecture across Canada leaves you mesmerised with its grand structures and rustic vibe.

Bytown Museum beside Rideau Canal and Ottawa River, Ottawa, Ontario

Toronto might be the business capital of Canada but Montreal is the artistic juggernaut where the Francophonic Canadians celebrate art and festivals. Our next terminus was a museum (argh, why so many museums?) called Musee Pointe a Calliere. Built in 1992 to mark the 350th birthday of Montreal, it houses artefacts and the century-old history of Canada. Intricate details about the ancient cities of Canada have been replicated in this 5-storey museum that resides in the heart of the city. The tour continued and we visited the Gay Village which is a street full of restaurants and pubs supporting the movement, which I loved. As late as we were, we could only find one restaurant that was still serving food, but we barely managed to eat, thanks to our tired legs and exhaustive schedule.

Pink balls hanged across Rue Sainte Catherine in Gay Village, Montreal

The Basilica of Notre-Dame, district of Old Montreal


OTTAWA (AND BEAVERTAILS)
Day 3 kicked off with a trip to the capital of Canada! At Ottawa, we had a Lincoln Navigator to pick us up and on our way to the hotel, the excited chauffeur showed us a lot of interesting spots we could go to. Disinterested in his chit-chat, I was mentally making my own plans to explore the city. For lunch, hosted by Ottawa Tourism, we went to the Byward Market. And then came the highlight of this trip (for me at least). I’ve gone on and on about some beaver’s tail since the start, remember? Well, let me put your curiosity to rest. BeaverTails is a chain of pastry stands which serves fried dough pastries. Filled with chocolate, the pastries are to die for and it’s not just Ottawa, the chain is famous across Canada. I have had pastries from around the world (yes, I admit that I have a sweet tooth), but the ones I had at BeaverTails just blew me over. And if you don’t believe me, then I would suggest you to try it and experience what people call, a foodgasm. In between all this, unfortunately, I injured my leg because of all the walking we did in Quebec and Montreal. Walked myself right into this one, didn’t I? But that did not deter me from exploring more. And the Niagara Falls was still on the itinerary!

Fresh strawberries displayed at Byward market square

Okay, coming back to Ottawa, we visited the Royal Canadian Mint, a Crown corporation which is responsible for producing the coins of Canada as well as many other countries, including India. We were allowed to enter the Mint and see the process of coin making. And it’s not just the circulation coins, but the collectors’ coins that are its specialty. With tons of gold, silver and platinum around us in abundance, we weren’t allowed to take pictures. But do you know what’s the benefit of being a tourism board guest? You get a coin for yourself! Yes, I got a stamped gold coin!

The Canadian Museum (another one!) was the next stop which again showed Canada’s way of preserving its history. But there was something different this time. The museum had screens which displayed historical moments through videos, and that took you back in time rather than just running your eyes over placards in front of the statues. After another long day, it ended with dinner at the hotel (no alcohol this time) and a much-needed sleep.

Biosphere environment museum at Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal

Architectural landmark near Bytown Museum.


TORONTO
Via Rail was the transporter here as we reached Toronto and with just a few hours in the city, we decided to cut short a lot of visits and zeroed in on Casa Loma. As interesting as it sounds, Casa Loma was a mansion which has now been turned into a museum. It belonged to financier Sir Henry Pellatt, who started as a rifleman and rose up the ranks to be later knighted. After another round of history at the Royal Ontario Museum, we were escorted to the CN Tower. Yes, the same building which held the record of the tallest structure till Burj Khalifa came into existence. At 1815 feet, you could see all of Toronto, and one thing that I have to mention is the spectacular view of Toronto airport.

The CN Tower, Toronto

From the top of the building we could see the airplanes flying past us at an arm’s distance. The aviation freak in me was jumping with joy! The Toronto Tourism hosted our dinner at the 360-degree view restaurant in the CN Tower premises. This revolving restaurant completes one full rotation in 72 minutes and while we were gorging on the seafood platter, we had completed two rotations already. Speaking of food, Canada is blessed with a variety of foods, from traditional dishes like poutine (fries in cheese curd and gravy) and Kamouraska lamb to multi-cuisine restaurants! Another day was done and we slept off, dreaming about all the selfies we would take at Niagara Falls.

The CN Tower, Toronto

The Casa Loma museum


NIAGARA
Before biding Toronto adieu, we decided to visit the Ripley’s Aquarium of Ontario which houses more than 20,000 exotic sea and freshwater marine life. The vastness of the place and the number of aquatic animals it had was simply baffling! But my interest was Niagara and without further ado, we moved towards our final destination. Upon reaching the hotel, we were greeted by a perfect view of the falls. We decided to catch some sleep and meet in the evening. While the others caught their 40 winks, I explored the areas nearby. In the evening, we took the incline railway down to Elements on the Rock, where our dinner was hosted by the Niagara Falls Tourism. I had heard a lot about the illuminations of the Falls, but witnessing it yourself is a completely different feeling. The light show has been happening since 1925, and taken care of by the Niagara Falls Illumination Board. Describing the sight of the multi-coloured water is beyond words as I just stood and appreciated the beauty of nature, enhanced by humans. With the same postcard-esque image in mind, we slept off in anticipation of entering the falls the next morning.

Niagara Falls

As the dawn broke, the white noise woke us up and I believe my room had the best view of the cluster of the waterfalls. We took the Hornblower cruise ship which took us right to the falls. Drenched in water, we were then given an aerial tour of the three falls where we could see the natural border that separated the USA and Canada. After all this, I could not think of anything more that Canada could offer me. But I was wrong. The Ravine Winery was another gem in the Canadian crown. Famous for making ice wine, this particular type is the sweetest of them all. How? Well, to put this into perspective, if one bottle of wine takes 10 grapes to make, the ice wine takes about 3000 of them! We Indians love a sweet ending and for me, this was it. My sweet ending that summed up the entire tour for me. What I took from this amazing journey was that Canada has so much to offer. From its architectural wonders to extraordinary meals, and scenic routes to adventurous trails there is a lot that lies silently, waiting to be explored, ready to blow your mind away just by a single glimpse.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

    

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