2016 finally turned out to be the year I took my travel bucket list seriously and started to tick off some of the top destinations on the list. If you expect some crazy itinerary like flying over to Antarctica to slide on ice with penguins I must disappoint you. Instead, I decided to end up in Great White North. Yes, you guessed it, Canada.
The seeds of this trip were planted when I arrived in Amsterdam and met a bunch of friendly, crazy and over the top polite Canadians! It took me only 3,5 years to wake up one morning, go on Skyscanner, look up the craziest flight combinations and planned a two-week adventure in Canada.
I mean, if you haven’t had luck to meet many Canadians yet, the hot factor embodied by legends like William Shatner should be enough to persuade you to go there!
Day 1: Welcome to Ontario
After a short, 7-hour flight across the Atlantic and islands like Greenland (thanks God because I always think about potential emergency landing locations), we landed in Toronto, first stop. While still cruising at an altitude of thousands of meters above the ground, I got a glimpse of the CN Tower and something I thought was still the Atlantic Ocean.
Digging deep down in the recesses of my mind, I rediscovered my 7th grade geography knowledge and managed to recall that Toronto is not located by the coast but rather inland. So the body of water I was seeing was nothing other than the 18,000+ km2 of Ontario Lake. This was the first time it hit me that Canada was big. Not that people hadn’t mentioned it to me so many times before.
There are plenty of choices to get you from Pearson Airport to the more central parts of the city. You can either take the Skytrain, or Uber (uber cheap for European standards) or the more adventurous Rocket Bus 192. “Rocket” was speeding up on a highway, where we passed approximately hundreds of Canadian flags until we reached the Kipling station, the meeting point my friend and I agreed upon.
You know that moment when you see someone after a very long time and it feels a bit unreal? No, I did not pinch her to check if she was…she actually was! These are the moments we live for! Finally reunited, we kicked off our weekend adventure.
Day 2–4: Eat, Party, Dance and Repeat
Choice of transport: bus. Toronto public transport caught me off guard with their little tokens you use to pay for your bus ticket. Luckily, my friend explained this to me otherwise I would be still wondering where the arcade games were. We scored the best affordable accommodation with a room at the Planet Traveler Hostel, located just around the corner from Kensington market, which I call the Food Mecca of Toronto. Reaching a foodgasm has probably never been easier! Delicious tacos, grilled lobster tails, fresh fruit, tasty bacon loaded breakfast, amazing fried chicken with waffles, poutine….topped up with live music, people dancing on the street, shops selling things that only your imagination could dream up, cocktail bars, cafes, Cannabis Medical Clinic (I kid you not and I arrived from Amsterdam) and more, this is a place to spend your Sundays when visiting Toronto.
Some Canadians might seriously dislike me now, but please do not consider Tim Hortons to be your major food supply chain during your trip to Canada. Yes, the glazed donuts are great, but that is not the point.
With the variety of restaurants in the city, Tim Hortons should represent only a one time stop to take the donut and get out of there. When (still) talking about eating experiences, don’t forget to go to the St. Lawrence Market.
It might seem like a pretty obvious tourist trap, but if you want to eat on a budget, the ground floor offers some nice spots with a tasty selection of local and international cuisine at a very good price.
Besides knowing how to eat well, these people know how to party. The city offers a variety of nice bars to choose from. What I did not know was that partying can get quite expensive. That is why I only stared in shock at my friend when she screamed “OMG, 20 bucks for 5 drinks (on the door of our hostel), we are staying for this party”. This simply means that compared to what you’d usually pay at the bar, this is a party deal to kill for. This is also the easiest way (as I discovered) to turn yourself into a bottle of vodka, because you just change the container from the bottle to your body. So if you have a chance to party hard in Toronto just do so! Thanks to a lot of the smart brains who came up with social apps like Snapchat and others, your night will be captured anyway. No need to force your brain to remember it!
Toronto was in many ways nothing like I expected. Flat like the Netherlands, with many industrial and modern buildings crossing paths with history and amazing nature (for the best sunsets head out to Toronto Islands. Ferries are super cheap and ride very often.)
But the thing I loved about the city the most was and is its multiculturalism.
When you walk through the streets of Toronto, it’s like if you’d be walking through different countries of the world. China, Italy, Mexico, Europe, you’ll find it all in the capital of Ontario.
I will be honest. If, while visiting Toronto, you expect to dive deep into ancient history and devote yourself to admiring architectural treasures of Canada, then you are in the wrong spot. Toronto will offer you much more if you try to immerse yourself in its young spirit, multicultural environment and open-mindedness. This is the experience you should be looking for.
So after four amazing days I packed my suitcase, said bye to my Uber loving friend (if there was an Uber elevator on the stairs to get her onto the bed I swear she would call for it) and found myself on a flight to the West Coast.
Day 5: 10 hours itinerary in Vancouver
I did not get to see much from the plane on the way to Vancouver but six hours of flying helped me understand how large Canada is. Nothing could prepare me for how beautiful it was, but more about that later.
We landed in Vancouver after midnight and with the fastest track possible I made my way to the taxi.
Driving through sleeping Vancouver on the warm summer night was an ecstatic experience. Only you and the city!
Though, I also really wanted my bed after almost entire day of travel, I was really enjoying the car ride I had to myself. The next station: Urban Hideaway Guesthouse! Patrick, the owner of the hostel, was super kind to wait for me to finally arrive at 2:30 am after my plane was terribly delayed. Despite the early hour, he gave me a nice welcome, house tour and bloody comfy bed! If you want to have a unique experience and like story telling while being served some spotty breakfast, this is the place for you to stay!
On the way to Victoria, Vancouver was a less than 10-hour itinerary. Enough time to visit cute Gastown, get some hell of street food, locally brewed beers, head out for drinks to Davie St., catch the sunset at English Bay and taste some of the best sushi in the world. (I have not been to Japan yet )
Besides being one of the most amazing places wrapped around with breath-taking scenery and great culture, North America probably has one of the highest number of homeless people (young) per square meter I have ever seen. Behind almost every corner you can find more and more homeless people. The majority travel to the West coast especially due to its fairly warm winter climate in order to avoid freezing temperatures of the East coast reaching -40C in the winter. The shock got even bigger when I came to Victoria and saw that it had a ‘Tent City’ (as they call it) for homeless people right next to the city center full of shiny modern and historical buildings with tons of tourists walking by.
With some pleasant as well as shocking discoveries, my first 10 hours in Vancouver came to a close, crashed on the bed and set my alarm clock for 5:30 to head out to Tsawwassen Ferry port.
Day 6: Where Canucks want to retire
To save yourself a trouble, the fastest way to get to Victoria is either from Vancouver International Airport or Vancouver Seaplane Harbor, super close to the Vancouver Convention Centre. Since I always like to make it more complicated for myself (otherwise it would be boring) I decided to take the Canada line from Waterfront to Bridgeport Station, bus to B.C. Ferries Terminal, hit the cashier with some loonies and toonies , got my ticket and took off. Once out of the port, there is this kind of magical mist you probably get to see in National Geographic docus narrated by no one else but David Attenborough who gives it just the right atmosphere. I didn’t have David with me, but the scenery, morning coffee and donut just did it. Despite freezing and rather cold summer morning temperatures I stayed on the deck, got almost deaf when ferries were honking at each other, but I wouldn’t change it for the sake of what I’ve seen. Since a picture speaks a thousand words…
For animal lovers out there, if you are lucky like I was, ferries are a great way to see ‘Free Willy’ (80s and 90s kids will understand). For 2000’s + teens, I am talking about orcas. If you’re not lucky, you can try out the whale watching experience for approx. 120 dollars.
Navigating through the islands we made it to the Swartz Bay after hour and half. After meeting with my friends, we got into a car and started our journey, direction Victoria, with freshly made coffee and cake in hand (my friend is a chef so we could not be in a better hands). My recommendation if you go by car: take a little detour sideways to discover the island. Vancouver Island is probably one of the last few places where nature and humankind live in balance. Even though urban activity is slowly expanding here, people place a great importance into preserving the wildlife. When it comes to basic stuff like food, the majority of it is sourced locally from the farms on the island. We stopped by few of them to get some stuff for my friend’s restaurant.
One of my favourite viewpoints in Victoria…
No wonder Canucks want to retire here. And I’ve seen the real life evidence to support this: there is probably the highest number of old people per square meter living here. I am not surprised.
Day 7: When I became a TACOHOLIC without ever being to Mexico
I often got the feeling that it took us longer to get to the city itself than to walk through it. Victoria is a fairly small, but very cute city, you will get to see in one day. Tons of small shops, restaurants, parks to walk around, little bars. To recommend a few: L’Ecole (french), Part & Parcel (menu changes weekly, all locally sourced), Discovery Coffee, Cenote (hidden gem & nice bar), Vancouver Island Brewery, etc. You would probably expect that the highlight of my eating and drinking experience would probably be poutine (which was delicious btw!) or Caesar, the famous & weird drink that brings struggle to many vegetarians, pondering drink or not to drink, since it contains clamato juice. No.
Right after ‘Beaver tails’ that got to my stomach, it was TACOS from La Taqueria that got to my heart. This super small, and to my surprise great quality, fast food chain serves some of the best tacos and margaritas I got to eat and drink in my life. A fair amount of choice when it comes to both, makes this place a perfect quick stop when you are looking for something quick, tasty and at affordable price in Victoria. I wish someone would love me like I love those tacos!!!
Day 8: Happy Birthday Canada
By a lucky coincidence I ended up in Canada on July 1, its official birthday. This teenager celebrated its 149th birthday this year. Canada Day probably looks a little bit different at any place of this country so I offer you my experience. After spending the majority of the day at the beach, we headed to the city centre in order to swim through the crowds of people and dogs dressed in red and white with maple leaves printed basically everywhere. My the favourite part of the day? Definitely fireworks in the centre and night beach fire with some nice cold beer from Vancouver and Amsterdam and sounds of the Pacific ocean in the distance! Probably one of the calmer Canada day versions:)
Only the morning after did I realize that we were not far from the already closed Sealand of the Pacific (officially in 1992) in South Oak Bay, the home of sadly famous Tillikum killer whale (Blackfish documentary) who was transferred from here to his current captivity in SeaWorld Orlando.
Day 9: Where to spot all the hot surfers in Canada
With only one day left on Vancouver island, we decided to go for quick but very intensive trip to the west coast of the island, called Sombrio beach. One of the most recommended and probably hottest places on Earth even during the winter, given the amount of surfers per square meter here.
How to motivate yourself when you are not an early morning person like me? Well, the vision of a good, freshly brewed coffee and homemade pastries will do for the road and the probability of hot surfing dudes will do for the destination. We headed out from Victoria around 8:00 in a morning, direction West Coast Road.
I was glad to be with a local, otherwise I would’ve probably missed out on some of the great spots on the way such as Shirley Delicious. Run by Philip, a super energetic, positive and pumped up guy, this place is one amazing if you need to recharge your batteries with some great coffee, the best cinnamon rolls, meat pies and morning Bob Marley mix. We were ready to roll.
After another hour or so we arrived in Sombrio. In order to reach the beach you’ll need to take short hike (no worries, it’s downhill) passing through the ‘forest’ that takes you back to Jurassic. Pretty impressive. But nothing compares to the view you get once you reach the shore. It’s breathtaking (and I mean the beach, not the hot stuff surfing). A perfect place to spend a weekend here camping and just enjoying the time being away from urban civilization. If you are worried about where you’re going to take a shower and stuff, nature has already figured that out for you. Just ask any local at the beach to direct you to the waterfall. I mean, it’s a one of a kind shower. Many people come here for the weekend to chill, surf, camp, some of them pop in and out of the forest as this is a part of some super long hike along the coast, or just to get away from the city. This is some serious gateway if you want to completely disconnect from the world.
Day 10–11: When you wish your plane would be delayed this one time…forever
After a short picnic day at Sombrio, we went back to Victoria, packed our stuff and headed straight to the airport and Swartz Bay port. My visit of Vancouver island came to an end. Last hugs and goodbye and off we go back to Vancouver.
As shocked as I was after the first 10 hours in the city, I could not wait to be back to explore more. This time I decided to stay in the Kitsilano area (if you ever plan to move to Vancouver this is the place to live!). Easy to reach everything from here.
Vancouver offers pretty much everything, whether you are looking for a busy metropol or relaxed city experience. From busy city centres, with top notch restaurants, clubs and fashion stores to great little hipster coffee places, bars, stores, markets, etc. You’ll get beach on one side of the city, ski resorts and great hiking spots on the other. During my last three days here I visited as much as I could. Some of the places I’d definitely recommend would be Granville Island, Kitsilano beach, Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, try Yolks for breakfast, Cartems Donuterie, etc.
The place you must visit is definitely Stanley Park. With Amsterdam instincts in my blood I decided to do a little bit of investigation on where to rent the best bikes — the best way to explore Stanley’s. Why? Nothing compares to biking alongside the Seawall. If there is a little bit of adventurer in you, rent the mountain bike which is great to discover the inside of the park. Take your time to stop at the view point and get to see Lion’s Gate Bridge, one of Vancouver’s construction jewels.
To sum it up, I LOVE Vancouver. Its people, its vibe, all of it. This is the spot I will be returning to many times in the future. So you can imagine how difficult the last morning was. I got up early to pack my stuff and headed out to Canada line to catch my train to the airport. While waiting for my flight to Toronto I chatted it up with this really nice grandpa who, by coincidence, was on his way to the Netherlands as well (just a couple of days earlier than me). When he talked about his upcoming trip to Lowlands as we call it, I realized how much I wish that my plane is delayed, forever. I love Amsterdam, don’t get me wrong, it’s one of the coolest places on Earth to live in, but it’s definitely not the only one.
Eventually my plane was delayed, although not forever. We made it to Toronto shortly before midnight, so I made it straight to my airbnb bed. With my last day left in Canada and three guys I was sharing the airbnb with, we hit the city to explore some final spots I did not manage to see during my first stay in Toronto. Hockey Hall of Fame, St. Lawrence Market I mentioned earlier and more. On the exact same day I got to experience the love Canadians have for their ultimate baseball team, Blue Jays. Blue Jays caps, Blue Jays caps everywhere.
This is definitely how you can recognize Canadians around the world besides their well known Canadian flag patch on their backpacks. Are you looking for any other signs? Maybe it was just my perception or it really is a Canadian thing, but they carry some secret super love for tattoos. For once, it was funny to be in a country where it’s rare to be without a tattoo rather than with one. By tattoo here I do not mean a Chinese chicken soup sign so popular in the 90s but a real piece of art that covers a significant part of your body. Even I was mildly tempted to get one after spending two weeks in Canada. With these last impressions I got to pack and get ready for a seven hour flight back home.
Day 14: International Maple Syrup & Kraft Food smuggler
Yep, you are right. With 2 liters of maple syrup, maple cookies, a liter of maple liquor from my friend, Crispy Crunch (Cadbury you suck because it’s not available in Europe), bunch of Kraft Food boxes and other souvenirs, I became a natural suspect at Toronto Airport. Can you blame me though? Or maybe the lady at the control was only worried for my already increasing body weight (seriously, what can you expect after 2 weeks of donuts, poutine, waffles and fried chicken with maple syrup, Caesars, hanging out with a friend who is a chef, tons of tacos and let’s not go further). After her suspicious glaring she probably reached the conclusion that it’s safe to protect my curves with maple syrup supplies in my backpack and let me go.
What else is there left to say? Probably the only thing. I’ll be back. Two weeks, nor a lifetime is probably enough to explore this great country but I’ll definitely try to return and experience as much as possible. So if you have a suggestion for another amazing itinerary in Canada, I am listening.