Aside from Niagara Waterfall, we didn’t see any of the other natural marvels from the vast Canadian territory, a situation that I would be really happy to change at some point. 4 years ago was the first time getting out of the European frontiers, and it felt the right choice to start with the cities.
We planned a Canada – USA joint trip, spending a few days first in Toronto and Niagara, then getting on a bus to Montreal, where we remained for 4 days. Here we rented a car and made a day trip to the capital city, Ottawa. The following day we embarked on a plane to New York, and after 4 busy days in the Big Apple, we concluded this beautiful vacation with 3 days of visiting Washington DC.
But how are the most famous Canadian cities like?
“There are only two seasons in Toronto: the rainy season and the cold season” is how our guide from the “Free Walking Tour” was joking about the weather. I’m sure there are also hot summer days, but his words were prophetic for our stay, because in those early September days we had too much rain and icy cold temperatures.
If you don’t see too many people in Downtown Toronto, don’t think it’s not a busy city. Everybody else is in the PATH, an underground pedestrian walkway of 30 km, that connects the public transport with companies, museums, restaurants and hotels, helping daily commuters to move easily when the weather is bad and making surface traffic a lot more manageable.
Of course I was impressed by the Financial District, my head was spinning around at the sight of all those sky-scrapers. CN Tower dominates the area as the tallest construction of 553m. You can climb to the top of it for a beautiful panoramic view of the city. However, I didn’t particularly enjoy the hegemony and the monotony of the modern all glass, squared shaped skyscrapers on the waterfront area, because they were adding a cold feeling to a city that doesn’t need any more cold to it. I like diversity, even in architecture and urbanism.
So the Distillery District was a surprising place in this new and modern city. A handful of red brick Whiskey factories from the 19th century were kept and re-purposed to restaurants, pubs, night clubs and art galleries connected by a few pedestrian streets. Worth mentioning also as one of the oldest historic places of the city is Fort York with the military buildings, from early 19th century.
Oh, and I should not forget to mention the squirrels as a particularity of the city, because I have never seen so many of them like in Toronto, and I have never seen black furred ones before. In the parks around the beautiful buildings of the University of Toronto they overpass the number of students:)
And if you don’t try Maple products, you haven’t been to Canada:). Maple butter on whole grain toast was my favorite in the mornings.
Occupying an island, connected by 20 bridges, Montreal is the largest city in Quebec, looking like a close relative to an European city, very different from Toronto.
We had a long list of places to explore, but my favorite experiences were the trails on Mont Royal, the night tour in the Botanical Garden, the harbour and the Old Town.
20 km of walking each day is usually the norm for us when we travel and this time was no exception. And after all that effort hunger was hitting us like a truck:). Poutine, their traditional dish helped us to recover all the lost calories.
In over 4 years, a city can change considerably and I hope some measures were taken to help the homeless people of Montreal. There were so many of them, young and old, many probably under high dosage of drugs or alcohol, clustered under huge piles of trash that were meant to keep them warm. All this was happening in the central area, alongside the luxurious shops, theaters and top universities looking unmoved by the human decay right outside its shiny doors. I didn’t like this side of you, Montreal!
Hiring a car in Montreal was a good option to make a day trip to Ottawa, the elegant capital city.
The most interesting part of this journey was the tour of the Parliament Hill: we saw the changing of the guards, visited the Parliament building, went up in one of the towers for a stunning view of the city and then attended a live Senate debate session, because you are allowed to do that, citizen of the country or outsider.
At a walking distance there is another remarkable site, the Rideau Canal, or to be specific, one end of it, the part where it joins the Ottawa river. The other end is ‘only’ 202 km away at Ontario Lake. It was built at the beginning of the XIX century as a way to protect the country from American invasion and was the most challenging construction in Canada.
John By was the engineer who took over this almost impossible task and the small settlement that had formed here, during those construction years, at the junction between the canal and Ottawa river was called after him: ByTown. Three decades later, with the place developing rapidly it was given a new name: Ottawa City, that will soon after became the capital of Canada.
Visited September 2014