9:22 AM, Jul 10, 2007
Reflections on Canada
I had a great time in Canada. I knew it was going to be different than the United States, but hadn't quite fathomed the extent and variety of the differences. Let's go over them, shall we?
It's an expensive place. This was the biggest surprise for me. Maybe it didn't used to make much difference to visiting Americans, but with the Canadian dollar sitting at about 94 US cents, the prices on menus and tags are pretty even with what it'll cost you in real(US) money. It's very difficult to find menu items that are under $10, or beers that are under $5. As such, a typical dinner with two beers will easily run you $35. Lunch will get down to maybe about $25. With the monetary setback for ten days totaling just over $2500, this was by far the most expensive vacation I've ever taken, or ever plan on taking without some very serious changes. I could have gone to Europe and stayed in nice hotels the whole time for less.
The people that speak English have funny accents, though neither Alex or I could ever quite mimic them. For example, the American assessment of "about," as being pronounced, "aboot," is completely inaccurate. It's closer to "aboat," but that's still not quite there. Equally amusing is that they didn't think we had accents at all. They though we spoke like them. Sub-second, French is awesome. The fact that even after 250 years of British rule, that the people of Quebec still hold on to the tongue of their ancestors is amazing.
Canada has a much more sensible position on marijuana. I'll clear the air first by saying I'm not a smoker, but that's only because I'm concerned about the employment-related consequences of doing so. The times that I have smoked marijuana have been intensely enjoyable, and have also shown me that criminalizing the substance accomplishes no compelling positive effects, aside from the profitable stroking of the large American tobacco companies. In Canada, they have no such delusions, at least about marijuana. It's technically illegal, but from what I saw and heard while I was there, it would appear that it's only illegal on paper. A Toronto bartender summarized the attitude of the average Canadian well when he said, "I don't know anyone that doesn't smoke weed." I'll leave it at that.
On average, the beer kind of sucks in Canada. In most of Ontario and all of Quebec, there are four flavors of, "good beer." They are blonde, red, white, and sometimes brown. Among many breweries(Boreale, Alexander Keith's, McAuslan, Rickard's, Cheval Blanc, St. Ambroise, Griffon), any combination of these four beers is what you will find on tap at any given place, usually for about six or seven dollars a glass.
In the route we took in Canada, Ontario is where the creative brewing is done. Fantastic breweries like Mill Street, Church-Key, Black Oak, Amsterdam, Creemore, Wellington, Durham, Great Lakes, Steam Whistle, and Walkerville are much closer approximations of their American counterparts. They produce widely varied flavors of beer, and quite unlike their Quebecois neighbors, aren't afraid of hops. Just as surprising as the difference between the beers in Ontario and the beers in Quebec is the lack of their beers outside their home provinces. As such, I consider Ottawa and Toronto, but much more Toronto, to be far better beer cities than Montreal or Quebec.
Canada has the most beautiful women I have ever seen, and the highest concentrations thereof. I have been to California. I've been to Chicago, Boston, Seattle, New York, Florida, Nashville, Austin, Minneapolis, and Atlanta. I've been to Europe, and still the severity and density of beautiful women pales in all these places, in comparison to Ontario and Quebec. Toronto is ablaze with jaw-droppingly gorgeous Asian, Indian, Middle-Eastern, and black women. I had to stop myself staring eventually, because it was like an unending assault of the most beautiful women of color that I have ever seen, one after another, next to each other, riding the bus, ordering drinks, living normally in Canada, completely hidden to hungry American eyes that are unaccustomed to that kind of beauty. Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec are noticeably much more white, but are no less chock-full of women to whom being beautiful is just another ordinary detail of life in Canada.
Canada's large cities are made for walking, biking, and riding transit. Their downtowns are large enough to contain everything that anyone would need, and small enough to traverse on foot. Their neighborhoods blend seamlessly with their downtowns, so seamlessly in fact that a visitor will be walking normally in a particular direction, and look up with surprise to find that they're not downtown anymore. In all four cities we visited, the transit systems are heavily--as much or more than any city I've ever seen--ridden, and at all hours of the day and night. Fares average about $2.75 a ride, which makes them the most expensive transit systems I've ever used, but I would guess that with these prices, they're self sufficient, and don't require tax assistance.
VIA Rail, their intercity rail system, while very efficient, is far less enjoyable to ride than Amtrak. I would liken it more to American air travel. To its credit, their trains are almost always on time, have wireless internet available(for a fee), travel at convenient times, and have comfortable seats. However, once you sit down, that's all you do. You sit. If you get up, it's to use the bathroom. There is no cafe car, no dining car, no observation car, no second floor, and you can only get something to eat or drink when the attendant rolls the cart past, which is about as often as on an airplane.
All in all, my trip to Canada was excellent, and was an experience that I will remember fondly for the rest of my life, but because of how expensive it is, I will not be returning for a trip like this for a long, long time. The pictures will be along soon.