Words by: Purujeet Parida
I was truly excited as I waited in London on October 30th 2014 – waiting for my connecting flight to Vancouver. As one of the winners of Hostelling International’s Big Blog Exchange, I would be staying in five places around Canada over the next 14 days… minus jet lag time, as I would find out later. The trip was a mix of exploration and self-discovery, friendship and celebration for me. The sheer diversity of people whom I met and the spectrum of experiences that were shared convince me that Canada is a great country to visit – whether as a family travelling with lots of literal and imaginary baggage, or as a lone backpacker with more flexible plans, or anything in between.
A drizzly start in Vancouver
I first met Grant from HI as he was graciously holding a placard with my name on it! It was a very pleasant surprise, unlike the rain that started as we travelled to the Vancouver Downtown Hostel. One of the first things about Canada that hit me was the emptiness of the streets. One shouldn’t see empty main roads in Vancouver in the middle of the afternoon before Halloween, even with slight cold drizzles. Later that night, crowds poured into the streets in Halloween revelry – I didn’t understand the concept but I went with the flow – and the streets were not empty any more.
Soon I realized that they were never really empty. It’s just that there are so few people on the roads compared to Mumbai streets that my brain just screamed – Empty Streets! Then I visited Whistler, a few hours’ bus-ride from Vancouver, and walked on real empty streets for the first time. It was not yet winter, which was when tourists, skiers and adventurers descend upon this small town off the Highway 99 – Sea to Sky road. HI Whistler hostel is one of the youngest and most modern hostels in the HI-Canada group. It was built for the athletes of the Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games of 2010.
Hiking in Whistler’s bear season
The rain had followed me from Vancouver and led me on several unexpected side-trips in Whistler. I hiked into the mountains with the sound of drops falling from dense foliage to innumerable puddles and ponds in my ears. It was exhilarating following a trail alone in bear season. It was a good thing I had the bear hotline numbers saved on my phone, though I guess I was always running the risk of my battery dying on me. Each photo in the jungle was some juice that was possibly gambled against my life. Check out Karen’s Daily planet, which is just across the rail-line on the other side of the highway, if you are staying at HI Whistler. The games village is a great place to hang out, and you can also find good food in the mall. Do not miss the Squamish and Li’l Wat Cultural centre at Whistler. It gives you a ornately artistic and time-travelling glimpse into the lives of the First Nation people of Canada – something that is so starkly different from the fate of the Native Americans, yet riddled with very similar past and present troubles.
Shuttles, subways & a little sun in Toronto
I was looking forward to flying to Toronto, eager to check out the University and the waterfront, with the sun shining over me. It started drizzling the moment I landed. However the commute to the hostel which is on Church Street, right in the thick of things, was over 1.5 hours from the airport. As luck would have it, it was easy and cheap… and wet. I struck some sunshine on the next morning and discovered what I had suspected already – the scale and utility of public transport in Toronto = Mind+Blown! Most of the major cities of Canada have developed public transport systems that are efficient as any European system and cheaper than any American system, but Toronto has built a whole bouquet of options for its residents. Subway, Streetcar, Fleet-bus, shuttles and public bikes – Toronto has it all. Do not forget to go to top of the CN Tower – You might want to check if a window seat and meal at the 360 restaurant on the Top floor works out as a better deal than the extra dollars you have to shell to just go to the Top floor. Do not miss the graffiti district near Chinatown. If you are a night owl, you mustn’t miss the midnight chow places in Toronto – amazing variety within walking distance and a must try. Most Importantly, Always plan to spend a few days at a great destination nearby – The Niagara Falls.
Read more from Purujeet on his blog: