As a transplanted Canadian living in Germany – four years now – I’m often asked about Canada. The following is a sampling of what I answer daily.
The first thing you should know about Canada is that any picture you find showing a scene is real. The image doesn’t change a little to the left or right of what you’re looking at. The mountain vistas really look that way. The clean cities are in fact clean. Smiling faces; not actors posing for an advertisement. See a mighty ‘Indian summer’ forest … believe it, it really looks like that! Waterways and lakes; this is the one place where you can find a change, but only because I’ve never found a camera that can accurately capture spectacular water scenes.
With that in mind I am often asked what to recommend for a visitor. This is what I say: (Sorry, but this article is a little bit longer than normal.)
Best large city: Vancouver. You can do everything imaginable here in one day. Skiing, mountain-biking, golfing, whale watching. / Stanley park is everything people say it is! A large, multicultural city that rates consistently at the top in international surveys (year after year after year).
Best scenic highway: Highway 93 on the Alberta, British Columbia border. The 200 mile (320 km) drive north from (roughly) Banff to Jasper cuts right up the middle of the Rocky mountains. No buildings, no gas stations, no fast food restaurants, no billboards. Just long views into the mountain scenery. Wildlife (yes, it does exist), glaciers, snow capped peaks, crystal clear water. Unspoiled nature at it’s finest. Topping off this excellent drive are two equally spectacular towns – Banff and Jasper.
Best province: Nova Scotia. From the internationally famous picture postcard fishing village of Peggy’s cove to the tiny hamlet of Baddeck (Cape Breton Island) and back to the shores of the Bay of Fundy, where you can experience natures rhythm at every changing of the tides. The largest and easily the most impressive in the world! (honestly)
Most interesting surprise location: Saskatchewan. Prairie landscapes may not be everyones cup of tea, but I am endlessly fascinated by the way a farmers house and building(s) stand out against the seemingly empty landscape. Look a little deeper though and you realize that it sits on a farm big enough to be a large city. And all around it are the colors of the wheat, rapeseed or barley fields. It also has the distinct character of describing how the family lives. You can see a structure to the arrangement that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious in a quick, casual glance. / Also, an interesting phenomenon I’ve never seen anywhere else in the world (after traveling to more than 30 countries) is when you stop at night between the two largest cities of Saskatchewan, Regina and Saskatoon.
Looking in the direction of either of them you see a distinct bubble of light on the earth coming from 100 miles (160 km) away. It’s uniquely different. / * A special note here. If you have never seen the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) then Saskatchewan is the place to have that experience. I’ve seen a display of the lights which have been so spectacular that it takes your breath away. Years later, even while writing this my memory is still filled with the vivid, awe inspiring colors of ‘the show’. Really, I cannot recommend this any higher, it’s truly a ten out of ten!
Best small city: Penticton, British Columbia. This ‘jewel’ of a city (about 50,000 people) sits on an alluvial plain about 35 square miles in size and has mountains to the east and west or a large lake to the north and another to the south. The best part is that the shoreline(s) stretches from one side of the city to the other and you can actually use them since they have not been ruined by development. Also, there is a canal that runs north to south which you can spend the better part of an afternoon floating casually downstream on. Bring your own or rent an inner tube. Best part is that it isn’t fast, deep or dangerous. / Among many other positives to this wonderful city is that the traffic scheme was so brilliantly laid out that people should be studying it from around the world. Which wouldn’t be hard to do since there is also an airport to fly people in or out of which connects to Calgary or Vancouver.
Best international city: Ottawa, Ontario. Both Montreal and Toronto get high marks, but Ottawa (the national capital) wins hands down. The first positive is that the city is bilingual (60 percent English, 40 percent French). / Next, you can ski within 45 minutes of the city center or white water raft closer than that – 25 minutes away. / The city has two universities and all of the national museums that any wealthy country can put on display (similar to Canberra, Australia). / You can sail on a lake in the middle of the city or boat your way through on the canal which has locks right into the middle where Parliament sits. In winter this canal is said to be the longest natural skating rink in the world. / I’m also quite fond of the transport network. Getting from one end of the city to the other or from the middle to the countryside is faster than most national capitals. But best of all there is a network of bicycling paths that make you think you’ve entered Holland.
I could write all day on this subject, but won’t. Let me just finish by touching on these two things:
Contrary to the international impression of Canada, it really isn’t dangerously cold, and no, you can’t ski in summer unless you are in the mountains of Alberta, British Columbia or the somewhat smaller mountains of Quebec. Instead, summer temperatures are often close to 90F (32C) and while it can get miserably cold in winter it really depends on where you are. And even that doesn’t seem to be as extreme as it used to be due to global warming.
Pick any name from the following and you wouldn’t be making a holiday mistake: Quebec city – carnivals and old world charm, any time of the year. / Victoria, British Columbia – charm of ‘ olde England’. / Niagara Falls – speaks for itself. The drive from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario is also first rate. / Nahanni National Park – one of the last true natural wilderness areas left on earth.