It was after 11 years that I was in North America and it was my first Visit Canada experience.
I was born in Punjab where everyone dreams and wishes to visit Canada some day. When I was doing my graduation and post-graduation at Panjab University in Chandigarh, all that a lot of young women wanted was a groom from that country. They dreamt of a comfortable life in the developed world. During my working years, while in transit at Zurich Airport, I suddenly heard Punjabi conversation. With a lot of time to kill, I joined the conversation and again heard a lot of things about the country from these women who spoke only Punjabi. It almost felt that if you have taken birth in Punjab, it is your Dharma to visit Canada if not try to immigrate.
Visit Canada – My First Impressions
Years later, I landed in there at the Invitation of Destination Canada. I expected to see a lot of fellow Punjabis, but I did not meet many, in the three cities that I visited – Whistler, Vancouver, and Victoria. I only spoke to one of the taxi drivers who was a first-generation immigrant torn between longing for home and ease of life. It was at the departure terminal on my way back that I met a whole lot of Punjabis – mostly elderly people. Air Canada flight back home could have been a Punjab Airlines flight.
As always share my first impressions of visiting the country.
People of Canada
Having traveled and worked extensively in the USA, I always thought of a Canada visit as an extension of the USA. I expected a similar environment. Yes, they are similar when it comes to not just their ISD codes, but in the way things work. However, what makes them apart is the people.
I found people in Canada very gentle and very humane. Whenever I sought help from anyone while walking around, the answer came with a genuine smile. In Victoria, where I walked the most, people went out of the way to point out things that I must see. John of the Discover The Past Tours took time out of his busy schedule to take me for a walk around Victoria. At Whistler, the concierge staff of Fairmont Vancouver made sure I do not leave Whistler without having a look at the Lost Lake.
My friend Peter in Vancouver showed me the city and took me to some amazing restaurants. His friend Joann took me to artist studios as part of the East Vancouver Culture Crawl.
Mary of Whistler Tourism and Brianna of Vancouver Tourism helped me choose the places I could see and answered all my questions with patience.
Each of these interactions left me with the impression that Canada is one of the friendliest countries I have visited so far.
Now, we all know that like most big cities Vancouver is also a diverse place. There are many ethnicities who have found a new home here. What makes it different is that there are not too many ghettos in British Columbia. Sure, there is a China Town, a Japan town, Surrey for Sardars and other neighborhoods, but none of them are devoid of other ethnicities.
When Alfred of A. E. Private Tours & Charters was taking me around Vancouver. He showed me an Italian and a Chinese neighborhood – but they were as multi-cultural as the rest of the city.
Similarly, you can find a variety of food options in any neighborhood. In 2.5 days in Vancouver I had Italian, Mexican, Lebanese, Chinese, Canadian (guess Tim Horton’s counts), American and Ethiopian food. I took the diversity of Vancouver right down to my tummy.
Fall Colors in November
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Fall Colors – they fascinated me no end in Vancouver Downtown. Everyday I walked past trees with leaves in every shade of yellow and red. The fallen leaves created a #tapestry on every street, every pathway. Every moment there was a unique painting waiting to be admired. This one was just outside my hotel in #vancouverdowntown – every time I stepped out, I hated to step on these leaves but at the same time enjoyed the coloured pathways of #vancouver_bc – every step revealed a new arrangement. #inditales #fallcolor #explorebc #explorevancouver #explorecanada #imagesofcanada???? #canadaigers #colorfulleaves #fallleaves???????? #vancouverlife #britishcolumbia #visitvancouver #vancouverscenery #vancouver_canada #vancityinstaa #enjoycanada #thankyoucanada #canada_pic #travelblogs #indianbloggers #indiantraveller #worldtravelers #traveltheworld #gotravel
What enchanted me most in Vancouver and Victoria were the fall colors. The leaves of trees along roads were in various shades of yellow, orange, pink and red. In the middle of November, there were as many leaves on the road as there were on the trees. Go a couple of weeks before that, all these leaves would be on the trees, ready to shed. Go a couple of weeks later and the trees would be totally devoid of them.
While walking on the roads, my eyes struggled between the road with colorful leaves and trees where each tree had a unique color. It is surreal to look at those trees. You can spend hours looking at them. These visuals will stay with me for a long time.
I saw so many Maple leaves in all hues that by now the association of Canada and Maple leave goes way beyond its presence on their white and red flag.
November otherwise is the leanest month for tourism in British Columbia. Many people visit when the tourism businesses are on a break, hop-on-hop-off buses run at a lesser frequency. Key attractions like Gondolas are on their annual maintenance schedule. However, as a traveler, this means there were lesser crowds and you could see the places more peacefully.
Discovery of First Nations
I read about First Nations or the aboriginal people of North Western region of Canada after I started planning my trip to British Columbia. I saw a few images of Totem Poles and was intrigued by them. So, I put a couple of museums on my British Columbia itinerary while I planned my visit. However, as I started learning about them – right at my first stop in Whistler, I got more and more curious about them. Finally, I ended up spending my last day at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. In between, I kept reading about the Totem Poles and the various tribes that inhabited the islands before the Europeans took over.
Wait for my detailed post on First Nations and how they occupy the prominent space in British Columbia Cultural Tourism space.
Festivals of Canada
During the days I was there, Whistler was celebrating the Cornucopia Food Festival. I missed it as on the day I was there, they had nothing for vegetarians.
In Vancouver, I saw a bit of contemporary art scene in East Vancouver as part of an annual culture crawl. It was the best thing to do to let your creative juices flow. I got so many ideas and loved the creativity of each of the artists.
In between, in different museums, I got to see the art of Emily Carr – the most celebrated modern artist of British Columbia. Many art institutes are named after her in BC.
Whenever you plan to visit BC, do check out the festival calendar, there is bound to be something for you to experience there.
Canadian Visa for Indians
If there is one thing that I did not appreciate was their Visa process. There are too many steps and you have to answer too many questions. At some point in time, I wanted to give up as the questions went just too far. As a traveling adult, who has an invitation letter from the tourism authority in Canada & all other required documents, why do they want to know the address of my parents?
I wish and hope that authorities look at simplifying the Visa process and timeframe for tourists.
The good part is there is no personal interview like in many European countries and the USA. They also give you a one-time multiple entry Visa for the length of validity of your passport, which means the next visits would be hassle free from Visa perspective.
Once you have the Visa, getting in and out of the country is like a breeze. On landing, the immigration process is automated. While leaving you really do not need to go through any immigration steps.
Flights to Visit Canada
While there are many airlines that fly, I chose to fly with Air Canada – as they have a direct flight from Delhi to Vancouver. It is roughly a 14-hour flight and is probably the most convenient flight to take for this long distance. A detailed post on my experience with the airline would be coming soon.
Public Transport in British Columbia
Most people in North America like to drive. In the USA, I used to hear that getting into a car is like wearing your shoes. So, I was a bit apprehensive as I had no plans to drive there. It takes me a while to adjust to the other side of driving. However, I used various forms of travel and was perfectly fine using them:
- Pacific Line Coaches – for traveling between Vancouver and Whistler
- Taxis – for short distance travels within Vancouver
- Sky Train – In Vancouver
- Free shuttle transfer for Capilano Bridge
- Local Buses
- Ferries – from Victoria to Vancouver
- Seaplane – from Vancouver to Victoria
- Hop-on Hop-off buses – Took a full loop at Victoria
- Private tour in an SUV – At Vancouver
- In a friend’s car – For culture crawl
- Zipline (not as transport but as experience) – Whistler
You just have to adjust your timings as per public transport timings.
Do you know in Vancouver Downtown, 65% of people do not own a car?
Some transports like coaches cost less for local residents than visitors. I like the idea.
There is also an option to pick up a bike or a self-drive car like Car2Go from a designated place. I did not use them, but they almost make the owning of a vehicle redundant in the city.
This is the first time I flew on low height in a seaplane and I totally loved it – wait for more posts on the details.
I ziplined in snow over a creek & it was an incredible experience.
Pacific Line coaches come with free wi-fi & you can not ask for more.
Walkable British Columbia
All the three cities of British Columbia that I mentioned are fairly walkable.
Whistler is, of course, a small village and unless it is snowing or raining heavily, you do not need any transport. Having said that most coaches drop you at the hotel doorstep & pick up from the same point.
Vancouver downtown is easily walkable, though as a first-timer, you may find it demanding at times. I remember on Day 1, I was trying to get to Canada Place from an Art Gallery, and Google showed it one mile away. I wanted to take a bus or a cab, but everyone said – it is just a few blocks away walk. People are so used to walking that no one thinks of other options. Having said that I did not find many fat people in Vancouver. All this walking is keeping them fit for sure.
Victoria is where I walked the most. On a morning walk, I almost circled the whole town and then walked through its sprawling gardens. I was told this is the most walkable city. With so much beauty all around, who would mind walking there. Being a small city, it gives you ample space to enjoy walking.
I saw very limited use of single-use plastic bottles. Most people carry their own bottle of water. In hotels, they do keep a couple of bottles, but they are not complimentary as in India. The tap water is portable so there is no need to buy bottles.
At Butchart gardens, they sell carry along water bottles that people can refill at various water dispensers. Even at food chains like Subway, they offer you an empty paper glass that you can fill at the water dispenser instead of a water bottle.
What Did I Miss in British Columbia
I missed visiting the world heritage sites of British Columbia like the Rocky Mountains, Sgang Gwaay. And I also missed islands like Haida Gwaii.
I usually miss my Chai on my travels, but thanks to my friends in Vancouver, I can not say it this time that I missed ‘Meri Wali Chai’.
Overall, I was very happy with my trip to British Columbia. As always, I have come back with a longer list of things to see/experience from there – hopefully, there would be another opportunity to visit to explore this lovely country.