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It’s been over 3 years since I left my home in Canada to embark on a journey around the world. When I left, I was really unhappy. I hated Canada and I hated Toronto. But what they say is true, we never truly appreciate something until it’s gone. And that’s what happened with me and Canada. See, here in Australia, Canada is on everyone’s travel wish list. The beautiful landscapes, the amazing skiing, the great cities, you name it, there are lots of reasons why people choose to fly to the other side of the world to experience what I once had in my backyard. And after being away from “home” for over 3 years, I am finally starting to understand them.

This Christmas I went back to Canada to visit friends and spend time with family. This time, I was coming from a completely different perspective, one of a traveler curious to discover, to experience, and to appreciate all the things I once loved about the Great White North.  So here are just a few of them.

Tim Horton’s

Tim Hortons, Canada’s favourite coffee and donut chain, is a true Canadian cultural icon. Founded by Tim Horton, a Canadian hockey player, back in 1964, it now has over 4,500 restaurants across Canada and 800 in the United States. Even though Tim Horton’s menu includes much more than just coffee and donuts, for many Canadians Tim Hortons is not really about the food or the drinks. It’s a Canadian symbol, a symbol of national pride, and a symbol of home. Bring any Canadian expat in the world a cup of Tim Hortons tea/coffee and see their eyes fill up with emotions from great memories of home. Canada wasn’t always my home, but my connection with Tim Hortons is just as deep and emotional. And it doesn’t hurt that to this day Tim Horton’s steeped tea is still THE BEST tasting tea I have ever had. EVER. 

A cup of steeped tea and a butter croissant - my favourite order at Tim Hortons!

A cup of steeped tea and a butter croissant – my favourite order at Tim Hortons!

Poutine

Poutine is another cultural symbol of Canada. A simple fast food dish made with french fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. This Canadian favourite is sold in every food truck and at every restaurant (well at several) across the country. It originated in Quebec in the 1960s and quickly spread through the province and later throughout Canada. Poutine is the perfect snack and an even better after the bar food. It’s messy, its delicious, and it just never tastes the same outside of Canada. So I made sure to eat more than my fair share of this delicious gooeyness.  

Poutine from a food truck in Toronto, Canada

Poutine from a food truck in Toronto, Canada

Max and I fighting over a plate of poutine. We are so classy!

Max and I fighting over a plate of poutine. We are so classy!

Caesar Cocktail

I didn’t realise that a Caesar cocktail was actually a Canadian thing until I left Canada. I looked for it on menus all over Europe, in Asia, and beyond, but had no luck. Caesar is a cousin of the Bloody Mary cocktail, made witClamato juice (Tomato juice and clam broth mix) instead of Tomato juice. In Canada, it is always beautifully garnished with celery sticks, pickled cucumbers, olives and sometimes even bacon or hot sausage, making it a perfect drink plus snack all in one. 

Signature Caesar cocktail at Earl's Restaurant

Signature Caesar cocktail (on the left)  at Earl’s Restaurant, Canada. Photo credit: vancouverscape.com

It used to be my favourite cocktail to start off the night and turns out, it still is!

Being an Hour Away From US Shopping

When I lived in Canada, half of my wardrobe was purchased in the US. It was easy: I’d hop in a car with a few friends, drive down to Niagara Falls (only 1.5 hrs away from Toronto) cross the border and shop till we dropped in a massive mall in Buffalo. The prices were always cheaper and the brand selection was significantly better. When I was younger I’d go down to stock up on Abercrombie and Hollister, then it was Forever 21 and H&M, but this time all I wanted was to shop at Victoria Secret. I know you can buy Victoria Secret online and get your purchases shipped to anywhere in the world. But I never really enjoyed that kind of shopping and especially the extra shipping price tag that came with it. I didn’t get a chance to hop over to Buffalo during this trip, but I did give my credit card a workout at a Victoria Secret in Florida on my brief stop to visit family there.

Cottage Weekends

Getting away up north for the weekend has always been one of my favourite past times in Canada. I hold fond memories of the summer weekends spent swimming in lakes, boating, fishing, eating, drinking, tanning, exchanging stories over s’mores at the campfire, and staying up until wee hours in the night playing board games. They were the weekends spent away from technology,  from TVs, computers, and phones. These were the weekends that helped us reconnect with friends and family and create memories that will last a life time.

Muskoka cottage country in Ontario, Canada

Lake in Muskoka cottage country in Ontario, Canada

Cottages as such don’t really exist here in Australia. There are beach homes surrounded by great beaches, lots of restaurants, and shops. They are great for getaways and are fun in their own way, but they will never compare and certainly never replace cottage life in Canada.

Winter Activities

I don’t love the cold. No wait, I hate the cold, but getting all bundled up to be active in the snow is fun. I always loved ski getaways to the Blue Mountains. I don’t particularly love to ski or snowboard, but was often the one going for some easy tubing and rushing back to the ski chalet for some après ski drinks.

I didn’t have enough time for a ski getaway to the Blue Mountains this time around, so we opted for a day of skating instead.

Family skate at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto

Family skate at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto

Family and Friends

I’m incredibly grateful that despite the distance, my friends and family continue to be in my life in the same way that they were when we all lived in Toronto. We might only see each other every 1-2 years, but we stay connected with technology. (How did we ever live our lives without Skype and Whatsapp?) There is nothing I miss more than a heart-to-heart, a good cry, and an ab-hurting laugh with my girls back home. After all these years, and with many new friends in every corner of the world, they are still the ones that I call when I need a chat. Thank you for making the time to see me, ladies, and for reminding me how much I love all of you.

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This Christmas I visited Canada with a different perspective, one of a traveler curious to discover and to appreciate all the things I once loved...

What do you miss the most about your home towns?