It was a temperature change like no other. As soon as we stepped off the plane in the early morning grey clouds of Toronto it was a sigh of relief. Quickly followed by a shudder of ‘what have we done!?’ From 35 degrees to -7 it was definitely a shock to the system. We dumped our stuff off at our place we headed straight to an outdoors shop and bought essentials. Just like when we got to New Zealand we needed thermals, hats, scarves, gloves and hand warmers. We were set to explore and make Christmas memories in thick snow.
Toronto is a great walking city, you can get about really easily. We liked the urban feel with the views of the river right out of our flat we stayed in. The first night was comfort foods, hellooooo Poutine! During our stay in Canada we had so much yummy poutine, chips, cheese curds and yummy gravy. It was the perfect fix after missing gravy for so long.
We managed to cram lots into our time here. We found a great free event that runs twice a week throughout the year at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. We ended up seeing both performances the week we were there. A wonderful jazz band performing great Christmas classics along with their own new songs, and then a performance about a man’s night out after he finds his wife has left him. Two very different pieces but thoroughly enjoyed both.
To start our full winter wonderland Christmas we made our way to the Christmas Market. It was awesome, crammed full of fairy lights and decorations to get us starting to think all things Santa. After being in Mexico for three months and not having much of the build up to festive times, it was a great way to get into the festive spirit. We had mulled wine and wandered around the stores. They were all selling great products but nothing that could fit in the backpacks safely.
We spent a very cold afternoon warming up at the cinema, we love the cinema and Tuesday was $5 day. It was a really run down old school cinema that smelt a bit of feet but it was great. We also managed to catch a great and free event on at a different cinema called Wild Sound Film Festival. They showed around eight short films created and filmed by women, after each showing we got time to debate and question the film. It was a wonderful evening supporting newcomers into the film industry, as well as seasoned short film directors. It’s all donation based and they have many events throughout the year.
Toronto can’t be visited without making your way to Niagara Falls. We got the public bus over there and braved the icy winds and the sprinkling of snow that had begun. We were surprised that it was so quiet, but with it being winter we quickly learned why. The town is a little dreary, sad and grey with looming casinos and big hotels. We was glad we weren’t staying here and only visited for a few hours. The Falls are huge and it was exciting to go in the tunnels underneath to hear and feel the power of the water. But overall it was a little underwhelming, maybe a trip in the summer needs to be had!
Our first time on a Greyhound coach all the way to Ottawa! The Canadians that we’ve met seem to laugh at the fact that we made the effort to visit their capital, claiming there’s nothing there. We did sense that the city is very much for the business and government workers but we had fun walking about exploring. We even got a free tour around the Parliament building that they are getting ready for renovating. You got to see the library that was saved from the great fire, the house of commons and the Peace Tower. We also learnt about their history and that the queen is also their monarch. It’s a great free thing to do for an hour or so in the afternoon. Ottawa is also home to the worlds largest naturally frozen ice rink, but unfortunately despite feeling it, it was not cold enough to be fully frozen.
A new obsession of maple candy has been born and we’ve never looked back. We did eat so much maple syrup, sugar and butter it was a bit ridiculous. We got our first taste at a farmers market in Ottawa. We also found Obama Cookies and such yummy mac n cheese that we’d been craving since the States.
After our short stay in the capital we got on the train and headed to Quebec City. It was getting closer to Christmas Day and we couldn’t wait to get into our Airbnb to get the supplies in. Quebec is such a beautiful city. Especially with all the lights strung up and decorations everywhere. It was by the coldest we’ve felt in all our travels so far. It got down to -20 degrees on some days with it feeling like -35… very cold. We went and explored on the first day, looking at the beautiful architecture, also visiting the christmas market. Although it wasn’t as big as Toronto’s one.
We found the big ice toboggan slide. It was amazing, so amazing that even though we couldn’t feel our feet or our faces after queueing for 40 minutes, it was still worth it.
We also got to try maple ice taffy, they have a trough of fresh ice shavings and pour hot maple syrup onto it. You use a lollypop stick and you roll the sticky maple and ice onto it. Delicious!
Christmas Day was full of lots of food and drink, even baking cookies to make ice cream sandwiches. We started the day going for a chilly walk around the snow covered park and video called family and friends so we didn’t miss them too much. Well untill our phones switched off because it was too cold for them outside. It was definitely a wonderful day spent together in a beautiful city and lived up to our cold wintery christmas that we wanted. Even with Netflix having a christmas fire and carols show, though I did make Stu sit through lots of christmas films…
We even had a christmas card to open thanks to Coops, I did a big cry since it was a surprise that turned up! We love you!
Our Airbnb host was great at giving tips and information on where to visit. On boxing day we made a trip to a huge waterfall called Montmorency Falls. About half an hour out of the city, it was so beautiful and full of visitors. The public bus went straight there and you could explore the falls from the top and get a cable cart to the bottom. It was the coldest ever though so we tried to do it all quite quickly so we could defrost with more hot chocolates.
Montreal was so much fun. We went bowling, to the cinema and round the shops and restaurants. We also found our new favourite hobby that we’re going to carry on when we get home, if we have a garden… Axe throwing. This was an Airbnb experience and we loved it. We were taught how to stand and throw the knifes and axes and attempted to get the bullseye. They also have a giant Nerf assault course, which we wised we had time for.
New years eve was lots of fun, we celebrated the UK one in our apartment and then Canadian, so lots of bubbles were consumed! We ventured out into the night with lots of people to go and watch the fireworks. As always when you venture across the world to meet new people, we ended up standing next to a lovely family from England. Parents were over visiting their daughter who was studying at university here! The fireworks had nothing on the UK’s as it started to snow and the cloud came in. This just made the fireworks loud bangs and smoke. The crowds were huge despite it being so cold, but I think they are way more prepared for the cold than we were.
The last thing we wanted to do before heading to the mountains was to see a hockey game. It’s been a while but we love watching ice hockey. The Canadiens against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was a great atmosphere. We were rooting for the Canadiens and it was great to see them win.
After fun in the city we were so excited to get to the mountains. We got our beast of a rental car and took to the snowy mountains. We went straight to Parc Omega an hour and a half drive from Montreal. It’s a huge area devoted to the conservation, moose, elk, bison, wolves, bears… all in their natural environment. You can buy carrots to feed to the animals, two bags were not enough. The drive around is magical in itself with the snow capped landscape but then add all the animals that roam around freely and it’s incredible.
Our first cabin was perfect. A beautiful bit of land that includes walks through the forest to a frozen lake and small streams. Snow shoeing is so much fun, we’ve never had to use snow shoes before but it is necessary to hike in the winter. We loved it! You end up in the middle of a forest deep in snow which stops any sounds, it was eerily peaceful.
Our second cabin was more rustic but came with a wonderful neighbour called Leon, a beautiful Golden Retriever. We had many surprise visits from him. Our cabin was equipped with Scrabble board games and a 1000 piece jigsaw that got started on straight away, it’d been a while. The cabin is set on a beautiful lake that was so deeply covered with snow that snow shoes were again needed.
And now Leon…
We also managed to fit in some slopes action, but in the form of tubing! We got in a queue full of small school kids and went crazy on the slopes. It’s like over inflated rubber rings that you see in water parks that have a rope around to pull along. Our first go down the hill and we really didn’t expect it to go so quick. It was ridiculously fast and caused a surge of adrenaline. We kept going up and down, trying out the different runs and loving it much more than the kids I think!
Overall we had the best, coldest, snow filled adventures in Canada we could want. We’ve already started planning a trip back in the summer months to visit the west side to British Columbia. We love you Canada!