Requiem for the Canadian Dream


“How was Canada?”

That’s the question I’ve been asked most since I came home, and the question I most struggle to answer. How do you summarise more than a year into a sentence and actually be honest about it? It depends who’s asking, but usually I answer something like, “It was amazing – difficult, but amazing.” That’s the most sincere way I can describe it.

Fourteen months to the day after arriving in Vancouver, I left. I didn’t leave because I had to – my visa was valid for another ten months – I left because I couldn’t imagine staying another year. My time in Canada was broken neatly into stages, each completely separate and almost independent of each other. The first and longest stage, ‘Phase I’ as it grew to be known, spanned six months, and was made up mostly of rain, struggling for work and feeling lost (both physically and metaphorically). Phase II not only saw a change in the weather, but a complete change in what life in Vancouver had to offer, thanks in no small part to the friends that soon became my family away from home.

Once you drop the idea that you need a lot of money to travel and you find a solid bunch of people willing to go, pretty quickly you’ll realise that anywhere within a 400km radius is your playground. Although we had so much on our doorstep in Vancouver, the best part about my time there was going on trips away. In a very short space of time, I saw Whistler, Seattle, Kelowna, San Francisco, Vancouver Island, and so much more. Had I not been living in a new country, I never would have dreamed of taking that many breaks away.

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Québec: La Belle Province

15327225_10155487326282786_8864455231558793712_nGiven it’s all the one country, it’s hard to believe that Québec is part of Canada at all. There are times, while walking through the quiet, quaint streets of Québec City, overhearing snippets of French conversation as you go, that you’ll forget that an entire ocean separates you from Europe.

I visited Québec in early December, spending time in both Québec City and Montréal. It proved to be a combination of the best and worst time of year to be in this part of the world.

Québec City

Following an ordeal involving delayed planes and a missed connecting flight, I eventually arrived in Québec City a full day later than planned. I had just spent five days in a sunny New York City, so I wasn’t quite prepared when my plane landed in -3 degree temperatures to find the city covered in snow. I also wasn’t prepared for how hilly the streets are. As a result, I can now tell people that the very first thing I did when I got to Québec City was fall spectacularly on my arse. Thus, the next stop on my trip was to a shoe shop where I was forced to fork out $160CAD for snow boots, just to stay vertical.

However, the beauty of Québec City is that with the correct footwear and twelve layers of your warmest clothes, it is easy to walk to all the major tourist attractions, the majority of which are located in Old Québec. Le Chateau Frontenac forms the core of this part of the city. The iconic hotel is flanked by the Terrasse Dufferin, overlooking the St Lawrence River. A stroll along the boardwalk will take your breath away. (This is only in part because it’s so damn cold.)

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In a New York Minute


In many ways it’s a relief to visit a city you’ve already been to. It means you can skip most of the biggest tourist traps that you probably saw the first time round, and instead take it easy as you explore some of the cooler, quieter areas in the city.

I first visited New York while my sister was living and working in Manhattan back in 2009, when I was seventeen. I travelled with my parents, and while they stayed in a fancy Park Avenue hotel, I bunked in with my sister in her studio apartment on the Upper East Side. Over the course of 10 days, we hit every tourist attraction on offer, each day planned to a tee by my meticulous mother.

This time round, I was visiting a friend who lived in Bushwick and I was determined to get a more authentic New York experience. I was also really excited to see the city at Christmas. However, as this was just the first stop on what was to be a three-week, multi-city tour, my budget was tight, so I chose to do only what was free, or failing that, cheap.

Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting

If Home Alone shaped your childhood Christmases, then you’ll be more than familiar with the giant Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Plaza. Seeing the tree generally tops the list of things to do in the city at Christmas, so you can imagine the levels of squealing when I realised that I would be in New York the day they turned the lights on.

15349655_10155472112552786_8434714021674272571_nThe event is a free for all, but you need to get there early to be in with any chance of getting into the viewing points. The tree lighting itself doesn’t happen until 9pm, at the end of a two-hour televised NBC show which featured performances from Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks and Dolly Parton on the main stage. Unfortunately for us though, it was a miserable, cold, rainy day in Manhattan, and several times we considered cutting our losses and running for drier land. In the end, we persevered out of stubbornness more than anything, and were glad that we had stuck it out. But if I was there again and the weather forecast sucked, there’s no way I’d do it again.

Christmas Market at Bryant Park

Whether by accident or on purpose, I ended up at the Christmas Market in Bryant Park at least three times over the course of the five days I was in New York. Due to its central location in Midtown, I found myself passing through the park several times, usually on my way to somewhere else. Each time I couldn’t help but browse the stalls there, which had everything from Christmas ornaments to artwork to clothes and homemade jewellery. On the last day of my stay in New York, I decided to go back to the market to buy a print that I had been admiring on previous visits. However, I’d failed to note the day – Saturday. Up until that point, the market, while always busy, was never too packed and could be navigated easily. The weekend in the park – and the whole of Manhattan – is entirely a different matter. Throngs of people lined the paths dividing the various stalls and there was a queue for almost everything. If you can, get to the market midweek for a far more pleasant experience.

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The Scenic Route

fullsizerenderSeveral months ago, as I began to think about leaving Canada and heading towards the next adventure in my hazy, crazy life, I pondered how best to use the last few weeks of my North American dream. The answer did not come to me fully formed, rather it fell in place piece-by-fragmented-piece, with thanks mainly to cheap flights and good friends.

A casual scroll through Skyscanner one day in August unearthed a flight from Toronto to London on December 14th for just $240cad. Which when converted to euro, thanks to Canada’s broken currency, is about a fiver (give or take). Knowing my sister would put me up for a few nights in London and that Michael O’Leary would fly me home from there for a song, I booked the flight almost immediately. That just left getting from Vancouver to Toronto.

While an obvious route would be to just take a plane from the city I lived in to the city I was leaving from, I felt that lacked imagination, so I consulted with some friends at that side of the world and made a plan of my own. It went as follows: a plane to New York, staying four nights in Brooklyn; another plane to Quebec City where I would spend two nights; a train to Montreal for a further three nights; finally arriving by train to Toronto and staying four nights before taking aforementioned plane to London.

In all, it took me three weeks to get from Vancouver to Ireland, spending time in five cities on the way. I do, rather optimistically, intend (eventually) writing in detail about each place I visited, but for now I’m just going to simply list some things that I learned from those three weeks.

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As timing goes, we probably picked the worst possible weekend for a road trip across the US border from Vancouver. Back in September, when my friends and I decided to visit Oregon on Remembrance Day weekend, we had no idea that Donald Trump would be elected the 45th President of the United States days before, sparking riots on the streets of Portland and the Canadian dollar to tank against the USD. However, we were not deterred from making our trip, and nor, it appeared, were the rest of the residents of Vancouver, half of whom seemed to descend on the US border at the very same time as us. Four hours of traffic and queuing at immigration later, we finally left Canada behind us, leaving us just an easy five-hour (!) drive ahead.

Alas, we eventually made it to Portland, just about 13 hours after we set out, and managed to avoid any of the riots which had closed many of the city’s streets hours earlier. Despite our late arrival, we were able to take in a huge amount of what the ‘City of Roses’ had to offer.

15055738_10155412230637786_844348905001433195_nSaturday Market

Portland’s Saturday Market, despite its misleading name, is open all weekend in the Old Town neighbourhood. The open-air market personifies what the city is famous for – its thriving art scene. If you prefer authentic souvenirs and homemade jewellery, you’ll burn holes in your bank account here. The market also houses a main stage with local performers – however it’s entirely hit and miss whether they help or hinder the shopping atmosphere.

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Rocky Road (Trip)

When I initially came to live in Canada, I wrote what I thought at the time to be a very long and potentially overly-optimistic ‘bucket list’, outlining everything I wanted to see and do in the time I have here. High on that list was visiting the Canadian Rockies, a trip I was assured repeatedly I could not return home without making.

Plans for the trip were made well in advance, with thanks to my parents, who have never been ones to miss out on an opportunity for a good holiday. It was a team effort – with my mother acting as planner, me as chauffeur and my dad as identifier of any and all trees and birds we saw on the way.


For most people driving from Vancouver to the Rockies, Kamloops is the obvious overnight stop on the way – it’s a little over three-hours drive and right on the Trans-Canada Highway. However, we chose instead to travel a little bit off course and spend a few days in Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley. This was for two reasons – the first being that I had been there before and knew that my parents would love it, and the second being that I googled Kamloops and was thoroughly underwhelmed by what I found.


The view from the halfway point of Knox Mountain, Kelowna.

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I left my heart in San Francisco

img_4363Spending my formative years – aged roughly 10 to 13 – watching Charmed saw to it that visiting San Francisco was at the top end of my North American bucket list right from the beginning. Damn, that show made it look cool. As did the shed-load of J1 students who ventured there for the summer months year in and year out, while I slaved over the airwaves back home from May to September, vowing that my time would come. Until finally, living on the West Coast of Canada, with just 1,500km separating me from the Golden State City which I craved, it did.

My favourite way to travel is to have a local cart me around from place to place, and show me not only the things that tourists come to a city to see, but also what it’s like to live there. Thus, I am extremely fortunate to have a friend who lives and works in San Francisco, who could do just that. (Hey Kate!) I had roughly three and a half days to spend in the city, and although I saw so much during my time there, I only wish that I had given myself longer.

San Fran like a local

The Castro & Dolores Park
As my friend lives in The Castro, it was our base for most of the trip. The area was one of the first LGBT neighbourhoods in the US, comes complete with rainbow pedestrian crossings, and is also home to the beautiful Castro Theatre, which unfortunately, I could only appreciate from the street, as time did not permit me to see a show there. (*cries for days*)


Dusk at Dolores Park.

Dolores Park, located between The Castro and Mission districts was the first stop on our San-Fran-like-a-local tour. The 16-acre park combines two of the best things any public space can provide – epic city views, and ample availability for creeping on other people’s dogs. Other park features include a guy dressed in teeny-tiny speedos giving out free suncream, and the Truffle Man, who will sell you edibles, should that be your idea of a good time, and comes with his own page on Yelp. For an added good time, visit the nearby Bi-Rite Creamery, and if you’re as lucky as we were, witness a colony of nudists cycling by as you awkwardly slurp your ice-cream.

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