Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Canadian Odyssey

My travelogue touches the northern parts of the North American continent, Canada to be specific. As poor Indian students, me and my friends would have loved to be the Coleen and Gantzer checking out the exotic places and describe them to our readers, but we could hardly afford them! It was a rather sudden decision, but in hindsight, a very memorable one. Before this journey, I was very much under the impression that Canada was just a natural extension of the USA, or rather USA with a different name! This journey went a long way in changing that.
After visiting every travel website checking out everything from the cheapest air-tickets to accommodation, we set out on our trudge to a 'New World'. We were seven adventure seekers trying to explore the next door neighbor called Canada! We flew from Milwaukee to Toronto. We reached Toronto International airport sometime in the night. The first shocker was the airport, the number of desis at the arrival lounge was stunning. It could have been some pavilion at Meenambakkam or Sahar in India, so full of Indians. At first sight, that didn't impress me much because I had gone to Canada to see something Canadian, not a resettlement of desis in some faraway land! Anyway, we picked up a Dodge Caravan, a big seven-seater van, and drove ourselves to the Best Western where we had booked ourselves. We stayed at Best Western, one of the high-end motels one can find in this part of the world. The good thing about lodging in North America is that, it is never that expensive for all its luxuries that I am sure are of five-star quality by India standards.
Anyway, after the mandatory sleep, we were all set to hit Toronto the next morning. A very important thing about driving in this part of the world is navigation. Driving here is no where same as driving in India. To make things a little clear, if one were to travel from Madras to Bangalore, a person would not need much of directions. Just take the lone road to the 'highway', drive straight, and one reaches Bangalore, God willing! Out here, the system is a lot more complicated (or easy) as one sees it. Due to the great many number of expressways and highways criss-crossing, the exits you take from the highway can make a crucial differerence to whether you are traveling north or south. To our dismay, we took the wrong turn that morning and instead of going to Toronto downtown, we ended up driving the opposite direction and lost a couple of precious hours!
Anyway, we found our way back to Toronto downtown. It is just like any other western city. Tall sky scrapers, glass walled buildings, eating joints and stuff. The place that we were heading was the CN tower, world's tallest tower which runs half a kilometer up in the sky. The view from the top of the tower was great, but we were used to seeing cities from such tall towers by now. However, the tallest floor out there is made of glass. Just imagine standing 500 meters up in the sky on a glass floor with the entire world seemingly on your floor. The idea that the glass might give way leads to a lot of screams, but that is what adds up to the fun!
And, after that we were back again driving towards Niagara, the must see for any desi worth his salt! Niagara is an awesome sight. Around 168 million gallon of water flows down the rocks every minute! Would you want to take bath in that! (Try that).To be honest, what struck me was how this place has been packaged across the world. Niagara is beautiful and awesome, no doubt, but is it what it is made out to be? I do not think so. Niagara has everything from the jazziest of casinos to the best hotels in the world, Hilton, Sheraton, Marriot and what not. To think it is just a waterfall that sustains a place and such a thriving economy shows the importance of packaging things so as to sell, something which India sorely lacks.
Anyway, there is a host of rides you can take there. 'Spanish aero car' that takes you across the falls, `Maid of the Mist' that takes you so near the falls on a boat, 'Journey Behind the Falls' that lets you feel the massive power of the gushing water, you can experience every aspect of nature's bounty. To add to this, we also had the July 4th fireworks that though good were not great. A very noticeable feature here is the abundance of desis. Sons with their parents taking them out. It seems Niagara has become the third must see place of India's karma land after Kashi and Rameshwaram.
After experiencing the bountiful water, we were off to Montreal, a city about which I had no idea except some passing reference in the history books of class IX. But this city really struck me by its beauty. Well, the day started by visiting the Olympic stadium at Montreal where the 1976 Olympics were held. There was this mandatory group tour trumpeting about the stadium and its features such as the tons of concrete used, kilograms of plastic used and all such idiosyncrasies. You also had this must see cable car that takes you to the top and lets you see the Montreal skyline. I guess by that time I had had enough of this skyline business!
But that evening, I had the time of my life. We also had a rather funny hunt for some authentic 'French cuisine' and ended up with the same boring bland Italian food including pastas and spaghettis. The nightlife of Montreal is just unbelievable. The city throbs with life, music festivals, food festivals and the streets literally rocking with the latest fashions. The city has a great mix of the 'modernity' associated with tall skyscrapers along with the bohemian life of European cities, with really classy architecture and some stunning harbor drive. To add to this, we had some really lively fireworks, which literally lightened the sky as it did the hearts of the onlookers.
The next must see place in Montreal is the Casino de Montréal, one of North America's leading casinos. Well, if you are wondering what really a casino is as we were, well it is a place where you trust your money with Lady Luck. That is how a seasoned guy would look at it. We were just travelers inquisitive about how a casino looks, and we were awe struck by the fantasy woven by it on the minds of the people. People come there, win and lose millions without even a smirk on their face! If you thought we poor desi students would not mind a million dollar the easy way, then you must be living in some other planet! I did stake in five bucks and, lo and behold, I won $8.00. I guess the astro predictions for Virgos for that week did work out after all, as I ended with "untold fortune"!
After a really tired but heart fulfilling day in Montreal, we were off to Quebec City. This city seems to be just taken out of France. One of North America's earliest cities, it was eagerly contested by the British and the French, but as in the rest of the world, the French lost it. However, unlike other places, the French left a lasting impression on this place, which continues till day. The primary tongue there is French and you shouldn't be surprised if people stare at you if you speak English! So much for an English Canada that I thought it was. Well, there was the historic fort and the mandatory group tour extolling its 'importance'. The city was beautiful and had a lot in store; however, what it couldn't provide us was some extra time! We were running short of time and had to catch a flight next day from Toronto. We just had a quick peek at the beautiful Montmorency falls and a quick bite at the famous strawberries before we packed our bags back to the 'boring US'!
US looked boring and lifeless to us. Life there was without the extra zip! To think that a year ago I had come to the US thinking it held everything 'cool' in the world made me laugh at myself! But then, you always learn from your experiences and your facts of yesterday become your fallacies of today! Well, I was poorer by $350, but I was richer by the experience, the immense fun I had and the tons of photos that were worth more than anything money could buy!


Blogger Sachin said...

I've never been to canada but seems like i saw most of it through Harish's eyes....It reminded me of my first trip in US and many of the typical desi in USland experiences were very similar. Keep this posts coming and also bolg all ur previos articles in this site...Ur articles in Sulekha are also very interesting. I never knew I was in the company of a gr8 writer....

June 03, 2005 12:59 AM  

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