An European traveler’s take on Canada

Originally posted on: 31 August 2012, recovered after the blog crashed & burned

Along with my wife and son, I have traveled quite extensively all around Europe. However, in the summer of 2012 we decided to go to Canada for our vacation, and this is what we found out. The Americans and Canadians reading this will probably have a good laugh, as will the eventual Aussies out there, but this is what an East-European sees.

First of all, Canada is defined by the word “far”, and I don’t mean just getting there, but everything in the country, as well. From the house to the neighborhood park you walk a pretty good way. To get to the shop “across the street” – better take the car. The adventure park at the outskirts? A short 70 km drive. Ottawa is practically next door to Montreal – 200 km. Montreal to Niagara? 650 km in two days getting there and a whole (endless) day back – plus one of the worst traffic jams I have seen on a highway (actually, I have seen worse). As a side note, in Toronto we went up in the CN tower, just in time to see the so called “rush hour”. A 4 lane freeway, packed full of cars moving a little slower than a snail. Why is it even called rush hour? Shouldn’t it be called “traffic jam hour“?

While in Europe, a 4 hour flight gets you across the continent, you need to fly 8 hours or more just to get to the east coast of Canada. The (domestic) flight from Montreal to Vancouver was 5 h 30, something we’re not used to back home.

As for Air Canada, I have quite mixed feelings about them. For the long-haul flights, they were all right. Ok-ish food (lowest bidder quality – nothing to write home about), good service, wide variety of choices on the IFE system. Come the domestic flight (at 5h30 it’s not a short haul by any standard), and I feel like I’m flying a low cost back in Europe. Sure, we have the IFE and the food, but EVERYTHING else is EXTRA. Want earphones for the IFE? Show me the money! (I kept the ones that we got for free on the inbound flight, otherwise it would have been $7 each… for earphones that tend to fall apart due to normal wear and tear after 5-10 hours of use). Want a blanket and a pillow for my son who was trying to sleep? Sure, gladly! SHOW ME THE MONEY! Back in Europe we were never charged a dime for pillow & blanket even for short hops when we needed them (and we asked for them on about half of my son’s 17 flights). Be it Lufthansa, British Airways, Tarom or the smaller CCM Airlines, they were always happy to help us (by the way, if I pay for a pillow & blanket on a domestic Air Canada flight, do I get to take them home?).

Also, our flight from Montreal to Vancouver had a mechanical failure and was delayed for 6 hours until they could find another plane to take us there. Really? Wizzair, who’s a low cost carrier thus keeping its planes airborne for as long as possible, in a similar situation, found a replacement plane in 3 hours (how I cursed them back then, not knowing what will come….) and Air Canada, with a fleet of 200+ planes, in one of its hubs, can’t find a replacement in less than 6 hours 🙁

Vancouver is a great city, but we found accommodation to be nickel&dime again. And I don’t mean cheap motels. I mean Hyatt Regency downtown. While I expected internet access to come for a fee, I did not expect it to be this expensive ($15/day if I remember correctly). Can someone explain why in the 21st century, when internet access is widely and cheaply available, expensive hotels ask an extra for internet access? And why this happens when cheaper hotels, that ask for 50 to 150 $/night offer it for free?

Also, what I did not expect was parking being more expensive than renting a car. As in $49.90/day for the car and $50/day car parking (valet tip not included?). I have stayed at a wide range of hotels in Europe, including Hilton, Novotel, Mövenpick, Intercontinental and Ramada and never was I charged more than 10 euro for parking.

Oh, and my final problem: I never got used, in the three weeks and a half I was in Canada, to the price system. You see something, it has a price tag. You want to buy it, you have to pay taxes separately, over that price. Why? So if I have $10 in the pocket and see a $9.99 piece of something, I won’t be able to buy it as I have to pay $11+. Again, why? Isn’t it easier to have the tax IN the price as we do here in Europe so you pay what you see on the price tag, as almost everybody else in the world does?

Aside from the rants, I really enjoyed Canada, especially Vancouver and Whistler. But that’s a story for another time.

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