By: Amir Ezzat
When the word Canada is mentioned during a conversation, or read in an article, the first thought that comes up in one’s mind is how cold this country is. This is usually accompanied by an arms rubbing reflex action when its weather is discussed further.
This article was written by an Egyptian man who visited Canada for the first time, who spent 20 days in the Ontario province for the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Toronto: The City of Fame
The airport usually gives travelers their first impression of a country. Indeed it was a pleasant first impression about Canada. Toronto’s international airport was neat, clean, very well organized and smelt uniquely different from Cairo. Since it was Christmas time, the related songs were heard everywhere and Christmas decorations were all over the place.
Passport control was not easy to pass through, but that is often expected whenever the popular green Egyptian passport reveals itself anywhere in the world.
My friends were waiting for me right in front of the terminal door, just a few steps away. But, in just a few seconds, I was hit by the impact of the negative temperatures the moment I went outdoors. I have never experienced such extreme weather conditions and kept trying to breath, but there was not enough oxygen in the air. I felt as if my lungs, nose, and all my body organs were re-calibrating themselves, and my mind was trying to identify and clarify this lifetime experience. I kept coughing for some time when I finally got into the car until my body restarted itself to operate in the freezing conditions. That’s when I began to breathe normally.
Toronto is a massive city, urbanely organized similar to Cairo. The old areas are near downtown, but as you go further outwards you are exposed to a totally different view, with newly built houses and glamorous paint jobs. Wide roads, new cars, relatively fancy shops, and parks and lakes everywhere. An interestingly attractive living style.
Shopping malls added an exclusive touch to the so-called Canadian experience. They were really impressive in each and every way. Yorkdale shopping mall was the cherry on top of the cake with the one and only Cheesecake Factory in Canada and its most delicious cheesecakes ever made on this planet. It took an hour and half of queuing in a long line to receive a buzzer, which started buzzing an hour and a quarter later. But the enjoyment of browsing the menu of such a restaurant, the smiling faces while ordering so many things you are sure you won’t be able to eat all up, and the mouth-watering experience as the hot food approaches your table was worth the wait.
Christmas is a spiritual occasion, but yet also includes the end of year discounts, sales, and special promotions. Your mind can’t believe the prices seen by your own eyes, and your hands can’t hold any more shopping bags, which are full of stuff you wished to own for a long time but couldn’t afford. You become an instant shopaholic. Everything you desire is perfectly sorted out, amazingly presented, extremely discounted, and unbelievably available in so many colors and styles.
International cuisines were my treats between those shopping experiences across these fancy malls. Having the option to choose a cuisine might be normal, but the experience you get makes you feel you’re visiting the country itself and not just experiencing its cuisine. Prices were affordable, taking into consideration that it was one meal per day as the food was very filling.
Christmas has its charms and beauty, but on the other hand it limits your outdoor activity options because of closures and blankets of snow. Even though parks and lakes look the same with the white coverings, the snow still spreads its cheerful charming spirit to the hearts of those who see purity and peace out of such crystal-clear formations.
Meanwhile, the CN tower remains an iconic skyscraper, attracting locals before tourists, standing proudly in the heart of downtown Toronto. Just a few blocks away rests the famous colorful cheerful letters of the word Toronto, another attraction spot which makes you feel you own a part of Canada by just taking a picture next to it, regardless whether it’s behind a lake in summer, or a skating rink in winter, still the inspiration remains and lasts.
Nothing compares to a hot drink every now and then, even if your heart is warm during this winter season. Tim Hortons, being the local brand for coffee and other creational drinks, delights your days and warms your nights. Although Starbucks is well known for its famous enriched drinks, yet it can’t replace that specific need for a Tim Horton’s drink and its magical effect on one’s mood and spirit. It’s for sure a daily habit and an everlasting need.
Loneliness is one of the main concerns of those who fear change, and prefer staying inside their comfort zone. For this specific reason, I present to you a warm friendly Egyptian spirit, melting down the ice of this cold winter. An Egyptian lady who presents a radio program on an Egyptian radio station. Her special way in talking blends the Egyptian sense of humor with the Canadian seriousness, topping this up with useful and beneficial tips and tricks about Canada. She successfully runs a program which transfers smiles along with knowledge, raising up the low temperature by lifting up the mood.
Ottawa: The Upcoming City
Moving from the professional busy business city to the peaceful quite calm one. A huge change in lifestyle, a slower pace, a less trending environment. Starting with its quite small airport, which was not crowded with travelers, nor those who were waiting for loved ones right in front of the baggage belts.
My experience of public transportation in the city began as soon as I left the airport. Although the system is far more efficient than any I’ve experienced anywhere in the world, the winter cold provides the main drawbacks of using public transportation in Ottawa. Many times the buses arrived to stations late, not as accurate as per the listed schedules, leaving wannabe passengers freezing in the cold.
Public transportation hardly spoiled my vacation, but for sure enriched my travel experience, giving a fully detailed and knowledgeable experience to those who wish to seek the Canadian dream.
Let’s get over the public transportation experience, and continue on to the city of Ottawa itself, bench-marking it with Toronto in terms of the major living aspects. Ottawa is a city that experiences weather conditions which allows us to state that it’s not located in Canada. Compared to Toronto, Ottawa differs by around 15-20 degrees Celsius below zero. So you find people enjoying a relatively fair winter in Toronto, while you are literally freezing to death in Ottawa which is just 450 kilometers away. As if you’ve traveled to a different continent.
Later on during my trip, I read on google that Ottawa was the coldest capital in the whole world for winter 2017. That’s when I realized that I was not exaggerating. This was not announced out of fun or fame, it was because of the -40 degree temperature and the 30 miles per hour wind which turned out to be the default weather forecast.
In Toronto you feel cold, but in Ottawa you feel physical pain in each and every inch of your body out of the extreme weather conditions, as if your body is trying to warn you in all possible ways that it is in real danger. In this part of the world you sometimes see the sunlight, but you don’t feel one degree of warmth out of its light, keeping you wondering how this is ever possible.
Ottawa is relatively small when compared to Toronto, not only in terms of land area or population, but also in terms of business. It’s far away from having huge business buildings and multinational organizations. If you get the chance to see Yorkdale shopping mall in Toronto, you won’t be satisfied with any shopping experience in Ottawa. Even though the malls host all the well-known brands, the quiet theme of Ottawa overrides everything else.
The parliament could be the only historical entity worth visiting in Ottawa. The construction and architecture is just amazing, and the way it was positioned in the heart of the small city just made it feel larger. I can say that there’s nothing in Toronto which could be compared to this amazing building.
Restaurants in Ottawa are much cozier, friendly and warm. That’s what you benefit out of being in such a small city. You can enjoy your meal while having the view of snow everywhere, but I’m sure the experience will differ when you are dining outdoors in summer, enjoying the views of gardens and lakes. In Ottawa you run into people here and there, a fact enriching the family-like city.
Downtown is different than that of Toronto which is a busy crowded area, where people and cars fight to pass through. In fact it’s really quiet, with small roads, tiny streets, narrow pavements and various types of shops.
Zombie-land, that what Canada feels like to an Egyptian at 10pm, when looking out from the window, seeing absolutely nothing but a deserted city, left with traffic lights that switch colors for cars to flow. But not a single car is there, and not a single human being is crossing the road. Of course, where would they be going, if all the shops and malls are either closed or will soon be, and there’s no place to go to, even if someone is searching for a store to buy some food for dinner or some coffee to help him withstand the freezing cold.
You just feel the blessings you have back home, where midnight feels just as alive as midday, and where the people enjoy their every night just like they work hard during their every day. Unlike Egypt, when your only worry is which outing you will pick and which friends gathering you will chose for the night. If you call someone in Canada asking him/her to go out, they would consider you a crazy person who is mixed up between weekdays and weekends, when outings are allowed.
You might enjoy living in Ottawa after retirement, taking into consideration that all what’s mentioned above won’t make a difference to you anymore. But you definitely won’t be able to live in this city at a younger age, unless you’ve never been outside of it, and you just feel content.
Montreal was planned to be my third destination, visiting it for a day, just to witness the beauty I was told about. However, due to extreme weather conditions similar to that of Ottawa, I was advised not to travel since nothing worthwhile was open.
I’ve been told that this travel experience would have been totally different if I’d visited Canada in the summer, especially Ottawa. I might agree, but still the gap between both cities in all aspects will remain the same, even if Ottawa gained a few points for natural beauty in summer.
What Canada lacks, and which Egypt is overwhelmed with, is the social behavior of Egyptians. That magical attitude of getting to know each other, trusting each other, loving each other, caring about each other, which in no time enriches your life with so many friends whom you find contacting you more often than not. Nevertheless, I managed to meet a lovely Canadian family, who expressed to me every possible sign of love and care, without whom I would have been very disappointed while reviewing Canada. I really got attached to them, feeling that with such ethics, morals, and beliefs, you can enjoy a blessed happy life anywhere in the world.
If you’re living with your family in Canada, you will overcome the freezing weather with the warm feelings and emotions bonding each member of the family and getting them closer to each other. However, if you’re living alone in this country, you will start by experiencing extreme suffering, since the cold will not be outside only, or a feeling which your brain is interpreting from your body, but the worse will be that lack of these warm family feelings and emotions heating your life a little bit and warming it slowly but surely. Later, your heart will freeze just like your surroundings, leaving you with mixed feelings of depression and intolerable emotions of a hopeless future.
I’ve been traveling across the globe for several decades, and I managed to cover a significant number of continents/countries during my travels, spread between Africa, Middle East, Far East, Europe, USA, and finally Canada. I can clearly state that Canada is the country which made me not only proud of being Egyptian, but also which made me go back to Egypt and feel that I’m in a much better place in each and every aspect.
Those minor advantages which some people count for in Canada can never overcome the never-ending list of advantages that Egypt has over Canada. Canada was just celebrating its 150th anniversary, so of course no one can doubt what was achieved in 150 years. But how could 150 years stand against more than 7000 years of civilization since the pharaohs. And what could 150 more years do with such extreme weather conditions which are getting worse every year.
If you’re young and your dream is a better education, you have it all in Egypt, and if you’re a bit older and your dream is a bright career, you still have it all in Egypt, but if you have passed all this, and you’re at a stage of your life where you are seeking the Canadian dream which starts by becoming a Canadian citizen, I’m afraid to tell you that this is a challenging yet risky road which you are about to select, and the consequences will start by the race between you freezing from the inside and the outside, and between your Canadian passport freezing before you, with all these obstacles which you will face to reach it.
Those are not just words, they are supported by facts which I myself witnessed from my friends who bought their return tickets to Egypt right after receiving their Canadian passports, stating that its the only thing that made them withstand living in Canada until that moment was the time and money they invested. They added that they should have turned around at the first turn back, instead of keeping pushing life further, since it gets worse the more you push it harder.
To be fair, and ensuring the coverage of all transferred knowledge and experiences, I have to state that some of those who traveled to Canada are much happier for their young children than for themselves, as they are raising them in one of the highest living standard countries in the world, receiving top notch education and medical treatment. But as mentioned, they are feeling happiness for their little young angels, but absolutely not for themselves, they are just suffering in order to provide this living standard for their children.
What a misery to force a smile to hide a tear, and to provide hugs to hide sad facial expressions. On the other hand, they sacrificed family and friends among which those children were meant to grow up loving and caring for, and replaced that with multicultural society, where lots of activities are not appropriate, and living in the fear of finding those children walking across the extreme deviated path which holds a no-return option.
I invite Canadians to come visit Egypt, not only for the most famous sightseeing experience they heard about, but also to feel and touch each and every word they read in this article, not aiming to prove anything, but just to show them another side of the world, and different aspects of living experiences which they know nothing about and never knew existed.
I can’t find better words to conclude my article than to quote those always mentioned by the president of the Arab Republic of Egypt at the closure of all his speeches:
مصر أم الدنيا… و هتبقي قد الدنيا…
Meaning: Egypt is the mother country of this whole world, and it will remain as big as this entire world in each and every aspect.