In Honour of Canada Day: 15 Crazy Facts About Canada You Didn’t Know

Happy 150th, Canada! This year marks a big anniversary for our great nation, and while not all Canadians will be celebrating, the majority of us will be sticking Canadian flags on every bare surface we can find and admiring the fireworks with our friends and families. I’ve compiled a list of 15 fascinating facts about (I mean, ‘aboot’) Canada – feel free to use these tidbits to impress your fellow Canucks this weekend.

  1. Our national motto is “A Mari usque ad Mare”, meaning “From Sea to Sea”.
  2. Canada is the second-largest country in the world, second only to Russia. Many Canadians insist that it’s also the second coldest country in the world, second only to Russia.
  3. The coldest temperature ever recorded here was -63C (-81.4F) in the Yukon. See what I mean? Brrr!
  4. We’ve created overpasses for wildlife. In Alberta’s Banff National Park, there are a number of curved highways and tunnels covered in greenery which allow animals such as bears, moose, deer, wolves, and cougars to safely cross highways instead of wandering onto the road and causing collisions. Neat, eh? Read more here.
  5. The North American beaver is our national animal.
  6. About 75% of the world’s pure maple syrup supply is produced in Canada. Yum!
  7. During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, our athletes set two records: most gold medals won by a country during a Winter Olympics and most golds won by a host country during a Winter Olympics. That’s definitely something to brag about!
  8. Canada has about 1400 airports, the largest and busiest of which is Toronto Pearson International.
  9. In Saskatchewan, hoodies are called “bunnyhugs”. Aww.
  10. About 30% of Canada’s land mass is covered in forests.
  11. Canada is home to nearly 60% of the world’s polar bear population.
  12. The name “Canada” is said to come from the Iroquioan word kanata, meaning “village”.
  13. British author A. A. Milne fashioned the beloved Winnie the Pooh after a black bear cub he frequently visited at the London Zoo, who was named “Winnipeg” by the Canadian soldier who donated her. The soldier’s hometown was, of course, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
  14. Montreal is the the fourth largest French-speaking city in the world. Ooh la la.
  15. Residents in Churchill, Manitoba often leave their cars unlocked during the winter to provide shelter for pedestrians who might encounter polar bears.

Happy Canada Day!

Cancun: A Week in Pictures

As some of you know, my family and I returned on Saturday from a sunny vacation in Cancún, Mexico! We had six blissful days of swimming in the turquoise ocean, feeling the white sand between our toes, and gazing up at beautiful palm trees – quite a change from the cold Canadian winter we’re currently having. We didn’t venture into any cities or take any day trips (why waste a single minute of potential beach time?), so rather than boring you with descriptions of our daily routines, I’m going to show you what we did via the four hundred photos I took during our time away. (Oops.) Warning: photos may cause extreme envy!

Day 1 

We arrived in Cancún at 10:25AM and got to the Hideaway at Royalton Riviera Cancún by lunchtime. The Royalton is a large and elegant hotel complex situated right on the beach, and the Hideaway is a smaller, adults-only section of the hotel where we stayed once before in 2015. The Royalton’s buffet food is fantastic (we couldn’t get enough fresh seafood and vegetables) and it boasts a great variety of restaurants. Everything is included, so you can eat to your heart’s delight. As soon as we checked in, we had a quick brunch at Dorado, the small restaurant within the Hideaway complex, and then headed to the beach for the afternoon. The beach and ocean were gorgeous, even with clouds and a ton of seaweed (results of a storm from the previous day). Luckily, the beach wasn’t too busy and we had no trouble finding umbrellas to lounge beneath. Before dinner, I went to the gym to work out in front of the sunset, which became my daily habit (while my mum swam laps in the pool). We ate at the Royalton’s Japanese restaurant, Zen – the food wasn’t as delicious as we remembered from 2015, and there was a frustrating hour-long wait for a table. Still, the food tasted fresh and the presentation was really inventive! (See the matcha cheesecake below.) The Royalton entertainment that evening was a terrifying yet impressive fire show where performers juggled flaming batons while leaping and dancing around the stage.

View from the gym

Giant chess set on the Royalton side

View from the lobby

View from my 4th-floor room


The green tea cheesecake was really tasty

Day 2

It was another partly cloudy beach day, which meant less burning from the sun and more gusty winds (both of which were welcome in 27 degrees). I caught a gorgeous sunset at the gym and we later ate at the Royalton’s Hunter Steakhouse, where my parents had scrumptious steaks and I had – don’t laugh – salmon. (I’m not much of a steak-eater, and the salmon was very fresh and cooked to perfection!)

Breakfast at Dorado

Stunning views of the beach from everywhere in the hotel!

Talented housekeeping staff

This view motivated me to work out every day!

Funny how the sun coming out for a few minutes totally changed the colours of the ocean

Back to partly cloudy skies.


Day 3

The sun was a little less shy today! It made several appearances during the afternoon and we finally got to put our sunglasses and beach hats to good use. We dined at Opa, the hotel’s Greek-sounding Mediterranean restaurant, where we started with warm pita bread and a selection of tasty dips, including roasted red pepper hummus. My dad and I had Greek salads and the fresh catch of the day (tender sea bass on a bed of risotto) and my mum had tagine, a flavourful Moroccan stew made with meat (often fish, chicken, or lamb), potatoes, coconut milk, and spices. Needless to say, the tagine was delicious! We shared three small desserts: French créme brûlée, a platter of Spanish manchego cheese, and a Sicilian cannolo (also known as cannoli).

Cute towel elephant from housekeeping

The lights in the hallways were mesmerizing at night

Sadly, use of those white beds was not included – there was a fee of USD $75 per day.

Créme brûlée

Cannolo/cannoli

Sea bass

Pita with dips

Greek salad

Picture-perfect.

Day 4

Today was a full beach day followed by dinner at Grazie, the Italian restaurant at the Royalton. I couldn’t believe how gorgeous the sky was during the day! Hardly a cloud in sight, and bluer than I ever imagined it could be. Just gorgeous. But you don’t have to take my word for it – see for yourselves!

Tartufo (vanilla ice cream surrounded by a dome of hardened chocolate and dusted with cocoa)

Crepe with chocolate ice cream and some Nutella (chocolatey, hazelnut spread)

My pappardelle – slightly undercooked pasta, but still delicious

Lamb ravioli. Very tasty, but again, slightly undercooked

I lay here for hours, soaking up the sun’s rays and enjoying the sounds of the crashing waves



Day 5

I woke up with the sunrise today, and thankfully my phone was by my side when I went out on the balcony to watch the sun come up. An hour later, the sky was even bluer than it was yesterday! We found a more secluded part of the beach where there was less noise (and much less seaweed) and properly swam in the ocean for the first time. What a perfect way to spend our last full day at the beach! Dinner was at Mexican restaurant Agave, which we assumed would have fantastic local dishes. Ironically, it was the most disappointing meal of the week. Apart from the delicious shrimp, guacamole, and freshly-baked tortilla chips, the food was surprisingly bland and lukewarm.

6:45AM sunrise above the Hideaway complex

There was so much lush greenery on the property.

That brown structure is a wedding chapel overlooking the beach! We actually spotted a bride and groom there the following day.

Can’t decide whether sunrise or sunset was more beautiful…

Paradise!

Not a bad nighttime view!

The fish tacos were nowhere near as tasty as they were when we ate here in 2015

Vegetable tacos – cold, no spices or sauces, and the only flavour came from the corn!

Chicken salad – three cubes of chicken, hard cheese, and tasteless vegetables. Another pass!

Black bean tamale…awful. I noticed we weren’t the only diners leaving more food than usual on the plates.

Delicious! Fresh and juicy shrimps, which we each had as an appetizer.

Incredible fresh tortilla chips and guacamole! We filled up on these.

 

Day 6

Today was our last morning in paradise, so we spent it wisely: early morning wake-up call, an hour walking and relaxing on the beach, and one last buffet brunch. The blue sky shone brilliantly and the turquoise ocean was calm and glinting, making me wish we could stay just one more day in Cancún. Overall, the hotel was fantastic – friendly staff, not too crowded, a great variety of (mostly) excellent food, plenty of beach chairs and loungers, tons of activities for kids and adults, great nighttime entertainment, a clean gym with many machines, filtered water everywhere on the property so you don’t need to worry about falling ill, etc. If you’re travelling as a couple or as a group of adults, I’d recommend staying in the adults-only Hideaway section rather than in the main Royalton buildings; it’s a little more exclusive, more private, and the staff are more attentive as they cater to fewer guests (there are 340 rooms in the Hideaway section versus 800 in the Royalton). There were some little glitches here and there, but that’s usually to be expected in large resorts in Mexico or the Caribbean. I can’t wait to go back!

Me, taking it all in.

World Elephant Day Confession: Here’s Why I Regret Riding Elephants in India

Happy World Elephant Day! Below, I share some thoughts with you regarding the recent elephant ride I took with my parents in Jaipur, India.

One of the best things about travelling is the new experiences you get to have. If you’ve read my daily blog posts from our trip to India and Dubai, you’ll know that my parents and I had many new and exciting experiences during our two weeks abroad. We tried new foods, met some of the locals and thoroughly enjoyed exploring India. But there was one thing we did that left me questioning its ethics, and that was the elephant ride. We didn’t have much of a choice because going on elephant back was the simplest way to get up a mountain that led to Amber Fort, a sprawling palace and UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Rajasthani city of Jaipur. It’s the main tourist attraction in Jaipur and one of the most well-known forts in India (you can read about our experience here.) 

I really hope the elephants were treated well…

I remember being mesmerized by elephants we saw during our trip to Africa back in 2001. I had seen them at the zoo before, but there was something so special about spotting them in their natural habitat. They slowly roamed around, going about their day, free to go wherever they pleased. Elephants were (and still are) slightly terrifying to me, given their enormous size, but they’re awe-inspiring nonetheless. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re the largest animals I’ve seen up close, or maybe it’s hard to believe that I’m staring at (or riding!) the animals I loved watching in Disney’s The Jungle Book. Either way, there’s no denying that elephants are majestic creatures. 

So, back to Jaipur. As we climbed aboard the elephants (which were all female) and slowly made our way up the mountain, it dawned on me that these gentle creatures were probably suffering. They seemed to be huffing and puffing as they climbed up the winding path, carrying 300-400 pounds on their backs (each elephant carried two passengers plus the driver). Several times, we came to a halt because there was an elephant traffic jam (yes, I made that up), so our driver would tap the elephant with a small stick in order to get her to trot past the six or seven other elephants that were ahead of us. I didn’t notice any of the drivers actually hitting the elephants, and we were told that the rides up to Amber Fort were only available for two or three hours per day so that the animals could get enough rest, but something still didn’t sit right with me. 

While I believed that the animals at Amber Fort were treated fairly, I had to wonder if riding them meant we were promoting the global mistreatment of elephants. It’s widely known that elephants are killed or maimed for their ivory tusks, the trading and selling of which is a booming (and very illegal) business in Africa and Asia. It’s also known that the treatment of elephants at zoos and theme parks is likely subpar at best; unsurprisingly, they’re often unable to thrive in those manufactured and restrictive environments. I understand that zoos and animal theme parks can generate jobs and money, but it’s sad to see elephants (and dolphins, penguins, orcas, etc) forced to perform tricks for an audience. Animals are not our entertainment, which is why I had to wonder if we were helping to exploit them by riding on the elephants’ backs. 

Should we have boycotted the rides and simply walked up the mountain? Should we have inquired about the treatment of Rajasthani elephants? Maybe, but I’m not sure what good it would have done. Perhaps it would be more prudent to educate myself about the global treatment of elephants, to sign petitions that endeavour to protect their homes and species, and to vow never to ride one again. I would be much happier watching them happily roam free. 

Dubai Day 5: Meena Bazaar, Burj Khalifa & a Scrumptious Dinner at Dubai Fountain

Welcome to the last chapter of my trip to India and the Middle East! My parents and I are finally back in Toronto after a long and stressful journey home (more on that later). I’ve had a delightful sleep in my big, comfy bed for the last couple of nights, but keep waking up missing Dubai and the excitement of attending the Jubilee Games. When we left the house yesterday, Toronto felt boring compared to Delhi’s constant honking and insane driving!

We wanted to make the most of this past Sunday because, sadly, it was our final day in Dubai! We had the whole day to explore the city, so our first stop was Meena Bazaar, a famous shopping area in Bur Dubai. Contrary to popular belief, the Bazaar isn’t actually a souk (outdoor market); it’s a few streets filled with little shops selling clothes, jewellery, textiles, and souvenirs. After passing some empty streets lined with modern-looking buildings, we turned a corner and I immediately felt like we had stepped into a city in India. The streets were dirty with garbage and had puddles of something that did not look like just water, many of the buildings and stores appeared to be falling apart, and Indian men with thick accents harangued us to come inside their stores or buy knockoff designer handbags. I realized we were probably seeing the poorer parts of Dubai that people usually don’t talk about because they either forget about them or want to concentrate on the opulence within the newer parts of the city. While I understand that impulse – after all, rich sheikhs, magnificent buildings and over-the-top attractions are what Dubai is known for – it was a jarring reality check to see those few crowded streets, which were just a few minutes away from swanky hotels and shopping centres. If I ever go back to Dubai, I’ll take a river boat into the older parts of the city, where you can gain a better understanding of the authentic, day-to-day lives of the locals. I think that would be more interesting to see than Meena Bazaar, which felt like a tourist trap.  Continue reading

Dubai Days 3 & 4: Closing Ceremony of the Jubilee Games, Jumeirah Beach & a Road Trip to Abu Dhabi

I’m sad to say that our time in the Middle East is almost over. We’ve enjoyed lots of fresh hummus, dates and coffee over the past few days, and it’s been so much fun cheering on Ismaili athletes alongside fans and friends. While I’m looking forward to getting back to a normal routine and my own bed (the absences of which can throw us off whack during a long vacation), this has been the most eye-opening and adventurous trip I’ve ever accompanied my parents on!

You know how the days seem to blend together when you’re busy exploring a new place? That’s how the last two weeks have been. We hit the ground running in India, visiting three cities in six days. We took long, informative tours of important cultural monuments and areas such as Jama Masjid, the Red Fort, Lotus Temple, Fatehpur Sikri, and the Taj Mahal. I’ve probably just been having too much fun! The good news is that it’s not over yet – the Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall are on tomorrow’s schedule for our last day in Dubai.

Yesterday, we attended the Closing Ceremonies for the 2016 Jubilee Games. It was held at Dubai World Trade Centre and featured a ton of awesome performances. From incredible Tajikistani dancers to a surprise concert from famed musical duo Salim-Sulaiman, there wasn’t a dull moment to be found. The best part was when each and every Ismaili athlete walked in a parade around the hall, some dancing to the music with their teammates, others proudly carrying their home flags. After months and years of dedication and hard work, it was their moment and they deserved to celebrate!

The Tajik dance troupe stole the show with stunning choreography and visuals!

Continue reading

Dubai Day 2: Gold Medals for Canada and A Midnight Cricket Match

Today was a great day, mostly because I slept past 7 AM for the first time since we left Toronto, but also because I got to witness Canadian soccer teams taking home gold medals! As I mentioned yesterday, we’re here in Dubai for the Jubilee Games, a global sports competition organized by our Ismaili Muslim community. For me, soccer has been the most thrilling game to watch – I shouted and screamed so often during today’s games that my throat feels like it’s been burned.

During the day, I took it easy and just relaxed at the hotel. I had some time to kill because the men’s soccer final was taking place at 9 PM inside Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC). It was Canada VS Tajikistan – we knew it was going to be a very close match because both teams were equally strong and, I think, equally motivated to get the win. Tajikistan started off strong with a 1-0 lead for the first half, but in the end, the Canadians nabbed the gold medal with a 2-1 victory! 

The Canadian men’s team celebrating their win!

My mum and I also caught the second half of the Canadian women’s soccer final, where our team won 3-1. The U.K. won bronze and Pakistan won silver; on the men’s side, Tajikistan was awarded silver and Pakistan got the bronze. 

Right after the awards ceremony, my parents and I and some of my mum’s Council colleagues decided to check out the cricket game final (Canada VS Pakistan), which started at 11 PM at an outdoor field thirty minutes away. There was a coach leaving DWTC at midnight, and when we arrived, it was clear Pakistan was winning. The crowd’s loud cheers in Urdu and the hundreds of Pakistani flags made me feel a little out of place, but it was great to see so many united Ismailis supporting their home team. They also made a point of tossing out some, “Go, Canada!” cheers, which we appreciated given that the score was heavily in Pakistan’s favour. 

The outdoor game had a nice atmosphere. Congrats to Pakistan…

We left before the end and got back to the hotel at 3 AM. I’m heading to bed now – can’t wait for the Jubilee Games Closing Ceremonies tomorrow! 

Dubai Day 1: The Jubilee Games, Ismaili Centre Dubai and Great Indian Food

Welcome back to my travels, everyone! Thanks for sticking with me this far. Today’s post will be a short one as it’s 1:34 AM here in Dubai and sleep beckons. 

Today was the perfect first day in Dubai. Technically we started our week-long trip yesterday after flying in from Jaipur, but we were so tired that we couldn’t do much more than check out the hotel, grab dinner and go to bed. Today, we were able to have breakfast amongst family and friends from Toronto, watch an awesome soccer game, attend jamatkhana at the beautiful local mosque and go out for dinner with some friends.  

What soccer game, you ask? Let me explain. We and ~11,000 others are in Dubai for the Jubilee Games, an international sporting competition organized by the Ismaili Muslim community. Since my parents and I belong to this community, we decided to come and support Canada’s Ismaili athletes! The Games actually finish this week, but we’ll be able to catch the semi-final and final matches as well as the closing ceremonies. Yesterday we watched our men’s soccer team beat the USA 3-2, and today it started off as a tie game between us and Tajikistan and then our team ended up winning 6-5. Tomorrow (Thursday) is the final, which all of us Canadians are very excited about! Our male soccer players are the defending champions from the first-ever Jubilee Games back in 2008, so here’s hoping they’ll bring home the gold again tomorrow. (You can learn more about the Games here.) 

Such a thrilling game!

After screaming ourselves hoarse after the win, we got ready for jamatkhana (mosque) and headed there in a cab. (So far, Dubai seems like a very sleek and developed city – its streets are lined with fancy stores and flashy skyscrapers.) The Ismaili Centre Dubai, where jamatkhana is, is a beautiful space that my parents and I will hopefully take a tour of tomorrow. We met several Toronto friends there and decided we would all go out for dinner afterwards. One of our friends suggested we go to an Indian restaurant called Jaffer Bhai, and I’m so glad we listened to him – everything was great, from tandoori chicken and vegetables to mutton biryani and butter chicken. There were 11 of us, and even though we ordered about seven or eight dishes, we couldn’t finish it all. 

Jaffer Bhai’s may not look like much, but its food is delicious!

That’s it for today. I’m off to bed – goodnight!