10 Things I Miss about Canada while Travelling in Europe (and 4 things I don’t)
As amazing as our experience has been traveling through Europe this summer, the things I miss about Canada are compounding. I have certainly gained a new appreciation for my home country, one that goes beyond our ability to endure any temperature with a smile. After spending the past few months navigating through more than 2 dozens cities on the Eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, I am no longer going to take for granted many of the perks of living in Canada. Though there are a few things I wish we’d improve.
Here are the 10 things I miss about Canada
I’m aware of the borderline exorbitant fees that Visa and Master Card charge merchants to use their service, and I sympathize, but a cashless society is a glorious thing (perhaps Bitcoin will usher in a new era). While in Europe, I have been surprised by the number of merchants that don’t accept cards. Some cities are great; I don’t recall needing to use cash once in Madrid, but others, notably Berlin, lag far behind. Berlin may one day become the most glamorous city in the world, but I’ll never think so until I can travel through the city without a wallet and a pocket full of change. In Canada, when I encounter a business that won’t accept credit card, I cancel my purchase and leave.
Some companies in North America are better at customer service than others, but it’s a major point of discussion in business board rooms. In the past few years, I can’t recall a time when a bad customer experience I had in Canada was not resolved quickly and satisfactorily. In Europe, it seems every time I try to contact a customer service department, I enter a Kafkaesque rabbit hole, wondering where things went wrong.
When I was growing up, I had always heard that goods were cheaper in the US than in Canada, but the current value of the Canadian dollar has reversed that. In Europe, we pay 25 to 75% more for everything. Our monthly grocery bill is up 50%, even as we eat out more often than we do in Canada. Some goods are cheaper in Europe, but for the most part, what costs a dollar in Canada, costs a Euro in Europe. Since 1 € costs $1.50 CAN, we are losing out big time.
While not always the case, Canada is an extremely easy place to get things done. Most restaurants take reservations, trains leave on time, car sharing services make getting around easy, and courtesy is perhaps the thing for which Canadians take the most pride. Life in Europe rarely moves like clockwork. Businesses are not always open during their posted hours. I will never be able to figure out why the stop lights and pedestrian crossing signs seem to operate at random, often leaving pedestrians waiting at corners for long periods of time. Europeans often seem to reject modern convenience. Sometimes, its refreshing. Often, its frustrating.
The craft beer boom that began in the United States has now fully spread to Canada, but not so much to Europe. In major cities like Berlin, Barcelona, and Madrid, I can count the places offering craft beer on two hands. I have found some great beers, even a few of my favorites that I can never buy in Canada, but craft beer in Europe is both sparse and expensive. I miss the streets of Toronto, where a good beer always available for a good price.
Barcelona, Madrid, and Berlin have been exceptions. Everywhere else we have visited in Europe and Morocco has a pretty limited selection of international foods. We have really enjoyed tasting local flavours, but sometimes, we crave something different. Few cities in the world can match Toronto’s range of cuisines. Within a week of returning home, we will undoubtedly be ordering takeout hot wings, going for sushi, and visiting our local Bánh mì sandwich shop.
Saturday Nights with Friends and Family
Extended family trips to foreign countries can occasionally be lonely, especially in countries where we don’t speak the language. The kids have struggled to communicate with other children at playgrounds and when they do encounter someone who can speak English, they form an instant bond. Yashy and I spend nights working or studying before watching a little Netflix, and we are both pining for a night of wine tasting with friends or dinner with family. Spending cold winter nights drinking indoors and cool summer evenings on a patio are Canadian traditions.
Affordable Drip Coffee
At a Starbucks in Spain, a grande Pike Place is not a thing. It’s equivalent is a grande Americano and it costs 3 € ($4.50 CAN). That’s double the price of a coffee in Canada, and it’s not only Starbucks where the coffee is ludicrously expensive. In Morocco, a large coffee is essentially a shot glass of espresso with a little water, and it costs $2 to $3. Only in Germany have I finally found drip coffee, and of course, it’s expensive. Canadians dependent on their $1.65 Large Tims may have to budget a little extra for coffee in Europe.
Sunday is truly a day of rest in Europe, even in countries that are not overly religious. Nothing is open, save for a few restaurants. Even a large city like Berlin turns eerily calm on Sunday. With grocery stores and shops shuddered on Sundays, we had a few days where we forgot to plan ahead and were forced to eat bananas and bread all day before venturing out to find a restaurant (if we were lucky enough to have bananas).
Parking in some European cities is a nightmare. In Seville, it’s common for drivers to nudge other cars backwards in order to fit into a spot, which is good because most cars are standard and the streets with parking always seem to be at an incline. Large parking garages are hard to find and very pricey. The large open spaces of Canada contain no shortage of parking lots, even in the bigger cities. I never would have thought that I would ever miss parking lots!
4 things I don’t miss about Canada
In Europe, I see people drinking everywhere. I’ve even seen beer for sale in kiosks on the subway platform. Strangely, European society has remained intact. The streets are not strewn with broken glass, nor are drunks running madly through the streets. Plus, craft beer shops face no regulations on what they can or cannot sell. I find a greater selection of Michigan beers in almost every shop I enter than I can find in Ontario, which neighbours Michigan. Sometimes, you just want to go for a walk and drink a beer. In Canada, doing so is breaking the law. In Europe, it’s routine.
Limited Public Transit Systems
The subways systems in Europe are vast, offering regular trains to points close to 50 km from the city centre through interconnected systems. Frankfurt, a city of less and a million people, has an astounding number of stops. Canada doesn’t have many subway systems, and the ones it does have are woefully inadequate, especially in Toronto.
Canada has many natural wonders, but it is a modern country that was built with little aesthetic consideration. Its city planners and builders are focused on efficiency, cost effectiveness, and timeliness. As a result, Toronto’s skyline is peppered with dozens of condos that all look the same. In most European cities, the urban landscape is filled with green areas, classical architecture, innovative building designs, statues, and sculptures. Even the graffiti found in every Berlin neighborhood adds to the city’s charm.
Few Pedestrian Only Zones
We encountered large downtown areas that were car free in every European city. To be able to walk amongst thousands of people in a large metropolitan area without worrying about traffic is something I will always cherish about Europe. Toronto has the Distillery District, and that’s about it, plus it often get so packed that it’s hard to move. If someday soon, Toronto closes off major sections of Bloor Street to vehicles, it will be for the better.
p.s. I love Europe; it’s beautiful and so are its people!
July 20, 2017 @ 7:38 am
Groceries in Vancouver are, on the whole, more expensive than they are in our small Germam city. But I know Vancouver is at the expensive end of Canadian groceries! I hear you on Sunday shopping. After living here for nearly a year, i still occasionally slip up and forget to do the shopping in time!
July 21, 2017 @ 9:25 am
This is all so true!! I find it so interesting that Europe has so many amazing local markets but minimal craft beer…it just doesn’t make sense to me! A business opportunity maybe?!?! I’m also with ya on the cashless society. I travelled today for a meeting with my phone, ID & a credit card…no cash needed. It does make life so much easier!
July 24, 2017 @ 7:42 pm
I’m hoping the cashless lifestyle and the craft beer brands make their way over soon!
Wendy Kam Marcy
July 24, 2017 @ 9:51 pm
I miss elevators!!! I’m definitely not a lazy person and when I used to live on a 5th floor condo, often I took the stairs… but in both our Airbnb’s in Barcelona, the steps were so tiny and narrow that we had to walk up sideways! Stroller had to stay at the bottom because it barely fit.
I also agree on getting hammered with the currency exchange! We mostly used US dollars so the conversion would be less painful haha but who are we kidding right?! Lattes were $3-4 EUR, a pizza was $10-14 EUR, I painfully shelled out $3 EUR for a tiny croissant for my hungry son… the only thing we found cheaper was alcohol. Everything else was basically the same price as Toronto but in Euros. 🙁
I get the whole siesta thing but the huge gap where lots of things were closed between 1-4pm got pretty inconvenient. Not to mention that many shops and restaurants don’t actually open till after 11am!
Things I love and wish we had back home: kickass train transportation system, restaurants that stay open till midnight, yummy gelato at every corner, lots of playgrounds in Barcelona, kids playing outside (no iPads!), the beautiful architecture and the lovely fashion boutiques in Spain!
July 29, 2017 @ 3:24 pm
We love this summary! We whole heartedly agree with you on all of these! Prices got even steeper as we visited France and Germany but must tell you that groceries in Amsterdam have been the cheapest on our trip so far. We’re loving Amsterdam with kids, something to look into for your next trip!
July 30, 2017 @ 3:23 pm
My uncle lives in Europe and he sure loves the craft beer when he visits Canada, he also buy lots of jeans when visiting as it is Very expensive in Europe. They also don’t have cheese whiz.
July 31, 2017 @ 6:58 am
hahah I love that combo of items!!