My journey to Canada started well before I was an adult, in fact as a young boy. Yep, destiny took its time! 🙂
My first recollection of anything Canadian began when I went fishing with my dad one evening to a small lake about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from where I grew up in Victoria (Australia). We got there as the sun was setting and I remember my father was fly fishing, I can’t recall if my younger brother James was with us or not, but I distinctly remember walking a few hundred meters to a small bay to cast my line.
As I sat quietly in the fading light I noticed that instead of being surrounded by the usual eucalyptus trees that in fact I was completely surrounded by a pine tree forest that came down to the water’s edge in places.
It was dusk, and in the gathering gloom I thought to myself this is what Canada must feel like, almost expecting to see a moose emerge from the forest and step into the lake. Isn’t that funny…that memory has stuck with me ever since.
My next conscious memory of Canada is watching the Montreal Olympic Games (1976) on a new color television set that my mother had brought just days before the games began. Talk about luxury…a color TV! 🙂
As you can imagine the size and weight of the television sets back in those days were enormous. The set itself was set into a heavy wooden case and must have been at least three feet wide and weighed in around 45 kgs (100 lbs)…at a minimum. It was a beast, but irrespective I sat glued to it every waking minute that I wasn’t at school. I was completely mesmerized by the glitz and glamour of the games, as well as exotic thoughts of Montreal and Canada.
Fast forward to 1985 and I was backpacking in Europe, yes my year on the road when I happened to met three Canadian girls in a two star hotel in Salzburg, Austria. We met purely by chance as I’d just come from Oktoberfest in Munich the day before and was in desperate need of some time away from the fine German beer that was so plentiful, as well as wash some clothes and plan my next foray!
In fact, while I was reading in the lobby while waiting for my laundry to dry in the basement dryer one of the Canadian girls asked me if I spoke english, and then asked me if I knew how to call Canada on the pay phone in the lobby. Hard to believe there was a time before the internet, but this was a decade before it started and so everyone relied on snail mail, postcards or phone calls to keep in touch.
I still remember going to the main post office in London and Paris to pick up my mail whenever I cycled back to either of these two cities.
After she’d made her phone call back to Canada her two friends joined us and we got chatting about our travels to date. Two of the girls were recent grads from Ryerson University here in Toronto and the other girl was from Calgary whom they met in their travels.
I asked them where they were headed to next and they said Munich to go to Oktoberfest, we chatted about my experiences and recommendations, and by the end of our conversation they asked if I wanted to join them and come back to Munich and enjoy another round of Oktoberfest.
Let me see, three cute Canadian girls and simple country boy from downunder…such a difficult and drawn out decision…not! We had an absolute blast for the next week hitting all of the notable, and sometime less notable beer halls in Munich.
After Munich we just kept on traveling, over the Alps and into Italy to visit all the usual locations – Milan, Florence, Rome, Venice as we crisscrossed the beautiful countryside. In fact, we spent a lot of time in Tuscany but in those days it was still a bit of a backwater – rural Italy. Btw this is when my love affair with Italy truly began…
After Venice it was down the Adriatic coast to Brindisi and an overnight ferry to the lovely island of Corfu in Greece.
Okay, of all the people out there…yes, you know who you are. Who can honestly say that they’ve been to Corfu but didn’t stay at the Pink Palace??? Right…I thought not! It was, and remains a mecca for young backpackers and really the only place you could stay that catered to your needs on the island. As I recall it was a few days of exploring topped off with way too much Ouzo and a plate smashing (over your head) nightly activity at the local restaurant.
Yeah, they were the days!
However, the next adventure really boggled my mind. We had decided to splurge and fly from Corfu to Athens on the cheapest fare possible which came to a whopping $29 for a one way fare…actually it was a lot for those days. Arriving by taxi at the airport around dawn we checked in but duly noted that there were no seat assignments? How strange we all thought…
As the time approached for departure we could see our end of life jet parked out on the runway, let’s just say that there was noticeable duct tape on the fuselage which as it turned out barely held it together. The plane itself was about 100 meters from the wire fence surrounding the runway. At the appointed time the airline official bustled his way through the large crowd to the gate which opened onto the runway. As he stepped through the gate out onto the tarmac it was as if a dam had burst as everyone was pushing and shoving to squeeze through the narrow gate and make a mad dash for the plane. It was if we were refugees fleeing a war torn country – seriously.
As we drew nearer the plane another bottleneck ensued at the foot of the stairs leading up to the front door of the plane, and after much jostling we finally made our way on and grabbed some seats.
Next came one of the most traumatic flights of my life with the plane flying directly through an electrical storm with strong and gusty headwinds constantly buffeting the plane. I’m not a fan of rollercoasters but this is exactly what it felt like, except that it lasted over an hour.
Throughout the flight people were either crying or saying their prayers as we slowly made our way toward Athens airport, as you can imagine a huge roar went up when we finally touched down from the relieved passengers, me among them!
After some time exploring Greece we all headed in our own directions and the girl I had a crush on gave me her phone number and address in Canada and said “if you’re ever in Canada look me up”…
And that’s just what I did…