Jenna Skinner and Adam Carmichael reminded me of something I've known for a few years now: Travelling the world is great in part because it puts into context Canada and what makes it an amazing country. I met Skinner and Carmichael at Quidi Vidi Brewery, one of those Canadian finds few people outside of its region ever hears about.
Newlyweds in their early 20s, Skinner and Carmichael were spending their last days of summer travelling the nation's east coast, doing what Canadians have done for decades -- hitting the open road with gas in the tank and camping gear in the back. They left from Sauble Beach, a picturesque spot in Ontario that's three hours northwest of Toronto. Heading east, they drove all the way to the edge of the continent. Gros Morne National Park struck them for its beauty, while Newfoundland as a whole earned praise for its welcoming spirit.
"It's so different from Ontario," Skinner said. "Canada is so big that you forget how unique different parts of it are."
Both Skinner and Carmichael have travelled abroad extensively, which is a prerequisite, I think, for truly understanding what a remarkable nation we have here.
"We've been to other places and you learn to appreciate Canada. My priority now is to see Canada first," Carmichael said.
Like the newlyweds, I spent the summer on the road, touching down in nine of the 10 provinces (see you in 2013, Manitoba). My impression is Canada is changing, fast. The wealth in Alberta and Saskatchewan is giving cities like Calgary and Saskatoon the chance to re-invent themselves, and thanks to artists, chefs, visionary politicians and proud communities, they're doing it.
The buzz in the west is palpable. In many ways, those provinces are the engine that's driving the nation's future. Meanwhile, Newfoundland has struck oil and St. John's is thriving because of it. Unemployment is still high in other parts of the province, but the capital is enjoying some of its best times in its history, and that makes it a reason to go because even in lean times St. John's is as fun a city as there is in the country.
Tourism opportunities abound in big centres and small, with people eager to search out local experiences, whether it be culinary finds or historic tours that are short on gimmicks and strong on depth and personality.
In all, 2012 was a fantastic year for seeing Canada. The 100th Calgary Stampede was a highlight, along with many other one-of-a-kind encounters.
Adrian Brijbassi's Best of 2012 in Canadian Travel
I'm glad I discovered ...: Saskatchewan. And you will be too, when you drive up to Lake Waskesiu or grab a pint at the Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina or stroll along the river in Saskatoon. Canada's most underrated province is truly a gem waiting to be discovered.
Three meals of a lifetime (naming just one is too hard): Langdon Hall, where chef Jonathan Gushue and his outstanding kitchen went all-out with an 11-course menu that included a cut of venison that might make a vegetarian think twice; Rouge in Calgary is immaculate, warm and downright perfect in so many ways; and Atelier in Ottawa, where chef Marc Lepine is letting his imagination run wild and winding up with some of the most unique dishes you'll find in the country. (Naming only three is hard too -- so, go to Les 400 Coups in Montreal for a sublime dining experience.)
Dish I can't wait to try again: Former Black Hoof chef Grant van Gameren's Blood Pudding and White Chocolate, which I had a taste of at the Roots, Rants & Roars food festival in Elliston, Newfoundland & Labrador. Weird and classy, silky and rich, sweet and potent, it is a dichotomy of a dish and also an absolute treat. Van Gameren is opening a restaurant soon in Toronto's Little Italy and this item should be on the menu for all to try.
Best hotel suite: The Osprey Room at the Beach House in Portugal Cove, just north of St. John's. The Osprey Room is 850 square feet of opulence with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out into the jaw-dropping cove. Simply stunning.
Best hotel for the price: Point of View Suites in Louisbourg, Cape Breton. A stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean in this property handmade by owners Linda and Tom Kennedy. Rates are $145 per night for ocean-view units. (Runner-up: Suites at Waskesiu, Saskatchewan, where rates are $149 per night.)
Hotel I will never spend a night in again: Hotel de Glace (Ice Hotel) in Quebec City. It's beautiful, it's definitely worth a visit, but it's way too cold for me.
Tourist attraction that lives up to the hype: Avonlea, the fictional home of Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island.
Tourist attraction that doesn't get nearly as much hype as it should: Cape Spear. So beautiful it belongs on currency.
Tourist attraction you should skip: Calgary Tower.
Best tour: Without a doubt, the Friday night Sir John A. Macdonald Walking Tour in Kingston, Ontario, where members of the Salon Acting Company play out scenes from Canadian history with wicked humour and, in the case of the Louis Riel trial, touching gravitas. Celebrities and political dignitaries also take part on occasion.
For more about the best places visited in 2012, visit Vacay.ca.
Snow blankets the warning lights at a rail road crossing on the shore of Alta Lake outside Whistler, B.C., write <a href="https://twitter.com/RebeccaAnanda">Rebecca Ananda</a>, a B.C. native who returned to Vancouver for the holidays.
Like the blogger at Hike Bike Travel, the writers at The Planet D took this week to look back at their year in travel. Some of their highlights included <a href="http://theplanetd.com/9-not-to-be-missed-posts-of-2012/">a trip to the Vegas strip</a>.
2012 kicked off with a trip to <a href="http://hikebiketravel.com/22921/highlights-year-2012-photos/">Peter Lougheed Park</a> for the writers at Hike Bike Travel. Skiing just outside of Banff National Park would only be the start of many adventures across North America.
Christmas in India may be without snow but that doesn't mean some of the traditional signs aren't available. However, as Mariellen Ward writes,<a href="http://breathedreamgo.com/2012/12/christmas-in-india-the-light-and-the-dark/#more-17247"> recent events in India</a> made celebrating Christmas more complicated this year.
While some Canadians were dealing with snow this week, photographer and blogger, Tracy Zhang travelled to New Orleans where she <a href="http://justintimetravels.com/2012/12/24/city-lafayette/">learned about graveyards and tombstones.</a>
Krista Rowland took this photo while walking through Utrecht, Netherlands. She says it captures two things the Dutch are known for:<a href="http://kristarowland.wordpress.com/"> bicycles and canals</a>.
Brixton may have a reputation as a dodgy and dangerous neighbourhood but as Ayngelina writes,<a href="http://www.baconismagic.ca/england/brixton-market/"> it has plenty of culture and charm.</a>
Despite its appearance, Coronado National Memorial is full of many different living things. It also makes for <a href="http://hikebiketravel.com/22830/hiking-trails-coronado-national-memorial/">a secluded hiking experience according to blogger Leigh McAdam</a>.
When it comes to lights, cameras and action, there's few places that do it like <a href="http://www.gonewiththefamily.com/gone-with-the-family-adv/2012/12/celebrating-the-holidays-at-disney-world.html">Disney World's Hollywood Studio theme park</a>. During the holidays, you can probably guess which of the three the park pulls all the stops for.
For the bloggers at Planet D, this week marked the time to take a look back at <a href="http://theplanetd.com/year-in-pictures-best-of-2012/">the year's best travel photos</a>. Their trip to the Galapagos Islands featured some stunning shots of the local wildlife, like this iguana.
This photo comes courtesy of <a href="https://twitter.com/deanguest">@deanguest</a> from Twitter who snapped this shot of his hike at Red Rock Canyon, a conservation area in Las Vegas, Nevada.
As the year comes to an end, the writers at Hecktic Travels took the time this week to look back some of<a href="http://www.hecktictravels.com/best-of-2012"> their most memorable trips and stand-out photos</a>.
Macarons may be French in origin, but that doesn't mean you can't pick up one or two (or eight) of them when visiting <a href="http://www.laduree.fr/">Ladurée</a> in the United Kingdom. Photo credit: <a href="http://www.iphoneogram.com/u/48950765" target="_hplink">Abigail Ocreto</a>
Sometimes work gets in the way of globe-trotting but in the case of travel blogger Candice Walsh, that just means it's time to look back at some of her earlier adventures. This shot was taken from <a href="http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/2012/12/photo-essay-love-in-montreal/">Montreal’s tallest skyscraper, Altitude 737</a>.
For the bloggers at Planet D, 2012 marked quite the year in travel.
This week saw <a href="http://breathedreamgo.com/2012/12/travel-tales-in-odisha/">Mariellen Ward return to Odisha, India,</a> to catch both the sunrise and sunset from the same beach.
To paraphrase the blogger behind Bacon Is Magic, how can you resist taking a photo when <a href="http://www.baconismagic.ca/canada/british-colombia/">B.C.'s Okanagan Valley</a> provides such natural beauty?
Peru may be synonymous with Machu Picchu but there's more to the country than just the world-famous Inca site.
Roohi Sahajpal, a freelance writer and Ryerson University graduate, travelled to the island of Koh Tao in Thailand this month after a brief escape to India in November.
Why are there Skittles on the ground? Well, you'll have to read about it in Hecktic Travel's entry about <a href="http://www.hecktictravels.com/devils-punchbowl">their trip to the Devil's Punchbowl Country Park</a> in Menomonie, Wisconsin to find out. (Hint: it involves trolls of the non-internet variety)
Pamela MacNaughtan, the writer behind Spunky Girl Travels didn't do much travelling this week so she<a href="http://www.spunkygirlmonologues.com/2012-in-photos/"> did some reminiscing of all her trips in 2012</a> instead. This photo of the Sri Ponnambalam Vanesar Kovil Temple in Colombo, Sri Lanka from April stood out the most to us.
It was a quest for red that led travel blogger Ayngelina to snap this photo of blue, brown and green. You can read more about her quest to find out what kind of red wines British Columbia has in store for Canadians<a href="http://www.baconismagic.ca/canada/okanagan/"> here</a>.
Mariellen at <a href="http://breathedreamgo.com/2012/12/the-taj-mahal-an-arabian-fantasy-in-india/">Breath, Dream, Go</a> had one of her dreams come true this week when she finally<a href="http://breathedreamgo.com/2012/12/the-taj-mahal-an-arabian-fantasy-in-india/"> made the trip to Agra, India to see the Taj Mahal.</a>
Leigh McAdam at <a href="http://hikebiketravel.com/22515/time-travel-winter-summer-hours/">Hike Bike Travel traded in the grey skies and snow-covered of roads of Calgary, Canada</a> this week for a trip to Scottsdale, Arizona. While she was there, she snapped a photo of the Saguaro cactus as the sun sets.
For those who doubt how majestic the mountains of Banff, Alberta can be, check out <a href="http://hikebiketravel.com/22250/banff-area-cross-country-skiing-cascade-fire-road/">Bike Hike Travel's</a> post this week about cross-country skiing on The Cascade Fire Road.
When it comes to relaxing, there's no better place to do it than in a hotel. Better yet, take a page from <a href="http://breathedreamgo.com/2012/11/24-hours-in-hotel-heaven/">Mariellen Ward</a>'s blog and do it from a hotel room with a stellar view.
This week, the the travelling duo behind The Planet D took things slow with<a href="http://theplanetd.com/the-pyrenees-photos/"> a trip to the Pyrenees </a>where they wined and dined on the mountain regions bordering France and Spain.
It's was almost a picture-perfect scene up at Canoe Bay for the travel bloggers at Hecktic Travels this week. But there was only one thing holding this romantic weekend-for-two back <a href="http://www.hecktictravels.com/wilderness-retreat">from a complete photo-finish</a>.
As travel photographer Tracy Zhang writes, even a city like Toronto has a few gems <a href="http://justintimetravels.com/2012/11/26/inspiration-toronto/">worth photographing</a>.
This photo comes courtesy of Connie Chan, <a href="http://constance.room-noise.com/">a music photographer</a>, who made the trip to New York City earlier this week to take in the city's electronic dance music scene.
What the community of Change Island lacks in size, it makes up charm and "magic". Don't expect to find any sky scrappers in this quiet town, but as travel blogger Candice Walsh points out, <a href="http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/2012/11/change-in-change-islands/">who needs tall buildings when you've got endangered ponies instead? </a>
You can read about art all you want but there's just something more engrossing about oil and canvass when you're in a museum. However, if you're a kid, a museum — even one as famous as the Louvre — is no substitute for Disneyland. <a href="http://www.gonewiththefamily.com/gone-with-the-family-adv/2012/11/visiting-the-louvre-with-kids.html">But as Lisa writes, children and museum trips can coexist peacefully with some preparation</a>
Sometimes all it takes is a change in scenery to rekindle one's inspiration and who can so no to the sunny, scene setting of <a href="http://justintimetravels.com/2012/11/21/a-stanford-education/">Stanford University in California? </a>
Misery Bay isn't the cheeriest name for a travel destination, but names aren't everything. The Provincial Park offers something different during the summer months but <a href="http://hikebiketravel.com/22077/destination-misery-bay-provincial-park-manitoulin-island/">November is the time to see some cool rocks</a>.
If James Bond were a real person, he'd also be one of the world's most well-travelled secret agents. For now, lovers of Britain's most famous fictional spy will have to settle with him in <em>Skyfall</em>. For everyone else, let his many adventures only serve as inspiration for <a href="http://theplanetd.com/bond-locations-weve-been-to/">bloggers to travel destinations made famous by the franchise. </a>
Wisconsin is mostly known for its cheese and if you're a Packers fan, it's football culture. Now, thanks to the<a href="http://www.hecktictravels.com/about"> couple behind Hecktic Travels</a>, you can add gorgeous lakes to that list.
The city of Bangalore isn't a must-see destination for some tourists visiting India. However, if you've got a green thumb, or need a change from the hustle and bustle or New Delhi, <a href="http://breathedreamgo.com/2012/11/green-city-back-in-bangalore/">this blogger may just change your mind.</a>
An abandoned house near blogger Pamela MacNaughtan's parents' house <a href="http://www.spunkygirlmonologues.com/photo-series-autumn-my-favourite-season-in-ontario/">in Amaranth, Manitoba paired beautifully with the autumn leaves</a>.
That scene you see before you is in fact a medicinal bath in Budapest — Szechenyi Bath is the largest thermal bath in Europe, and as blogger Candice reports, <a href="http://www.candicedoestheworld.com/2012/11/photo-essay-being-badass-in-budapest/">it was all part of a visit to the city she found to be surprisingly party-centric</a>.
It was a week of biggest and best in Europe, as blogger Tracy Zhang visited Norway's Jostedalsbreen, or Jostedal Glacier, <a href="http://justintimetravels.com/2012/11/12/respect-jostedalsbreen/">the largest in continental Europe</a>. As she put it, it was "a piece of history that had been formed thousands of years before me, and will remain thousands of years after."
For Dalene and Peter Heck, who are house-sitting in rural Wisconsin for the next three months, the first frost meant an opportunity to — what else? — <a href="http://www.hecktictravels.com/ice-kayaking">kayak on the lake and break the ice with their paddles</a>.
Loving all the James Bond stories surrounding the premiere of Skyfall? Then you may be interested to learn that Lois Maxwell, who played Miss Moneypenny in many of the films, <a href="http://hikebiketravel.com/21966/visit-moneypennys-retreat/">moved to Espanola, Ontario with her kids</a> — which blog Hike Bike Travel visited this week.
You might not expect a place in the middle of Montana to be awash in neon signs — <a href="http://www.baconismagic.ca/montana/electric-livingston/">check out the rest of blogger Ayngelina of Bacon Is Magic's pictures to get the full view</a>.
As part of her daughter's fourth grade trip, blogger Lisa of Gone With The Family <a href="http://www.gonewiththefamily.com/gone-with-the-family-adv/2012/11/medieval-times-toronto.html#more">got to enjoy the somewhat surreal event that is the Medieval Times</a>. Haven't been yet? Be warned — you have to eat with your hands.
Screech, the very strong rum sold in Newfoundland, <a href="http://ibackpackcanada.com/getting-screeched-in-at-twillingates-anchor-inn/">not only requires drinking — it also requires initiation</a>, as blogger Corbin Fraser of I Backpack Canada discovered this week.
Just imagine this — a stunning hot air balloon ride adrift over the majesty of the Pyrenees in Spain. Then get jealous of Dave and Deb of The Planet D, who got to do it this week, <a href="http://theplanetd.com/hot-air-ballooning-pyrenees/">and take some great pictures in the process.</a>
While the Traveling Canucks weren't technically in northern India this week, <a href="http://travelingcanucks.com/2012/11/photos-from-our-travels-in-northern-india/">their pictures of the stunning scenes of the region</a> were certainly worth a second peek, especially during Diwali.
Dustin Main captured this moment in Yangon, Burma/Myanmar in a temple. "In this ritual, one places their hands to the flames, before bringing them back to their face or body," Main <a href="http://skinnybackpacker.com/hands-in-the-fire-yangon">wrote on his website, </a>. "It was hard not to be overwhelmed." Credit: <a href="https://twitter.com/skinnybackpackr">@skinnybackpackr</a>
Hecktic Travellers Pete and Dalene Heck created an <a href="http://www.hecktictravels.com/alberta-photography">ode to their home province</a> of Alberta with a roundup of beautiful shots throughout the countryside. Credit: <a href="https://twitter.com/HeckticTravels">@HeckticTravels</a>
Blogger Brendan van Son shared this great shot of the street <a href="http://www.brendansadventures.com/photo-monrovia-dusk/">from his hotel room</a> in Monrovia, Liberia. Credit: <a href="https://twitter.com/Brendanvanson">@Brendanvanson</a>
Bacon Is Magic travel blogger Ayngelina Brogan says this bison, which she snapped inside <a href="http://www.baconismagic.ca/montana/yellowstone-park/">Yellowstone Park</a>, was bigger than her car. Credit: <a href="https://twitter.com/Ayngelina">@Ayngelina</a>
Follow Adrian Brijbassi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AdrianBrijbassi