When my newly divorced friend suggested that I get packing with my daughter and join her and her two daughters in Canada for a holiday, I didn’t take long to agree that this was a fabulous idea.
And so the idea of a single mom and kids holiday was born. It was fairly difficult to organise due to our not-so-straightforward demands, but well worth it in the end.
A pedestrian passes a heart sculpture during a snow storm in Montreal. Credit: REUTERS
The holiday turned out to be something of a mission – just getting visas for my daughter and I was a challenge on its own.
And then getting to Canada is not so straightforward for us holders of distrusted green passports. With your destination being on the other side of the planet, you generally have to work in a stopover somewhere – and this is a problem if your wait exceeds a couple of hours, as countries like France then require you to get a visa. Visas are expensive and difficult to organise and therefore best avoided. Even passing through London entails getting a visa if you land at Heathrow and need only to change terminals.
So I was delighted to discover we could fly KLM return via the Netherlands, with a shortish stop and no visa necessary.
And so it was that two single moms ended up holidaying in the Canadian winter, traipsing our kids through Toronto, Montreal and then Winnipeg. While we had a lovely adventure, it required a fair amount of planning and research. Particularly since we had a tight budget.
For South Africans, Canadian winters are a daunting prospect. We don’t have the clothes or shoes for it, nor – I discovered – the capacity to even imagine what it is like just to breathe in air that is -30°C. Fortunately we had Canadians to advise us, so we sent off our clothes and shoe sizes and met up with our friends at the airport in Toronto where we were able to don some borrowed coats and shoes before even stepping outside.
The other challenge, we discovered, was finding places to stay. My friend Ladine’s daughters were five and seven, and mine was six. When we began our search for hotels, the criteria of reasonably priced accomodation for two adults and three children got thrown out on internet searches, with recommendations that we rather make two bookings. I asked my travel agent to help – and he did not have any better luck. Ladine tried in Canada, and she also battled.
Eventually Ladine found us a two bedroom self-catering apartment in Town Inn Suites in Church Street, Toronto. It was basic, but had everything we needed – two large bedrooms with two double beds in each, a lounge, dining room, bathroom and kitchen. Five nights for all of us cost just under C$1 500. (C$1=R8). And this included the use of an indoor swimming pool.
We were situated close to restaurants, shopping malls and public transport, so getting around with three little kids was easy. And self-catering accomodation meant we didn’t have to go out at night, which cut down on costs and was a great option at the end of busy days with tired-out children.
Toronto is a busy city that celebrates Christmas with twinkle lights, decorations and giant trees laden with sparkly baubles all over the streets. It took a bit of practice to walk in snow boots on frozen ground while looking in amazement at the sights.
One of the highlights was a visit to the CN Tower downtown – classed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1995. It’s the tallest free-standing structure in the western hemisphere at 147 storeys tall. It was unfortunately a little grey and cloudy the day we made our way to the top, so we didn’t get the spectacular view offered in perfect conditions – but it was a breathtaking experience nonetheless. At C$24 an adult and C$16 a child for the observation only package, it was a memorable event on the holiday agenda. The outdoor viewing deck circles the entire tower, giving you an aerial view of the city. Inside, there’s a glass floor where you get the eerie feeling of suspension high above the ground.
Another highlight was a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum, where there were numerous activities for children and loads of displays to see. These change from time to time.
We then travelled by train to Montreal, which was a pleasant way to view the frozen, snowy countryside as well as a comfortable option for children who liked the fact that they could wander around a little, order food from the dining cart and play games and colour-in on the solid tables between our soft seats.
In Montreal we rented Waverley House – a beautiful double-storey with all the mod-cons situated a short walk from a host of delis, bakeries and supermarkets that stocked excellent ready-made meals. The bedrooms were comfortable, the bathrooms luxurious and large, there was a full playroom and a small collection of books. In the evenings it was great to be able to grab a frozen beef bourguignon and a bottle of wine and head back to our warm house, knowing that supper was sorted and we wouldn’t have to head out in the evening with three children into sub-zero temperatures. And the dash up the street in the mornings for fresh baguettes and croissants was a doddle.
We paid C$700 for our comfortable three-night stay.
One of our favourite Montreal experiences was travelling in a horse-drawn carriage, clip-clopping through the streets of the charming city. The five of us packed into a bright pink carriage picked out by our girls, drawn by a horse named Tommy and driven by a charming French-speaking woman named Charlotte. She made sure we were all comfortably tucked in under a heavy bear skin rug before setting off and charged us C$50 for two hours.
We loved the Biosphere – which we accidentally discovered after being advised to go to the Biodome. But it’s a mistake we didn’t regret. Entrance was free, there were loads of activities, displays and interesting shows for children and adults all based in a strange spherical structure. The girls were particularly amused by the station where you could place your face in a slot and have the image beamed up onto a large movie screen where you then became the star of a short film about the water cycle.
The rest of our trip was spent in Winnipeg where we stayed with friends and experienced suburban Canadian life.
“I really like it here, mom. There are no beggars and none of the houses have fences around them so that must mean there are no baddies here,” was the evaluation of my little Erin. - Saturday Star