Throwing it Back to my First-Ever Visit to The Great White North

Let’s take this opportunity to throw it way back. All the way to 2016 and my first ever visit to North America and, more specifically, the weeks I spent exploring the east coast of Canada. Technically, I had been to The States briefly in 2014, but that was a different kind of travel.

So, to set the proper scene, I need to take you a little further back first. If you don’t already know this, I started my blog back in 2015; so by 2016, I had already traveled all over the Balkans and pretty much all over eastern Europe. I had seen almost every country from Portugal to Kazakhstan.

Despite all my European exploration, I was still a somewhat novice traveler and had yet to spend a significant amount in North America. I mean, I had been to the states briefly after graduating for some conferences, but never as a blogger or as a more “experienced traveler,” if you will.

So that’s what I decided to do in the autumn of 2016, spend a few months exploring the U.S. and Canada. This North American escapade began the first week of September back in 2016. I flew direct from Barcelona to Miami. My plan was first to spend three weeks in St. Petersburg, Florida.

If you’ve never been, it’s a mid-size hipster town in the north of Florida near Tampa. A good friend of mine has an apartment there, so I booked a nice little getaway in the city. I should note that this 3-week stay is, until now, the most extended stay I’ve had in one city. Well, at least it was that way until my recent Corona Escape in Mexico.

During this time, I really got to discover Florida, but that’s not what this article is about. However, if you want to read all about those 3 weeks, simply click here. So, after those three weeks in St. Pete’s, I flew to the great white north, arriving in Montreal in late September.

First, let me give you a quick rundown of the most noteworthy facts about this beautiful country.

Canada 101

For starters, Canada not only takes up most of the northern half of North America, but it also stretches very far north, nearly reaching the North Pole. A town called Alert in Nunavut sits just over 500 miles south of the North Pole and is the northernmost permanently inhabited community in the world.

Despite the vast land area, however, most of Canada’s population, approximately 35 million people, live south – much further south. Around 80% of these people live near the border with the United States. Fun Fact: fact, Canada’s border with the United States is the world’s most extensive bi-national land border.

To put it in perspective, Canada covers over 3.85 million square miles, making it second only to Russia in total area. This means it occupies more than 6% of the earth’s surface. Its ten provinces and three territories broaden from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans and northward into the Arctic Ocean, spanning across six different time zones.
Keep in mind that despite it being the second-largest country in the world, it only has .5 percent of the world’s population. 😱

As you can imagine, this makes it a sparsely-populated country with plenty of vast, wild areas. This is because most of its land consists of rugged mountains, abundant forests, and vast expanses of frozen tundra. Moreover, when you consider Canada’s climate, it’s easy to understand why most people choose to live near the southern border. It features frigid climates in most of the country. However, larger cities along the southern border enjoy warm summers and all four seasons.

Southern and warmer areas feature diverse ecosystems, from lakes and rivers to mountains, plains, and forests. Moreover, aside from its many large rivers, Canada has over 2 million lakes. Combined, these bodies of water hold about 20% of the world’s fresh water supply. 😱

Did you know that Ottawa is the Capital city of Canada? 🤯 Most people actually point to Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto as the capital, which is understandable, since they are the three most significant metropolitan areas. Before the settlers arrived, what is now Canada was inhabited by various indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

This brings me to the topic of its interesting history…

Around the 16th century, British and French expeditions surveyed and later colonized the land along the Atlantic coast. As a consequence of overlapping excursions, lots of conflicts ensued. At some point in the 17th century, France ceded nearly all of its colonies in North America.

A century later, through confederation and the union of three British North American colonies, Canada was formed. This began the territorial evolution of Canada and a process of increased autonomy from the United Kingdom. This widening autonomy was kindled by the Statute of Westminster of 1931 ( Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom with modified versions that became domestic law in Australia and Canada).

The path to sovereignty came to a climax with the Canada Act of 1982, which severed any traces of legal dependence on the British parliament. Today, Canada is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. It follows Westminster tradition, meaning it has a monarch and a prime minister who serves as head of government.

The country is a realm within the Commonwealth of Nations of Great Britain. It is officially bilingual at the federal level, and it ranks among the highest in measurements of government transparency, civil liberties, quality of life, “economic freedom,” and education. I say “economic freedom” in quotations because of their taxation system.
Canadians have some of the highest income taxations and burdensome regulations. It is a nation with increased socialist tendencies, and well, you know how I feel about these things. 😉

Today, it is one of the world’s most ethnically diverse and multicultural nations, the product of large-scale immigration in the 1960s. Credit where credit’s due, as a developed country, Canada has the seventeenth-highest nominal per-capita income globally as well as the thirteenth-highest ranking in the Human Development Index. Its progressive economy is the tenth-largest in the world, relying mainly on its abundant natural resources and well-developed international trade networks.

Ok, enough history, now let’s look at some pictures, and dive right into my time there!

First stop: Montreal

The main reason I decided to visit Canada back then is that I have a good friend that lives in Montreal; his name is Patrick. I’d met Patrick through his brother Raffi, a Canadian/Armenian guy who I had the pleasure of meeting in Armenia.

Raffi’s whole family lives in Canada (including his brother), but he moved back to Armenia a while back; that’s where I met him and his wife back in 2014 during my travels through the country.

Anyways, Raffi has a brother named Patrick, with whom I also became good friends. I’d met him at several libertarian conferences around the globe, and this time I finally had the chance to meet him and his family in their hometown of Montreal, which was pretty cool.

Montreal 101

Let me tell you a little more about the beautiful city of Montreal.

First off, it is the most populous city in the Canadian province of Quebec and the second-most populous city in Canada. Initially founded in 1642 as Ville-Marie, or “The City of Mary”, it is now named after Mount Royal, the triple-peaked hill in the heart of the town.

The city is centered on the Island of Montreal, and a few much smaller peripheral islands surround it. French is the city’s official language, and it still is the primary home language of nearly half its residents. English, on the other hand, is spoken by about a quarter of the population at home.

Downtown Montreal – First day in Canada, and already having to practice my French again…

Montreal is one of the most bilingual cities in Quebec and Canada; over half of its population is able to speak both English and French. Fun Fact: Montreal is the second-largest primarily French-speaking city in the developed world, after Paris.

The city is known for being rich in culture and history; it has, in my opinion, a well-deserved reputation for being one of the liveliest cities in North America with a very European feel.

In the six days I spent there with Patrick, we had a really lovely time discovering Montreal – Thankfully, we had exceptionally good weather for late September. I remember Canadians being really excited about having an “Indian Summer” and golden autumn… a popular expression for a period of mild, summerlike weather during autumn.

The colors of Montreal, Quebec

All in all, we had quite a lot of fun. I remember going to different parks around the city, partying at night, and all the while also dedicating some time to enjoy the suburbs with his family.

On one of the days, Patrick took me to check out Old Montreal (French: Vieux-Montréal). In fact, this part of town is part of what lures visitors; old cobblestoned streets which are lined with buildings that date anywhere from the 17th through 19th centuries, grand old French restaurants, history museums, and the riverfront Old Port.

Old Montreal Port – I quite like this city already.

The Old Port of Montreal (French: Vieux-Port de Montréal) is the historic port of the city. It stretches for over 1.2 mi along the Saint Lawrence River, and it was put to use as early as 1611 when French fur traders used it as a trading post.

In 1976, Montreal’s Port activities were moved east to the present Port of Montreal in the borough of Mercier–Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. Then, the Old Port was redeveloped in the early 1990s. Today, it is a recreational and historical area that can draw around six million tourists annually – maybe not this year though.

Old Montreal Port – With views of the St. Lawrence River

Montreal has a unique night and social life. Unlike the rest of the country, the drinking age in the province of Quebec is 18 years old, and bars are open past 3 am. In the rest of Canada, the drinking age is 19, and bars stop serving alcohol and close by 2 am.

I also got to enjoy some really nice dinners with Patrick’s family. One night they even organized a huge feast with something like 20 of his relatives and closest Armenian friends. It was a fantastic atmosphere and a really happy day.

After the first six days in Montreal, I took a train up to Quebec City and spent a few nights there.

Quebec City 101

Quebec City is the capital of the Canadian province of Quebec. It is located at a commanding position on 200-foot cliffs, which overlook the St. Lawrence River. It is worthy of noting that Quebec City is the only city in North America (outside Mexico and the Caribbean) with its original city walls.

Much of the business in this city is administrative and bureaucratic, which would typically make a city quite dull. Fortunately, the city has a remarkable history. You would expect nothing less from the “fortress capital of New France.” Keep in mind that Europeans first settled Quebec in 1608. For many centuries before colonization, the area was inhabited by Native peoples. It should be noted that their ongoing presence has been evident since then.

At its beginnings, the city was founded by the French to make a claim in the New World, and the name Quebec originally referred to just the city. It is an aboriginal word for “where the river narrows” – the name makes sense as the St. Lawrence River noticeably closes in just east of the town.

While under French rule (1608-1759), the major industries were the fur and lumber trades. In1759, the French lost the city and its colony of New France to the British. At this point, most of the French nobility returned to France, which resulted in Britain ruling over the remaining French population.

Fortunately, the new settlers allowed the French to retain their language and religion, leaving much of the culture intact. Things got interesting again in the 1840s when the city experienced an influx of Irish immigrants during the Potato Famine.

The British rule over the city came to a partial end some 20 years later, when in 1867, Lower Canada (Quebec) joined Upper Canada (Ontario), New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia to form the Dominion of Canada. Over the next decade, the remaining provinces and territories would join the confederation.

Vieux – Quebec, Old Quebec City – pretty town compared to the US in general. It has a much more European feel than even Montreal.

Finally, the language situation is a lot more palpable in Quebec City, where French is mostly spoken with very little English being heard outside of tourist areas. I would say they’re less than half of the population is bilingual. So, outside of the tourist areas, some knowledge of French is advisable and perhaps necessary, depending on how rural the area you’re visiting is.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time there. I explored a lot of city landmarks and relished walking along the city walls. You see, Vieux-Québec is the historic neighborhood of Quebec City. It is made up of the Upper Town (Haute-Ville) and Lower Town (Basse-Ville). The whole area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and super charming.

The original city walls still stand, the fortifications actually date back to the 17th century, which is pretty cool. Old Quebec is rich in historical landmarks and museums, and although the commercial area of the city can seem a little boring from time to time, the old town makes up for it by providing a vibrant historical hub.

For instance, in the Upper Town, you can find a few fantastic places to visit. For example, the 1800s Citadelle fort – an intact fortress that forms the centerpiece of the barricades surrounding the old city, it also features a secondary royal residence, stunning landscapes for sure.

Citadelle of Quebec – The beautiful colors of fall in Canada

Next, I visited the grand Château Frontenac hotel, which dominates the skyline of the city. Lastly, be sure to visit the Terrasse Dufferin, a wide boardwalk, also overlooking the city. It was also convenient that a cable-cart track connects Lower Town and the Quartier Petit Champlain, which has a 1688 stone church, Place Royale square, and charming boutiques and restaurants on Rue du Petit Champlain.

During my time in the city, I also visited a few museums and even took part in a pub crawl; did you know that Canadians really like to drink? – It was a lot of fun. All in all, it was a very well rounded first visit to Quebec City. I must say, however, that the highlight of my time there was trying some authentic poutine for the first time.

Poutine sidetrack

If you don’t know what poutine is, it’s a Canadian fast-food specialty, and you’re missing out. And I’m not talking about just any old poutine replica you may encounter outside of Canada. I am talking about the real deal – a propper, traditional Quebec poutine.

The dish is made with fancy french fries, topped with cheese curds, and drenched in hot gravy. The potatoes are cut coarser than standard fries and sometimes double-fried with a maple bath in-between. This makes them sweet and crispy on the outside and super soft on the inside.

They call it Poutine: fried potatoes topped with gravy and melted cheese. I topped mine off with pulled pork! I doubt, the Quebecois imported this Haute Cuisine from France, but it’s still delicious 🙂

Yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds, and you can find a version of this dish in pretty much every restaurant in Quebec. From McDonald’s to high-end bistros. Variations include an endless selection of extra toppings such as bacon or onions, which are added on top of the base recipe.

This dish is popular in all of Canada, but particularly in the province of Quebec. This is probably because the original poutine is said to have been invented in rural Québec in the mid-1950s. -Anyways, if you’re even in Canada, you can’t pass up the opportunity to try real poutine!

Old Quebec at night. Returning to Montreal tonight again.

Montreal part deux

After my lovely time in Quebec City, I began to make my way south again. I stopped in Montreal for a few more days with Patrick. Unfortunately, Patrick had to work in the city and couldn’t join me in Quebec City. Nonetheless, we still managed to enjoy Montreal for a few more days before I had to continue south.

Parc du Mont-Royal – The stunning colors of Canadian autumn.

We visited the Parc du Mont-Royal, which is one of the most important parks, and one of the largest green spaces in Montreal. As its name would suggest, it is located on the eastern slope of Mont-Royal. The 190-hectare park was created in 1876, and it is the oldest protected area in the province of Québec. I enjoyed roaming around and marveling at the beautiful views of the city.

Mount Royal – Great views of Downtown Montreal at dusk.

While there, we also visited Saint Joseph’s Oratory (French: Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal). This place is a Roman Catholic minor basilica and a national shrine on Mount-Royal’s Westmount Summit. It is a National Historic Site of Canada and it is Canada’s largest church, with one of the largest church domes in the world.

L’Oratoire Saint-Joseph du Mont-Royal – This is apparently the biggest dome in North America

The Oratory is famous not just in Montreal but also around the world, it attracts more than 2 million visitors and pilgrims every year. It is also the highest building in Montreal, in fact, it rises more than 30 meters above the summit of Mount Royal, this allows it to be seen even from a distance .

It is one of the few buildings that violates the height restrictions of the municipality; which limits the height of any building (including skyscrapers) from surpassing the height of Mount Royal.

Parc du Mont-Royal – Lac des Castors – Goodbye Montreal

Switching provinces to visit the capital: Ottawa 101

After two days in Montreal, it was time to leave for good and continue south to the nation’s capital city of Ottawa. The city is situated along the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, opposite Gatineau, Quebec. Its metropolitan population is currently the sixth-largest in Canada and the second-largest in Ontario after Toronto.

Something unique as a North American capital, is that the city is bilingual. In the province of Ontario and unlike the province of Quebec, English is the first language of a majority of the population, French being the next first language of a significant number.

It was great to see that staff in most stores and restaurants speak both very well and, in general, bilingualism is a common thing in this city. Ottawa, like the rest of the country, is very multi-ethnic, and it has an excellent infrastructure. Today, the town is probably best known as the nation’s capital, but it continues to become one of the fastest-growing cities in North America. This is mainly because there has been a boom in the high-tech business sector.

A little bit of background history…

Ottawa started as a humble lumber town, then called Bytown, named after Colonel John By. Colonel By oversaw the construction of the Rideau Canal. This canal is a historical scenic waterway that connects the towns of Kingston and Ottawa. It has even been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In the mid 19th century, lumber mills began to be built along the Ottawa River. This brought employment and wealth and a growing population. In 1857, Queen Victoria chose Ottawa as the capital of Canada. The choice was controversial, partly because it sidestepped the rivalry between Toronto and Montreal (largest cities then and now), and partly because the new capital was still a tiny outpost in the middle of nothing much.

Today, the major economic sectors of the city are public service, travel and tourism, and the high-tech industry.

Typical sightseeing in a capital city

Even though I only got to spend two days in the capital, it was enough time to see many of the national attractions. I visited Parliament Hill, the National Library and Archives, the National Gallery; as well as some museums. All the typical tourist things.

Canada Parliament, Ottawa, – Big government building

Parliament Hill is a hill on the south bank of the Ottawa River. Ottawa is situated at the confluence of three rivers (Ottawa, Rideau, and Gatineau). The Canadian Parliament building is located on this hill.

Formerly it was a military shelter, but it was converted into a government building in 1859 after Queen Victoria made Ottawa the capital. The complex also includes the Parliament Library and statues of various personalities from Canadian history.

Canada Parliament, – actually quite Idyllic.

The Library and Archives Canada is a federal institution tasked with acquiring, preserving, and making Canada’s documentary heritage accessible. It is the fourth-largest library in the world, and its, in my opinion, a pretty cool initiative. The creation of such a building speaks volumes regarding the freedom of information and government transparency of the country.

I also visited the National Gallery of Canada, which is Canada’s national art museum. The museum’s building takes up 501,820 sq ft, with 133,000 sq ft of space used for exhibiting art, making it one of the largest art museums in North America.

Goodbye, Ottawa. Will spend my last three nights in Canada in Toronto

Onwards and southbound: Toronto 101

From Ottawa, I continued making my way south, this time all the way to Toronto. If you don’t already know, Toronto is the most populated city in Canada and the capital of the province. It is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, about 2 hours away from the U.S. Buffalo border.

Covering more than 600 square feet, Toronto stretches some 20 miles along the shores of the great lake. It includes a dense, urban core surrounded by an inner ring of older suburbs followed by an outer ring of post-war suburbs called the Greater Toronto Area. The center of the GTA is home to around 2.8 million people. While the entire region as a whole has about 8.5 million residents – approximately a quarter of Canada’s entire population, making it the fourth-largest city and fifth-largest urban agglomeration in North America.

Before colonization pre-16th century, the area was populated at different times by Iroquois and later Wyandot (Huron) native peoples. European settlement started with the French building a seldom occupied fort near today’s Exhibition grounds in the mid-1700s. The town eventually grew out of a backwoods English trading. Later, in the 19th century, the city evolved to become the cultural and economic focus of Canada. This was mainly achieved thanks to the country’s liberal immigration policies, which started in the 1960s.

Thanks to the region’s strong economy, Toronto has, in recent decades, been transformed into one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse cities in the world. More than 80 ethnic communities are represented in the GTA, and over half of the city’s residents were born outside Canada.

As a result of this cultural mosaic, Toronto is home to many ethnic festivals throughout the year. Toronto also boasts several radio stations that broadcast in various languages and at least two multicultural television channels. The City of Toronto officially deals in 16 different languages, while the public transit agency Toronto Transit Commission offers a helpline in 70 languages.

The diversity in the city is palpable everywhere you go. It is actually difficult to spot a “pure” Canadian at any point in time. I really enjoyed my three days there. I found Toronto to be a progressive city with excellent infrastructure.

The city is laid out on a very straightforward grid pattern, and streets rarely deviate from the grid, making it easy to get around, even with public transportation. I stayed in a hostel outside of the city center (yeah, at this point in my career, I was still staying in hostels all the time), and it was still good; I was able to get around quickly with public transportation.

The people in the hostel were really lovely, and I enjoyed discovering different parts of the city from that spot. While there, I also had some intense party nights – yep, Canadians like to drink.

Toronto – Feeling small again. Great day to climb the highest tower of the Western Hemisphere

Since we still had great weather, in early October, I was also able to check out the “beach” (lake), which lines the southern coast of the town. From downtown, you can take a ferry-boat or water taxis to the Toronto Islands.

The Toronto Islands are a chain of 3 small islands in Lake Ontario, south of mainland Toronto. They are the only group of islands in the western part of Lake Ontario, and they are located just offshore from the city’s downtown. They also work to provide shelter for the Toronto Harbour.

The islands are home to parkland, the Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, several yacht clubs, Centreville Amusement Park, a residential area, and several beaches. The island community is considered to be the largest urban car-free community in North America, although some service vehicles are allowed.

Coming back from Toronto Centre Island – Toronto Skyline form the water.

Centre Island and Ward’s Island are a popular recreation and tourist destination. I went on a beautiful day, and there were bicyclists, people having picnics and playing sports; I also saw some people out on the water in canoes and paddleboats… everyone really enjoying nature and the perfect fall weather.

I also visited more touristy attractions in downtown Toronto, like the CN Tower and the Skydome downtown (both structures are signature icons of Toronto’s skyline).

The CN Tower, by the way, held the record for the world’s tallest free-standing structure for 32 years. This was the case until 2007 when the Burj Khalifa surpassed it. At this point, it still remained the world’s tallest tower until 2009 when the Canton Tower surpassed it.

It is now the ninth tallest free-standing structure in the world, and it still remains the tallest free-standing structure on land in the Western Hemisphere. In the mid-90s the CN Tower was declared one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World.

I decided to go up the tallest free-standing structure in North America. There is a glass elevator to the top, and the view was incredible. There is a glass floor, which for some, is very scary to walk on, but I quite liked it. As you know, I love to enjoy panoramic city views from high above. I took some beautiful pictures of lake Ontario and of the city at sunset.

CN Tower – Sunset over Lake Ontario from the CN Tower

Afterward, I walked around the SkyDome, a multi-purpose stadium, located right next to the CN Tower. It opened in 1989 on the former Railway Lands, and today it is home to the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball (MLB). It’s funny that the Blue Jays – and pretty much every other Canadian National Team – haven’t won much in decades, yet Canadian fans are loyal and fierce.

Downtown is the heart of this urban core, and I got to experience different eclectic neighborhoods, such as Kensington Market, the Financial District, and Dundas Square. There are lots of cool things to see in this city.

CF Toronto Eaton Centre – Times Square – Toronto?

Yonge–Dundas Square, or Dundas Square – a public square at the major intersection of Yonge Street and Dundas Street East in downtown. The square was started in 1997 as part of revitalizing the intersection, and it’s being compared to New York’s Time Square and Piccadilly Circus in London.

Since its completion in 2002, the spot has hosted many public events, performances, and art displays, establishing the area as a prominent landmark in Toronto and one of the city’s prime tourist attractions. Surrounding the square are other significant landmarks, including the Toronto Eaton Centre (s large mall), Ed Mirvish Theatre (think the Broadway Theatre of Canada), and the Citytv building (think the FOX of Canada).

From there, I continued south towards the financial district, where I got to visit the Toronto City Hall. Two buildings are forming an apparent semi-circle overlooking Nathan Phillips square, which has a very popular skating rink in the winter.

Speaking of winter, one really cool thing about Toronto is the PATH. This is a network of underground pedestrian tunnels, elevated walkways, and at-grade walkways connecting the office towers of Downtown Toronto below ground. It connects more than 70 buildings via 20 miles of tunnels, walkways, and shopping areas, which serve as a shelter for walking around the city’s downtown core during the cold winter months.

From City Hall, I continued west, walking along King St. and Queen St. (major east to west streets of Toronto). These streets are lined with stores and restaurants and are quite full of life. Eventually, I made my way to Kensington Market, a walkable bohemian neighborhood just west of downtown. It draws artists and tourists to its indie shops, vintage boutiques, and art spaces.

Kensington Market – Not the worst views

Kensington Market is also home to a wide array of specialty grocers, bakeries and cheese shops. Here, you will find rare and exotic foods from all over the world. At night, hipsters frequent trendy bars, cafes, and international restaurants that range from casual to fine dining.

The fist impressive waterfalls I ever witnessed: Niagara Falls 101

One of the days during my 3-day stay in Toronto, I took a day trip to visit the Niagara Falls. For many years, the grandeur of these falls had appealed to me, and I was super happy to visit the Canadian side on this trip. If you don’t already know, one half of the Falls are located in Ontario, and its sister city Niagara Falls, New York, has the other half.

Niagara Falls – Impressive

The falls are found on the Niagara River, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The combined falls have the highest flow rate of any waterfall in North America, with a vertical drop of more than 160 ft. More than 168,000 m3 (six million cubic feet) of water go over the crest of the falls every minute. Niagara Falls is famous both for its beauty and for being a valuable source of hydroelectric power.

Niagara Falls – I love water falls. Nothing symbolizes the eternal flow of life in its enormous, non-reversible power better

The falls are 17 mi north-northwest of Buffalo, New York, and 75 mi south-southeast of Toronto, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York. These falls were formed when glaciers receded at the end of the last ice age, and water from the newly formed Great Lakes carved a path through the Niagara Escarpment en to disembogue at the Atlantic Ocean.

Niagara Falls – Canada – Splendid

Even though I only saw them from the Canadian side, they were still an imposing sight. I went all along the edge and took pictures from all sorts of different angles. I was thrilled and thoroughly impressed.

Keep in mind that at this point of my life, I had never seen an awe-inspiring and powerful waterfall. Now I’ve seen Iguazu, Victoria Falls, Murchison Falls in Uganda and many other impressive ones like Kaieteur Falls in Guyana — Back then, however, even the little (by comparison) Niagara Falls were quite awe-inspiring. Today I would say I like Victoria Falls or Kaieteur Falls better, but it was still a good first experience.

The Rainbow Bridge – the border between Canada and the US. Flying back there tomorrow

Continuing south of the border… all the way to the deep south

NY from above – New York from above. Unfortunately, the sun reflects from the Manhattan skyline

After Toronto and Niagara, I flew back to the U.S. This time to Charleston. I spent a little bit of time in Charleston and got to do a little bit of sightseeing making stops at Charleston’s old town, the College of Charleston, and the harbor and Fort Sumter.

First, let me tell you that Charleston is a seaport city in the state of South Carolina. Its historic downtown is on a peninsula formed by two rivers, Ashley and Cooper. Both of which flow into the Atlantic, and protected from the open ocean by surrounding islands.

Charleston was captured in the Civil War without much property damage, so the historic part of town has buildings that are hundreds of years old. The current downtown skyline, with practically no tall buildings due to the city’s height restriction ordinance, is dominated by church steeples and the stunning Arthur Ravenel cable-stay bridge completed in 2005 over the Cooper River (photos below).

Moreover, the Charleston Historic District, alternatively known as Charleston Old and Historic District, is a National Historic Landmark area of the city. The district, which covers most of the historic peninsular core of the city, contains a collection of 18th and 19th-century architecture, including many distinctive Charleston “single houses”.

Charleston Historic District- Getting to the deep south

Charleston, South Carolina – Just 3 days after Hurricane Matthew, only the fallen trees and leaves remember him. The famous Antebellum homes seem to have endured the storm without much visible damage.

Fort Sumter is a sea fort known for being the grounds of two significant battles. The fort was one of a number of special forts planned after the War of 1812. and the first battle important battle on it signified the start of the American Civil War.

The second battle of Fort Sumter (September 8, 1863) was a failed attempt by the Union to retake the fort, At this point, the fort was reduced to rubble, however, it remained in Confederate hands until it was evacuated as armies marched through South Carolina in February 1865.

Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie National History – Here the American Civil War began with the first shot. The Bay the fort is protecting also saw the first ever successful submarine attack in 1863.

As I visited the College of Charleston, I learned that it is a public liberal arts college, which was founded in 1770 and chartered in 1785. It is the oldest college in South Carolina, the 13th oldest institution of higher learning in the United States, and the oldest municipal college in the country. In short, it is one of the oldest universities in the United States.

College of Charleston – The oldest municipal College of the U.S.

Finally, I ended my sightseeing day watching the sunset over the Charleston Harbor. This harbor is an inlet located 8 sq mi of the Atlantic Ocean. A lovely spot to catch the sunset and enjoy the view.

Nice town, one of the few places in the US where you are legally allowed to drink alcohol outdoor in public

From there, I took a bus to Savannah, Georgia, and then to St. Augustines in Florida, where I also got to do a bit of sightseeing through the old town.

St Augustine is a small and quaint city on the east coast of Florida, full of romantic ambiance and old-world charm. It is best known for its exceptional
historic streets, Spanish style architecture, and panoramic bay.

Nice to be back in the warmth of Florida.

The St. Agustine Historic District is home to a bunch of Spanish-Colonial landmarks like the 1600s Castillo de San Marcos, overlooking Matanzas Bay, and the González-Alvarez House. I found many quaint shops on St. George Street, selling local crafts and candy. The street is also filled with casual restaurants that serve Southern and Spanish fare.

St. Agustine Old Town – Finally some nice churches – The Memorial Presbyterian Church – a historic church constructed in 1889.

From St. Augustine, I continued to make my way south by bus, all the way down to Miami to catch my flight out of the United States. Maybe I’ll tell you all about that journey in a future post.

Until then, it’s been wonderful taking you on this trip down memory lane. I’m surprised I actually remember this much. I guess it was one of the first big trips to North America, and I think things like these leave a lasting impression.

Keep in mind that with my lifestyle, four years feel like a really long time. Moving around so much, makes it so that many travels and journeys begin to blur together as memories from a different lifetime. Travelling broadens your horizons in such ways that you grow, evolve, and shed skins much faster than if living a “normal” life, so this trip truly feels like an eternity ago.