I spent my first three days in Canada in Toronto, and then headed off to Collingwood with my friend to visit his parents.
And I fell in love with it almost immediately.
It’s a small town nestled between the Georgian Bay and The Blue Mountains, so you have beautiful views of the water or gorgeous views of the mountains wherever you go.
In a nutshell, it was my kind of place.
My friend took a scenic route up there (solely for my viewing pleasure), which consisted of back roads and farmland. It was peaceful and calming – a prelude to our eventual destination.
This is the view from the kitchen. It was so serene to wake up and have breakfast while staring out into the water, despite the weather not cooperating for much of the time we spent there. As much as I love the mountains, I can’t deny the beauty of the water.
I know, this might sound strange – most people travel to exotic countries to explore new cultures, and here I am rambling about an adorable town and a lakefront property. But it’s exactly what I needed to unwind, and I didn’t want to leave.
Travel Isn’t Just About the Destination
On that point, travel is also about the people you meet along the way. (At least, I think so.)
In my first hour or so there, I got to talk with my friend’s mom, who is a published author and former teacher. I had been looking forward to meeting her because we both like owls and she seemed pretty awesome.
We covered a lot of ground, from conquering writing fears to reigniting your imagination and even retirement. I don’t know anyone in my personal day-to-day life who is a writer, so it was nice to talk to someone who immediately understood what I was struggling with (and someone who offered really good advice). I was very grateful for the conversation we had.
I was even more grateful for the opportunity to visit a nearby town with her the next day: Orillia.
Orillia, the “Sunshine City”
I have to say, as cute as Collingwood was, Orillia was even cozier and more delightful, at least on the architectural and historical side of things.
We were headed there for an author signing, and to meet up with another friend to watch the unveiling of a Gordon Lightfoot statue.
Our first destination was said friend’s house – an absolutely stunning home which used to be a B&B. I was lucky enough to get a tour of it, and I wish the B&B was still in business because my jaw dropped as I entered every room. I was also really jealous of their office and library. #housegoals
Charming homes with brick exteriors dotted the tree-lined streets in the neighborhood. It was as if everything had been created to make you feel at home.
Even the downtown area was cozy. I especially loved the maple leaf art displayed along the streets.
We ate at Brewery Bay Food Co, which was excellent and yummy. From there, we walked through Mariposa Market, which had all sorts of delicious treats. I will be making my way back there at some point.
We walked the city streets to the book signing, and before entering the bookstore, I actually got to meet the mayor, who was (fittingly) wearing a hockey jersey.
From the bookstore we wandered some more, eventually making our way toward the opera house where the statue was being unveiled. We were slightly early, and the chill in the air caused us to seek refuge inside the town library located next door.
Full disclaimer: I’m a library junkie. I have no idea why, but I like to visit libraries in different cities. So far, Boston’s is winning, but this library was unusually big for such a small town, and I couldn’t help but wish we had more time to stay.
We headed back out to see the statue, and after the ceremony we headed back to the former B&B to have tea and warm up before leaving.
While I loved Orillia, I also loved getting to know more about Canada’s history from the people I met. For whatever reason, none of my history classes ever saw fit to mention Canada, even though we’re only separated by a border.
It was interesting to learn how some Canadians view us, and even more interesting to learn about Orillia, as the town prides itself on its rich culture and history. (There’s a distinct reason it’s referred to as the Sunshine City.)
Taking to the Skies
During dinner on my first night in Collingwood, the possibility of taking a flight over the town was brought up, as my friend’s dad is a pilot with (what else?) a plane. I immediately said I was interested, and internally started jumping around from excitement.
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate with us right away, which caused us to stay an extra two days, but the wait was worth it. Both because I had an amazing time in the air, and because I didn’t want to leave anyway.
I can safely say becoming a pilot is now on my not-very-well-thought-out bucket list. Being in the air felt similar to my first time on a motorcycle – freeing in ways I can’t describe. Or maybe I just enjoy seeing the world from a different perspective.
It didn’t hurt that the scenery was, of course, beautiful. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.
And yes, that’s me sort of flying the plane for a few minutes. I wasn’t in control of the rudders, but I was attempting to tell the plane where to go. We made it, so I guess I did okay.
After I expressed how amazingly awesome the flight had been, I was told we could fly a longer, more scenic route next time. Uh, yes please.
Taking to the Trails
Wanting to take advantage of the nice weather as much as possible after the flight, we headed out on a walking trail to take in the sights of downtown. One reason I want to go back is that there’s a whole network of trails throughout the town, and we only walked one small part of it.
Pictures can’t even do the atmosphere here justice, so forget words.
Even though it was absolutely freezing out, I loved walking around. Shops were quaint, the mountains provided a nice backdrop, and the sunset was gorgeous. It’s not hard to see why I’d prefer to go back when the weather is a little warmer. ;)
Travel Also Isn’t About Sticking to the Plan
Here’s a somewhat introspective wrap up: sticking to a plan is extremely tempting as a Type A personality. I love getting an itinerary together and researching the hell out of prospective destinations. I had an entire spreadsheet of activities and places to visit for this trip.
But, as most people know, almost nothing goes according to plan. And that can be difficult to come to terms with, especially when you have this vision of what your trip will be like in your head, and you want to fight everything that’s happening to cause it to go awry.
Fighting is useless, though. More than likely, nothing is going to come of it except for frustration.
I learned this lesson first hand, as my friend was unfortunate enough to get sick early on, and then I came down with something my last week there. I felt so torn between trying to rest and trying to make the most of my remaining days in Canada, but ultimately, my body told me rest was more important, so I had to listen.
I know this doesn’t apply to every destination or every trip, but I came to peace with it knowing I could always visit again next year. There are still so many things on my spreadsheet I’d like to cross off, along with new places to explore.
In the end, shit happens, and you have to make the most of it. I may not have explored as much of Toronto as I would have liked, but I still came away from the trip with a better understanding of what travel might mean to me. Having almost a month away from home also taught me a lot about myself, and both of those are valuable things.
Memories were still made, good coffee was still consumed, adventures were had, and I got to see snow weeks before I would have seen it at home. Choosing to focus on the good is something I’ve been trying to get better at, and I’m making that choice here.
Totally random side note: I was very confused upon seeing the abbreviation GTA in newspapers, considering I normally associate it with Grand Theft Auto. It definitely means Greater Toronto Area. I didn’t witness any heists on my trip. Maybe next time.1