It’s been about five years since I originally planned to head to Canada, and after a few short days staying in Toronto, the wait was worth it.

Leaving the tropical climate of Singapore it took nearly a day and a half of transiting which included a three hour layover in London. Unusually for some, I enjoyed my layover at terminal 5. It was great to see all home food comforts on sale (and of course Galaxy chocolate!).

Leaving London I eventually arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport. Named Pearson after Lester B. Pearson, Canada’s former prime minister (and Nobel peace prize winner - thanks to his work in helping resolve the Suez Crisis).

Passing through immigration and collecting my luggage was a breeze and there were ample Taxi’s around to take me to my hostel. It’s worth noting that Canada, like many countries these days, operates an eTA immigration process, where you need to pre-apply online for your visa for a small fee. More details about this process can be found here (Government of Canada Immigration Site) .

As I exited the taxi i got to feel the cold air of Toronto. It was brilliantly refreshing. Living in (and enjoying being in) a tropical climate, I forgot how nice cold crisp air is. I was unsuitably dressed for it, so couldn’t hold out for too long in the outdoors without properly kitting up.

Planet Traveller Hostel, my home for the next few days, was located on College Street in the heat of Toronto, and was very close to major bus and tram stops that can take you anywhere in the city. The hostel was between the suburbs of Kensington Market, Discovery District, and Harbord Village. Also a few doors down was an Avis hire car office - which proved handy later. The hostel was brilliantly laid out, offered free breakfasts, lockers, and had both a dining and seated lounge area. You know I’ve found many hostels don’t have a good lounge area, and for me these are key for us backpackers - as it’s the centre-point where you get to meet and interact with the most amazing people.

Looking out from the hostel.

Technically this is the first time in a good few years that I felt like a backpacker again. And it’s not that I was travelling alone, but more the environment I was in and the people I was surrounded with. Even at work when I tell people I stayed in a hostel and not a fancy hotel, they look at me as if I’m crazy. But they’ve yet to appreciate the incredible value it can bring to you. And then economically, for many, a hostel brings the opportunity of low cost accommodation within expensive countries. So a week at the hostel in Toronto was the same price as my one night hotel in Orlando. And I would chose the hostel every time.

Once I was shown my room and had packed my things away I headed out to my first Ice Hockey Game. Ice Hockey was said to have been developed in Montreal in 1875 and like football (soccer) in the UK it’s beautifully ingrained in the culture of the country; you could say it’s religion.

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Buffalo Sabres

I purchased my tickets a week before through Ticketmaster Canada ( When selecting my seats I was (foolishly) surprised that there were hardly any seats left. Also, I was surprised how expensive it is - but like any football game for the big teams, it’s to be expected.

I chose the lowest value ticket that put me right up in the stands - which, when you look at the view, was actually really good value. You can have the tickets delivered to your home (in Canada) or simply have them as an email ticket - which I chose.

So walking down towards the stadium my iPhone started acting up. It kept shutting off - even when the battery was over 70% full. I thought that it can’t be possible that my battery drained so much so quickly from using Google Maps or from texting.

I tried turning the phone again, and phew it came back on. Only to die again after a minute. How am I going to access my tickets? I don’t even remember my Ticketmaster account details to retrieve them. Walking down the main street my eyes searching for any electrical store or cell phone retailer. There was none. I kept powering up my phone, closing apps down thinking that there is a bug that’s crashing the phone.

By the time I arrived at the stadium my phone gave up. But I was distracted by the awesome and friendly atmosphere outside the entrance gates. All enclosed within the building, prior to going in, people are waiting around for the friends to go through the gates together, and there’s such a friendly atmosphere among everyone. It reminded me of when I would head to a Barnsley game and you can feel the excitement and atmosphere from everyone (though in those days there wasn’t much to be excited about!).

As I started queuing up through security and then to the ticket checking person (I can’t think of what the correct term is), my phone burst into life and when the lady went to scan it, it died again. Aaagghh. Thankfully, like all Canadians, she was extremely helpful and spent a good ten mins with me trying to get me my ticket - even offering her phone to log into the Ticketmaster website. Constantly retrying my device it came back on just in time for my ticket to be scanned and I was through the doors!

It turned out that my phone had real trouble adapting to the cold. Even though it was only one degree above freezing, it clearly got used to the Singaporean climate of +30c every day. So in order to ensure I could get some good shots of the game, I kept the phone in my pocket to keep warm. Crazy really.

I grabbed a hot dog and Canadian beer (of course), found my seat and began to watch the impressive opening sequence of the game. Stadium full, video was projected on to the ice to create a 3D illusion. It was awesome, and you can see it here...

Then it was time for the national anthem. Since Canada was playing a team from the US, both anthems were sung. What I really enjoyed was that after the US anthem, everyone clapped - a real respect thing between the two fans. From what I remember at football, people tend to boo the opposition side.

As the Canadian anthem was sung, a large flag of Canada was unveiled and passed through the crowd. It was a great image, and well choreographed!

The game began and I was lucky that the two Canadian men sat beside me, knowing this is my first game, happily explained the rules and what was going on. I honestly thought that I wouldn’t really find the game that interesting or entertaining. But I really did. It was tense, pacey, and the entertainment between pauses was brilliant - a lesson for FIFA there.

When the game finished I followed the crowd out of the main arena, and passed the live TV show set of the games sports channel. It was really noisy all around me, so I was very surprised how well they managed to hold a conversation and hear each other. And during the commercial break to the presenters posed for pictures.

My phone was now officially out of battery. And without a map i walked the streets of Toronto trying to remember my way back. Fortunately the grid like road system makes it a breeze and I managed to get back safe and sound.

The walk gave me time to reflect more on how much I enjoy backpacking, trying new things for the first time, and meeting new people - whom unknowingly to them, became great ambassadors to their own country.

It was going to be a great week. Welcome to Canada!

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