Canada Day


Today is Canada's birthday. And it's been interesting to see the country from the outside for the past 9 months, and to hear how people view it over here. Some observations...

  • Saying "I'm Canadian" still acts as an almost automatic goodwill passport - 8 times out of 10, people respond favourably and with a smile. The other times, the person is usually neutral or completely disinterested.
  • The overwhelming reaction to the word 'Canada' is either one of "ah, nature" or "ah, cold". I do try to explain that we have modern, hip, bustling cities as well and that I've maybe seen 2 moose in my entire life. But this doesn't resonate with the listener.
  • Note to Canada Tourism - you've done an excellent job showcasing mountains and lakes to the overseas population - these images are seared into people's impressions of us. It's time to update the brand - mix in some of the coolness of Montreal's summer nightlife, Vancouver's restaurant scene, Toronto's diversity, and please anything, anything but Calgary's cowboy image.
  • We may not realize it inside our own borders, but we may want to tone down the chirpy smugness of being rated so highly as a place to live. It's nauseating to see a major clothing manufacturer say "The World Needs More Canada" (imagine any other country saying this - we'd think it was the height of arrogance), or idiotic Olympic poets saying things like "Canada is the 'what' in 'what's new'" to a global audience. Lame.
  • While we're at it, let's stop sewing our flag on our backpacks when we go abroad - no one else does this, and for good reason. Pride is great, but it's even better when paired with humility.
  • Seeing first-hand how so many countries struggle with integration of immigrants, it is all the more impressive to see how Canada has done it. Not perfectly, of course, but it seems (to my fairly uneducated eyes) head and shoulders above Europe and its tribal mentality.
  • We need a 'thing'. Italians have their food, Belgians their beer, British their humour, Swiss their cheese. Bacon isn't sexy enough, and neither is hockey supremacy nor Celine Dion. Hmmm...I guess nature and politeness are perfectly fine, but still there must be something more. Maybe before next July 1 we can come up with something - till then, happy birthday homeland.

Canal Coolness


This past weekend I discovered a new way to see the city of Amsterdam. Bike, foot, car, tram, bus, train, metro, wet, less wet, sober, less-than-sober - it's all been done already.

Where it's really at is renting a boat on a warm, sunny Saturday morning and touring the canals for 3 hours with friends, tunes, and food.

While the larger canal tour boats cram in the tourists and offer a passive way to see the city (and it's perfectly fine to take such a tour once as well, especially with your mom), a far more interesting and active way to do it is via personal rental boat.

We hit the waters with, a small operator in Amsterdam. After a friendly greeting with a 10-minute tutorial and waterproof map, we were off.

The starting point

Another boat of intrepid explorers

There's no need for special license, and the electric-powered (i.e. quiet and green) aluminum tubs putter along at a very slow pace (I think ducks paddled past and taunted us on more than one occasion - trash-quacking us as they did so).

But no matter - the idea is to chill, bring your own eats and drinks, and enjoy the scenery. There are not many cities you can do this in either, which adds to the appeal.

You can rent a boat for the morning, the afternoon or the whole day, although in the morning it is more tranquil in terms of traffic on the water and it's also nice to witness the city waking up.

We fit 5 people comfortably, and could easily have had one or two more. And for three hours at a cost of 79 Euros in total... let's just say that there aren't many more enjoyable things you can do in Amsterdam for less than 20E per person. Much less for 3 hours straight.

One of the many homes on the water

Dios Rio


Ok, now onto the main course.

After dining on Danish, Japanese, Cameroonian and Slovakian appetizers, the Dutch football team is getting ready to tackle Brazil this coming Friday.

Watching the Slovaks go down 2-1 from a packed and humid bar on a sunny day here in Amsterdam, one could feel the buzz from the crowd well before kick-off.

It was somewhere in Leidseplein, teeming with non-descript bars and people and heat. By the start of the game, I was sweating my vuvuzelas off. No complaints here though - it was fantastic, with the long-overdue heat and that odd smell of a bar during daytime hours adding to the whole atmosphere.

The crowd erupted with a beauty by Arjen Robben within the first 20 minutes, and with almost total control of the game they sealed it with a Kuyt to Sneijder doelpunt later in the second half.

Prime seats

The game was a typically austere Dutch effort, doing just enough to win and being largely devoid of flash. These are supposedly the same people who invented a long spoon-like thing to scrape out the very bottom of a jar, so it seems fitting that there was no wasted effort.

Post-game, we squinted our way outside like bats from a cave and walked into a mass of singing and dancing youth, the whole scene a sea of orange. A mellow evening barbeque in the park with friends capped off a fine day to be in Amsterdam.

Inside - drama. Outside - tram-a.