Archive for February, 2007

Karaoke Night

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

at the Canadiana Backpackers Hostel, Toronto?

Do you know what “Karaoke” means? Well, “Kara” in Japanese means “empty”. Like “Karate” which translates as “Empty Hand”; hence, fighting without weapons. “Oke” is the way the Japanese shorten the word “Orchestra”;? therefore, Karaoke is singing without an orchestra.

We have a regularly scheduled event every Monday when we go as a group to our local pub – located exactly one block from our front door – for “Karaoke Night”! It’s actually a lot of fun!

There are three types of singers at Karaoke. There are those who can’t sing (and know it) but just want to sing somewhere other than in the shower. It’s all in fun and they know that too. The second type? consists of the seriously deluded. They can’t sing to save their lives? but they don’t know it! The sounds that comes out of their mouths often falls somewhere between nails on a chalkboard and a cat with its’ tail caught in a door! It’s just dreadful – but funny!

We’ve got an old friend (read; repeat client)? from Detroit? staying with us at the hostel right now. Her name is Ruthie and she’s spending her reading week with us up here in Toronto. She’s not actually from Detroit. She’s from the suburbs of that city which are really quite lovely. Ruthie is the third type of singer at Karaoke – she can actually sing! (Not to mention that she’s also easy on the eyes!) That combination would normally make her a tough act to follow – but not at Karaoke! This is where the delusional singers come in to the picture. They could follow Pavarotti or Barbra Striesand and think they were better singers!

So you can join us on Monday nights at 10 PM for half-priced pitchers of beer; half-priced chicken wings and full-on laughs. And? you’re welcome whether? you can sing or not!

backpackers eagerly waiting to sing

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Ruthie from Detroit

Ruthie, who is from Detroit,? visiting us for a second time.? She is studying law and on March break. Instead of going to sunny Florida like many American students, she came to visit us (we’re flattered).? She has a voice to kill for.?

Polar Bear Plunge

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Canadiana Backpackers Hostel, Toronto?

Every winter there is a little bit of insanity that takes place on the frozen lakes of Canada. There is even a tour from the hostel where travellers pay for the privilige of taking part in an act of sheer madness! (The tour leaves the hostel and is? organised by? Jo-Jo Tours).

It’s called the Polar Bear Plunge. Here’s how it works: “You travel by bus to a frozen lake making sure not to forget your swimming trunks and bathing suits. They chop a large hole in the ice (unless the lake is too large to freeze over) and you jump in!” Crazy? You bet!

The temperature during this exercise is (at least) Zero Celcius; but more probably? -10C? to -20C+! It doesn’t really matter because ANY temperature in that range is lethal in a matter of minutes to a wet, naked? body! The organizers of the “event” ask all participants to sign a waiver in case of frost-bitten extremities, severe hypothermia, cardiac arrest etcetera. This is fun?

They do have certain precautions in all fairness. There are three large Jacuzzi Hot Tubs you can retreat into before you turn into an frozen lump. There? are also well heated trailers to allow you to dry off and change out of your swinsuit into something more appropriate for a Canadian winter.

If your crazy or masochistic enough, come and see us during the winter and we might be able to arrange a trip where you can “go jump in the lake”! To get an idea of what it’s like we sent a member of the Canadiana team to try it out.? Michel is a wild and crazy guy,? and? loved the “Polar Bear Plunge”.? ? ?

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Michel,? otherwise known as number 93.

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This tour was organised by Jo-Jo tours. Throughtout the year we run similar such trips from the hostel.? Keep an eye on this page as? our wild and crazy colleague is going dog sledding? with a group of French women (and he has the photographs to prove it).

Reverse Brain Drain?

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Canadiana Backpackers Hostel, Toronto Canada?

We had another repeat visitor here at the hostel (we get a lot of them). One of the nice things about working in a backpackers hostel is you become friends with a lot of the guests. Dalbir was here during the summer and now he’s come back in the dead of winter; but this time it isn’t a visit. He’s actually on a scouting mission. He’s come back to apply for immigration to Canada.

Canadian Immigration is awarded on a “points” system. Points are awarded for education, skills, financial status etc. Most importantly, each case is decided on its’ own merits and “essential occupations” are (quite naturally) given preference. We think Dalbir is a shoe-in! He’s a Sikh born and raised in the UK and has a degree in Pharmacy. He is also a qualified Physician – a necessary occupation if there ever was one!

There has been a lot of press lately on the “Brain Drain” which is a result of the active recruitment of medical and other professionals for higher-paying jobs in the United States. It’s nice to see the flow coming the other way for a change.

We must be doing something right so I asked him what the attraction of Canada was for him. He said it was the “tolerance” of our society. Anyhow, as I? alluded to? before, I can’t see a UK trained Medical? Doctor having too much trouble with immigration so I guess it’s merely a matter of welcoming him to Canada. And he’s just the kind of new immigrant this country needs.? And what’s more, he’s a heck of a nice guy.?

Dalbir is in the middle. We hope he gets accepted, so that we’ll see him around the hostel more, he’s a great guy. On the left is Nilesh a staff member who has just come back from a 3 month trip? to Japan and can seemingly do anything on a computer. He holds our chess nights and? has rarely been beaten (I can think of only? one occassion)? . On the right is Bill who is? another member of staff.? He’s also our resident wordsmith and blogmeister.? He does our quiz nights and knows everything about everything. It’s very intimidating, thankfully he has a good sense of humour about it and can even make fun of his pedantry (I hope I’ve spelled that right, otherwise he’ll soon let me know).? ?

Toronto looks like a Swiss skiing resort and feels like Siberia.

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Monday, 19th of February. Canadiana Backpackers Hostel, Toronto.

The weather was just too good. January was one of the warmest in history, with no snow and lots of sun. It felt more like Spring. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and last week it did, dramatically. A snowstorm blew into town and in the space of 12 hours left 10 inches of snow and mightily cold winds. Toronto, at the moment, looks like a Swiss ski resort and feels like Siberia.

You know it’s really cold when the hair in your nose starts to hurt and your ears feel like porcelain about to crack. Woolly hats and long johns are essential. Not surprisingly it’s difficult to get people to participate in pub crawls, walking tours of Toronto, anything involving the outdoors. So for the last few weeks most of our events have been in-house with movie nights, chess tournaments, and a poker tournament. We did roam outside the hostel to go bowling last week.

Our chess tournament was won by Nilesh (proud winner of a box of chocolates, see picture), the poker by Romain from France, and a group of Dutch students rang rings around everyone at the bowling. The weather might be cold outside but it’s warm and personable inside.

The beginning of the chess tournament.

Brazilian Tiego (left) was the runner up of our chess tournament with Nilesh (from Canada) the winner.

This is the winning team and all are from Holland. Why are the Dutch such good bowlers?

Extreme Cold Weather Alert!

Monday, February 19th, 2007

Canadiana Youth Hostel, Toronto?

Our? regular “Pub Crawl” really didn’t happen this week. We normally hit about five different pubs during the course of the evening and even play a few games of pool. But we are in the middle of an “Extreme Cold Weather Alert”. Last night it was -17C and the? “wind chill factor made it feel like -30C! It is not weather that is conducive to strolling between pubs? after drinking several pints of beer.

The weather in Canada often forces us to moderate our behaviour; hence, we headed for the closest bar to our front door. The Fox and Fiddle Pub is exactly one block from our hostel and boasts two floors of drinking space. One Sunday and Monday evenings, they have $10 jugs of beer, half-priced chicken wings and even a pool table. That’s where we’ll most likely be until the weather warms up a little. It might be as early as this week because the temperature is expected to rise above the freezing point very soon. We can only hope.

The Importance of Being Insured

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

Canadiana Backpackers Hostel in Toronto?

Being a bit accident prone myself, I thought it important to post this comment. Thus far, I haven’t needed to use my travel insurance (touch wood); but, I know that had I not purchased it I would have denfinitely need it – Murphy’s Law being what it is.

I’ve been working here long enough to gather some horror stories of travellers needing emergency hospitalization and end up saddled with bills of thousands of dollars.

Recently, one of our long term guests was in a major car accident on the way to a weekend away snowboarding with friends. The compact car they were riding in was a “write off” and the luxury Range Rover that hit them was only dented. Marcin is a great Aussie guy and his best friend Scott informed us that his snowboarding weekend was a bust and he was returning with a dozen metal staples in his scalp.

But even a night out on the drink carries with it the possibility of an insurance claim. I won’t mention his name (but his initials are Scott) fell asleep (read: passed out) on our patio at -12C wearing only a tee shirt. Luckily, he was discovered by a staff member before hypothermia set in. He had to be literally carried to his room.

Scott and Marcin are best friends from Downunder and fortunately, they both have insurance. It is definitely money well spent instead of worrying about the “what ifs”.

Lesley,

Canadiana Backpackers Staff

Marcin and Scott

Marcin (left) and Scott

It’s Cold!

Friday, February 16th, 2007

Canadiana, best of Backpackers Hostels in Toronto?

Well, we didn’t get away with it. Every year (especially since Global Warming) we think we are going to be spared heavy snow and bitter cold. Last year, in fact, was the warmest in recorded history and this year looked very much to be a repeat of last winter.

Under normal circumstances Toronto gets quite a snow cover by mid-November and it persisits until spring in March. But we’ve had NO snow at all this year and the first real snowfall held off until February. It’s also bitter cold. It jhas been averaging -15C to -20C all week and the “wind chill factor” makes it feel a lot colder!

The winters have become so mild of late that it is as if we (North Americans) have forgotten how to cope with severe winter weather. What we are experiencing is merely our “normal” freezing cold, deep-snow winter. A guest of ours, Vijay from India, has been trying to leave for New York City three times over the last three days. They have cancelled all fights to JFK Airport in New York two days in a row.? Vijay left at 3:30AM to try again. I think he’ll make it today.

All three tour companies servicing our hostel cancelled their tours to Niagara Falls on Valentines Day due to heavy snow. In the past it would have taken blizzard conditions before cancelling but it seems that Global Warming has spoiled us – “sissified” us, so to speak. A light dusting of snow now seems to cripple the city and people use any lame excuse not to go out of doors.

Just heard from Vijay! He’s at the airport about to board his flight to NYC! Three tries over three days for a flight that is just over one hour distant – pitiful!

Go West Young Man

Sunday, February 11th, 2007

The Canadiana Backpackers Inn, Toronto

The statement “Go West young man; go West.” was made during the last century by Horace Greely, an editor and publisher who founded? both? the New Yorker Magazine and the New York Tribune Newspaper. He was adomonishing young adventurers to seek their fortunes in the wild west.

In our hostel, quite a few young people have arrived here with year-long work visas. These are easily available under reciprocal agreement with their home country.

Today history is seemingly repeating itself given the current economic boom in Western Canada. It has been said (quite accurately) that certain MacDonald’s franchises in Calgary have been forced to suspend? some of their? shifts due to the lack of workers to man the counters. In Toronto a MacDonald’s worker would earn “minumum wage” or about $8 per hour. In Calgary, that could conceivably almost double to as much as $15 per hour. I am told that in Fort McMurry that it could rise to as high as $18.

Why? I suppose that our shameful dependence on fossil fuels has a lot to do with it. It is a little known fact that western Canada contains eight times the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia – the majority of which lies in the vast oil sands of northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories.?

The result of the booming economy in Western Canada is so many jobs to be had; so few workers available to fill them.

Workman’s Compensation

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

The Canadiana, voted best hostel in Canada

Thiago is from Brazil. He came back to the hostel today after leaving a month ago for a job in Timmins, Ontario. It’s Shania Twain’s hometown and it’s in the middle of nowhere. He and an Aussie named Matt got jobs working for a mining operation. Matt is still up there in the frozen wilds but Thiago is back – on crutches!

The job is a tough one and they work seven days a week all through northern Ontario and Quebec. Days vary from 10 hours (maximum) to as little as three hours. The daily rate is $120 per day. On top of that your housing is provided and you receive $40 per day for meals. Not bad actually. All you have to contend with is a 45kg pack while on snowshoes and -45C temperatures! I highly doubt that either Matt or Thiago ever saw a pair of snowshoes before.

The work is solitary (something to do with ground mapping); but, fortunately, they are all equipped with radios. I say fortunately because Tiago wrenched his ankle while on snowshoes with a heavy pack deep in the bush. He was picked up by a snowmobile sent out to retrieve him.

The Doctor told Thiago that he would have to take off one month to recover. “Impossible!” said Thiago. He needs to save money to complete his Masters’ Degree in Industrial Design in Europe next year. “You’ll be compensated,” he was told. “I will? he asked. “How much?” Eighty percent of your salary. Eighty percent! Thiago is learning that there really are advantages to living and working in the frozen north!

Thiago with Teressa at Canadiana Backpackers Hostel.

Thiago with Teresa (our head of house-cleaning).

Toronto Underground

Monday, February 5th, 2007

Walking the underground maze? from the Canadiana Hostel, in Toronto

Most visitors to our hostel don’t realize that Toronto has more than twenty seven kilometers of underground mall shopping right in the center of the city. Right now, the temperature is a freezing -16C and the wind chill factor makes it feel like -34C! Now you see why an enormous underground shopping mall is a good idea.

The Eaton Center – the main shopping mall downtown – is about a 15 minute walk from our hostel. Of all hostels in Toronto, we are the most centrally located but it’s still a cold, windy hike when the temperature is double digits below zero! Actually, it can be quite painful.

The Metro Hall (the expanded Municipal Offices for Toronto’s City Hall) is located one block from our hostel. You can walk all the way to the Eaton Center underground in warmth and comfort amid trendy shops and tasty food courts! You can even go beyond the Eaton Center to the Atrium on Bay and on to the Greyhound Bus Terminal – again, underground in warmth and comfort!

The problem is that the system is an? 27 kilometer maze of turns and tunnels and even most local residents lose their direction. On Tuesday, as a hostel “event” we are going to escort hostellers through the labyrinth to show them how to navigate the downtown core without freezing to death! It is even a good thing to know in the hot, humid summer Toronto is famous for, because the entire system is (of course) climate controlled.

We are leaving the hostel at 11 AM on Tuesday, February 6th. Keep your eye on this posting to catch the reactions of those who learn the secrets of Toronto’s mall maze!

Underground Path Toronto


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