Traveling alone for the first time and learning to be content with my own company.
I wanted to get away, I wanted to do an eat, pray, love thing, with just the eating part. I had never travelled alone, but figured I was old enough to and should have the experience of doing so. Especially as my idea of having an enjoyable vacation is trying all the trendy food in an area, which can sometimes lead to multiple meals, and much more money spent on food than a normal person would budget. That’s why, to not to burden another, and to not take away from my own enjoyment; I decided it best I do this one alone.
For my first solo trip I wanted it to be in Canada for safety reasons. Canadians are friendlier to travellers, I spoke the language, and carried the currency. I wanted a big city with a big food scene and lots to see. It was either between Toronto or Montreal, but my lack of French frightened me, and I thought it best to stick to a predominantly English speaking population.
For this trip to work, I had to get over my awkwardness of eating alone. To be able to take myself on dates and order enough food for me to try all that I wanted. To get over the fear of being judged, and to learn not to care what others thought. I see dining out as an experience shared with another, and don’t often enter a place asking for a table of one. But I did find it easier to do so during lunch and at more casual restaurants. The weekend and it’s nights became troublesome as it was date night and here I was taking photos with my flash on in any given dark and romantic setting. So the flash soon disappeared for a better tell of lighting, and how what I ate looked under it. That and I didn’t need the extra eyes on me.
Eventually, I avoided venturing alone after dark, not only to protect myself from the cold, but I was scared off by some interesting characters trying to engage after the sun set. Why tempt fate, and the city was more fun on foot, when everything is open, and I am not worried about who is behind the corner. Maybe more travelling alone and earning more courage will allow me to be more fearless at night. And maybe I will never feel that way because I watch to many crime dramas filled with attacks and deaths at dark.
Travelling alone, I also got a lot more done in a day than I thought I would, and walked a lot further than I thought I could. My calves were sore every night and one ankle was swollen in pain. But boy did I have to push forward and burn as many calories as I could. I was eating enough for two, at 4-5 snack-like meals a day. In my upcoming posts, I will be cataloging these meals. All of which I planned in advance, using photos tagged on Instagram and found using its geo tag function and my map app. I was thankful for the ability to use my phone and my data without incurring long distance fees.
Overall I found the whole lonely traveller experience gratifying. I came back with a new found self assurance and self reliance. I could travel alone, and found out that I could be by myself for an extended period of time. Any socializing I needed was spent with the folks I met along this travel. The nice people of Toronto engaging in conversation and directing me to their local, favourite spots. 75% of the time when I mentioned Vancouver the person I was speaking to, has been or has come from there. They were also more than happy to indoctrinate me to their city.
Below are a few of the sights I found noteworthy, and any cliche musts when travelling to the 6. (The city’s nick name given because the use of the number “6” in both of their area codes.) As well as a few of the ways I found Toronto life contrasted from Vancouver living. I have always heard people describe Vancouver as “slower paced” and “boring”, now I can see why that is. This is not to say that I no longer love my city. Vancouver will always be home, but Toronto sure gave me something to want to go back to.
Having been to Montreal for the first time last year, I found many similarities between the country’s two oldest cities.
I enjoyed the juxtaposition of old and new buildings intermingling. They spelled out the history of Toronto in steepled roofs, red brick, and rounded archways. A gonging clock tower neck in neck with its neighbouring skyscraper. Copper walls and a teal green roof next to a currently renovating “Saks Fifth Avenue”. By comparison the younger Vancouver felt like a cookie cutter city with similar buildings and copy cat houses, painted in a one toned brush.
Though at the same time, there were many modern reminders. Their city spelled out in neon lights. A different look for day and night.
What was once the tallest building in the world, and current Canada’s tallest.
And the site of Eaton Centre downtown, featuring large billboards and flashing screens. I compared it to Tokyo with its sheer size and glitz. Whereas Vancouver’s busy downtown corner was Robson, and it didn’t have much of any of this going on.
I also really enjoyed the Eastside street art. Not just graffiti scrawled in a quick tag, but pieces that took time, was done in layers, and was worth of documenting in photo. I wished for more of this on the streets of Vancouver.
There was so much of it that there was even an alley named “graffiti alley”. It had beautiful pieces covering the entire sides of buildings. Zombies eating eyeballs, and underwater reef with sharks and fish swimming in harmony, and even your childhood favourites like Tom and Jerry at play.
This culture was so prominent that they had shops dedicated to spray paints and stencils, anything you needed to make your mark on the city.
It was these colourful murals that had me fond of taking slow walks down alleyways, whereas in downtown Vancouver the only thing you find in any alley is garbage stewing in large bins and the smell of urine.
What helped their alleys was that in Toronto they were void of refuse bins. All trash is left curb side at the end of each night, and picked up by the men and women employed in such a field, early every morning. It may not have been a nice sight to walk pass at night, but it did make the buildings cleaner throughout the day, and alleys the best place to create some art. Though I couldn’t help but wonder what a garbage strike might look like in the city. Whereas, if it was Vancouver it would have gone unnoticed and hidden in our avoided back alleys.
Other things I noticed was how few chain restaurants and fast food joints there are. I only saw the one “McDonald’s” and a “KFC” combo with “Taco Time”. There were way less “Starbucks” locations and only a few more “Second Cup” cafes instead. There were more independent restaurants, coffee shops, and boutiques in general. They weren’t “boring” with repetition. Here, you can walk into any restaurant and know it would look different from its neighbour. Especially with the ones that were refurbished on the inside, transforming a once residential home into a trendy eatery.
Here the restaurants may not have cohesive themes, or based on the setting give you an idea of what they would be serving. Yet it all worked and made everyone that entered each threshold feel comfortable. It all meant something to someone, a different experience for everyone. A point that made Toronto all the more inviting and accepting. Whereas in Vancouver all Yaletown restaurants feel the same and you expect the same type of person to frequent them, all Gastown businesses have a certain vibe and their customers do as well. You know what you will find on West 4th and Commercial Drive is no surprise.
And just like all the businesses the people of Toronto are even more original. No man buns, shorts paired with boat shoes, or coiffed hair contrasting an over grown beard. There was not a black Aritzia cowl sweater in sight, no Uggs on feet, and I was the only one wearing lululemon tights as pants. The women were more fashion focused in leather mini skirts and two inch heels. I appreciated the effort, but prefer the casualness of Vancouver. I consider myself lazy maintenance.
Toronto was less green and the folks were less outdoorsy. There were not many bikes on the streets or joggers keeping time. Although there was an abundance of fitness centres and gym classes being advertised. I suspect this is to do with the colder winters and much hotter summers. Whereas Vancouver’s temperate conditions have you enjoying the outdoors earlier and longer.
That an all our green space and places meant to sit and enjoy views. I missed the strip of grass between sidewalk and curb, larger front yards for homes, and the rows of trees that provided shade from the sun and fruit for the birds and squirrels. Toronto city was less scenic.
Homes were tall and lean houses that seem to meld into one another, all in one cohesive row. The size of one house in Vancouver made two and a half in Toronto. They were differentiated by wire fences and separated by a wash of colour, only to share a common wall. These houses literally looked like you drew a line down the middle to divide them.
Although without the space and place to enjoy nature, Toronto found entertainment in the extracurricular. The had more leisure activities to keep the citizens occupied. Musicals and performance shows were prevalent, attracting attention with flashing lights and splashy theatres.
They also had more sporting matches to cheer on, between the only baseball and basketball teams in Canada, living here. Both the Raptors and the Bluejays had their own stadiums and swarms of fans. Whereas for Vancouverites, we barely have the Canucks to cheer on. And we never really mourned the loss of our Grizzlies.
Toronto also had the country’s largest aquarium and art gallery. I visited both, but didn’t get time for the museums, like the one dedicated to shoes.
As Canada’s largest for both I was blown away by the aquarium and art gallery. Sadly having experienced the grandeur of each, they have now ruined Vancouver’s representation for me.
The Vancouver aquarium no longer compared. With “Ripley’s” larger than life tanks that allowed marine life more freedom for free form swimming. In Vancouver the mammals seemed to do laps.
The aquarium also had a rare collection of sea life: blue lobsters, fancy frilled seahorses, cuttlefish and upside down jelly fish.
They also had a ceiling to floor jellyfish tank that strobed different frequency of lights. It gave these gelatinous creatures a neon highlight or a glowing outline. This was a popular alcove for selfies.
What blew me away most, was experience of being surrounded by water and swimming sea life, while keeping dry in a tunnel of glass A conveyor belt moved you along this tunnel. You cranked your head trying to take in the large sharks and giant rays gliding about. They did well to avoid the colony of coral, schools of tropical fish, and the scuba divers scrubbing the tanks free of algae.
They also had petting pools that ended the tour, similar to Vancouver aquarium’s newest exhibit. These were open tanks that allowed you to pet baby sharks and rays with supervision.
What they didn’t have was an omnimax theatre or a rainforest tropical zone that included birds, bats, monkeys, and turtles. Everything was in the building so they didn’t have the space for larger marine life like whales, beluga, and dolphins. No sea lions, otters, or penguins either. But the size of the tanks made a difference, and their animals seemed happier.
The aquarium was a one way route through all the exhibitions and tanks. My pace quicken to avoid the chatter of the kids on class field trips. I would like to visit this place again without the noise. Perhaps they have an aquarium at night feature, where like in Vancouver, adults can enjoy the space with drink in hand. Aquariums do make a great first date destinations.
I was in a similar awe with the art gallery. I admittedly don’t appreciate art the way those who dedicated their lives to learning it do, or appreciate it for its beauty. I however can admire a piece for their workmanship and an artist’s ability to create. I prefer sculptures and pieces that serve another function for that reason.
I appreciated the gallery’s ability to make you feel small in its halls. Where its statues and painting were arranged to heighten your experience of them.
The way things were laid out had equal significance to the piece itself. Some were meant to exist on it own, others brought awe when arranged with common threads. Where as due to space limitations the gallery in Vancouver is simply forced to display pieces, not necessarily arrange them.
The museum also included an historic tea salon serving snacks and high tea. And a coffee bar with vaulted ceilings and a look past glass and wood for a view of the city.
Even its spiralling staircase was considered an attraction. A walk up its several flights yielded not only a good work out, but a decent vantage point of the city.
Aside from the gallery, there was less art installations on the streets. No stacks of cars balancing on a pillar, no adjoining rings by the beach, no metal sculptures of spaceships or a plane, or even painted themed bears greeting you at certain businesses.
There were some pretty tempting souvenirs at both the aquarium and art gallery gift shops, and plenty of shopping to be done at Eaton Centre. However I had my souvenir sights set on an article of clothing from the only “OVO”, and flagship store. “October’s Very Own” is Drake’s fashion brand, sold in the city the hip hop artist, and proud Canadian, grew up in. What could be more telling of this generation’s pop culture and a quintessential Torontonian take away?
My prize was a black hoodie with the OVO owl logo embroidered in gold. It was a shame that my experience was spoiled by some pretty snooty teenage boys tending to the racks and cash register. This store is practically a tourist site and they could afford to be more sympathetic of those that travelled all the way for it.
During this trip I avoided transit, opting to instead walk, to be better able to take in the sights. But I did note that buses drove on rails that added metal grooves to the payment. And that they stopped in the middle of the street. Passengers boarded and got off on a cement islands, only to have to dash to either ends of the crosswalk to continue on with their route. And whereas Vancouver’s trains were railed in the sky, Toronto’s was underground. These underground subways came with bicycle parking to park and go. Whereas Vancouver had plenty of bike lanes all around downtown, to get you to where you need to be.
I visited Toronto’s Chinatown which had similar restaurants, vendors, and grocery stalls; when compared to Vancouver’s Chinatown. Where they lacked was the depth of Vancouver’s Chinese presence. The town was proud of its more prominent cultural artifacts like pagodas, water gardens, and dragon lined gateways.
But my favourite area was Kensington Market. Decorative poles marked its entry points through alleys. The one in Chinatown was a red pole topped with a black cat on four paws, claiming a yellow chair. Another pole was topped with a globe surrounded by images of clothes, fish, and meat; just a few things you’d expect from the market place.
The area reminded me of Vancouver’s own Commercial Drive. Eclectic thoughts and ideas coming together in an artisan way, with artists selling artisanal wares. The connecting alley ways allowed for discovery through roaming. And there was much to see with each brightly decorated building.
There were paper craft stores, spice shacks, a boutique that catered to the occult, several vegan themed cafes, plenty of kitchen supply stores, and even a shop dedicated to Tibetan dance and its paraphernalia. I spent most of my time here, in this village within a city.
In general I did notice that Toronto moved fast. With nothing to see and no mountains or waters to admire, you just look straight ahead to your destination. I was obvious as a tourist, with my neck swinging back and forth to take in all the brick and metal. Impeding traffic with my pace, I felt they needed a slow lane for those wanting to take their time and stroll.
I like Vancouver for its patches of green and pools of blue. I like its modern feel and looking up towards it skyscrapers. I can get lost in a mountain range or reflect in a building of glass. I appreciate the laid back nature our city has, and it people’s desire to balance work and life. We enjoy the journey, and not just running to our next destination.
I like living my day to day in Vancouver, but would prefer to travel to Toronto for leisure. I am looking forward to a return trip, to be able to explore more of its food scene and maybe take in a play or ballet.