I’ve had a lot of beginnings and endings in my life and although the cities and the people have been different, the feelings are always the same. The sweetness of adventure is always lined with the bitter taste of goodbyes. Because the reality is, once we leave a place, it will never be the same ever again. Nor will you. Each return to home is a new beginning and each time I think it should be easier than it turns out to be.
Every place I live feels like a new lens that I collect for my eclectic set of multi-coloured glasses. Sometimes I feel like I’m looking at old familiar places with a full spectrum rainbow, which paints my home in gorgeous rays of stunning light and occasionally the colours mix in a way that only shows an ugly shade of brown. Living anywhere else changes our views as well as ourselves, and with any luck, makes us more open and thoughtful people and citizens.
When I first arrived in Toronto in the middle of winter I was more than a little bit skeptical of what the coming months would hold. We lived downtown for what seemed like an eternity and everything was concrete, grey and well, to be honest, kind of ugly. I felt my nature withdrawal keenly and sometimes the need for anything natural was so strong that I’d run down to the waterfront (quite literally) and just stare at the slightly frozen lake and this in turn would give me a chilly kind of comfort. But, as the winter progressed and the sun shone more than it ever did in Vancouver I came to terms with this new city, and tried to see it as a new adventure.
For the first time in my life I had the chance to just write and work on a novel I’d started years ago. I wrote and created and experimented with story and words and read about storytelling and threw myself into the craft of writing a novel. I delved deep into my creative mind and learned how to unlock that part of myself. I took a class on writing fearlessly at the University of Toronto with a fantastic teacher (and writer), Mary Paterson, who pushed each of us to be emotionally honest and vulnerable in our work and taught us how to tell stories that connect with others on a deeply human level. I found that the introverted part of myself, though not nearly as dominant as my extroverted self, loved attention too and was in fact a bigger part of me than I realized.
In a relatively short time – almost eight months – I not only overcame my initial Toronto culture shock – yes you can experience it even in your own country – but I also found a way to embrace the city and really begin to enjoy it. So, as Zeke and I sat down for one of our last dinners at our favourite Italian restaurant in town, Enoteca Sociale, we ended up going through a list of things we’d miss the most about Toronto and we were surprised to see that the list was pretty long. I’ve included the highlights here.
1. Discovering new and funky neighbourhoods.
Toronto is all about the neighbourhoods and it took us a while, and a new friend to help us figure this out. After spending the majority of our time right downtown, which is not at all a neighbourhood and most definitely not our style, we were thrilled to spend the last chunk of our Toronto time in Little Portugal which feels old school European, yet funky and cool all at once. Honestly, it feels like an entirely different city. A colleague of Zeke’s told him that he grew up in the neighbourhood around where they work and to him this feels like his hometown, not Toronto itself and now I really get that. To know Toronto is to know and discover its neighbourhoods. It’s also amazing to me how much you can discover by simply walking one block further. The city is full of interesting nooks and crannies and you just don’t know what you might find around the next corner. We’ve loved wandering down side streets and admiring some of the gorgeous old brick houses, beautifully kept little gardens and weird and wonderful architecture that constantly catches us off guard. Every day is a like an exciting little micro adventure. I just hope I can look at Vancouver now with newly curious eyes.
2. The patios.
Our friend Lindsey told us sometime in the spring, “in Toronto you have two seasons. Winter and patio season.” She wasn’t wrong. We couldn’t believe our eyes when, as soon as the weather started to be half decent on a regular basis, every single cafe and restaurant suddenly had a patio. There are rooftop patios, back alley patios, side street patios, patios that are smack dab on a main street sidewalk, patios that consist of one table and two chairs and everything in between. I think you could spend your entire summer just looking for new patios in this city and you would never run out of places. We also love pointing out cool patios on the houses we pass by, picking and choosing which decoration ideas we’ll steal and not so secretly wishing we could sit and have a drink on many of them. Yes, we covet your patios, Toronto.
3. Soma Chocolatier.
Yes, it’s true. One of the things we’ll miss is a chocolate shop. But seriously, this place kept us sane this winter. Their drinking chocolate is to die for. Zeke now has a serious drinking chocolate habit (he may need to go into drinking chocolate rehab now that we’re home) and we couldn’t pass their shop on King Street without stopping in for a quick drink and then maybe purchasing a bag full of chocolate. We just discovered that we can order from their shop online now that we’re home (insert happy dance here), but it just won’t be the same not being able to stop in when we need that little bit of heavenly comfort. www.somachocolate.com
4. The TIFF aka The TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema aka the Toronto International Film Festival.
Knowing we always had a fantastic theatre screening the majority of the great indie films coming out on a regular basis was a treat, especially when we lived right around the corner from the TIFF. We felt like we’d strolled into film lovers heaven with six cinemas to choose from and a new festival opening every other week, it seemed. I’m pretty sure that Toronto has a film festival for every culture and subculture you can possibly imagine. I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw posters for the “Hobby Horse Documentary Film Fest” or the “Three blocks west of Bloor Docudrama Beer Film Festival.” We love the VIFF back home and look forward to going back to our cozy and comfy indie theatre, but, you know, six screens.
5. Living in a hub.
There are perks to living in the largest city in your country and one of them includes having a steady stream of visitors coming through. In the nine months we lived here I believe we had at least ten visitors. It also amazed us how many tourists come to Toronto. Okay, so we’re a bit hard on the city since we’re used to the obvious beauty of the west coast, but seriously, Toronto’s tourism department must be pretty kick ass because there is a steady stream of foreigners coming through this city throughout the year. They must really like the Blue Jays and the CN Tower. Foodie tourists though – that I would understand.
6. Meeting new people.
This one shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who has ever lived somewhere else. I love meeting new people. I love learning their stories, what makes them tick and allowing them to flood me with their insider knowledge of whichever place I’ve ended up. New friends often come into our lives when we need them the most and this was the case for my friend Lindsey and I here in Toronto. A mutual friend connected us and we quickly discovered that we had a ridiculous amount in common. We also discovered that we were both writing in various places around town and as extroverts we found the experience quite lonely at times. So, we started writing together at coffee shops around the city, finally settling on Black Rock Coffee, owned and operated by Basecamp Climbing gym, which also happened to be one of our go-to climbing gyms. It has the chill climber vibe, plus yummy food and coffee, air conditioning (in Toronto this is pretty crucial), and you can watch people climb through a giant window in the coffee shop. It became our home away from home this past spring. We met so many lovely people during our time in Toronto, through Zeke’s work, my writing class, connections in the music world and through friends. I realize now how much it means to have someone reach out to you in a new city. It’s a lonely business starting fresh in a new place, and it’s a wonderful feeling when someone goes out of their way to invite you out or make you feel part of their busy lives. Thank you to all our new Toronto friends. You will be missed and I hope that I can now be as warm and welcoming to newbies back in Vancouver as you all were to us.
7. The friendliness of Torontonians.
Dear Vancouverties – please stop giving Torontonians a hard time. They are not rude. They are not all business. They don’t have weird accents. They don’t have a tax on wicker goods (a little Radio Free Vestibule reference there for ya). They do go out of their way to be polite and keep the Canadian stereotype alive. They do hold doors open for you, go out of their way to help you and are some of the warmest city dwellers I have ever met. No, not every single person is polite or warm, but in general I have been blown away by the friendliness here. It makes me proud to be Canadian. So thanks, eh? *You’re very welcome, eh* says some polite Torontonian in response.
8. Little Portugal
I have to give a shout out to the lovely neighbourhood that we got to live in the last six weeks of our stay. Right outside our door we had at least ten cafes, an amazing cheese shop with the best pastries in town, a 24 hour Brazilian bakery, a meat and deli shop, a specialty Italian gourmet store, a Harry Potter themed bar, an organic foods store, Lula Lounge – an incredible world music venue down the street and so many other adorable places that we lost count. The neighbourhood also felt like its own small town, with beautifully kept gardens, old Portugese men and women sitting on their patios, almost like the unofficial neighbourhood watch, and cute little lending libraries sprinkled throughout. We discovered quaint and delightful little streets, houses dripping with character and sweet little parks, or “parklettes” as they call them in Toronto. It was as if we’d moved to an entirely different city. Word to the wise – if visiting or living in Toronto, get out of the downtown core. It made a huge difference to our happiness as well as our wallets – everything is pricier downtown.
This is by no means a comprehensive list and there is so much more we’ll miss too but I’ll stop myself here. Thank you so much Toronto and all the lovely people we met there! I’m sure we’ll be back some day and thanks for showing us what Canada’s biggest city has to offer. Keep it friendly, eh?