With love, TO

Cultured and cosmopolitan yet relaxed and liveable, the New York City of Canada is a vibrant sprawling city.

Two decades ago, Canadians might have laughed at the idea of visiting the provincial capital for fun, but these days, with a population of almost 3 million in the city alone, with more than half born outside of Canada, it is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world.

With a visit limited to 10 days, I travelled Canada on the fast lane. My first day was already endless bus rides in suburban Montreal, my second – endless food and endless drinking in the city, that by the time we got to our hotel room at 3am, we all passed out knowing we had to be up by 5am.

And so the alarm went off and we dashed through the dawn. We arrived in Downtown Toronto at noon and made our way along Dundas Street, hungry and desperately craving a root beer shake (uh-huh). Most places were packed and since I do occasionally live the hipster lifestyle, we opted for Bare Burger: free-range, grass-fed, organic.

A vegan, a carnivore, a dietitian and a glutton sit at a table.

My Toronto trip was just one of the many moments I found myself somewhere with not even a skeleton of a plan. The only comfort was I dragged my best friend with me and we had a place to squat. It’s amazing how many people I went to school with in Philippines have immigrated to Canada.

So what would stereotypical Asians do when they reunite after so many years?

Go karaoke and get drunk. Then realize you skipped dinner.

IMG_4187
View of Downtown Toronto from Centre Island

Toronto is crowded, dense, and spread out. With a little research and proper planning, it’s easy to spend a couple of days just exploring the city. There is something for everyone. Here are my highlights for a short trip in Ontario’s capital:

18110281_1768326616814911_1219032120_o

The CN Tower  and the Entertainment District

An icon of the Toronto skyline, the CN Tower was the tallest freestanding structure in the world from 1975-2007, and though it no longer is, it still relieves tourists of as much cash as possible. On a clear day, it’ll give you a good bearing of the city’s layout and its neighbourhoods, and you may even see as far as Niagara.

The CN Tower is located in the Entertainment District which is also home to Ripley’s (Canada’s largest indoor aquarium), Rogers Centre (for baseball and NFL fans), theatres, performing arts centres, and nightclubs.

A Visit to the Royal Ontario Museum & Art Gallery of Ontario

The main entrance of the ROM (Daniel Libeskind’s The Crystal) might be a hot topic for debate, but Canada’s largest museum of world cultures and natural history is somewhere you can easily spend 3 hours in. From dinosaurs to the birth of present-day Canada, the exhibits are well-organised and there are plenty of helpful guides to assist you.

Another one of the city’s cultural highlights is the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). It is one of the largest art galleries in North America. There are five floors, two for art and the other three for exhibits.

Tip: The AGO is free on Wednesdays from 18:00-20:30. 

A Trip to the Toronto Islands

When the sun is up, Torontonians set sail for a small chain of islands on Lake Ontario that can easily be reached by City of Toronto ferries operating at Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay St. The islands are home to parkland, yacht clubs, an airport, a children’s amusement park, car-free residential areas, swimming beaches (including a clothing optional one). There are plenty of picnic spots and quiet nooks to escape the bustle of urban life.

Processed with VSCO with kk2 preset

A Stop at Nathan Phillips Square

You just can’t miss this square when in Toronto. Located in front of Toronto City Hall, this is where the now-iconic 3D Toronto sign is. The square is the site of a weekly farmer’s market, art displays, concerts, and public demos. In the winter, the reflecting pool is converted into an ice rink.

Chilling at the City Parks

Toronto has a lot of parks. Even when in Downtown Toronto, you’re only a couple of minutes away from the many parks along Lake Ontario. HTO Park has a beach by the boardwalk. Toronto Music Garden is a waterfront garden co-designed by cellist Yo-Yo Ma that hosts summertime concerts. Its landscape is areflection of Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major. It’s perfect for chilling on mild afternoons to try to get your mind off the frentic city life.

Though drinking in public is illegal in Toronto, they’re reversing this law starting July 1. Yay to Toronto!

Walking the Busy Streets

What better way to explore a city than on foot?

The city’s multi-ethnic identity is reflected in its neighbourhoods. From busy city center to historic Old Town to trendy West Side and hippy East Side, to the Boho charm of West Queen West, Kensington Market, and cheap Chinatown – it’s a city for everyone.

Processed with VSCO with kk1 preset
Into the Sunset

 

Home in a Canadian Suburb

My mom used to say that her best friend lived in the middle of nowhere but that nowhere was about a 40-minute drive from Montreal. So of course, when I landed in Montreal on a bright late summer day, I was fooled by what I’d seen out the airplane window.

Having been so used to European cities that lack proper skylines, especially Berlin that lacks a CBD, I thought 40 minutes away would not be so bad. How wrong I was. Currently I’m in a place called Harwood – a couple of minutes drive from the terminus of Greater Montreal region’s rail system. There are sizeable towns in all directions, but we live in the middle of nowhere, in just one of the many houses along a main road. The supermarket is a 10-minute drive away.

I’m stuck at home, nice and warm with a cup of coffee, watching the greyness of autumn creep in, and waiting for the laundry to dry. The dog has taken my spot after I stood up for a minute. I’ve lots of things to do – and I’m so relieved the internet connection has become more reliable the past two days. I’m still trying to come to terms with the decreased mobility of suburban life.

14494828_1432895520057902_3511014141271385279_n

Suburban life is wasting so much time on public transport, and spending so much on cab fares when no car is at hand. It’s having a huge house and an even larger land because you can. It’s having to drive 20 minutes to a dog park so the hyperactive dog gets to socialise.

It is knowing the people working at your local supermarket- a 10-minute drive away because it also happens to be the mini local expat community. It’s the long days that drag on slowly. It’s knowing the neighbours and trying to maintain a good relationship with them. Even people here have time to drop by and visit their parents on their way to work. Meals provide the daily warmth of people gathered, and dinner is a place for conversations.

I’ve been wandering around for the last two years, understanding that home can be anywhere. It’s in the familiar lands of my childhood. It’s where an impromptu feast is prepared when the family gathers. It’s in the arms of the man I love. It’s in my mother’s company. It’s the flat covered with cat hair in Hamburg. It’s up in Denmark in the Christmas season. It’s in Canada, where so many people who were part of my childhood have ended up living.

Some things worth noting:

  1. Within these two weeks, I have probably spoken my native tongue more than in the past two years. And damn does it feel good! I’m a completely different person when I speak Cebuano. I enjoyed the sounds so much that I avoided speaking English at all costs or mixing up English words in my sentences.
  2. I affirmed that rice should always go with meat.
  3. It’s so easy to bond over shared memories. We try to include as little gossip as possible, but that’s unavoidable…
  4. I am lucky to have a friend I’ve known since we first got up on our feet. We had so many petty disagreements and stupid fights growing up. We hadn’t seen each other for 4 years and barely chatted, but once we met, it was just like the 4 years never dragged on separately for the both of us.
  5. A dog gives so much life to a house.
  6. I am a proud Cebuano. I belong to a large ethnic group predominantly found in the central islands and southern Philippines. Up until 2012, my native tongue, Cebuano, was never formally taught in schools. Even so, with about 20 million speakers, it has the most number of native speakers among the Philippine languages!