As I wrapped up my month at home in T dot O, in addition to packing up ten years of life and catching up with friends, before heading out on my journey, I continued to explore the city I had called home for better part of last decade. And..Toronto did not disappoint; From the streets that transport you to somewhere in Asia to neighborhoods that offer markets that remind me of high streets of Sutton Surey, England. From city streets converted to eclectic art exhibits for one night of Nuit Blanche to peaceful afternoons by the water staring at sailboats and kayakers, Toronto offers everything anyone could want in a city.
- Kensington Market – What many refer to as hipster neighborhood is nestled between ‘Little Italy’ on Collage and Chinatown on Dundas. Right in the heart of downtown Toronto off Spadina street one would never guess that just 2-3 blocks off is the club district of Toronto. Kensington market is about 15 mins walk from my place so its not the first time I was exploring this neighborhood. I had enjoyed summer afternoons with street music, hustle and bustle of people and just walking around to explore the many whole in the wall kind eating spots. But this time I decided to explore it in the evening, something I had not done in the 7 years I have lived 15 mins away from this neighborhood and boy was I in store of a surprise. Shops and restaurants are dimly lit, streets have string lights and the vibe is very much like a street market in Asia somewhere. Now that weed is legal you can definitely smell it in the air around here. The Augusta street is full of small cozy patios that include a great pizza spot, a nice cute Mexican restaurants and many other options. Just off a side street was a pop club with music loud enough to fill the streets. I walked around with my friends throughly enjoying the vibe, the drinks and the food of these few streets tucked nicely in downtown Toronto.
- Bloorcourt (Bloor and Ossington) – this is a 10 block neighborhood on Bloor street between Dufferin st. and Christie station on Bloor line. With great lounges and bars on this strip this forms a great place for evening drinks. Walk around is great as is the vibe, casual yet chic very comfortable. Another cool thing I like about Toronto is that all neighborhoods have its parks, nice green areas that you can hideaway from the city in, Christie park was another one such area. I remember walking around, sitting and reading for a few hours. Time can go by fast if you are at a nice spot with a nice book. Occasionally, I would look up from my book and just watch children playing, people walking their dogs or just trees, just observing life around you is amazingly therapeutic. I met a friend for drinks at a local bar @Northwood, amazing spot with some cool cocktails on their menu, loved the vibe, the service and and ambiance.
- Harbourfront – This is home, this is my backyard, this is daily life and a neighborhood I cannot not talk about. Another one of those areas, smack downtown, that gives you a peaceful retreat. A morning run by the lake or a nice beer at the patio, chilling with a book at the beach or just sitting by the water and watching sailboats on a summer afternon. Harbourfront Toronto has much to offer. This is one neighborhood I can say I have seen develop, change and evolve over the past 9 years. From a modest arts and cultural center with a handful of options for restaurants, this neighborhood has definitely come a long way and probably has a potential for a lot more. With Amsterdam Brewery offering a great patio by the water for some good beer to the dedicated skating/running and biking lanes the development is impressive. But like many things in life the best part about this this area has not changed and that is the peaceful waterfront. By far my favorite activity remains sitting and watching the sailboats in the water with a cup of coffee and that has been there forever. I grew up in a landlocked city of Delhi so these past years living in Toronto by the lake was my first experience of living by the water and now its hard to imagine a life away from it. There is something serene about the water, it never changes, its always there may be a little higher may be a littler lower in its level, may be a bit rough or totally calm, sometimes ice cold and others warm enough to dip your toes but its always there. The city by the water will change, develop, evolve, generations will come and go, buildings will be built and demolished but the water stays, its there, its dependable.
- Roncesvalles – This probably was the most pleasant discovery. Won’t say had never been to this part of the town before but never truly explored it. And as I probably have said it ample of times now, I love exploring places on foot so when I say never explored what I mean is never truly walked around, sat in a cafe and people watched. Now was the perfect time to do so. At the other end of the King west street car line just before the official City of Toronto gives way to Etobicoke lies Roncesvalles Village. A nice street with shops, restaurants, cafes and most surprisingly one of the best lake side walks I have been to in the city. I walked up and down the street on a sunday afternoon, the vibe was very relaxed, easy and comfortable. Nestled with small cafes, local shops and some great restaurant options it made me feel like I was walking at a hill station somewhere or some small town. Definitely felt like I was far away from a big bustling city like Toronto. I spent the afternoon at a local bakery with a great cup of coffee and tasty bites of a scone followed by a walk by the water. The boardwalk was beautiful, with open lake views, gorgeous sunset and tiny beach with kids playing in the sand. I had from a lot of colleagues about why they liked living around this area and now I see why, it is a great spot to be 15 mins away from downtown yet feel like far away if you want to.
- Rouge Park – ok so to be fair, this one is not technically a neighborhood but more of one of many hiking parks around Toronto but it is definitely worth covering. One of the things I wanted to do was to explore many hiking trails around the city of Toronto. For a cosmopolitan, big bustling and busy city of Toronto with its many high rise buildings and infamous concreat jungle it does offer ample of hiking & biking trails. I cannot say I have explored them much over the past 8 years but I have been to a few. Scarborough bluffs on the east end is a great spot that I discovered a few years ago and then Don valley parkway hike last year, which is a great hiking and biking trail connected via TTC. This time though, I really wanted to check out the rouge park so when a girlfriend of mine suggested a hike on a thursday morning I said ‘Hell Yes’. Four days before flying out of the country for 7 months, swamped knee deep in boxes and moving craziness it seemed like ‘not so’ good an idea but it was probably the best thing I did that week. Much needed break in the woods. You can get to Rouge Park by GO train, but we drove to the pickering side entrance. I knew the park was big but didn’t realize how big until I picked a map and looked at the trails. We hiked for 3 hrs. and that was like one trail or may be 2 including a short one. Got lost a few times, which according to me is the best part of hiking, the wrong turns. The trees were still full of green in early October, I was hoping for some color but given the shift in seasons the trees were throughly confused. Leaves on the ground were all kind of colors.
I had set out a goal at the beginning of September to discover and explore 10 different neighbourhoods within Toronto and am happy that I managed to achieve it and in this process one thing became obvious, there is a lot more to see, explore and experience right in your backyard than you give it credit for. When life is running on cruise control and we make being busy a full time activity we miss out on simple pleasures of discovering our own home towns, spending time at a neighbourhood coffee shop, at least I know I did. Hence I promised myself to make the most of where I am at. Sometimes exploring your own city is a lot more fun than imagining where you could be.
With a wrap on my playing ‘tourist in Toronto’ my next 2 stops are where I call myself ‘local’ in. First up – Chicago, the city that introduced me to the world outside India, the city that gave wings to my dreams a city I have been countless times and still not completely explored a city where I can spend days just walking in downtown. The only place on the world where I have never lived but still feel at home :). And from there… back to mother land – Delhi.
So watch this space for more on my discovery or re-discovery of places I am local in. Retracing footsteps