As I travel, I work hard to keep my personal promise to make every corner of the world a little slice of home. But just 4 hours across the bridge from Detroit, Toronto took little effort to find my own space, to fit in and feel comfortable. The city proper feels like an extension of where I live now but with a more diverse population. Toronto is a typical big city that can easily be compared to the likes of NYC, Melbourne, or even Tokyo sans neon saturation. As my friend Kevin eloquently worded it, there are so many different ethnicities living in the city which not only means that there are always a ton of different types of events going on and things to do, but in such a multicultural environment, people are naturally more open minded and accepting of one another.
「素晴らしい都市だよ!」(Such a cool city!) I told my friend, Daichi, who will soon be moving there.
The city may move at a slower pace and be divided into neighborhoods like Little Portugal, Koreatown, Little Italy, and Chinatown, but there’s a lot of cross-cultural integration and interaction. Walking around, it’s beautiful to see how different neighborhoods and people of all backgrounds influence each other. On top of that, with universities situated in the center of it all, the city draws a lot of young, fresh, creative minds that keep things moving forward with new ideas and visions. If you’re looking for an urban getaway, Toronto is the place to go.
The first time I visited Toronto, I was maybe 13 years old, and my mom arranged a surprise visit from my cousin and aunt who live in Florida. We arrived in the city late at night, and my mom was acting fishy, trying to keep me awake just a little bit longer. “Don’t you want to go out and explore?” she excitedly asked her exhausted offspring. That’s when she sprung their surprise visit on me, and I was too tired to react accordingly. Other than that, the only memories I have of my first “international” trip are my relentless hunt for beanie babies and ice skating at an outdoor rink where I smelled marijuana for the first time. It was great to go back 10+ years later and appreciate the city in a new way.
This time around, my visit to Toronto was meant to be strictly business (interview for a teaching job overseas in Japan) sprinkled with dinner with a few friends, but who was I kidding? I wanted to play in Toronto too. As I was looking up Toronto recommendations, I realized my gears had shifted from what I wanted to see to what I wanted to eat. On my notepad, I quickly scribbled down “Graffiti Alley,” as it was the first suggestion I came across, followed by Okonomi House, Utopia Cafe, and OddSeoul. Can you see where I’m going with this? My itinerary became centered around my meals, and I would just see whatever there was to see along the way. Though I never did get to see THE graffiti alley, I didn’t need to. Around every corner, there was a new painted canvas to feast my eyes on. With each passing day, I’m not 100% clear on what my purpose for traveling is or what I hope to accomplish, but the journey so far has been delicious.
If you want to visit the designated Graffiti Alley, it runs west from Spadina Ave. to Portland St., and the back alley entrance can be found between Queen St. and Richmond St. On a warmer weekend, walk down to Queens Quay for a stroll along the harbor, stop at St. Lawrence Market for lunch, and for the nightlife scene, walk back along Yonge Street. Steer clear of the strip clubs, and as with any nighttime outings, be aware of your surroundings and belongings. For a slew of Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean food, check out Koreatown and of course, Chinatown. More cheap, saliva inducing eats can be found on Yonge Street between Charles and Bloor, College St. into Little Italy, and Dundas St. W aka Little Portugal.
Finally, no matter what kinds of things interest you, Kensington Market is a must. KM is a compilation of open air markets, coffee shops, speakeasies, and vintage and new age clothing stores. The area has a real bohemian, hipster vibe to it like a slice of Toronto from the 70s left behind.
Oh and one last thing. It’s time to destroy the notion that Canadians or at least Torontonians slap on ‘eh?’ at the end of their questions.