Don Valley Biking–watch the dogs!

Saturday mornings in Toronto mean possibilities. It’s not a morning town so at 7:30 am there are only a few coffee shops open, and hardly any people. The night before is another scene. From my third floor apartment, I can hear screams and drunken stupors. But, the morning is new. It means possibly finding remnants of some 905 (suburban visitor’s) vomit outside my door. Possibilities of brunch? Waiting in line for over an hour at some hipster spot. Or, possibly mountain biking–in the city? Yes.  Well, you can guess what I did.

DVP 2

Downtown Toronto is pretty flat, but north of Bloor, and near the Don Valley, you can find hills and mud trails worthy of mountain biking. Here was my route: a long warm up on Queen Street East, then north on Broadway.

 

 

I took the Millwood Road extension that led to Loblaws. Behind the parking lot is the trail head to the Don Valley River Trails. Voila:

DVP trail head

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the route:

map

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be warned–the trails are narrow and a bit off camber. But worse than that: wild dogs. I was riding along, coming into a small valley when a red-ish coloured pit bull begins barking and running toward me. Before I know it, I’m screaming and the dog has clamped onto my hamstring. It releases and runs off; its owner, a homeless man, begins to profusely apologize. I’m speechless. I can hear his apologies as I ride off — fearful that his dog is going to charge me again. When I’m clear, I stop riding, lean over my handlebars and cry. Giant big sobs. It’s not the bite, he didn’t even break my skin, it’s more the shock of a dog barrelling down towards me and the possibility that he could tear me apart.

This animal could do worse than an ugly bruise.

I keep riding and eventually run into two riders I met earlier. I relay my dog bite story and they are completely empathetic. It’s good to tell someone.

dog bite

 

Later that night, I head to Ronnie’s — a patio bar — in Kensington Market with my cousin Jodie. Sitting at a pic nic table, we scooch in and sit next to some new friends. When Jodie leaves to make supper for his gal, I move on through the market, and then, through the window of Graffeti’s–a bar in the market, I see some live music. Hello. I’m in. A few beers later, a chat with a couple from Cape Breton, a dance or two–I forget all about the dog. I forget how vulnerable I felt. Biking alone means freedom, but it also means you have to take the consequences as well– you’re alone and no one can swoop in and rescue you. It’s a good thing I met some new buddies at Graffiti’s. Possibilities.

Wow–what a view of downtown from the trails. It’s the first of many rides.

trail DVP 2

Searching for home in Aussie and Indonesia

So I am going to Bali for June. I am staying in Ubud, the same place that chickie-poo from Eat, Pray, Love stayed. I didn’t know. Really. Do not judge me. Hammock; beach; pool. This is all I saw before booking. www.airbnb.com is always my first stop if I want to book an apartment for a chunk of time; in this case, a month. But, warning: get to know the owner, or renter.

I rented in Portugal last year and spent many weeks of back and forth emails to get a sense of the person; don’t just pick the nicest place. My renter in Porto, Portugal gave me a map with his favourite restaurants in the neighbourhood; we partied together during the St.Juan festival; we had suppers on the patio and he even introduced me to Tom Waits! In Bali, my renter is providing a bike. That is all I need. Oh, and I read on her reviews that she leaves a few cold beers in the fridge for guests.

My second score for the summer: a camper van for Australia. Considering the size of Aussie (it’s a 10 hour drive from Brisbane to Sydney!), the crazy expensive hostels and hotels, and that parks are off the main drag, a camper made sense. So, I booked with www.MOTORHOMEREPUBLIC.NET. For three weeks, it’s about $1,200. Kitchen included! And that includes the one-way fare. 

Picking up in Brisbane, I will head to the island of Tasmania–I love islands–and leave it in the town of Hobart. Apparently, Tasmania has the highest mountains in Aussie. Je t’aime.

I looked into renting a car with a cute little pop open tent on top–trendy and funky– but whoa, expensive. www.wickedcampers.com.au. Swallow this: $1,700 for three weeks. Shut the front door! Gulp. And, if the weather is crappy, as it might be because our summer is their winter, I can’t really hang out in a car, but I can certainly have a martini or two in a camper van while listening to some Van Morrison.

One month to go…

Should travellin’ girl date you?

Ok, by now many of you have seen the story, Don’t date a girl who Travels, which was quickly countered with, Date a Girl who Travels. If not, here they are: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stephanie-ridhalgh/date-a-girl-who-travels_b_4719605.html

Ah, no thanks. A girl knows what she wants.

IMG_6359 (640x359)

 

The initial story painted the travelling girl as a dating flight risk: she’s nomadic, she won’t love you ever as much as backpacking. Well, there is some truth to that.

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city living

Did you ever step outside your door and meet a stranger? No, like bump into a stranger? Full frontal contact? Well, living near one of the busiest intersections in Toronto, I do almost everyday. This will take some time to get used to. Moving from London, a relatively sleepy town, to the big Tee Dot, I’m feeling quite clumsy, or even goofy, in my new surroundings.

When I do step out onto the street, that being Queen, I’m shell-shocked with stimulus: cars,  people, store front lights, street cars, more people, pretty shops, more pretty shops, people …. it’s overload. But, I must say, I walk down the street with a mile long grin on my face, because, for the longest time, this city was a place I visited. I came to eat at the amazing Mexican or Italian restaurants that are so authentic it makes you feel like you’re in that country. I came to dance at places like The Orbit Room. And Kensington Market. I always came to visit Kensington with its fun-loving hippies and free spirits. I didn’t feel so out-of-place here. I belonged.

Now, walking into Kensington, stopping at Cheese Magic, the guys behind the counter know me. “Beemster please!” Turning onto a new street in the market, one I’d never visited, I sit down near a window, drinking a coffee, and staring out at my Kensington. My city.

Devine Dives (aka: cheap eats) — Toronto version

Ok, I’m a fine dining gal, but I also adore a cheap meal — especially when I spent everything on fois gras and wine all weekend. So, here are two of my favourite spots– so far.

The Java House (corner of Augusta and Queen) is undoubtedly a dive, but in the way that you love and respect. You pass the ‘kitchen’ on the way to the downstairs washroom — ladies peeling potatoes sitting on milk crates. But, nothing on the menu is over $10. My friend had grilled cheese and fries; I ate an avocado salad and sipped a giant hot chocolate. Bill: $20. Spicy Thai soup is also full of yums: shrimp, mushrooms, fake crab (mmm fake crab).

On Sunday nights, The Cloak & Dagger Pub, again, I’m not promising luxury, serves $3 tacos.  Or, $10 for all you can eat and pulled pork no less! Soft or hard shell. (394 College Street). The cool part: music! We were just heading out around 10 pm when some guys started to congregate in the front to play some tunes.

Dagger dancing: my cousin Jodie and I can’t stop swing dancing! Tacos will do that to a girl.

dance cloak dagger

 

Swing it

So, tonight I began my dance odyssey across Toronto. I am in search of introductory free classes for a variety of dances all over the city, then I will decide which one I want to pursue.

Tonight was swing, the Charleston to be precise; it’s an earlier version of swing that began around the 20s. I found Bee’s Knees Dance on Yonge and Bloor: www.beeskneesdance.com

I love the speed, flow and energy of swing, but most of all, I love that it’s a happy dance. It’s not sexy like salsa. Less sass more athletic.

I’m glad I brought my cousin because it was mostly couples, but you could have easily gone solo. In a circle we rotated partners all night: this is my favourite part. Dancing with strangers; in the first few minutes you can tell so much about a person: how he holds your hand (is it firm, flimsy?); is he confident in his steps?; does he hold you close?

And there are tons of places to practice and tap into the swing community; I plan to attend a Saturday night social dance at Dovercourt House. From 7 until 9 red jacket wearing ambassadors go around helping newbies and then you can swing until 1pm. www.torontoswingdancesociety.ca.

Next stop: salsaholics! Bring on the sass.

Transitions

Transitions. The proverbial stop-overs in life. Leaving one person, place, thing and moving onto the next. But not knowing what is next. Spooky? Life.

Made the big move to Toronto last weekend (UHaul full of bed etc…) and make the big, big move this weekend. Cleaning up, repainting walls, filling in holes, covering some spills. For the next few weeks, between homes. So, it got me thinking: what is home? Is it just a place where you hang your coat, sleep? Someone once told me that the town where you live shouldn’t matter: home is a state of mind. But why do I feel so weird about this move?

I leave London all the time. In fact, every summer for the past decade, I pack my bags and go. But why has this ‘permanent’ move got me so whacked out? Maybe it’s because I have always returned to London. In its weird little way, this place has gotten under my skin and become my home, my base? Gasp? Wash your mouth out with soap! I hate this place. Or that is what I shouted from the mountain tops for years. But I have carved out a community here–despite its reputation as not the friendliest town, London has some people and places that have become home.

For one, Wortley Village. I walk to my yoga studio; I talk to my neighbour whose life is almost polar opposite to mine: she is getting married again, has the most adorable home and is a mom. I will miss our ‘getting-into-the-car’ conversations.

I will miss my coffee shop, which is also in transition. The East Village Cafe on Dundas. The old one was a small little spot that served a mean Mexicano near the Aeolian Hall. Every Saturday morning I’d be fixed to the church pew chair marking paper after paper. Coffee after coffee. Paper. After. Paper. Now, the shop has crossed the street to a bigger, better and beautiful location. It’s not officially open, but Linda said there is a chair in the corner reserved for me when it does. I asked for a plaque. One day last year I spent the day helping them clean out some cupboards for a little music event–an event for regulars only. In the afternoon, I looked up from cleaning to see the snow falling on Dundas Street through the giant floor-to-sky windows. Cars zooming by, snow falling, people walking… inside this cafe, watching the world go by. That night, Linda poured me a glass of red as Reid Jamieson and his wife sang from the tiny stage in the corner. The snow still falling outside, and inside, all of us, quietly listening. Great things are happening in this place.

I love my bar: The Morrissey House www.themorrisseyhouse.com is more than a local watering hole. Aaron, Walter, Trev, Paul, Ollie, Mike, Len, Andy, Jimmy, Amy…and of course, Mark. Ahh Mark, you wonderful red-head you. Nay, not a lass that can tame that one. I can step through those doors any day of the week and one of you is there. It’s like you’re waiting for me? No? Ok, it just feels like it. I love how I can stop in for a glass of wine for half an hour, or stay for an entire Sunday afternoon sitting at the bar, and then when I leave, I give my boys a bear hug goodbye. Who doesn’t need a hug?

I will miss you London, Ontario.