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Jof's World Tour: Trip miles 1065: Toronto

By Jon Newey

Having dropped Tigger off at James Cargo near Heathrow I have a few days to spare before my own flight to Canada. A friend from Dundee, Liz, has had a painting accepted for part of an exhibition in the Gallery on the Mall. It’s very prestigious so my sister and I take a trip into London to hit the galleries. The train takes us to Blackfriars station which sits on a bridge in the middle of the Thames. The weather is warm and sunny and the London panoramas are resplendent as we set off along the south bank, cross the Thames on the Charing Cross footbridge and arrive at the foot of the Mall. In the distance we can see Buckingham Palace but we’re not going there today. Instead we turn to the right and make our way into the Mall Gallery. It is the annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Watercolour Artists and it is superb. As a (very) amateur watercolourist I take inspiration from some of the exhibits but am also rather humbled by them.

Outside the gallery we can see that work is underway to prepare the area for the upcoming coronation. We take a short walk to Trafalgar Square and spend an hour or so in the National Gallery. I’ve been told you should treat a large gallery like a high-quality restaurant. At a high-quality restaurant you don’t expect to eat everything on the menu, you just choose some things that you think you will like. Galleries and museums can be approached the same way. We concentrate on the Impressionists, then grab a quick coffee and step back out to Trafalgar Square. It is Good Friday and there’s a re-enactment of the crucifixion taking place in the square. There’s also a parade of motorcycles going round the perimeter. It is a cacophonous combination.

We have a picnic lunch with us which we eat in St James Park. Next we head over to the British Museum but we find it is closed on Fridays so we move on to St Paul’s cathedral and then cross the Thames again on the Millennium footbridge. The next gallery on our list is the Tate Modern. We stop again for a drink and a snack and have a chance encounter with my sister’s sister-in-law and family. In all of London what were the chances? Finally we head back to Blackfriars station for the train home.

I pass a few restful days at my sister’s house but it is soon time to pack up and head to the airport. We set off early to avoid the traffic on the M25 as we make our way towards Heathrow. My sister drops me at the drop-off and we say our goodbyes. The queues through security are not too bad and before long I’m on the plane.

The flight is 8 hours. Air Canada treat us well with two meals and lots of free entertainment. I snooze a bit, watch two films and listen to some music.

I’m conscious that my flights and Tigger’s flights are contributing significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. To assuage my guilt, I have already made a contribution to Their simple website calculated the CO2 impact of my travels and recommended a suitable contribution towards the cost of reforestation programmes and solar energy projects. My contribution effectively makes my whole trip carbon-neutral. Carbon-offsetting like this isn’t a silver bullet for the problem of global climate change but it surely helps. I console myself with the thought that I haven’t travelled outside of Europe in more than 30 years and that most of the time my personal carbon footprint is pretty small.

The young man sitting next to me on the plane is Dutch. He works for a company shipping wood-pulp to Europe from Canada. He started his journey the previous evening with a flight from Amsterdam to London. When he gets to Toronto he will transfer directly to a flight for Quebec, followed by a 4-hour drive to his destination, all without an overnight stop. There are touchscreens in the back of the headrest of each seat and he uses his to show me a 3-D map of Canada and to recommend some places to ride.

The plane lands in Toronto at 3pm local time, five hours ahead of the UK. My watch says it is mid-afternoon but my body disagrees. The hostel where I will be staying is in downtown Toronto and the deal includes a door-to-door taxi. The driver is Ahmed who moved to Canada from Pakistan a few years previously. He takes an interest in what I’m planning to do and says he’ll follow my blog. He says he would be keen to have a motorcycle himself but he says he can’t justify the expense for the small amount of time he would get free to ride it.

The hostel is one of Toronto’s few old low-rise buildings left standing. It is quiet and comfortable. I expect to be here a few days to acclimatise before Tigger catches up with me. Although I am tired, I take a walk around the area. I’m a stone’s throw from the base of the CN tower. I find a shop to buy some snacks. In the process I wander into a cannabis shop by mistake. Cannabis has been legal in Canada for the past five years and there are small shops dotted all over Toronto. Some hostels and accommodations advertise themselves as ‘420 friendly’, a local slang term for weed. My hostel on Clarence Square is a ‘no-smoking’ venue and that suits me just fine.

I try to sleep but my body-clock is in free-fall. Next morning after breakfast I set my lap-top up in the common room where Wi-Fi is best. I have a pre-arranged 40-minute meeting with Scott back at the office in Linlithgow. Although I’m mostly a retired Architect these days I still have a small involvement in the practice in an over-sight capacity. I realise that this kind of intercontinental virtual meeting is the norm for many people but this is a first for me. The wonders of modern technology!

With my laptop set up I spend some time dealing with emails and archiving photos. Life on the road is still life after all. I send an email to James Cargo to request an update on progress and find that Tigger is still in London. I have other things to resolve related to the air-freight but by noon in Canada it is 5pm in the UK so that’s as far as I can take things for now. I grab myself some lunch - cheese and crackers – and set out into Toronto. My target today is a shop called Canadian Tire. It is Canada’s version of Halfords crossed with B&M. I find it easily because it is enormous, I check that I can buy chain lube, tyre-weld and a jerry can, but don’t buy them today. Canadian Tire is not far from the Art Gallery of Ontario, a huge gallery that was remodelled by the Architect Frank Gehry in 2008. If I get a chance I’ll come back for a look-see later.

Back at the hostel I chat to a couple of my room-mates. Loic is a smart young man from France. He’s come to Canada to start a new life. He has no job, no flat and knows no-one here but he has a 2-year work permit and hopes to make the most of it. Flat-hunting is difficult he says, because the adverts generally say things like ‘females only’ or ‘Asians only’. A small window-less room in a shared flat will cost him 1500 CAD per month (£900) if he can find one. My other room-mate is a Moroccan lad. He’s also arrived in Canada with no flat and no job but he at least has a ‘permanent residency’ certificate. Both lads are examples of Canada’s policy of encouraging immigration. The country needs young, educated, enthusiastic people to drive its economy. Canada’s PM, Justin Trudeau, was recently in the news celebrating the fact that Canada welcomed over £1 million new immigrants last year. Immigration here is a cause for celebration. It’s not all a bed of roses, though. Loic has friends in Ottawa who say that after three Canadian winters they’ve had enough and want to move somewhere more temperate.

I download a walking tour onto my phone and explore a bit further into town. Toronto is alive this afternoon with people dressed in Blue-Jays shirts and baseball-caps. It is the first match of the new baseball season tonight and the Toronto Blue-Jays are playing at home. The Rogers Stadium is in the heart of downtown so all the bars and cafes are heaving.

For dinner tonight I avoid downtown and stroll along to a nearby café where they serve me a vegetarian curry. I figure it’s a good option because once I get moving I’m likely to have a diet overwhelmingly filled with American-style burgers!

Next morning I’m a little more rested. I must be getting used to my new body-clock settings at last. Breakfast is porridge oats with maple syrup and chocolate dinosaurs. I guess it’s a Canada thing. I spend the morning chasing up the air-freight company. I get no further forward with it. Air-freighting a motorbike across the Atlantic isn’t as easy as I hoped it would be.

This afternoon I’m meeting a friend of a friend who is going to show me some of the

sights. Agnieszka arranges to meet me at Harbour Square which is a 30-minute walk from my hostel. Agnieszka is an Architect from Poland. She and her partner, Domenik, have been working in Toronto for five years. They have work permits that get regularly renewed. Agnieszka tells me that they have tried to get permanent residency certificates but haven’t been successful. There’s a pecking-order, apparently, based on your nationality. Ukranians come first, then Afghans and Indians. Polish immigrants are not a sufficiently high priority she says.

Agnieszka wants to practice her English. She works here for a Polish company so her English is a bit rusty. She takes me on a tour of Toronto’s islands. Toronto is built on the north bank of a natural lagoon in the north west corner of Lake Ontario. The main mega-city is on the north side of the lagoon. The south side of the lagoon is formed by an arc of islands which have never become built-up. There are small ferries that take passengers across the lagoon to enjoy the islands. There are walks among the trees, beaches on the south side and a few holiday cottages dotted about. It is 27 degrees centigrade and a beautiful place to hang out in the sunshine. In the distance Agnieszka points to her apartment block. She lives on the 38th floor of a 60-story building and on a good day she can see Niagara Falls.

I leave Agnieszka at the Union Station and head back towards the hostel. Dinner tonight is pizza at JZ’s bar. The pizza is good and I’ll probably be back.

The next day is Thursday. I had a sleepless night fretting about the difficulty of getting Tigger here. When I wake I email the freighting company again, but I don’t get any further forward. Tigger is still in London. No-one seems to know when he might arrive in Canada and there’s no information on where I need to go to collect him or how that process works. I start to feel the my Canadian tour is unravelling before it gets started. I book an extra five nights at the hostel because it looks like I will need them.

I also make my first foray into the ‘Bunk-a-Biker’ scheme. I joined the scheme before setting out on the trip. The idea is that bikers across the globe will offer a place to stay for other bikers, often free of charge. Some members just have space for visitors to pitch a tent, others have a couch available in the garage but some offer a proper bed in a spare room. I reach out to a couple in New Brunswick who say they would be happy for me to stay a couple of nights. It is 1500miles from Toronto so I say I will get back to them to confirm exact dates later. It is April. They tell me I must be brave to be riding a motorcycle in New Brunswick at this time of year. I reply that I’m from Scotland where single-digit temperatures are the norm! When I’m riding shifts for the Blood Bikes back home anything above 3 degrees C is fair game….

I spend a quiet day at the hostel reading. It is hot outside and I stay indoors in the shade. I don’t want to go too far from the WIFI and I keep checking my emails regularly. For food this evening I decide to use the hostel’s kitchen to cook my own. Chilli con carne and fresh bread. As the evening cools I take a stroll along the waterfront and paint a picture of the iconic skyline.

I start to wonder if the idea of air-freighting Tigger across the Atlantic was too ambitious. I know other people who have done it successfully but perhaps they had better local connections than I have. I don’t know anyone here who is familiar with the process and don’t know anyone with a truck and trailer if I need it to get Tigger out of the airport. I consider my options. If I bail out of this part of the tour I could head to Eastern Europe instead, and I could do that without the need for any air-freighting. I have current visas for Azerbaijan and Tajikistan. Maybe that’s a simpler option? It’s time for some serious soul-searching I think.


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4 comentários

Membro desconhecido
23 de abr. de 2023

Hi Jon. Very much enjoying the blog, and your trip to T.O. and downtown (where I lived for a while back at the turn of the century). Fingers crossed Tigger makes it across the pond. I'm just doubt to find out 😀.


Membro desconhecido
21 de abr. de 2023

I'm hoping Tigger has arrived, it's been a few days since you posted.


Membro desconhecido
15 de abr. de 2023

Very interesting blog, look forward to the next episode. Good Luck


Membro desconhecido
14 de abr. de 2023

Jon, it sounds like you are having a good time and hopefully Tigger will arrive soon.

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