A Canadian Interlude

At this point in our travels, things take a surprising twist, because having just arrived in Italy, it was time for us to fly to Canada!! You see, we’d been invited to our friends Yasir and Sonali’s wedding in Toronto, and though it was a challenge to make the journey, we really didn’t want to miss this important milestone in their lives. So off we went!

We cleverly stashed our bikes and our camping gear at an Airbnb near Milan airport, then headed out bright and early for the world’s most absurd itinerary: Milan to Vienna, Vienna to Montreal, and Montreal to Toronto. (Careful readers will note that Vienna is almost completely the wrong way.) This obviously reflected a tradeoff wherein we were spending time to save money, relative to a more direct itinerary.

Not only was our itinerary lengthy and somewhat complex, it was also moderately stressful due to a super-tight transfer at Vienna airport. We had only 25 minutes from the landing of Plane 1 to the takeoff of Plane 2. This felt pretty unreliable on its face, but we figured if Austrian Airlines was willing to sell us the ticket, it must be theoretically possible. And indeed, upon our arrival in Vienna, we entered a world of Austrian efficiency and hospitality that was frankly brilliant: an employee met us at the tarmac with a dedicated vehicle, whisked us over to passport control, ushered us past the entire queue (suckers! I kid; we felt kind of like jerks for doing this), and let us directly onto the jetway through a secret door. Easy peasy. Then we boarded the plane only to find that our seats had been double-booked, so they’d upgraded us to Premium Economy. Very tight. We settled into our oversize seats, sipped a glass or three of GrĂ¼ner Veltliner, and actually quite enjoyed this long middle leg.

Though we were getting pretty tired by the time we landed in Montreal, we knew the last leg – Montreal to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport – would be an easy one. We’d taken this same flight some three and a half years earlier, during a frigid yet dreamy midwinter trip to those same two Canadian cities. (Another upside of attending our friends’ wedding was that it gave us a chance to scope out Toronto in a more hospitable season.) The flight is a sub-hour puddle jump in a turboprop plane, during which they still somehow find time to offer you free dark chocolate, and at the end of which you enjoy one of the great urban landings, flying parallel to the city skyline:

The first time we flew into Billy Bishop, we were actually able to walk directly from the airport to our home base. This time it was a short Lyft ride, but still: very good. (It was only later that I discovered I must have misplaced my fleece jacket somewhere during all these movements; a bummer, but that’s life. We haven’t lost all that many things, considering how long we’ve been traveling.)

We stayed in two different Airbnbs in Toronto. Yes, it’s possible that by staying in Airbnbs we are marginally supporting the use of limited housing stock for tourists rather than for locals, but the effect is marginal enough, and the value gained over staying in hotels is large enough, that we manage to look the other way. The first place we stayed was pretty close to downtown, in a convenient yet impersonal high-rise that bore a little resemblance to the glassy postage stamp we’d stayed in in January 2016, which we’d affectionately referred to as “the Urban Living Hypothesis.” Just planner things.

Sara’s parents were gracious enough to fly to Toronto to stay with us for a few days before the wedding! It was great to see them. Here we are together in Nathan Phillips Square, which is flanked by both the stately and attractive Toronto Old City Hall and the curvy and (in my opinion) less attractive Toronto City Hall, built in the 1960s. To its credit, Toronto has really leaned in to the imagery of the newer, derpier city hall, even using its signature curves as an icon on municipal trash bins.

We had great days together walking to and through many remarkable neighborhoods (Cabbagetown, Greektown, Kensington Market) and excellent parks (Allan Gardens, Riverdale Farm). The latter is a working farm with animals and everything, owned and run by the Toronto Department of Parks, Forestry & Recreation (motto: “A City Within a Park”).

Another day we took the ferry out to the Toronto Islands. Much fun was had enjoying the spectacular city views, deciding not to swim in the probably frigid waters of Lake Ontario, and people-watching along the promenades and pathways of the islands.

Sara’s parents took their leave and we moved into a space-efficient Airbnb in Harbord Village, the kind of residential neighborhood that real estate agents are legally obligated to describe as “leafy.” In fact, there are a great number of very green neighborhoods in Toronto, and we rather liked this one, flanked as it is by Kensington Market, the University of Toronto, and the stylish Bloor Annex. We dropped off our stuff, got as fancy-looking as we can manage, these days, and then it was time for the main event: Yasir and Sonali’s wedding!

I don’t have any photos, so I’ll just note that it was a really wonderful, joyous occasion, and Sara and I were so glad to be able to be there. Yasir and Sonali asked us to write a song (or rather, to adapt the lyrics of an existing song) to sing as part of their gathering, and I’m pleased to report that that went off very well too.

Several of our common friends from graduate school were also in town for the wedding, and it was great to see them all again. It’s been a while since we’ve had access to anything resembling a group of friends. We met up for delicious ramen, and later for fantastic neo-Korean delights at the idiosyncratic Her Chef, which I can’t begin to recommend highly enough. (Get the chicken bowl.)

Indeed, it was great overall to be back in Toronto, a city we both love, and while it was a mixed bag being back in North America, it was an unalloyed joy to be able to converse freely in our native language. We felt like we were being extra-kind, extra-effusive, extra-demonstrative, just because we had the linguistic facility to do so. It helps that Torontonians are themselves kind, if not unreasonably effusive given the size and intensity of the city they inhabit. And Toronto offers the kind of racial, ethnic, and economic diversity that has been largely absent from the European capitals we’ve been hanging out in lately.

One of the last things we did in Toronto was visit the former home of Jane Jacobs, that legendary housewife from Scranton, PA, who saved New York City and changed the very face of planning itself. (None of this is an overstatement, if you look into the facts.) Fed up with city politics and fearing her children would be drafted into the Vietnam War, she left NYC for Toronto in 1968 and set up in a handsome Edwardian in the Annex neighborhood. We went out there with a fellow planner friend, making a sort of pilgrimage. It’s owned by another private citizen now, but there’s a plaque, and an aura. And we feel more entitled to pick a single-family home now – if it was good enough for Jane, it’s surely good enough for us!

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