Surprised By What I Found in Toronto
I spent the first eight years of my life growing up in Toronto. But as our neighbourhood of Martingrove & Albion became increasingly more littered by crime my parents, like many others, decided to move north in hopes of a better and safer life. And so it is that many people who live in or out of Toronto think of it in a negative light – too much crime, too much pollution, not enough this, too much of that. But in actuality that’s any big city. But this isn’t true of everyone. At TBEX Toronto, a travel blogging conference, I met some people who truly love their city. And so it was that I set out to explore the city with a new perspective and new eyes. I must admit, I was surprised by what I found.
My first night in Toronto I met up with an old, dear friend whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She gave me a glimpse into her Toronto. First we headed to Don Don Izakaya, a Japanese style tapas bar for my first taste of Japanese food and first spell of eating with chopsticks. It was intoxicating, the atmosphere was electric with the smells coming from the open kitchen, the sounds of guests chattering with friends in a multitude of languages, Japanese, Korean and English. As well the sound of the drum our waitress pounded when we entered the dining hall added to the atmosphere. The feeling was overwhelming and I simply smiled and breathed in my new experience.
We sat on wooden benches at the long wooden table with other diners and got caught up on each others lives. My friend laughed as I attempted to manipulate these two thin sticks to access my tasty new food.
“Would you like a fork?” she asked.
I said no, as I was determined to at least try to use the chopsticks and enjoy the new experience. I can’t say mastered the art, but I can say I didn’t make a mess and left with a full belly.
We wandered the city with no destination in mind, just taking it all in. We paused in Dundas Square, Toronto’s version of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus. With its large square full of people, on this night for an outdoor concert, music blared and lights everywhere illuminating the night on oversized billboards reaching for the skies. Life was a buzz!
After returning to my hotel that night I realized that what travel writer Paul Theroux wrote about solo travel was indeed true in a sense, “I hate to travel alone… But if I am alone I see more clearly.” I couldn’t help but ponder this quote. Even though I’m only an hour from home, this mini-trip to Toronto was my first taste of solo travel. Though I enjoy travelling with friends and family where you can relish in the place in which you’re visiting, I found that travelling alone made my senses much more alert and like Theroux said I saw more clearly. I was surprised by how much I loved travelling alone, it’s like a new way of seeing the world. Another thing I tried to do was take less pictures, which is extremely hard for me as I love photos and have been known to take tons of them. But I realized sometimes with taking so many photos and being obsessed with getting a great shot that I don’t fully appreciate the great scene or structure or event I wish to capture, and so I decided to not hide behind my lens this trip.
With that said I wouldn’t be Lady of the Zoos without stumbling upon wildlife even in the most unexpected of places, like in front of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where TBEX Toronto was held. On a patch of green space early one morning I caught sight of a young groundhog. I paused and in between taking a few photos I watched a family, another young one and mom, emerge from the bushes and forage their patch of home. I was beaming as I always am when I encounter wildlife, in any setting – in zoos or wild spaces large or small, animals iconic or everyday. But it was my last encounter with them that stands out. As I was racing out of the last Keynote of the conference I caught sight of one of the young – this time hanging in a tree. Strange, I thought but it inspired me to dare. This daring little guy hanging from a thin branch inspired me to think – dare to live.
Saturday was the first day of the TBEX Toronto conference and it was my first time attending one. I was so excited but I had no idea what I would get out of it. I was awestruck at the amount of truly inspiring people I heard from, from Keynote speakers like Trey Ratcliff who even after being born blind in one eye realized a passion for colours and how we saw the world and it all lead to an amazing career in travel photography and blogging. As well as Erik Lindbergh, grandson of Charles Lindbergh, who after being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at a young age, going from athlete to not being able to walk, then from having both his knees replaced to making his own mark on the world of travel through art as well as flight. One thing I learned from these two remarkable men was they were passionate about what they do and though they are somewhat stars in their own way, they remain humble and thrive on new ideas, new experiences and living their life to the fullest though their passion.
TBEX Toronto abounded with inspiring people like Lola Akinmade Akerstrom who gave a session on Travel Photography. And again what I got out of it was not just how to get a unique and great shot but how to show an emotion, experience and capture Life through the lens. Her passion and enthusiasm was contagious and inspired me to put myself into life and interact with people to get a great photo.
Inspiring people came in the form of Keynote speakers, professionals as well as everyday bloggers like a local Torontonian Hillary from Savour Travel who I had the pleasure of meeting with over lunch. She spoke about the need to slow things down while travelling and about savouring the moments and experiences not just about checking off big cities and attractions on a to-do/to-see list. Her passion about travel and making it about the journey, not the destination, really struck a cord with me. If it’s one thing I know, it’s that…Life is in the Journey.
I have to say, what I found in the thriving, large, cosmopolitan city, and at TBEX Toronto, surprised me. Not only did I find exciting new experiences but more importantly inspiring people and an overall inspiration to live and travel with open eyes, an open heart and with passion!