Walking in Summer

The West Don River at Serena Gundy Park

Toronto is a city of climatic extremes. Winters can dip to -30 C, while summers can soar into the mid 30’s. A 6-month swing of 60 C between January and July leaves just a few weeks of middle temps in late spring and early autumn when walking is at its best. The extremes of summer are a walker’s labour, but you have to get out and get through it.

So yes, it gets hot here, and these past few days it has been officially HOT. The City of Toronto declares a Heat Alert when temps exceed 31 C during the day and stay above 20 C overnight, and we’re in one right now. Forecast highs are in the mid 30s and it will feel like 40+ with the humidity.

All of that heat makes walking hot work. There’s no way round it, if you want to go out you’re going to feel it. Just like extreme cold in winter, when it gets this hot you tend to stay indoors out of the sun. Still, you need to get to work, so for me it means leaving early while it’s still cool, cutting across the park to smell the dewy grass.

Eglinton Park at 7:00 a.m. on the way to the subway

Walking in the heat also means dressing for it – loose, light fabrics that breath, hats to shade your nose and ears, and a water bottle to stay hydrated. I’m lucky, the software shop where I’m working is very casual so I can get away with a tee shirt and shorts, though the irony of AC means that I need an extra layer when in the office.

Walking in heat is also a bit of a dance, cutting back and forth across the street to find shade from buildings or better yet trees. It’s also a slow waltz rather than a fast foxtrot. Take your time to conserve energy, and drift from shade to shade.

Summer walks can feel like a desert journey from oasis to oasis, trudging through sun-baked streets to reach parks that have water fountains and shady cool grass, stringing the parks together to reach a destination. Toronto’s park system helps to make that possible, while generations of urban planning has ensured that many streets are lined with mature trees.

Burkes Brook at Chatsworth Ravine

Downtown, however, it’s a concrete heat sink. The buildings, sidewalks, roads, and rooftops suck up the heat and radiate it back out so that even in the shade you feel it roasting you. Getting from the subway to the office for me is less than a 20 minute walk, but that 20 minutes leaves me drenched. No one wants to crowd on the subway, we’re all feeling sticky, so we spread out and bless the AC.

When walking in summer, there are clues to the heat. The silvery shimmer on the underside of maple leaves turned up by hot breezes. Old tongue-lolling dogs slowly shambling to find shade or cool grass upon which to lie panting. Young, trim athletes in skimpy work out gear running in the heat to sweat-shame the lazy and unfit.

And then there are small moments of relief, like passing an open office door to be hit with a blast of AC. Or a cool breeze off the lake finds a path down an alley onto the sidewalk, or a drifting cloud turns off the heat lamp. These little moments of relief remind you that in just a few weeks we’ll be into the autumn and wondering where the summer went. Our summers are short, really only about 8-10 weeks of hot weather, and despite that we moan when it’s hot just as we moan when it’s cold.

It’s a constant conversation topic, the weather, in Toronto and everywhere. Did humans evolve language specifically to moan about the weather? Perhaps it’s not far-fetched to think that “too hot” may have been mankind’s first words. And with climate change a reality, will “too hot” be our last words as well?

Walking in the Heart of the City

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about walking in the suburbs. Lately I’ve been doing the opposite of that and walking in the city.

I’ve been working downtown of late, in the King and Spadina area – the Entertainment district as the city calls it.

Weather permitting, I’ve been getting off the subway at King Station and walking west on King to my client, just west of Spadina. Most days if the weather is good, I try to get out a lunch time and go for a 10-20 minute walk round the neighbhourhood – along King to Portland, up to Adelaide or Richmond or Queen, then back east to Spadina and down to King again.

It’s a really interesting walk. The vibe, compared to north-west Toronto around Steeles & Weston Road in Emeryville, is totally different. Downtown it’s walk and bike friendly. King Street has been designated as a streetcar zone so car traffic is limited. There are lots of pedestrians around and lots of bikes, scooters, and skateboards.

Uptown in Emeryville, it’s car-city – walking is an afterthought and you never see bikes or scooters. Public transit is limited to buses and those are used by the people who work in the light industries that dot the area.

Downtown, the street traffic is either young and professional (software industry, design industry, or hip retail for the most part) or else young and destitute (pan-handlers or barrista wannabes). The tattoo-to-skin ratio is way higher down here compared to uptown in Emeryville. I feel out of place walking around without nose ring.

There are funky food options everywhere downtown, as well as retail options for everything from clothes to bongs to adult toys. Emeryville has no retail other than fast food and Tim Hortons.

I like it downtown – there’s an energy that makes you feel like you belong, and you want to shop and eat locally. It reminds me of why I wanted to move from a small town to the big city in the first place, 35 years ago. It buzzes and it accepts – I can wear shorts and a tee shirt to work and no one cares. I can walk to a restaurant that has something tasty to eat (hello porchetta), and I can relax my car alert spidy-sense in a pedestrian-friendly zone where the humans rule the streets instead of cars. I love it.

Whenever I’ve travelled to other cities, I’ve tried to walk the downtown core and savour the experience. Working and walking downtown in Toronto has reminded me why I gravitate to the heart of the cities I’ve visited. There’s energy and informality and diversity, and there are real people going about real lives and real jobs. That urban tapestry is much thinner and paler in the burbs compared to the Technicolour downtown – I can get sushi or burritos or pizza or ramen or burgers or sandwiches or babimbop all within 5 minutes of the office.

This is urban, and it’s why I love cities.

Big Walk Diary – TONotL Prep

As I’ve mentioned, I have a bucket list of Big Walks I would like to do, and this year I’ve set myself the challenge of attempting the first one. I’m calling it my TONotL walk – Toronto to Niagara-on-the-Lake. I’m giving myself 6 days to do the planned 160km (the map above doesn’t show all the twists and turns of the Bruce Trail), and I’ll be carrying clothes, lunches, water, etc. so my pack will be around 8-10 kg.

Since it’s my first Big Walk, I’ve invested in gear like boots and a good backpack, and part of the prep for this trek is breaking in and getting used to the gear. That’s especially true of the boots and pack. I’ve been using walks to try out combinations of socks and orthotics in the boots that will be comfortable over the journey. I’ve also been getting used to carrying a decent weight over the day while ensuring the pack is comfortable and adjusted to suit my body and style. I’ve also been trying out trekking poles, which I haven’t used before.

My prep walks have mostly taken in the Don Valley and related parks and trails, so that I can get lots of up and down hills and a mixture of trails and paved paths. The weather has finally warmed up and it’s been good to work up a sweat.

The biggest challenge has been with my boots. My custom orthotics don’t quite fit into my boots – they are extra thick with cushioning and my feet are too cramped in the boots if I use them. Instead I’ve been trying different off the shelf orthotics combined with different socks to get the arch support combined with cushioning. My custom orthotics do work with my running shoes and this TONotL walk will have a lot of paved trail to it, so I could just go with the running shoes. It will depend on the portion of the walk that covers the Bruce Trail – that will need good hiking shoes at the least and the boots will be better, so I’m trying to get used to them. Still, what I’m finding is that I have the stamina for 20k plus but my feet are killing me after a couple of hours. I’ll need to work through this.

Other than working out issues with my the boots, the rest of the training has been pretty good. I’ve loaded up my pack with some free weights, books, and other ballast so that I carry 10+ kg, probably more than I’ll have on the walk. The pack fits great, and makes it easy to carry the weight. I’ve done 3 hours + with that, and I’ve also done 25 km with a day pack in around 5 hours, so I figure if I give myself 8 hours or so to cover 30 km with the pack, I’ll have time for rest breaks and should be ok covering the distance with the load. I just need to get in another 2 long walks before I jump off and I should be ready to go.

Otherwise the rest of the planning and prep is going well. I’ve arranged my work schedule so that I have the 1st week of July clear, so now I’m following the weather forecast like an anxious farmer. I don’t expect to get 6 consecutive dry days, but I don’t want to walk for 2-3 days in pouring rain and thunderstorms either, so as long as it’s looking good a couple of days ahead of time then the walk will be on.

I’m aiming to do this in 6 legs, each around 30 km, give or take. The route will take me through Toronto to the Lake and then west along the shore to Port Credit. From there the next day it’s on to Burlington, then Grimsby, Jordan, Thorold, and finally Niagara-on-the-Lake. From Grimsby to Queenston outside Niagara Falls I’ll be doing the 88 km stretch of the Bruce Trail known as the Niagara section, and finally the last 10 km from Queenston to Niagara-on-the-Lake will be along the Niagara River trail. It will give me both interesting city life and quiet countryside, fields, and forests.

I’ve picked this route as a starter because the first 3 days are easy flat ground walking near the lake, so I can work out the kinks before I get to some hills climbing the Niagara Escarpment onto the Bruce Trail, plus I get an easy finish on the last day with a relaxing walk on a flat shaded trail. Even so I know it will be challenging just because it’s my first Big Walk, yet I’m also hoping it’s a small enough challenge that I can enjoy it as a good walk through interesting places.

The countdown has started. Stay tuned.

Walks Past – New York, February 2006

In February 2006, I had some business to attend in New York. Since my wife’s birthday is that month, the timing worked perfectly for her to fly in on a Friday just as my meetings ended, so that we could spend the weekend in the city and celebrate in style.

I had been working in mid town so we were staying in a hotel just east of Grand Central Station, I think around 43rd & 2nd Avenue. That central location meant we could explore the whole of Manhattan on foot – downtown, midtown, and uptown were all reachable and all tempting destinations. This was my first visit to NYC and I was looking forward to exploring.

That first day, the Friday, was a lovely winter’s day, positively warm at maybe 5-10 C, and since my wife arrived around noon just as my meetings finished, we listened to our hunger pangs and headed straight off downtown.

First stop was a little Japanese restaurant for sushi to keep us going. While every city these days seems to have sushi restaurants, in NY it was different. The bustle and hustle of the city meant that everything was fresh, delicious, and quick. It was a great way to enjoy a meal while leaving plenty of time for sightseeing.

We set off south on Park Avenue and just wandered, holding hands in the sun and window shopping as we went. Every block seemed to offer a view of an iconic building or landmark – the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Flatiron Building.

Soon we came to Gramercy Park and I thought of the jazz artists I’ve loved who recorded for the Gramercy record label. Continuing on to Union Square, it struck us that we were getting close to Greenwich Village. We had fun pointing out places that had appeared in movies or TV shows we’d seen over the years – oh look the Friends building! – and of course by 2006, the Village was well gentrified compared to the 60’s when Dylan hung out, but just like visiting St. Germain in Paris and thinking of Sartre, wandering the streets was an immersion into cultural history.

After a stop for coffee and more exploring, we stumbled upon a quaint French restaurant that looked perfect for dinner, authentic without being pretentious. I don’t think the restaurant is there any more but I do recall the meal being wonderful, and the wine even better, fuelling us for another day of exploring on Saturday.

That day was my wife’s birthday, and it was an even more glorious New York warm winter’s day – sunny blue skies and about a springlike feel at 10-12C. The sunshine and warmth pointed our feet north towards Central Park. Walking up 5th Avenue, we passed more landmarks and icons – the FAO Schwarz toy store, Rockefeller Center, the Park Plaza hotel, and the Sherman Monument at the entrance to Central Park.

Entering the park was to enter another world. I’d always heard about the magic of the park in the way it formed a green oasis within the city, and wandering the paths I could finally understand it. Outside, cars honked and buses roared. Inside birds whistled and children shouted. Strolling the paths we turned and twisted and followed our noses to find ourselves at the Boathouse just in time for a late lunch. It was such gorgeous weather we had to sit outside, and drinking a glass of wine we thought we were in mid-spring.

After that relaxing stop, it was a lazy stroll back to midtown amongst the brownstones of the Upper East Side and down along Madison Avenue. The shopping was oh so tempting, and it was Ann’s birthday after all, so by the time we reached the hotel we were shopped out and knackered enough for a nap. We woke up famished and were very ready for dinner that night at a hopping Italian place in the Upper West Side near Columbia University. We celebrated and thought we’d ended our weekend in NY on a perfect note.

And then, surprise! Winter returned overnight with a howl and blast and 50+ cm of snow. By the time we awoke that Sunday morning and looked out, it was obvious that we weren’t flying anywhere that day. We checked with the airline to see about flights on the Monday, and then asked ourselves what we could with a grown-up city snow-day.

While we did have winter coats, hats, and gloves, we didn’t have boots and the snow was knee-deep at least. Still, if we wanted to embrace NY then we had to act like New Yorkers and just get on with it. We braved the blizzard and headed for Grand Central Station, thinking we could at least take a train somewhere. To our surprise, we walked in to find a lovely little market tucked into the back of the building that was open despite the storm, and sniffing about we soon found the makings of a picnic lunch along with a bottle of wine to keep out the chill. We slogged through the snow back to the hotel and settled down to watch a bit of the Winter Olympics while enjoying our feast – an unexpected treat.

By Mockba1_1999, CC BY 2.5, Link

By early evening, the snow finally slowed and the sidewalks were more or less cleared so taking one last NYC walk, we slushed up 2nd Avenue and soon found a cosy little Italian restaurant straight out of the 70’s, complete with red velvet wallpaper and candles in wine bottles. There were only a handful of customers on what would normally have been a busy Sunday night, so the staff showered us with attention and free tiramisu. It was one of the best and most memorable meals we’ve ever had – a bonus night out to complete an extended weekend that had offered sunshine and snow, parks and Park Avenue, icons and ice cream, and walks to remember.

Walk Journal – May 19, 2019

Where: Chaplin Estates, Belt Line, Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Moore Ravine, the Brickworks, Pottery Road and Pape Village to the Danforth, then back along the Danforth over the Bloor Street Viaduct and then through Castlefrank and Rosedale to Summerhill & Yonge and up Yonge to Deer Park and back through Chaplin Estates to home.

Duration: about 3.5 hours walking, and around 17 km

Weather: Spring! 18 C and sunny enough for a sunburn

My walking regime this year so far has been patchy at best. I’ve put back on some weight that I’d lost, and I’ve been feeling flabby and out of shape. My weekly target of 60 minutes of walking 5 days out of 7 has mostly gone by the wayside, and the weather has been chilly and teasing – the calendar might say spring but the temperatures don’t.

On a holiday weekend, you never know what you’re going to get. Last year on Victoria Day we had a great walk through High Park and then up the Humber River. This year we decided to walk east, and visit the Danforth and Toronto’s Greektown neighbourhood, and the weather forecast was promising.

The most direct yet still interesting route took us through familiar streets to the Beltline Trail and then east along that into Mount Pleasant Cemetery. From there we followed the Trail into Moore Ravine and down into the Don Valley into the trails of the Brickworks. On a nice holiday weekend day, there were hordes of walkers, families, dogs, bikes, runners, and self-snapping young couples. We took our time going through the Brickworks trails, and then crossed Bayview to the Lower Don Trail to head back north up to Pottery Road. Walking along that brought back memories as we passed Fantasy Farm – back in the 1980’s when I was at Glendon College we’d had several formal banquets there at which I had let down my student hair in epic fashion – and then it was the grinding climb up the hill to Broadview.

From there we meandered through back streets to arrive at the Danforth at Carlaw. The sun was out and the outdoor tables were packed. We found a spot at the Alexander the Great Parkette and grabbed takeout gyros from Alexandros to eat in the sun.

After that tasty pitstop, it was a stroll along the Danforth to Broadview, where my wife decided to hop on the subway home, while I kept walking. My route took me south on Broadview to Riverdale Park and down to one of the trails. I was trying to connect to the Lower Don Trail, but I guessed wrong and didn’t find the connector trail over the Don Valley Parkway – instead I ended up heading north and back up to Danforth at the Bloor Street Viaduct, so I decided to cross the bridge (since I’d come to it!) and cut through Rosedale to head home.

Walking through the neighbourhood, I thought about the essay my son is currently working on, on the subject of sustainability and how that is manifested in Toronto. One of his study areas is Rosedale. On paper this neighbourhood doesn’t have a large amount of green space, at least when defined in terms of public parks. And yet, the trees coming leaf and the ample yards and gardens of the large houses certainly gave a strong impression of verdancy, and the wealth displayed by the luxury cars parked in front of every house contrasted with the TTC bus stops scattered along the side streets. Does it count as sustainable if that neighbourhood has a higher percentage of Tesla’s than other areas of the city?

At the same time, there’s no question that it’s a lovely place to live. It’s always quiet and charming walking through Rosedale and it was no different on this walk. I know my way through there by now, having walked it many times, and I meandered along back streets between Castle Frank and Summerhill where I connected with Yonge Street.

Interesting fact – on Castle Frank Road, the Netherlands consulate owns a house, marked by the large Dutch flag out front. There is also a commemorative plaque beside a tree, planted in honour of the many thousands of Canadian troops who helped to liberate the Netherlands during the Second World War.

At Summerhill, Yonge Street led me up the hill to St. Clair and into the Deer Park neighbourhood, and onwards to Oriole Park. I passed a baseball game in progress that brought back memories of my son at 7 playing there. I kept going through the Chaplin Estates back to Eglinton and up Oriole Parkway to reach home footsore and sunburned.

In the end I’d done more walking in one day than I’d done in several weeks over the past few months. It felt good to be tired, like I’d worked out and deserved to sit for awhile and watch a baseball game.

It was a great spring walk, on our first really proper sunny spring day of the year, and now I need to build on that and get back into my routines. Stretching out your strides with the rhythm of walking feels good at anytime, but it’s especially sweet when it’s the first time all year you can finally go out in shorts and a T shirt.

Walk Journal – April 28, 2019

Where: Cedervale Ravine, Forest Hill

Duration: about 1:30 hours, 8 km

Weather: sunny, about 10C with a bit of a chilly breeze

With the sun out on a spring day, a walk was definitely in the cards. I hadn’t walked through Cedervale since mid-winter so I thought I’d see what spring looks like so far.

The grass has started to green up with all the rain we’ve had, and over the past few days I’ve also noticed more and more buds on trees – one good warm stretch and things will pop. There are crocuses, daffodils, tulips, and bluebells out in bloom, and deep in the ravine where the trees capture the mid-day sun, the willows have started to come out in leaf.

starting to get green

It won’t be more than a few weeks and Cedervale will look like this:

It was great to see so many families out – kids playing football and baseball, cyclists, runners, dog walkers, grandparents with grandkids. You could tell everyone was itching for more warmth – there were some hardy types out in shorts along with winter coats and gloves – and the sun pouring down in the ravine was glorious. There are park benches scattered along the trail, and I passed a woman who was sitting with her face turned up the sun, her eyes closed, and a blissful expression as she soaked up rays and listened to the red-winged blackbirds.

Coming out of the ravine at Heath Street, I decided to walk up Spadina through Forest Hill village on my way home. The streets were full of energy – shoppers, strollers, seniors. There were flowers out for sale, and many houses had flower-filled planters on doorsteps. The flower theme continued as I walked along Old Forest Hill Road and then up Russell Hill Road. Gardners were out digging and raking, and many of the planting beds had been turned over and mulched in preparation for more flowers. We aren’t past the threat of frost yet – it was actually down to about 2 C overnight – so it’s early yet for bedding plants.

But it’s close, and that’s what you could feel in the air, anticipation and an antsy for spring type of feeling.

Can’t wait.

Walks Past – October 2014, Kuwait City

Sunday this past weekend was a brutal early spring day – only 2C, gusty winds, steady rain with bits of snow, and steel-grey skies. It was a day for spring cleaning, and digging through a drawer of “stuff” led me to a stash of Kuwaiti Dinars, the leftovers from several trips to Kuwait in 2014-2015.

Looking at that currency made me think of a warmer weather walk in the autumn of 2014, when I was working for a banking technology firm based in Germany. We had signed a contract to install our software for a client in Kuwait and in October I headed there for a requirements workshop, and arranged to arrive a couple of days ahead of the meetings to get over the jet lag. That gave me a free day on the weekend to explore.

I had been in Kuwait for a few days earlier in 2014 but hadn’t had a chance to explore. I had an introduction to the Middle East back in 1993, when I had spent a couple of months working in Dammam Saudi Arabia, and I was itching to explore Kuwait City to compare it to my earlier experiences.

Since our client was downtown, I was booked into centrally located hotel, perfect to explore the city. It was October, which meant I was escaping cooler temps back in Canada for upper 20’s in Kuwait City. I wanted to get out early in the day before it got too hot, so I had an early breakie and started off.

My hotel was near the Jahra Roundabout, in the southern part of the downtown area so I decided to walk north towards the Souk al-Kuwait, along Fahad Al-Salam Street. I had read about traditional Arab souks, or markets, and in Dammam I hadn’t been able to experience them, so this was a chance to explore.

There were several things that struck me as I walked. One was the huge disparities of income evidenced by the shops and the way people got around. At one end of the income scale there were the fried chicken restaurants around the bus depot where the expat Philippino workers gathered to crowd onto buses. At the other end were high-end retailers selling perfumes and patronized by sunglass-wearing young adults with gold watches and sports cars.

As well, there were building works, road works, telecom works, and works of every imaginable kind under way, everywhere. The city is new and is constantly building and renewing itself. There are shiny glass office towers with provocative architectures attention-stealing lights, alongside crumbling 30-year old wrecks from the Iraqi invasion in 1990. The streets alternated between newly paved and bumpy potholes, and the sidewalks were sometimes granite and marble, sometimes bumpy concrete and sometimes non-existent. It was hot and barren with little plant life, yet with little cool shaded alleys with inviting shops.

As I walked north I kept coming across shops that alluded to the trading past of Kuwait City, along side modern mosques, offices, restaurants, and museums. The city really only dates from the 1970s and much of it was damaged during the Iraqi invasion in 1990, so given the rebuild since then it’s really only about 20 years old.

When I came to the Souk Al-Kuwait itself, I was led into a shaded maze of stalls, food stands, coffee and tea stands, and shops selling a wide variety of clothing, kitchenware, jewelry, silks, perfumes, fruits and vegetables, fish, spices, and more. As you walked the scents surrounded you – powerful colognes or musky spices or fishy aromas, masked by coffee and tea, and overlaid by dust and wafts of diesel exhaust and fried foods. I wandered and window-shopped for more than an hour, and picked up some silk scarves for gifts. I had a fresh fruit juice, and explored until the onset of mid-day prayers shut up the shops.

Leaving the Souk and walking north I eventually came to Jaber Al-Mubarek Street and there turned towards the water of Kuwait Bay. Following that street led me to the Sharq Mall, and some blessed air conditioning. I went in looking for a break and found it at a Starbucks. That was the thing that kept striking me about Kuwait – you are surrounded by Arabic buildings, calls for prayers, men wearing head scarves and women in habbayahs, and yet there are Starbucks, and Cadillacs, and Kentucky Fried Chickens everywhere. You’re away and at home at the same time – it’s disorienting.

From the Sharq Mall I kept going along the water to the Fish Market – I love food markets and wanted to explore this one. It was disappointing on one level, because all that fresh fish made me wish I had a way to buy some and cook it myself. On another level, it was a reminder of the traditions of a small trading port that through geological coincidence had become ridiculously rich, and yet strived to remain rooted in those simple occupations, like fishing. This was a vast remove from the fishing villages I’d seen Ireland or eastern Canada, and yet here they wanted to remember and honour that life.

After that I kept walking along the seafront back in the direction of my hotel. There is a promenade that stretches for many km along the shore, with regular parks laid out and planted with palms and cacti. Families strolled along and old men fished. It was a weekend so it was pretty quiet relaxing.

After wandering another few km, I eventually ended up back at my hotel, where I could reflect on my tour. Kuwait City has an energy and vitality that comes with youth – the average person on the street, the buildings, the entire city are younger than I am. Any yet there is also a conservatism that comes with deep history, both religious and cultural. It is a kingdom after all, with all the tradition that suggests. That mixture was the interesting part for me. I can’t say that Kuwait City was one of my favourite places to visit, and yet it was interesting in an educational way.

Walks Past – Sydney, Dec 2006

As I write this, it’s late March – wet snow, cold and grey – and my thoughts drift to warmth, to revisit a sunnier place.

In late 2006, I was working for a UK-based company that had software development teams in Toronto as well as in Sydney.  I was heading up a team in Toronto when my counterpart in Sydney left the company, so I was lucky enough to be seconded over to lead the team there while we looked for a new manager. 

Because I was going to be in Sydney for several months, I asked that my family be able to come with me. My employer generously agreed, so my first trip was a solo visit for 10 days in December to meet my new team and scout for a place for us to live so that after Christmas my family and I could travel out together. This meant that I left a dreary Toronto early winter for the early summer of New South Wales – a hard life!

The company offices were in the CBD off George Street, so when I arrived that first time in December, I stayed in a hotel near Darling Harbour to be close and while also being centrally located for exploring the city over that 1st weekend.

By the time Saturday came round, I’d been there for a few days already so I was more or less over the jet lag. During the week, I had been doing some research online and had some ideas about where I wanted to walk. It was a lovely late spring day, with warm temps but not yet hot – perfect for walking. My first impressions were of sun, shining waters, warm friendly people, and tempting places to explore.

Despite the temptations of the Darling Harbour area, my plan was to head west into some of the nearby residential neighbourhoods to get a feel and see where we might live during our stay. I’d heard about Glebe, Balmain, and Annandale so I decided to head in that direction.

My hotel was near the Harbourside Shopping Centre, so my direction west took me across the thumb that Pyrmont makes separating Darling Harbour from Blackwattle Bay. It led me to the Sydney Fish Market. I love to cook and to explore food markets, and I was looking forward to seeing this famous landmark. I was not disappointed.

The first thing that struck me was that it wasn’t just a food market – it’s also a fantastic collection of restaurants and food stalls. After quickly deciding that this would be a frequent family destination, I followed my nose to choose a place serving super-fresh fish and chips, and took it outside to gobble in the sun. Who needs poutine!

As tempted as I was to just hang out there all day and gorge, I knew I had to get going to walk off lunch. I didn’t really have a destination in mind other than to wander the neighbourhoods, so I meandered generally west through Glebe and then north to find myself on Balmain Road.

As I walked along, it all seemed pleasant enough – tree-lined streets, very walkable, relatively close to the CBD. Still, it wasn’t what I was looking for. We lived in a somewhat similar neighbourhood in Toronto, so why go all the way to Australia to live an inner suburb? I knew that my wife would find it a bit boring, so I turned around and head back towards the CBD.

It was a trudge back through Balmain, Glebe, and Haymarket under an increasingly hot sun to get back to the downtown area near the Central Station. When I finally found George Street and started down along it, I was feeling hungry and parched. Fortunately I found the marvelous Queen Victoria Building. It’s a wonderful shopping centre, with many shops, cafes, and restaurants and most importantly for me that day, it was air conditioned.

After a sandwich and a cup of my new-found favourite – a flat white – I was refreshed and ready to continue exploring. I decided to follow George Street northwards towards Circular Quay. It was people-watching heaven – the bustle and shops reminded me very much of Yonge Street in Toronto and I instantly felt at home. I knew as I walked along that this was much more the type of energy that we were looking for. That decided it for me – we needed to find a flat downtown near the CBD.

My day wasn’t done however. There was still a lot of daylight left and lots of city to explore. I had read so much about Circular Quay that I just had to see it and the famous view of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. I hurried down George Street and through the ferry buildings to stand on the wharf and soak up the view.

Standing in the sun, tired but happy, I knew then that our upcoming stay in Sydney was going to the adventure of a lifetime. It turned out to be all of that and so much more. We found a flat on Jamison Street near Lang Park, and our son went to the Fort Street Public School near the Sydney Observatory in the Rocks.

It was a magical few months. We explored the city, sampled many wonderful restaurants, celebrated Australia Day, toured the nearby countryside, swam off Manley Beach, enjoyed the ferry rides, wandered the zoo, and took part in the 75th anniversary walk across the Harbour Bridge. That first long walkabout the city, that day in December, opened my eyes to the diversity, energy, and sheer fun of Sydney and made it one of my favourite cities in the world.

75th Anniversary Walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge

A Walk in Bermuda, part 2

After our long rumble along the Railway Trail, we were ready for an easier day. We decided to take the ferry over to the Dockyards and explore that area. The sun was out and the journey across the Great Sound offered fabulous views, especially on the approach to the dock.

We hadn’t really done that much research and were just looking for a stroll, and for those who like that sort of walk the Dockyards is a good place to do it. It’s actually not that big of a place, which we discovered after we’d walked around the whole area in under 20 minutes. Since we weren’t in a mood for shopping we took the always prudent option – when in doubt, have lunch. The Frog and Onion pub offered outdoor tables, refreshing locally made ale, and entertainment from some of the feral chickens that roam the island.

After a fish sandwich and a salad, we headed off for another circuit of the town, and since the next ferry wasn’t due for awhile, we took in the National Museum, located in the Dockyards. This encompasses one of the original forts build to defend the Royal Navy base in Bermuda, which the Dockyards served. Within the walls of the fort is the Harbour Master’s House, built in the 1830’s and fully restored in the 1990’s. The views from the wraparound veranda are spectacular.

After that somewhat dutiful nod to history, we took the ferry back and headed home for a quiet evening. The sun had been wonderful but tiring, after our winter hibernation in Toronto.

The next day, recharged, we wanted to explore the North Shore of the island. I also had an ulterior motive for heading north – I had read that one of the best little restaurants in Bermuda was a place called Art Mel’s Spicey Dicey, where they make what is reputedly the best fish sandwich on the island.

While I haven’t sampled enough to know if it really was the best, it was for sure the biggest sandwich I’ve ever eaten – a monster portion of delicious fried fish with chopped salad, tomatoes, and tartar sauce between two thick slices of gently cinnamoned raisin bread – yes, raisin bread. The combination shouldn’t work, but oh boy does it ever. When washed down by Bermuda’s own Barritts Ginger Beer, it’s a meal to keep you going for days.

After that lunch, eaten in the sun sitting on a church wall, we needed to keep walking to burn off the calories. The North Shore is relatively settled and residential compared to some of the beaches on the South Shore, so the walk along the North Shore Road gives you a glimpse into the lives of working Bermudians. Scooters buzz, kids are out playing, washing is flapping on the line, and people are busily making a living while you’re playing the dumb tourist. It’s a great reminder of the privilege that travel represents – not everyone can hop on a plane and swan off for a few days to take a break.

After winding our way to Spanish Point park and then back into Hamilton, our wandering ways were at an end. That North Shore walk was on our second last day, and on our last day I had a vital appointment to keep. My rotisserie baseball league was having its annual draft, and I spent what looked to be a gloriously sunny day sitting inside finalizing my research and chatting with my team partner on our draft picks. Ok, so not a walk, but a journey to greatness we hope. We won the league last year and we’d like to win it again this year.

31 years married! And I can get away with baseball while in Bermuda! That’s love.

We finished our trip with a stroll into town for dinner at Portofino. It’s a small place, but big on charm with wonderful staff, very good food, and a good little wine list – everything I like in a restaurant. We stayed till we were the last ones out, and wandered back to the flat along quiet streets accompanied by the now-familiar frog chirp chorus.

A walk in Bermuda became several walks, and each revealed a different aspect of the island – its lovely beaches, the often overlooked parks and trails, the frugal sightseeing ferry rides, the many great restaurants, and most of all the warmth of Bermudians who go out of their way to welcome visitors to their home.

A Walk in Bermuda, part 1

Recently my wife and I took a break and headed to Bermuda for a few days in the sun – escaping late winter is always sooooo tempting and we gave in this year.

We’d never been, and after doing a bit of research decided to stay in Hamilton, the capital and the largest town. Bermuda is not a large island, so we thought by staying somewhere central we could explore in any direction, and that’s what we ended up doing. Our flat in Hamilton was lovely, with great views out over the harbour.

We arrived on a Wednesday in the rain, so our first wanderings about town were dampish, to say the least. It chucked it for stretches and then eased off to a misty sprinkle before resuming a pelting rain, combined with gusty blow-out-your-umbrella winds. On the plus side, it was warm by Toronto March weather standards – 18C can feel tropical if you’re fed up with winter. Despite the rain and clouds, we wandered about exploring Hamilton. It has its charms, and is compact enough to explore in just an hour or two. Little touches like this alley bring colour to the buildings:

We found a narrow alley called Washington Lane that led to a tucked-away shopping area, and nestled along the lane was La Trattoria restaurant. The pizza and wine went down very well and set us up for more exploring, plus the staff were charming – it’s a great place.

After more walks in the rain, and the discovery of a Waitrose grocery store that took us back to our days living in London, we headed back to our flat to make our plans for the next day, when the weather promised to be dry.

We woke to hazy sun and warmth, so we set out to explore the island. Our research pointed us to the Railway Trail, which stretches along the middle of much of the island, and we decided to walk most of that, fitting in a stop at Horseshoe Bay where there were a couple of restaurants, and then continuing round to the south-west to end up at Rockaway Bay to catch the ferry back to Hamilton.

While small, Bermuda has a surprising amount of traffic. Combined with roads that often have no hard shoulder or footpath, you find yourself sharing the road with buzzing scooters, motorcycles, cars, vans, trucks, and buses. Everyone is polite and defers to walkers, but it’s hardly peaceful. We were glad to get off the road and onto the Trail itself about a km outside of Hamilton.

Once we found it and headed south, we were in a different world. Stretches of the trail are enveloped in trees and others go through cuts through the limestone spine of the island, with stone walls draped in ferns, vines, flowers, and mosses. Parts of the trail reminded us of walks in France or in England, while other stretches brought Florida to mind.

Our mid-day goal was Horseshoe Bay on the south side of the island. On the map, it looked like just an hour’s walk.

In reality, the up and down hills, the road traffic, and the stops to take in the view meant that it was well over two hours before we walked down off the Trail onto the beach at the bay. The journey was worth it for the view, the sound of the surf, and the salt tang in the air.

The walk and the sun and that salty tang were making us hungry, and the wind was whipping sand in our faces, so we headed back towards the trail to find lunch at the Gulfstream restaurant. It felt so summery to sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine and some delicious salads. I needed an espresso to fortify myself for the afternoon’s walking.

South from Horseshoe Bay, the Trail slides by the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse, and we thought we’d take in that landmark. I’ve mentioned the hills, and Bermuda’s central spine has several that rise nearly 100m above sea level. The Lighthouse is on top of one of them, and rises 5 stories so we made the spiralling climb up the 195 steps to take in the view from the top. Unfortunately the strong winds and the narrow platform made my wife very nervous and as she’s the photographer I took a quick snap and then headed back down.

After a dizzying descent we tumbled down the hillside path to rejoin the Trail, and then kept wandering south before bending along the south west hook of the island. That led us to Rockaway Bay, which we hit just in time to catch the 4:30 ferry back to Hamilton. We’d timed it well, because it started to splat a bit with rain on the way. The views and scenery from the ferry are great – it’s an inexpensive way to see much of the island from the perspective of the Great Sound.

By the time we landed at the ferry terminal in Hamilton and walked back to our flat, we were shocked to see that our Fitbits said we’d done about 18 km on our walk. Since Bermuda is only about 15 km long, and we’d started in the middle, we had thought we’d done about 10 km tops – no wonder we were knackered. It was only proper, then, to end our day in style at the Huckleberry restaurant in the Rosedon Hotel. The walk up the drive let us know what we were in for.

We took a table on the veranda and thoroughly devoured a wonderful meal – it’s well worth a visit if you are in Bermuda. Our night ended with a stroll back to the flat along quiet streets, serenaded by the chirps of frogs and gentle breezes plying palms.