Nature, Cityscape and Oceans – My Short Time in Canada
Far and distant lands – does anybody remember them?
There was a time when the idea of travelling didn’t seem so complicated and, for some, daunting. As I sit here and dream about my past adventures, some of which I’ve already shared with fellow Bike-Mag readers, another one springs to mind.
I spent a short while in Canada not too long ago. It’s a place famed for many things; nice people, freezing cold winters (which, luckily, I didn’t experience), beautiful nature and cosmopolitan cities. One thing I must add to that list, however, is that it’s also a wonderful cycling destination.
I don’t necessarily consider myself a hard-core cyclist, more a cycling enthusiast. By this, I mean that instead of taking my bike and riding gear with me, hopping into some Lycra and taking an amazing tour around a country (all of which sound amazing), I like to go places and rent bikes so that I can explore at a slower pace. Perhaps it’s the fact that I can’t really be bothered with taking my clunky bike around with me, or maybe it’s just that I look awful in Lycra.
Nevertheless, as I’m sure you can appreciate, I still love to cycle.
Back to the trip.
Toronto was my first experience of the True North. Admittedly, it wasn’t what I expected from Canada at all. It was like being in a mini New York City. In fact, Downtown Toronto is often used as a fake New York City in some Hollywood films!
Greeted by humungous buildings and maple leaf symbols, I was flattened by a wall of 30+ degree heat. It turns out Toronto is as extremely hot in the summer as it is shockingly cold in winter. I also noticed that there was an incredible number of people on bikes. Side by side with streetcars, and with lots of cycle lanes along the incredibly straight roads, it seemed to be bike-rider’s dream.
I wasn’t surprised to discover that the city had a big selection of bike rental and tour establishments. Spoilt for choice, I opted for one that did combined tours of both the Downtown area and Toronto Island. Setting me up with a sturdy Raleigh hybrid bike, we took to the roads and cycle paths, passing the CN Tower, Dundas Square, St Lawrence Market, Royal Ontario Museum and Rogers Centre, amongst other amazing architectural feats. In the space of three hours, we learnt a lot about the city’s history and landmarks and covered a good amount of ground.
My favourite spot on the tour was the quirky district of Queen Street West. Packed with parks, boutiques and independent bars and cafes, I had to resist going rogue from the tour. I did, however, make a novel’s worth of mental notes of places to explore on foot the following day.
The second part of the tour was to go to Toronto Island – a wonderful park separate from the main part of the city. Departing from the ferry port at Hanlan’s Point, our boat chugged away across a stretch of Lake Ontario. Bike tied up safely, I couldn’t help but stare wide-eyed at the city’s skyline behind us. As soon as you head out towards the islands, you really get a scope of how colossal Toronto is, and just how many massive skyscrapers there are – truly North American indeed!
The island was a very nice cycling experience. Gliding alongside the water (which always makes me feel as though I’m moving faster, I can’t be the only one), my group and I circumnavigated the trees, beaches, flowers and picnic benches. Stopping for drinks and photos on a very regular basis, it was hard to believe that the throng of downtown Toronto was but a few minutes away. Yet, with the cityscape always in view, Toronto Island somehow felt so separate.
I spent the remaining few days looking into the quieter pockets of Toronto, away from its epicentre. Opting for a different rental shop, I managed to score a Cannondale Trail 8 with a SmartForm C3 Alloy frame and a 7-speed drivetrain. A bike of dreams that carried me, effortlessly, to the likes of High Park (a vast, family-friendly urban green space) and Kensington Market. For the latter, think of London’s Camden Town about 15 years ago and add a dash of Stokescroft in Bristol. To anyone who’s never seen these places; it was a bit alternative.
When Robert James isn’t cycling around the parks and countryside of North London, or chilling out with his cats, he’s exploring the world on two wheels with his wife