Be Here Now: What Planes Have Taught Me About Arriving

Khairil Zhafri, Flickr

I shrug off my rucksack, collapse onto the bed and wait to arrive. At some point I doze off.

When I awake, it’s late afternoon. Toronto is hot – freakishly so, my host later tells me – and when I step outside, I have to learn to breathe again. My frail English constitution is confused – should I start sweating, or just save time by dying on the spot? I wander through the baking heat in search of a Starbucks. This is my first time in Canada – or it will be, when I finally get here.

I hate flying for so many reasons. If you want to break the ice with the average Brit, ask them for their views on membership of the European Union and prepare to have your ears blown off. I’m like that with flying. I used to have a paralyzing fear of takeoff – these days, it has receded to a level of terror I can medicate myself through. But beyond the bottomless abyss of dread that flying hurls me into, I have philosophical issues with it as well. Flying is a technological marvel, and the modern world couldn’t run without it – but it also feels … wrong.

Let’s talk about Morocco for a second. I’ve never been, and I have a romantic fantasy about arriving there for the first time. I’ll be on a ferry, it’ll be dawn and the dim, rose-fingered line of the horizon ahead will be broken, raggedly shadowed as the light gets stronger. Land ho! Over the next hour, Africa will emerge, unveiled and climbing into the light. By the time we dock at Tangiers, I’ll have been staring at African mountains for hours. My brain – always sleep-deprived when I travel, always overloaded with sights and sounds, and probably jittery from too much coffee – will have grown accustomed to the simply insane notion that I’m approaching another continent. This thought process (“Seriously?” “Yes – look.“) would have had time to sink deep enough to change my mind, allowing my thoughts to catch up with reality.

My first impression of Toronto, after being magically shot across the Atlantic in a colossal tube of metal called a 787 is that Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” is a lot better than I’d been told. As I stagger into a taxi, I’m still remembering staring fixedly at dwarves on the inflight entertainment screen in an attempt to blot out air turbulence. I’m still doing it as the taxi leaves Pearson Airport and the driver, hearing I write about travel, starts selling Toronto to me. His conversation and my thoughts get mixed: Bilbo Baggins suddenly lives in a condo; Saruman lives up the CN Tower. Upon reaching the door to my apartment, I realize I haven’t eaten for hours and get lost in the memory of chasing a tiny microwaved sausage around my airline meal plate – until I come to, standing there motionless with the key in the door. My thoughts are mired in another time zone. I get indoors and lie on the bed, and nothing feels real.

Imagine how Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui must have felt. He’s the son of the chief of the Huni Kiu Kaxinawa tribes in Brazil, and in March of this year he traveled from an Amazonian village of 600 people to the concrete jungle of New York, to promote his people’s interests and study documentary film-making. His first challenge? Arriving.

“First you arrive physically. But only after a while, your soul gets here too.”

Is it as simple as culture shock? Perhaps for Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui that might be true – but not for me, surely. Canada isn’t so different to the UK. Barring the scale of the architecture and the blue sky overhead, differences seem superficial. I’m charmed by the way police cars look like the ones in “Due South.” I spot a building I’m certain was in “Battlestar Galactica.” But squint and this could be an English city (perhaps one preparing for a bid to be a City of Culture, because everything here is curiously litter-free). This isn’t culture shock, and I’m not Crocodile Dundee.

Then, the most confusing feeling of all – guilt. As if I’m here under false pretenses. In some pseudo-puritanical sense, I feel like I haven’t earned this. I’ve skipped straight to dessert without eating my greens. I’ve cheated. This is of course ludicrous. Should I have tried to cross the Atlantic in a canoe, perhaps, or maybe on a pedalo? Should I swim it with Ben Fogle? It’s absurd – but the feeling lingers, and I think I know the root of it. If I fly somewhere, I’ve missed all the fun of getting there. I’ve cheated myself out of that adventure. However impractical the alternatives, planes are just too fast for my sense of what constitutes “travel.” It seems I’m one of those Slow Movement people, which must explain why I’m so unfit these days.

I doze, wake up, step out into the stifling heat, grab a coffee to go and head towards Downtown. It’s a good hour before the single-story shops of Yonge Street have grown into skyscrapers around me, and that process is gradual, less observed than felt. There no sense of cheating here, no desirable experience dodged. I’m moving at the right speed to arrive, and I do so comfortably. It’s an odd feeling, because here I am, fully present in the middle of Toronto, but still feeling like I haven’t arrived in Canada yet.

It’s only a few days later, staring out of a high-rise window at storm clouds rolling over the city, that I feel a sense of arrival thump within me. My first thought is Ahuh, so they have crappy weather here too – and my second is Ahuh – “here too.” My inner time zones synchronize, and all thoughts of hobbits and sausages leave my mind. I’m finally here, and it’s time to go exploring.

Hyperlapse Tool Takes Google Street View To A Whole New Level

Google Street View was a boon to desk- and couch-bound wanderers when it debuted back in 2007, but even the most fervent Street View explorers would agree that the endless clicking is a bit of a chore.

Enter a free online tool that uses Street View images to create a personalized animated road trip. The Hyperlapse tool, created by a Toronto design company, lets you choose any two drivable points on the map, and then stitches together the Google Street View images to create an animation that you can pan around in real time.

The above video demonstrates the hyperlapse tool’s remarkable capabilities. The montage includes drives past major American landmarks and through other countries like Denmark Slovakia, Canada and Australia.

The online interface currently only provides basic point-to-point animation with a locked frame rate, so a two-hour drive like the one I animated from Montreal to Ottawa will take but a couple seconds. However, the featured hyperlapses, which show custom-made drives through the places like the Australian outback and Yosemite National Park are well worth a look. No word yet on when we will be able to animate trips to Street View’s more unique destinations, like up Everest or down the Amazon.

Events Worth Planning A Trip Around In 2013

Have you ever landed in a place to find out you arrived just after the town’s can’t-miss event of the year? Well, hopefully that won’t happen again this year. Gadling bloggers racked their brains to make sure our readers don’t overlook the best parties to be had throughout the world in 2013. Below are more than 60 music festivals, cultural events, pilgrimages and celebrations you should consider adding to your travel calendar this year – trust us, we’ve been there.

Above image: Throughout Asia, Lunar New Year is celebrated with lantern festivals, the most spectacular of which is possibly Pingxi. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

Kumbh Mela, a 55-day festival in India, is expected to draw more than 100 million people in 2013. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

January
January 7–27: Sundance Film Festival (Park City, Utah)
January 10–February 26: Kumbh Mela (Allahabad, India)
January 21: Presidential Inauguration (Washington, DC)
January 26–February 12: Carnival of Venice (Venice, Italy)
January 26–February 13: Battle of the Oranges (Ivrea, Italy)
During Busójárás in Hungary, visitors can expect folk music, masquerading, parades and dancing. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
February
February 3: Super Bowl XLVII (New Orleans, Louisiana)
February 5–11: Sapporo Snow Festival (Sapporo, Japan)
February 7–12: Busójárás (Mohács, Hungary)
February 10: Chinese New Year/Tet (Worldwide)
February 9–12: Rio Carnival (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
February 12: Mardi Gras (Worldwide)
February 14: Pingxi Lantern Festival (Taipei, Taiwan)
February 24: Lunar New Year (Worldwide)


Several cities in India and Nepal increase tourist volume during Holi, when people enjoy spring’s vibrant colors. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
March
March 1-14: Omizutori (Nara, Japan)
March 8–17: South by Southwest (Austin, Texas)
March 20–April 14: Cherry Blossom Festival (Washington, DC)
March 27: Holi (Worldwide, especially India & Nepal)


Many Dutch people wear orange – the national color – and sell their secondhand items in a “free market” during Koninginnendag, a national holiday in the Netherlands. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
April
April 12–14 & April 19–21: Coachella (Indio, California)
April 11-14: Masters Golf Tournament (Augusta, Georgia)
April 13–15: Songkran Water Festival (Thailand)
April 17–28: TriBeCa Film Festival (New York, New York)
April 25–28: 5Point Film Festival (Carbondale, Colorado)
April 30: Koninginnendag or Queen’s Day (Netherlands)


Up to 50 men work together to carry their church’s patron saint around the main square in Cusco, Peru during Corpus Christi. [Photo credit: Blogger Libby Zay]
May
May 4: Kentucky Derby (Louisville, Kentucky)
May 15–16: Festival de Cannes (Cannes, France)
May 20: Corpus Christi (Worldwide)
May 23–26: Art Basel (Hong Kong)
May 24–27: Mountainfilm Film Festival (Telluride, Colorado)
May 25-28: Sasquatch Festival (Quincy, Washington)
May 26: Indianapolis 500 (Speedway, Indiana)

2013 marks the 100th anniversary for the Tour de France. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]

June
June 13–16: Bonnaroo (Manchester, Tennessee)
June 13–16: Art Basel (Basel, Switzerland)
June 14–16: Food & Wine Classic (Aspen, Colorado)
June 21: St. John’s Night (Poznan, Poland)
June 24: Inti Raymi (Cusco, Peru)
June 28–30: Comfest (Columbus, Ohio)
June 29–July 21: Tour de France (France)

The annual observance of Ramadan is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Visit Istanbul, Turkey, at this time and see a festival-like atmosphere when pious Muslims break their fasts with lively iftar feasts at night. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
July
July 6–14: San Fermin Festival (Pamplona, Spain)
July 9–August 2: Ramadan (Worldwide)
July 12–14: Pitchfork (Chicago, Illinois)
July 17: Gion Festival Parade (Kyoto, Japan)
July 18–21: International Comic Con (San Diego, California)
July 19–22: Artscape (Baltimore, Maryland)
July 24–28: Fete de Bayonne (Bayonne, France)

Festival-goers get their picture taken at a photo booth during Foo Fest, an arts and culture festival held annually in Providence, Rhode Island. [Photo credit: Flickr user AS220]
August
August 2–4: Lollapalooza (Chicago, Illinois)
August 10: Foo Fest (Providence, Rhode Island)
August 26–September 2: Burning Man (Black Rock Desert, Nevada)
August 31–September 2: Bumbershoot (Seattle, Washington)


More than six million people head to Munich, Germany, for beer-related festivities during the 16-day Oktoberfest. [Photo credit: Creative Commons]
September
September 5–15: Toronto International Film Festival (Toronto, Canada)
September 13–15: Telluride Blues & Brews Festival (Telluride, Colorado)
September 21–October 6: Oktoberfest (Munich, Germany)

Around 750 hot air balloons are launched during the nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. [Photo credit: Flickr user Randy Pertiet]

October
October 4–6 & 11–13: Austin City Limits (Austin, Texas)
October 5–13: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
October 10–14: United States Sailboat Show (Annapolis, Maryland)


During Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), family and friends get together to remember loved ones they have lost. Although practiced throughout Mexico, many festivals take place in the United States, such as this festival at La Villita in San Antonio, Texas. [Photo credit: Blogger Libby Zay]
November
November 1–2: Dia de los Muertos (Worldwide, especially Mexico)
November 3: Diwali (Worldwide)
November 8–10: Fun Fun Fun Fest (Austin, Texas)
November 11: Cologne Carnival (Cologne, Germany)
November 28: Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (New York, New York)
TBA: Punkin Chunkin (Long Neck, Delaware)

The colorful holiday of Junkanoo is the most elaborate festivals of the Bahamian islands. [Photo credit: Flickr user MissChatter]
December
December 2–3: Chichibu Yomatsuri (Chichibu City, Japan)
December 5–8: Art Basel (Miami, Florida)
December 26–January 1: Junkanoo (Bahamas)

So, what did we miss? Let us know what travel-worthy events you’re thinking about journeying to in the coming year in the comments below.

5 Tips For Experiencing Toronto’s Changes

As the author of “Stroll: Psychogeographic Walking Tours of Toronto,” Shawn Micallef knows more corners of Toronto than most visitors will ever see. He can take a look around a neighborhood and pick out the new places in an instant. But newcomers may not know the difference. Here, Micallef offers his five tips for enjoying Toronto (with a little help from me).

  1. Hop on a street car. “It’s slow, it’s above ground, and the stops are every block. You can get off, walk a block, if you’re bored, get back on.” He advises picking one street – such as College, Queen, or Spadina – and riding it from end to end. An affordable way to do so is the Day Pass sold by the Toronto Transit System at all subway stations. Up to six people, with a maximum of two adults, can ride the system from the date on the pass until 5:30 a.m. the next day, meaning you can take a street car to sight see, dine out, and drink until bars close, if that’s your fancy.
  2. In the summer, go to the beach. The Toronto Islands are just a short ferry ride from downtown. The breathtaking view of the skyline is exchanged for a visit to cottage country, akin to a 1930s movie set. Toronto is proud of its eight Blue Flag beaches, recognized internationally for their cleanliness and safety. The islands are also home to Hanlan’s Point, a clothing optional choice, one of the few such public beaches in the country. “It’s all the weirdness of urban Toronto landing on a beach,” says Micallef.
  3. In the winter, go underground. Visitors to Toronto are often amazed when they venture down a staircase and find an entire city beneath the city. Underground Toronto stretches for 17 miles, from Front Street up to Yorkville. There are restaurants, shops, shoe repair stores, the basements of major department stores, parking garages, and more than 125 access points to buildings up above. “You could live down there,” he says, as a reporter for the Toronto Star did recently. Even if you don’t want to spend that much time, at the very least, it’s a pleasant short cut.
  4. Visit a market. Toronto has embraced farmers markets with gusto. During the height of the summer and fall harvests, there is a market somewhere every day of the week, with some starting at dawn and others in the evening. Because of its varied ethnic groups, Toronto markets range well beyond fruits, vegetables and cheese. I’ve tasted Thai influenced dumplings and salad, enjoyed Dutch pancakes and taken home vegan tarts. Don’t overlook the permanent St. Lawrence Market, either, where stalls are open six days a week. The Kensington Market area in Chinatown abounds with sights and smells, and newcomers from Latin countries and South Asia are adding their own contributions.
  5. Watch for contrasts. With neighborhoods shifting, you will find old school and new school right next door to each other. Conduct your own pub crawl or tea tastings. Sample baked goods from traditional and modern purveyors. And talk to the owners. Torontonians have the same friendliness found in Chicago and New Orleans. They’ll tell you what they think of what’s changing around them.

For more on “Toronto In Transition” click here

[Photo Credits: Micheline Maynard]

Toronto In Transition: Coming In From Elsewhere

Over the past 40 years, Toronto’s Queen Street West has undergone a transition that’s shifted it from trendy boutiques and galleries to international chains and lively restaurants. As a result, the art scene that long called the street home has been pushed farther west to an area called West Queen West.

And now, even West Queen West is seeing its own transition. The galleries, little cafes and funky hotels are still there. So is the mental hospital that is the area’s major employer. But there are other newcomers, including one from way across Canada.

Gravitypope, with roots in Edmonton, Alberta, and stores in Calgary and Vancouver, opened its first Toronto store this fall. It’s the kind of well-groomed, innovative spot you’d see featured in Town and Country Magazine or a Nancy Meyers movie, with shoes and clothing that look meticulously selected by fashion stylists.

In another time, Gravitypope would have found a home in the opposite direction on Queen West, among the well-known names. But with that part of the street chockablock with retailers, its owner, Louise Dirks, decided she’d be better off away from the fray.

“Everybody kept saying, ‘go to Queen, go to Queen, go to Queen,’” she says of the area. “But I couldn’t find a space with a decent basement,” which was a requirement for the extensive inventories her stores carry.

Dirks is among a number of new arrivals who are staking their claims in Toronto neighborhoods. Some of them, like Nicole Angellotti at Lit Espresso Bar in Little Portugal, are already established in other parts of town, and see opportunities for expansion.

Others are rolling the dice on their first ventures in the city, hoping that the Toronto customers who visit their stores elsewhere are willing to do business with them at home.

Toronto author Shawn Micallef says their investments are the strongest endorsement a neighborhood can receive. “When outside Toronto moves in, you know the neighborhood is on peoples’ radar,” he says.

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Dirks pondered her move to Toronto for years before taking the plunge. She opened the first Gravitypope store in Edmonton in 1990, operating as a cafe with a selection of clothing for sale in the back for her first decade. In 2000, she added a second store in Calgary, and then a shop in Vancouver in 2004. Her shoe business grew along with her clothing business, and with them, she incorporated a Web-based operation.

Over the past five or six years, “I got at least one email every couple of weeks from Toronto, begging for a Gravitypope out east,” says Dirks. In 2008, she went on a tour of Toronto neighborhoods, scouting by walking up and down the streets.

Finally in 2011, she settled on a brand new building in West Queen West, only a block from the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CAMH). Getting settled was a challenge, and the space was ready months after she originally expected. But since opening in the fall, “Every day has been awesome for us here,” Dirks says.

The location is “a bit fresh,” she says, and thus far, her customers have had no problem venturing out to her. On Gravitypope’s first day of business, 90 percent of her customers were former Western Canadians whose moves had preceded hers.

Manny Nikolaou, who runs Cafe Bernate next door, is among those glad to see a substantial business move in. “In the last five years, this whole area’s changed,” he said, while pulling espresso shots. “Before, it was a bit of a rough type neighborhood.”

He was also a little wary when a Tim Horton’s opened across the street, for fear it would take away his sandwich business. But the “quick sandwiches” made at Tim’s aren’t stealing the customers away from Bernate’s lineup, which includes 30 different homemade offerings.

Nikolaou says upscale stores like Gravitypope can only help West Queen West. “We’re happy to see people like them come in,” he says.

A few blocks away, another western Canadian newcomer has made itself at home on Dundas Avenue West. Ride Away Bikes came to the neighborhood in 2010, setting up a shop that sells new and used bikes, and performs repairs.

The owners have two other shops in Vancouver, and saw opportunity in Toronto’s growing bicycle culture. While the city isn’t as bike friendly as other places, there’s a move afoot to expand the use of two-wheeled transportation. “It grows every year,” says Justin Brady, a store manager.

About two-thirds of his business comes from the surrounding neighborhood, but in the past year and a half, as cycling has become more popular, he’s noticed more people arriving from other parts of Toronto. “Probably, people would have noticed us before,” Brady says.

And, Brady will soon find out whether two new businesses on his end of Dundas West bring him more customers. Two doors down, Queen Margherita Pizza from Leslieville is opening one of its two new Toronto restaurants (the other is a few miles east, in an upscale area called Babypoint). Across the street, Susur Lee, the Toronto restaurateur who competed on “Top Chef Masters,” has opened Bent with his two sons.

The sleek black and red restaurant, which some liken to a nightclub, hasn’t exactly gotten off to a strong start. The Toronto Star gave it just one star, saying it was “more broken than merely bent,” while the Globe and Mail was kinder, pointing out the place has been packed since its opening.

Brady, at the bike store, is glad to see the outsiders draw crowds, at least. “It can only mean good things,” he says.

For more on “Toronto In Transition” click here

[Photo Credits: Micheline Maynard]