Reflections after my brother's visit: Toronto - Viewed through the eyes of European Visitors
By Susanne Pacher
From August 27 to September 6 I had four visitors from Europe in town: my brother Ewald, his wife Anneliese and their two friends - my neighbours from my home town in Austria, Luis and Isabella. You may wonder why this is such a big deal that I need to write about it.
For me this was a huge deal since it was the first time that my brother came to visit me since I immigrated to Canada in 1986. Because of our 9 year age difference we didn't have a chance to spend that much time together when I was young, and my brother wasn't big on flying in the first place. But we hatched the idea of a joint vacation last year, during my first visit back to my home town in 8 years.
So to me this was a very big deal. For our four visitors it was a pretty big affair as well since they had never travelled to North America. After all these 9 days in Toronto were their first exposure to the New World. We managed to cram a lot of things into these nine days: a visit to Niagara's Wine Country, a country driving tour of the Kawartha Lakes, various bicycle tours of Toronto, checking out Toronto's waterfront, Toronto Island, the Eastern and Western Beaches, the Humber River, downtown Toronto with the CN Tower and many of Toronto's neighbourhoods, including Greektown, Chinatown (East and West), Kensington Market, Little India, Rosedale, Forest Hill, Bloor West Village and so many other special spots that Toronto has to offer.
They enjoyed the Toronto's architectural preservation efforts visible in the historic Distillery District or the renovated CN roundhouse that now features the Steam Whistle Brewery. Along the way they managed to photograph many vintage cars and trucks, even a 1950s style hearse in the town of Bobcaygeon. They also fell in love with the Kawartha Lake Region, and ideas of coming back to Canada to rent a houseboat and explore the Trent-Severn Canal System started to percolate.
Of course our European visitors commented on the different dimensions of things, such as the size of cars, of super-markets, even of squirrels in the park, everything seemed just a little larger. Our visitors commented on the sophisticated display rooms and restaurants at Ontario's wineries, the surprisingly excellent quality of the wines (Ontario's wines are not very well known in Europe), as well as the friendliness of service personnel at the wineries, and in various other stores and restaurants around town. We even had a variety of friendly interchanges with dog-walkers, people on the street and lawn bowlers. Toronto definitely showed its best side during these 9 days, and the perfect weather just added to the experience.
Our European visitors are all active people who enjoy exploring and Luis and Isabella in particular are athletes who enjoy biking, hiking, tennis, skiing etc. I took them around on mountain bikes and they loved exploring the city in this way. My husband Nigel, an avid golfer, gave them some golfing lessons at the driving range, and added some putting lessons on the carpet in our house. We all went on a fun outing to a par-3 golf course on the outskirts of Toronto. It was their first initiation to golf and they had a ball, and decided to explore this activity further once they get back to Europe.
With our bicycles we explored the Don River Valley and many of the ravines that criss-cross the Toronto landscape and the comments that came back from my European gang were time and time again about how green Toronto is, and how it doesn't feel like a large urban metropolis, full of concrete and devoid of green spaces and recreational areas. They talked about the liveability of this city, that you don't even need to leave Toronto to enjoy the water and the green spaces, or even off-road mountain biking.
My brother in particular, was amazingly enthusiastic about his time in Toronto. He loved the ethnic neighbourhoods and said he could spend days just exploring Chinatown. He also mentioned that he never felt an uncomfortable feeling of racial tension in any of the neighbourhoods, the way he had experienced it in some areas in various European cities. And they all felt safe, even though we took the subway and explored some of the less affluent areas of the city.
Our four visitors were the most considerate guests you can ever imagine. They took over the kitchen, with my brother, a consummate chef, whipping up gourmet meals every day, using fresh Ontario ingredients. Since I still had to work on different occasions during their stay, they cleaned the house, watered the flowers, even mowed the lawn. You couldn't imagine a better group of guests that would be more considerate and helpful. This 9-day sleepover was one of the most positive intense experiences I have ever had.
Yesterday, I rode down to the Beaches for the first time again since my four special visitors had left. I cycled around all the places that I had taken them, where they had posed for photos and commented on their experiences. And it was amazing how much I missed them, how empty the house felt without them, how deep an impression these 9 days left. I have already touched base on the phone with them a couple of times to make sure they arrived safely and to tell them how much I missed them.
Now I am looking forward to planning another get-together, for some more joint activities, whether it be in Canada, Austria, or somewhere in between.
About The Author
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions (http://www.travelandtransitions.com). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
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The story with photos is published at Travel and Transitions - Insights and Reflections
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