Thursday, June 2, 2011

Back in Toronto :: Insights on our Travels

So it's been a week since we arrived back on Canadian soil and while I truly was dreading coming back home and back to reality, I am happy to report that I am really excited to be home. The first few days were really quite an adjustment but every day has gotten a little brighter and brighter to the point where I feel like I've fallen in love with Toronto again. It's true that I have a mile long wish list of things that I would love to be different in Toronto, but home is where the heart is. And when the sun comes out, and you're sitting on a patio drinking a Caesar with your pals, this is a fantastic city. I thought I would wrap up this little blog by just sharing some insights that I've had around the trip.

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Train travel is the best!
I'd never spent much time on trains before this trip and it made me feel like never flying again. It was such a nice, relaxed and smart experience. It was nice that you could just hop on and be in another city in Europe within a few hours, without having to arrive hours early to go through intense security and feel like a criminal for deciding to take a trip.

Alcohol is not kept under lock and key
In Europe, you could buy alcohol at the grocery store because hey, if you're shopping for dinner, wouldn't it be nice to have some wine with it? And wouldn't it be nice if you could drink some beer with your picnic in the park without potentially being fined for it? Europe was super relaxed about drinking and it was nice to feel like you weren't a criminal for having a few drinks. If I'm being honest, however, I do have to tell you that I have never seen so much smashed glass in my life.

Canada really is multicultural
I knew it was, but it really became apparent in Berlin and in Europe as a whole. It was soooo white. It was kind of bizarre to look around and just see a sea of white folks. It's good vibes to live in such a multicultural city -- and to eat all of the amazing food that comes along with having such diversity. Top things we were looking forward to eating: Ethiopian food (Nazareth!), Indian (Banjara!) and Mexican (we can make that way better at home than any mexican restaurant in Berlin).

Life is for the living in Berlin
So green, so liberal, so spacious, so full of young people and artists... Berlin a super chilled out city during the day, and a buzzing city at night. Because of the Wall, Berliners didn't always have the freedom to experience life on their own terms and now they're making up for lost time. We could go out on a Monday night to an experimental music show, and it would be packed. And the bars don't have to close -- if there are people there drinking, they can stay open for as long as they like.

Berlin is cheap
Cheap wine. Cheap groceries. Cheap dinners out. Cheap rent. And beer is cheaper than water. Toronto is pretty expensive in comparison.

If you love culture, you'll love Berlin
Galleries both big and small, museums, history, massive parks, incredible architecture... except for the overall pretty mediocre food, Berlin has everything culture-lovers could ever need.

Berlin is so easy to get around
The bike lanes were amazing and I actually felt safe riding around. Very few people even wear helmets there. Drivers seem to have respect for bikers, versus the animosity that seems to exist between drivers and bikers in Toronto. Let me put it this way -- at no point did I feel the need to yell expletives at a car because it nearly hit me, but I've already done that a few times since being home. Plus, the transit system is ridiculously efficient. In Berlin, they really do show up when they say they will.

Big difference: apartments vs. houses, parks vs. backyards...
This is just an obvious observation but it's really true, they simply don't have houses in the city like we do in Toronto. Here it feels like you could be in the suburbs, except you're downtown. And as a result of having apartments there aren't really backyards like there are here. So everyone goes to the park. So on the weekends, parks were packed with people of all walks of life. Teenagers, families, old men playing chess, hipsters, eccentric folks doing the Thriller dance... It was nice.

Berlin is super colourful
Berlin is a moderately new city when it comes to much of their architecture, because of the war and so much of it being destroyed. And they take the plainest buildings and spruce them up using COLOUR. Berlin really loves colour. It was awesome.

Toronto is a really friendly city
I'm not saying that Berlin wasn't... but it was different. There is something that you can't help but feel, something hanging in the air at times in Berlin. You are surrounded by the history which is so dark and awful and the people have truly risen above it all, but it's strange knowing that you're surrounded by that kind of energy. And while Berlin feels really loose and relaxed as a city, and we did meet some really nice people, somehow I couldn't always say the same thing for the people of Berlin.

Houseswapping has its pros and cons for sure. I would do it again but if any of you were considering doing a houseswap, ask me about it and I would be happy to give you some tips. I will spare you the nasty details but we had a few issues with the person we swapped with -- and he had WAY more issues with us. Oh well, it all makes for a funny story in the end... which I would be more than happy to recount to you sometime!

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I could see myself spending more time in Berlin. I could even see myself living there for a while. Or even more ideally, I would love to do this 3-month sabbatical in a new place every year. But there's something to be said about coming home. Seeing familiar faces, sitting in your favourite spots in the park, being able to speak the language, knowing where to get a good chocolate chip cookie, sleeping in your own bed, and knowing friends are just around the corner. I'm happy to be home and all the cozy feelings that come along with it.