Monday, 17 February 2014

First day in Toronto

Saturday 15 February

I'm jet-lagged and wake up before 5:00.  I decide to get up and walk the 500 metre to the supermarket Sobey's — open 24 hours per day — to buy breakfast.  Weird to enter a supermarket at 5:30 in the morning.  It's a luxurious supermarket with a lot of fresh produce and a wide selection of milk, including some in plastic bags.  The products are not cheap.

“Would you like a bag tonight?”.  Apparently it's still night.

After breakfast, assembling the bicycle.  During the night and morning I was nervous because I wasn't sure if I had taken off the thing that attaches the seatpost to the frame.  It wasn't on when I took the bicycle out, so unless I took it off and stored it safely, it was gone.  Fortunately I found it in my box.

Removing the cable ties that tie the handle bar to the frame.  No scissors in the apartment, nor any sharp knives.  An unexpected setback.  Finally I succeed in using one of the apartment knives to saw through the zipties.  The last one is tricky because it's near the brake lever, and I don't want to damage that one, in particularly not the hydraulic tube.  But here too I succeed.  Everything seems fine.

At 7, it suddenly gets light.  So fast it goes.

It's great to get on a bicycle, but I need a map first.  I'm one block off the map that I bought in Amsterdam, and the Amsterdam map doesn't show bicycle trails.  There exists a dedicated map but I don't have it.  It's available at “civic centres, libraries, community centres, and speciality stores”.  I prepared a Google Maps printout showing where in the neighbourhood those are.  Initially I don't find it, but later I do.

It's too early to go to any of those places.  None will open before 9 on this Saturday.  Just before 9 I'm in the local “community centre”, which is apparently a sports hall with a swimming pool and related services.  Inside the building is also the tiniest librare I've ever seen, perhaps 20 m² in total.  I ask for the map.  “We don't have it yet.  Maybe in spring time.”.  Am I odd to want a cycling map in February?  It's such nice weather outside, -10°C with sunshine and not much wind...

On to the civic centre, the former town hall of East York before it got merged into Toronto.  Before I find the civic centre I find the much larger library next to it.  The lady at the desk reports that they are out of copies for the bicycle map, but that I can take a look at the reference copy and make copies.  But to make copies I need a library card, to get a library card I need to be a member, to become a member I need two pieces of identification, that I didn't bring.  Finally the librarian hands me an older copy of the bicycle map.  Problem solved!

After some resting at home, my next errand is to open a bank account.  I identified the Meridian Credit Union as a good place to become a member and open a chequing account.  It's a nice bike ride to get there in the morning sun, passing over several wooded valleys.

There are no other customers when I enter the branch of Meridian on this Saturday morning.  The person at the desk asks if I have an appointment.  “We have only one advisor available at the moment,” she says after I ask to open an account, “but take a seat and someone will be with you shortly.  Would you like some coffee?”.

“Normally, you need a credit history to become a member of the credit union and open an account.  Since you are new in Canada, you don't have any yet.  I will enter your information in the system, but your membership is subject to management approval.”.  I need to phone back on Tuesday to hear if it is approved.  How is one supposed to get a credit history, if anything that can be used to build up a credit history requires one to have one already?  Seems weird.

Next, on to the store with the most attractive-sounding name of all: Everywhere Maps and Globes.  Along the lovely Beltline trail with its compressed snow.  It's a rail trail and not through any of the ravines.  Why are there so few people cycling on a day as nice as this?

The well-hidden store Everywhere Maps&Globes is small and doesn't stock nearly as much as other map speciality stores, but the owner makes up for that in service and expertise.  I spend quite a while there chatting, browsing, and listening to other customers, and I don't think I've ever been to a mapstore where the owner was such a map geek.  That's what I like: buy maps at stores run by map geeks, bicycle components at stores run by bicycle geeks, etc.  When I inquire about Jeju Island, he first corrects my pronunciation, then says — oh dear, South Korea is a strange, strange country when it comes to mapping.  In other stores, I'd more than likely have gotten the response: “Where is that?”.  All he can do for South Korea is a custom print based on National Geographic information.  For the region, of course, he has everything, including maps that combine a city map with topographic information.  This is certainly a store where I will return.

I have lunch in a small bakery near Everywhere Maps & Globes, a sandwich with cheese and lettuce.  It's not terribly good but the place is nice.

Now south to the city centre, down Forest Hill.  This does look like a very expensive neighbourhood.  It's a good route for cycling, though, and it won't be the last time I'm here.

The closer I get to the heart of Toronto, the more stressful the cycling becomes.  Most of the streets in central Toronto have several lanes, either 2+2 or one-directional 2-lanes.  Cars drive fast and there is not much space for cyclists.  Here, one has to be careful.

The World's Biggest Bookstore is in Toronto.  But it's closing.  I go inside and indeed, they do have a lot of books.

Next stop: Urbane Cyclist.  This is a bike store I love.  They have good quality stuff, when I mention Rohloff they say, “of course we stock Rohloff”, and they clearly are touring cyclists themselves too.  I left my old, crappy, broken panniers in Sweden and buy some proper Ortliebs here.  I also buy a thick chain lock because I think my existing lock is not enough.

In the twilight, then the dark, I ride back along the Martin Goodman trail (along the shore of Lake Ontario), then on the Don Valley trail.  The Martin Goodman trail is cleared of snow, the Don Valley trail is not, so I ride on the packed snow while it's getting dark.  My bicycle light is not working.  After I get home I have dinner in the Golden Pizza restaurant next to my apartment.  I sleep early.

Cycling in Toronto

Cycling in Toronto works fine, but it's a bit tricky.  There is on-street parking even on many through-streets, which seem to have four lanes, but parking is allowed on the outer lane.  But often long stretches of those lanes have nobody parked there, and cars can drive.  When cycling there I need to be careful, because I might come across a parked car at any time, and then I need to swing to the left — to the lane with all the through-traffec.  That's risky.

There's a skeleton of bicycle routes through the city.  They're OK to follow, but often blocked by snow, or cars, or both.  Places where cars are parked are not cleared of snow, and the next car may park even further from the sidewalk, blocking even more of the bikepath.  I'm often forced to swing onto the road.  That's risky.

Some major intersections are not easily navigable by bicycle.  The solution is to get off and walk.  It works.

Various notes

So far, I have identified three victims of the moving:
  • The power cable for my external hard disk is physically broken
  • My front bicycle light is not working.  I hope it's not the hub.  Maybe it's something obvious but I don't see anything obvious.  If it is the light, it might need replacing in the worst case.  Just money but foolish that I didn't protect it better.
  • My scale indicates 0 at all times.
If that is all, then it's not too bad.  But I haven't inspected the boxes shipped with FedEx yet.

Switching on the stove caused the kitchen light to go off.  I think.  I'm not quite sure.  It's not a fuse because the stove is still working, even if very, very slowly.

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