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Travel

With school receding quickly in the rear view mirror of my mind, I loaded up the 10-foot u-Haul truck and, along with my brother and co-pilot, plotted a course eastward for Toronto.

Nearly 2200 kilometers away, our journey would take us two days.

Two… Long… Days.

The purpose of our trip was to transport a bed, dresser, night table, clothes and cookbooks to my new abode in the Big Smoke. It would be there where I’d hang my cook’s cap whilst completing my second work placement (required to complete my culinary arts diploma).

In a curious bit of symmetry, my brother and I made a similar journey two-and-half years earlier, except we were heading westward that time, from Ottawa to Winnipeg.

Here I was, so many months later — no longer a disillusioned political hack, but a still-wet-behind-the-ears culinary grad — making the journey in reverse.

Knowing we had so many hours ahead of us, and with only so many hours of daylight on our side, we made the painful decision to depart Winnipeg at 5 a.m. on Monday morning. Like so many tough decision, it proved to be a wise one.

By 7 a.m., we were cruising past Kenora; by 9, refuelled and caffeinated, Dryden (the “proud home of Chris Pronger,” by the way) was behind us. Emboldened, we set our sights on Thunder Bay — and lunch at its infamous Hoito.

***

Thunder Bay: Superior by Nature.

True, geographically speaking. Debatable, otherwise.

Nevertheless, we pulled into the Lakehead around noon, on schedule, and proceeded through town to The Hoito. Serendipitously, we’d seen the place featured on the Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here! the night beforehand.

Was it a sign? Was it meant to be? Were they the “best pancakes in Canada?”

30 minutes late, the answer: no.

Still, we were fed, watered and ready for the next leg of our journey — and cautiously set our sights on Sault Ste. Marie, another 7 hours away.

***

Ah yes, the Soo. Never were we happier to see the welcome sign for a town than when we were pulling into the place at 9 p.m. that evening — a full 17 hours after we left Winnipeg.

Eyes blurry, butts sore, we refueled, then checked into Algoma’s Water Tower Inn and Suites, aptly named because of its proximity to, you guessed it, the city’s water tower.

Thankfully, the hotel’s adjoining Casey’s Restaurant and Lounge was still open, so we grabbed a quick bite and just sat, numb — at once pleased with ourselves for making it so far, and yet dreading yet another day on the road in our spartan 10-foot juggernaut.

Pushing through to Sault Ste. Marie, like our decision to leave Winnipeg before sunrise, had been taxing but wise. After all, we’d managed to avoid staying overnight in Wawa, Terrace Bay, or Marathon (which, incidentally, is “built on paper, laced with gold.”)

Rested, recharged, we set off at the lazy hour of 8 a.m., with our heads high and our sights set first on Sudbury, and then Toronto.

***

Of course, the downside to making this trip eastward, instead of westward, is the increasingly disappointing scenery the further east you go — glaringly obvious as you leave Sault Ste. Marie, away from the Great Lakes and glorious Canadian Shield, and approach the nickel belt.

Ugh.

On the plus side, however, the highways in and around Sudbury are first rate.

(Kudos to whomever was the political minister for the region who managed to strong-arm their Cabinet colleagues for the cash necessary to make those improvements. Undoubtedly you were rewarded by your constituents by being tossed out at the next election.)

***

By comparison, the second day was an easy one; we’d made such great progress on the first day of our journey we only had a scant 7 hours to Toronto. Easy. And easy it was, albeit uninteresting.

Seriously, there isn’t much happening between Sudbury south to Toronto — though we did have the (dis)pleasure of passing Tony Clement Country™ (a.k.a., Parry Sound–Muskoka).

Groan.

So nice to see that money from the G8 summit spent so well and so wisely. Atta boy, Tony!

***

At around 2 in the afternoon, something happened: the landscape no longer rocks and trees, but concrete and steel; the horizon, once endless and blue, now closing in and oh-so-cluttered.

There she was: the Big Smoke.

By God, we’d made it. 26 hours of driving and 2200 kilometers later, we’d arrived in Toronto.

It took another hour or so to actually get into Toronto, mind you.

Driving a rented truck with an engine retarder that prevented us from travelling at more than 120 kilometers per hour didn’t help much either, as cars whizzed past us on the 401, undoubtedly furious at us bumpkins inexperienced on these #bigcityfreeways. (It wasn’t us! It was the engine! Honest!) Nevertheless, we’d made it.

One journey over, another about to begin.

After one of the longest stints grounded in recent memory, I was up in the air this weekend, in the big smoke, the T-dot, the centre of the universe, Toronto.

The purpose of this brief sojourn was threefold: inspect the apartment I’ll be calling home this coming summer; firm up plans for my second co-operative work placement (the final requirement of Red River College’s culinary arts program); and, lastly but not leastly, have a bit of fun.

And oh, what fun I had!

Indeed, I was fortunate enough to spend a better part of Sunday working the line during the brunch rush at Café Belong, alongside the resto’s chef de cuisine — who also just happens to be a dear friend from my days in Ottawa, and with whom I’ll be sharing an apartment this coming summer.

It was intense. I’m but a lamb in the woods when it comes to cookery. She’s a frickin’ lion.

Nevertheless, I had a blast — and can’t think of a better way to have spent a frigid Sunday in the Big Smoke.

What a weekend!

As I already mentioned, I made a quick trip to Chicago to attend a friend’s wedding this weekend. And even the fact I went straight to work from the airport upon returning to Winnipeg, hangover still lingering in my head, didn’t diminish the sheer delightfulness of it all.

What wasn’t to like about the past 36 hours?

Great food.

As always, Chi-town didn’t disappoint: a fantastic rehearsal dinner at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak and Snow Crab; a quick breakfast at Rick Bayless’ fantastic short-order Mexican joint, XOCO; a surprisingly wicked Moroccan lamb burger at Sable; and, best of all, an absolutely stunning dinner at the wedding itself.

Great weather.

Sure it was hot and humid and the risk of showers ever present, but, for a better part of the day on Saturday, we were able to take in the sights and sounds of the Magnificent Mile and the even more magnificent Millennium Park without a drop.

Heck, I even managed to squeeze in a quick visit to the Art Institute and, along the way, glimpsed Seward Johnson’s latest sculpture along Michigan Avenue.

Great times with old friends.

The best part of all.

On the heels of nine straight days working, I find myself sitting in the international departures lounge of Winnipeg’s James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.

No, I’m not fleeing the country for a non-extraditing South American refuge. I’m off to Chicago for a friend’s wedding. And by my count, I’ll be in the city — and what a city! — for no more than 36 hours.

Jaunt, indeed!

I’ve been to Chicago before. It’s a first-rate city and one of my favourites. Sadly, my tight schedule means I’ll have less time to sample the city’s remarkable culinary delights than I would have liked. (Alinea continues to elude me. Grumble.) Still, I’m hopeful I’ll have enough time to squeeze in a quick visit to the city’s eponymous Art Institute.

More to the point, and more importantly, I’m incredibly excited to witness my dear friend’s nuptials.

Chicago, here I come.

2010 has been a fantastic year.

And if I could summarize it with just one word, it would be this: travel.

Las Vegas not once, but twice. Twice to DohaQatar, too. Colorado, Kansas and Chicago. Summer through Spain and Morocco, in Paris, LondonEdinburgh, and Toronto, and across Ireland. Phew!

Along the way, I ate, I drank, I laughed and I loved.

And then, come the fall, I returned to school, to the kitchen, to chase down a dream.

Yes, 2010 was a pretty good year. And while I doubt 2011 will look anything like it, I’m hopeful it will be as exciting — replete with new sights, new sounds, new tastes, new adventures.

Onward.

Rounding out my two-month adventure was a weekend with dear friends in the marvelously medieval Edinburgh, capital of Scotland.

I opted for an East Coast Rail train from London. It should have been a pleasant, four-and-a-half-hour journey northward along the eastern coast. Unfortunately, in classically British fashion, the train broke down moments after leaving Kings Cross. (Had I not had the pleasure of efficient, fully-functioning trains in Spain, France, Ireland and, to a certain extent, even Morocco, I might have been more forgiving of this mechanical malfunction!) An hour and a new train later, however, I (and a car full of screaming children) were on our way out of London.

Thankfully, my time in Edinburgh was otherwise worry-free and altogether delightful.

Aside from the usual things one does with old friends (wine, dine, reconnect, reminisce), we took in the curious Jupiter Artland on the outskirts of town. A sizeable outdoor sculpture garden, it afforded us the opportunity for some air and culture at the same time. (Always a great combination.) While it obviously fell short of the splendours on offer at the Gardens of Versailles, it was a lovely little place all the same.

Also, worth noting: Edinburgh Castle. I’d had the opportunity to visit this spectacular site when I last visited the city in 2004. Unsurprisingly, little had changed; it was still the same, imposing grey fortress overlooking the city that it was six years ago.

The return train journey to London was, to be fair, much more pleasant than the journey up. Even if the train had malfunctioned, however, I suspect my recollection of the trip would have still been quite positive: I was travelling with two very good friends, both of whom had joined me in Edinburgh that weekend.

During our trip, we reflected on the weekend that had just been and concluded it was splendid. We’d spent it together at the home of our dear friend and, despite the rain and altogether dreary weather, were thrilled to have had the chance to make the trip.

For me, of course, the weekend in Edinburgh proved bittersweet: it was, after all, the final leg of a summer adventure that had begun in Barcelona nearly two months prior, taken me southward along the Spanish coast, across Morocco, to Paris, then London, westward across Ireland, back to London, before finally arriving in Edinburgh.

All in all, it was a remarkable ride; one I’m so very thankful to have taken. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend the summer!

After almost a week in the Emerald Isle, I returned to London, my friends’ lovely flat, and a readily-accessible laundry machine.

Like before, tourism wasn’t at the top of my agenda. No, again, I spent my time relaxing, recharging and reading. However, I did manage to squeeze in a few museums — and why not, since London has so many.

Top of my list: Sir John Soane’s Museum. What a gem! If you ever find yourself in London, I highly recommend this eclectic little number. You won’t be disappointed.

Also on tap: Tate Britain. (I figured, since I’d been to Tate Modern during my last stint in London, I ought to round out my tour of Tate with the one that started it all.)

Other than that, as before, I did precious little and was happy for it. Even better: by week’s end, I was ready for the final leg of my two-month adventure: Edinburgh.