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(Anna Trilling/Thinkstock)
(Anna Trilling/Thinkstock)

Markets, museums, gardens and galleries: my week as a hometown tourist Add to ...

The Weekly Challenge is a column that tackles self-improvement seven days at a time.

Why is it that we save our best selves for when we’re on our holidays? Our more curious, spontaneous, life-devouring alter egos that go back into hiding the moment the plane touches down or the car turns back into the driveway. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I explored flea markets, saw concerts, visited local landmarks and strolled along the Mighty Mississippi.

I live in a neighbourhood in Toronto where art galleries practically outnumber people. In theory, this should be amazing. In reality, I often feel guilty when I walk by. Given any free time, I’ll be found poking around in the backyard, watching TV or drinking on the same patio that my friends and I have gone to for almost a decade.

With my sister’s boyfriend visiting from Ireland, the timing was perfect to break free from the shackles of predictability and take advantage of everything my city has to offer, which is how I found myself boarding a double-decker bus last Friday – step one in my quest to be a tourist in my own town.

Most people think bus tours are an incredibly cheesy thing to do. Not so. Sure, they’re tourist traps and probably aren’t going to bring you to any hidden gems, but they’re also a great way to get your bearings in a new city, or (in my case), to see a city you take for granted from a fresh perspective. (Will I lose all credibility if I admit that from my second-story perch, Yonge-Dundas Square looked kind of glamorous?) Barrelling up the street with the sun beating down, the whole city sparkled. (Sort of like a boy I had never looked at in that way before, but now that I was looking, he was pretty darned hot.)

Exploits in urban island hopping

Seeking out some slightly less obvious activities, I turned to my community of Facebook friends. A visit to the Toronto Island was the most popular suggestion, so the next day we hopped on our bikes (the out-of-towners rented Bixies) and headed for the ferry dock. I have lived in Toronto for almost all of my adult life and haven’t made this excursion since I was young enough to think the log ride at Centre Island was terrifying. I always thought “Oh, I’ll get around to it at some point.” Having recently completed last week’s challenge regarding not putting things off, I felt satisfied and invigorated. So much so that I didn’t even mind the insane crowd at the loading dock (our island adventure coincided with the 24th annual International Dragon Boat Race Festival).

Generally speaking, I am a reluctant urban cyclist – paranoid or perhaps rightly terrified of being doored or clipped or worse. Cruising the beautiful and car-free trails of Ward’s Island, I felt like I was 12 years old. I even let go of the handlebars – a feat not attempted since my bike had a Strawberry Shortcake motif. We stopped to have a drink by the water, took a peek at the nude beach (one challenge at a time, people) and enjoyed the too-good-to-be-true weather. It was a fantastic and memorable day, worthy of a journal entry (something I only do when on holiday).

Postcards from the park

Of course, at some point real life had to rear its ugly head, but heading into the workweek I vowed to continue viewing my city as an eager and curious outsider. Instead of heading straight home after a writing session at a neighbourhood café, I popped into a couple of the aforementioned, guilt-inducing art galleries.

That night, my boyfriend and I packed a picnic and headed over to see the opening night of Shakespeare in High Park. This is the type of thing we would do without hesitation if it were Central Park and we were visiting NYC – and really what better way to spend a midsummer night’s eve? I felt like writing my mom a postcard.

The next day I had plans to meet up with a friend. Normally we would convene on that patio for a glass of wine. Instead I got her to meet me at the AGO where we walked through the spectacular Picasso exhibit. I bought a print of my favourite painting because 1) I loved it and 2) I wanted a souvenir of my city staycation. And then we went for a glass of wine. There’s nothing wrong with ritual and routine, but every once in a while, it’s a good idea to view your home turf with the wide eyes we tend to reserve for far-off places.


Reader responses

“The parking fees in Vancouver just kill you, thanks to Vision Vancouver and TransLink!”

Ken Lawson

“Bar hopping, one per saloon ...”

Joyce Wheldrake

“If you visit Toronto, I strongly encourage you to leave the car at the hotel or at the GO station and take the TTC. There’s no better or easier way to move around the neighbourhoods or to visit the different sites. And if you stand on a street corner, with a map, for longer than 30 seconds, don’t be surprised if people offer to help, or even take you to where you are going.”

Cindy DesGrosseilliers

The next challenge

Bite your tongue. This week, try to be the most well-mannered, cuss-free version of yourself. That means no swearing (not even a darn or a single h-e-double-hockey-sticks). Sign up at fb.com/globelifestream to let us know how it went.

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