First, a thousand apologies; I have been meaning to write this for a couple of months now. However, as much as I enjoyed writing about my travels, it seems I’m not that motivated when it comes to writing about my non-travels. So I just kept putting it off to tomorrow, to next week, to next month, even though some people contacted me to ask if I had died at Oktoberfest or somehow earned myself an all-inclusive extended stay in a Bavarian jail.
After all, how exciting is this picture of me stocking up at Costco? (European and Asian friends, think of the Hypermarket version of Carrefour)
So, what is the situation? I was in fact on break for an undetermined duration, and in some ways, I still am. I never wrote about financial matters, but the truth is that I built a small business on the side while I was living the office dream. It mostly sustains me even if I don’t work, but forces a modest lifestyle which limits my ability to visit places like Antarctica (I would add Space, but I’ll wait until Virgin Galactic sort out their technical difficulties). So my plan is to start another business, one which I eventually hope be able to detach myself from and travel, probably not full-time, but more or less at will.
So I did spend a lot of time in Ottawa developing my business concept, but when I say I stopped travelling after Oktoberfest, that is not quite accurate. In fact, I went to a few places I never wrote about. Try and guess which exotic destination I visited recently.
Leaves have fallen off the trees. Lots of cars but no pedestrians in sight. Very little signage in English. Of course, there is only one possible answer, I was in suburban Toronto. More specifically, driving along Yonge Street, widely but mistakenly known as “the longest street in the world”, extending nearly 1,900 km from downtown Toronto all the way to the Michigan border. In fact, while you can drive the whole length of that, at some point it becomes Highway 11 and to keep calling it “Yonge Street” makes no sense at all. But it still extends a good 56 km into vast expanses of row houses and McMansions, where not long ago vegetables grew around small towns and villages.
With a population of 5.6 million, the Greater Toronto Area is one of the largest urban centres in North America. It is also one – if not the – most diverse, with over half of the residents born outside Canada. While French is one of the two official languages of Canada, in Toronto it is the mother tongue of only 1.1% of the population, the same as Gujarati, but behind – in order – English, Cantonese, Italian, Chinese (not specified), Punjabi, Spanish, Tagalog, Urdu, Tamil, Portuguese, Mandarin, Persian, Russian, Polish and Arabic (with Korean, Vietnamese and Greek probably catching-up to French soon). Since many ethnic groups concentrate in certain areas, don’t be surprised if you look at suburban storefronts and have no idea what kind of businesses they are (unless you read the neighbourhood’s dominant language, of course).
Also in Toronto, I learned the usefulness of pay phones: you can lean on them when making a call.
But before heading to Toronto, I left Munich for Barcelona, to attend La Mercè Festival.I wanted to witness this kind of crazy stuff.
But unfortunately, I was there early in the week and the events I wanted to attend were taking place on the week-end, so all I got was the crazy crowds. It strangely reminded me of the Beijing subway. That is one of the biggest problems I experienced with full-time travel; it is so damned difficult to get the schedule right all the time. Nevertheless, I hoped I could take advantage of the fact that most people were here for the festival and visit one of the most unusual and spectacular churches in the world, the Sagrada Família. When I first visited Barcelona, the line to buy tickets went around 3 city blocks. Continue reading