A year in Toronto

View of the Toronto skyline from Toronto Island
View of the Toronto skyline from Toronto Island by Spencer Cappallo

Can it really have been a year since my husband and I landed in Toronto to start our new life here? In a way it feels like no time at all has passed. Despite the big move our lives have a rhythm that feels old and comfortable. We still wake up too early on weekdays and go to bed later than we should, we still cook the same meals, and we still snuggle up on the couch in the evening to watch Netflix.

And yet, our lives have changed quite a bit. Shortly after we moved to Toronto we flew back to Amsterdam for my husband’s graduation. At a party a friend commented on my husband’s new haircut and glasses, to which my husband responded, yep I’m just tearing it up, burn everything. In a way it does feel like we tore up and burnt the rule book of our old lives.

After all, Amsterdam and Toronto couldn’t be more different. Amsterdam is quintessentially European. Toronto is a big, North American city. Amsterdam has a population of 800,000, Toronto nearly 3 million. Amsterdam is wonky houses built in 1600 and tree lined canals. Toronto is skyscrapers and honking cars.

Our living situation has changed a lot too. In Amsterdam we were living in a tiny old, 50m2 apartment in the middle of the city, which was crammed to the rafters with our stuff. Now we live in a house, with a front and back yard, in the suburbs. Despite buying new furniture, our possessions seem to rattle around.

Being in the suburbs has been very different to our neighbourhood in Amsterdam. We lived in an up-and-coming, gentrifying area. Our street ran parallel to the neighbourhood’s main street, where Turkish supermarkets and shops selling cheap, practical items like mattresses, pots and pans, and suitcases, rubbed up against new cafes and bars. On Friday and Saturday night it wasn’t unusual to get woken up by loud drunk people leaving the bars after closing time. When we first moved into our house here, we immediately noticed how quiet the nights are. The only sound that ever wakes us up now is the dog, barking himself awake from a dream.

We’ve wanted a dog for a long time and though we contemplated the idea in Amsterdam, we knew we probably wouldn’t be settling there long-term and that our apartment would be too small and the walls too thin to accommodate a dog. Back in October last year, we finally decided to take the plunge and bringing Flake into our lives has changed things quite a bit. Long lazy walks through the city have been replaced with daily dog walks round our neighbourhood and walks in the woods at the weekend. At first having a dog felt like a major disruption to our routines. I no longer had time to read my book in the morning and all our free time seemed to be eaten up with dog walks and dog training. But over the last nine months we’ve started to adjust and having a dog has also bought with it a lot of cuteness, furry cuddles, and fun – among other things, Flake now provides our mealtime entertainment as he romps and rolls around on the rug with his toys.

If there’s one thing Amsterdam is known for, one thing a visitor can’t help but notice, it’s all those bikes: swarms of people on bikes, bikes chained to every available spot, and some rather creative bike parking solutions. In Amsterdam we cycled everywhere, to work, to the train station, to social events. Before we moved to Toronto we thought we would continue to cycle here and optimistically re-assembled our bikes when we arrived. Although cycling is fairly popular in Toronto (the 2016 census showed 6.9% of commutes are by foot or bike), it’s nothing like Amsterdam (one source suggests 48% of journeys are made by bike), and our suburban neighborhood is even worse. The only people we see cycling are young children riding on the sidewalk or Lycra clad weekend cyclists heading out into the surrounding countryside. The few bike lanes that exist are poorly planned and I’ve never seen anyone riding on them. The one time I tried cycling somewhere I was angrily honked at multiple times. All this to say, our bikes have spent the last year gathering dust (not helped by the fact that we had five months of cold, snowy, and icy winter). In place of a bike we get around by bus, train, and car, but we miss the freedom and exercise of two-wheeled transportation.

Winter was also an interesting transition. When we told people we were moving to Canada the first thing most people mentioned was the winter and how cold it would be. We nodded and explained that we like cold weather, we like snow and real winters. Turns out we like those things, but in moderation. This past winter was anything but moderate! It was five long months with an almost continual cover of snow and ice on the ground. Temperatures remained firmly below 0°C and plummeted as low as -27°C. Going outside (which we had to with an energetic puppy to walk!) meant layers of thermals, snow boots, a thick winter coat, a balaclava-hat-scarf combo, and two pairs of gloves. The plus side is that I now enjoy the warm days all the more, reveling in being outside in shorts and t-shirt and feeling the heat of the sun on my skin.

Moving to Toronto has been a very different experience from moving to Amsterdam, and not just because the two cities are so different. When we moved to Amsterdam it took me a long time to feel settled and happy there. Although I had a similarly long period of job hunting, I managed to avoid the unemployment blues in Toronto. Perhaps it was because we moved here in spring, whereas in Amsterdam our first months felt endlessly grey and wet. Perhaps it’s because Canada has been less of a culture shock and there hasn’t been a language barrier to overcome. Or perhaps it’s because we moved here with the intention of settling down. Amsterdam always felt like a temporary stopover, but Canada is a place we hope to make our home. A lot has changed in the last year. It still feels like we have a long way to go. But that’s okay, sometimes settling in takes a while and what’s a year when there are many more to come?

You might also like to read my blog post about my first year in Amsterdam.

4 thoughts on “A year in Toronto”

  1. This is lovely. Whilst I have only the tiniest experience of moving far away from home (and not as far as Toronto or even Amsterdam!) I can totally relate to the upheaval of suddenly having a dog in the house – we get our evening entertainment that way too. So glad you feel settled and have found a home there.

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