the travels & travails of an escaped lab rat


I was born in Toronto. I grew up and went through the public school system in Toronto. I met my oldest friends in Toronto. My parents, sister, and some members of my extended family still live in Toronto.

Returning to Toronto is literally coming home.

No matter where in the world I might be at any given time, I find myself subconsciously comparing my surroundings to whatever the closest Torontonain equivalent might be. And while Toronto may not always come out on top in these many comparisons, it still remains a yardstick by which I measure my globe-trotting experiences.

Toronto has a bit of a self-image issue, though.

Despite Toronto being the largest population centre in Canada (and the fifth largest in North America), Torontonians — or at least the politicians ostensibly in control of Toronto — seem to constantly want to sell themselves on how “world-class” their city is.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Toronto and all of its wonderful neighbourhoods, parks, hidden gems, and cultural spots. But in my mind, if you’re truly world-class and all that, you certainly wouldn’t need to go around telling people. They’d already know, right?

Personally, it doesn’t matter to me if Toronto is world-class or not. The people are great, the diverse foods and cultures on display are readily accessible, and generally it’s a clean and safe place to go about your business (or leisure). The climate is relatively mild (compared to the rest of Canada), and the standard of living is high enough that I can reasonably expect to get whatever I’m looking to find.

Toronto is one of the most cosmopolitan and international cities in the world, with over 49% of its 6 million plus inhabitants originally born outside of Canada. Founded as the Town of York in 1793, it was incorporated as Toronto in 1834, and has since evolved into one of the world’s first “megacities” when the five surrounding municipalities (East York, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, and York) were amalgamated with Toronto to form the new City of Toronto in 1998.

Toronto’s cultural diversity make for great eating. Whatever cuisine you’re in the mood for you’ll find it, and in whatever price range you desire. Greasy spoon Mexican? Check. Upscale fine Italian? Yup. Run-of-the-mill pan-Asian? You betcha.

Toronto is also one of the largest cities in the world by area, with an urban core covering 630 square kilometres and its metropolitan area spreading across 1749 square kilometres. Frankly, I’m still discovering places and things in Toronto that are new to me but have, in fact, been around for ages.

I’ve travelled quite a bit in my time, and though I’ve been to bigger cities, more modern cities, more beautiful cities, more historic cities, and more “world-relevant” cities, I keep coming back to this city.

Toronto will always be home.

I suppose you could say it smacks of overcompensation…

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Monaco: Monte Carlo

Monaco’s largest (and only) city is Monaco. The principality is, in actuality, a city-state.

Monaco-Ville and Monte Carlo (the two names suggested most often when one is asked, “what’s the main city in Monaco called?” are two of the currently ten wards (an 11th was announced but plans for its construction are currently on hold) that make up the city.

For all intents, most people concern themselves with the four traditional quarters of Monaco: Monaco-Ville, the old city on the rocky promontory (Le Rocher) extending into the Mediterranean; La Condamine, the second oldest ward, famous for its wide harbour (the Port of Hercules) and the egregiously expensive yachts that moor there; Fontvieille, a ward constructed in the 1970s on land reclaimed from the sea; and Monte Carlo, the principal residential and resort area of Monaco.

Monte Carlo is where you’ll find the Golden Circle — home to the old Casino, the Hôtel de Paris, the Café de Paris,  the Opéra de Monte-Carlo, and storefronts for every major luxury-brand that’s been lucky enough to squeeze out a toehold in the area surrounding these landmarks.

If you think “luxury and glamour” when you think of Monaco, odds are the picture you have in mind is of Monte Carlo.

Architecturally very much in the Belle Époque style, Monte Carlo is quite beautiful during the day. But it’s at night when the place becomes magical.

The Casino and Opera of Monte Carlo were both designed by Charles Garnier.

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Monaco - Harbour - Port of Hercules (2009) pano++Monaco - Hotel de Paris (2009) pano++Monaco - Casino (2009) pano++Monaco - Casino - Side (2009) pano++Monaco - Casino - Rear (2009) pano++Monaco - Golden Circle (2009) pano++Monaco - Golden Circle - Night (2009) pano++Monaco - Casino and Hotel de Paris - Night (2009) pano++

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