I love maps. The best maps expand like origami from the palm of my hand to the size of an atlas that identifies each street by name. Maps are beautiful works of functional art that help me find my place by observing what is around me. I could probably find what I’m looking for faster on my smartphone for a few scrolling minutes, but I prefer the crinkled paper that needs to be rotated to my current position based on the intersection that I find myself in that very moment. Sometimes my maps are double-sided with a detailed downtown section and public transit route. Laminated, color-coded, and portable; I can navigate just about anywhere in a metropolis without having to default to a device that operates on battery percentages and service bars. As we set foot on the elevated pathways above the streets of Toronto, I found a park bench to consult my map.
We are simple travelers who delight in discovery. Our hobbies include finding great places to eat, exploring the outdoors, and settling in at local bookstores with board games. In the Historic Distillery District, the flurried streets of Toronto transition into a pedestrian-only cobblestone neighborhood of specialty shops and restaurants. We peeked inside galleries and amused our imaginations with the knick-knacks and customized designer shoes on display. It is here that we conclude our window shopping with a bowl of ramen and sweet potato fries at Boku Noodle to satisfy our appetites.
Map in hand, we navigate the distance to the St. Lawrence Market to see where local Torontonians get their groceries. The grapes and strawberries are so much smaller than the fruit we normally eat from our superstore grocery back home that we know the produce is fresh from the fields. The meat looked like it had just been walking yesterday and homemade noodles rolled directly through a pasta machine into the hands of customers. The scent of warm bread pulled us toward a baker arranging baked goods just out of the oven. Derek chose an apple cinnamon croissant for us to share and we clumsily fiddled with our unfamiliar Canadian coins to pay the vendor. As we savored each bite of the sweet bread, our feet suggested that we take the trolley to the other side of town.
I took comfort in counting the number of stops from St. Lawrence to Chinatown where we had marked an X on the map for the Snakes & Lattes Board Game Café like a treasure chest hidden at the end of a dotted line. We complete the quest on foot until we are standing in front of the floor to ceiling bookcases filled with board games. Time winded down as we immersed ourselves in hours of strategy, trivia, and dexterity from the game library. Our favorite game called “Riff Raff” consisted of a simple mechanism with a ship weighted by a swaying pendulum that we balanced wooden pieces of cargo on pegs much like a game of Jenga. Riff Raff was replayed countless times with silly anticipation for which one of us could get away with stacking the most wooden pieces and who would lose them all.
We don’t need to see everything in a city like crazy chickens who sightsee all of the recommended tourist activities. In the few days that we explored Toronto, our main attractions included seeing the Blue Jays play the Boston Red Sox twice and a date night at Second City’s improv show where we cackled at Canadians poking fun at American politics. I remember more from the ten miles of meandering around the city with my map than I would had I relied on Siri’s Point A to Point B directions all day long. I’ll pass on the theme park, zoo, and elevator ride to the top of CN tower for navigating the neighborhoods with a camera around my neck and a map in hand.