Toronto, Canada - Feb 23, 2003

Chapter 1 - Winter in Toronto

The preparation for my departure in April is going much better than I anticipated. Most of the paperwork and vaccinations have been taken care of. I decided to get a Carnet de Passages en Douane now, even though it's not necessary for South America. I think it would be more work to get one while on the road, and this document will be needed for some African countries and Asia. It will also ease (I hope so) the border formalities even if a Carnet is not required.

The Carnet is an international document aimed at easing border crossings with a vehicle. Some countries charge an importation fee when you enter, which can be more than 100% of the vehicle's value. When you exit the country you can then get the money back, but to avoid this hassle, you can use a Carnet which is a guarantee that you're not selling the bike and thus avoiding the importation fee. Of course, this guarantee doesn't come free and you need to leave a deposit for the liability you're incurring through the countries that require the Carnet. This is usually the maximum importation fee that you'll encounter. Instead of deposit for which you're not going to earn interest, you can leave a letter of credit issued by your bank, and you leave the deposit with the bank and can earn interest. This is what I did, and when I return to Canada I can cancel this letter once I discharge the Carnet. You can find more information about Carnets here.

Back in September, when I announced my trip for April this year, I had lost my job, but started to look for another, while at the same time also planning this trip. For a few months there was nothing on the job market, and only now there seem to be more offerings. But a few weeks ago I decided to stop looking, because not only wouldn't I find an employer knowing that I'm leaving in April, as I also don't have a lot of time now with all the planning.

Winter in Toronto can be depressing. First there are the shorter days, then there are the very cold days and it takes courage to leave the house, and the city looses much of its virbrant nature that exists in the summer. So, in some ways this winter wasn't an exception, but I tried to keep occupied by getting all the paperwork done, getting all the stuff I need, working on this website and looking for information on the internet. But there's also other things I can do, like going shopping during the week, and trying to take some pictures.

Here in Toronto, I do a lot of my shopping in Kensington Market, which is a neighbourhood just west of Spadina Avenue and south of College Street. The area is a loose collection of groceries, bulk food stores, health food stores, bakeries and second hand clothes. Most of the groceries are cheaper than at large grocery markets, and the bulk food makes it easier to buy smaller quantities. I live about a 15 minute bike ride from the Market and it's the best way to get there, specially on Saturday's, when the streets
A grocery store on Kensington Market.
of Toronto are clogged by cars, that move slower than a snail's pace. Well, in the winter it's difficult to ride my motorcycle, because of the intense cold and snow. So, the motorbike is in storage since October. You might think that riding a bicycle would be harder, but it's not too bad, even in -20°C. All it takes is using a layer system to dress up, good wool socks and gloves. The worst isn't the cold; it's the slush of snow, water and street mud when the temperature is around 0°C. The slush sprays all over the place and I don't like to have my jacket sprayed with muck, because I don't want to clean it every week. But riding my motorbike through muck is not a problem. That is fun :)

Besides spending my time now on planning and packing, I have a lot of time to cook. I love to cook and also to invent new recipes, that not always turn out ok. Cooking at home also has the advantage of reducing my costs and I have so
Marzipan balls covered in chocolate in the centre of the plate.
much dry food items at home that not even in 6 months I would finish all. Some of the stuff I cook are pastry items, because I have a sweet tooth and I love to bake. The marzipan (or almond paste) balls in the picture don't require a lot of time to do and are so good. I here include the recipe. The original recipe is from a friend of mine, Pernilla. It is also a vegan recipe, as I am vegan. A vegan person is someone who doesn't eat or use any animal product. This includes dairy and eggs. And no, fish is not a vegetable. I know that this will make my trip more difficult, but I think it'll be more of a challenge. I have been a vegan for more than 2 years and it's not as difficult as one may think.

Recipe for marzipan balls covered in chocolate

Marzipan (Almond paste)
  • 2 cups blanched almonds
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 3-4 tbsp of water
Chocolate cover
  • 100 g of dairyless dark chocolate
  • 2 tbsp of coconut cream or butter
  • coconut shreds (optional)
  1. Ground the almonds in a blender until powdery.
  2. Add the icing sugar to the ground almonds and restart blending. Add 3 or 4 tablespoons of water until the mix starts forming a paste like dough.
  3. Remove the marzipan dough from the blender.
  4. Melt the chocolate with the coconut cream in a double boiler on the stove. Stir occasionally.
  5. While the chocolate is melting, scoop small chunks of almond paste, the size of a spoon and roll with both hands into small spheres. You can also add creativity by forming small animals or snowmen.
  6. Place the formed marzipan balls or figures onto a tray big enough to fit into the freezer.
  7. When the chocolate is completely melted, turn off the heat, and pick a few marzipan balls at a time and dunk them into the melted chocolate, carefully rolling them, so they get completely covered.
  8. Remove the covered marzipan balls with a spoon and place them back on the tray. Repeat until all the marzipan balls or the chocolate is exhausted.
  9. Optionally, you can sprinkle coconut shreds on the freshly covered marzipan balls.
  10. Instead of dunking the marzipan balls completely in chocolate, you can also just dip them halfway in to create a black and white effect.
  11. Place the tray into the freezer for at least 15 minutes. Remove and transfer the marzipan balls and figures into a container with a cover.
  12. Return the container to the freezer. The marzipan balls will store for a long time, but they will probably be eaten before then. Serve directly from the freezer.

In January and most of February we had very cold weather, to remind us here in Toronto of the Canadian winter. By cold I mean something like -18°C and a lot of wind, dropping the perceived temperature to something like -30°C. We also had days of -25°C, without the wind factor, and on such a day I went out of my home to take a few pictures. On very cold days it's normal that the air is so clear that you can see for miles and miles and it looks very deceiving from inside a warm house. Once outside, the cold air immediately started to form ice inside my nose. Yeah, you read that right. And initially it's quite diffcult to breath, because of the coldness. Well, I got as far as a small park here in the neighbourhood and took this photo.
View of the CN Tower from McCormick park close to home.
Then, my hands and face were starting to freeze and I returned home, before I stopped feeling my fingers. As you can see in the picture, it looks nice and crisp, but it was very cold with at least -25°C. Such days are not that common here in Toronto, but this year we had at least two weeks like that.

Today, we had a fresh dump of snow, maybe 20cm. Everything is white outside and it's supposed to drop to -30°C tonight. Just Friday we had a warm day. One of those days at the end of winter that fools us into a false sense of spring. Well, after five years here in Toronto I should know better. We're still up for a few more snowstorms until April.

On Friday night I also went outside to take advantage of the good weather conditions. The sky was relatively clear and Jupiter and Saturn could be seen with the naked eye, but I wanted to get a first glimpse through the telescope. First, I looked at Jupiter, which was high in the sky, east of Orion, within Cancer. Jupiter was a very bright sight. It's a big, yellow and very bright disk. I immediately noticed two bright dots to the left and two more on the right. These were obviously the 4 large moons of Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Calisto. After a while I also noticed two brown bands crossing Jupiter's disk, north and south of its equator. I didn't see any more detail, as I didn't have a filter.

After Jupiter, I pointed the telescope to Saturn and even with its lowest magnification, 25×, I could clearly see a ring around Saturn's yellowish disk. With more magnification, it was amazing. The rings were clearly separate from the planet, but Saturn's disk was much smaller than Jupiter's. This is mainly due to its enormous distance from the Earth. I also noticed two dots to the right of it. One was very faint and close, and the other was very bright and further away from the planet. I guess the bright dot was Titan, Saturn's largest moon. The smaller dot might have been either Tethys or Dione, as they are similar in size. Saturn can now be found just above Orion. It is a faint yellow disk. All other planets are now visible just before dawn.

Mars will become brighter each day until it reaches its maximum brightness on August 27, when it will be about 34.7 million km away, its closest approach to Earth for more than 59 thousand years! It will then shine brighter than Jupiter is now. It'll be easier to observe in the southern hemisphere and I plan to be somewhere in the Amazon by then, which is not the best place to be because of the potential clouds and rain.

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