"Cities have a certain thing that they're known for. Vancouver, it's the beauty. Halifax, it's the good time, party atmosphere, I think. But what is Toronto?" wonders the Vancouverite.
"I'd like to think it's the multiculturalism. The amalgamation of everybody. That's the beauty of Toronto," says Julia Dimon, Esrock's co-host on OLN's Word Travels. "You can go out and get Ethiopian one night and Persian the next."
Counters Esrock, "But you can do that in a lot of cities."
Dimon is on the hunt for a tennis outfit to wear to a Ping Pong party. This is just the excuse she needed to squire Esrock around Kensington Market, one of her favourite parts of her hometown. Dimon, a Cabbage-town girl, is keen to impress: Not only does Esrock come from a city where Toronto can be considered a dirty word, he's been everywhere (often with her to film Word Travels). Will Esrock think well of Hogtown?
Not at first. "I don't know if I'm cold or hungover," he complains. Born in South Africa, he is not used to the chill of these climes.
Don't sympathize just yet. The travel writer's hangover is his payment for a night on the town with a clutch of female bartenders who took a shine to him and decided to show him a good time at Amber in Yorkville. This was just one more episode in a charmed life. When he was 30, Esrock was hit by a car. Granted, that was a bad day, but with a $20,000 settlement in hand, he quit his hated job in the music business and started travelling around the world. The rambunctious Esrock has been gallivanting across continents ever since, paying his way as a travel writer.
Esrock and Dimon were circumnavigating the globe in opposite directions a couple of years ago when they met one night in Turkey. Esrock convinced Dimon, also a travel writer (she has a column in Metro), to ignore a deadline and join him on an evening cruise. They hatched a concept over drinks: a TV show that follows travel writers on assignment. The pitch worked. Esrock and Dimon recently returned from a 13-week trip to film the first season, which took them from New Zealand to Latvia and everywhere in between.
Travel can strain a friendship, but Esrock and Dimon are at ease with each other as they comb the aisles at Exile. "This is a really cool store, I've got to give it to you," Esrock says. "I'm giving you props for it." Silly clothes are a luxury, explains Dimon, when one is accustomed to living out of a backpack.
A couple of vintage clothing stores later, Dimon has had no luck finding a tennis outfit. She's ready to head into a coffee shop to warm up. Besides, she's done her job: Esrock has been wowed by Kensington. "We don't have anything like this," he raves. "We've got the vintage stores but they sell stupid, overpriced, ridiculous stuff," plus they're scattered around Vancouver. Now that he's seen Kensington, Yorkville, Queen West and the bars on Ossington, Esrock feels he's "had enough of an experience to justify an article" about Toronto for one of his clients.
Dimon's strawberry smoothie at Shai's Cafe on Baldwin is a big improvement over the moriche worm she had to eat in Venezuela (the trick, she says, is to rip off the head first). Comforts of home aside, her feet are starting to itch again. As a travel addict, Dimon says, "You're always looking at the paper for travel deals. It's hard to stay put in one spot."
Adds Esrock, "I go f---ing insane."
- Word Travels airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on OLN.