North America 2013: Toronto

Travel began for real when I left the familar environs of Vancouver for bustling cosmpolitan Toronto. I had been toying with the idea of catching a train, inspired by visions of getting some hacking and reading done when I wasn’t admiring the stunning scenery. A little further investigation revealed that it was rather pricy and just as slow, that most of the stunning scenery whisked by while you slept on the first night, and besides… every photo suggested I was not even remotely in their target age bracket. By this stage I had been making plans to visit said stunning scenery in person anyway, so in the end I just flew.

Day 1: Bearings

My favourite way to explore a city is on foot, and there was perfect weather for it. My hostel, which was student accommodation most of the year, was quite close the Ryerson university campus and Dundas square. Lots of buskers around; it turned out there was a festival on. After a bit of an explore around this area I took off up Yonge Street, the (formerly) longest street in the world depending on your accounting method. One unexpected highlight before I left Yonge was a book store dedicated to cook books!

Turning left I wound back via the fashion district (I think?), the rather striking museum facade, the college area (looking very Ivy-league, and apparently portrays Harvard in movies more frequently than Harvard itself does), Kensington markets, and the financial district.

I closed the day up on the roof of the hostel when I realised it was accessible!

Day 2: Niagara Falls

I had booked a tour to Niagara falls through the hostel, and went down at the annointed time to wait… and wait and wait, introducing myself at some point to the gentleman also clearly waiting. After some time the hostel rang on our behalf, to discover they had left without us! This was one of the best pieces of luck to hit yet: they refunded our money, booked us onto a tour leaving at lunch time for free, and in the mean time gave us a free bus tour of the city, which added context to parts I’d wandered the day before and introduced me to others I hadn’t.

The tour itself I think is fairly standard; we stop for an ice-wine tasting along the way, pass through the creepily Stepford-wives-like town of Niagara on the Lake (so fastidious about preserving its appearance that tourist buses have to park on the outskirts and no franchise is allowed in the centre1), and finally the falls themselves.

The volume of water is definitely breathtaking (as is the Disney-like shops and attractions surrounding it); the mist rises up at least as high again as the falls themselves, and if you take the boat out will drench you even further out than you’d expect.

There was an interesting side-note to the boat ride: the operators have a long-term lease that is now an incredible bargain. Recently there was a stand-off when the park authorities tried to raise their rent, the boat operators refused and threatened to dismantle the dock they had built themselves if evicted, and in the end were allowed to continue as-is. The lease expires very soon however, and not surprisingly they were not awarded the next contract.

Day 3: Whiskey District and People

Let us just say that I may have miscalculated my schedule! Again in glorious weather I wandered south this time, to the whiskey district (another one of those areas you’d recognise, apparently the same the world over; a long-time industrial complex of some description, now rennovated into lots of trendy cafes and art galleries) and Lawrence Market.

After lunch I headed over to the iconic CN Tower, with no inkling this might have been a bad idea. My Niagara companion had assured me he had visited and didn’t have to queue too long at all, and at no point had I considered that perfect weather and this being Saturday would alter anything (in truth, I had already lost track of what day it was anyway). Result: I had to queue to buy a ticket, then kill the next hour somehow, then spend another hour and a half in the queue getting up there, getting jostled by noisy kids and steadily going insane.

The view: yes, definitely impressive, but I also did not wait too long in getting out of there.

After this assault on the senses I wandered back across town to the ferry terminal, to check out the islands offshore. Unfortunately, the experience was remarkably similar: perfect weekend weather meant I was far from alone, and by the time I got over there I took a few skyline photos back at the city, and got the hell out of there too.

The busker festival was in full swing by the time I got back, so I did wander up Yonge for a while taking in some performances and grazing on street food for dinner, but getting thoroughly peopled-out and heading back to the hostel.

  1. An exception was recently made for a Starbucks, although they had made so many changes to the livery it was hard to recognise. ↩︎

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