Toronto in Ontario Canada is as our cab driver referred to it “The other Manhatten” and I completely agree. With it’s glass filled skyline, bustling foot traffic, shopping and expansive parks you’ll easily see why. Beyond T-town’s (that’s what the locals call it) business there’s much to find, see, and do both in town and outside. The ideal trip to Toronto to fully take in the city is a busy 3 days, but you can see the big sites in 1 jam packed day. Our most recent trip lasted 1 1/2 days and while we were sad to leave we managed to sneak in a lot. We took a stroll around the St. Lawrence Market, went to the top of the CN Tower, enjoyed the eye candy architecture of Casa Loma and Old City Hall, strolled through the massive Eaton Centre, spent too much money for food at a baseball game in the Rogers Centre and then finished it off at the clashing point between Modern and Old in the Royal Ontario Museum.
From Buffalo Toronto is 105 miles, or 1 hours and 55 minutes according to Google maps. The speed limit is 100 kilometers an hour, (that mini number on your odometer) or 60 miles per hour. I found that you could quite easily do around 70 mph and stay with the flow of traffic. The road you’ll be on is the QEW – The Queen Elizabeth Way. So cute! The Queen! As you get into Toronto you’ll experience traffic unless it’s the middle of the day on a holiday weekend as any major city does. Despite that Toronto is an easy city to navigate by car. One thing you’ll notice on the way in is that Toronto is an absolutely massive city with it’s large seemingly endless suburbs such Mississauga and their what appears to be Condo filled towns. Will these condo’s look good in 20 years like the Condo’s built 60’s and 70’s? We won’t know, but I hope. Otherwise they become eye sores. See Philadelphia.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express located just North of the St. Lawrence Market (closed on Monday’s and Sunday’s) whose entrance is very European in that it’s front door is not facing a street. However, it’s a run of the mill downtown no frills hotel. There is parking underneath the hotel for an affordable 20$ a day and a breakfast buffet is included. To sum up the hotel: If you want a room to come back to to purely sleep or nap, this is a great place. Don’t expect more. Our cost was 142 Canadian a night.
We arrived midday Sunday and therefore missed out on seeing the Market in it’s full hustle and bustle. There is definitely activity just outside of the market with various stalls and a mini flea-market just north of it that made us feel like we didn’t miss out on seeing anything. We also were able to go into a side door to see in the inside. It’s big and looks like a bunch of other indoor markets we’ve seen in our travels. It’s worth a look but not a must if you’ve seen markets before.
After that we walked to The Eaton Centre, a mind bogglingly massive Mall full of every single mall store you can imagine (minus a North Face – Go figure). Sears is it’s one anchor store and is not at all like the rest of their American stores. It’s laid out more like a Macy’s with much more upscale shopping inside. There’s an HMV inside which we had thought closed down, but I guess not. Apart from a Top Man just outside of the Eaton Centre (though connected by a skyway) and a Canadian Tire there’s not much in the Mall unless you really like malls.
From there we walked to the Old City Hall; an immaculately kept building from the very late 1800’s (1889). Without seeing the inside I fell in love with this building. Who needs to see insides anyways! They’re overrated! To me it shows Canada’s recent British roots so well and that is point that you feel like you’re not in American anymore. Sure we have our own style in the Northeast, but this is a tad bit different. I suggest you sit on the front steps then look down Bay Street and watch Toronto drive by. It’s a special moment like sitting on the MOMA in New York. Best of all the cost is free. Just next to it is the more Modern City Hall with a cute pond in the summer and ice rink nearby.
We headed down Queen Street on the way to the CN tower. At you pass over University Ave take a look Northward and take in the sight of the beautiful Legislative building. It never ceases to amaze me how outside of a few examples here in America we have such bland Municipal buildings. It’s refreshing to see Canada taking pride in these. The CN tower is pretty much visible from anywhere outside and even within the downtown core. An old giant TV and Radio Antenna it’s a major tourist attraction. One things to note: don’t go inside for tickets as they’re just outside – you’ll see the lines. Don’t go in the exit line either! The entrance is off to the side. Stand in complete and total awe as your fear of heights takes over when you look up. After a good 20 minute wait and the 36$ entrance fee we finally got inside only to wait another 1 1/2 hours in an extremely pushy and touristy line! Those pesky Italians! Shakes fist! When you get to the top (a 50 second or so ride up) the view is majestic and unencumbered. Try to spot Casa Loma off in the distance or the Legislative building. Don’t pay the 25 cents for the hokey viewing glass. Nothing is really that far. After that find the glass floor and don’t be shy or afraid of the 150,149 other tourists on it. Go on! Fear of heights be damned just go step on it and look down. EEK. It’s terrifying for the faint of heart. See: ME. For another gut retching moment try to walk and look down. Hope you brought a change of pants!
All of that walking around and sight seeing took around 5 hours. Not too shabby.
We woke up the next day and managed to drive a little around Toronto as we headed towards Casa Loma. The majestic Casa Loma is a modern building dedicated to another time. Built by it’s slightly eccentric (see ultra rich at one point in time) owner who died penniless. Such a shame. I really like the embracing of culture and making your vision of a monument to it. Even if it is totally narcissistic. The money spent or in this owners case, lost, makes up for it in so many ways. Enough with the soapbox. The building is only around 100 years old yet looks like it was plucked out of the 1500’s with it’s Gothic style. With Influences easily taken in by the different architecture of the Tower from the Norman castles and from the Scottish it makes for an eclectic combination straight out of a Sim City dev kit. You’ll love it though if you long to see some of those beautiful buildings from Europe. It will make you yearn for more buildings like these in the States and elsewhere in Canada. I could write paragraphs dedicated to what I enjoyed about the castle (the gardens being quaint yet lovely) so I’ll share one story instead. The Conservatory is a wonderfully open room with lots of mirrors. In the freezing winter (or fall!) Mr. Pellatt would bring in his plants from outside and plant them over the water pipe heated ground. You can see the vents along the bottom for the rest of the room. His electric bill must have been monumental, but a testament to how wonderfully pleasant Canadian’s adjust to the winter. The whole tour takes a very, very, leisurely 2 hours max. Cost is 20.55. Oh and arrive early before the buses!!!!!
Our next stop took us into the Rogers Centre, formerly The Skydome. This building was one of the last gigantic bowl stadiums, or as it’s called the “multi-purpose” baseball teams built in what I like to dub The Excess age. Riverfront, Joe Robbie, The Vet, they’re all the same in that they’re as hideous as the person you brought home after drinking 13 beers. You remember, the one you really regret who destroyed your pillow with 8 pounds of makeup. This town footed a whopping 941 million to build it and it looks sorely out of place. The seats are crammed and straight up, just like the other three stadiums I mentioned. It’s worth the stop to see, but not much more.
Stroll extremely long blocks down to the Air Canada center then at the front doors turn left and walk into the Union Station. Just keep walking until you go upstairs (through the front doors, turn right, then turn left, then left into the station, walk towards the steps leading up.) Look up when you head inside, gorgeous ceiling. I like ceilings for some reason. If you’re heading to the Royal Ontario Museum Then head back down the stairwells on your right (in the middle of the concourse) make a sharp turn around and through another set of doors to find the underground. It’s awful confusing, luckily most any Canadian is more than willing to help when you get lost. You will.
The Royal Ontario museum is an interesting place in that it feels so sweet and cute, yet misses out on a great deal of substance. Sure, there are lots of exhibits but the 45 minute highlight tour left me feeling like it was missing something. For me I wanted to see more of the First Nations of Canada. That’s those who came over via the land-bridge 15-50,000 years ago and not Europeans. It’s a crying shame that we do not have more history and understanding of these past cultures who cultivated this beautiful land and helped us survive. In any case there’s a lot to do inside and an intense clash of modern with old as evidenced by the front fa-sod. I personally did not enjoy it but others did. You may like it, but I wouldn’t plan an entire day around it.
Toronto and the rest of Canada is utterly beautiful and unique. It’s different, but the same! It’s friendly, accommodating, and the happy go lucky people are worth meeting. Sure there’s a sour apple now and then – though to be honest I claim to have met only one unfriendly Canadian. My suggestion is ne humble like the people and you’ll find yourself getting along with them. There’s also no more endearing accent outside of a sweet old Irish grandmother than a Canadian one. Canada is cheap and they drive on the right side of the road. It’s also incredibly clean. Toronto has so much to do and see that I didn’t mention here. If you live within a days drive you are doing yourself a disservice by not visiting. Visit many times! You’ll love it more and more each time. Like I do. And like them on Facebook too!