Life trip – stage 1 – Canada: Toronto, Ontario
The long awaited road trip from the North to the South of the American continent started. The first country to explore is Canada. My fans know that I have already visited the Maple Leaf country back in July 2014. It was for business, and I managed to see Toronto and Niagara Falls in Ontario. I also spent a week in Moncton, New Brunswick, working hard and eating lobster.
I was so amazed by the trip that I decided to start off my life trip in summer in Canada – in hope to conquer it from East to West – from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean, and to avoid being there when it starts snowing.
Toronto – second take
Do you know this feeling when you return to a city you have already been to?
Some corners seem familiar, you don’t feel lost. Because you already know the trick of that city. That’s how it felt to return to Toronto.
I already knew where the centre is – hint: just follow the CN tower, you cannot overlook it. I wasn’t surprised by the meticulous public transport, nor by Tim Hortons or geometrically regular streets. I was looking forward to them! Twenty minutes after landing, I was already sipping a cup of a small filtered dark roast with bagel with cream cheese. I was missing that!
Side note: if you are unable to navigate on the map, and determine North, South, East and West, your time in Toronto will be tough. You need to know which direction on the “virtual map in your head” you are heading.
Toronto like a local
If you want to avoid buzzing crowds, and heavy traffic – follow my path and stay off the centre. The advantage is quite clear – you get to see how the locals live. Ideally, somewhere close to the subway. I stayed in an Airbnb in North York, close to the Sheppard-Yonge subway station. A great place to explore a bit different face of Toronto.
Token to ride – Toronto Public Transport
Toronto’s public transportation system is well organized (super clean…and super cold, too), it hardly ever gets crowded compared to the metro rides I took in Europe recently (I am looking at you, Paris and Budapest!). You need a token to ride it.
A few things that caught my attention in North York
1. Puppies on call – This one is rather weird, I have not seen so many puppies ever in my life in such a concentration. There was a lot of people walking them on a leash, and talking to them. Or talking to somebody else on a hands-free. It seems that owning a dog is a special way of being (anti-)social, and an ideal way of making a few phone calls. In a quiet environment of a street, or a park.
The only thing I am still thinking about is, how comes I saw only puppies being walked. What do they do once they grow up? Do they just release them into the wild, and buy a new one? Canada is big enough to accommodate all the dogs of the world, I believe. Or is there a Canadian puppy boom? If you have some insight regarding this, drop me a comment below! I am curious 🙂
2. Frozen – this one is Captain obvious, and I just need to get used to it. What? Outdoor temperatures being above 20C, and air-conditioning being set to -20C. People in Canada are used to be in cold, no need to whine about it. Let me just break the icicle growing from my nose tip, and we can move on.
Side note: this applies also to offices, public buildings, restaurants, cafes, subway wagons, etc. The sole exception are the subway platforms (hotter than you favorite jalapeño popper), and coach terminal in Toronto. I have never been to a hotter retro place. Truly. So, fingers crossed that I don’t catch cold from the omnipresent air-conditioning.
3. Tim Hortons – I believe the success of this coffee and fast food chain should be described in marketing text books. My brain just doesn’t get it how this ex-hockey player managed to make the entire country crazy for an oversized cup of filtered coffee.
I stayed close to the Sheppard – Yonge subway station, and there were 3 Tim Hortons shops on 200 m. That pretty well describes the phenomenon. On the contrary, the introduction of this Canadian hit in the United States was not such a big hit. There are some, but you would have to look for them thoroughly.
Must see in Toronto and around
1. CN Tower
You can’t overlook it. Usually a queue up, quite pricey (36 CAD – August 2017 price, and that is not even for the highest point + 12 CAD to the top). Very crowded, but the view is worthwhile. Count how many rooftop swimming pools can you see when up there. The glass floor was still making me feel dizzy, just like in 2014. If you can, plan to visit around sunset. Amazing view with even more amazing colours. If you make a reservation for the restaurant at the top, you do not need to pay the entrance fee. Sadly, eating out in the restaurant was out of my budget for that day.
2. Blue Jays
Baseball is not really a European sport, so it was quite fun to see how the entire city turned into baseball smurfs, and headed to the Rogers Centre for the match. I happened to be at that time on the CN tower, so it was interesting to watch the tiny ants running on a field.
There is an underground tunnel that can take you to the Billy Bishop airport on the Toronto Islands or you can take a ferry to get a bit more central. The view is magnificent. Cooler than the rest of the city, no AC. If you don’t have time for that, just grab a chance to relax in the parks. Works too.
4. Kensington Street and Kensington Market
An interesting part of the town with many hippy shops and pop up stores. Colorful streets, people and great vibes. I ate in the Hungarian Thai restaurant, can totally recommend it. Although the portion was too much to eat (#justeuropeanthings).
5. Toronto neigbourhoods
Chinatown, Greek town, Little Italy – and many more lively neigbourhoods. It feels like time travel. Have a stroll around to grasp the feeling of Canadian multiculturalism. It just made me realize that any humans can live together as neighbours. All in all, we inhibit the same planet. The only thing we need to have is a mutual respect and understanding. Cornerstone of Canada, but should be a cornerstone of any modern society.
6. Day trip to the Niagara Falls
My favorite part of Ontario. This place has enormous power. It makes you realize that the nature is unbeatable. Yes, we can try changing the courses of rivers, build dams, but the nature can overturn it. I visited the Falls during my first trip to Canada, and was happy to have my friend Gord take me there again.
This time, we hopped into those boats that take you to the Horseshoe fall in colorful raincoats, and I enjoyed it immensely! Worth every dollar.
The biggest tip is to arrive early, as the Falls get very busy around noon. When you are out there, check Niagara-on-the-Lake too. Lush green, gigantic villas with no fences around them and very laid back atmosphere.
That’s it for state Ontario, it was short, but I just had the best memories and created new ones, too. I moved on to Quebec right after. Stay tuned for my piece about it.