Traveling to Toronto – a little North American gem

Toronto, Canada September 2014Toronto is one of those underrated traveling cities. Perhaps underrated is the wrong word to use. Maybe it just isn’t marketed a lot in my part of the world and I don’t why that is, but it really is a great city to visit. The customs officials are grumpy and miserable, not very friendly, but that is to be expected… A global phenomenon really. Once I’d cleared customs and headed through to the information desk, I encountered the friendly types and quickly my initial view of Canadians changed. There’s a quick bus transfer to the subway and from there, getting around is very easy (if you get the subway systems – I’ll explain later). It took me just under 45minutes to get to my friend’s place in Spadina Road, which is great.

Unlike most cities, this one is super clean. I don’t know if I just avoided the grimmy, dirty parts of town, but I honestly was amazed at how clean it is. Plus the air feels clean too. I believe the city has over 6million people living in it, but never once did I feel like it was an overcrowded city. That might seem a tad random, but in some cities it becomes overwhelming and sometimes annoying when you’re queuing for everything – and that’s from a tourist perspective, I can only imagine how the locals feel 😉

I did my usual walking around mission. On my first day, I made my way towards the CN Tower and then worked my way around from there. If there’s one thing I’ve done a lot of while I’ve been in the US and Canada, it’s walk. Imagine if I’d logged all the miles, I would probably shock myself with all the distance. When I was a tad buggered, I’d just hop on the street car and make my way uptown or to the next part of my excursions around town. I’m one of those travelers who likes to see the touristy bits, but I love to live it up or experience a city through a local’s eyes. So having a friend here was superb. She has been in the city for about six years now and so she knows it very well. She joked with me last night because she couldn’t understand how I could be so clueless when it came to the subway and how “confusing” it was for me. Coming from a city where we drive everywhere and where we don’t have a fully fledged subway/ public transport system, you can begin to understand why I was confused… Not so? Ha.

On Saturday evening, we went out for some pizza and then hit up a club in Kensington. There was what the locals call a “lineup”. For me, that means entertainment… you know seven Djs on the lineup or so. For them, it means you’re in a queue and the line up to the front is pretty long. We didn’t wait too long because Deb’s friend is the dj’s boyfriend, so he hooked us up. I must admit I don’t go out a lot anymore, so getting to a club at midnight was interesting, but the music was great and I love people watching (it’s part of my job) so we had a great time. On Sunday there was this little market in the park, so I went to see my friend there. She had a stall there, so I went to show my support, but girl didn’t need it. She was on fire, selling art pieces and pedants left, right and centre. It was a beautiful day in the city and so to sit and chill in the park, eating some local food and enjoying some of the music was exactly how a Sunday should be spent. Great vibe and something us South Africans don’t do enough of.

Jason von berg, Niagra Falls September 2014

Our next adventure saw us getting in the car and heading off to Niagra Falls, which is an hour or so drive away from the city. It was a little chilly out, but it didn’t rain thank goodness. What I thought was just going to be just a trip out to see one of the world’s most revered sights, actually turned out quite differently. We did some wine tasting at some of the vineyards in the greater Niagra area. Maybe I just missed the bit about this part of the world having such a big wine culture, but I honestly had no clue. What a great way to spend a day. Some of the staff at the vineyards are more knowledgable about the wines and so the experience at such institutions was a lot more enjoyable then at the ones where you felt like you were asking for a favour. My favourite spot was the Megalomanic vineyard. Not only was it in an exquisite location, but the team working there were so passionate about the brand and the wines. Their branding is interesting too. For each bottle there is a custom made label that mirrors the quirky brand, while creating its unique identity for that specific type of wine. They have the most delicious ice wine there too. If traveling such long distances wasn’t such a mission, I would’ve bought at least two or three bottles. Alas, I’ll have to come back and enjoy those soon.

On my final day in Toronto, I once again did my usual morning run, which is also a great way to see the city by the way. I then made my way down town again, to a spot called St Lawrence market. It’s a food market with anything and everything you want to eat. We decided a bit of tapas, crackers overlooking Lake Ontario would be the best option and man of man was it great. I can see why people downtown come and grab a bite to eat here during their lunch breaks. It’s quick, easy and so yum. Highly recommended.

I’m now on my Porter Airlines jet en route to New York City. Porter is located in an airport just off the mainland. It’s offers an awesome view of the city skyline. They also have a great lounge for you to kick back and enjoy complimentary tea and coffee, biscuits and soft drinks. If you’re looking for a more substantial meal, you can order sandwiches there too, but you’ll have to pay by card for this. Pretty weird if you ask me. I have over CAD$40 in cash and I wanted to get rid of them, but clearly this wasn’t an option so just be aware of that if you’re flying out of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. Also, some might not know this but the airline offers a complimentary bus service from York Street, which is west of Union Station. It’s free and easy.

 

Some other Toronto, Canada observations:

– I find food and drinks rather expensive. I went to the grocery store to get some basics. A ready made salad was going to cost me CAD$5.99 excluding tax. Chicken breasts will cost you in the region of CAD$9-11, which is mad expensive. And that’s just for two… I bring this up because some of you reading this will be renting apartments using sites like Airbnb and so cooking is an option for you. Eating out, healthily is expensive too so take your pick 😉
– be prepared for queues around the CN Tower, it’s a tourist jaunt so it’s to be expected. It’s cost you about thirty bucks.
– if weather permits, go to the island and have a couple of beers. It is said to be really nice.
– done wine tasting tours. Not only is it beautiful, but fun too. Wine tasting generally costs CAD$5 for three to four tastings. They will more than likely waiver the fee if you’re purchasing a bottle or seven there. Also, look out for specials during special holidays. A lot of the wineries offer a package deal of around CAD$40 for tasting at several wineries and they offer food too. You can do that and then stay over in one of the bed and breakfasts in the area. Sounds romantic.
– I think five days is all you will need in the city. Anything more might become a bit much.

Thanks for your hospitality, Canada. Next visits will include Montreal, Vancouver and definitely some snowboarding in one of the resorts too.

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