Visiting Toronto was a decision fuelled by the desire to see Niagara Falls up close, but the city has so much more to offer than I expected.
It's huge by anyone's standards and it comes with a plethora of glass and steel skyscrapers as well as historic Georgian and Victorian buildings, row houses and terraces as well as single storey dwellings. Despite its size and population of over 6 million, according to our Air BnB hosts, it manages to convey a friendly, down to earth quality. People seem strongly connected to and proud of the communities in which they live and work- cosmopolitan without pretension and patriotic without paranoia, Toronto or T.O. is lively and yet just a little grubby and untidy with it.
The homeless problem parallels the situation in New York and is visible and confronting in most of the popular downtown areas. It's a growing concern globally and to my dismay younger and younger people are joining the ranks of those sleeping rough. It is made worse in cities that freeze in winter, but the impacts on mental health are heartbreakingly obvious and there doesn't seem to be a solution in sight.
Ethic diversity has created culinary delights and abominations!! Poutine -a dish we elected to avoid, was comically advertised in one outlet's window as "clogging arteries since 2008" and why wouldn't it with gravy covered deep fried chips topped with ground beef and melted cheese. Other equally carnivorous options for toppings were also available. However pockets of exquisite and much more upmarket eating options abound. Burgers with ingredients that are sustainably sourced, organic, fair trade and chic, as well as vegan, vegetarian and halal choices exist along side Portuguese, Greek, Ethiopian, Korean, French and just about any other country's fine fare. We simply didn't have enough days to try it all.
For Niagara Falls we opted for a day trip and were more than pleased with the inclusions. Three hours at the falls enabled us to take the boat ride out to the sheer wall of water and get drenched in the mist and spray, with plenty of time left wander around admiring the spectacular views of both the Canadian and American falls from the pavement perspective. We were not tempted by the tacky town itself and enjoyed snacks in Niagara on the Lake in a much more picturesque setting. A wine tasting, which of course led to purchasing a couple bottles rounded out the day nicely and we snoozed our way back to Toronto, marvelling about how much a single day can cost even when you are frugal.
St Lawrence Market and High Park were real highlights.
Canadian friends sent us advice and suggestions from various points around the world and it was an absolute joy to catch up with old mates Nick and Keira. Shared experience in Bhutan certainly makes for lifelong connections and it was fabulous to see these two young educators making their mark in schools in Toronto. Non- stop conversations catching up on all that has transpired since we last saw them in 2011 filled several hours and introduced us to the cider-drinking penchant of Canucks.
Although affordable transport options abound, walking was our modus operandi for the most part. We clocked up close to 20 kilometres most days and it served to keep us warm as well as ensuring we got the regular workout we want to arrive in the best shape to face the Machu Pitchu challenge in a little over a week. We totally lucked out with the weather and had sunny, if windy days and were even able to leave without the winter jackets on a couple of occasions.
We did take two short rides on the old style streetcars, which took our fancy from day one. In order to meet up with our old BCF mates and get home safely after our introduction to cider we were more than glad to avail of a ride across town for a mere $3.25.
AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) provided a basic introduction to the work of the Group of 7 Canadian artists, who reshaped the way Canadians, saw themselves and allowed patriotism to flourish.
The diversity of bird life we saw daily even from the downtown area, speaks volumes for the health of the environment. It was no surprise that Canadians are both outdoorsy and environmentally concerned and it shows. Within High Park we saw huge numbers of birds and on our day trip out to Niagara and again returning to NYC on Greyhound, we saw hawks, falcons, turkey vultures and of course Canadian geese in vast numbers, in the skies above us. The V-shaped flying formations and happy honking of the geese is almost comical.
St Lawrence Market was sensational. We have always loved a good market and were thrilled to be able to actually make purchases for our return bus journey to NYC. No Burger King, Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts outlets for us!! Gourmet picnic style food for our 13-hour trip and we were the envy of the other pizza slice and burger buying passengers. Kensington Market and Chinatown were also great areas to stroll and people watch.
Although it is the expansive great outdoors and stunning scenery for which Canada is famous, our brief time in Toronto has certainly whetted our appetite for more and we hope to return.