I had a day to explore the city of Toronto. Still groggy having flown in the previous day; I wanted to make the most of my time there. Despite having lived in Montreal I never chose to visit the ‘other’ city. There’s always been a rivalry between the two metropolises: the Canadiens versus the Maple Leafs, the fact Toronto stole the title of being the largest Canadian city; taking many of the best jobs with it too. I had possibly been brainwashed…
Overnight, Chris and Cecilia – the parents of my friend who is getting married – sketched a map of the city’s highlights. In the morning, they dropped me off at the nearest subway station along with some tokens to use it. Cecilia even invited me to join them for calamari that evening. Did I mention how awesome they were?
Arriving at Union Station, I started the day with a free walking tour of the Financial District. Australian Tim from the Tour Guys did a great job. I’ve always had a preference for local tour guides until I realised tourists who fall in love with the city are just as good, if not better, at showing off their new home.
During the two hour tour we were shown places like: Royal Bank Plaza, Hockey Hall of Fame, the underground city, One King West – a former bank vault turned party venue – and City Hall. Walking tours are my go-to for new cities. You automatically feel more knowledgeable and clued into the local culture and orientation. You also never know who you are going to meet.
You learn random tidbits of information which will probably remain useless for the rest of your life, but are still cool nonetheless. Things like: “The Fairmont Royal York Hotel has three beehives on the roof. The honey is used to make honey beer exclusively sold in their bar”; “The Bay Adelaide Centre is where TV show ‘Suits’ films its lobby scenes” and “51% of Toronto residents were born outside of Canada”.
Having met a few friendly faces on the tour; a Spanish girl and I wandered to St Lawrence Market. Maria had been there earlier in the week and twisted by arm to buy a famous bacon peameal sandwich. However, when food is involved, not much twisting is required. Imagine three triple-thickness rashers of smoked bacon on a soft roll. Little to no fat. No sauce. Pure deliciousness. Even Drake, the rapper, is a fan.
We then paced to the Distillery District so Maria could visit a few more places before her imminent departure back to her workplace of Saskatoon. A couple of samples of the smooth-tasting Mill St Brewery Organic Lager followed by a refreshing iced dark hot chocolate from SOMA and we said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways.
The night before arriving I had all these glorious plans of visiting the local museum and galleries, but when the temperature is 26°C who wants to stay inside. The CN tower didn’t appeal. I’d rather keep my $35. Plus, having climbed similar large structures before, I didn’t think I would be missing out this time. What did appeal was a ferry ride to Toronto Island. As the time-lapse video and photos suggest, the skyline is epic.
I was on a tight schedule so I hotfooted it to the bike rental on Toronto Island and rented a retro easy-rider to investigate the island. Having determined from the pubescent summer worker that Ward’s Island was the top spot, I made a beeline for it. I was forced to stop off several times along the way; the view getting better and better until I reached a small sandy beach with the best view of the city. Here, I chilled, cracked open one of my lukewarm souvenir beers from the brewery and attempted to sketch the skyline. I’ll spare you the unfinished masterpiece.
Making my way back to the Bardsley’s, I once again realised how lucky I was to have such good friends. I also couldn’t help but feel like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: ‘I looked at my kingdom, I was finally there’.