For the first time in five years, I dusted off my passport. My organization had been asked to go to Toronto, ON and put on a giant training seminar, and so many people were expected that we needed all hands on deck. Cue my first business trip! And my first trip to Canada!
After the dust settled from the workshop, I carved out Friday to see the city. I had no Canadian cash, just plastic money, and no general plan. I just left my bags at the hotel and started walking. After the fact, Google helped me map the route:
11.5 Kilometers — or 7.2 miles. I’d say it was a pretty decent self-tour of downtown Toronto. Our swanky hotel was downtown, adjacent to the hustle and bustle. Just around the corner was St. Micheal’s Cathedral, which is apparently more gorgeous inside than it is outside. The steeple was under repair, so I don’t have a picture of that.
A few blocks further on was Eaton Centre, which is basically a mini Times Square in Toronto. It has floors and floors of shopping and a big outdoor plaza with seating and space for concerts. At 10 in the morning , it is pretty quiet, with the flashing jumbotrons being the biggest distraction. Later that afternoon, I stopped back by for a cup of coffee, and the street performers had begun to take over – a drummer, a one-man band of sorts, some guys doing football (soccer) tricks and break dancing, and the Chalk Chick. It becomes a really happenin’ spot really quickly.
As I walked further down Dundas St. (I think), one of the crossroads opened to give me a glimpse of this giant brown building in the distance. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be the Canadian Legislature. This picture doesn’t do it justice. It’s truly a gorgeous building surrounded by statues and monuments. At least three school tours were picnicking on the lawn.
The most striking thing about the building was the details. Every corner or window had some relief or floral leaf pattern. The side doors had this intricate stone work overhead.
I didn’t try to sneak past the guards and go inside. I had lunch waiting for me in Kensington Market, but I couldn’t help but wander about the grounds. Those grounds happen to also be Queens Park.
The trees had started to turn the most gorgeous colors. Apparently hordes of Japanese tourists flock to Toronto in October just for the foliage. My other discovery in Queens Park was these tiny black squirrels that moved like they were hopped up on expresso:
Adjacent to the park was the University of Toronto campus. Talk about beautiful buildings. For a few minutes, I was wondering if somehow I had stepped into a strange quasi-Oxford. I successfully resisted the booksale Trinity College was having…
I believe this was the Catholic Campus Centre, but I was just fascinated by the dome.
This building was on Spadina Circle, but I’m not sure what it was. It gave off an administrative feel, but that could’ve been the cloud cover. I still loved it.
From there, I walked down into Chinatown. All my pictures are at a funny angle, so I will omit those. The interesting thing about Toronto’s Chinatown was how spread out it was and how clean everything was. In SF, Chinatown is tiny, with shops and people packed on top of one another. Not so in Toronto.
Just off of Chinatown was a neighborhood called Kensington Market, my lunch destination. I had found a gluten-free restaurant that served chicken fingers! They weren’t that good – Canandians don’t believe in deep frying things like they should – but the proprietor came out and kept me company for a while. He was very proud of his neighborhood. Kensington Market is a mini-hippie village within the city – very self-sufficient, independent and wacky.
Tibetan stores, vegan ice cream, tie-dye, you name it, Kensington Market has it.
From there, it was back to the pavement, past the Ontario Art Center and through the Grange Park. Grange Park wasn’t as nifty as Queens Park, but just as I was about to leave, I stumbled over an artist sketching something. It was this tower that just appeared out of nowhere.
Don’t ask me what it was. Your Google search is as good as mine.
Two blocks later, I was in the Entertainment District, right next to the Financial District. We went from cute and quaint to shiny and bold within a half a mile.
One of the many attractions in the Entertainment District happened to be the CBC! After my recent addiction to Canadian TV, it was like stumbling across the mothership.
I kept walking south, determined to see the waterfront of Lake Ontario before the day was over. It seemed like I would never get there. I even stopped in the information centre, where I was assured that I couldn’t miss it if I just took a right at the next corner.
I did as I was told, and I came up close and personal with the CN Tower. At the training, several native Ontarians tried to convince me that I needed to go to the top and do the “Skywalk,” where someone straps you into a harness and you walk around the cusp of the tower’s top. When I asked them if they had done it, the answer was a resounding “No!”
It wasn’t much further until I found the Waterfront. The fog over the lake made it a bit anti-climactic. They still had some great trees and this St. Louis-esque boat by the dock.
Fortunately I did catch a clear glimpse of the Lake and the Islands in the distance on the way to the airport. I did so much in just a few hours of free time, but I can’t wait to go back. It was clean, easy, and safe, with so much opportunity. I would move there in a heartbeat.
*Note: As I wandered through Toronto, it would seem like I was somewhere in the US, but things were just a bit off. I found all of my pictures about those little quirky differences. They deserve their own blog post. Stay tuned!*