Tourist at Home in The 6

Long before former Mayor Rob Ford made Toronto the darling of late night comedians, or Drake bathed it in an aura of international cool, Toronto was Toronto the Good. The biggest city in Canada, The6 (nicknamed for the last digit in the Toronto area code 416), is one of the safest, most livable cities in the world with a vibrant downtown core and one of the most multi-cultural populations on the planet.  Every language on the planet can be overheard on the subway, every esoteric food delicacy can be procured at a corner market or found on the menu of a hidden gem restaurant.

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Yonge Street, known as the longest street in the world, bisects Toronto into east and west and is the spine of the subway line. Bloor Street is the major east-west route of the subway line and divides the city into its north and south sections. Things are either north of Bloor or south of Bloor, west of Yonge or east of Yonge.

The subway is just one part of the TTC (Toronto Transit System) that includes multiple bus and streetcar routes to get Torontonians from one end of the city to the other. Compared to public transit systems in other major metropolitan areas, the TTC is slow, somewhat inefficient and relatively expensive. One ride will currently set you back $3.25, payable either by token (which can be purchased directly from the TTC at booths or at various corner stores) or by exact change — streetcar and bus drivers do not make change, so don’t try to pay with a $5 bill and expect money in return. On the upside, it’s safe and clean and will (eventually) get you where you need to go.

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So what are you going to do with all your subway tokens and a few days in the 6?

The Icon

If Toronto brings to mind only one thing, it’s probably the CN Tower. Once the tallest freestanding building in the world at  553.3 m or 1,815 ft, it has been recently eclipsed by the Burj Khalifa. One of the modern seven wonders of the world, the CN Tower attracts millions of visitors every year.

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And they were all there the day we visited. Before stepping into the glass elevator that would, in 58 seconds take us up to the panoramic glass lookout 346m / 1,136 feet above the ground, we endured a 2-hour wait, with very little entertainment and no food or water to be had. Experience suggests purchasing a timed ticket rather than a general admission. Nevertheless, it’s a spectacular view from the top. Feeling brave? Step on the glass floor and see the Toronto Aquarium below or look into the open roof of the Rogers Centre (aka The Skydome).

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Feeling flush? Take the Edgewalk around the edge of the skypod. You’ll need to be harnessed in, but for $225 (plus 13% tax), you can dangle off he edge of the world (or at least the Tower).

The weird thing is that because the CN Tower is such an iconic part of the Toronto city skyline, when you are looking out from the Tower on to the city, it’s actually hard to tell what city you’re looking at!

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The Castle

Wait, what? Toronto has a castle? Casa Loma, perched at the top of  Spadina Road, this gothic revival style castle was build by Sir Henry Pellet over the course of three years (1911-1914), with the labour of 300 men  and at a cost of $3.5 million, or about $8.4 million today. Complete with a secret passageway and an underground tunnel spanning about a kilometre, Casa Loma is worth a few hours’ distraction and transport to a bygone era.

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From the ‘hood

Little Italy. Greektown. The Junction. Roncesvalles Village. Little India. The Annex. Bloor West Village. Chinatown. The Entertainment District. Parkdale. Cabbagetown. The Distillery District.

Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, each with its own distinct flair and reason to visit. Unlike many cities, there are no areas that are “off limits”. Take some time to discover what makes various areas of the city unique. And don’t forget to eat something while you’re there!

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On the Waterfront

Not just a 1950s movie starring Marlon Brando… Toronto hugs the shoreline of Lake Ontario (one of the five great lakes, and the 13th largest lake in the world) and should definitely be viewed from its waters.

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There are a number of boat cruises to choose from, we took a 2 hour sail on the Tall Ship Kajama. Discounted tickets cost $18 each. — take a jacket, as it gets nippy on the water.

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You can also get really, really close to the jets landing at the Toronto Island Airport. In fact, it looks like one might just land on the ship’s deck.

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Brews in the City

Patios and rooftop bars make Toronto an excellent place to try out the myrid of craft beers that are on offer. When Toronto finally shrugs off its collective parka, the streets and sidewalks come alive with cafes and bars. Hearty folk, Torontonians don’t venture back inside until late in the fall, thanks to patio heaters and a desire to eek every bit of street gazing and people watching out of the season.

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Of course, this is just the tip of the proverbial ice burg. There are as many things to do in the city as there are people who live in it. From festivals and events, to galleries and restaurants, there are things to do for all ages, persuasions and pursuits.

You’ll find more things to do and see than you ever have time or money for.

 

 

Tourist at Home: Falling for the Falls

I’m probably not alone in thinking other countries are far more exciting and exotic travel destinations than my own.

And then Lonely Planet goes and names Canada “The Best Country to Visit in 2017”.

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Apparently LOTS of people think Canada is an interesting, dynamic and beautiful country to visit. And big. Let’s not forget big. Second biggest country in the world big.

From coast to coast, the distance across my home and native land is the same as the distance from London, England to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Most Canadians haven’t traveled coast to coast, or all the way south to north, so if you’re considering a visit, plan accordingly. This isn’t a county you can see all in one go. Unless you have unlimited time and unlimited funds, you’ll have to pick one or two destinations.

So when I had the opportunity to see my country through the eyes of a first time visitor, I jumped at the chance to plan an All Canadian Experience.

Choosing a destination

I’m from Ontario, which is the province that is home to both the capital Ottawa, and the largest city, Toronto. Taking my own advice, I planned visits to Niagara Falls, Toronto, Collingwood, and Haliburton, in what call “cottage country”. All of these are do-able within a 2 week trip.  A car rental is a necessity — I ended up driving about 1,000 km. Public transportation between these destinations is theoretically possible using the Greyhound bus system or via organized tour, but it either slow or expensive or both.

Choosing a time of year

Canada is a four season country, but for me the best season is summer. In Ontario summer days can reach 30 degrees Celsius and be quite humid. No parkas or toques necessary! Plan for the occasional rainy day and bring a light jacket or hoodie as the evenings can get cool, especially in “cottage country” near the water. A pair of jeans is a great idea, both for a little extra warmth and to keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Niagara Falls

It’s an iconic destination, one of the first places many people imagine when they think Canada. Straddling the border between Canada and the United States, the view from the Canadian side is far superior.

There are three falls that make up Niagara Falls — the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. Although the American Falls are taller, no daredevil ever tried to go over them in a barrel…and neither should you! It’s not only stupid and dangerous, but actually illegal to try to go over the Falls.

You can see the Falls from a boat, from a viewing platform beside the Falls, from behind the Falls or suspended over the Falls.

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Buy purchasing a Niagara Parks pass you can see the Falls from just about every vantage point. You will get wet, but you will also be provided with disposable rain ponchos at every attraction. Try to collect the set!

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Every night during the summer there is a fireworks show beginning at 10pm over the Falls. Catch them either from the walkway beside the Falls or with a glass of wine from one of the tallest bars in the city,  Myst Lounge in the Hilton Hotel overlooking the Falls.

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Wine Country – Niagara on the Lake

You may be surprised to discover Ontario has a thriving (and largely internationally unappreciated) wine growing industry. Looking around you can be forgiven if you think you’ve suddenly landed in Tuscany or at a French chateau.

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Take a day to discover hidden vineyard gems along the Niagara Wine Trail, or go outside the Niagara-on-the-Lake region to surrounding areas such as The Bench or towns like Lincoln and Vineland. Wineries are well marked and signed, and will be happy to recommend other wineries to try in the area. There are lots of deals on the internet that will make your wine tasting and or tour free of charge. Also, if you purchase a bottle, the tasting will be free. My favourite winery is Konzelmann.

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Tours can be done independently (although you’ll need a sober driver!), as a bicycle tour or an organized driving tour. Sadly, the only way to see some of the smaller, more boutique wineries is on your own, but please, don’t drink and drive.

P1010822If you’ve never tried icewine, now’s the time to do it! Icewine is made from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine. Each grape produces only a drop of wine, making icewine some of the most expensive wine to try! These glasses are icewine from bottles priced at just less that C$100. Try with some dark chocolate and thank me later!

 

 

Next Up: Three Days in The6.