Living in NY, Canada seems so close – but it’s also so far away. Drive for 6 hours to Montreal, or 8 hours to Toronto? It’s hardly a weekend trip. And normally, flights cost so much for such a short distance – $300 or more.
Thankfully, for memorial day we were able to snag cheap tickets into Toronto, and for a long weekend no less. I had some friends in Toronto, and it’s a huge city (the fourth-largest in North America at 2.7 million in the city proper and 6 million in the area), so we had a lot of ground to cover.
We arrived in the city early in the morning, hungry. The first step was to figure out where to eat, and we found an awesome spot for that: a diner close to downtown, but with an old-time feel. Of course, we could have gone somewhere else, but we wanted to get straight into the maple syrup!
It turns out, though we hadn’t planned this, that there was a city-wide festival that Saturday and Sunday, “Open Doors Toronto:” public and private buildings across the city opened their doors to anyone who wanted to take a look inside; there were also walking tours. We signed up for one that featured Toronto’s walkable downtown that started near the beautiful old city hall, but ditched pretty quickly (far too many people, and Toronto’s downtown isn’t walkable!) – instead we found a courthouse near downtown.
It felt so welcoming, so Canadian to see inside. We got to sit in the judge’s seat and wear the fancy robes; although it was similar to an American courtroom, it was also different enough that I can’t recall ever seeing a Canadian courtroom on TV before, so there wasn’t a whole lot of emotional resonance. That said, the building was beautiful and we even met a judge – very friendly!
Later that afternoon, instead of visiting an (expensive museum), we stumbled on OCAD, the Ontario College of Art and Design. This place, a really unique building, was also open for visitors. At the top, there was a wonderful view.
The workspace entranced me – lots of extension cords hanging from the ceiling, random desks and benches and cubicles scattered all over, graffiti and art installations all over. I’m not sure what entirely is built there, but the whole space felt alive.
I also found that Alex can fit in a half-size locker. So there’s that. On University Ave, two blocks away, we joined a march (or parade?) and mingled with the locals.
It was swelteringly hot, a heat wave, and as we continued to walk around, we actually found a men’s field hockey tournament in progress. It was free to check it out, and there were tents for spectators, so we watched for a while (and cheered for Chile), but even so it was still hot out.
Our final tourist destination for the day was the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, housed in a dystopian brutalist building. Maybe ‘tourist’ is too strong a word! The inside of the building really was beautiful – 5 or 6 floors of dimly-lit books surrounding an open center.
By this point, we really were exhausted. Rather than try to figure out public transit, we wanted to go to our AirBnB and settle in, and although we had neither walked far, nor in a straight line, but it was still 40 minutes in blinding sun and terrible heat to get to the AirBnB.
Along the way, we stopped at the first grocery store we found, an enormous supermarket (bigger than I think I’ve seen in any other downtown), and also grabbed some booze. Unfortunately, we got all this stuff way too early and traipsed around with it for almost half an hour.
Thankfully, although the apartment was located in a sterile, businessy part of the city, it had a spectacular view of the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing building in the Western Hemisphere (and tallest building in the world when it was built). From our balcony (tailor-made for lazing about and downing beer and wine), we could also see the Rogers Centre (home of the Toronto Blue Jays), the waterfront, and the Toronto Islands. If or when I return to Toronto, I think I’d be more likely to stay in a cozy neighborhood, but for a first-time visitor, this apartment was quite an experience.