Of Maples and Lake…Toronto

So, here is something from my recent visit to one of the largest and busiest cities of Canade, Toronto. Toronto is known by MANY names like "The 6" (much popularized by Drake in his new album, View from The 6), "Hogtown" for the livestock processed in the olden times there, and the "Little York" or "Dirty York" for its resemblance to New York (but apparently just dirtier) only scaled down, but I personally prefer the French-Canadians given name "The Queen City" simply because of this:

A magnificent concrete jungle... A view from the Toronto Island. Simply grand.
I was to attend an annual International conference under prestigious "Wear of Materials" from 12th to 16th of April in Toronto. I presented a poster on my ongoing research, and I must say, it has been an absolute pleasure to have presented in such a huge arena and met some really important personals from my research field. 

Now, this is indeed my very first trip to Canada and I didn't have a great deal of expectations or idea on what to expect or how it would be. Like everyone else, I have always associated Canada with maples, red and orange flora, sweet saps, wilderness and bears. I knew there is one place I have forever been looking forward to and that is the famous Niagara Falls, but what else?!? I've been to States, and that's the closest I have come to Canada, and I wondered how different or similar Toronto was to the American cities I've been to. According to some of my friends who have been to Toronto before, it is apparently quite lovely, kinda like a "mini Paris" as one of them put it (well you have my attention now!!!). But again, I am someone who never takes someone else's words for anything... So, I patiently awaited for my own little escapade ;) Seriously, since it was my first time I was so excited that I actually did not sleep the whole night, just watched some series with my gal Samiksha, and then hopped on the taxi at 3:30AM to catch my coach to the airport scheduled at 4:15AM. After surviving a very bumpy (and I must add, scary) 8 hours flight from Gatwick, we (we were 3 of us) found our way to our hotel in the wonderful city of Toronto.

The first day went by with us trying to figure out our way around the city. We got to the city at about 2 in the afternoon (local time) from the airport, but since Toronto is about 5 hours behind GMT, it was fast approaching sun-down back home. It had already been over 36 hours since I last slept, so naturally, my body was shutting down slowly but gradually... However, I decided to go out for supper with my friends instead so as to get over the jet lag as soon as possible (I find it kinda helps, especially if travelling west, to forcefully stay wide awake till the local bedtime and following the new sleep pattern. Gets the body acquinted with the new circadian cycle much faster, I'll explain in details some other time...). We decided to have a meal at a familiar place, Hard Rock cafe, at Yonge-Dundas Square, and kept the thrill of trying out a "new" restaurant in a new place to some other day. Obviously, the food portions were great, the quality all high, and the waiters all friendly (and I wouldn't expect anything less from this side of the world).

I have to be honest here, when we got to the Yonge-Dundas Square in the middle of the city, it was like a déjà vu since it did actually remind me of the Times Square of New York from my NYC trip, bustling with life, blazzing with light, big colourful screens,  delectable looking restaurants, and fancy shops.  
 
Yonge-Dundas Square
The place we were staying in was just up the hill and around the corner from Yonge-Dundas Square. The view from the top of the hotel was as astounding as it could get, including the night view:

And it was also equipped with two jacuzzis, a wooden gazebo and a massive screen... How cool is that?
And the view of the skyline at night!
Anyway, coming to the city itself, Toronto is pretty enormous in size, but the main town is quite easily accessible by walking. We had the good fortune of nearly avoiding the snow this year, but it was still rather chilly at night, and yet I found the city surprisingly cozy even in the pre-spring cold. The city itself is very vibrant with bold colours everywhere, and filled with life. It's one of those cities you can never feel lonely or run out of things to do. But what surprised me the most was the colourful mixture of cultures that flourish in Toronto. Not only are the folks residing here from all across the globe but also the main cultural influence predominant in the city comprises of a cocktail of American, Canadian, English and French heritages... Yummy!! Here is a little glimpse of the city:

Very British... The City Council Hall
Amazing wall graffiti
Cow statues
St. Lawrence Market
Sweet chilli peppers
A smaller version of the NY flat iron building.
   
 Street art

Pretty ain't it! Now, If you are visiting Toronto for holidays, might I suggest having at least 2 weeks in hand to see everything in leisure. But if you were under tight schedule and/or budget (like me) then you may have to have a bucket list of a sort. Although my trip to Toronto was for 8 whole days, 5 of the 8 days were spent mostly indoors, in the conference alone, with leaving only few hours to spare before it was time to hit the hay. So, for these five days we mostly walked around the city, visiting various local attractions and markets like St. Lawrence market, China town, various friendly pubs, and many interesting restaurants. And for the next three days, we planned out a list of coveted attractions we HAD to see. So, let me cut to the chase and show you around the city a bit...

Main Attractions:


1. Canadian National tower


First and the foremost grand attraction has to be the 553.33 m high concrete observation tower in downtown Toronto, just by the water front of Lake Ontario.  The CN tower is the 2nd tallest non-residential tower, highest glass floored tower, and the 3rd tallest tower in the world. As a matter of fact, it was the tallest tower in the world until Burj Khalifa took over in 2010. However, it is the 6th tallest free-standing man-made structure in the world. The CN tower has four main sections in total, the concrete hexagonal angular section that stands at about 342 m tall comprising of 6 glass elevators that goes up to the main pod, then the main pod that comprises of the glass floor, the indoor lookout level and the 360 degree restaurant (for those of you feeling particularly fancy), the SkyPod (or space deck) which is the top most tourist-accessible pod sitting at 446.5 m high above the ground, and finally the 102 m tall metal radio broadcast antenna.

CN tower
I was so excited to do the CN tower tour that we went there the very next day of our arrival. But let's face it, a coveted attraction like CN tower is bound to cost a kidney. But I think the view from the top was all worth that kidney I had to sell! There are day-time viewing as well as night time viewing, and at the most 3 hours should be plenty. But we gave it a whole day, just in case. We had a day to spare before the conference actually commenced, so, this was our first proper sight-seeing activity. And oh my was it rewarding! My only complain is with the glass floor. It is rather a massive dissappointment. As exhilerating as it may sound, the so called glass floor level has nothing but two tiny windows to look through and all you can see is the structures right underneath. I guess back in the day when it was new, it was the first of its kind, and that must have been a big thing then. Personally, I think the real beauty is actually enjoyed from the SkyPod at the top.

Through the glass floor...
And here's the astounding view of the city:

Water front
Toronto Island from the skypod
Just me looking out
View from the the SkyPod.

2. The PATH


The PATH

I think, for me the most impressive infrastructure in Toronto is undoubtedly the PATH, the enormous underground mall covering about 16 miles of area. How freakin cool is that!?! It has everything for everyone, from economically trendy fashion retailers to high street retail stores, to restaurants, to banks, to grocery stores, to electronics and gyzmos, to subway stations, to free restrooms, PATH has everything planned out for everyone especially to keep them from bitter winter cold. 

The mall has several entrances, including hotel exits. One of our most frequented entrance was the Eaton centre. It was also our choice of place for lunch throughout the duration of our conference. During and after each conference, we always had enough time to kill in the mall and explore a bit more of the Toronto culture in details. Hence, when in Toronto, definitely make a point to visit the grandeur of PATH.

Eaton centre entrance
Candied apple

3.  The lake waterfront

The banks
I love long walks, long quite walks along a park, a balmy landscape or a waterfront (with a cone of ice-cream in hand) has always felt quite soothing to me, and often helped me reflect on my thoughts. So obviously, without deviating from the norm, after a long day of conference, I took a walk down the waterfront. And from what I experienced, I would definitely reccommend everyone to go on a walk along the waterfront of Lake Ontario. Just a few blocks from the town centre, facing the Toronto island and packed with various winged avian critters, the waterfront is quite a lovely place to be. Also there are several art museums like The Power Plant and parks along the lake side so if the lake view isn't enough then you can always pop in for some artful contemplation. Plus the architecture gets much more interesting towards the banks.

Waterfront park
Blue water
Boat restaurant
Lake side hotel


4. Niagara Falls


I have been saving this one up! About an hour and a half bus ride and you are at one of the most famous and the most powerful (by water flow rate) falls in the world. The trip would take up majority of the day so make sure you have a whole day to spare. We chose to do this trip after the 5-day conference was over, so that we could relax and do it leisurely. Gosh! I have so much to say about this natural wonder that this post alone is not enough!! Ever since my secondary school geography classes, I have always wanted to see the three biggest falls, the tallest - Angel falls, the largest - Victoria falls and the widest horsehoe - Niagara falls, and I feel ever accomplished now that 1/3rd of my wish has been fulfilled! Well, true Niagara falls is not the biggest of them all but it is grand on its own accord and has more than its share of fame. Comprising of three falls together, namely the massive horseshoe falls, the American falls and the tiny little bridal veil falls (hardly noticeable as a separate fall next to the American falls), Niagara falls sit between two countries, Canada and USA, connecting Toronto and Buffalo, and flows between two lakes, Ontario and Erie.

Whether it is the walk down the Niagara river, or the majestic falls itself, or the sound of water that always has an enchantingly calming effect on it or the consistent rainbow around the mist, this place can never get too old or boring, whether in rain or in sun, during the day or at night, from near or from miles away... It's my little piece of heaven on earth!

The falls through the veil of mist with the rainbow
When in Toronto, it is a crime not to visit the Niagara falls and the busy city surrounding it.

The American falls
More details (and lotsssss of pics) in my next post exclusively on Niagara Falls.


5. Live sports


Toronto is not just a lovely city with wonderful skyline and natural wonders but also a city of great sports, it is the home to ice hockey giants, Leafs, and NBA sensations, the Raptors. So, when my friends suggested going for a game of NBA, me being a sports lover myself  thought "Well, why the hell not!" I mean, it's not that often that I get to come to a place as such, might as well make the best of it and spend the time like a boss B)... 

Again, this is an event you'd better make time for, it takes up almost half of the day, and then there is also getting to the place and back too. We had one more day before we returned to do as we pleased and we spent it by going on an NBA game, NO REGRETS!!! 

We bought the tickets for the Raptors vs Washington Wizards game. Got ourselves some pre-games drinks (they were free :P) and got ready for the game.

The stadium
I guess it's an experience on its own, the pristine stadium, the electrifying energy of the spectators, the game and the impressive players, the copious amount of entertainment, the live DJ, the dynamic cheerleaders, and the free tee-shirts! There is no denying that the folks here really do know and love their sports, and show true sportsmanship, players and fans alike.

Start of the game... Singing the national anthems

It was an exhilerating 3 hours of my life, a very rousing game that even had me at my loudest spirit :p It was a close match, with Raptors and Wizards finishing with a tie at the end of the game, just before the over-time. The game ended with washington wizards taking the prize home leaving the home fans slightly disappointed, but it's only a part of the game. There is always a next time...
The tie before over time

6. Toronto Island, Lake Ontario


This has to one of my most favourite attractions. The Toronto island is just about 15 minutes from the ferry piers which are located at three different points on the lake bank. After the basketball game (and grabbing ourselves some grub), there was enough time to do a little trip to the Toronto Island. The tickets were incredibly cheap for the view the island beholds, so we weren't going to miss this chance in a million years!! 

The incredible view of the city skyline just leaves one speechless. Taking pictures never felt enough, every angle was worth a thousand words. I guess for this one, I'll let the pics do the talking for me...

The city skyline
The city skyline
Me against the city skyline
Through new shade of perspective...
Reflection...
At sunset
Breathtaking, aren't they! We waited there until sun down and then the last ferry took us back home. I don't think there could have been any better end to a perfect day!


6. The Kensington Market


Lastly, and not at all the least, on the day of our return, we had a few hours during the day to kill which we very efficiently spent on the Camden market of Toronto. The alternative vintage style market is a sight in itself, located just behind the china town. The whole atmosphere is different from the rest of the city, colourful and cheery, all of a sudden I felt I had left Toronto and returned to London, at Camden...With tuck shops, souvenir shops, clothe shops, fresh produce and other such delights, I could spend hours just going in circles in this place (funny, since the market is in the form of a square).


Colour blocks
Graffiti
Graffiti
Coffee shop
Coffee shop
Dancing days shop
Amazing mural
Coffee shop

And with that marked the end of our Toronto trip. It was fun, it was educational and it was something that I had been meaning to do for a while. The trip had a lot to offer to me personally, physically, mentally as well as emotionally. I had a special bonding with the city the minute I landed and probably because I met up with some of my high school friends after nearly half a decade, this trip was truely remarkable...

Anyway, before I wrap up, time for some tips:

1. Visit all the places mentioned above!

2. Don't forget to buy yourself some of them sweet sweet maple syrups, especially the one in the bottle shaped like a maple leaf. My suggestion: try china town for nice bargain. But if you're an organic type person then St. Lawrence is your turf...

3. For souvenirs, anything with canadian flag is great, a key ring, a magnet or a plaque for those who collect such tokens. But I personally like the little prototype statue of the CN tower. Souvenir shops at all the famous attractions also do a variety of such memorabilias but they are often quite overprized.

4.  Since it's a multicultural city, it has various interesting and authentic food courts and outlets that can easily appease almost all kinds of palete. I have had the priviledge of trying several different cuisines and I can vouch for each and everyone of them confidently.

5. I didn't have the time to try it out due to time constraint (the waiting time in 1-2 hours usually) but I have been reccomended to try the Uncle Tetsu's cheesecake, just next to the greyhound coach station in the town centre. Is it worth the long wait? I don't know, it's a matter of personal taste I guess, it you love it enough it must be worth it, if not, then why bother? Will I ever do it? Honestly, if I have the time and the company, why not? It's a wierd adventure of its own ;)

6. Don't miss the black squirrels... They are totally adorable and completely black :)

Anyway, that's all for now folks...

Hope you enjoyed the tour a little,

Until next post,

LOVE     JB



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