Wandering the World Part 24

Toronto

The Mexican adventure had come to an end after two very busy weeks. As a native had commented — we hadn’t just seen the tourist side of Mexico, we’d seen the real Mexico. Though in someways I think anything you see of a country is real — a better description might be to say that we’d seen a wider variety of what Mexico is like.

With the flight from Cancun to Toronto it was the journey home for my friend, but for me it was the start of another week of adventure. We’d agreed for a taxi to take us to the airport at 06:45, earlier than we’d wanted, but we really didn’t want to argue. When it arrived at 06:30 instead they were angry that we weren’t ready — even though it was fifteen minutes earlier than agreed.

The driver and the guide then ignored us for the entire drive to the airport and spoke amongst themselves in Spanish. It didn’t seem fair they saw it as our fault for them arriving early. It didn’t seem that professional either, but as we were leaving it didn’t really matter.

After the loss of hearing in my right ear from scuba diving I did wonder how it would handle a flight. I was amazed though that my ears equalised normally during the flight and once we’d landed in Toronto they were clear and able to hear as normal.

This flight was a little abnormal as we’d begun the approach to the runway ready to land but less than a minute before we’d have landed the plane started to ascend again. It was confusing at first, but then they announced that there was debris on the runway that needed clearing.

Immigration wasn’t fun as after answering questions at the normal desk I was directed to go through to another room where they’d ask additional questions. Most of the questions I was asked the second time are one’s I’d already been asked — such as the purpose of my visit. I think having gone through Canadian immigration on my way to Mexico may have complicated things more than normal and took a couple of hours.

Waiting in that queue I wondered if they were going to reject my entry into Canada and cut my trip short by a week. It’s something I’ve thought whilst waiting in queues for immigration before, but this is the first time I’d actually had any issues.

By the time I made it to the baggage carousel all other bags from the flight had gone. It then took about an hour to get to my friends apartment via bus and subway, though the subway took slightly longer than it normally would as they’d lost power at the station before our destination. Apparently this is quite normal for the Toronto mass transit system.

Delays at the airport meant that the cafe in High Park was closed for the night and we’d need to get food from elsewhere in town instead. On a positive note it meant I was able to see more of the nearby area.


No longer being in Mexico meant that I wouldn’t need to eat scrambled eggs for breakfast. No more refried beans either and hopefully never again. Instead my friend made us blueberry pancakes. Lots of them. So many in fact that there were more than we could eat. They tasted great and were topped with maple syrup — a very Canadian thing to do. I do wonder that if you cut a Canadian whether or not they’d bleed maple syrup.

Our plans for the day were fairly simple — most of it would be spent on the Toronto Islands. First we needed to head downtown so we could get a printed copy of a downtown map, and a spare key for my friend’s apartment so I could come and go as I pleased.

My friend took the opportunity of going downtown to show me some of the sights along the way. One of these was called Museum Station — a subway station that looked like it could be part of a museum with fake but historical-looking pillars. There were a few different designs that ranged from the classical Doric order of columns, to ones that represented ancient Egypt.

The stop was brief enough that we were able to hop on the next train and continue on to Union Station. Although this station only opened in 1927 it is in the National Historic Site of Canada registry. It may seem very recent, but in fairness it’s probably one of the oldest buildings in the city. The Great Hall of this station reminded me a lot of the main concourse in New York’s Grand Central Station — just that it was smaller. It’s similarities was in the high arched ceiling, the high windows, and although of a different design — the pillars as well.

From the point when we entered the subway station near High Park we didn’t need to go outdoors again until we reached the CN Tower. This is due to a series of indoor walkways they refer to as Skywalk — the perfect thing for keeping warm in during a Canadian winter.

We didn’t go up the CN Tower or look around the Roger’s Stadium; these were things we could come back to any time. Instead we continued on passed the Steam Museum, which was open as part of Toronto Open Doors day, and towards the ferry port.

We waited there in a queue that wasn’t too bad, and was on-board a boat to Ward Island within ten minutes. It seemed very cold on the boat as the wind blew across the water — quite a contrast to what we’d been experiencing in Mexico just the day before.

The view from the island looking back at downtown Toronto isn’t a bad one, and was worth a photograph or two before moving on across the boardwalk to the other side of the island. These islands are very small so they don’t take long to cross.

Toronto

I was surprised how much colder it was on these islands than downtown Toronto. My assumption was that the wind blowing over Lake Ontario was cooling the air down so it’d feel cooler here.

Center Island has a number of buildings, and places to get food. It also has a bit of a theme park as well, though most of the buildings around this area are aimed at young families. We stopped briefly there for a burger, but carried on our walk to the far side of the islands, to Hanlan’s Point.

On our way to the ferry we came across a lighthouse at Gibraltar Point which was open as part of the Toronto Open Doors day. It was a bit of a wait to go up as they’d only allow four in at a time for safety reasons, but it was fairly interesting to see. From the top you could see all over the islands and also got a good view of the Toronto skyline. It’s apparently one of the oldest structures in Toronto.

Gibraltar Point

The ferry at Hanlan’s Point was only a fifteen minute wait away. At first I thought we’d boarded the wrong one as it headed towards Ward Island, but then started to turn so it could return to the mainland.

Having disembarked we wandered aimlessly at first, unsure what to see next. We looked through the map and saw that the old town hall was part of the Open Doors day as well so headed towards that.

Further along the road we could see a number of people standing around, and few parked up police cars. Then I saw a crashed helicopter. My first thought was wondering what had happened and why people were so close to it. Could it have been a tragic accident, or a terrorist attack? As we got closer I realised that it was being set-up as part of a film shoot.

Once I was close enough to photograph it I could see the rotors on the helicopter were mangled and it had been set-up to look like it had crashed into a bus. I noticed one of the police cars said “Midway City Police Department” on the side — it was familiar but I couldn’t quite place where I knew it from.

When I realised that Midway was a fictional city in Michigan, an analogue of Chicago, I realised that the production was from Warner Brothers. This was the set of DC Comic’s Suicide Squad — the next movie in their new cinematic universe.

DC Comics — Suicide Squad — Crashed helicopter

I’d have loved to have stopped there longer to see if they were about to shoot the scene, but we’d lost enough time. The stop for photographs had delayed us enough to mean that the old town hall was closing when we got there though. My friend suggested an alternative — looking around the Toronto University buildings as he thought some of those looked interesting.

We walked down Yonge Street through one of the major shopping areas. This street seemed to go on forever, when in reality it apparently stretches for almost thirty-five miles. It’s a road which was once incorrectly reported to be over 1,000 miles long as the longest in the world — but in actual fact most of that distance was Highway 11. We didn’t get very far along Yonge Street before we stopped in a square filled with people.

Amongst the crowds was a street performer. He had started off with juggling, and then moved on to juggling fire. To maintain the interest of the crowd he added in a little variety in the form of a demonstration of how to use a whip. Then he set it on fire. I found it entertaining that this was the point he got some audience participation.

For the finale of his show he set fire to a tennis racket that had it’s strings removed. It didn’t seem that amazing, but then he dislocated his left shoulder, then his right shoulder, and then squeezed his entire body through the flaming tennis racket. Now that was a finale. How he never set his long hair on fire during this was also something of a mystery.

Street Performer

With the show over we gave him a small donation and carried on to the University. There are quite a few buildings on the campus, though I didn’t feel any of them were an interesting enough example of architecture to photograph.


Next morning we hired a car using a local service for which you pay an annual subscription. It took us a while to figure out how to use it, though this didn’t delay us by too much. Our plans for the day were to see the one thing I really wanted to see in Canada — Niagara Falls.

My friend decided he’d do the driving which I was happy to agree to, though as he’d not driven on the right for some time it was a bit of an experience. Most of his driving history was in the UK where we drive on the left-hand side of the road, with the drivers seat on the opposite side of the car. For the journey to Niagara-on-the-Lake I was keeping an eye out for whenever he accidentally drifted out of the lane.

Niagara-on-the-Lake is surprisingly more commercialised than I thought it would be, though I’m not sure what I really expected. We drove passed the falls and found some reasonably priced parking spaces near the Floral show house.

Heading back to the falls meant we were then travelling in the same direction as the flow of water so our first proper view was looking down near the edge. As we passed them we could see more and more of them and started to appreciate just how immense these falls are.

Niagara Falls

On the Canadian side of the falls you can easily see the three waterfalls that are collectively known as Niagara Falls: Bridal Veil Falls, Horseshoe Falls, and the American Falls. From both the American and Canadian sides of the falls there are boat rides out to the Horseshoe Falls on the boats known as the “Maidens of the Mist”. From the Canadian side you can also take a tunnel almost down to the water level in order to see behind the falls.

I’d have been interested in either of those, but I hadn’t realised it was a possibility until it was too late to find something I could protect my camera equipment with. Once again I needed to remind myself to research a place properly before visiting.

Walking along the waterfront means getting wet as the wind carries spray from the falls for quite some distance. I wouldn’t say we got that wet, but it was enough to make it feel cooler.

For lunch we headed into the main complex where they have souvenir shops and food places. We decided to try Tim Hortons — a Canadian food chain that my friend recommended. The food wasn’t that bad, and it was a welcome change after two weeks in Mexico.

It may have been better to eat our food outside by the falls, but instead we ate indoors quickly, and was then back outside taking photographs. I felt the shots I’d got were not that interesting, but to get into better positions would mean getting into places where my camera would be getting wet.

Eventually we finished and started our walk back, stopping briefly in a rose garden that didn’t have any roses. I supposed that usually it does, but that early June may have been out of season. My knowledge of botany is awful so had no idea.


Monday morning meant my friend was back at work, but it being a public holiday in the UK meant that I’d got the day to myself. I needed to figure out what I could see, and hopefully I’d find my way back at the end of the day as well.

The previous couple of days had gotten me used to using the basic subway system in Toronto so I used that to get to Union Station. From there I walked to the CN Tower in hopes that they would do a “day and night” ticket similar to what I’d seen for observation decks in New York City. Unfortunately it wasn’t something they did so decided it’d be better to return just before dusk sometime.

Before setting off I’d decided that I’d see what Fort York was like as it wasn’t too far to walk to from the Rogers Stadium. I was surprised that my sense of direction worked out okay on this rare occasion. Perhaps years of travelling had helped me to overcome being locationally challenged quite as often.

The historic site of Fort York was first created in 1797 as a way of defending some land that was deemed suitable for settlement due to it’s natural harbour and relative distance from the United States. This was garrisoned by both the British Army and later by Canadian militia forces. The original buildings were destroyed in the Battle of York in 1812 when the British abandoned the garrison. In much later years, after ownership transferred to the City of Toronto, it was used by the military during the First and Second World Wars.

Fort York

The entrance to Fort York is a modern building where the windows are covered in sheets of steel that give it a defensive look but they lift up to act like an awning. At the time I visited there was also an exhibition there about recent warfare. The entire site consists of several buildings which each served a different purpose — barracks, mess hall, armoury, and magazine. They feel out of place with their skyscraper backdrop, but they’re a reminder of where this city started.

The majority of the buildings were open though surprisingly it seemed I was the only one looking around. There was a lot of information in these buildings about the role of this fort, and it’s place in history. The entrance building also sold basic snacks and souvenirs, so bought a drink on my way out.

By the time I got to Yonge Street, on my way to Casa Loma, my friend had finished work so met up with him along the way. I probably didn’t take the best route from there, but eventually navigated my way through a housing estate to Casa Loma for the sole purpose of taking a photograph of it’s interesting architecture.

Casa Loma

The exterior Gothic style makes Casa Loma look like it’s trying to appear older than it is, but with it being just over one hundred years old it probably is one of the oldest residences in Toronto. I believe the building is used for functions normally, though I knew it had been used in the production of a number of movies and quite a few television series. Probably the most notable appearance was in the first of Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies.


The next few days had very little tourism as I was working remotely — an advantage of the job I do. As I was waking up early I was starting far earlier than I normally would, and could eat breakfast whilst I worked. This meant I was finishing mid-afternoon to allow for a bit more exploration.

On the first of these days I went to the Rogers Stadium to watch a baseball game — the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox. When we got to the stadium there was a bit of an issue with my camera to start with. As I’d got my 150–500 mm lens attached they said that without a press pass I wasn’t going to be allowed to use it. My only option was to let them lock it up and to collect it after the game.

When we got to the place where they lock up valuables the manager there decided that as we were sitting up in section 535 that it’d be okay for me to keep my camera with me as long as I kept it out of people’s way. As it turned out we were pretty much the only people sitting up in that section as the majority were further down — closer to the action. An incredibly lucky outcome!

Before the game could begin, the national anthems of America and Canada were sung by performers that walked out onto the field. I didn’t really know much about baseball, and to be honest I still don’t. I watched as two teams I’d not seen before took it in turns to try and score points — something that they didn’t do for a number of innings.

After a few of these had passed I’d decided that as I’d not yet eaten I should do what seems stereotypical for baseball games and went to get a hot dog. It was better than the one I’d tried in New York, so that was something. To make it even better the teams finally started scoring and for most of the game they were tied.

From what I could understand of the rules, it would end after nine innings, or would continue if a winner couldn’t be determined — something which has been known to last hours. My hope was that there’d be a victory after nine innings, but it wasn’t looking good for the Blue Jays — the White Sox at the end of their last innings were ahead and it seemed it was all over.

Eventually it got to the last ball for the last batter. There were runners on each of the bases ready to go if he could hit it — they just needed to score one to get level, or two to win. Amazingly he hit a home run propelling the team to victory, and ending the game in the nine innings. I was told it was an ending you don’t often see in baseball, and I was fortunate to see a home team win like that in the first game I’d been to see.

During the game the sun had set, and it was now dark — something that’s not obvious under the lights of the stadium. The next evening wasn’t as adventurous and was instead a walk around High Park to familiarise myself with the area so I could go for a 5K run the following day. Dropping from four runs a week down to one did not make that easy.

On my penultimate evening in Toronto we went to the CN Tower to finally see what the view was like from there. One thing we didn’t know about the CN Tower was that it is one of the few attractions where the advertised price doesn’t include tax — something which is common when shopping, but something I’d not seen before for entry fees.

We got to through security and to the top of the tower whilst it was still dusk and was able to take photographs with varying levels of light. I found this difficult as being indoors meant that the interior lights were reflecting off the glass. My only option was to experiment with my camera to see what I could do to avoid them.

Toronto at Night

My final evening was a trip to the local IMAX to watch a film, though this wasn’t quite the end. The next morning was free for me to carry on exploring and was once again the weekend so would be doing so with my friend as a guide. We started with the indoor market in downtown Toronto, though it wasn’t something I was interested in. Of course that didn’t stop me from trying one of their cheesecakes though.

Just as we were about to leave the market the sky opened up and started pouring with rain. It was torrential, but it was short-lived and soon eased off enough to carry on walking around the city.

Leaving the country seemed to be a slow process. In part it was down to people in front of me not following instructions at security. Though after I boarded the plane this was then delayed as one of the toilets was not working and would have to be fixed before they’d let us leave.

By 11:30 they announced that we would be deplaning, and would need to board another aircraft in a few hours time. I was getting increasingly tired, but once the scheduled time arrived they announced there would be a further delay as they need to wait for another pilot. They explained that one of the pilots would now be coming off their shift during the flight so would need another to take over.

The flight was long and tiring, but it’s one I knew I’d probably one day make again in order to see the rest of Canada. At this point though, weeks of travelling across Mexico and a short break in Canada was over and I could relax before setting off on another adventure.

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