Toronto was our last stop (other than the two days in LA) and I think that really showed with our schedule. We were pretty exhausted at this stage, so we spent a lot of time just hanging out and operating at a much slower pace. Which was actually really nice. We still saw plenty of the sights and got to know the city fairly well, but we didn't have the same frantic pace that we had in New York City. We also picked a pretty good time to visit. The extreme colds don't hit until January and February, and apparently the few snows we got to experience in Toronto (once on Christmas day!) is quite rare for this time of year. So it seems we got all the best parts of winter.
Toronto was also a bit of a testing ground to see if a move to Canada could potentially be in the books for the (near) future. It's ideal for both Tom's and my career so it's been on our list of potential new homes for awhile. And I've got to say, from our short stay (about 11 days) I could see myself at home there. It's a larger, more creativity-driven Brisbane, has actual seasons, is pretty central for trips elsewhere in Canada and the US and my nana and aunt live there. So hey, maybe I'll be a North American blogger before long!
Once again we really lucked out with our hostel's location. Not only were we really close to the subway and Spadina Ave but we had a cinema around one corner and the TIFF Lightbox around another! TIFF had a David Cronenberg exhibit open which was amazing. Cronenberg is Tom's favourite director and we both love The Fly (amongst countless others) so to see props, costumes, scripts and learn about Cronenberg's creative process was literally the best thing ever. If you're in Toronto and want to check out TIFF (it's such a great space, and they have films - current and older - playing throughout the day) then go on a Tuesday when tickets are half priced. It isn't overly expensive regularly, but why pay more if you don't have to?
Toronto isn't a particularly iconic city, appearance wise, or at least not in the same way as somewhere like New York is but it's such a hub of creativity. It is literally on every surface of the city. Whether it's an alleyway dedicated to graffiti artists, gorgeous coffee shops, colourful shop fronts in Kensington Markets, the gorgeous TIFF Lightbox building or the hundreds of buildings dedicated to TV studios, special effects companies and game studios the city breathes creativity. There is a real openness and understanding of how important creativity is to every field and workplace, which is like a breath of fresh air amidst the anti-creativity government policy here in Australia at the moment. Another upside to a creative city? The best bars and restaurants.
Because we were in Toronto and my aunt is a mad hockey fan, we obviously had to go to a game. We had the best seats in the house (maybe not literally, but still) right up in front of the glass. I jumped SO much when the puck hit the protective glass in front of me. It's terrifying though, more power to the actual players - pretty sure I'd be in the foetal position on the ice crying the whole game. I'm not a big sport watcher but hockey is AMAZING! There's so much violence and speedy black pucks and they do it all while skating on ice. It's the greatest spectacle, and the crowds are amazing to watch as well. Canadians are so super polite they're even nice to the opposing team. In Australia...we're not so nice. Also, Chris Hadfield was there and he led the crowd in the Maple Leafs team song*. It was pretty great. Oh, did I mention we were on TV? One of the camera guys was right in front of us, so any time the Leafs scored he'd flip around and film us and the people around us. We found the 2 second spot when we rewatched the game the next morning. Again, that night was pretty great.
One of my favourite days in Toronto was also one of our busiest. At this stage we'd moved to my aunt's place (she was down in Texas with her partner) so we got to sleep in and eat breakfast in our own time. Does anyone else find it impossible to sleep in or feel comfortable at hotel breakfasts? Just me? Oh... okay. We headed down to the harbour front to see Lake Ontario and to finally go ice skating. I knew Lake Ontario was big, but guys, Lake Ontario is really, really big. The parts of the lake around the harbour were completely frozen. I don't know how solid the ice was but I have seen photos of people skating across from Toronto Island into the harbour which just...you can't even imagine how awesome that is to someone who has grown up in the tropics. We went skating at a little outdoor rink (Natrel Rink) right on the harbour, so while we skating around we got a gorgeous view of the lake and the surrounding area. It was my first time skating since early high school so I was pretty embarrassingly bad when I hopped on the ice but by the end I think I'd managed to look a little less silly. Of course, the Canadians skated literally rings around me but I expected nothing else.
|Me, standing on the ice for the first time. Haha|
After skating we headed to the Steam Whistle Brewery that was a short walk from the harbour. The brewery is in the old Railway Roundhouse and right next to the CN Tower, Roger's Centre and the new Ripley's Aquarium. The brewery tour was great, for $10 we got our weight in beer (I've never seen a brewery so happy to give away samples on samples on samples), a half hour tour around the brewery and quick lesson on how their beer is brewed, and a souvenir beer glass or bottle opener at the end. The tour needs to be booked in advance (or at least it did over the Christmas season) but there's also a bar inside where you can take a seat, drink a good beer and have a break before rushing off to the next tourist attraction. After the brewery we walked down to my nana's apartment and visited with her and some neighbours late into the night. It was nice to see my nana after so many years, and get a look at embarrassing baby photos of my dad that he'd NEVER share with us.
On our last full day we hopped on a bus and headed out to Niagara Falls. We'd been told that we didn't need to spend too much time up there, but we booked our tickets in advance and I probably wish we'd had either longer so we weren't constantly worrying about getting back to the bus stop on time or had just booked our trip once we were done looking around and had made it back to the station. Anyway, Niagara the town is kind of depressing. The area around the falls is full of chain restaurants and overpriced tourist shops and the glitzy grossness of the casino. The town that falls outside of an easy walk from the falls in grey and sad and in disrepair. It's actually really sad to see what a tourist hotspot (and for a legitimise reason, the falls are extraordinary) can do to a town.
But the falls. The falls are amazing. They were a little disappointing at first, only because, I think, they're so built up in your head that they can't possibly live up to the expectation. I had the same experience on the Great Wall of China. But once you get past that initial reaction, they're really enormous. They're also gorgeous in the winter. Apparently a few days later they completely froze over, but while we were there they were still rushing with water. The spray is so cold that every surface nearby is covered in a solid inch of white ice. It looks amazing. Even though we were there on the first of January there were still crowds of tourists snapping photos of the falls. It was terrifying how many of them were perched up on the icy rails, I wonder how many people slip over each year. Actually, scratch that. I absolutely don't want to know a terrifying statistic like that.
*We also saw him outside on the way into the stadium and Tom was jostled against him. Ergo, Tom has now touched Space.