On approach, I slowly open my eyes. Looking outside, I immediately get a thought: Did we catch a plane to New York…? Maybe I should have spent some time in researches on Toronto before, otherwise the gigantic scale of the Golden Horseshoe, from which countless skyscrapers rise, wouldn’t be this surprising. With the unboarding our adventure starts. The Mega City immediately leads us into its vortex.
Toronto, one of the largest cities in North America
Statistically speaking, Toronto is not that big. 2.6 million inhabitants, Wikipedia told me in advance. Well, as a Berliner, that does not impress me – at least that’s what I thought. However, Toronto is not surrounded by Brandenburg, but by a huge melting pot of cities that have long since grown together completely with Toronto. This results in about 12 million inhabitants in the immediate vicinity. So we thoughtfully drive down the 16 lanes of the “Highway of Heroes” in our mega SUV. At some point in the evening (in September, with 20 degrees predicted!) we reach our hotel, the Novotel North York, at around 30 degrees Celsius. In the meantime we have already found out that North York is anything but central. But we don’t care, we check in, have a snack and fall into bed.
“The faster you are here, the cheaper it gets”
The next morning I quickly want to get Adina’s jacket from the car. Because our SUV was too big for the underground car park, it stood on the street. My bad: we overlooked these tiny signs indicating a parking prohibition during rush hour. The police didn’t so. Our car is gone. Some phone calls later I have an address and a very bad gut feeling. The lady refused to tell me on phone how expensive this would become. But: we would pay extra for each hour. An hour and a half later we have our car back – and spent about 500 dollars. Ouch. We decide to search for a little bit distraction, look around and find that we are very close to Black Creek Pioneer’s Village, a village faithfully recreated in the style of the first settlers and even filled with life by actors.
Little House in reality
Many of the actors in the Black Creek Pioneer’s Village have profund historic knowledge, we found out. Chatting with them makes us suddenly feel like we’re in the eighties series Little House, when a group of historically dressed children ran from a house to school – almost as if Laura Ingalls with her plaited braids had forgotten the start of class again! Excitingly, by the way, everything was wheelchair accessible, so that Adina could indulge her great passion and visit the print shop! In a sewing shop Piet was given a carrot as a present, which an actress was sewing for sale – of course he was as proud as Punch! Inspired by this excursion we repressed our morning nightmare a little and set off to explore the immediate surroundings of the hotel and arrange for dinner. A little Canadian beer (at horrendous prices, because Canada has very high taxes on all alcohol) comforted us completely over the bumpy start, and we reconciled with Canada.
Casa Loma: The castle that is not
Casa Loma rises impressively on Davenport Hill. We are told that everything was wheelchair accessible. In fact, the oldest elevator in Canada can be found in here – and it has been where it is today right from the start. Casa Loma was built by a rich British industrialist in the style of European castles – from 1911 to 1914. While our historic buildings are mostly at least 300 to 500 years and more old, those here have just 100 years and already belong to the old stock. The castle is magnificently built, even an own orangery with tropical temperatures for exotic plants was arranged by the lord of the castle. But all in all it feels a bit like Disneyland when you wander around in the knowledge that all this is just a replica – even if it is well done. So we decide to switch to the real culture of Toronto and move on to the melting pot.
Pure cultural mix: Kensington Market
Never before have we experienced such an impressive mix of cultures: close to Toronto’s Old Town is Kensington Market, a quarter full of different cultures with shops, restaurants, cafés and, above all, lots of life. Caribbean vibes meet African Creole cuisine, Europe meets Asia, and right in the middle of it all is us. In the Jamaican food market we find Caribbean spices, in the reggae store next door Adina discovers a great dress hanging right in front of a photo that shows Bob Marley in just that store. A little further down is Graffity Alley, an alley that has been opened for graffiti artists. There are even wedding shootings taking place here, and in view of the pictures I quickly realize why. We will get lost even more often to Kensington Market – if only to get a beak at Caplansky’s Delicatessen (which unfortunately can only be visited at the airport now)! Here you can find fantastic sandwiches with smoked meat and many other delicacies.
Food Court, Handcraft Stores: Distillery District
The Distillery District is also one of the hippest areas of Toronto, especially in the evenings. Here, within the scenery of numerous former distilleries, many bars, restaurants and manufactories as well as art galleries have settled down nowadays. The neighborhood is extremely lively and young, and we quickly find out: this is the hotspot of Toronto’s hip life. The amazing heat (as a reminder: 30 degrees Celsius in September – and Timo had just one pair of shorts and three T-shirts in his luggage, because ten degrees less was predicted) drives us into a beer garden, where we sip ice-cold iced tea for a little cooling down. Even here, in a historic district, attention has been paid to accessibility – even many of the small art galleries are accessible, and we almost lost ourselves in this district if out schedule had not been so tight…
St. Lawrence Market – Tornto’s market hall
We LOVE market halls! No wonder as we also are totally into fresh and local food. So it was clear we would visit St. Lawrence Market which is situated pretty close to the distillery district. The entrance already gives us some remembrance of Barcelona’s market hall, one of our all-time favorites. We find a colourful mix of street food, vegetables, fruit, meat, sausage, cheese and above all fish, the colours and smells overwhelm our senses. If you come here you need some spare time – and don’t come there when you’re hungry as it will be hard to decide what you are going to try!
CN-Tower, Ripleys Aquarium, Rogers Centre
Close to the water you will find one of Toronto’s most famous attractions: The CN-Tower, which is over 500 meters high, from whose platform visitors can enjoy a breathtaking view over the city and the Golden Horseshoe at Lake Ontario. A little further down there is a platform for the Edgewalk, where you can walk around the tower from the outside, secured with rope. Nearby are Ripley’s Aquarium, the largest aquarium in Canada, and the Rogers Centre, where numerous (sports) events take place.
A waterfront brewery with restaurant. Already at the entrance hungry visitors are welcomed by a huge smoker, in which – secured by a lock – finest beef is exposed to the hot smoke for hours and thus becomes butter tender and aromatic. The result is a Smoked Beef Brisket with Coleslaw and corn bread, which people rave about for weeks. Don’t forget to book a table if you want to come there for dinner as the quality has become legendary.
By the water: beaches, Lake Ontario and Toronto Island
Toronto is located on Lake Ontario – the smallest of the Great Lakes, but nevertheless of impressive size: with an area of over 19,000 square kilometres, it is over thirty times the size of Lake Constance. The number of beaches on its doorstep is correspondingly large. There are pretty wide sandy beaches for sunbathing and swimming. Right in front of the City-Aiport Toronto, which is mainly used for business flights within Canada, is Toronto Island. Lift on the island is a little quieter and more contemplative, and especially at dusk there is a breathtaking view of the fascinating skyline of Toronto. It is not for nothing that the city is increasingly becoming a film location – because filming permits are easier to obtain here than in New York, but depending on the location, they look pretty similar. It takes about 20 minutes by ferry from the mainland to the island, and the hustle and bustle gets lost after you disembark!
Our first excursion: The Georgian Bay in the north
We are aware that we mainly stay in a metropole. But Canada especially stands for nature, wilderness, water and adventure. So we set off north to find out about it. However, this is not so easy, because Georgian Bay, a two-hour drive north of Toronto, is the most popular weekend domicile for business people. Unfortunately, everything around Lake Huron that is close to the road is private property. We found a tiny beach, which at least was not fenced in, and gave up after some time of searching. At the dock of Penetanguishene we comforted ourselves with Poutine, the Canadian snack par excellence (for non-specialists: Poutine consists of fries topped with bacon sauce and cheese). Afterwards we bought some nice souvenirs and made our way home at dusk. So we learned only a little bit – way too less! – about the countryside.
Second excursion: Niagara Falls
The USA are often said to turn every natural spectacle into their own Disneyland. Anyone who visits Niagara finds out that Canada is in no way inferior to them. When you hear Niagara Falls, you think of a wildly romantic waterfall in the forest – at least if you are a little naïve. Truth can be cruel. Arrived in Niagara Falls we park at Skylon Tower, a pretty run-down lookout tower. First we use the elevator to get to the basement, and there a bizarre-looking picture awaits us: an amusement arcade with innumerable playground equipment from the eighties, in the basement with bright lighting. 200 meters further on the Niagara Falls are roaring, of which one does not suspect anything here… we start our way, and directly along the falls the road leads on the Canadian side. The smaller falls that are based on the US side are much less impressive, which is why I discard my thoughts of marching over the Rainbow Bridge to the USA on foot. That is possible here without ETA, but you have to put up with all the immigration talk, and we already had enough of that in Canada. No more. We didn*t want to waste any time. It is hot, still hot, and we enjoy the cooling by the spray, which is everywhere in the air. We stroll to the edge of the big waterfalls and once again marvel at nature: the water flows calmly, clearly and unagitated towards the edge, sloshes gently over the edge once and in the fall develops into a thunderous spectacle. Ten centimetres from the edge, it is impossible to imagine what force this calm water would develop within the next seconds.
We set off on a tour to Niagara Falls with the Hornblower boats. Equipped with water protection for the camera and the obligatory plastic ponchos, which are included here in the entrance fee, we go on board. Spoiler alert: the ponchos are pretty useless. We get soaking wet in the cauldron of the falls, but considering the burning sun it’s not that bad, it’s rather pleasant… This spectacle made a lasting impression on us, we ignore the Disneyland character that was built up around here, and make our way again to a small village nearby, which is so different…
Niagara on the Lake
It is a thirty-minutes ride to Niagara on the Lake – at Lake Ontario. Once the port was very important, but after losing their port licence the little town nearly became forgotten. Today it is a lively little place that has awakened from its Sleeping Beauty slumber but still kept the charm of the Wilhelminian era, with historic buildings, one of the typical Canadian Christmas shops for the whole year, and culinary highlights. The town centre is a must-see!
We enjoyed Canada so much. Everything here is bigger, louder and – cleaner then in Berlin. Even people with low-paid jobs make the best from their situation and enjoy what they are doing, and are incredibly polite. Our special thanks go to the bus driver, who took us in the bus to our next stop after his workday, which we would hardly have reached thanks to the non-wheelchair-friendly tram, which was still running on this route at that time. He definitely refused a tip, but he asked us to send a message to his employers from the TTC – via the praise form (!) on the company’s website. Thank you so much – maybe we will return some day!
Yet more Canada posts
This post is part of the blog parade of Travelsanne.de. Her post features a lot more posts about regions throughout Canada – have a look at it: Canada special at Travelsanne.de
More pictures and information on Canada
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