Toronto, another one of the world’s mega cities. Built on a very predictable grid, but it surprised me to know it’s full of many little settlements. There’s Greektown, Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Portugal and Little Italy, but overall it still seems to have a very American feel about it.
Getting in and around
It was just $20 to take a bus from Niagara Falls, ON to Toronto with Megabus. I think there was a Greyhound service for a few bucks more, but meh. It took about two and a half hours due to peak hour in Toronto.
The only downside was that the driver had the most boring and monotonous Canadian accent I have ever heard. He could have been talking about the most exciting thing on the planet and still put you to sleep. Just wow.
From there the metro is easy to use like the city grid is easy to navigate. A trip can include all forms of public transport (subway, trams, buses) as long as you take a transfer ticket. Tokens can be purchased for $3.50 a pop, just don’t lose the tokens if you pre-purchase a lot of them!
When I got to my cousin’s house I was locked out and nobody was home. I asked a random guy if there was a cafe nearby with WiFi and he looked at me really apprehensively. He didn’t even stop walking and just said “somewhere that way” and ran away like I was going to rob him with my massive backpack on. Lousy suits.
The second person I asked also seemed reluctant to help. What the hell Canadia?! I thought Canadians were friendly – at least all the ones I’ve met before were. Finally a girl stopped and sent a quick text to my cousin for me. Within 5 minutes, guess who was riding towards me. Lucky I walked that direction!
Catching up with Dirty Nose and Co.
Let’s be honest, the real reason I was here was to catch with this adorable teddy bear. Showing its age, but the spirit is still strong in this one. Dirty Nose survived open heart surgery and the loss of its nose. Hopefully in future there’ll be some sort of fur transplant to help this little guy.
The proud owner of Dirty Nose is my cousin Rachel. Other than perhaps my sister, I think she’s the only other person in my family who travels around like crazy. She moved with her boyfriend Alex to Toronto about a year ago – one step ahead of me dammit! Other than that she’s not that cool, I think Dirty Nose only keeps her around to maintain her social media profiles and chauffeur her around. Kidding!
They live in a nice neighbourhood – Greektown actually. There are lots of nice leafy streets and all the houses have this nice homely North American feel to them.
Kings and Queens
After dumping my bags and showering the first thing we did was travel to the west side to check out Queen St W and King St W. Alex was working so Rach and I had dinner at this incredibly tasty Thai place called Nana on Queen St W and Manning Ave.
Incredible flavours! Super tasty without being too spicy, it was sweet, sour, herby and just delicious! I can’t remember any time that I had better Thai food. I think it was $35ea including tips though so maybe a bit pricey for Asian food, but definitely worth it. Just be aware the shop’s sign is in Thai.
After that it was time for a well earned drink. Not the weird ass Canadian variation of a Bloody Mary, I mean an enjoyable drink and not just punishment. We found a bar on King St W and had a glass of wine. They were good times, but the wine was pretty average and the service was absolutely rubbish.
Anytime we asked for something the staff seemed to forget about it. Even when we asked for the bill (after giving up on waiting for a bottle of wine – no small purchase) they never seemed like they were coming back. I gave the lead barman some shit about it, but he didn’t see a problem…so Rach left a shitty tip and we snuck off haha. And thus, my opinion of Canadians (although I think the problem was just Torontonians) sunk lower.
So we went to some other bar Rach knew, enjoyed a whisky sour and some proper service. Funnily bars here call last drinks pretty early. I think it was only midnight on a Thursday.
I never knew Canadians were into baseball, but apparently Torontonians are. Perhaps another reason why they seem very American to me. Alex told me that Toronto has the only Canadian baseball and basketball teams in the American leagues. They’re just different I guess.
We tried to go to a baseball game for the novelty. Scalpers were everywhere, I guess they don’t police it. Tickets online were upwards of $100 so canned that option and went to find a bar on King St to watch the game.
I really don’t get this game. It couldn’t have been more boring. Maybe it’s the Australian in me, but I would rather watch Test Cricket (and I don’t even like Test Cricket!). No one scored, just like soccer and no one ever appeared to be really doing anything.
Alex and Rach were pretty much working opposite shifts so I only really saw them together for the baseball and the last lunch.
So one day Alex and I hit up a cafe up the road in Greektown before he had to go to work. It was a great place for an epic sandwich and gargantuan latte. I thought the latte soup I got served in Sao Paulo was big, but wow this one took the cake and ate the cake before being served to you.
These man sized portions only set you back $18 including tips.
Just up the road from their place there’s a European Bakery with heaps of ridiculously good desserts where I picked up some baklava.
One night we went and had drinks at a friend’s place. People got a little festive so we headed over to Koreatown for some kareoke! They didn’t give out costumes like in Tokyo, but they had a good song list.
I think the favourites were a rendition of Canada’s very own Chad Kroeger and the Nickelback hit “How You Remind Me” sung by a strangled cat. Unfortunately rapping and just generally knowing the lyrics were not our strong points.
If you don’t want to pierce someone’s ear drums you can of course also eat Korean. Not eat Korean people, I don’t think that’s allowed, but the food is everywhere. I never understand why so many Asian businesses selling the exact same things always pop up right next to each other. It must be terrible for business having so much competition right next to you, but I guess it does bring a little fame to the neighbourhood.
Les Tours de Toronto
Alex never used his bike to get to work because it’s too far, which was lucky for me because that meant that I fit in two big cycle tours of the city.
It took me a while to get used to riding a road bike with wrap around handle bars, but once I did it was great! With half pumped tyres it wasn’t actually that fragile on the bumps and a little bit of off-road. I just can’t justify buying a second bike back home.
The first time I cruised through the suburbs looking for a park to exercise in. I quickly found myself at the bay having found nothing.. So I thought it might be fun to explore Ward’s Island.
I crossed the opening bridge and there were loads of paths and roads to explore. I think I must have done a good 15km around that place, which was welcome, because I must have searched a dozen parks that day and never found even a basic set of chin-up bars. Not really an American thing I guess – perhaps it’s because it’s too cold outside. But then again I found some in Kirkjubæjarklauster in Iceland so the cold is no excuse!
I went to meet Rach for lunch in the city, but wow, don’t trust her for directions! She gave me a building which I went to, but it turns out there are three of them linked by underground tunnels. Then she sent me a Google Maps pin which must have been thrown off by all the buildings so that was no use either. Finally, she sent me a picture of the view from her seat and so I had to do some orienteering to try and find her haha.
On the last day I was on a bit of a mission to find more good places in Toronto. So I did a bit of research and found a few places to go.
First stop was Bulldog Coffee on Gerard St E between Mutual and Church Sts. The owner was quick to talk about his awards and loved the idea that I was Australian – apparently our coffee is respected in the world! I’m not too sure he was pleased by my choice of words in a review of his coffee. Maybe I offended him, but it was smooth aromatic coffee. I would have liked it stronger, with less milk, but otherwise it was great and at least it wasn’t the scalding hot cat piss served to you at Starshmucks.
Next up I headed to the bay again. This time I road the whole city-side waterfront, which has a pretty impressive traffic, bike and pedestrian set up. Australia really needs to learn a thing or to from Canada about urban planning in that regard and drivers and cyclists really need to learn to respect each other. I never had an issue riding on the roads of Toronto even in peak hour. It felt totally safe even without a helmet.
The view at the west end of the bay before Hyde Park made for the best postcard shot of Toronto.
After that, I went looking for more food. I was actually headed to Dufflet Pastries on Queen St W (right next to Nana), but it had a weird air about it and didn’t look very interesting despite a good mention online.
In the end I realised that Sud Forno (which Rach and I had noticed on the first night) was just across the street. They had some awesome looking pastries, pasta and organic food, plus good coffee.
The Distillery District
The last stop, but not least, was the Distillery District on the way home. I’m not sure what the nightlife was like, but by day it was a pretty sweet place to chill in the summer sun.
The industry here kind of collapsed at a point and so the area was converted into shops and cafes and proves to be quite popular now. I love old brickwork like this – so much character.
And that was it! A short catch up, but nice to see my most travelled cousin and the big man Alex. I’m sure Rach would love me to move there too, but I feel like I’d be more suited to the western states of Canadia. For now it was time to board the ridiculously cheap and easy Union Pearson Express bound for the airport.