Actually, despite the title, in this post I am going to tell you how I’ve spent an afternoon in Toronto, in a stopover on my way to Cuba. The total time of the stopover was 20 hours, but that also included the night.
The easiest way to fly to Cuba, from Europe, is via Toronto/Montreal or via Madrid. I chose the first option because the price was much cheaper and because I was happy to know that this flight will give me 20 hours to spend in Toronto. I’ve booked a hotel for the night, bought the Lonely Planet, sorted my visa and happily waited for the departure date. Due to the fact that my luggage was lost, it took me less than 15 minutes since I got off the plane until I cleared immigration and found myself in the arrivals hall from Pearson International Airport.
The hotel shuttle showed up in half an hour and by 1PM I was in my room, at the Star Express Inn, in Mississauga. I’ve staid in many, many hotels and hostels during my trips around the world but none was dirtier than this one. The sheets were stained, the floor was dirty, the shower curtain was stinking, there was no drinking water at all… but I was so tired that nothing mattered at this point. I took a shower, changed my clothes and then headed back to the airport to take the express train into the city.
The fast train UP Express takes less than 30 minutes from the airport into town, has free WiFi and the price of the ticket is $44 for a return. The ticket machines won’t sell return tickets, for this you have to speak with a member of the staff. Otherwise you will pay more if you buy two one way tickets.
I arrived in Toronto right before the sun was preparing to set. I got out of the train and I couldn’t believe my eyes what I was seeing. I felt like I was in one of those American movies where a country girl all of a sudden founds herself in the center of New York. I was standing in the middle of the sidewalk, in front of the train station, looking up at the skyscrapers, with a dumb smile on my face, while hundreds of people were rushing by me, into their daily routine. But for me, time stood still. I was astonished by the size of the buildings surrounding me.
I didn’t have all day to stare, so I looked on the map and decided to go towards the harbor and see Lake Ontario. I knew I wouldn’t have time to go to the island and back but I still wanted to see the waterfront. I’ve made my way down Bay street, through the crowds of people heading for the station, passed underneath a bridge and got stuck at a traffic light behind a bunch of Canadians wearing business suits. I listed to their conversation for a few seconds and found their accent being so different, me being used to the British one. They were also very tall and I felt a bit like a midget behind them (and I am not short).
The waterfront, near the ferry terminal, was beautiful. The sun was setting down and the sky was colored in different shades of red and orange. The lake is also on the flight path of the small city airport of Toronto and I was lucky to see a few planes landing, and even luckier to catch one in a picture. Besides me, a child was pointing them out to her parents… in Romanian. “What a small world!”, I thought to myself.
Slowly, slowly, the night has took over the town and the lights turn on, while I went back exploring the streets guarded by the tall skyscrapers. I was searching for the Eaton Centre, a mall, to buy some clothes and some toiletries for the next few days until my luggage was supposed to be delivered (or so I thought, as it never did). But I would stop at every corner to look up again, take some more pictures and think again how amazing this was. Soon, I arrived at the Old City Hall, which I first thought it was a vintage fire station, but I can’t explain what gave me that impression. I could see it’s clock tower from far away, as I was walking on Bay Street and I was intrigued because it’s architecture was so different than everything surrounding it.
I crossed the street and my intuition told me to go left. And all of a sudden I was in this beautiful square, all decorated for Christmas, with an ice skating ring and the name “Toronto” spelled in large colored letters behind it. I would have loved to spend some more time there but I had to go, I only had half an hour until I was meeting Sam, the Couchsurfer whom I was having dinner with. Luckily the mall was just two blocks away.
It was getting cold so I was happy to get inside. Eaton Centre is a large shopping center and this time of the year it was nicely decorated with huge pink reindeer. The atmosphere was very Christmasy and most of the shops had sales. But at that moment, all I wished for was a lipbalm and a bottle of water. Just a tip, when flying long haul always protect your lips with a good lipbalm. The air conditioned from the plane is your enemy and it will get your lips very sore and painful. But back to my shopping, I have to say, it was really difficult to find summer clothes in the middle of December, in Toronto. I managed however to buy a flowery skirt from H&M and a couple of Tshirts from Forever 21. I was tempted to buy some real maple syrup too, but I gave up the idea thinking that I’ll have to carry it for 2 weeks around Cuba.
With my new clothes and my precious toiletries in my backpack, I happily headed towards Dundas Square, where I met Sam. When I travel I like to meet locals to see the city from their perspective and for that I am using Couchsurfing. I also sometimes surf but I mostly host when I’m at home. Anyway, Sam is a Couchsurfer from Toronto who invited me for dinner at an Ethiopian Restaurant, Ethiopiques. The restaurant was small and cosy, tastefully decorated. It was my first time having Ethiopian food and I was pretty eager to try it. Sam said it’s an experience rather than a normal dinner, and he was right. We ordered the meat and veggie sharing platter, which consists of 6 vegetable and 2 chicken dishes served on injera, a national Ethiopian sourdough-risen flatbread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. It was delicious!
After dinner we headed over to the LCBO to taste some Canadian wine. I had no idea that Canada was a wine producer. There are 23 wineries in Niagara region, one of the biggest wine producing areas of Canada. Here it’s produced the ice wine, a Canadian dessert wine made out of grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Unfortunately I am not a fan of sweet wines but if you are I recommend you to try the Canadian ice wine. It is very sweet and flavorsome. I have also tasted the Chardonnay, which was more to my liking.
In Canada alcohol is sold only in provincially-owned liquor-store outlets and in Ontario especially, at the LCBO shops – The Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Even restaurants and bars have to buy their alcohol at the LCBO or directly at the wineries and breweries from Ontario.
The temperature was dropping fast and it was getting really cold, even if during the day there were 14 degrees, by this time it went down to 0. That’s when Sam told me about the secret of Toronto: The Path – Toronto’s Downtown Underground Pedestrian Walkway. This path connects the skyscrapers through the underground on a distance of over 19 miles! There are over 1200 shops inside the path and it’s a great way of walking through the center of the city without going out in the cold. Because it was pretty late, we were among the last people walking on the Path and it felt pretty cool to be almost alone in there.
Unfortunately we were both tired and my long haul flight and the jet lag were starting to tell me it’s time to go to bed. So we headed back towards the train station. I’ve looked up again at the skyscrapers and at the CN Tower, with the rotating restaurant on top, but I didn’t have any energy left to go there too. Inside the train station a piano appeared out of nowhere, for anyone to play it for free.
Here it was, the time to say goodbye to Sam and to Toronto, say thank you for a great afternoon and head back to the hotel before falling asleep. But it doesn’t always work as planned, right? The shuttle back to the hotel was late and then the driver got lost on the way. So instead of a 10 minutes journey, it took us over 40 minutes to arrive. I can’t even remember when I told the receptionist to schedule me a wake up call and when I got into my room.
Toronto is a beautiful city that has much, much more to see and do and I hope I will go back at some point to discover it all. It’s also a great city for shopping, especially because the Canadian dollar is less than 50p at the moment.
Did you visit Toronto? What is your “do not miss in Toronto” tip?
*Photos taken with Samsung Galaxy S4