Toronto, Day 2

So, what do I do before going on a walking tour? I walk. My day 2 in Toronto can be summarized easily – “walking around like my hair was on fire.”

I woke up got my Bible time in, had a LaraBar, and I was on the street. I enjoy a city in the morning. So I wandered east from the hotel along the harbor and then turned north in search of the St. Lawrence Market. The St. Lawrence Market is a large daily market that features a farmer’s market on Saturdays and an antique market on Sundays. It is in an old brick building surrounded by old and new construction.

The market was super lively with shoppers. Parents with children sifting through the produce and fruit for the best stuff. Elderly folks getting their flowers for the week. City dwellers pulling their small grocery carts with them so they can cart their loot home. Tourists, of course, taking pictures and admiring the fruit of the nearby farms and local vendors. I bought a container of fresh blueberries and finished them off as I walked the market. It was a lovely start to the day.

I started walking west to meet the walking tour group. It was a great stroll as I walked from the old part of town toward the areas were most new buildings have been constructed. It is interesting to see the new and slick rising up next to the old and grand. I found my meeting location – Ray Thomson Hall – ahead of schedule. So I decided to have some tea and admire the Ritz Carlton next door. The lobby was a great place for a pit stop and a photo opp featuring the freshly placed flowers adorning the gratuitous lobby furniture. Pretty.

The architecture tour was great. The tour was led by a volunteer who had been a banker in his former life and since his retirement he volunteers as a tour guide. I immediately liked him, he and his wife have spent time at Mount Rogers near my home in Virginia. It is a small world, after all. The tour group was small – me and my new friend David from Kenya. David has been in Toronto for 4 months. He and his wife, both architects, moved there from Africa. Super interesting.

The tour was specifically about contemporary buildings but the guide was also knowledgeable about the older buildings as well. So, we got the best of both worlds. We saw the TIFF building that is home to the Toronto International Film Festival, the Princess of Wales Theatre named in honor of Princess Diana and featuring beautiful murals by Frank Stella, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts specially designed to insulate the building from the city noise and subway, and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) designed by Frank Gehry and featuring a Henry Moore sculpture at the front doors. All the buildings were stunning in their own right.

We also stopped at the Umbra Concept Store on John Street. Umbra is a popular maker of household items that started in Toronto and now sells to companies the world around (including Bed Bath & Beyond). The concept store on John St. is the only place you can buy straight from Umbra. As the guide described the unique pink plastic facade of the building a striking gentleman came out of the store to greet us. Paul, the owner of Umbra who works at the concept store every other Saturday, introduced himself and gave the most wonderful talk about Toronto. Frankly, if I were a development person for the city I would hire him to do my marketing. After he stopped talking about the good things about Toronto I felt persuaded to move to Toronto immediately (my Daddy does not approve of this plan because Toronto is “not in the U.S.”). Paul is good. Paul was also kind enough to give David and me $25 gift cards to Umbra. After the tour, David and I headed to Umbra to get free stuff (of course I went over my gift amount . . . but wasn’t that the idea?).

As for old buildings on the tour, we saw the William Barber Building built in 1880 featuring “Toronto Brick”, which is yellow in color and everywhere in old Toronto. The Barber building was once a Whitewear underwear factory, which I thought was neat. We saw The Wesley Building on Queen Street West. The Methodist Church built this building and named it for the denomination’s founder John Wesley. The building is covered with Gothic detail. It is gorgeous.

The tour ended at the super cool and contemporary Ontario School of Art and Design with its black and white aluminum wing that is supported by giant multicolored pillars meant to resemble pencils. Very cool.

After the tour and my shopping excursion I stopped at a small Vietnamese restaurant called Ginger (recommended by the ladies at Umbra) for lunch and plotted my next move. By plotting I mean figuring out the quickest way to get back to the hotel to lay down. I was exhausted. I returned to the room did some reading and made a call to Daisy’s Aunt, Aunt Sharon, who lives in Toronto. Aunt Sharon was kind enough to give me her afternoon. So, after a rest I met her on the waterfront and we explored the Museum of Inuit Art, where I learned that Eskimo is an offensive term for the Inuit people outside of Alaska. Note to self. The art was gorgeous, carving in bone, tusk, and stone along with wall hangings, and basket weaving. If you have an opportunity to explore Inuit art, do it. It is my new favorite.

Next, we wandered through the international market where I scored a gray pashmina for $7 and now regret not getting the black cashmere one for $8. I hate when I do that to myself. Aunt Sharon found the perfect beach top to accompany her on her trip to the Carolina coast. Everybody wins!

We then settled in for people watching, great conversation, and dinner with a view. It took a couple of tries and a great deal of much appreciated patience from Aunt Sharon but we found a restaurant that could work my diet. The Pier 4 Restaurant served us some excellent orange roughy with a scallop and a beautiful view of the sunset and moon rise on the lake.

Aunt Sharon saw me off at the parking garage where she left her ride. She was lovely company.

I went up to the fancy Westin rooftop restaurant and had a decaf cappuccino and looked at Toronto at night. I like it there. It is a great city and I left plenty to see and do undone (like go up in the CN Tower, yes, I skipped it, don’t judge), so there will be a next time.

First Stop: Toronto

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is the northeast anchor of the Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario – a horseshoe around Lake Ontario from Toronto to Niagara Falls. I arrived in Toronto on Friday afternoon after about seven hours of driving. I snagged a room at the Westin Harbour Castle with views of the lake and Old Town Toronto. Not bad for someone with only 3000 or so Starwood Guest Points.

I could not be bothered to spend much time in the room as I immediately realized that I forgot to pack a book (although I did remember my Bible). So, my nerdy little self decided that my first mission was to find a book store. Yes, really. Thanks to my trusty iPhone. I was able to locate a Chapters bookstore in the entertainment district (I would find out the next day that the building Chapters is in is worthy of a stop on the Toronto Architecture Tour). I set out to find the Chapters and some mealtime entertainment (eating alone = need book).

I know it sounds bizarre, you just got to the largest city in the entire country where there quite literally are a million things to do and places to see and you go to a bookstore. Yes, I did. But on the way to the bookstore I saw the entertainment district, The York Hotel (when it was constructed it was the largest hotel in the British Empire), the harbor front parks (including this huge sculpture that resembles the Death Star), a super cool grocery store in the terminal building (I like city grocery stores), various views of the CN Tower, and the general sights, sounds, and feel of the city. And such was my personal introduction to Toronto.

I made it to the bookstore, after numerous detours. The Chapters in the entertainment district is just around the corner from a row of brownstones and a small dining/shopping area with a very village atmosphere. The Chapters is a huge glass structure with a giant rubix cube on top (seriously, it was designed to be a rubix cube) with all red tiles. The building jumps out of the landscape from the smaller surrounding buildings. The store has very well-organized recommendation sections, which is awesome for someone who is looking for a book but not a particular book. There were popular, recommended, classic, etc. selections. I was looking for fun reading that would not require a lot of brain power – I chose I Don’t Care About Your Band. Mission accomplished.

Toronto, surprisingly, is a city that you can figure out easily on foot. It took one afternoon walk to figure out the primary streets and feel comfortable with the city grid. It was also easy to recognize that Toronto is truly an international city. Every single place I ventured you could hear languages other than English and French and see people from all walks of life. I recently read that nearly 50% of Toronto’s population is born outside of Canada – having just been there, I am not shocked. To use an Americanism, it really is a melting pot. But what can you expect, I am told that 100,000 new people move to Toronto every year.

En route back to the hotel I took a whole new path through the financial district. This is the most concentrated area of skyscrapers and it feels very New York. I enjoyed how different sections of Toronto had very different personalities and cultures. Very cool. As I walked on it became time to make the all important dinner decision. I opted to bail on my reservation at the fancy place in hopes of having a non-event dinner at a local joint. I approached the concierge and the sweet lady was kind enough to think carefully about where it is best to dine alone and where I could get a “grill” menu (translate: gluten-free). She sent me to a spot where she likes to eat alone – La Bettola di Terroni. She also reassured me that I was safe walking in the neighborhood. I love good helpful people the most.

Before dinner I took a trip up to the circular restaurant on top of the hotel and admired the lovely view of the lake and city. It was quiet and peaceful so I sat and looked and read. Unfortunately, this Westin tower restaurant does not spin like the one in Atlanta. You can’t have it all.

On the walk to dinner I walked past the hockey museum, which is in a beautiful old building with elaborate stone work and beautiful wood and iron doors. I did not go in but I certainly admired the structure. As you know, I don’t get hockey. I arrived at the restaurant and was extremely pleased. It was small and cozy with lots of little tables – perfect for one and its own DJ. I had a great experience there. The server was attentive, helpful, and reassuring that I was at an Italian place that could provide me a great,  gluten-free, experience. I had the best grilled tuna I have had in a long long time.

In addition to my book (which I unexpectedly found to be quite lewd) I was entertained by the Asian couple next to me who were very clearly on a date and so close to me that I could hear almost all their conversation. At one point they were examining the heels of each others hands to determine whose was the fattest. Apparently the size of it determines wealth or success or something like that. You just miss out on those kinds of details when you are traveling with others. I tried not to giggle aloud. The night time walk back to my Toronto home was gorgeous.

I covered some serious ground on first afternoon in Toronto, even if most of it was in search of reading material, and concluded with certainty that it is my kind of town. It is one of those places that is easy to love.