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.