Toronto – Downtown and beyond

The day I arrived in Toronto, people were busy with preparations for the following day. All the corporate offices were closed for a long weekend. It happened to be Canada Day that weekend. I couldn’t wait to get immersed in this great big city and its culture.

After my hotel check-in fiasco, I shook off the whole thing and started chalking plans to explore the city. It was sunny and warm with a crisp breeze in air. The city was full of happy crowd waving and wearing the Canadian flag, cheering for the Blue Jays at Rogers Center. Another thing I deliberately noticed, maple trees everywhere. I was still loopy from sleep deprivation but there was no way I was going to let that get in the way.

The starting point of my exploration was right in the backyard of my hotel. My room had the CN Tower view! I sprinted towards the tower, clicked pictures like any other tourist there. Circled Rogers Center, Ripley’s Aquarium and headed to Harbor Front. After hours of walking, I realized I was hungry. I headed to the nearest Tim Horton’s (there were 4 in a half mile radius), got onto the WiFi and googled for nearby restaurants. I was astounded by the options and honestly, teeny bit apprehensive. Nevertheless, I decided to keep it short and went for a burger. Next I walked all the way from Queens Quay to York Street where I was suppose to show up for work on Monday. Checked out the nearest grocery store for basic essentials. Once I got acquainted with the area, I felt pretty confident and much more comfortable. I thought, this isn’t bad. I can do it.

And so began the episodes of endless walks to and from office, grocery stores, eateries, pubs and shopping malls. Ofcourse, eventually I learned to use the subway. Every other morning I went for a jog by the Harbor Front and in the evenings to the nearest LCBO (Liqour Control Board of Ontario) for wines. No other retail shops can sell liquor, you have to buy from LCBO. On weekends, I visited places like China Town, Yonge Street, Toronto Island Park, Niagara Falls, Niagara On The Lake, Missisauga (lot of Indian restaurants), Tanger Outlets at Niagara, Canada’s Wonderland, Yorkdale Shopping Center. 4 out of 7 nights a week I spent at Spadina Ave or Queen and King Street. Watching and observing from people; the culture, their manners, their norms, things that are considered polite, things that are considered rude, from brand of shoes commonly worn to the most happening strip club in town. Trying to understand why people did what they did, trying to fathom the logical reasoning behind it or the history involved.

Grocery shopping and food:

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Longo’s Maple Leaf Square was my choice of grocery store. In general, grocery stores are like Disneyland to me. This one particularly was huge and fascinating. St. Lawrence Market became another favorite immediately after my first visit. I couldn’t stop gawking at the incredible local produce. Plus, eating at the market was an interesting farm-to-table kinda experience. Another good grocery store close to Harbor Front is Sobey’s. French Vanilla at Tim Horton’s and Garlic Bread at Jack Astor’s became a daily ritual.

Canada’s Wonderland:

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One weekend was spent at Canada’s Wonderland, an amusement park in Vaughan, Ontario. The daredevil in me smirked wickedly and hopped on to every nerve-racking ride that looked thoroughly daunting. I promised my self adventure, so I opted for a ‘ride’ that had the shortest queue throughout the park. Giant swing! Not many people dared to do it. Enter me! It was one of the most reckless thing I had ever done in my life that includes a 350-feet valley crossing adventure back in India. Also, the most memorable one.
Buses shuttle between city and Wonderland so getting there is not an issue. I would recommend starting early to enjoy the entire park.

Niagara Falls:

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One of the most spectacular and magnificent waterfalls in the entire world, Niagara is also the most popular one. I was lucky to have a driver along so we drove a rented car to Niagara. It’s a whole day affair. I suggest buying tickets online(if you can) for Maid of Mist experience, to avoid the long queue on a hot summer’s day unlike me who stood there for one full hour. The place has everything, restaurants, casinos, bars, parks, a giant wheel, rotating restaurant, tower, helicopter rides, zip lining.

Niagara On The Lake:

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I happened to visit the historic old town of Niagara-On-The-Lake without much expectations, but it turned out to be one of the most gorgeous little villages I had ever stepped foot in. It felt like I was in Neverland visiting Tinkerbell and Peter Pan. Lush landscaping all over the town, multi-hued flowers blooming from every window sill, hanging from lamppost, abundant in every balcony and entrance; barely visible lattice fences entwined with vines bearing dainty blooms in what seemed like every possible hues, spectacular ornamental fountains in parks where kids were hard at play. Old and young folks, equally enjoying the sunny day by lounging carefree at the outdoor seating of quaint restaurants chugging chilled local craft beers. Log benches installed on sidewalks were occupied by old couples sitting and drinking coffee, slurping gelato or chatting and giggling holding hands. Delicate chinaware stores and antique shops had exquisite artifacts on display. It almost felt like time had stopped in this beautiful town. The Prince of Wales Hotel made me feel like I was in England or France. What with a white horse carriage passing by, I couldn’t believe I was in Canada! All I wished was to take home as much as I could, but I was restricted by my baggage allowance. So instead I just took unforgettable memories with me.
Niagara Wine Trail:

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Just outside Niagara-On-The-Lake town, runs a wine trail. Acres and acres of vineyard estates stretching as far as your sight went, farmhouses and wineries having vintage vibe and winding cycle paths along Ontario lake. Oh my gosh! I felt like I had died and gone to heaven!
It’s one of those places I would never hesitate to visit twice.

READ: Best of Toronto – Top 10 things to do in downtown.