I must admit I feel like I have squandered a lot of my time thus far in Toronto. I am yet to do anything incredibly touristy, unless you count walking the streets and taking photos of pretty buildings. Walking around everywhere has helped me to learn my way around the city and a lot of the street names, as well as find some hidden gems. I do intend to see the view from the CN Tower, get some culture at the Royal Ontario Museum and revel in all things the Maple Leaves at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Instead of acting like a tourist I’m at the point in my journey when I need pieces of home. And for me that means seeing my favourite band, Anberlin, who happen to be in town, and catching a roller derby bout next week. Not exactly Australian past times but they do equate to a relative state of normalcy for me. After Disneyland satisfied my love of shopping (and added to my collections of badges, Mr. Potato Heads and stuffed toys), Toronto alleviated my impulse to buy dresses. I got a super cute white and blue speckled summery number from H&M.
H&M also had a staff wanted sign up too, which brings me to my other mission while in Toronto: finding a job, and hopefully a house. I’ve seen a few signs around, which is more than I can say for the online classifieds. I also got into apartment hunting, mainly to see what is out there, but it all seems scarier in a foreign place. After only a few days here I deemed it responsible to extend my stay at the backpackers another two weeks. While living at the hostel I’ve managed to meet some good people, mostly boys. One I have nicknamed “Dreamboat”, a particularly charming and adorable man, who I have already written to my best friend, girlfriends and mum about. But being in a backpackers and talking to other travellers has meant I’ve heard many a travel/life story over beers, good old pub grub and games of pool. How very Australian!
So week two of Toronto life got a little more productive and a lot more exciting.
After chatting in the bar with a friend, James, I ran into one of my old roomies and another boy I’d met through him. Despite my lack of shoes, they tried to talk me into coming along on a pub-crawl. With a bit of arm twisting, and a mental self reminder to “roll with the punches”, I was recruited.
Being after midnight by the time we left, we only had a few hours before last call (which is 2am for a 2.30am close here in Toronto). With no real idea of where we were going we set off down the road and headed into a nearby pub. After having all our IDs checked and purchasing drinks, we settled into a large table, accommodating all 12 or so of us, and started to get to know one another. Everybody had some connection to someone else there, but most of us were new to one another.
With time against us, after downing one drink, we headed to our next location, a bar all of one minute from the last.
The second pub was much the same as the first. Everyone ordered a drink and we got chatting. We discovered that our little group consisted of seven different nationalities and after my flippant comment, “We’re just like the United Nations”, another Aussie, Luke, piped up with, “Yeah, the United Nations of Awesome!” A wonderful name that I will forever associate with that night.
After the events of the pub-crawl, I managed to meet a great group of people.
With a lot of them either leaving or staying in different hostels, there weren’t many to be seen around the backpackers. However, I did get a new roommate, a New Zealand traveller named Hannah.
We were pretty friendly, pretty quickly. We talked about our travels and our intended travels, as well as life at home.
Later that night we ran into each other in the bar and got chatting again. We subsequently met two guys from the hostel, another Aussie and an Irishman. After talking to them for a while, the suggestion of tequila shots came up. I passed but was obviously ignored as a shot was placed in front of me, just like the other three. This was to be my first ever tequila shot, at the ripe old age of 25! With free alcohol being supplied by the Irishman and his inability to understand the word “no”, I proceeded to drink another four tequilas and two vodka sunrises, to end up just a wee bit tipsy. However, I did not realise the alcohol’s affect on my senses until I tried to stand still for a little bit and could feel myself swaying. Quite an interesting experience as I rarely drink so much in such quick succession and have never even felt tipsy before.
Having lost Hannah to the company of another, I spent some time with my Irish friends from the pub-crawl. They reminded me of their plan to hit up the CN Tower the following day, so we arranged a time to meet up and I headed off to bed.
(If there was one thing I was excited about doing in Toronto it was seeing the CN Tower, a structure built to deal with the growing telecommunication needs of the city. There’s something about seeing a whole city from a bird’s eye view that makes me happy.)
The group consisted of myself, my new roomie Hannah, fellow Aussie Sol, the birthday girl Tanya, her boyfriend Peter, and their friend Sarah.
We made our way up the 114 storeys, 346m (1,136ft), to the observation deck. I spent a lot of time taking photos of every bit of the city I could see with my amazing camera. When everyone was done we headed down to the glass floor level.
This level is much like the one above but a section of the floor has been replaced with glass panels. The idea is to stand over the panels (they can hold the weight of four rhinoceroses) and look down at the plaza below. That’s 342m down! Being not afraid of heights, just a tad afraid of falling, and having done The Edge experience at the Eureka Skydeck back in Melbourne, I was very surprised to find myself feeling physically ill when I came within a foot of the glass floor. (I’m blaming the 5 shots of tequila from the night before!) It took Sol pushing me across the floor to get me on the glass panels and even then I couldn’t bring myself to look down. I snapped a few photos through the floor but could only stand there for about 30 seconds before I thought I’d lose my breakfast, which consisted of Tim Horton’s, naturally.
We did get a few rather good photos of our feet and our mugs as we stood over the glass floor. After some gift shop purchases (I didn’t earn the nickname Gift Shop Girl for no reason!) and an epic air hockey battle, with the birthday girl being the victor, we made our way back to the hostel.
Once home, we all settled in for another night of drinking at our hostel’s bar and our newest tradition, late night early morning McDonalds!
My lovely roomie, Hannah, convinced me to accompany her on a day trip to Niagara Falls and so I obliged. Despite a little direction-related tiff between the tour guide and the bus driver, the hour and a half drive was rather pleasant and very informative.
The guide spoke about the history of Toronto, Hamilton, St Catharines and Niagara, as well as the significance of buildings or districts that we travelled through or past. I learnt about the Mississauga, Etobicoke and Iroquois tribes and that the name Spadina Avenue (the road next to my hostel) originates from the Ojibwa word ishpadinaa meaning “sudden rise in the land”, and that Toronto was a Mohawk word meaning “where there are trees standing in the water” which, according to the tour guide, referred to the trees the natives used to tie their canoes to.
After my education, and nearly crossing the US border, we arrived in Niagara Falls to be hit by the extreme beauty and awesomeness of the falls and their surrounds.
First on the agenda was our Maid in the Mist experience, where you go on a boat down into the falls. Just looking at the falls from the bus, or even the road, was spectacular, but being down there, right in the falls, was incredibly awe-inspiring. We may have looked like giant, blue condoms but having the pristine water mist over you as you get a hands on experience was well worth the extra $16.
After taking too many photos, water logging our cameras and drinking our own piece of the falls (trust me, you can’t help but get at least a mouthful!), Hannah and I headed in the direction of food.
I wanted nothing more than a hot dog and chips and Hannah felt like ice cream so we found a hot dog stand right next to an ice creamery (!) and then took our loot to an amazing memorial park that overlooked the falls, escaping the mini-Vegas that is the main street.
It was the most picturesque way to spend an afternoon. With not much time remaining until our bus departed, we ran over to the Hershey’s store for a sticky beak. I discovered they make York mint patties, which I had been meaning to try since first seeing the ad on US television. Departing with a massive bag of them, and having had our photos taken with the giant Hershey’s Kiss character, we legged it to the bus stop, where we realised neither of us remembered what kind of bus we rode into town on. Finding other lost souls from our bus, we found the vehicle and made our way to Niagara-On-The-Lake, via the whirlpool, a section of the lake, which branches off but in the centre the churning water looks like a whirlpool. There we spotted a hot boy, a fellow Aussie who had gone unnoticed on our bus, who laughed along with me at Hannah’s reluctance to go anywhere near the cliff face.
At Niagara-On-The-Lake the first place I spotted was a store with stuffed toys in the window and a hilarious sign, “The Owl & The Pussycat, at the Sign of the Pineapple”. (I forgot to ask the cashier to explain said sign.) I dragged Hannah inside and found myself a hand puppet version of Red from Fraggle Rock! Han wasn’t too familiar with the show—let’s just blame her youth—but a lady in the street commented, “Oh, you’ve got yourself a Fraggle!” Glad to know the average Canadian appreciated my purchase, too.
The Saturday brought Sarah’s birthday, a bunch of rain and a trip to the zoo. After an hour and 45 minutes and one streetcar, a subway and a bus, we arrived at the Toronto Zoo.
Our group consisted of myself, Sol, birthday girl Sarah, Tanya, Peter, Thomas and Declan.
Following consultation with the map we made our way towards the polar bear enclosure. We found one of the two bears swimming adorable laps of his pool. We watched and took amazing photos for about twenty minutes. He looked so peaceful that all I wanted to do was cuddle him. I could have watched him all day!
With that checked off my wish list I would have been happy to head home, as Thomas would probably agree. (He shares my love for polar bears!) Despite the miserable weather we soldiered on. We explored more of the tundra region, the Australasia area and finally the African region, finding many other animals along the way. We spent about ten minutes trying to get Sol a picture of a cheetah and roughly the same time trying to get a snow leopard to scale his fencing so we could get the perfect shot.
We decided after another downpour that we’d see a few more animals before heading home.
We checked off another tiger, orang-utans and eventually giraffes, after we located them hiding from the weather in a shed.
We had planned to check out the North American section, as I wanted to see a grizzly bear and the birthday girl was eager to see a moose, but we decided to call it quits just before closing time.
I made an obligatory pit stop at the gift shop (I didn’t get the nickname McGiftshop Whore for nothing!) and purchased myself an adorable hoodie—all white save for a couple of black eyes, a little black nose and the words “Toronto Zoo—Canadian polar bear in a snow storm”, which I had wanted since I first saw it in a souvenir store downtown. I also got a few badges to add to my ever-increasing collection.