Tag Archives: Toronto

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Day 14 – Toronto and Departure

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Categories: Canada, In Transit, North America, Trip 2016-1, USA, Tags: , , ,

Well, it was my final day in Toronto.  I had to be out of the unit by 10am, so I managed to get up just after 8am and had a very long shower followed by eating a ton of bacon and bread (leftovers) plus leaving an unopened pack of gruyere cheese in the fridge (I was on a bit of a health kick in the end).  I used up the remainder of the coffee, although I’d purchased a new sealed pack of ground coffee a few days earlier – so it was coming home to Oz.

I decided to make a final trip to the nearby Urban Fresh to pick up some snacks for the return voyage.  I picked up some crisps and some chocolate bars and then returned to the unit for The Final Packing™.

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I hung out in the apartment right up until 10am to try to take full advantage of having a place to relax.  My return flight to San Francisco wasn’t departing from Pearson International airport until 6:30pm!  So I had about 7 hours  to kill with no place to return to.  Luckily, the security guard at the desk downstairs agreed to mind my bags whilst I headed out into downtown for the last time.  I decided to walk to the harbour side and to venture to the public ferry terminal to see if I could get a ferry out to the islands.

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When I got there, there was a very long queue to buy tickets, so I decided to skip it, and instead located the hop on/hop off bus, just outside the MTCC on Front street.  It ironically was on the looping route, and ended up taking me back via CN Tour, the harbour side and eventually heading east to the old town.  The ticketing guy’s EFT machine was not working, so I rode along for a while without paying.  My destination was Casa Loma in the northern hills that Tony had visited the day before. 

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We went past the Toronto flatiron building (predates the one in New York) and out past the location of where the old parliament building once stood.  Eventually the route took us back into the city and then north towards the Eaton Centre.  From here, it was quite evident how large the shopping centre really is – it spans the length of enough city blocks to integrate with no less than two metro stations.  As we approached Toronto’s version of Times Square (Yonge-Dundas Square) we were beset by an oncoming parade in the form of a wave of hare krishnas.

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The colourful parade had escorted mobile pagodas, which had been built anticipating the challenge of Toronto’s trolley wires.  As each pagoda ran under the wire, the top collapsed down and then was pushed back up once clear.  The parade caused us no real delay as the bus had reached a loop of the official route, and we waited for about 15 minutes before restarting the loop.

We were taking through a number of up market areas of northern downtown, and continued north.  It wasn’t easy to take photos as the bus moved, so I don’t have a decent visual record of the route.  It seemed to take nearly 20 odd minutes before the bus arrived at the Casa Loma stop, the northern most point on the route.

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I walked uphill and located the castle in the hills.  The area was exceptionally opulent; many old manor houses surrounded by a privacy screen of walls and green trees. 

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The main attraction is mansion modelled on some of the grand castles of Europe, built in the 19th century by a gas magnate, who clearly had more money than he knew what to do with.  I sincerely think that the board game Clue/Cluedo was based on this strange castle/mansion.

There was a queue to get in, and the admission wasn’t a token amount, but I’d come this far, so.. I paid up ($25 CAD) and went inside.  My plan was to start with the underground, and work my way up.  The initial underground area contained a cafe, restrooms, a movie theatre and a wine cellar.  The main attraction was a 400ft underground passage which crossed underneath the road outside to bring people up at the separate garage complex.

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The passage was dotted with information panels documenting the history of the passage.  The garage at the end of the tunnel had a number of classic automobiles as well a decent sized set of stalls for horses.  I wandered outside to marvel at the size of the annex before retracing my steps back down the passage to the main house.

From here I decided to go up to the first floor, which was comprised mainly of a large hallway with a number of huge rooms.

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There were a number of bedrooms, all appointed with period piece furniture, and exquisitely hand crafted finishes.  The place was wide and expansive but constructed with narrow doorways as you’d expect from the time period.   As I ascended further up into the next level, I started to encounter many items of military antiquity, as the house serves as a bit of a military museum.

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The most impressive part was reserved for the very top level, what in most houses would be the attic.  Instead, a large complex of passages led to access to the impressive Norman and Scottish towers.  The queue for the Norman tower was far too long to bother waiting, however the (taller than the Norman tower!) was a reasonably short wait.

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Access to the tower was principally via a spiral staircase, and then up another series of ladders to reach the very top.  From here the view was very impressive indeed.  I found my way back down, and then inadvertently followed a secret passageway the wrong way (down instead of up) and found myself on the ground floor in a study or office.  From here I explored the expansive ground floor including this amazing dining room of floor to ceiling hardwood panelling, and some seriously impressive antique furniture.

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They were clearly setting up for a wedding, so some areas were roped off.  I walked outside to get some external photos, and look over the fountain and manicured gardens.  I did another pass through the ground floor before making my way out to the front again.  Here there was a plaque with information about the original owner of the mansion.

I retraced my steps back downhill to where the Hop On/Hop Off bus stop was located, and chatted to a couple of people from the Seattle area before an old London bus arrived.  There was just enough room for me to squeeze on, and then we started heading back to downtown.  A few stops later  I was able to move up to the upper deck, for better views.

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The rest of the journey took me through some familiar territory.  We went through a university, and the hospital district.  Slowly we made our way down to near the CN Tower, it really is the most obvious landmark in the city, you can see it for miles.  I got off the bus  at Front street (around 2:45pm) and walked back past Rogers Centre towards the unit to retrieve my bags.  As I started my last journey back towards Union Station, I took a final photo of my familiar view of CN Tour:

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With some difficulty, I pulled my luggage back to Union Station and paid for a ticket to the Pearson Airport on the UP Express.  It was a little earlier than I really needed to leave, but I’d really kind of run out of gas by this stage.  I could have eaten at a downtown location, but my heart wasn’t really in it.

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There’s some serenity in removing the need to rush to an airport.  I made it to the airport with plenty of time, I checked my luggage, completed my transit information and passed into the airport terminal through US customs.

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I had dinner at a Wahlburger’s in the airport and then had an hour to walk around a little bit inspecting the shops.  I bought Toni a fridge magnet, and spied a number of bottles of Canadian ice wine, but ultimately just hung around until boarding.  The flight to San Francisco was uneventful, but I goofed big time at SFO, and spent a few hours in the wrong International terminal.  I’d just feasted on a nice Japanese dinner (dinner 2.0) as it was about 8pm when I landed.  Unfortunately, I spent a few hours waiting for an 11:30pm flight to Sydney in the wrong place, and when there was confusion about my boarding pass, the mistake became apparent!

I bolted with all the energy I could muster, and had to contend with security again.  The people were very nice, and a guard asked me to ask the people in front if they would mind me cutting to the front given my predicament.  No one objected, and I made it through in record time.  An airline rep met me on the other side and ran with me to the gate.  I made the flight, and then found out that they were holding for six other passengers.  Oh well.

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The return flight was uneventful except for continually being hit in the head by the veil separating the cabin from the meals prep area.  We couldn’t land in Sydney due to heavy fog, we were instead routed to Brisbane.  Once we eventually landed in Sydney I was told that I’d missed my connecting flight to Canberra.  I was booked on the flight an hour later.  Once I made it to the terminal, it turned out they hadn’t even boarded my original flight!  Very pissed off.

I arrived back in sunny, bit cold Canberra and was greeted at the baggage claim by Damian and Toni.  I went around to the school later, and picked up Jake who was thrilled.  The trip was over.

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Day 13 – Tourism

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Categories: Canada, Trip 2016-1, Tags:

With the conference over, I only had one full day left in Toronto, and this was it.  I’d gambled with CN Tour – it is quite clearly the most obvious tourist attraction in the city, and to really get the best experience you need good weather on your side.  The weather leading up to the final full day (Friday) hadn’t been exceptionally encouraging with early rain and clouds dogging Wednesday and Thursday.  Thursday afternoon, I heard that the queue to go up the tower was sitting on a 75 minute wait.  Another tourist asked one of the employees what was the best time to avoid a long queue – and the answer was first thing when they open (9am).

So I rolled the dice – and won.

After waking up, showering and throwing down breakfast I walked the easy 5 minutes across Rogers Centre and arrived at the doors to CN Tour at about 8:45am.  I walked in initially with some others but we were told to wait until they officially opened.  We waited outside for about 10 minutes, but then we were able to go through security and head for tickets (some already had tickets and got ahead early).   No matter, I still managed to wait for about 10 minutes and then ascend in the second elevator car of the day.

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View from outside the elevators, into the gift shop

My plan was a simple one: get to the top ASAP.  I’d purchased access to the LookOut Level at 346 m (1,136 ft.) plus access to the SkyPod at 447m (1,465 ft) high. 

The elevators have glass sides and as an added bonus.. small glass panes in the floor.  That’s got to be disconcerting to some folks – but not to me.  It took close to a minute to ascend to the first viewing platform, and my ears popped at least twice on the way up.

Once I reached the LookOut level, I immediately went to the location where the internal elevator took people up to the SkyPod.  The elevator wasn’t available immediately, so I chatted with the attendant for a few minutes.  Once the elevator opened, it was myself and a cleaner who were the first people of the day to arrive at the SkyPod.

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The views from the SkyPod surpass every other tower I’ve ever ascended.  I was told that in winter on a clear day, one can see the mist rising off Niagara falls, around 200kms away.  I walked around the tight enclosure inside the SkyPod taking photos from each direction.  Given the liberty of not sharing the vista with anyone, I decided to film (video) walking around the entire SkyPod in a single take.

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It wasn’t too long before I was descending back down to the LookOut level.  The views aren’t nearly as grand, but there’s still a few things worthy – a glass floor which evokes a little bit of vertigo; an outdoor area where the breeze hits you on a windy day and a number of large placards and information walls, with heaps of information about the tower.  I stuck around for a bit, just admiring the views before I decided to wait for an elevator back down.

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Returning to terra firma, we are forced out through the gift shop (of course).  I didn’t purchase, but found my way back out to the entrance.  What to do next??

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Directly opposite the CN Tour/Aquarium, as it turns out, is a train museum.  From what I could tell, it seemed to be closed, however there were plenty of antique retired trains still displayed outside.  I walked around for a bit checking out the area.

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At this point, I went back to the unit and had a little snooze.  I woke up around lunchtime, and after making sandwiches and coffee, decided what to do with the afternoon.  It was a shopping agenda, and I made my way back to the downtown H&M to take a wild stab at trying to buy something for Toni which she wouldn’t hate.  I’d already set an expectation that I wasn’t coming back with anything, so I wagered that the surprise would be worth the effort.

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To prove how uncomfortable I am at shopping in women’s clothing stores, I snapped a selfie.  I was due to meet up with Tony and Marty from Canberra to race some Go Karts at 2pm, so I headed to Spadina avenue which is about 10-15 minutes from the Sheraton where the guys were staying.  I popped into Sonic Boom records and picked up two LPs and then texted to advise I was running a tad late.  Turns out one of the guys was sick, and that they’d taken the Hop on/Hop off bus up to a castle in the northern hills.

With bags from shopping in hand, I decided to walk back to the unit to, at minimum, drop my stuff off.  So that’s what I did.  To be honest, I had no real plan of attack; so I opted to walk up to historic Fort York.

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I crossed via a footbridge and entered the fort from the east through a large gate.  I had a look at the still working cannon, and watched a marching band in full dress rehearsing.  I went into the powder store, the officer’s hall before exiting out the west.  Here I found a dedication to fallen soldiers, which was minimalist, but respectful.

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I followed the sounds of Indy cars.. down to Exhibition Place.  The whole area was fenced off with plenty of security, but it was still possible to see past the fencing.  I found a neat spot at the head of a hairpin turn where I was able to take a few snaps of cars passing by.

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I walked past Exhibition Place and out towards TD Echo Beach, but it was under severe redevelopment, so I turned back towards the harbour.  I walked back through Coronation Park which was leafy and green.  I found my way to the Lake Shore boulevard, and made my way back to the unit.

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At this point it was time to start seriously packing my bags.  I had to check out the next day by 10am and I didn’t want to leave it until the last moment.  My route back would see my checked luggage going through to Sydney, so I needed to pack it carefully to avoid any breakages – especially for the vinyl.

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The majority of my clothes had dried, so I was able to return with a mostly clean set of clothing, except for about two days’ worth of clothes that would never dry in time without a dryer.

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Once I’d finished Skyping home for about an hour, I got organised and reached out to Tony and Marty to see what they had planned for dinner.  I decided to head north to the fashion district across the train tracks.  I’d read a review about a pizza place which looked quite authentic. 

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The restaurant was down an alleyway just off King St called Pizza Libretto.  I ordered an entree while the guys made their way over.

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I ordered a thin traditional pizza which was really huge, and I had trouble fitting it all in.  Tony and Marty arrived and we spent a good hour or so chatting and eating.  Then Tony suggested a return to the Hotel Rex, where there was a $10 cover charge.  We sat in and drank beers until it reached about 9pm when I suggested catching a movie at the nearby Scotia Bank Cineplex.  Marty was game, so he and I took off as Tony headed back to the Sheraton for an early night (with a bit of flu).

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We decided to watch the latest X-Men: Apocalypse on the big screen.  It was a nice way to wind up the last night in Toronto, and at around midnight, I walked back along familiar streets to the unit to rest a final night before gearing up for the return trek to Oz.

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Day 7 – Downtown Toronto

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Categories: Canada, North America, Trip 2016-1, Tags: , , ,

This morning I woke at around 8:45am which is a little uncommon these days.  I willed myself to get up and go through the normal motions of showering, changing and preparing breakfast.  Luckily, I’d had the foresight to do some basic shopping the night before, so I was able to fuel myself with coffee, cereal and toast.

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Actual view

On with the show!  I had to do a little surfing (of the web) to decide on what to tackle first.  In the end, I decided to walk to a Metro station and catch the underground up to Yorkdale Shopping Centre.  The weather was pleasant, and the exercise is doing me well.  Along the way, I took a peek at more of downtown Toronto.

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City views / Crossing over the lines

Once I reached the station, I inserted $20 into a token machine, which spit back 6 tokens and some loose change.  The tokens are quite quaint, a nice little souvenir to be sure.  I inserted one into a nearby turnstile and waited a few minutes for a northbound train.  The train moves along well enough, although I had a few stops to go.

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Metro entrance / Waiting

The shopping centre itself was quite nice, spacious even.  It was under some renovation, so some areas were closed off.  I located the Lego store, and enquired about a set I was after, unfortunately they had run out of stock.  I decided to target the next item on my list: getting a local phone number.  For this I found a Virgin Mobile kiosk and loaded $40 worth of credit onto a sim.

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A wide promenade / Well stocked Lego shop

Shopping done, I returned to the Metro for a ride back to downtown.  This time I travelled to Union Station, to make it easier to commute back to the unit.  On the way I encountered the blue army of Blue Jays supporters making their way to Rogers Centre for the afternoon game.  I was thinking about ascending the CN Tower, but the queues were quite long, and the sky was an uncertain and patchy grey.  I blew past the stadium, picking up two items from the team shop, then made my way home.

Back home I prepared a basic lunch, and decided on what to do next.  There’s quite a few green areas dotting the harbour side, including one right outside my place.  I decided to go for a walk, and it ended up taking almost three hours.  I started at Canoe Park which is right in front of my building, then followed the harbour side east until York street.  From here I passed Union Station, the Hockey Hall of Fame and then continued east until I reached the St Lawrence Markets.

After I’d browsed through both levels of the markets, I exited and made my way to King street, and decided to follow it all the way back to Spadina Avenue, and from there back home.  It was a long trek, and there were many highlights including:

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St Lawrence Markets/Streetcar

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Old Church/Rogers Centre with roof open

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View from my balcony

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View from Canoe Park, below my building

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View of my building from Canoe Park/A golden building?

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Waterfront/From the Canadian Walk of Stars (Deadpool)

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Harbour side/Hockey Hall of Fame

I cleaned up, made a coffee and pulled photos from my phone.  I probably should have been resting, but instead I spent time on the laptop until it was time to head to the Sheraton for the Microsoft Australia trip to Niagara Falls.  More to follow.

To be continued with a supplemental (visit to Niagara Falls).