After a fabulous week down in St Catharines and Port Dalhousie we really weren’t sure what to expect as we joined the QEW on our way back from the quiet Niagara wine region to the bright lights and busy streets of Toronto.
Leaving Christine and Peter’s lovely home was such a wrench and it seemed entirely fitting that the heavens opened and we got completely soaked as we waved goodbye and walked to the car. Another week would have been perfect but that’s a lesson we’ve learnt on our travels. You never know how well you will get on with your hosts until you have spent a couple of days with them. We left Port Dalhousie as friends with Christine and Peter and they will be cropping up in our JWalking story again very soon.
All we knew about Canada’s biggest city was that it had over 5 million inhabitants, was established in 1793, used to be called York, and is sometimes referred to as The Big Smoke or Tee-Oh. I personally love its first ever nickname, ‘Muddy York’. Our new Airbnb was in a district called Etobicoke (pronounce that if you can) where we had a ground floor apartment in Jacqueline and Daryl’s house.
We’d booked a couple of weeks here and the basement style apartment with separate bedroom, bathroom, office, kitchen area and living space looked amazing. Local shops within easy walking distance and Lake Ontario just 10 minutes away made it perfect. Oh, throw in Netflix and I think we had it all.
Sad Goodbye to Note
Our first task after waking up in yet another bed was the emotional one of returning our little Nissan Note hire car back to those nice guys at Budget. Some snappy driving by Jo and even better navigation got the job done and we set off for a long walk and explore of High Park in the west of the city. Seven miles back to our apartment through the park and alongside the beautiful Lake Ontario got our muscles working and gave us an idea of just how big Toronto really was. Massive.
The walk along the lake pathway through Mimico gave us great views back to the city and across the lake. It wouldn’t be the last time we used that path, in fact we’ve been over to the lake almost every day. We mentioned it before in Port Dalhousie but Lake Ontario is like the sea. You can’t see the other shore and it stretches as far as the eye can see in all directions.
Settling into Mimico Life
Our Airbnb was in a suburb of Etobicoke called Mimico and we spent the first few days just enjoying the lakeshore paths and exploring the harbour area. The weather wasn’t great, very windy and wet, but no real surprise as it was almost October. Shopping in our new favourite supermarket No Frills and coffee in Birds and Beans along with plenty of chatting about the future and what JWalking 3 might bring.
Day out in Tee-Oh
The best way to get into the middle of the city from Mimico is by the GO train, Ontario’s transit system. Ten minutes walk and then just a couple of stops. We love GO trains because they’re very big and very green. Like big kids we always rush upstairs, because we can. The main station in Toronto is Union Station. It’s probably very impressive and grand but currently undergoing a huge redesign and redecoration so its actually a complete mess at the moment. So many passengers completely lost and unable to get out, so weird.
First stop of course was Toronto’s main tourist attraction the CN Tower. Once the biggest free standing structure on earth it’s still one of the tallest and dominates the city skyline from all directions. Except when it’s cloudy, like the day we visited, when it doesn’t dominate anything as it’s completely invisible. Brilliant. No big deal though, we’ll come back for that. Right next to the tower is Rogers Centre, the home of baseball in Toronto and across the road the Canadian Railway Museum.
Now I have to be honest and say that as we walked down towards the lake front in the city centre that we were very unimpressed by Toronto’s skyscrapers and flyovers surrounding us. There aren’t many historical buildings at all and our initial impression was of a business-like efficient city rather than one with any character. That impression would change.
So lunch at the St Lawrence Market and a slow wander up the famous Yonge Street to Toronto City Hall and the Old City Hall on Queen Street. I forgot to mention that the annual Nuit Blanc Art Festival was taking place this weekend so the city was full of all sorts of strange and wonderful art installations. Unfortunately it didn’t start until 7pm and ran all night so we didn’t quite make it after a long JWalking day.
We’ve now stayed in around 60 different Airbnb properties in all sorts of locations but once again I have to say that it really is the hosts that make our temporary ‘homes’ special. They’ve all been good, apart from Scumbag Lily in Vancouver of course(read The Vancouver Dilemma if you don’t know about Scumbag Lily), but there are quite a few extra-special ones. Jacqueline, our host here in Mimico, is absolutely lovely. She’s been so helpful and welcoming and we spent a great afternoon with her in the amazing vegetable-laden garden just chilling, chatting and playing with her dog Oz. I don’t know much about dogs but Oz is a Whippet and just never ever makes a sound. No barking or growling or anything, seems strange but he’s great. Likes to run round in circles a lot.
The Canadian National Tower
We had to do it didn’t we? The weather improved so we jumped on the GO train and headed for the CN Tower. Blue skies all around looked pretty good for a trip to the top of one of the tallest freestanding structures in the world.
It’s not just very big, it’s very very very big! I think it must be the fact that it’s a narrow single structure rather than a skyscraper but it looks so intimidating when you stare up from the base and it completely dominates the Toronto skyline. It’s 1815 feet tall, was built in 1976, and has one of those glass floors that Jo really loves to stand on. The question of whether its the worlds 3rd tallest or 4th tallest is ridiculously difficult to answer. Every tall structure claims to be the tallest in some shape or form but as far as we were concerned it was bl**dy tall!
It’s just something that everyone has to do when they visit Toronto, not cheap though as these experiences never are but well worth it. Brilliant to be able to see virtually the whole city from the observation decks and look out across the incredible Lake Ontario. Still couldn’t see the other side!
Another Special Moment
I keep banging on about special moments don’t I? Sorry. But they really are what makes our trip so amazing and it’s those moments that I suspect will live long in our memories rather than some of the places. One of our eldest son Shaun’s best friends is currently living in Toronto so we decided to meet up whilst we were here. Kier is from Leicester, sorry that should be Premier League Champions Leicester, and is in Canada for a couple of years. Right next to the CN Tower there’s a fabulous brewery called the Steam Whistle Brewery where we planned to meet up.
So lets set the scene. Sun shining in a clear blue sky below one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World in a very cool little beer garden drinking cold local beer and having a chat and a real laugh. How could that be beaten?
Brilliant afternoon catching up on what Kier has been up to and what his plans are and of course looking forward to Shauns stag weekend next year. Oh and a lot of talk about the local baseball team, Toronto Blue Jays, as their MLB wild card play-off was starting about 100 yards away later that evening. The time flew by as quickly as the beers sank down. One of the nicest afternoons we’ve had for months. Both really looking forward to catching up with him again when we’re all back in the UK.
The Blue Jays beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-2 by the way so went through to the next round of play-offs against the Texas Rangers. The whole city seems to have turned blue in support of their team. A bit like Leicester.
So Toronto is growing on us slowly now. As the sun shines and we explore more we’re starting to get that homely feeling that we actually really like it here.
27.09 – 04.10.2016