Sunday, July 25, 2010

Adventures in Toronto

Toronto's a great, international city with so many things to explore. We were only there for a couple days this trip, but were able to enjoy several great highlights. I checked off a new stadium, and it could not have been better. It was the one time things cooled off in the middle of this crazy, hot summer. The roof was open and the night air was great!

Some of the things we enjoyed on this visit:

Kensington Market:
Loved this diverse area in/near Chinatown with all types of restaurants and food vendors. We had a great lunch, and you could spend a lot of time exploring all the hidden gems. I had to top it off with a delicious bubble tea, but next time I'd spend more time exploring and shopping amongst all the vegetable and herb markets--and then stop and get some reflexology for my tired body.

"Hop on, Hop Off" tour:
These are one of our favorite ways to get the lay of the land in any city. Some of the tours are better than others, and of course they visit some of the more touristy spots (but, hey, I am a tourist after all!), but we always look at it as transportation plus a way to get a great overview. Because you can get on and off, let it take you to different areas and explore at will. Most times, they give you two days for the same price, so we get it the first day and take full advantage of it for both the tour and generally getting around. We've been on some form of "hop on, hop off" everywhere from Savannah, GA to Helsinki, Finland.

I got a much better sense of Toronto's layout this time doing this. Our first driver was obviously tired after a long day, but the next day we had very helpful drivers with a lot of knowledge. In Toronto, Grey Line offers one, but we actually did a smaller one (in a green van) that left from our hotel. It was a slightly better deal (and came with a boat tour for a few bucks more, though we didn't do that this time) and it was fully air conditioned/enclosed, which was necessary in the heat wave.

The Distillery District:
We met a friend here one afternoon and I walked around and made it through most of the shops. The old distillery buildings are lovely and there are a variety of shops, workshops/artist's studios and restaurants. My favorite was the artisanal chocolate shop, Cube (art made with Rubix cubes), and a great jewelry store representing various artists/jewelery makers.

We enjoyed our hotel--The Sheraton Centre, as it was very centrally located and comfortable. It's a huge place, but I liked that it had a lot of amenities (great gym, indoor/outdoor pool, several restaurants). It is connected to PATH, Toronto's 28 km underground walkway connecting shops,services and entertainment. This would be especially handy in winter (though not bad in a heatwave either).

My general travel methodology is to enjoy some variety--take in the "must sees" but don't feel pressured to see them all, and don't neglect to enjoy neighborhoods, dining and day to day things that are the life of any city. Most of my favorite moments are those discoveries, and people watching. Toronto is a city with such variety that you can have a very different experience on every visit, and there's still more to see and do.

Last tip...if driving up and back from the U.S. (or flying out of Buffalo) allow plenty of time. There is a lot of construction on the QEW and of course, the border crossing can vary widely. We allowed more than the expected time (with extra check in time) and still missed our flight out of Buffalo. And, the Buffalo airport is not somewhere you want to spend a lot of time! (Though the Southwest airlines staff was great and we made it home safely, just several hours later with a stop along the way.)

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