Tuesday 13 September 2022 – First things first: I haven’t written anything about yesterday. That’s because there’s not much to write. The satnav got us to the airport in the rental car; Avis took it back without demur, despite the bug splatter on the windscreen, we stood in the check-in queue for a WestJet flight to Toronto which took off and arrived approximately on time, we were wafted to our hotel – the Royal York, another city-block-size Fairmont slab of masonry – we had drinks and dinner before bed. (By the way, Toronto was originally called York because the settlers didn’t want to use the native, Mohawk, name Tkaronto.)
The only thing worthy of mention was the arrival at Toronto airport. Our instructions said that someone would meet us “in the lobby”. When we got to what passes for a lobby after you leave the baggage carousels, it was quiet – too quiet. Not only was there no-one there to meet us, there was no-one there to meet anyone, which, you must agree, is odd, There was a desk there labelled “pre-arranged transfers”, with a lady sitting behind it. After a couple of minutes I decided to ask her if she knew anything about our expected transfer, expecting a blank look and a shrug. However, she consulted her computer and told us that our driver would be there in five or six minutes. So we went and stood outside the door, where there were chaotic scenes of punters trying to find drivers and vice versa; after a couple of minutes a chap bustled pass muttering “Dr. Jane?” so we flagged him down and he whisked us to the hotel. I don’t know how that system works, but I was quite impressed.
That was yesterday; today was a day with no formal programme. Jane had had a chat with the concierge, which meant, though, that There Was Now A Plan. For once, this did not involve going for a wander. Yet.
Instead, we opted for the hop-on-hop-off bus tour (in part, at least, because the weather was looking a bit doubtful). The bus we’d intended to catch was (a) a little bit early and (b) wasn’t quite following the route that the bus company’s map described and so wasn’t stopping where we had expected. But we stood in the middle of the road and waved, and the nice driver let us on anyway and we stayed with the bus until it reached the harbour so that we could join the cruise that comes as part of the ticket price. The cruise basically goes out to the Islands in the lake (Ontario – one of the five Great Lakes you remember from your geography lessons, because you were paying attention, weren’t you?) that the city lies beside. I hadn’t realised until that point that Toronto’s harbour featured any islands, but there they are – 14 of ’em.
Obviously, going out on the water gives many chances to take photos of Toronto’s skyline.
The central island even has a small airport on it – Billy Bishop airport, named after a Canadian WWII flying ace. Other islands feature marinas, parks, residential areas and all sorts of other entertainment possibilities too diverse to go into here.
At least one of the smaller islands features more cormorants than I have ever seen in any one place before in my life.
There were thousands of ’em! Fortunately it was not a hot day, so the smell, which is apparently legendary, was not too oppressive. They’re not the most popular of wildlife around these parts, we understand; partly because of the smell, and partly because the guano appears to be killing the trees.
After the cruise we walked back towards the bus stop, past a very cute wavy boardwalk
which is one of many curiosities that the city has to offer. Once back on the bus, in occasional showers of rain which were thankfully only intermittent, we started to get to grips with mainland Toronto.
Which is messy.
It’s an inevitable consequence of the climate. The guide on the bus explained that Toronto has only two seasons – Winter and Construction. During Winter, it’s too cold to do any building work, so once the weather is warmer, the city is afflicted by a plague of road and construction works.
Toronto strikes me as being similar in many ways to London. There are some lovely older buildings, squashed in and towered over by modern ones.
Above is our hotel. There is some lovely brickwork
and some streets have got attractive older properties in them.
There are some great artistic flourishes on some buildings
and plenty of standalone artworks around.
(what, you may ask, is the reason for the expression on the cat’s face? The answer….
….a fountain of 27 dogs, all aiming at the golden bone!).
Other things we noted as we passed: striking modern architecture;
the huge indoor St. Lawrence market
(where, incidentally, against all my expectations and in the very first boutique we looked at, we found a supply of Twinings Earl Grey teabags sufficient to last us for the rest of the holiday);
an Ice Hockey Hall of Fame;
a central square (Yonge and Dundas) with a blaze of huge digital advertising hoardings;
incredibly confusing traffic instructions;
a heritage railway museum
(including this tiny train which ran on compressed air to reduce the risk of causing a fire in the rope factory where it was used);
and the historic Distillery District, now a place of eateries and shopperies.
Some of these photos were taken from the bus (mainly by Jane) and others on a subsequent walkabout (see, we couldn’t resist going for a walk, after all – we were lone rangers in Toronto).
Because we leave Toronto by train in a few days’ time, we also looked in on Union Station
and noted, outside a side entrance to our hotel, cars parked on double yellow lions.
All this was from covering a mere fraction of Toronto – there are more lovely brick buildings, churches, University premises and all sort of other interesting things to see, all mixed in with the paraphernalia of a bustling, modern, big city – monstrous high-rise apartment and office blocks, tedious traffic queues, noise, homelessness and pollution – many things to like and many that are less attractive. But all in all it was a good day, and we felt that the walking we did justified a few cocktails in the hotel bar once we got back there.
Tomorrow is Niagara Falls Day. We hope that the weather will be kind to us and I hope to be able to bring you some photos of the experience (though I expect everyone’s seen masses of photos of the falls before now). Tune in tomorrow to see how we got on, won’t you?