The smartest thing to do in Toronto is to carry a map, a camera and a subway day pass [10 dollars for unlimited travel on the subway and street car]. In the few days that my friends and I were in Toronto, we took full advantage of our walking shoes and curiosity. This was our annual get together and we wanted to make it fun. So we chose to fly there in June, to beat the heat [although the harbour is beautiful all through the year] and to catch the IIFA awards, which were to be held there.
What a view
We started with an EcoCab tour of Yorkville, which is a Bohemian hotspot of the 1960s. The place is bustling with manicured gardens and haute couture. We then headed to Toronto’s historic ‘Casa Loma’, also known as House on a Hill, a castle-style mansion that sits atop the city on a hill. One of Toronto’s pioneers, Sir Henry Pellatt lived here. Interestingly, he built the house as part of a dream [read an expensive dream]. The 98-room ‘house’ has towers, an 800ft tunnel, stables, estate gardens [open May through October] and even secret passages.
We also visited the famed CN Tower, which we could see from almost everywhere. It houses 360, the revolving restaurant visited by the who’s who of International celebrities and dignitaries. It hosts over 500 events each year with up to 2,000 guests. The restaurant’s wine cellar holds a Guinness World Record for being the world’s highest wine cellar. If you are not dining at the CN Tower, and just want to see the view, you have to pay about INR 1500.
Thankfully, we did not have to pay the admission price as we went there as diners. We even got a preferential elevator service to the restaurant, which took us from zero to 553.3m [1,815 ft] in just 55 seconds.
It felt a bit strange to be so high up in the air. But we wanted to make the most of this rare chance and went down to the viewing platform to join the millions of others who were vying for the best photo angle. From where we were standing, I could see the Ontario Lake on one side, and the city on the other, both looked gorgeous. There was even a 24sq m glass floor on which you can stand to look at the streets. Initially, it is a bit unsettling because you feel you are floating above the streets. But the panoramic view was worth it.
Later that evening, I walked through Toronto’s Chinatown. The flavours that waft through the air are so uniquely Chinese. It’s a favourite destination of movie makers wanting to depict China, without having to actually go there. The setting is so Chinese—you could be in Shanghai, Hong Kong or Beijing, itself. The only difference is they don’t sell live fowl on the streets here, like they do in China. At night, we visited the Royal Ontario Museum, which is one of the best places in the world to familiarise yourself with natural history, and world cultures.
We also visited the Distillery District near downtown Toronto. This used to be the largest distillery in the British Empire. Today, it is a heritage area. Here, you can witness a fine collection of Victorian industrial architecture that is well preserved. The place is Toronto’s first pedestrian-only district.
Distillery District is synonymous with creative expression—with a lot of emphasis on culture, arts and entertainment. It is interesting to find old equipment from distilleries still there in some buildings. The machines have labels, which explain what they were used for back then. All in all, it is an amazing place to sample some of Toronto’s rich history and to eat, drink, shop, see a festival or participate in a special event.
We also grabbed a chance to walk down Yonge Street—the longest street in the world. Starting from the front of Toronto, the street takes up to the Winnipeg/Minnesota border. If you were to drive, it would take you about 36 hours from start to end. That too non-stop. Where the Yonge Street meets Dundas, is the place to hang out and have a good time. That’s exactly what we did later that evening. It is like a mini Times Square of New York, replete with huge billboards, neon lights, and street performers.
Bush camping in the zoo
To get an experience akin to an African safari, head to the Toronto Zoo’s Serengeti Bush Camp. After we had settled in, we took a tour of the African savanna. We saw lions, hippos, and hyenas. And also got the opportunity to travel behind the scenes at the zoo and see the elephant house. Here, we had intimate discussions with an elephant keeper who told us where the giant creatures slept and what they ate.
We participated in exciting games and activities designed to enlighten us about the animals and their behaviour. Once dusk had fallen, the Toronto zoo and the animals took on a new meaning, and the fun continued… We spent a night in a bush tent, right in the heart of the savanna. But sleeping right in the middle of wildlife is more than just a night of camping—it’s an experience full of animal adventures and encounters. With lions roaring into the night, elephants just around the corner, a night at Bush Camp is an adventure you don’t want to miss.
Ice wine & Niagara falls
A day trip to the Ice-wine Vineyards in Niagara is a must for all liquorists [like me]. This region has many wineries of which, I visited the “Inniskillin winery”. My tour began in the beautiful courtyard and proceeded out into the vines to learn how grapes are grown and harvested. The winery was modern, clean and crisp, quite like a factory. So where was the romance, the flavour, the spirit of the wine, I wondered? In the cellar, of course! The underground cellar was dark, serene and cool. This is where the wine patiently waits in the oak casks to mature.
You don’t just get to see the casks, but you also learn the reason behind storing the wine in containers made of select woods, how long it takes before you can sample them and how one wine is different from another. The tour ended in a tasting room where we were all given samples to taste from pretty wine bottles.
And being in Toronto, who would miss a chance to see the world-renowned Niagara Falls, which is barely an hour and a half’s drive away? So we stopped by the quaint town of Niagara on the Lake, which was bursting with tourists. At the falls, we boarded the ‘Maid of the Mist’ boat. Many, many years ago, human sacrifices were offered to the falls by locals. The boat derives its name from this practice. The ‘Maid’ took us really close to the falls and it was wonderful to be covered by the mist with an unmatched view of the cascading water. I stood awestruck in front of the mother of all falls!
There is one other thing, apart from the falls in Niagara that takes your breath away—pristinely pruned flowers.
All good things come to an end and so did this trip. I was a bit sad to leave, although with the binging I did there, I reckon my waistline thanked me.
At night the Toronto harbour front looks post-card perfect. You can spend the entire night just looking at it, never wanting to take your eyes off the world-class view.
Best way to reach
Fly from Delhi to Toronto via Brussels This is the most economical and shortest route. You can carry two bags of 23kg each even in economy class.
Visa & Currency
Indians require a Canadian visa to visit Toronto. The currency used is the Canadian dollar which is approximately INR50.
You have to see the Niagara Falls yourself to really appreciate its beauty. The falls are one of the best in the world. What’s different about them is not their height, but their monstrous width. And they can be visited from both Canada and America.
These falls are so huge that on an average, over 4 million cubic feet of water passes over the crest line every minute. And when the flow is high, the quantity goes up to 6 million cubic feet per minute.
It is one of the favourite destination of honeymooners from around the world, especially from America and Canada.
During summer, the falls are open to tourists even in the evening. It is a sight to watch, as the floodlights illuminate both sides of the falls until midnight from the Canadian side.
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