Eating in Canada

The Wife’s favorite place to eat was Tim Horton’s.

I read in our AAA guide that Toronto, Ontario, Canada is a city of over two million people, and with five million in the metro area, which is about one-seventh of the entire population of the country. There are over 100 languages spoken there, and we heard more than our fair share. So, with such rich cultural diversity, why did we manage to eat at a Subway subs restaurant?

Part of it was convenience.  There is a Subway just across from the Royal Ontario Museum, it was about 6 p.m., and the Daughter was hungry. Part of it was her peanut allergy; going to some Chinese or Thai restaurant, which the Wife and I might have gone to on our own was not really practical due to the likelihood of the use of peanut oil. And the Daughter, a least in part because of peanut allergy fears, just isn’t a very adventurous eater. Oh, that particular Subway had no spinach, only lettuce; I prefer the former on my sub.

Convenience factored into eating at some of the attractions we were visiting. BTW, there’s a Nestle freeze pop, sold at the Toronto Zoo, made in a facility where peanuts are used. Did not anticipate that.

The one night we went out to dinner, we walked to the gay part of town, not unlike New York City’s Greenwich Village, and ate at the Rainbow Café, only five or six blocks from the hotel. The biggest problem with the place that, though we were inside, smoking was allowed outdoors, and a door was open; actually, more like a bay – it looked, on the side, like a three-car garage, with a section up.

The Daughter’s favorite place to eat was a place (a chain?) called the Golden Griddle. We ate dinner there one night and breakfast another morning. It was a clean, safe place. And Lydia got a toy at the end of the meal. And speaking of toys, I think it was Wendy’s hamburgers, where we stopped leaving town, at which the toy in the kids’ meal was a 30-second timer and some cards for charades; I loved that.

The Wife’s favorite place to eat was Tim Horton’s. We’d started seeing them in western New York, but the donut shop was ubiquitous in our travels. There was a dinky place in our Toronto hotel, which we never went to, except that she verified was not peanut-free. But as we were leaving town, she got a couple of donuts and an iced coffee and loved the freshness and taste.

This took place on the road from Peterborough: we stopped at a place that had Tim Horton’s, Burger King, something called Pizza Pizza, and another place. The Wife stood in the lengthy TH queue to get me a fruit smoothie and herself a couple of things, while I stood in the shorter BK line for food for the Daughter. I was finished with getting my order, while Carol was STILL in line. She got distracted by the fact that a whole family suddenly showed up to order in front of her and she managed to forget my drink. By the time she realized this, the TH queue was even longer than it was when she entered it. She did make it up to me, though, buying me a smoothie –it WAS good – at our stop 6 kilometers before we crossed the border back into the United States.

Getting Around and Getting Along in Canada

Most of the bicyclists were not wearing helmets, which I think is crazy, but such is the confidence he pedalists have in their drivers.

I don’t want to say that everyone we saw in Canada was nicer than the folks in the United States. A couple of the folks at the first hotel were, let’s say, indifferent. And the very first person we dealt with on the subway was clearly frustrated that we didn’t understand her incomprehensible instructions.

By and large, however, I found it a joy to be in Canada, especially Toronto. Other subway workers in the big city were quite helpful, and even complete strangers initiated contact to assist us when we looked confused.

Once we got the hang of it, we found the Toronto subway to be quite usable. Reasonably clean, mostly on time – except for that delay on the way to the zoo – and the riders were not openly hostile, as I’ve experienced in more than a few major American cities.

The bus trip to the zoo was actually fun, with people generally compliant with the signs to move back. We were near three high school girls from the suburbs who were native Chinese speakers but were studying English words for some major comprehensive test, perhaps the SATs.

Apparently driving out of Toronto in the afternoon is OK until about 3:30 pm, except on Friday afternoons in the summer, which is when we departed at 2 pm and got into a major traffic slowdown east of the city. That’s why, I suppose, the highway has all of those LED road signs imploring people to Try Mass Transit, or Use Mass Transit. And when a merged lane sign shows up, the drivers were generally quite content to let a driver in, taking turns.

In Toronto, I’ve never seen so many people riding bicycles in North America in my life. And unlike in Albany, NY, the drivers weren’t hostile to them. Most of the bicyclists were not wearing helmets, which I think is crazy, but such is the confidence the pedalists have in their drivers.

Oh, and cars yield to pedestrians – what’s THAT all about? I was practically in shock when cars stopped at the intersection and waited for the people to cross the street, even folks who were not at the intersection before the auto was. This would never happen in Albany. The one sign of impatience is when the drivers ARE making their right turns, either with the light or especially right on red, they will usually have one or two drivers turn after the light is red. So don’t step off the curb right away.

I even liked a lot of Canadian television, the little we saw, generally in the morning and evening. There was some morning show that gave a lot more of what I consider REAL news than the US equivalents do after the first half-hour. One segment was about homelessness in Canada, and the host showed real concern. Oh, and my wife got to see a performance by one of her two favorite singers, Diana Krall.

My favorite moment in Toronto: we were at the Ontario Science Centre. We bought a one-use camera for the Daughter, which was reasonably priced, BTW. She proceeded to misplace it. When I finally noticed this, I contacted the nearest employee and asked what I could do. He said, “Wait here,” walked over to the Lost and Found and in a few minutes, brought the camera to me. Usually, in such situations in the past, at best, an employee would direct me to the Lost and Found, where the camera might or might not have been returned. This outcome was, as they say, way cool.

So I was quite surprised in reading a comment to this blogpost by Arthur about the most livable cities. One of his LOCs stated: “I hope Toronto is not in the top ten! I was transferred here 6 months ago and as someone who has traveled all over and lived in South Africa, Australia, DC, LA, etc – I can tell you Toronto is not in the top ten!! Angriest people in North America, expensive, horrible weather. 6 months to go if I can make it.” (It’s #4, BTW.)

Now I did not live there. It was only four days. But there was a point, walking by the Royal Ontario Museum on our second day there when I said to my wife: “I think I could live here,” assuming that we had employment, etc. Good mass transit, bikes, educational capital, intellectual stimulation, massive multiculturalism; there were plenty of places we DIDN’T get a chance to see. And there are angrier people in lots of US cities I’ve been to, starting with Albany, NY.
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Heather Morris’ Staples Canada Back To School Commercial. Heather Morris, from the TV show Glee, is not from Canada, BTW.

Toronto: The City Pass, Part 2

The highlight may have been a Rube Goldberg-type machine.

The third full day in Toronto we dedicated to going to the Toronto Zoo. It is on the eastern edge of the city and required both train and bus to get there. One could make the case for driving there, I suppose. One of the selling points of having the City Pass is that one could avoid lines. Never was this more true at the Zoo, where we avoided at least a 15-minute wait just to get inside.

The zoo is massive. We saw only about 40% of it. We went to the Malay and African sections but never even got to the Americas or Australia or Eurasia. We considered taking the train around, and we might do that on a future trip. We’re already thinking about that.

The only comparable facility I’ve been to is the San Diego Zoo in California, and that was over a decade ago, maybe two decades. The SD Zoo was $32 per person then, whereas the Toronto Zoo retailed for under $25 US.

There were some extra features, such as rides, which we did not use. But we were pleased that the splash park was part of the admission. It was a particularly warm day – I got a bit of sunburn – so it was a welcome relief. To give you what a full day it was, the Daughter fell asleep on my shoulder on the bus trip back to the train, and then fell asleep again on her mother’s shoulder on the subway ride back to our hotel.

The BONUS appeal of the Toronto Zoo, though, happened some days after we got back to Albany. The Daughter was watching her new favorite show, Dino Dan, which is a TV series about “paleontologist-in-training Dan Henderson (played by Jason Spevack) and his friends, who uncover clues about the past and secrets of the dinosaurs. The show combines live action with CGI dinosaurs.” On one episode last month, which I was only half watching, the Daughter correctly identified as having been filmed at the Toronto Zoo; I immediately recognized the elephant and lion areas myself. Someone put a bit of the episode on YouTube.

I will revisit the zoo later in the year.

 

We went to the Ontario Science Centre on our way out of town and may have given it short shrift. The quirky thing about this building is that the 6th floor is down, while the 1st floor is up. The Daughter enjoyed the reptiles, and especially the area where one plays with a hot air balloon, lights, bubbles, and a lot more. She particularly liked dancing to her image altered by some nifty effects. Most of our time was spent in the play area.

But the highlight may have been a Rube Goldberg-type machine similar to, but not exactly the same as this one. The one we saw had a bunch of billiard balls, and the patrons had to keep loading the balls into the machine, from a half dozen locales, to keep the effect going. The kids LOVED it; heck, I loved it.

There are City Passes for about a dozen other cities in North America. I’m not sure I’d use it for a city I’ve visited, such as New York or Boston; I’ve been to the Empire State Building. But for a city I’ve never been to, such as Seattle, I think it would be ideal.

Toronto: The City Pass

Casa Loma, built in the 1910s for some $3.5 million, back when that was real money, is a castle

When I was thinking about us taking our trip to Toronto, I asked you fine folks for some recommendations. Some of you, especially Jaquandor, suggested a number of venues. As it turns out, all of the suggested locations are available from some program called the City Pass. In this case, five attractions at about 45% off the regular price, with nine days to see them all.

On our first full day, we took the subway to the CN Tower. Well, close to the CN Tower. We walked to an adjacent plaza as the signs suggested, but were obstructed by new construction. We followed the detour signs and ended up exactly where we had started. We got to our destination eventually and purchased the one child and two adult City Passes.

The CN Tower, which is one of the tallest human-made buildings in the world, was the most touristy of the five locations, with long lines. Recommendation: get there early. Don’t stop to go to the bathroom; you’ll have plenty of time to do so while waiting in the queue. Still, the view of the city was magnificent, especially overlooking Lake Ontario. The glass floor was wonderfully scary. The IMAX movie was entertaining.

Next stop that day: the Royal Ontario Museum, which featured several things the Daughter particularly liked, such as dinosaurs and mummies. I liked the Chinese sculpture. “Biodiversity is a core theme” there.

The next day, we went to Casa Loma, the former home of once-rich industrialist, financier, and military man Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, who controlled about a quarter of Canada’s finances for time. He brought streetlights to Toronto, helped create hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls, as well as several other ventures. Casa Loma came into the hands of a not-for-profit shortly before his death, and around the same time as the death of his wife, Lady Mary Pellatt, the first Commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada.

The building, built in the 1910s for some $3.5 million, back when that was real money, is a castle. We walked up the turret, some seven stories; the trick, actually, was climbing DOWN some of the spiral staircases as others traversed upward. The site also lovely gardens. Note that if one takes public transportation, it’s three blocks up, then about four flights of steps. It was a good thing we didn’t go to the CN Tower that day, for it was quite overcast.

Having the City Pass, or at least some prepaid ticket, saved us some time getting inside.

More soon.

Vacation Day 3: Toronto

The thing that bugged me the most was the vending machine; it indicated that beverages were $1 each, a real bargain, but I got only 50 cents back from my Tooney, the $2 coin.

 

After we left Niagara Falls, NY for the last time, we crossed the Rainbow Bridge, paid our $3.25, then had to deal with Canadian customs. After looking at our passports, the fellow asked:
“Where are you going?” Toronto and Peterborough for a total of six days.
“Business or pleasure?” Pleasure.
“Are you carrying any weapons?” No.
“Do you own any weapons?” No.
And that was pretty much it. We did wonder, though: if we owned weapons, but were not carrying them, what would the outcome have been?

We had directions to Toronto, but the signage was very helpful, and we actually just followed the QEW highway signs until we got to the city.
No problems, either, with the metric stuff, either.

We just multiplied by 0.6 for the kilometers per hour to the miles per hour; 40 kph=24 mph, 100 kph=60 mph. We bought no gasoline/petrol in Canada since the $1.18 to $1.25 per liter meant almost $1 more per gallon than in the U.S.
The temperature quick rule of thumb, at least for positive temperatures Celsius, was to double it and add about 28 to get the Fahrenheit reading. Yeah, I know it’s really multiplying by 9/5 and adding 32, but who wants to multiply by 9/5s, anyway? All I really wanted to know was on a relative scale. 30F is cold, and 30C is hot, as one of the American folks in Peterborough later said.
The one conversion I did find trickier is when I saw in the news that 64 mm of rain fell somewhere; I had to actually calculate that 2.54 cm =1 inch, 25.4 mm=1 inch, so 64 mm is about 2.5 inches.

We got to our hotel, in the heart of Toronto. Here’s a piece of business: parking was some $23 per night extra at the hotel. But the street parking, while about a third less, felt far less secure. One needed a room key to get to the parking under the hotel.

The hotel itself seems to be one of those places that was higher end at one point in its life, but which is now a Best Western. The promise of “luxury” dining was false, with indifferent service, though the waiter was nicer on our second visit to its restaurant; the air conditioning was sufficient to cool the window curtains, but not the room, and there was mildew I cleaned off the showerhead. Oddly, the thing that bugged me the most was the vending machine; it indicated that beverages were $1 each, a real bargain, but I got only 50 cents back from my Tooney, the $2 coin. (The one-dollar coin is the Loonie, named for the bird featured on it.)

The upside is that it was quite convenient for getting around town. In any case, we didn’t go to Toronto to stay in the hotel; we went to see the city.

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