Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Toronto, or may be Canada in general, is spoken about easier by the way it differs from America & not so much if you try to talk about it in isolation. At least, going to Toronto after about 10 months of living in the USA, that was the way I looked at it.

My first impression upon entering Canada was that Google map directions were not so darned easy to follow anymore. And that's not really about a change to the metric system; it is about traffic pattern. Now the very fact that we were not really lost is testimony to the fact that while the patterns aren't exactly the same as in America, these aren't impossible to follow - but just that extra bit difficult in the middle of the night - with no prior knowledge of what to expect in terms of road signs & traffic patterns. I still do not know if a right turn is free as it is in Ashburn, VA - and, likely, most of the US - but I took that liberty anyway.

Secondly, I was happy to find a fine non-chain coffee shop next to the hotel we stayed at. Sure, you'll find the McDonald s & the Starbucks, but why go to Toronto & get something that you get at home. The portions were handsome without being enormous, & the breakfast menu rather delectable.

Now, Ontario is the Canada's English speaking province. So we faced no problems at all in asking directions & such, though we had to to-&-fro a bit trying to get to the metro station next day. Again, that's because traffic patterns were different.

The metro is rather straight forward & runs in a U sort of a loop through downtown Toronto. With the US dollar losing ground, we experienced that our American dollars were treated as Canadian dollars, though American currency was more valuable. If you paid American cash, you'd get Canadian change back as if you'd paid Canadian dollars. The metro station had gone to the extent of putting up a notice to this effect to stop answering any further questioning from incredulous tourists. I maintain that it was at least nice of them to accept American dollars - just as Canadian dollars are accepted (at least in toll-booths in New York coming from Canada) - & the fact is that nobody really stopped us from getting Canadian dollars before entering Canada. Bad planning, price paid.

Toronto probably is to Canada what New York is to America. However, that's really for the sake of analogy & has little practical implications. That's not to say that there is nothing really to see in Toronto. On the contrary, it has a lively theater, music & art cinema culture - which is great in itself, but in the way of architecture, museums, monuments & other such touristy attractions, Toronto is really no match. But what really is admirable, I felt at the time, is the fact that reading Toronto's history one gets a distinct sense of effort & will by the government & the locals to raise the bar on what Toronto really means. The art & culture scene is an example of the intent behind Toronto's development. It wasn't very good always, it is rather nice now - & there is a distinct element of pride involved as Toronto tries to match up with its bigger, glossier North American counterparts. And Toronto exemplifies why Canada is a 'mixing bowl' & the USA is a 'melting pot'.

Well, the rainy Saturday finally came around to lunch hour & it was at Le Papillion that we found our most memorable moments of Toronto. Of course, an entire bottle of good, lush, full-bodied red wine did help mellow even more the whole Mediterranean setting of the restaurant painted in a beautiful pastel shade of yellow & the criss-crosses of light & dark blue of the table cloth. Pâté Michelle was about the best appetizer that I've eaten in a while, & the lamb chops served in a wonderfully fragrant sauce did nothing to take away the feeling of being absolved!

Yes, we also took a boat ride on the Lake Ontario. And my perfectly planned dinner plans were all spoiled when we figured that the only place in town that served Venison, as far as my research was concerned, was a restaurant inside The Hilton & did not feature a single entrée that was less than 40 Canadian dollars. So, we had a rather nondescript Italian dinner & after missing the train once , by the way being extra-polite & giving way to others, we were all on our way back to the Hotel.

Day II was Niagara falls all over. For those of you who've not seen the horse-shoe falls, its difficult to describe the power of all that water hurling itself down in a neat semi-circle with such a force that it creates a towering mist forever, & standing at a distance on the front of the horse-shoe falls, you cannot see it's middle portion thanks to gigantic column of mist. Of course, you just have to take the 'Maid of the mist' ferry & wearing a plastic-gown over your self, sail down to right in the middle of the horse-shoe falls. And whatever notions you have of 'personal space' - especially if you're from the USA - will absolutely evaporate in the jostle for space & a good shot of the awe-inspiring falls.

I liked my time in Canada. There was hardly any interaction with Canadians; however, I seem to believe that it'd be a great place to live in if you can wrestle the long winters. It is a country of peace, & is relatively prosperous. It has incredibly picturesque up north, & has a lively & cultured ways of live in the southern provinces. And it is very easy to go there.

July 13th, 14th & 15th, 2007

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