Toronto & Niagara Falls

Toronto A short and sweet visit. The plan was keep the visit tight as Toronto is often likened to a more relaxed New York and closer to Chicago in feel and as I’d been to both I didn’t intend to spend too much time in another city. So five days was enough time to get a feel for the place. But the first item of note was the accommodation; this is the first time I’ve stayed in hostel on the trip.

Of course this category of digs caters for a niche but at my age and having grown accustomed to a certain standard of hostelry I just cannot countenance the idea of sharing a room with strangers. Bad enough the awkwardness of finding time alone to change clothes but the thought of hearing unknowns grunt, grown, snore or fart is abhorrent. While I do have a budget for the trip, it extends further than the purse of a student travelling on a gap year, so although I couldn’t get a guesthouse/B&B at a reasonable price close to the city I took a private room in a city centre hostel that was more than fine. What’s more I was allowed to park the bike in front of the reception and the staff were quite friendly. Thumps up.

As the hostel was close enough to the centre, right next to Toronto University, I took a well-illustrated tourist map and rambled around College Street, Yonge Street and around the waterfront area. Even on a short walk the relaxed contrast with New York is obvious. People move at a less hectic pace and the decibel level is near normal. No noisy subway and no continuous honking on the car horn for a moments delay.

I almost maintained my loose undertaking to avoid Irish Bars where possible, having not visited any in Montreal. Of course I like frequenting the Irish McDonalds however I’d like to keep the visits to minimum, as I want to hang out with the locals. So no problem to walk straight past Celtic pubs the like of: O’Gradys, Blooms, Craic etc however I caved on seeing a huge Guinness Tucon (bird) over a pub called The Artful Dodger. For combination of the two they might as well have hung my name over the door, needless to say a couple of pints were consumed. With the vow broken, steak and chips were had the following day in The Irish Embassy, see photos.

Although I hit the hay early on Friday, my brain didn’t think so on Saturday morning were I was glad the most difficult decision to be made was whether to take a sightseeing tour operated by the yellow bus company, or, the red bus company. The yellow bus won as they threw in a free boat trip as well. Lots of interesting things to see: Casa Loma, CN Tower, Mink Mile, Baldwin Village, churches etc. Also, I’m beginning to think that every city has a St Patrick’s church. Must be for the convenience of my fellow country men were certain sins are best absolved by the barmen and the misdemeanours by the men in cloth. I did hop off to stroll around the St Lawrences indoor food market were I found and savoured an almost forgotten childhood delicacy: a hot cross bun and a mug of tea. Winner. After which I nearly missed/ruined Saturday night.

A one-hour power nap at 6.30pm almost turned into a full nights sleep. Luckily a bladder call just after 11.00pm saved the night. On realising it was the right side of midnight, I did for moment think of going back to bed. Madness; cannot believe it took that long to decide to go out as who knows if and when I’d be in Toronto again. First port of call was a club called Government, a pretty cool place but hard to pick up the vide having only woken up an hour earlier. As all regular pubs/clubs close at 3.00am I asked around at closing time about after parties and ended up sharing a cab with two mates heading to a club called Comfort Zone which is known by its abbreviated name: CZ (pronounced Cee Zee). Which had the additional benefit of being only 300m from the hostel. What a place.

It opens on Saturday a.m. and plays right through until the early hours of Monday morning. Even the Spaniards, who are known to party late, have to change venues to continue their night/morning. The venue exploits a loophole in the licensing regulations to stay open. The upstairs bar is opened all day however the basement level club is alcohol free. So revellers go upstairs when they want a beer and downstairs through an internal stairwell to hit the tiles. The venue itself won’t win any design awards but the music and crowd were pretty cool. I called an end to my first session there at 6.30am.

Later that day, I dropped in around 2.00pm for ten minutes before going on the boat tour just to check out the scene. Amazingly the place was still busy with about 60-70 people there. More than half were a new consignment of patrons but I recognised a number of people who hadn’t gone home since I’d been there early that morning. It doesn’t take too much imagination to guess what ingredients they had in their chemical smoothy. Later again, after a pleasant enough boat tour I headed back to CZ for the evening and had a ball.

Session three was the best of the lot. A female deejay Tak-Thai rocked the house. Not only did she spin a great set but also danced ferociously behind the decks while her large tan tinted afro moved of its own will. She certainly got the crowd going. While there I hung out with a nice group: Veronica, her two friends and her boyfriend. The latter seemed like a sweet enough chap although I was glad he liked dancing so he didn’t get the wrong idea when Veronica, a yoga teacher, removed a couple of knots from my shoulder on the outside terrace. I hadn’t realised my muscles were so tense until afterward when totally loosened up I could have swung a home run. We finished a good night and promised to keep in touch.

On my last day in Ontario I headed out to Niagara Falls which is only 90 minutes south of Toronto. A few years ago I’d visited the Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian side, which was an amazing experience. So comparisons had to be made. Although these falls were somewhat smaller than their Latin American competitor they are equally stunning with: a soft misty water spray that drifted to the viewing platforms, rainbows within arms reach and the powerful roar of the water as it fell from the precipice into the basin below. I took the 15-minute iconic Made of the Mist boat tour around the base of the Falls, which was worth doing. In some ways there is an advantage to touring in the autumn; as I seldom have to queue for any length of time! One thing that struck me about this area was the amount of nearby hotels. With my back to the Falls I could see 12-15 sky scrapper hotels with the usual names you’d expect to find. Not sure how they survive. I spent the same time at the Falls as I did getting there and back, were I was quite ready to be on my way again. Didn’t see anything else which warranted an overnight stay.

All in all, I had superb time during this sort visit. I would revisit and wouldn’t be averse to living here either. Nice place.

Al Dempsey
9 October 2010