With all of the shenanigans going on in America at present, a little escape to our friendly northern neighbor seemed like quite a good idea. And, as the saying goes, go big or go home — right?
That is seemingly the philosophy my roommate and I were following when we cobbled together the details for a trip to Canada's largest city, Toronto, home to a metro population of about 6.4 million, so says the Google machine. For reference, the city is just as large (or larger perhaps) than Chicago — search results may vary — and it feels like it when you're there, too.
The city was supposed to be the second stop on a trip prematurely entitled "The Great Lakes Expedition." Due to the constraints of time and money, said expedition had to be trimmed significantly and Toronto (along with Niagara Falls) became the primary destination. Maybe the title ought to be retroactively changed to "The Not-So-Great-Lakes Expedition"?
For us, getting to Toronto was a matter of driving from western Michigan across the Blue Water Bridge that connects Port Huron and Point Edward, and then continuing eastward on Ontario highways 402, 401, and 403, in that order. The six-hour road trip was none too daunting, especially when you consider my record of having driven 12 straight hours once upon a time (crazy, right?).
The only maddening part of the trip was when it took us about 45 minutes to drive something like 15 miles as we approached downtown Toronto, where we were staying in a high-rise condo near the University of Toronto's St. George Campus. We met our Airbnb host, Yu, threw our stuff in his apartment on the 32nd floor, and then booked it a few blocks south to make it just in time for the start of the third inning of the Blue Jays-Yankees game.
The First Night
Rogers Centre, current home of the MLB's Toronto Blue Jays, is just the second Major League Baseball stadium I've ever visited. Situated in the heart of Toronto's Entertainment District, the stadium is next-door neighbors with the CN Tower, Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, and the Inner Harbour waterfront, where the Toronto Islands can be found.
As we sat perched on the fifth deck along the first base side of the field next to some Yankees fans from Virginia (go figure), we watched the visiting team from New York fail again and again to score. While I personally didn't have a dog in the fight (go Tigers!), it would have been nice to see a competitive game. Instead, the Blue Jays easily defended their turf, winning 4-0.
On the way out of Rogers Centre, we passed a guy selling "1 BJ is Better Than 9 Yanks" T-shirts, which was cool and fun and what not, but I opted to buy a not-so-novelty shirt from a nearby gift shop instead.
The Porch Toronto was up next. If you're looking for a rooftop bar that won't empty your wallet, you'll definitely want to check this place out ...unless I'm totally kidding, which I am. Cocktails and beer at The Porch were a little steep — talking like $7-9 USD for your average Coors Light — but I suppose you're paying for the atmosphere, and certainly for the view.
Biking in the City
I now have the highest praise to bestow upon Toronto's bike share system, which we took full advantage of on our only full day in the city. Granted I'm not all that familiar with the ways it is done elsewhere... BUT! I'm still confident their system is sexy, and I guarantee you would think so, too.
You pay right around $7 CAD for 24-hour access to a bike, which can be docked and undocked at any of Toronto's numerous bike share ports as many times as is necessary during the rental period. It just takes swiping your credit/debit card at each port and getting a new access code to unlock another bike whenever you're ready to hop back on.
Having never ridden a bike in a city roughly the size of Chicago or thereabouts, I've got to tell you I was a tad nervous before hopping on mine. But then, as we were winding through the city streets, squeezing in between parked cars and those in motion beside us, and constantly keeping on the lookout for other riders and pedestrians, any semblance of anxiety was washed away and replaced by tiny bits of adrenaline.
It was actually kind of a downer when we rode south toward the Inner Harbour waterfront and began using a proper bike trail as opposed to the bike lanes in the streets — just not as exhilarating, you know?
Things You Ought To Do
We've already mentioned the lovely Rogers Centre, The Porch Toronto, and the phenomenal bike share system (as well as the CN Tower and Ripley's Aquarium of Canada in passing), but this city obviously has much more going on, too.
Because I am morally obligated to do so as a history fanatic, I must mention Casa Loma, a 103-year-old, "Gothic Revival"-style castle that sits in the middle of the city. Originally home to Sir Henry Mill Pellatt — a rich dude who died in 1939 — Casa Loma is now a museum and a popular spot for wedding ceremonies, as it is surrounded by some lush gardens. Because we are cheap bastards, we did not pay the admission price (about $20 USD), but instead used the exterior of the castle for some photo opps.
The briefly aforementioned CN Tower, a communications and observation tower that rises 1,800 feet into the sky; Ripley's Aquarium of Canada, which houses more than 13,000 exotic sea and freshwater creatures; the Toronto Zoo, which is the largest in Canada; the Art Gallery of Toronto; the shops in and around the Yorkville area, which is sandwiched between Bloor and Yonge streets and Davenport and Avenue roads — these are things worth spending time/money on.
And while we didn't figure it out until it was too late, you can take advantage of the Toronto City Pass and get access to five of the city's most popular attractions — the CN Tower, Casa Loma, the Royal Ontario Museum, the aquarium, and your choice between the zoo and the Ontario Science Centre — for the shiny, sparkling price of about $72 USD (for adults).
Of course, there is also the nightlife and, as with any big city, there are more bars and clubs than you could possibly choose from. Other than The Porch, the other bit of Toronto nightlife we sampled was a nightclub called Cake. Yes, you read that correctly. They have $4 CAD drinks all the time and you may just meet a cute girl from Buffalo, New York, there; you never know (wink, wink, nod, nod)!