Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Toronto, Ontario

After Niagra Falls, we headed to Toronto.  We were a bit nervous pulling up to customs with Zion filled to the brim and a cargo box on the top.  The customs agent casually asked what was in the car and didn't bat an eye when we listed all the camping equipment and six months worth of clothes (whew!). Driving across the border from New York to Canada was a bit surreal - the views outside the car's window hardly changed and we kept driving by Best Buys and IKEAs. I think I expected more, some drastic difference as we left our country, but nothing of the sort came. Unless you count the speed limit signs turning to Kilometers per Hour. The one thing that totally threw us for a loop was the inability of Bank of America branches so close to the border to provide us with Canadian currency! The 800-number guy even told us that any decent size branch should be able to issue a reasonable amount of Canadian dollars, but we stopped at 2 or 3 and were denied. We ended up exchanging some cash at the border's duty free shop for a 3% surcharge.

We stayed with Amanda's friend, Hosanna, in Toronto, who was super gracious to host us for 2 days, and make recommendations of places to see and things to do. Funny story - our car with all the camping gear in the roof rack is about 7-feet tall, and the garage door opening in Hosanna's apartment is about 7-feet 1-inch. That made for a fun, nail-biting experience: "Are we gonna get stuck here and wreck our cargo box!? AND block the garage door!?" All is well that ends well...

We felt a bit medieval without out iPhones (we chose not to use them to avoid international charges) - navigating with paper maps brought back memories of past trips through Europe. I think we fared well without the 21st century tools. After all, we both had certain ideas about this trip - for instance: letting ourselves find places as we drive/walk by them, opposed to relying on Yelp for our every need. Toronto was a baby step in that direction.


West Queen West:
Hosanna's first recommendation was West Queen Street West and that's where we spent most of our time in Toronto.  The vibe there reminded us quite a bit of our beloved Cambridge, but even more concentrated, more bohemian. Queen Street West just keep going with more boutiques, more restaurants, more bars, etc. There were tons of cyclists, which we loved and too many snazzy dressers to count - probably some of the best fashion we've seen so far on this trip.

Night Out:
Sampling local food offerings is a total must for us. We stopped in to Czehoski for a light dinner (poutine with braised beef!) and drinks, following it up with a musical performance at the Drake. The Drake Hotel is a local institution with multiple music venues, bars, and a functioning hotel.

The second day started with a trip to St. Lawrence Market. I love the atmosphere you get in these types of markets, with local proprietors peddling sweets, sausages, fish, cheeses, and all kinds of other you-name-it stuff!

Toronto is a booming city at the moment - there is construction everywhere, commercial and residential high-rises are going up all over the city. We took our bikes off the car for the first time and explored Toronto on pedals - wise choice, considering the large size of the city. Riding in very close proximity to the street cars and constantly crossing over the tracks was a bit unnerving, a feeling right on par with that of sharing a car lane with the street cars. It took a little bit of getting used to and reminded us that each city will have its little nuances we'll have to get used to.

Distillery District:
We loved the Distillery District - a great, historic neighborhood. The story began in the 1830's with a family enterprise that grew into a conglomeration of flourmills, a wharf, the distillery, storehouses, an icehouse, a cooper shop, and a dairy. Today, the district houses art exhibits, boutiques, cafes, and restaurants. Amanda loved the expansive red-brick spaces, and the project of juxtaposing old distillery photographs with modern ones.

Before saying goodbye to Toronto, we had a few amazing eating experiences. We had lunch in the Distillery District at Cafe Furbo (Amanda was obsessed with the decor of this place - very clean and modern, with just enough white space and exposed brick). We snacked at Terroni - the Nizzarda salad with arugula, Italian tuna, potatoes, eggs, red onion, tomatoes, olives, green beans, and anchovies was amazing! Hosanna treated us to a prosciutto-Camembert aperitif with french bread, followed by dinner grilled on her roof deck (the first photo in this post is the view from her deck!). And for the road, we filled up on coffee, a quiche-like slice of goodness and an apple and oatmeal muffin from the White Squirrel Coffee Shop.

We really loved exploring Toronto and spending time with Hosanna!


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Have tips on what we should go, see, do?  Submit suggestions here or e-mail us!  We're in Indiana now and will be going to Illinois and Wisconsin next.


  1. I loved Toronto and Niagara! We went last year in August for our 3 year anniversary. So fun!!! xoxo A-

  2. So nice that you guys had some locals to give you suggestions! I liked Toronto when I was there, but definitely didn't get as good of a sense of the place as it looks like you guys did.

    I had the same thoughts when we crossed the border. I expected such a difference, but nothing. Except I noticed that an Applebee's in the super touristy part of Niagara Falls said "neighboUrhood grill" (or whatever their slogan is). It was a very cultural experience for me.

    1. It really did help to have some local tips! Taras's brother had just been in Toronto a couple weeks before we were there and he seemed to not get a good feel for the city, either.

      I totally didn't notice "neighboUrhood" - funny!


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