Friday, December 23, 2011

Toronto General Thoughts

Here are some general thoughts of Toronto that I sent to friends, with minor tweaking:

If you plan to visit Toronto someday, this is the most practical of my Toronto e-mails.  I was originally going to include a few journal points I forgot to mention but have decided instead to focus solely on the general stuff

Very multicultural, with man y areas of Toronto being cultural towns (Korea Town, Greek City, etc.).  The drawback of course is you’re more likely to encounter people who speak neither English nor likely even French.  There are, however, few First Nations people in the area and they don’t get their own “town”.

Turnstiles at subways stations assume you’re carrying a daypack at the most and not a suitcase.  Subways only stay within what is considered to be Toronto proper now, though some stations are in what used to be separate towns (North York, Scarborough, etc). What there are some above ground areas of the subway; these are more infrequent than the Skytrain in Greater Vancouver.  As previously noticed, the “Ossington, Ossington Station; Christie, Christie Station” repetition of the announcements can get tiresome.  Some subway directions are misleading and you might think you’re headed from one subway route to another when you’re actually headed to an exit.

Aggressive drivers can be a problem, often trying to turn while people are crossing on a walk signal.  Pedestrians can be aggressive too.  Taxi drivers’ favourite pastime is honking their horns.  Like Victoria, jaywalking including against lights is not unknown.

While there are sometimes streetcar stations in the middle of the roads, more often you wait for a streetcar to stop and open its doors and then cross the street to the streetcar to get on.

The distinction between what is and is not downtown is even more blurry than Vancouver; you’re rarely far from any shopping.

It’s actually possible to spend a full day walking around Toronto’s shopping areas and not get panhandled.

In the core of downtown, franchise stores and restaurants often do a good job of blending in to their surroundings.

Toronto doesn’t have much of a sense of humour about itself.  Beyond that naked guy with pigeons statue I noticed little by way of any really strange structures.  Major exception: Honest Ed’s has a fun sense of humour about itself (kind of like Marvel Comics: it praises itself to the point of poking fun at itself).

In some ways Toronto seems like a humourless version of Seattle, albeit with a better light rail system: main tourism attraction is a tall thin structure with a dome with restaurant on top, amphibious vehicle tours based on some animal, card being put into place that covers different transit systems, one major transit system for in town and another major transit system for outlying communities.

The water doesn’t taste very good.  Hopefully this isn’t due to its proximity to nuclear power plants.

BMV is a very good franchise store for books; lots of remained book that are still in excellent shape.

I’ve previously mentioned that the street numbers are a bit strange (numbers inconsistent with other streets and even between their own even and odd streets; also blocks are not split by 100s.  To expand on this slightly, for east-west streets this problem is a bit less the closer you get to Yonge, as that’s the dividing point between Streets West and Streets East.

Go trains, while not cheap are better than VIA Rail trains: they’re double-decker, cheaper, and actually benefit from purchasing the day you ride so you can get a daypass (VIA makes you book in advance to get a good rate).  If you get a daypass, you can ride either GO busses or trains as long as they’re within the zones covered by the pass.  GO doesn’t make their zone divisions widely available; there are apparently over 80 zones however.

While Toronto can get cold, it’s a dry cold.  I didn’t need to dress as warmly as I thought I would have to.

People in Toronto tend to be a bit reserved, though I did encounter a few helpful people.  Most won’t go out of their way to help people, but most won’t try to hassle you either unless you try to cross on a walk signal when they wish to turn.

North-south is a mild hill.  Keep going north and you’ll get a better view of the south end of the city, but the uphill walk probably won’t tire you out much due to how gradual the “hill” is.

Like Seattle and Portland but unlike Victoria or Vancouver you can find Vanilla Coke for sale there

Major chains you won’t find here but which were all over the place there (the whole Golden Horseshoe area, not just Toronto): Pizza Pizza (self-explanatory), Metro (supermarket), Beer Store (self-explanatory, Second Cup (coffee/tea).  I was hoping to see the primarily east coast franchise White Castle but never encountered any; might just be American.

In terms of what's worth visiting outside of Toronto:
  Mississauga: didn't have much time to explore.  If you're arriving by plane you'll likely visit Mississauga whether you want to or not; jury's out on the rest of the city though.
  Oakville: Nice quiet downtown; not essential but a decent Sunday excursion
  Hamilton: better than its reputation; worth a visit especially if you wish to shop
  St Catharines: to quote Thor, "I say thee nay!" If you have a choice between visiting St Catharines and experiencing an enema, opt for the enema, which can at least do your body some good
  Niagara Falls ON: A must see, both for the beautiful falls and the amazingly tacky Clifton Hills.
  Niagara Falls NY: unless money's an issue and you can't afford a passport or enhanced ID, absolutely cross the Rainbow Bridge (which is grey BTW) and at the very least visit the free observation area that hangs over the falls.  It may not be as amazing as the ON version, but it's still a must-see if you have the right documents
  Pickering: Not worth the effort
  Ajax: Same
  Whitby: See Oakville and below
  Oshawa: See Oakville; also if you like comics there's three shops close to each other downtown.  I found people in Whitby and Oshawa, except the Go bus drivers, to be among the friendlier people in the Golden Horseshoe area

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