Canada not-so-dry

Trip Start Apr 18, 2011
Trip End Dec 09, 2011

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Flag of Canada  , Ontario,
Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ahh the first detour away from my initial planned route. Suprisingly this has occurred only one stop in, kind of a spontaneous decision, I just felt that as I was going to visit Niagara Falls I might as well go further into Canada.

So taking into account my fiscal situation and the segregation of Toronto and Niagara Falls from the Amtrak route I decided to opt for the Greyhound bus network. Even though I had previously been informed of the poor geographical locations of its depots and its rather dodgy clientelle - in fact, on making my booking I was enlightened by one of my hostel chums that someone had been decapitated on the same bus route I was travelling (Now you see I'm a probability kind of guy, so the likelihood of a beheading occurring on any bus service is quite low, now factor in the odds of this occuring twice on the same route and I think you'll find the result is mathmatically reassuring... kind of.)

Anyhow, I board the bus later than I would have preferred and am left with seats at the back-  these seats are generally reserved for a certain calibre of folk. So I sit nervously waiting to see what mumbling psychopath the Greyhound lottery of scum can spew up onto my lap. Behind door number one... a rather unoffensive looking girl around my age, I reckon I could take her. Through door number two come a couple of Chinese students gossiping between themselves, probably more interested in internal bickering; and the final contestant appears to be the driver, my neck muscles relax. No psychos today, they all must be at at church for Easter.

For the following 11 hours I proceed to master a whole host of yoga inspired sleeping positions, this ensures I get at least (if not exactly) one hour of high quality sleep- the kind of napping that Ellen MacArthur would sit up and take note of.

After a Syracuse-based restroom stopover and another extremely suspicious customs official I look down to see my feet on Canadian terra firma. I feel a little disorientated. This section has seen no real planning, my hostel was booked while hungover the night before and all I know about Toronto is that it has an arts scene (film festival, etc) and a rather large tower. It is for this reason that the visitor information desk was invented and I intend to monopolise on this.

I step up to the kiosk and am greeted by an extremely friendly middle-aged Canadian woman-  after chatting for a while about places to eat, public transport and places of interest she steps toward the window and looks up at the sky, commenting on the height of the clouds she decides it is probably best for me to visit the CN tower asap as it will rain later. Slightly taken aback, I am reminded of the 90s TV show 'Due South' as if all Canadians possess some sort of unnatural link with the elements, tracking wildlife, criminals etc. (Either this or she watched the weather forecast this morning).

Taking this advice on board, I decide in my insomniatic state to quickly get some breakfast and head off to this rather large tower. Walking around I notice an immediate disjoint with New York- the pace is slower, pedestrians stop at at red crossing lights, the subways are comparatively empty, I find my power walking out of place and slow down. The tower isn't that difficult to find, stretching over half a kilometer into the sky all I need to do is look up.

On entering the ticket office, I realise one grievance I have with Canada - the HST. This 15% harmonised sales tax is added at the point of purchase, meaning that my special offer $2 sandwich costs more than advertised; and my tower entry is closer to $25, not the $21 which it states on the sign outside. I am being repeatedly conned, I understand this is a cultural issue, but Canada is beginning to resemble the worst discount store in the world, arriving at the checkout to find that everything you want has been increased by 15%... mmm what a bargain.

Nevertheless, I experience the tower, its pretty impressive, the glass floor gets my heart going and it's a novelty to be able to lay my map over the city and pinpoint certain roads and districts. I cant help feel for all the alterations they are going to have to make to their fact boards and tour dialogue when that people start to realise that massive skyscraper in Dubai (Burj Khalifa) is over 50% bigger than the this tower.

Over the course of the next couple of days, I have obligatory pictures taken with stereotypical Canadian animals and visit various districts such as Chinatown, the University area and the business centre, but I never get the buzz that I received from NY. Walking along Lake Ontario, I recognise the calmness of being close to nature which is definitely a plus, but the torrential rain which batters the city does not make my stay more enjoyable - at this point I'm reminded of the visitor information lady.

The hostel is the largest I have stayed in which ironically is a detriment to making friends- free wi-fi and its impersonality make the residents servants to their laptops. I make good friends with two of the nine others in my room. The Hostels International brand champions single sex rooms which ensures night times are likened to a snoring orchestra - myself apparently occasionally taking over as tenor.

Sid, a fellow Englishman, is a veteran of travelling and currently finishing off a 2 month Canadian tour. He jokes that one day we will open up a chain of shops called 'The Price Is What It Says' stores- clearly another fan of the HST then.

This hostel is at the other end of the spectrum (not in just that it complies with building regulations) but it resembles more of corporation; aside from the free towels, everything that could be charged for, is - internet use, basic tours, and the food prices are overly steep. The first morning I venture downstairs for breakfast to eye up the menu and the free coffee (only between 9 and 11). Opting for a bagel I go round to the kitchen door to order, where I am informed, via an outstretched finger pointing toward a clock, that breakfast closed 2 minutes ago. I toy with the idea of the Michael Douglas approach from 'Falling Down', but then resign to defeat, safe in the knowledge that what little money I have will better serve the smaller independent hostels. I quickly consume as much free coffee as humanly possible before anyone realises that the serving time for that has also expired.

Chinatown throws up a few culinary treats, and I am also impressed by some of the grafitti and architecture around the city but I can't help but feel that I am waiting for this place to match up with New York- which unsuprisingly it can't.

I think Toronto could have been enjoyed more if I'd have taken advantage of its comedy circuit and arty side, but my money situation did not make this easy (I did however manage to squeeze in United's domination of FC Schalke). Toronto is a city probably best visited outside the monsoon season, but I better get used to the wet weather as Julien, Sid and myself have just purchased more Greyhound tickets, this time bound for Niagara Falls.

I'm getting wet just thinking about it- I should probably head back inside.
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Andrew Choyce on

I feel that however good Toronto actually was your 'shrewdness' (tightness) would not be served well with this mystey 15% tax! haha. Glad you are well and we all look forward to hearing how Niagra treated you. P.S The weatherin humble Haslington is lovely so you are really, really missing out... x

nan audrey on

Hi love am up to date with your blog nice to follow your travels am going to Italy tomorrow see you in December hear from you before x x

Joe Ganley on

Good stuff again Matt - glad to see you are keeping up with the Reds too :)

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