Monday, 11 February 2013

Toronto, Tremendous Waterfalls and Taxi Drivers

Finally, here it is everyone – the promised post from Toronto, Ontario!

Toronto is Canada's biggest city with about 5.1 million inhabitants. Whereas Montreal seemed more like a medium-sized town to me – just by the atmosphere – we're looking at some big city life down here! Skyscrapers en masse, illuminated billboards and advertising and big-city traffic along the shore of Lake Ontario. But let's start from the beginning...

On Thursday, we got up early to catch the bus connecting Montreal with Toronto. A 6-hour bus ride ahead of us, we took packed lunch on board and made ourselves comfortable in the spacious double-decker coach.

Roadsigns along the way ...

I'd always thought that the Quebec-Ontario area was the more densely populated part of Canada but my gosh is there a lot of fields along the way... Being used to the -20°C of Montreal, arriving in Toronto almost felt like summer: only -4°C, no chilly breeze, no ice-cold face and fingers. Our hostel here is the cosiest backpackers inn I've ever been to (so if you go to Toronto one day, do go for Canadiana Backpackers Inn!) with seperate houses, heated rooms and excellent service. Once we'd unpacked our bags it was already quite late so we just went for a stroll around town and discovered the many brummagem shops of Chinatown. By the time we'd eaten dinner, there were about 10 cm / 4 inches of fresh snow covering everything around us... so much for the summer feeling!

Winterly Chinatown, Toronto

Still wearing my Québec hat, I started to feel uncomfortable as people started to look at me funnily and tried their best to communicate in French. I don't know where Canada's official bilingualism headed to but it's definitely not to be found here in Toronto. So I figured François is right in saying that my hat could serve as a reminder for Ontarians that Quebec is still there =)
When we got up this morning to leave for Niagara, we found the entire city dipped in white... and this stuff is nothing like the „icing sugar“ that Germans like to talk about when it's snowing. By midday, the „icing sugar“ layer had grown to about 40 cm / 16 inches and it was still snowing – while we were on our way to Niagara Falls. The heavy snowfall and the fog made it hard to get to the bus station in time since we'd been wasting our time with burning toast in the morning. After this unsatisfactory outcome of making a „quick breakfast“, we reached the bus stop and off we went. Scheduled travelling time: 1 hour 45 minutes. Yeah right... After 4 hours and 20 minutes, we arrived at Niagara Falls Bus Terminal. But unlike our fellow travellers, we didn't have to catch a flight from Buffalo, NY which was another 50 km / 31 miles away. And since our fellow traveller was only 12ish, we learnt a looooot about Hockey and American Football.
Niagara Falls welcomed us with more snow. The bad thing: it was so snowy and foggy that we could hardly see the falls but only hear them. The good thing: there was hardly anyone there besides us. 

Niagara Falls - or at least the part we could see =)

Hannah and me at Niagara Falls
The Niagara River was completely frozen except for the waterfalls themselves and there was snow flurry all around us. To feel a little warmer, we went to Tim Horton's which is a Canadian equivalent of a less-fancy Starbucks or Canadian Second Cup. The cinnamon rolls were divine – the coffee was okay but it didn't knock my socks off... so just bear that in mind for later: Starbucks coffee is way better than Tim Horton's coffee.
Back in Niagara (the town), we didn't pay attention to the time and since the taxi we called just drove past, we were in big trouble. 3 minutes left to catch a bus back into civilisation that runs every other hour and we were at least 20 minutes walking distance away from the Bus Terminal. This delay should, however, bestow one of the most memorable moments of the trip on us such as the taxi ride of a lifetime. Our taxi driver, sparing of words, was conversing with a colleage who was obviously of Indian origin. And here's an extract of the conversation:
[A: Indian driver, B: Our driver]
A: “Hey buddy!“
B: “Hey. Sorry I have customers.“
A: “Okee but what 'bout coffee?“
B: “I'll bring you coffee when I'm done here.”
A: “Okee. How 'bout Starbucks coffee?”
B: “Yeah okay.”
A: “But I don't want Tim Horton's coffee, do you hear me?”
B: “Yes okay. Starbucks.”
A: “Yes Starbucks. I want tat coffee tat tastes like Christmas okee?”
B: “Okay. Yeah, once I'm done here.”
A: “Okee. You're my best buddy! - But if you bring Tim Horton's coffee...” (admonitory tone)
B: “Okay got it. Starbucks.”
A: “Okee you're a good man buddy! I take you to India one deey.”
B: “Yeah right.”
A: “And you can come over and meet my family, too. I have kids. Do you have kids?”
B: “Yeah.”
A: “My wife is tirty.”
B: “Your wife is dirty?”
A: “Yes and I am tirty-two!”
B: “And you're dirty, too?”
A: “Yes. But you bring me Starbucks coffee – no Tim Horton's!”
B: “Yeah okay.”

As hilarious as this taxi ride was – we missed our bus by 7 minutes in the end. But as travelling with Hannah always means good luck, we found another bus driver who checked our tickets and said “Let me see. Do you know what we'll do? I'll take you two on my bus and we'll get you to Toronto!”
Awesome! You simply gotta love Canada! <3

Back in Toronto, we took our time to explore the city the next day. We met a French guy from Toulouse at breakfast so we invited him to just come with. Hannah went to the Royal Museum of Ontario whereas we enjoyed a perfect day at the CN Tower. This was probably one of the best views I've had in my life so far – but also one of the most expensive. The fee they charge you at the Eiffel Tower is a drop in a bucket compared to the $50 we paid for a 360° view of Toronto and Lake Ontario. Luckily, the sky was clear and the visibility from the height of 447 m was just amazing.

Downtown Toronto
The $50 view!
Water, ice and sunlight - magic moments in Canada!

The CN Tower was the highest building of the world for 34 years. What a downgrade from “World's Highest Building” to “World's Highest Wine Cellar”... Back on the ground, we went for a stroll along the Harbour Front promenade which was covered by a thick layer of snow.

At the CN Tower

Snow, snow, snow =)
In the afternoon, we had tickets for an event you simply cannot miss out on when in Canada: an ice-hockey game! The Toronto Marlies defeated the Chicago Wolves 4:2 – the Ricoh Coliseum filled with 5,400 people seemed to be obsessed with the game. Although I didn't know anything about the rules of the game, I thought it was way more entertaining than soccer – players getting smashed in the corners of the rink, the cheering crowd and the speed of the game just gave me what I would describe as pure excitement. 

Ricoh Coliseum - Toronto Marlies vs. Chicago Wolves

After the game, we walked all the way from Ricoh Coliseum back to downtown Toronto to catch a ferry to the Toronto Islands. At the ferry terminal, we were invited by a local who lived on the islands to come over to his place for a cup of coffee and/or dinner. Hannah told me that this was very common in Canada and that people do actually accept these offers. Apparently, Canadians like to invite strangers... something that a European like myself has to get used to. The man insisted that we take a later ferry back but as we wanted to get back to the hostel, we didn't even get off the ferry on the other side but took the same boat back since we just wanted to get a spectacular view of Toronto's skyline by night.

Toronto by night
And this morning, it was good-bye Toronto! We're back in the bus and only half an hour away from arriving in Montreal... And at least for me, that means: eat, pack, sleep and get back on another bus tomorrow morning to visit Québec City, the last section of my trip to Canada before heading back to Germany.

Take care everyone - look forward to Quebec City fotos!

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