Chillin' in Toronto

I always thought I'd prefer Canada to the US - be it the landscape, the people, or the culture. After all, it's the Scotland to England. The New Zealand to Australia. But you know, I lived in Australia for six years and I really liked it - and I have some very dear Aussie friends now. Heck, my husband is English. Sometimes the underdog mentality only really comes from the underdog itself - or in this case, a fellow underdog: yours truly.

And so I found myself and my preconceptions back in Canada. To be fair, Canada does not perpetuate the myth of being America's slightly estranged half-sibling, so I ought not to be comparing the two directly, but rather I'm looking at Toronto in relation to the other cities we're visiting on this trip (which happen to mostly be in the US).

We spent last summer in Vancouver (which you can read about in some of my early posts) and really enjoyed our time, though by the end we did feel like it was a splendid place for a summer (or winter) holiday but perhaps wouldn't be for us for a longer duration. I was aware that Toronto would be bigger and colder, but I wasn't prepared for quite how chilly it turned out to be.

It didn't help that we arrived the day before an ice storm set in. The local supermarket was close enough we felt we could brave the drive on our first morning (which was safer than walking), and fortunately the power cut we experienced that evening only lasted a few hours so it wasn't a wasted shop, thank goodness!

Otherwise in our first few days we did very little except hibernate in our new place - thankfully our Airbnb host kindly let us use her Netflix account so Master H quickly decided that "Dinotrux" was the best show ever (to be fair, it's an awesome combination for a 3-year-old. Try it on the closest 3-year-old you can find and tell me if I'm wrong? PS Only attempt if you don't want your remote control back for several days). Eventually a couple of days later we decided we should venture out to a museum for a few hours just to give the poor Dinotrux a break. And so we visited the Royal Ontario Museum, which had plenty of actual dinosaur skeletons for Master H to study, though in truth I think the highlight for both the kiddies was the animal dressing up costumes.

royal-ontario-museum


royal-ontario-museum


royal-ontario-museum

toronto-streets


toronto-streets

And then it was back to Dinotrux.

dinotrux-tv-show


The following day it promised to be pretty cold and cloudy again, so, having bought a CityPASS which gave us access to five major museums / sights in Toronto we wasted no time in ticking off our second attraction: the Ontario Science Centre. If you take the lift down to the first main floor you step out into a gorgeous display all about trees (which Mr H and I found more captivating than our toddlers did). Then as we walked through the human body exhibits on to the rainforest zone there was enough to hold the kids' attention for a short time, including a fun little cave walk-through. But the winner was the KidSpark area which we discovered after lunch, and which is specifically designed for kids aged eight and under. Our two had a ball: from musical instruments to a pretend shop to rolling balls down ramps to water play - and since I had just enjoyed a really delicious coffee from The Maker Bean cafe in the lobby (my favourite of this trip so far) this turned out to be an excellent afternoon.

ontario-science-centre-kidspark


ontario-science-centre-kidspark
ontario-science-centre-kidspark


ontario-science-centre-kidspark


ontario-science-centre-kidspark

We had now been in Toronto for 5 days and had yet to venture outside for anything longer than the time it took to get to / from the car, but by day 6 the weather was starting to bore even itself so the chill wind eased and the skies dared to show a hint of blue. It was time to brave the cold! We took a walk around the neighbourhood (High Park / Roncesvalles) in the morning and I took some photos of the surrounding streets.

high-park-streets

high-park-streets

high-park-streets

Then in the afternoon we took the train to Casa Loma, a grand stately home built in 1911 that is affectionately referred to by the Torontonians as a castle.

casa-loma

casa-loma

The house was the vision of Sir Henry Pellatt, a successful Canadian businessman - and the son of a man who had come to Canada as a teenager from Glasgow, nonetheless! Once inside we attempted to listen to the audio tour while looking at the highly fashionable (at the time) rooms.

casa-loma

casa-loma

The kids thought the best room was the library however as the double-column pillars made excellent climbing spots.

casa-loma

casa-loma


And we all valiantly climbed up a narrow spiral staircase to get to the top of one of the turrets and take in the view of the city just beyond.

casa-loma


By now we were finally starting to get a feel for Toronto - and unfortunately, despite the temperature picking up a few degrees, the strangers we encountered out and about remained distinctly cool. As we walked around we passed a few fellow resilient pedestrians, but although I gave them all my normal hello-fellow-pedestrian smile - not a crazy-pyscho-grin, I assure you - painfully few returned it. Even my surefire smilers, the parents pushing buggies, were unmoved. But this was nothing compared with the train. Walking on to a fairly busy carriage I stood next to the handrail, holding Miss H, while Mr H had young Master H by the hand. We lurched slightly as the train pulled away, with Miss H nearly bumping her sore head against the rail, and I looked around. Seated everywhere were people mostly younger than me, not holding children, and while I accept there are plenty of invisible reasons people need a seat, I can't believe that every single one of these people had them. Not a single person offered up their chair. Granted, some had heads bowed, headphones on (they seem to favour the over-ear style here - extra warmth, perhaps?), but most of them would have seen us for sure. A few stops later a bunch of people got off and at that point a gentleman who had been standing near me the whole time directed me to an empty seat, but that was the only helpful person we encountered on the journey. Indeed, at the next stop an elderly gentleman tottered on further down the carriage and Mr H was convinced he was about to keel over - and still nobody gave him a seat.

A Scottish friend who used to live in Toronto tells me that commuters are notorious for this sort of behaviour, and that it actually might be a curious form of extreme politeness in not assuming that someone needs a seat - but I think true politeness is to offer, not to just make assumptions of the opposite kind. It's being assumptive that's impolite, Torontonians. And being unaware. Look up and see the world around you. There's a chance you could make it just a little bit better for someone.

Now, before you think I'm being a bit harsh I am fully aware there are impolite people everywhere, and there are some very helpful people in Toronto. The next day a lady went out of her way to help me manoeuvre the buggy round a narrow pavement. And a gentleman in the city saw us stop and look at the street names and promptly asked us if we needed help finding somewhere. But overall the ratio of unhelpful to helpful was much higher than I've found it in any other city - not to mention the drivers beep each other more than I've noticed anywhere else. So while our Airbnb host was great, and her neighbours were friendly, when you're out and about Toronto is a rather chilly city. Obviously these views are entirely my own and are based on my own personal experience. Your mileage may vary (and I hope it does).

But let's finish on a lighter note. The next day the blue sky teased even more, so we did a bit of a driving tour to see some of the big fancy houses in the renowned wealthy suburbs of Bridle Path and York Mills.

toronto-house

toronto-house

toronto-house


Then in the afternoon we spent some time in High Park, the lovely big park right by our apartment which we hadn't been able to enjoy until the snow and ice had melted a bit.

high-park-playground

high-park-playground

high-park-playground


Coming up... the city centre, the CN Tower, and the aquarium: saving the best till last.

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