It was about a two-hour drive from Buffalo to Toronto, and we arrived late-ish on Friday night, probably around 10:00 or so. It was still raining, and of course dark, and the city was blanketed in fog. Also, Toronto is made up of an awful lot of one-way streets, with street cars rolling on by left and right. All that added up to a bit of a headache trying to find our hotel. We made one wrong turn and then ended up driving all over the place trying to get back to where we were. Eric was a driving all-star (I probably would have cried) and before long we were parked in the world's sketchiest public parking garage (with the lowest ceiling ever) and checking in to the Strathcona Hotel in downtown Toronto.
The hotel itself was nice enough. It wasn't anything outrageous, but it was just fine for our needs. The room was small, but we are people who don't spend much time in hotels when we travel, so it was perfectly sufficient. The hotel didn't have a lot of frills (no pool, etc.), especially compared to the fancier Fairmont Royal York across the street, but the price was good and the location was excellent. We were able to walk everywhere we wanted to go, and as New Yorkers, that is something we enjoy. So, no hotel complaints here!
There's our hotel on the left!
Our room at the Strathcona Hotel
Eric is checking out our welcome bags, which included water, granola bars and ketchup chips. Ketchup chips?! We still haven't tried them, but weird.
We had hoped to be able to go out and do some nighttime walking around when we arrived, but the dreary weather nixed that plan. So, we just settled in to our room, had some snacks (not ketchup chips) and drank some wine. It was an exhausting day!
Saturday morning we headed out to explore the city. We didn't really go in with much of an agenda, just a general idea of the path we wanted to walk and things we might see along the way. We started out passing the CN Tower and Rogers Centre, where we bought tickets for the Blue Jays game that afternoon. It was incredibly foggy that morning (and chilly), so we couldn't even see the top of the CN Tower, or much of the skyline.
Fog covering the CN Tower
In front of the Rogers Centre
There's supposed to be a skyline in there under all that fog.
From there we walked over to Spadina Avenue and up through Chinatown.
Market in Chinatown
One thing we noticed about Toronto is that it is very "art-y." There was an awful lot of incredible graffiti all around town, and lots of cool sculptures. We really enjoyed it, and even stopped for a little photo shoot in a graffiti-covered alley.
My edgy husband
We then continued north through the University of Toronto campus (which was quite lovely), up to Bloor Avenue.
Spadina Crescent, University of Toronto
We found the Bata Shoe Museum, checked the price and the time, and decided to go in. It was really a very cool museum, and we both liked it more than we expected. My favorite exhibit was on the ground floor, and it followed the evolution of footwear through the ages. There was so much cool stuff to read about shoes of years gone by, how standards have changed, etc. Very interesting stuff. There was also a Native North American Footwear exhibit (featuring some absolutely stunning moccasins), a Roaring 20s exhibit (I probably would wear every single shoe in there), and an "Art in Shoes, Shoes in Art" exhibit. We spent about an hour exploring the whole museum. You could definitely spend more time, but we didn't feel that we had to skip out on anything to do the whole thing in that amount of time.
The Bata Shoe Museum, designed to look like a shoebox!
They had shoes you could try on. Eric opted for elf footwear, I went for a more groovy look.
Footwear Through the Ages exhibit
Some of the shoes in the Footwear Through The Ages exhibit
Clockwise from top left: Earliest example of European footwear known to date, belonging to the Ötzi Man 5,300 years ago; 18th century Indian paduka; an early high heel, which came about in the 16th century as a way to designate upper class (the obviously impractical shoe showed you were free from physical labor); and shoes worn by Chinese women with bound feet (the ideal foot size was 3 inches!)
A couple of shoes from the Native North American Shoes exhibit
Left: An example of absolutely beautiful beaded soles; right: Potawatomi moccasins, characterized by oversized beaded collars.
From the Art in Shoes exhibit: these boots are actually made of clay! (By Canadian artist Marilyn Levine)
When we left the shoe museum we continued along Bloor Street past the Royal Ontario Museum, a rather cool-looking building. No time to go in, unfortunately!
Royal Ontario Museum
In front of the museum
We then turned to make our way back south, walking through Queens Park and past the Queens Park Legislative Building.
Statue in Queen's Park
We made another turn west, which took us past the Art Gallery of Ontario and Toronto Art School. More cool buildings!
Art Gallery of Ontario
More cool graffiti art on the left, with the Toronto Art School on the right
A Toronto street, with the fog finally clearing so we can see the CN Tower!
By this time, we were about an hour late for the Blue Jays game, so we picked up the pace a bit and headed in to the Rogers Centre. As you may recall, it is on my husband's bucket list to eventually visit all 30 baseball stadiums, so naturally we had to visit the Rogers Centre, which became number 13 on his list of visited stadiums. He's almost halfway there! And the Rogers Centre was pretty cool, with a great view of the CN Tower from our seats and a retractable dome. Plus, the sun came out for an hour or two while we were there - practically the only time we would see the sun while in Toronto!
Statues on the exterior of the Rogers Centre
View from our seats
CN Tower looming up over the stadium
Adding to the rapidly growing collection of photos of us at different baseball stadiums
As soon as we arrived, we got some food (including amazing sweet potato fries) and found our seats. By the time we were seated it was about the fifth inning. You might think we were sad to have already missed four innings of baseball, but never fear! Extra innings to the rescue! The Blue Jays and White Sox were tied at the end of the ninth, so into extra innings we went. I'm not sure I've ever been to an extra innings game in person, but this one went all the way to the 14th. There was even a 14th-inning stretch! Eric totally jinxed us because when we sat down early in the game, he mentioned that this would probably be just like the game we saw in L.A., when we came late and the game was super fast so we hardly had any baseball at all to watch. And then, BAM. Not so fast. But, the Blue Jays ended up winning with a walk-off home run in the 14th, so it was good times.
Hot dog and sweet potato fries. Life is good.
Eric collects souvenir cups from all the stadiums he visits! We have lots of cups.
Eric in the 13th inning
Walk-off home run! Way to go, Blue Jays!
After the game was FINALLY over we stopped back at our hotel for a bit to refresh (and recharge the camera). Then it was back out to do some more exploring, this time heading east to see the Hockey Hall of Fame (though we didn't go in), then south towards the water.
Hockey Hall of Fame
Fun with hockey statues
It was a little chilly for a waterfront stroll, so we made our way back up to the CN Tower, to go up IN the CN Tower. Standing at over 2,050 feet tall, the CN Tower was the tallest tower in the world at the time it was built in 1976. It has since been stripped of that honor by others, but remains the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. There is an observation deck 114 stories up (1,136 feet above ground) and a glass floor 113 stories up (1,136 feet). For the sake of comparison, the Empire State Building is only 102 stories high (1,250 feet), with the general observation deck (read: you don't have to pay extra to get there) located at the 86th floor. Rockefeller Center (my favorite NYC building to go to the top of) is a measly 70 stories high (872 feet). Neither of these buildings have glass floors for you to stand on and freak out. Child's play!
We had a bit of a wait to get our tickets, but after paying admission we got up to the top in no time.
Looking down at the Rogers Centre from the top of the tower (they closed the dome after the game, obviously)
Admiring the city as the evening lights turned on
Eric was mad that ghost ruined our picture.
We spent some time on the observation deck, then went downstairs to the glass floor. Eric was very brave and walked out on it pretty quickly (he seemed to be more freaked out by the glass elevator you take up to the tower than by the glass floor), but my fear of heights kept me on the sidelines for a few minutes. It was quite a process to work up my nerve to walk out there (and I did a lot of eye-closing), but I DID IT. Mental toughness for the win!
Looking down through the glass floor
Laying on the glass floor like it's nothing
Working up my nerve
I DID IT!
By the time we were done walking on glass floors and looking out at Toronto from 114 stories up, it was dark and the CN Tower was all lit up. We were able to watch it lighting up from the observation deck, and then spent some time admiring it from solid ground when we were done.
Looking out at the city as the tower lights up blue
CN Tower (and Rogers Centre) at night
By that time, we were starving and exhausted, so we went back to our hotel area in search of food. We ended up stopping at Jack Astor's, where we drank some Canadian beer, ate a yummy dinner, and reflected on our super fun day. We ate outside on their patio, but as we were just finishing up, it started to drizzle. We ordered some dessert to go and hurried back to our hotel, where we ate brownies, drank wine and looked at pictures. Then we crashed.
Sunday morning we had planned to take a ferry over to the Toronto Islands for the morning before leaving for Niagara-on-the-Lake in the afternoon. But, we woke up to yet another hazy, foggy, chilly morning. Since a large part of our reason for wanting to see the islands was to get a great view of the Toronto skyline, and we had already seen how the fog could totally hide anything we might want to see, we decided to skip the islands. We didn't have perfect weather all weekend, but we were lucky in that this was really the only time the weather changed our plans. Other than that, we were able to still do everything we wanted to do, it just wasn't sunny and bright. And Sunday morning did turn sunny eventually so we probably could have done the islands, but that's okay.
So instead of island-ing, we decided to head out walking again, this time to Old Town. We basically just wandered, stopping to check things out as we went. We walked through Berczy Park, saw a bike race, spent some time antique shopping at the St. Lawrence market (we almost bought a rocking chair and cuckoo clock, but ended up leaving empty-handed), enjoyed the beautiful tulips in St. James Park, admired the St. James Cathedral and other churches, and saw a Sculpture Garden with no sculptures.
I'm good at following directions, even if it's just a random sign on the street.
The Flatiron (Gooderham) Building
St. Lawrence Market - we shopped at little booths set up outside across the street
Sculpture Garden, sadly lacking in sculptures (which is funny, because there were so many other sculptures/statues all around Toronto!)
St. James Park, with the St. James Cathedral in the background
Pretty tulips at St. James Cathedral
We also toured the Mackenzie House, home of William Lyon Mackenzie: the first Mayor of Toronto, an outspoken newspaper editor and leader of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion. We were able to tour this house for free, thanks to Doors Open Toronto which was going on all weekend (buildings of architectural/cultural/historical significance all over Toronto let people in for free - awesome!). We enjoyed wandering through the old house, and the staff that was stationed throughout was very informative. We particularly enjoyed the printing shop in the back of the house, where the guide there showed us how the old printing press worked. What an incredibly tedious process; it seems unlikely any newspaper would ever be able to turn a profit.
A bedroom in Mackenzie House
We liked that the oven says "Our Favorite" at the top. We each have "My Favorite" engraved in our wedding rings!
The printing shop
By that time, the sun was finally coming out, despite the weather forecast for afternoon rain. We decided to pick up the pace a bit to get back to our hotel and on the road to Niagara-on-the-Lake sooner as opposed to later, in hopes of catching some sunshine in our next destination. As we made our way back to the hotel, we stumbled upon Yonge-Dundas Square, seemingly the Times Square of Toronto. Funny! We also saw Old City Hall (also open thanks to Doors Open Toronto, but we didn't have time to tour it).
Old City Hall
We made it back to our hotel, packed up and checked out. We retrieved our car from the world's sketchiest public parking garage (to the unfortunate tune of $27), and then hit the road. Farewell, Toronto!
One last look at the CN Tower and Rogers Centre as we drove off. It's been fun, Toronto!
We really enjoyed our time in Toronto. It was a very nice city, much more like our beloved NYC than L.A., the last big city we visited. It seems like there is a lot of art and culture there. If not for the colder weather, I could see us living there! But hey, we're just big city folks.
Next up: a relaxing stay in charming Niagara-on-the-Lake! Stay tuned for that tomorrow!
Note: Don't forget, you will find lots more Toronto pictures on my photo share site here! Check them out!