"'Tkaronto' means 'where there are trees standing in the water', according to several Mohawk speakers and aboriginal language expert John Steckley. Mohawks used the phrase to describe The Narrows, where Hurons and other natives drove stakes into the water to create fish weirs." -From "The Real Story of How Toronto Got its Name" in Natural Resources Canada.
The seminal voyage for this traveler across the Canadian border began on a bus. From New York City to Toronto in the middle of May on a Sunday afternoon via Megabus is scheduled at 10 hours give or take thirty minutes. But after ten hours of seeing the not so changing landscape of upper New York state, my nose pressed to the window languorously, my mind slack with boredom, we had only just arrived at customs. The driver instructed us to remain in our seats until he had unloaded the bus entirely, and afterwards we were to take all of our variant items of personal importance and then shuffle like sheep through the tiny building, hoping the border guards would have no reason to retain us.
An hour passes and without great issue we are all back in transit, weary of the road, but knowing we still have two hours to go. Since it was my first deviation into the United States' friendly neighbor to the North, I wasn't quite certain what it was I was going to see. But as the miles spread before us, our double decker royal blue bus moving through the night, something occurred to me:
It didn't look any different.
There was just all this space. I could have been in suburban Oklahoma and it would have been indistinguishable, except for the fact that many of the building names made references to Canada, as would be expected. These were helpful reminders that I had indeed left the country, and was not caught in some obscure travel-space-time loop.
But I digress.
The agreed arrival time for our reservations at Romantic Mansion Toronto had been 11:15. Yet, we didn't roll into Queen City until minutes after midnight. With hopes that the tardiness would be overlooked, we hopped in the first cab we could hail and sped off westbound to 224 Dovercourt Road.
Three knocks on the door with fingers crossed, a moment of stress, then the door opened and we are ushered inside. Luckily, the owner of the property didn't seem to mind that we are late, and he gave us our keys with a broad smile and tells us where our rooms are.
The next morning we set off through the streets of Little Portugal in quest for a currency exchange, as nowhere in New York seemed to have that service available over the weekend. With luck, we located a company known as Brazil Remittance who were willing to help even after they realized we didn't speak Portugese.
From thence we commenced our journey eastbound along Dundas street towards old town Toronto with Kensington Market as our destination. Slowly the open shop windows with old men smoking fat cigars and speaking in foreign tongues gave way to strings of lantern lights and bustling shop fronts. Kensington Market is on the outskirts of Chinatown in Western Toronto and is a labyrinthine area brimming with fruit stands, stalls, kiosks, independent coffeeshops, and unusual stores where one can buy anything from a Nepalese scarf to a bushel of pears.
Equipped with caffeine and various and sundry wares we continued our excursion into the heart of Toronto through the sprawling streets of Chinatown. Following this we turned south along Spadina, past the university, until we met up with the high end shopping district of Queen East. But, this trip was not for shopping, it was for discovering the terrain, and so we kept walking without really pausing anywhere.
Moving away from the middle of the city, the ancient industrialism which first brought wealth to Toronto begins to show. The streets broadened, the rising towers loomed as cranes whirred to life, converting rubble into architecture. We got lost along the city roads, stopping occasionally for gelato and coffee at a few of the many cafés that are abundant in this culturally rich city.
After a day of pleasant perambulation, we took the Toronto Transit Commission street car, affectionally referred to as the Toronto Rocket, to Dundas via King Street in efforts to return to the Romantic Chateau. The three dollar fare gave us access to the scarlet cushioned trolley car interior complete with pleasant breezes blowing through the open windows. The means of transportation shimmered lightly with the feel of something which would have thrived in Meet Me in St. Louis, except I suspect Judy Garland would have felt dramatically out of place amongst these locals
That night, we had the unpleasant experience of eating at a local diner known as the Lakeview Restaurant in Little Italy (http://www.thelakeviewrestaurant.ca/). We were searching for a delightful diner where we could acquire late night pancakes and a decent cup of coffee, and according to search engines this was the only place close by with the potential to meet our desires. But, contrary to what our hopes were, the food was terrible and the coffee was cold. Yet, in spite of these disagreeable elements the atmosphere was passible, and our waiter was kind enough. Sometimes you shouldn't expect much at ten o'clock on a Tuesday evening. So, we paid our bill promptly and left with the comforting thought that day as a whole wouldn't be ruined by the failure of its ending.
Our final day in the "good" city was dedicated to the exploration of the art centered region referred to as the "Distillery District" in east Toronto. Gooderham and Worts was founded in the mid 1800s and quickly became the largest whisky distillery in the world. Eventually it fell into ruin, and apart from being featured in films such as Chicago and Cinderella Man, it served no other purpose. In 2001 it was purchased and rejuvenated by its current owners, Cityscape Holdings Inc., and reopened in 2003 as a popular destination for artisans and art lovers of all sorts.
The region is home to numerous galleries, craft shops, and unusual eateries where purveyors can show their work to the consumer oriented public. Unfortunately, many of the galleries hosted work that was overpriced for the substance given, and the keepers of each stall would watch you as you moved from piece to piece, causing awkwardness not easily expressed without first hand experience. But, despite this elitism, there was a moment of shining glory which occurred at Soma Chocolatier. The walls of the spacious café were lined with cacao creations of all flavors and shapes. The aroma of the building was so lovely and intoxicating that merely walking past the store windows would draw in unsuspecting passerby. But the most wondrous thing of all, and this may bring memories of Chocolat to those who have seen it, was the Spicy Mayan Hot Chocolate which was a bliss often only dreamt rather than lived. The luscious, rich, creamy chocolate with a slight added kick was just enough to make me forget the condescension of minutes before.
And so, with lightness in my soul, we boarded the rocket for the last time, rode past the iconic CN tower looming over us, and arrived at the Toronto Coach Terminal where we waited not so patiently for the bus to take us to our next destination.