Toronto – A Very Good Neighbor

Before a passport was required for visiting Toronto, I visited for a few days one summer. To be honest, I was ill (unrelated to travel) for most of my stay, but still remember it with fond memories. That says something.

We stayed at a lovely downtown hotel. Well, that’s redundant; I think almost everything in town in lovely, or at least kept up and attractive-at least the areas that tourists see, anyway. I had ordered tickets for Phantom of the Opera some monts earler, and of course didn’t anticipate it being such an inopportune time. So it was either “tough it out” or lose the money already spent. I’m glad I chose the former.

In case you didn’t know, Toronto is Canada’s largest city and is proud of its safe reputation, as well as an international melting pot. To give you an example, there is Greektown, Corso Italia, Little Poland, Koreatown and more than one Chinatown-not to mention the Gay Village. Toronto also boasts CN Tower, the tallest tower in the world and second tallest structure, surpassed only by the Burj in Dubai. I remember taking a bus through town and being mesmerized by the overwhelming diversity of cultures seen in shopping, groceries, fashion-and of course, more restaurants than a person could try in a lifetime, even eating out three times a day. (In case you have a lot of time in Toronto and don’t need to sightsee every minute of your trip, you can also get around on its PATH, a 16 mile underground walkway connecting over a thousand shops and services to subway stations, hotels and office buildings.)

We happened to be able to walk to most of our destinations, which was easy to do since Toronto is laid out on a simple grid. It was also efficient, since traffic always appeared to be as heavy as New York’s. In fact, the similarity with the big apple didn’t end there; streets in Toronto were almost as jam-packed with representation of every culture and religion, and bicyclists were so numerous they were even assigned their own lane on the streets.

Unlike us in the lower 48, Canadian currency under five dollars utilizes coins, such as the loonie ($1) and toonie ($2). But, the American dollar is accepted most places, although change is given in Canadian money. Keep in mind that there is a 5% Goods and Services Tax (GST) and an 8% Provincial Sales Tax (PST) on purchases. For a rebate to offset some of that, you can contact Custom House Global Foreign Exchange, the Global Refund, or Premier Tax-Free Services for information and forms.

In addition to seeing the show (which, as you probably have heard, was excellent), we spent a few hours visiting Casa Loma, one of Canada’s most famous castles. We did not take the full tour, but if you have the time, you can check out secret passages, towers, stables, an 800-foot tunnel, and 5 acres of gardens. We also took a cruise of the Toronto Harborfront, which provided great photo opportunities of the outlying islands, the city skyline, Skydome, and, of course, the CN Tower. (This landmark is open to visitors and may even be climbed.)

In fact, if you’re interested in visiting the observation decks of the CN Tower, and would also like to see the best attractions Toronto has to offer, you may wish to consider a Toronto City Pass, which contains tickets to CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, Casa Loma, the Ontario Science Center; the Royal Ontario Museum, and Toronto Zoo. It can be used over a span of nine days.

In checking into current offerings in preparation for this article, I found that the Mayor of Toronto now uses a hybrid electric vehicle as his “limousine”, and street vendors now offer soy hot dogs. That’s the kind of attention that’s the best kind…diverse and out of the ordinary, but beneficial for the community.

There is youthfulness in Toronto, and not just in the chronological ages of its inhabitants. True, there is a noticeable influence of young fads, but also a positive energy vibe not always felt in urban streets. The celebrity Prince said that the Canadian cold keeps bad people out. Perhaps he senses it, too.

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