Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 21 - Toronto

I have never been to Toronto, Canada. In fact, I have never been to Canada. While I have always intended to visit the Great White North (east, really), I have never acted on the desire to do so. As a result, when a work opportunity afforded me the chance to visit Toronto, I acted quickly knowing the opportunity would present a unique array of new experiences. In turn, a few days before my work obligations began I packed my bags and prepared to take in the sights and sounds of a city I have never visited in a country I have never been.

My journey began at 4:30 this morning. A 9:00 am flight out of O’Hare and the need to pick up a co-worker, Justin, on the way demanded my early rise. With little more than a few hours of sleep, I hit the road before sunrise and made my way to my co-worker’s house. Upon arriving, Justin made me aware he was feeling much the same way as me. After a few hours of sleep, he was looking forward to getting the travel portion of the day out of the way so we could begin to experience the city of Toronto. Together, we loaded his bags into my car and began the drive to O’Hare hoping our travel time would be quick and painless. It turned out our trip was neither of those things.

The ride to the airport was much longer than expected as a result of dozens of miles of roadwork in Illinois. After several hours of driving, we arrived at the airport already feeling the wear of the trip. We worked our way through the international check-in and across the breadth of the O’Hare terminals to find our way to our gate. A few caffeinated drinks later, we were cleared to board our plane and complete the trip to Toronto.

The boarding process for the plane was relatively smooth as a result of the limited number of passengers on the flight, but the rest of the flight left something to be desired. After boarding the plane we waited 30 minutes for our captain to arrive. Already delayed, we departed as soon as he arrived, hopeful the flight would prove uneventful. Unfortunately, the flight was plagued with turbulence as a result of the persistent storm system that has remained suspended over the region for the past week. The overcast and stormy weather conditions led to a tense flight that stretched more than 45 minutes past the expected 90-minute travel time.

Nice to meet you, Toronto.
Eventually, we landed among wet and windy weather conditions identical to those we left several hours earlier.  After landing, we found ourselves wandering around the massive Toronto airport searching for our rental car shuttle. With no phone service and an inability to connect to the local Wi-Fi connection, we struggled to make contact with our rental car company. Finally, about an hour after arriving we located our rental car shuttle and prepared to wrap up our day of travel. That possibility quickly diminished when we found a single employee working at the rental car location. With four people already in line before us, we realized our rental car pick up was going to take some time. As a result, we took our position in line and prepared for the worst. Another two hours later we were finally in possession of our rental car and were on our way to our hotel… four hours behind schedule.

Our trip to our hotel was delayed by rush hour traffic, but the company provided by our first sights of the Toronto skyline made the drive an enjoyable experience. In time, we arrived at the heart of downtown Toronto to lay claim to a room at the Royal York hotel, our residence for the next six days. Upon arriving, we were both struck with the beauty and grandeur of the place. The stone walls, marble floors, and intricate fixtures of the building were a sight to behold. It quickly became apparent, The Royal York was one of the best hotels I had ever seen. In awe, of the sights around me, Justin and I checked-in, made our way to our room, and unloaded our bags after a long day of travel.

It didn’t take long for the two of us to decide a meal and a drink or two were in order after the day’s experience. As a result, we grabbed a handful of our recently acquired Canadian Dollars and began walking down Front Street, the road running in front of our hotel. No more than a block away from the hotel we cam upon a restaurant with a massive patio and outdoor bar called Jack Astor’s. We quickly took position at the outdoor bar and were greeted by bartender. As she asked us if we wanted a drink, I glanced across the beer taps on the mount before us and realized many of the beers were unfamiliar to me. After a few moments I ordered a Molson Canadian, a beer I had never tried before. “Molson Canadian, huh?” Justin asked me as the bartender went to grab my bottle of beer. I smiled and simply replied, “When in Rome…” as the bartender set the bottle of beer in front of me. I took a sip of the light, smooth beer and immediately realized the first drink would disappear quickly. After a long day or travel, Justin and I found our place for the evening so we settled in to grab a bite to eat and a few more beers.

Respect the Canadian trifecta...
In the “I have never…” spirit I continued my effort to try several Canadian beers that were new to me. I moved to a Molson Wheat, a Labatt 50, and a Rickard’s White Belgian beer. All of them hit the spot with their unique flavors and crisp delivery. Surrounded by the wonder of the skyscrapers and movement of downtown Toronto, I began to relaxed as I sipped the beers to the bottom. In between rounds Justin and I ordered food and talked to several of the locals scattered around the bar. Without effort, I found my first experience in Toronto a comfortable and enjoyable one. The city of Toronto already impressed me with its ability to relieve me of thoughts from the less desirable parts of the day.  Stated simply, if first impressions last a lifetime, I will always see Toronto as an amazing city filled with great people.

Appetite Suppressant.

Today was filled with a list of new experiences. A new country, a new city, new people, and new food and drink made the most of what limited time I had during my first day in Toronto. Knowing this city offers so many new things makes me look forward to the coming days and the coming experiences that will define the next week of my “I have never…” journey. Today what little I saw of the city showed me what Toronto is capable of.  Needless to say, I’m ready to make the most of the personal and professional experiences that will come with my time in Toronto. There are a lot of new things waiting to be discovered, and I know, no matter how hard I try, I will only scrape the surface of what this city has to offer.

IHN Bonus: A four-minute long mustache song was on TV tonight. Canada Rocks.


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