Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Day 23 - Toronto Islands/CN Tower

I have never been to the Toronto Islands or to the top of CN Tower. That changed when, in a day packed with new experiences, today's events provided me an opportunity to do both. Given today was the first full day of the work conference that brought me to Toronto, I was sure I have would have limited opportunity to seek out new experiences. However, a timely break in our agenda and a "right place, right time" scenario provided me the chance to see two of Toronto's most iconic places by the end of the night.

The day began with an early morning start to our conference. We sat through several hours of presentations prior to being dismissed for a long lunch. Acting on a whim, Justin and I decided to walk to the docks over the break to get a better feel for a part of the city we had not yet seen. In turn, we naturally found our way to the Toronto Islands ferry port and began reading about the islands. When we learned the seven and a half minute ferry ride to the islands provided access to a variety of restaurants we tossed around the idea of crossing the bay for a bite to eat. With time of the essence we made a quick decision and committed to the new experience. A few minutes later, we had tickets in hand to board the Centre Island ferry and were lining up to board the next boat that arrived in port.

We stood at the ferry gate for a few minutes before the ferry arrived in port and slowly came to rest in its designated slip. Once docked, a metal ramp lowered from the bow of the ship, permitting passengers returning to the mainland to disembark the massive white vessel. Once cleared, those of us waiting to travel to the islands were giving permission to board. Justin and I moved through the crowd and made our way to the second deck of the ship. Similar to the previous day's trip on Niagara River, we found ourselves against the side railing of the boat ready to take in the sights of the Toronto skyline as we crossed to the islands.

The Toronto Skyline

Our intuition proved accurate as the boat pulled out of port and away from downtown Toronto. The as the boat pushing onward, buildings began to become more visible and landmarks began to stand out against the retreating shore. Within the first few minutes of the trip we were standing before a panoramic view of downtown Toronto glowing in the midday sun. Our eyes stayed fixed on the city as pulled further into Lake Ontario and began to notice the strong wind blowing off the lake. The air, chilled by the massive body of water, was about 20 degrees cooler than what we felt on shore. The sight of the towering buildings and the sudden change in temperature made the rest of the journey to the islands seem almost surreal. To me, it was like we were watching the city of Toronto from a place, time, or season far removed from that in the city itself. By the time we pulled into the Centre Island port, I found myself trying to take in all of the experience up to that point. Undeterred by the quantity of new experiences already in our trip, I departed the boat and made my way to Centre Island's main walkway.

Upon departing the ferry, we were immediately greeted by a vast expanse of well-manicured green space. Birds sang everywhere around us and old trees rustled in the constant lake wind. We were surrounded by natural beauty tamed by a committed parks crew. It was clear the city of Toronto takes pride in the islands that share its name.

Cranberry Cream Cheese on a Burger? I'm game.
After spending some time looking around, Justin and I walked down the only paved area on the island and stumbled upon a small restaurant tucked against a narrow channel between the islands. We quickly decided to grab food at this location, so we headed inside and grabbed a patio seat. For the next 30 minutes we relaxed in the midday sun and ate a full lunch. I ordered a turkey burger that was quite standard except for the cranberry cream cheese that served as the sandwich's only condiment. Cream cheese on a burger was certainly something I had never experienced before, but I didn't hesitate to make the most of the meal. In no time our plates were empty and we were ready to start heading back to the mainland for the second half of our day. We spent a few more minutes walking around the islands as we waited for our boat, discovering some new things and taking in the sights. Eventually, we worked our way back to the boat dock just in time to board the ferry ride back to downtown.

The ferry

As expected, the ride back was filled with the same sights and experiences the previous ride offered; however, the view of the Toronto skyline was still as captivating as it had been little less than one hour prior. We arrived back on shore just in time to make it back to our conference for the next round of presentations, which filled out the rest of our afternoon. With the first full day of our conference wrapped up, I was feeling exhausted but I knew I couldn't let the evening get away from me. As a result, I stayed engaged and prepared myself for the next phase of our workday. That decision proved to be a wise one.

The evening brought a social gathering for members of our conference that provided me a variety of insights and information that complemented the presentation content from earlier in the day. After some conversation with fellow risk management and fraud management professionals, Justin and I were extended an invite to attend dinner at 360˚, the restaurant located in the top of Toronto's well known needle known as CN Tower. With knowledge CN Tower is the largest free standing structure in the world, I wanted to make the trip to the top before we left Toronto. However, I never expected I would be able to accomplish this feat and get to eat at the rotating upscale restaurant contained in the building. As a result, I didn't bat an eye at the opportunity. Shortly thereafter we were on our way to the top of CN Tower in an elevator moving at 21 miles per hour.

Our experience at the top of the tower will make it very hard to forget. With the sun setting in the background, we took our seats at our table and let in the amazing views just feet away from our table. Grey clouds were split with a line of orange high above the metropolis below us, which made it difficult to focus on the menu of amazing foods sitting in front of us. Unable to let the opportunity slip through my fingers, I excused myself from our table and wandered around the CN Tower structure as the sun slipped below the horizon. Little by little a city at the end of a work day transitioned to a city coming alive for the night. Flecks of white, yellow, and neon began to appear across the city below me as black consumed the city. Still now, I find the beauty of the experience hard to describe. It felt strange to see the city from so high, yet it felt like I could have touched the skyscrapers below my feet. It was strange and dazzling all at the same time.

After taking in the sights for some time, I worked my way back to our table to find we had not yet been given the chance to place our order. Relieved I did not delay the meal, I settled in and prepared to eat a delicious dinner. The four course meal accompanied by my first Canadian wine was an unbelievable treat. The flavors of my small tuna appetizer, truffle and oyster chowder, pork tenderloin with spinach and cranberries, and chocolate tort made for a diverse meal that proved a perfect end to a long day. After our dinner, we spent some time among the ever changing scenery around us before calling it a night. We found our way to the bottom of the massive CN Tower and walked back to our hotel to find it was already approaching midnight. Exhausted, I knew it was time to call it a night.

Sunset over the city...

Today was the most fruitful day in my "I have never..." journey to date. On a day I expected to struggle to find something I had never done before, I experienced more than would have been possible had I tried to plan the day's events. After days like today, I feel like my ongoing commitment to trying new things is helping me make the most of the time I have and of the opportunities I'm presented. I'm also finding that each unexpected new experience I encounter opens me up to two or three more opportunities I had never thought of before. With that, I'm looking forward to what tomorrow brings. At this point, anything is possible in this amazing city.

Night over the city...

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