Toronto was strangely quiet when we arrived on July 2, just after Canada Day—and it’s not like we were in a faraway suburb, the Airbnb was located on College and Spadina, i.e. between Chinatown and the University of Toronto’s St George campus.
Yes, the Airbnb. Many of the classic downtown youth hostels we used to stay in the early 2000s have been replaced by massive condo towers, we don’t feel like booking university dorms anymore, hotels are super expensive and the Expedia listing seems to be shrinking every year—so Airbnb it was, first time for Feng, second time for me.
The trip started with me cursing Videotron and us parking a few blocks from a 7/11 where the condo key was supposed to be waiting for us in a lockbox. The instructions sent by text message were clear but the process was strange. We stepped into the 7/11 feeling like criminals about to rob a place and we located the key safe behind a CIBC ATM. The 7/11 employees didn’t even look at us—evidently, plenty of people enter a PIN code to open a safe and leave the convenience store with a key, welcome to the 21st century.
“I… kind of miss the regular check-in process,” I admitted. “You know, when you actually meet people?”
The Airbnb instructions further specified that it was best to “walk confidently past the security desk” and not “mention Airbnb or anything like that,” so I’m guessing the condo association doesn’t exactly approve short-term rentals.
We dropped off the bags and took a look at the unit—not as impressive as last year’s rental and probably way overpriced as an investment, but it was clean, cozy and just fine for us.
It had been a while since our last break from Ottawa and our last time together without Mark. We had no plan, which was perfect. We spent four days hanging out outside, exploring Toronto. We watched Danny Boyle’s latest movie (Yesterday), had great Chinese food and took pictures.
It was “just” Toronto but it was fun. The city isn’t that exotic to me anymore—most shops and restaurants are the same as in Ottawa and the culture is very similar, plus I’ve been there many times before. Yet, it’s still interesting.
Here are 10 random observations:
- Toronto is both outrageously expensive and surprisingly cheap. You can step out of your two-million-dollar condo apartment on the waterfront to buy a $1 can of pop and a $3.5 hotdog in the street.
- You can walk on the same street for several kilometres without turning right or left and cross very different neighborhoods and communities. Try Gerrard, Dundas or Younge Street.
- You can buy legal weed in many, many cannabis shops. Look for the cluster of smokers nearby and punny store names like “Honey Pot” or “Weed the North.”
- Street hockey is much less popular than basketball, probably because the Toronto Raptors just won the NBA Championship—so many kids playing basketball in the street!
- Going to a baseball game seems to be a fun activity for people of all ages and backgrounds. We were around the CN Tower when the Bluejays game ended on Thursday and it was pretty fun to see the huge and very diverse crowd of blue-cladded fans leaving the Rogers Centre.
- Franchises are the same in Ottawa and in Toronto but some seem to be more popular in one city than in the other. For instance, I’m pretty sure we have more Shoppers Drug Mart than Rexall pharmacies in Ottawa but it’s the other way around in Toronto. I also saw many A&W fast-food chains and there are few locations in Ottawa.
- People in Toronto actually walk places. They are pretty fit in general too. People are also relatively fit in Ottawa, but the trend is more “I work out at the gym, run marathons but drive everywhere” than “meh, I just climb the stairs to my condo unit and walk to the shops.”
- There are many, many very quiet residential streets with old-style houses. Just step a block or two from major avenues and you no longer feel you’re in downtown Toronto.
- People have apparently never seen t-shirts before. I wore four or five different ones over the week and every day, at least five or six random people felt the need to mention how much they liked Guns N Roses, tried to read my Little Miss Trouble or found my Brazilian owl cute.
- The streetcar isn’t just picturesque, it’s a very convenient way to get around. Bit crowded but it’s on time. Yes, Ottawa, take note—public transit actually shows up as expected.
And now, a few pictures of Toronto in the summer!