18.04.2013 - 22.04.2013 9 °C
Getting to Toronto from LA required an entire day of travelling. After waking up at 6.45, I was picked up by the airport shuttle bus four hours before my midday flight. The flight itself was only four and a half hours however, thanks to the time difference, this meant arriving in Toronto at 7.30pm, the day already practically over.
Of the thirteen countries I'd visited on this trip, in fact of the over thirty countries I'd visited in my lifetime, Canada proved the most difficult to get into. The woman at passport control asked me why I was in Canada and how long for, where I planned to stay, where I'd been before and whether I had any friends in Canada before asking to see my departure ticket and accommodation reservation and then scrawling some secret code on my customs form with a pink highlighter and I was sent to immigration.
I didn't quite understand what that meant until I got there. It was essentially a long and slow moving queue of Chinese people and me. Much of the slow-moving-ness could be attributed to the fact that, whilst there were about seven border guards on duty, the were only two translators and very many confused Asians. As a holder of a British passport and citizen of a commonwealth country I couldn't quite understand how I'd ended up there but after an hour in line, I was on the verge of giving up, declaring that I wasn't actually that fussed about visiting Canada and just flying home. But then it was my turn. And I got a woman who I'd just witnessed actually shouting at a Chinese man for not knowing his tour itinerary - whether or not the translator repeated her tone, I'm sure he understood that she wasn't impressed.
Terrified, I stood before her proffering my passport and hoping she wouldn't bark at me in quite the same way as she had the Chinese man. I was asked why I was in Canada (answer: I was on the way home from a round the world trip), where I'd been (I listed twelve countries in order), what I did in the UK (answer: I'd quit financial recruitment to travel the world), if I had Canadian friends and how i'd met them (answer: mine and their travels), how much money I had on me (answer: 16.30 USD) and how much money I had in my bank account (my answer that I enough that I wouldn't get stranded in Canada was apparently not specific enough). Then, fortunately before the questions became even more personal, my passport was stamped and I was allowed to pass, free to rescue my backpack, one of the final pieces of luggage slowly making its way around and around the carousel. It was gone nine thirty by the time that I arrived at my hostel in downtown Toronto, coincidently the same one I'd stayed in several years previously when visiting Toronto from Montreal.
When I woke up the next morning, although it was light outside, it seemed early. I wondered what time it got light in Toronto and closed my eyes again. When I opened them again a short while later, most of the seven other beds in the dorm were empty. Assuming it could only be around seven, I assumed they were all super early risers. However, checking the time on my phone revealed that it was in fact 11am and they were not early risers, I was just severely jet lagged and confused and apparently still on Hawaiian time. Having missed breakfast, I arranged to meet Marcel (former London tour guide) for brunch and was pleasantly surprised when Anna (also former tour guide and his girlfriend) turned up too. And one thing Canada does very well (as well as a thorough immigration process) is brunch. I ate eggs and bacon while they ate french toast as we caught up on the last few years.
When I left it was raining heavily. But the following day would be worse. When I left the hostel on Saturday morning, wrapped up in every warm item of clothing that I currently had in my possession, winds sped through the tall straight streets of the city, it was bitterly cold and attempting to snow. As Mike and I waited for a table for brunch, there were snowflakes coming from the sky. Whilst I was glad I'd bought a down jacket in New Zealand, I couldn't help thinking that a pair of gloves and a hat would have also no one in handy!
That aside, it was to be my favourite sort Canadian day... We ate brunch of pork, pancakes and maple syrup at a restaurant I'd frequented on many occasions during my brief stint as a resident of Canada before heading to the Rogers centre to watch the Yankees beat the Blue Jays (Canada's only baseball team) at Baseball. Whilst living in Montreal I'd watched several ice hockey games and always enjoyed the atmosphere of North American sports. More civilised than a British affair, alcohol is served in the stadium and there's no division between home and away fans (there are also very few away fans given the distances involved!). Baseball wasn't quite as exciting as hockey with the most interesting part of the game right at the end (demonstrated by the fact that the stadium didn't really fill up until an hour or so into the game despite being a sold out event). But it also provided a nice indoor (more stadiums really should have openable roofs!) location for a good catch up with Mike. It was almost four years to the day since I'd last seen him and we'd commemorated his departure from London by watching the marathon and climbing the, then newly reopened, Monument.
After the baseball, we wandered (shivering in a very icy wind) to a pub that was far enough away to not be full of post-game sports fans where we indulged in a spot of afternoon drinking before a comedy night at The Second City.
Toronto had been chosen as the final stop on my trip for a couple of reasons: I wanted to break up the trip home from the west coast and didn't have any particular desire to visit New York again (unlike most people I know, I'm completely indifferent to New York, verging on not liking it that much); I wanted (not wanted, needed) to re-acclimatise to the colder weather (I just hadn't expected Toronto to be quite so cold at this time of year!); I had a few friends there who I hadn't seen in a while (and I believe that all good friendships with friends overseas need to be refreshed every four to five years minimum!) and lastly, it was somewhere I'd been before so there would be no pressure of having to 'do' another city. After five months of new places and moving at quite a pace, it was nice to be somewhere where I'd already 'done' everything. My opinion of Toronto remains relatively unchanged to the last time I visited - there's not a whole lot on offer for the casual tourist (aside from a tall tower and functioning as a gateway to Niagara Falls) but its a nice enough city and an easy place to while away a few days providing you have the appropriate warm clothing and are prepared to spend quite a bit of time in coffee shops.
My original flight itinerary had given me seven days in Toronto - and that's a lot of coffee - and so I'd decided to fly home a little early, not because I wanted my trip to end but because there's only so much coffee one can drink, I didn't want to risk frostbite and I was going to surprise my mum by returning to London a couple of days early and sparing her the five am start to collect me from the airport. It was time to say goodbye to Canada and a temporary goodbye to travelling. Next stop London Heathrow.