In the final year before I transition from full-time student to full-time employee, I hoped to take advantage of my soon-to-end student freedoms as much as I could. Unfortunately, I hadn't anticipated the workload that 4 courses and 2 full-time jobs would entail, so that goal went out the window within a few weeks, but luckily, one thing I was able to salvage from it was ensuring to set time aside to travel.
Having the luxury of a one-week reading break this term, I set out to explore Toronto for the first time, further expanding my knowledge of the mysterious Canadian east coast.
In the past, my mental interpretation of Toronto wasn't the most positive. As the biggest city in Canada, there are certain stigmas which come with the distinction, especially from the perspective of somebody who dislikes densely populated cities. A friend once affectionately described Toronto as like "a shittier New York" (her words, not mine), and that pretty much summed up my past thoughts regarding the city.
Thanks to the wonderful people I've met from Instagram however, this image was gradually softened thanks to the beautiful photos taken there which would occasionally grace my feed (if the algorithms permitted). These photos built up an interest within me to see it for myself to further expand the list of candidate cities to potentially move to if my career/life required it, and after a few more heavy incentives, I was convinced to book a ticket over to see it for myself. I'm lucky I did, as among the crowded downtown streets, subway stations, and alleys, there's really something special and charming about Toronto.
As always, I tried to avoid super-touristy destinations and visited many restaurants/cafes. Here's a brief recount of my adventures there.
Widely known for freezing over in the frigid Eastern Canadian winters, we came right when the falls were beginning to defrost. While the falls were absolutely gorgeous, getting there by the trail was a pain. The once-frozen dirt trail became a slippery deathtrap destined to make even the most nimble of hikers meet the mud. If you're going right after it warms up, be sure to wear grippy shoes and come in something you don't mind getting mud on. If you're extra like we are, you can always wear a dress under your coat or change on the scene.
PS: Don't follow Google Maps' directions to the falls, they'll lead you into a residential area just above the falls. There's parking on Wilson Street outside the park for the easiest access.
Art Gallery of Ontario
I'll be honest, 90% of the reason I came here was to see the legendary spiral staircase in person. It turned out to be closed for maintenance, so after a few minutes to console myself, we set about exploring the rest of the gallery. We missed the Infinity Mirrors exhibit by just one week as well, but perhaps it was for the better to avoid swarms of like-hungry millennials since when we went, things were quite calm and tranquil.
Matcha fans rejoice. In the week we were in Toronto, we literally stopped by every chance we had. The desserts have a strong taste of tea and are not overly sweet like many western places with matcha offerings. The true star of the show was the hojicha though. I hadn't expected to enjoy it even more than the matcha, but it was truly mindblowing. The only issues were that their lattes were a bit oversweetened, and things got quite crowded there in the evening. I'm frightened about the fact that they're opening a location in Vancouver, as I don't know whether I'll be able to control myself when the day comes.
The cutest little dessert place with a hidden lounge area underneath. Also the home of my favourite houjicha latte in Toronto. Their desserts were delicate, flavourful, and yet not overly sweet. We stopped by right after visiting the graffiti alley and were impressed by their quality and hospitality when we slumped over in their lounge, exhausted from a day of walking and shooting.
The Library Specialty Coffee
A very instagrammable cafe serving top notch Aussie-style coffee (not sure what that means, but take my word for it). This was also where I was introduced to a recurring trend in Toronto: milk bags being used in coffee shops.
The timing was definitely not appropriate for us to visit this cafe though, as it definitely wasn't designed to relax and spend a few hours. The seating was scant, and any chairs they did have were quite uncomfortable; the only tables they had were upside down milk crates. I'm all for the idea of a cafe that discourages laptop-squatters, but after walking for hours in 2 degree (or worse) weather, it was a bit of a disappointment to find shelter in a cafe that seemed like it was designed to keep you from feeling comfortable.
Top notch coffee and baristas though, so don't let that rant discourage you from visiting, I'm sure it would be far more plesant in the summer.
Man, Toronto has it good for bakeries, Within the same few blocks, there's three Uncle Testu's, a Pablo's, and several other places for decadent treats. One of which is Butter Baker, which we checked out thanks to its delightful logo. As we already had our sugar fix and were trying to retain some semblance of self control at the time, we left after lingering over the cakes, sad we couldn't take one with us.
Luckily, a friend later generously gifted us two slices: one was matcha red bean and the other was strawberry shortcake. They might not look too pretty after being jostled around for a few hours, but rest assured, they were delicious in the end. While it may be lost among the more famous names, we were happy to have had the chance to try it.
The place to go for Thai food in Toronto. So emblematic that just a few photos of the interior allowed several of my friends to guess the location, PAI didn't disappoint at all. Just be prepared to wait a while if you go during a popular time.
Yutaka Japanese Cuisine
One of the best chirashi bowls I've ever had, at a somewhat reasonable price considering the quality and the portion size. The sashimi was fresh and the rice was perfectly cooked and seasoned. Right next to several Japanese dessert places, so it's the perfect way to start a night of food.
One of the most uniquely styled bar/restaurant combos in Toronto, Bar Raval has a unique menu of Spanish dishes and is well known for their brunch. While we came at the worst possible time (3pm on a weekday), I still crave their tomato toast to this day. It was a deceptively simple dish that won its way into my heart. We also sat right next to Feist without realizing it until she left, so maybe you'll run into her when you stop on by.
While Toronto didn't feel quite as special as Montreal did for me, it certainly wasn't the freezing mess some had described it to me as. For the most part, I still enjoyed my stay there. Coming from Vancouver, Toronto, while nearly 4 times the population, didn't feel substantially crowded or overwhelming, and if you couldn't tell, the food was exquisite.
From the streetcars to the quiet neighbourhood of our airbnb, there was certainly a good share of charm to be found in Toronto, and there was certainly much we didn't have a chance to see due to the vastness of the Greater Toronto Area. This was just a peek of what the area had to offer.
Adieu, Toronto. Until next time.