“The love of one’s country is a beautiful thing. But why should love stop at the border?” — Pablo Casals ✬
Prior to the last few weeks, I still had an irrational fear of Canada, even after visiting Vancouver in August. It was a fear tiptoeing the line of being comical. I have heard so many stories about unpleasant border crossings…and what if my debit card doesn’t work…what if my car breaks down…what if Canada is so expensive that I run out of money and have to live there? I read the information about border crossing online and realized I hadn’t thought about car insurance in Canada — the website said you might need a yellow card or something. I called my insurance company to see if I needed one. I didn’t. I couldn’t find any banks that would give me Canadian cash, so I called my bank to ensure my card would work in Canada. It would.
Luckily when I left Michigan, the border was only 30 minutes away, so I dealt with the first fear right off the bat and got that behind me. With an SUV full of belongings, I fully expected the border agent to tear apart all my bags and search everything. Instead, he asked me what brought me to Canada (road trip), what I had with me (clothes and food, basically), and that it was interesting that I was born in Japan (military family). That was it, and I was in! Immediately I was disoriented, because my phone data no longer worked (i.e., maps) and the speed limit was in kilometers. Here we go.
Somehow, I randomly managed to find the right highway to Toronto, and not far into Ontario was a visitor’s center. I got some Canadian cash from the ATM (second fear gone) and a map from an incredibly friendly employee. Ontario has amazing rest stops as it turns out, equipped with free WiFi, a store for sundries, Burger King (which serves poutine in Canada…though probably not good poutine) and tourist centers with plenty of maps and brochures. I stayed for a couple hours to get some work done, and when I got back on the road I felt much relieved.
The drive to Toronto wasn’t particularly interesting. The scenery was flat brown fields, and there was a drizzle of rain. I was still listening to my audiobook about Hamlin Garland, though, so I didn’t mind. Arriving in Toronto, though, was a different story. The traffic started an hour before I even reached the city limits. They have seven lanes going each direction and all 14 were gridlocked. In the middle is some kind of expressway, which didn’t seem any faster at all. At some point I passed an 8 car pileup and a number of emergency vehicles, but traffic wasn’t improved any once we passed it, so I doubt even that was causing the backup. I felt like I would never arrive at my couchsurfing host’s house.
When I did get there, I was certain I couldn’t have the right address. The house was in a very posh neighborhood. The street was lined with immense, landscaped mansions complete with private half-circle driveways. As it turned out, the guy rents a bachelor loft above the garage in one of these homes. Pretty cool.
For my one full day exploring Toronto, I started with Guild Park, which has all kinds of interesting statutes and ‘ruins’ of old buildings. It felt kind of like being in Narnia, and I had the amusing notion that if I lived there I would dress up like Queen Susan and wander around the park calling for Lucy and Edmund. I can be a bit kooky sometimes.
After Guild Park, I drove downtown and walked around the beachfront for awhile. There is a huge sandy beach in that park, and further down are the rocky cliffs. It’s incredibly beautiful, and I hung around and watched some dogs delightedly playing fetch in the water.
Finally, I went to High Park, which reminded me a lot of Forest Park in Portland. It’s a massive forest in the middle of the city, and it’s easy to forget you’re even in the city at all. Since it was a sunny Sunday, there were a lot of people there.
So, that was all I felt like doing in Toronto. There was a viewing party for the Super Moon Eclipse at the University planetarium or something, but when I found out it was downtown and 16,000 people had RSVP’d, I decided against that idea. It was actually cloudy and drizzling by the time it got dark anyway, so even though I drove around a bit, I wasn’t even able to see the moon. I didn’t really mind, plenty of people posted their pictures on Facebook anyway. Since I had bought groceries in Michigan, stayed with a couchsurfing host, and only visited parks, I spent a grand total of nothing in Toronto. I’m sure their tourism department loves people like me.
From Toronto, I was on to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, where I had quite a lot of adventures, which will have to wait for another post!