WT2010 – CANADA – Day 49/50/51/52/53 – On and On and On in Toronto, ON

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on May 6, 2010

Day 49/50/51/52 – On and On and On in Toronto, ON
[On the iPOD] Pulp / The xx / The Beatles / Los Campesinos! / Gotye / Siouxsie & The Banshees / Le Tigre / Bikini Kill

Well I picked the time to leave Montreal! It went from a nice warm-sunny 20degrees (Celsius) to -2 overnight and I was met with SNOW in the morning (which is apparently very rare this time of year) The wind started to pick up and I started to worry. Sure I’d endured the worst Alpine-rainy conditions on the way to Portland, OR but this was SNOW and yet again I was in a front-wheel drive rental Nissan Versa (with questionable tyres) I quickly got the scope of driving on a freeway though; keeping the tyres in tracks made by large trucks hence keeping them slightly warmer than running your own lines on snow. The wind and snow picked up to the point where I had the wipers on full-blast and I was overtaking most cars. Even so it was a good 3hrs of snow-storm freeway before the clouds started to clear.

When you eventually get into the city-scape of Toronto, it has the same International-fresh feeling that Vancouver does, only better weather. My hotel was on the top floor of a shopping centre; I was slightly worried about this but it turns out it’s an advantage; you have access to the array of cheap fast-food buffets on-hand in the foodcourt and the room was actually rather brilliant (probably the best so far on this trip) No plans for day one after the tiring 6hour drive but what better way to learn your surroundings than explore aimlessly.

I headed for an Intersection which just happened to be none other than Queen St W, which is scarily like Newtown in Sydney, right down to its music stores, tattoo parlours and herds of hipsters on the streets. After walking one way down, I decided to head the other and towards the towers of the CBD. The shops change from vintage-used-hobo-sheak to the typical International labels with hefty price tags you’ll find everywhere in this part of the world. But theres also an array of cool bar-restaurants that give this part of town a really cool vibe.

Toronto has a tram network, how similar this makes the area look to Melbourne is uncanny. Exactly like being in Fitzroy in Melbourne. I remember thinking great I’ve travelled 15,000km to go to Melbourne. It was interesting to note driving in also that the pushy-rudeness of drivers in Montreal hadn’t transferred to Toronto. It must be a French thing.

Toronto has some amazing Architecture; besides an array of Modern-futuristic sky scrapers that fill the CBD theres also older style heritage sites. A stand out though is the College of Arts building which looks like something of out Samuel Youd’s series of novels; The Tripods.

Some night photography and thai food rounded out a busy day.

After sleeping in and some more wandering about on day two I decided to head to the CN Tower, which was a bad idea because it was like $36 to go up. This sounds expensive but doable but unfortunately I’d made the proper commitment to cutback on expenditure upon arriving in Toronto (tightass? Well I’m 2g over budget and haven’t even arrived in the UK yet) A view of Toronto is something I could pass on.

The weather took a turn for the worst later in the day so I headed back to shelter, later in the night however I met up with a friend Cathy I’d met in a New York city hostel, scarily although she’d been living in Toronto she is originally from a suburb in Sydney 15minutes from mine. You really can’t escape us Australians no matter where you go the world over. I’d heard Canadians in Japan talk about something called “Poutine” so I was promised a late night venture to one of the better vendors of this Canadian delicacy. It’s basically hot chips with a covering of cheese, which then melts when you cover it with shit-hot gravy! Your given a spoon and encouraged to dig-in. It’s an experience for sure (especially great on a cold day)

On Friday I decided to head to Toronto Island, yes there is an island off the coast of the CBD. You hop a ferry for $6.50 and in about 10minutes your staring at an amazing panorama of the Toronto city-scape. The island itself is a lazy playground of sorts. A huge park with places to picnic, a small amusement fair for kids, animal farm, port for yachts and some landmarks. One side even has a beach! the best part about the place however is there is a plethora of cement bike paths criss-crossing about the island. You can rent a bike for as long as you desire.

This will sound rather silly but I’d forgotten how much fun it is to actually ride a bike without purpose. Just for the sheer fun of exploring and the convenience of effortless speed. I literally circled the entire island, a beach view, a lighthouse, local bird life. People actually have holiday houses in certain areas. Pretty great considering it’s a 10min ferry ride from a bustling CBD and you feel like your on a sleepy-town beach-island. I decided to make like the locals and a bunch of tourists and laze around some on the grass. A good change of pace from days of doing anything and everything.

Quite tired from kms of peddling I was walking past Queen St W on my way back to the hotel when I saw some local BMX bandits kick over a parking sign and then use it to flip jumps off on the footpath in betweens gaps of pedestrians! This was too good to pass up so I brought out the camera for some action shots. Some of the photos are rather good as one of the riders was getting some serious air and even went on to jump 2 of his mates standing up!

Final day in Melbourne’s doppelganger sister city, what better thing to do than to hit Kensington Market. Basically a collection of backstreets just west of china-town. The hipster/hippy/alternative/antique/collectible/used/vintage crowd is all represented here. A stretch of the area is essentially people having all collectively decided to turn their front-yards into shop stalls selling their own clothing and wares! I hadn’t seen anything like this since Tokyo! pretty amazing.

One store had every conceivable novelty instrument, I pondered purchasing an accordion more than once. Another had oldschool toys such as an array of gaming consoles to easy-bake ovens (in boxes) Another a shelf of used cameras, some with film still inside! After getting some food I stumbled to a small park near the area and pretty much fell asleep. The long bike ride the day before catching up to me perhaps?

Later than night before heading out I decided to visit a store called “Ed Harry’s” which is the inspiration for an amusing scene in the comic series Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. Unfortunately it was closed, so I didn’t get to experience it’s blinding brightness but got photos none the less. I had to call it an early night because I was up 4:50am the next morning for the drive back to New York and a stop off at Niagara Falls on the way!

Racing towards the border I made it to the Falls just after sunrise (the signs really don’t help you when approaching, a small 5minute detour into town eventually led me to the falls) You had to pay ridiculous amounts for parking; luckily it was just past 6am and there were no attends so I raced in for free, dodged the misty spray from the water and stood there taking in the sun clearing over some clouds. The area was also deserted, the average tourist not keen enough for 6am on a sunday morning luckily. The mist covered up half the view but it was awesome none the less!



WT2010 – CANADA – Day 45/46/47/48 – Viva La Montreal!

Posted in Travels by jukeboxparables on May 1, 2010

Day 45/46/47/48 – Viva La Montreal!
[On the iPOD] Metric / Hole / Brainiac / The Folk Implosion / Thom Yorke / Pulp / Thursday

A short drive to Montreal, less than 6hours but hitting standstill traffic when coming into the city wastes another hour. This is where I had my first interaction with drivers in Montreal. Horns beeping, people ignoring a lanes existence and driving at tight angles to cut you off; leaving you the option to stop or have them drive into you. Lunacy! I immediately thought of the chaos of driving in Paris. It must be a French thing.

The world is a funny place, obviously I knew they speak French in Montreal but it’s just odd when you drive from New York into Canada and go from Imperial to Metric and then English to French. I hadn’t really bothered to learn much, I was told everyone pretty much speaks English as a second language and that was exactly the case. Every store you go into your greeted in French but as soon as you say Hello people will switch to English. It does make you feel like an outsider though.

Much of late Friday night was spent wandering around looking for an ATM most of which were ‘down’ with no Canadian cash at all it’d be hard to get into most places with a door charge, nor buy anything in a bar. So Instead I wandered about getting to know the Mile-End neighbourhood. I’ve probably never seen anything like it, other cities might have certain ‘hipster neighbourhoods’ but to some extent they all seem fake compared to Montreal’s actual grittiness. Sure you’ll find punk kids with mohawks everywhere but in Montreal they’re actually homeless and cleaning car windscreens at a traffic light.

There’s a bit of everything in this part of Montreal, an underlying sort of seedyness but mostly just a string of really cool bars and restaurants. I wandered down a back alley to find some kids laying in the middle of the road drinking and playing guitar, then in passing I find groups of Americans on a weekend away by the sounds of it; a bucks night perhaps. That’s sort of the context you’d want to be in this neighbourhood, with a big group of friends and on a big night out. Needless to say without cash I had neither so after some more wandering to get to know the area I had to call it a night.

Saturday, as it turns out the RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) ATMs are the ones to look for because they never fail. I eventually found one inside a small convenience store. The highlight of the day was probably walking into a ‘posh’ Sushi restaurant by mistake and then finding out they actually had all you can eat Sushi for $22. I don’t think I’ve eaten that much food in one sitting in awhile, Homer Simpson eat your heart out.

Montreal clubs love their electro and indie/newwave and alternative. Anything your after you’ll find in the Mile-End area of town. It does get expensive though, with Canada’s tax on everything not listed on the item price. More expensive than America!

On Sunday I headed up Mont Royal, which is a small mountain overlooking Montreal, a mere 6kms or so away from where I was. I considered biking it, Montreal has this brilliant rent-a-bike system throughout the city. Basically theres a long rack of bicycles and you swipe your credit card and it unlocks one and you have it for 30min for $5. Theres many of these ‘stations’ all over town and you can ride from one and leave it at the other. If you go over 30min you get charged $1.50 for every 30min you go over. It’s not that bad if you need to get somewhere quickly that isn’t a direction of the metro. Great for tourists exploring the city especially.

Luckily I decided to drive to Mont Royal however, It seems like a ‘large hill’ when you approach it and I was thinking “Im not going to see much from up there” but as it turns out it’s a rather steep climb and some bikers were struggling.

I parked up at the first lookout and a car was backing out, they stopped and walked over to my car and gave me their parking ticket which still had 25min on it. The view from the lookout is vast but kind of dull in away, mostly urban sprawl.

I decided to walk up the mountain further which lead into a forest trail of sorts. Within a couple of trees there was an open cliff top area, no fencing at all. You could walk right to the edge and just sit on the natural rock face ledge. I started to think about Sydney and Australias recent obsession with over-protective public safety. I couldn’t imagine an open ledge no fence clifftop in the cities main lookout. It seems the French Canadians just don’t give a damn. A kind of oldschool freedom far from the ideals of a nannystate. Or maybe the city just can’t afford to care, the recession in the 90’s is still prevalent in the terrible pot-hole riddled roads.

Whilst snapping photos a guy came over inquiring about my camera and asking what I was shooting, as it turns out he was a fellow Canon DSLR enthusiast. He was a local and showed me the way up the path to a better view of the city and then (although he was there with his girlfriend) he’d show me the way (by car) to the other side of the mountain where theres a lookout over the CBD which is the place to take photos. It’s pretty amazing how I always come across people willing to help me out (the world over)

The view overlooking the CBD was stunning and he even lent me his Canon wide-angle and zoom lenses! hence some of those photos look rather amazing! We bumped into a guy doing a plate-photo 5minute pinhole camera exposure of the scene also, pretty cool.

Amongst sampling restaurants, bars and shops on the last day I figured I’d head to the ‘biodome’ which is on the site of the old Olympic stadium. Parking was $12, the biodome was basically a reconstruction of eco-systems from around the world. For the entry price I thought it was a bit steep, especially since I’d already seen this at the ANHM in New York so I decided instead to wander around the stadium.

The stadium and its surrounds have really ‘let themselves go’ It does seem like a bit of a pariah at least since the Olympics came and went. It’s one big empty desolate concrete jungle, with the tell of being built for the 1976 Olympics, the stadium still looks modern but overall the area is showing its age in a bad way. Interesting for photo ops though.

Between the rudeness of the traffic, the traffic jams themselves and the rundown nature of certain parts of town, Montreal still has an upside (surprisingly) you have to do to some digging to find it though.