Life In The Center of The Universe
Or, “Our Quick Excursion to Toronto”.
I used the phrase “Center of the Universe” to describe Toronto because that’s the way most of us in the West of this great country feel about Toronto; they get everything, the government caters to them, we’ve been assaulted with FAR too many Maple Leaf games on CBC… everything in this country seems to revolve around Toronto, or at least, that’s the way it feels sometimes.
Didn’t feel like that when we traveled there, though.
Stephanie and I went to Toronto for what turned out to be three really fun-filled days from the 15th to the 17th of July. Just a quick break, a reason to get out and do something.
Who am I kidding? We went because I’m a giant geek and I wanted to go to TransformersCon. We just added a couple extra days and did stuff that didn’t center around what *I* wanted to do.
We left super early on Thursday morning (the 15th); our plane took off at 5:45 AM, so that brought about the now-ingrained custom, well, now, tradition, of Stephanie and I rushing to do everything at the VERY last moment the night before we left, getting two hours of sleep, and then stumbling to the airport.
Thankfully, some brilliant human invented web check-in, so we checked in a day ahead of time, and showed up at the airport with boarding passes already in hand. All we had to do was check our bags and get abused by airport security before getting on the plane.
The flight was great – it’s awesome now that we’ve lost all this weight (crossed the 80 pound mark today!) and airplane seats are SO much more comfortable! After landing in Toronto around 8:45 AM, we headed over to pick up our rental car.
I’m wondering at this point if these guys ever get anything right.
We get to the rental desk inside the airport, and the guy can’t find our reservation (we booked through Air Miles). Finally, he finds it after a few minutes, and says our car is waiting. We take our papers over to the parkade where the cars are, and the car we were assigned was already given to someone else.
So now, while I’m waiting for another car, I have to endure an East Indian gentlemen (who I’m sure is otherwise a very nice man) screaming at the desk clerk because he was apparently given the wrong price, yet he was given all the paperwork and just didn’t understand. I think the guy wanted a SUV, and ended up leaving with his family in a Dodge Charger because of the mix up.
And did I mention the young woman, with her husband and baby, desperately trying to pick up their reservation, but didn’t have her drivers’ license with her? No ID, no rent-y, sister.
So, we were supposed to get the Charger, but the lovely East Indian man drove off with it.
Wait a minute, that doesn’t sound quite right.
I don’t mean anything by it, really.
So now I’m waiting for another car. We end up with a Ford Fusion.
I’m deathly allergic to Ford.
Something about them breaking down and leaving me stranded. We load our suitcases up into the trunk (which was quite spacious, I might add. You could store several bodies in there comfortably. Something to keep in mind next time work pisses me off) and get into the car, which was actually quite nice. None of my allergies were kicking in.
Where to? Let’s go to the hotel and check in.
So, off we go. We’re confident. Stephanie has a map and is doing a fantastic job at navigating. She’s bound and determined we’re not going to get lost. (Unlike last time I drove in Toronto, where I somehow ended up on the QEW and in Mississauga.) Stephanie plots a course and lays it in, and I take the helm and we’re off. Everything checks out. We pass all the correct streets. I don’t turn off onto any major freeways.
A few minutes later, something’s not right.
“We’re on the 401,” I say.
“How the hell did that happen?” asks Stephanie.
A giant feeling of deja vu kicks in, and 15 minutes later, we’re nowhere NEAR where we should be.
Our hotel was back beside the airport.
I get us turned around after being stuck in traffic for almost an hour (damned closed roads!), and find a familiar street. Stephanie plots us back to the hotel, and we get there around 11 AM.
Check-in is at 3 PM.
So, let’s go downtown and meet our co-workers for lunch. We hop back in the car, and Stephanie plots another course. We’re perfect this time, and make it downtown smoothly. But on the way and navigating we’re all “that street looks familiar” and “so does this one”.
Turns out that when we got “lost” (and I use quotes cause we weren’t really lost, we just took the scenic route), we were about two minutes from where we’re going now. We just drove in one gigantic circle.
We finally get downtown and park at a subway station, and take the subway deep into downtown. My first ever subway ride. We meet Adeel and Steve from our Toronto office (Adeel used to work with me here in Winnipeg) and Steve takes us to the Friar and Firkin, an English pub. The food was tremendous (even though it was just pub fare), and talking with Adeel and Steve was a fun time. On the way back to the Toronto office to meet everyone, I got a great picture (forthcoming) of the CTV building with a truck sticking out the side of it a couple floors up.
Back to the office to some other co-workers, and then it was off to the Hockey Hall of Fame. I’d finally get to go here and spend more than 45 minutes there. On the way there, we got a free ice-cream sandwich from in front of Union Station. We went through the whole building in a few hours, and saw everything from the net filled with 802 pucks (Gretzky’s goal record), to the double-sized Gretzky exhibit, to a ton of Red Wings stuff both new and old, international hockey exhibits, to a live game where I played goal and had virtual Messier and Gretzky shooting at me.
Stopped all five shots, by the way.
Then we went over and walked through the Montreal Canadiens dressing room, and checked out the stalls of all the greats like Lafleur, Roy, Geoffrion, Richard, and the like. I even sat down at Roy’s stall and put on his goalie pads. That was pretty cool.
And no HHOF trip would be complete without a trip upstairs to see the Stanley Cup. We’ve seen it before, but ya just gotta do it, you know? I took extreme close up pics of all the Edmonton Oilers’ engravings. Neat-o. Heck, even Steph liked it.
From there, it was off again on foot (in 32 degrees C) to the CN Tower. What else can you say about it? It’s tall. Really tall. We got the full pass, and went to the Look Out, the Glass Floor, and the Sky Pod. You can get all the heights from the web site, but I think the observation deck is like 1,100 ft up. What a view of the city. Amazing. One level down is the glass floor, which – you guessed it – is a glass floor. You can stand on it (or lay on it, or jump up and down on it) and see right to the ground. Now THAT’S a view you’re not going to forget. It’s a little intimidating to begin with, but you soon get used to it, and it offers quite the perspective. Then it was up another 300+ feet to the Sky Pod, and the view just gets better. I remember looking down next door into the SkyDome (or Rogers Center, currently) and seeing the crew prepping the building for the upcoming soccer exhibition, and the vehicles in there looked like ants. Tiny ants.
After checking out the CN Tower store, we decided just to walk around downtown. Picked up another ice cream sandwich (free, of course), and ended up at East Side Mario’s, one of Stephanie’s all-time favorite restaurants. The food was good, but the server was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, so that took away from the experience a little bit, but it was still enjoyable. A little more walking around and then back to the hotel and lovely air conditioning with a chance to rest our feet, and sleep.
On the way into the hotel, I dropped my suitcase, and I jammed the pull-out handle you use when you’re rolling the thing around. This presents a problem for the flight home.
Friday brought about a slightly-later-start-than-we-wanted, but at least we got up in time for the free continental breakfast! Then it was off to Toronto Zoo. Stephanie had been there before, but I was going for the first time. Now, we’re getting used to the place and driving there was much easier.
We get to the Zoo around noon, and get to exploring. We jump on the ZooMobile, a giant multi-seat and multi-section golf cart, complete with tour guide that drives you around on a tour of the zoo. The zoo is broken up into pods, and each pod deals with animals from a different geographical region of the world. You can either stay on the ZooMobile for the entire tour, or you can get off at a particular pod, walk around that area, and then come back and catch a different ZooMobile that will take you to the next pod. Explore that pod, and then jump back on to head to the next one. It’s very efficient and allows you to see a lot of the zoo in a short amount of time.
The enclosures/exhibits are so much bigger than what we have here in Winnipeg. It’s like our zoo is a Lego model and theirs is the real deal. It’s incredible how big this place is. And they’ve got everything, from cats to sea creatures to insects to jungle animals.
Lions and tigers and bears! OH MY!
I’ve seen a lot of these animals at the Winnipeg Zoo as well as the Minneapolis Zoo, so I’ll touch on the highlights, but the first thing we saw was a giraffe. A GIRAFFE! What a way to start the day off!
I’ve seen giraffes on TV and in documentaries, of course, but it’s NOTHING like seeing one from less than 50 feet away. These things are MASSIVE! Gorgeous, gorgeous creatures. We saw rhinos, red pandas, macaques, cheetahs, Komodo dragons, I mean, sheesh, it’s a zoo, but there’s some cool stuff here. The gorillas were awesome.
We’ve seen the gorillas before, actually. We used to watch a show called Zoo Diaries on Animal Planet, and it featured animals from the Toronto and San Diego zoos, so we saw a bunch of these animals live that we originally saw on TV, and the gorillas were a mainstay of the TV program, so to see them up close and personal was very cool.
We toured the zoo for about 4 and a half hours before hitting up the gift shop and heading out.
Stephanie again does a great job at plotting a course to our next destination, a subway station near downtown where we’re going to meet up with Rebecca and Mark. Rebecca is an old friend of Stephanie’s, and we decide to take a walk through the Greek area and find a restaurant to eat at. The two are very fun to talk to and hang out with, and after a great dinner, we walk up and down the streets just exploring. We stop at a book store where we find Rebecca’s recent work published in a few magazines (she’s a writer – check out her site here). Rebecca is extremely talented and I enjoy her work.
Following dinner and walking, we hit up the Stone Cold Creamery for some FANTASTIC ice cream. Sorry Jason, I know it’s not on the approved list, but hell, I’m on vacation! All said, it was a very fun day, some time spent with good folks, and some good food.
We drive back to the hotel, but we kind of stay off the main drags; except for Bloor, the “fashion” area. Only on this street, can you find Winners across the street from Prada.
We drive through an area dedicated to what seems like auto repair. There’s lots of small “areas” like this (well, not auto repair, but small sections devoted to a particular segment of society) on the way back to the hotel. It’s great to see that all these small businesses are open at midnight on a Friday night – the bay door to one garage was open, and we saw a team of guys underneath a car trying to get it fixed – when businesses here close at dinner time, unless they’re a restaurant/fast food/pizza place, bar, gas station, Walmart, or Shopper’s.
Saturday brings the aforementioned TFCon, and if this place isn’t the last great bastion of geekery on this planet, I don’t know what is. We went to check out the dealer floor, with me looking to score some rare Transformer that’s been the object of my geeky desire since childhood. This dealer floor was HUGE, and it was crowded. We’ve been to ComicCons and stuff before, but at those the floor is divided up with geekery from all fandoms spread around; sports, comics, toys, movies, the works.
This place was ALL Transformers.
I think my brain exploded at least 7 and a half times.
After working the room and seeing what was out there, I picked up an original Predaking which is like #2 on my Holy Grail of Transfomers list, so I was a happy camper. I also got a print from Lil Formers artist Matt Moylan. Stephanie picked up an awesome Superman t-shirt (the vendor sold shirts for EVERYTHING), and a tiny Optimus Prime pin, so it was win-win all around.
From there, it was off to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM),but not before we stopped to shop at My Pet Boutique to pick up some treats for the fuzzies, and then we stopped for some photo ops and street hot dog (which was fantastic!).
The ROM is cool. Enough said. There’s a really great exhibition on China’s Terracotta Warriors that will have you looking at them all day if you’ll let them. There’s all kinds of artifacts from 2,200 years ago, and the Warriors themselves are amazing. If you’re going to go, spend the extra $7 to see it. It’s awesome.
From there, we went to check out the DINOSAURS!! HOLY SHIT! These things are huge, amazing, awesome, huge, and crazy all rolled into one. Did mention they’re HUGE? Some of them are partial recreations, but there’s a lot of REAL dinosaur stuff from millions of years ago right here in North America. VERY cool, and an awesome exhibit.
We also checked out the bat cave, bird area, Saumrai exhibit, the Greek exhibit, and some other stuff, before we met up with Rebecca again, and this time it was off to Chinatown for food and exploring.
Chinatown is this: lots of Chinese signs, markets, import business, and restaurants. It’s actually much more, but it’s a LOT of these things. And it’s awesome. Only in Chinatown can you walk down the sidewalk and find a cooked goose with his head still attached looking down at you OUTSIDE.
We passed a place selling suitcases on the way to the restaurant. Note to self: check this out on the way back.
We go and eat at one of Rebecca and Mark’s favorite places, and the food – even though I stuck to chicken balls and fried rice – was excellent. A lot more fun conversations were had, and then we picked up and walked around a bit before I bought an orange and black suitcase for $25. Problem solved!
We jumped on a streetcar (also my first time!), which, unfortunately, Rebecca is deathly allergic to like me with Fords. But, she toughed it out like a Champ, and we went back to the subway station to get back to our car to get back to the airport.
We JUST made it to the airport in time after returning our Fusion (which I now would probably buy if it were just a LITTLE bigger), only to find out our plane has been delayed for an hour and a half due to lightning storms in Montreal. While we’re waiting for the plane, a couple of teenage girls were entertaining us by running, skipping, jumping, and whatever else the wrong way down the moving walkway. Good times.
Thanks to the delay, we got back home around 1 AM-ish. It was another good flight home, although there was a little turbulence because of all the storms.
After about 20 hours of walking around various parts of Toronto and a real late flight, we slept in on Sunday.
As usual, I’ll get pics up when I can. I know you’re all still waiting for pics from Vegas, but I’m almost there. Just getting everything organized/cropped/presentable, and then I’ll post everything.