Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Things I Love About Toronto

Once in September, I went swimming in Lake Ontario. The heat and humidity had been killing me before I dove into the water and splashed my way around, honestly wanting to stay in the lake for hours. It got me thinking that I should really make a list of things I love about Toronto, since I wouldn't live anywhere else. I love Toronto. I hope you noticed.

It is now almost Christmas time. The heat and humidity aren't the issues right now; snowfall and freezing winds are. Things I love about Toronto are unchanged, though, and here are just some of them, in no particular order.

(Warming: a lot of  gushing and I love's ahead!)

Lake Ontario

Since I opened with Lake Ontario, I will continue with Lake Ontario. I'm so very fortunate to live in the Beaches (or the Beach), where the lake is not only a visual attraction, but an integral part of the neighbourhood in countless ways. On days when the water is so warm and still, it is an enormous pleasure to go take a dip. Sometimes after a run. Sometimes late at night. Sometimes alone. Sometimes with company.

Contrary to what some ignoramuses claim, the water in the lake is safe for swimming. It is very clean. In fact, so clean that both beaches I live next to - Woodbine Beach and Kew-Balmy Beach - have been designated Blue Flag beaches since 2005. Water quality is tested daily throughout the summer season. Water temperature can be a degree or two cooler than on the Toronto Islands' beaches, but it does usually warm up by August, which is my preferred swimming time anyway.

Now, in winter the lake isn't really swimmable, although participants of the annual Polar Bear Dip on January 1 may disagree. It is, however, indescribably gorgeous whether the weather is gloomy or sunny, snow or no snow. Dogs may run unleashed on the beach between November 1 and March 31. Winter Stations, an architecture competition for outdoor installations on the beach, is well on course to become an annual winter tradition for the Beaches, and it's an awesome visitor magnet, especially on weekends.

As of summer this year, I am a runner, and I wouldn't run anywhere but along the Beaches Boardwalk. It's bitter cold by the lake, but the views are worth it.

The lake is awesome. I love the lake.


Image source: BlogTO

I mean the old ALRV ones. The unwieldy lumbering red and white "legacy" streetcars. Not the slick new Flexity Outlook Bombardiers. Although I will love the Bombardiers too. They are shiny and sexy and air conditioned, and I was way too excitement a few months ago when one came along my route. I didn't even care it was short-turning at Leslie St.

Toronto's streetcar fleet has its fair share of haters, but don't they know that streetcars and Toronto go way back? Toronto has been nothing but a streetcar pioneer in North American public transit. Streetcars have been in operation in the city since 1861 - way before we got our first subway line in 1954.

I love these streetcars. I love the 501 that is the longest streetcar route in North America. I love that there is always a way for me to get home as long as I can reach Queen St. I love trying to take a good picture of a streetcar when opportunity arises. They are so very photogenic.

I can trace my love for streetcars all the way back to when I was new to Canada. Streetcars were the easiest ones out of all Toronto transit options for me to master as a newcomer, intimidated and embarrassed of my English. It was a straightforward exercise to get on a 501 and ride downtown, because I knew it travelled along the same street. No need to ask questions or directions. Those mysterious buses though? Who knew where they would turn! I preferred streetcars. I still do in many ways.

I love when people call them iconic, because they definitely are for me.

Downtown (at night)

The Financial District and all its bank towers. At night. I love that bit of concrete jungle after dark when it's empty because the wolf pups of Bay Street have gone home, but the lights are still on.

The beauty of Toronto is that it's not all skyscrapers and concrete. I don't feel suffocated by its business core like I do in Manhattan, and truly, I don't actually have to walk that far to leave the towers behind. Walk west, and King West leads me to the Entertainment District. Walk east, and it's Old Toronto, whose name speaks for itself.

Toronto has some good-looking skyscrapers, and they look pretty damn majestic at night.

Owl of Minerva

Toronto's dining scene is enviable. So many amazing restaurants - you can never run out of options where to eat. There is just so much variety. Thanks to our multicultural population, one way or another, I believe every cuisine in the world is represented in Toronto.

My thing is restaurants that are open 24 hours though. Or very late. It must be my upbringing in Moscow, which is the true city that never sleeps, but I cannot live without places open after-hours for dinner. (Barcelona really sucks in this regard. There isn't one - ONE - 24/7 restaurant in Barcelona.) Toronto has a few, thank god for that, but Owl of Minerva in Koreatown is the best of them all (for me).

It's cheap, simple, delicious, and packed at 5 am on weekends. There is just something so magical about eating dumplings in the middle of the night after freezing your butt off at Christie Pits. God bless the Owl, I'll say again and again. God bless its dumplings.

The Neighbourhoods

Speaking of Koreatown. For those who have been to Toronto even briefly, the name may be familiar along with several others - Little Italy, Little Portugal, the Annex, Yorkville, the Beaches, Chinatown of course. But there are so many more. Cabbagetown, Corktown, Garden District, Gerrard Bazaar, Leslieville, West Queen West, Trinity-Bellwoods, Yonge and Eglinton. Some refer to immigrant populations that historically settled in the area. Some refer to villages that stood outside of Toronto once. Some refer to trades specific to the area. And some to all of the above!

I love that every little and not so little neighbourhood has a name, a history, its own quirks. This may not be specific to Toronto, but it's the Toronto neighbourhoods that I love. And it's the names in particular that get me. When I feel homesick, I go to Google Maps and just look at the map of Toronto for a couple of minutes (honestly, this is true). Pouring over West Don Lands, and Upper Beaches, and Port Lands, and Greektown, and Dufferin Grove, and Parkdale, and Roncesvalles Village, and the Junction, and the list goes on and on and on.

So much to explore. So much more to love.

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