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!)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.