Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Trip to Toronto - October 28-31, 2009

The overcast sky greeted us as we started our journey from Pearson Toronto International airport to the Downtown at around noon. Since showers were expected in the afternoon, we had to defer our planned visit to C N. Tower and instead decided to visit Casa Loma, a castle located north of Toronto. After a quick lunch at a Chinese restaurant on the Yonge street, we got into subway (underground train) at Dundas for Dupont station. A 15 minutes walk from the station brought us the to the magnificent Casa Loma which in Spanish means 'Palace on the Hills'.

Day-1 : Visit to Casa Loma (Castle)

My first impression of Casa Loma was how this medieval structure came into being in modern Toronto. The answer lies in the history of Casa Loma. Sir Henry Pallett, a Toronto financier and industrialist, fascinated by the medieval castles of Europe, had a life time ambition to built a medieval castle type home for himself. The construction started in 1911 and completed in 1913. Sir Henry Pallett and Lady Pallett stayed in Casa Loma for about 10 years before a financial misfortune forced him to leave the Casa Loma as the City of Toronto had taken over the property in lieu of recovery of taxes due from him. Since 1937, Casa Loma is owned by the City of Toronto and managed by Kiwani's Club, a charitable institution.[ Click for details].

Casa Loma castle seen from the road side

After taking tickets (C$12.50/- each for senior citizens), we commenced our self-guided audio tour of the castle from the Great Hall. The Hall is very impressive with high ceilings. Since a documentary film show on Sir Henry Pellatt was about to start inside the Smoking and Billiard Room adjoining the Great Hall, we rushed there. The 20 minutes film gave an insight into the the sequences in the life of Sir Pellatt from the childhood to his last days in Casa Loma. The film enabled us to understand the tour of the castle in a better perspective.

Drawing Room made up of oak panels

We spent about 2 hours inside the castle. The things which impressed us the most was the drawing room made up with oak panels, Sir Henry Pellatt's Study Room, Lady Pellatt's Suit, the Dinning Room with walnut chairs and side cupboards and a 1922 made Pipe Organ kept in the Great Hall. The fireplace in each of the rooms were differently designed with a mix of carving and sculptures which looked very impressive. Above all, the conservatory on the Main Floor was the most beautiful place in the castle. With its high dome, elegant glass windows and Italian marble floor, no doubt, this is stated to be the most sought after place for high society banquets and weddings.

The main floor passage

Lady Pallett's carved bed

Lady Pallett's suit

A decorative clock on the fireplace

Conservatory room with glass windows

After visiting the Queen's Own Rifle Museum located on the third floor, we climbed a series of winding stair cases followed by a narrow wooden stair cases to reach the Scottish Tower. The light rains and mist deprived us of a 360 degree view of Toronto from the tower.

A part of the Castle seen from its terrace

Carved mahagony fireplace with Sir Henry Pallet's photo frame

Multi-layer organ

Dinning room with walnut chairs

The frontage and sides of the castle are surrounded by 5 acre garden having a varieties of trees and wildflowers. Due to rains, we did not venture into walking through the garden but got a feel of it from the terrace of the castle.

A part of the garden of Casa Loma

Though Casa Loma may not match the grandeur of some of the famous European castles that I have seen so far, it is still worthwhile to spend a couple of hours to get a feel of how a wealthy man enjoyed the then most modern comfort of life. Casa Loma is the only castle in the whole of Canada and the second most visited tourist place in around Toronto.

We had a very good Indian dinner at Dhaba Indian Excellence located at King Street. After a heavy dinner forced upon us by the restaurant's strange stipulation of the minimum order of not less than C$20/- per person, we decided to walk down to our hotel via St. Lawrence Market, one of the oldest wholesale markets of Toronto for vegetables, fruits, meat and fish. The old tradition of farmers coming to this market in large numbers every Saturday to sell their products is still in vogue. On other days, the place is rented out for other activities. On Sundays, this market becomes a place for selling antiques. We would have liked to walk down to our hotel but the chilly weather made us to get in to a waiting cab to reach our hotel.

St.Lawrence Market (left) area in the night

Day-2 : Visit to C N Tower , Harbourfront and Toronto Islands

After a heavy breakfast at Richtree Market Restaurant on Yonge Street, a 10 minutes walk from our hotel, we walked down on the Yonge Street towards Union Station for C N Tower, the most visited tourist place in Toronto. After about 15 minute of walk in a cold and cloudy morning, we were glad to see the C N Tower, the top portion of which was covered in mist. But it took us further 10 minutes.walk to locate the entrance to the Tower which was on the right of the Roger Centre. Being the week-day with misty sky , there was no queue at the ticket counters. One of the six glass-covered elevators took us to 'Look Out' floor. The man in the elevator told us that we were travelling at a speed of 22 km per hour and will reach the Look Out Floor (346m) in about 60 seconds.

C N Tower. The top portion is covered with mist

View of Toronto downtown from C N Tower

Close up view of Toronto Downtown from C N Tower

The view from the Look Out Floor (346m height) would have been great but for the cloud and mist which covered most of the Toronto City and adjoining area. Despite this, we could clearly see a bird's eye view of Toronto Downtown area, Toronto Islands and the Toronto City Centre Airport. We were told that on a clear day, one can see as far as the Niagara Falls - a distance of about 120 kms here.

View of Toronto Islands side from C N Tower

View of Toronto City Airport located in one of the islands from C N Tower

Ground view from the glass floor of C N Tower

The Glass Floor is located one floor below the Look Out Floor from where one can see the ground - about 342m below. The Glass Floor is said to be 5 times more stronger than the ones required for floors of commercial buildings. Many people including my wife were afraid to stand on the glass floor to look down due to acrophobia. But for children, it was a place to get their pictures taken by their parents in standing, sitting and even sleeping poses.
[ Click for details].

The glass floor of C N Tower

World below my feet - on the glass floor of C N Tower

Union railway station seen from the skywalk to C N Tower

Approach to Toronto harbourfront

In the afternoon, while walking down from C N Tower to ferry terminal, we passed through Toronto Harbourfront. Since next ferry to Toronto Islands was due not earlier than 2.00 p.m. we spent about an hour at the Toronto Harbourfront which was devoid of much of a crowd, being week-day. It was a wonderful feeling just to see the vast expanse of Lake Ontario on the one side and park with fall colour trees on the other side of the broadwalk. On the week-ends, this is one of the most crowded places in Downtown.

Toronto harbourfront through fall colour trees

Toronto harbourfront broadwalk

The ferries from the terminal located on the harbourfront go to Hanlal Point, Central Island and Ward Island. We had intended to visit the Central Island which was the favourite with the tourists. However, we inadvertently boarded the ferry to Ward Island. Majority of the passengers in the ferry were the residents of the Ward Island, many of them with cycles. Though the sky was cloudy, the view from the ferry of the Toronto Downtown was superb. The ferry took about 10 minutes to reach the the picturesque Ward Island jetty with park in the front and a marina on the right.

View of Toronto downtown from the boat in Ontario Lake

Shoreline of one of the Toronto islands

Marinas at the jetty of Ward Island

As the passengers dispersed, most of them by riding on their cycles, we suddenly found to our surprise that we were the only soul strolling in the Ward Island. The sudden transformation from a bustling Toronto Downtown with high rise building to a peaceful and secluded place was a pleasant contrast. A 3 km walk from here could have taken us to the Central Island where we originally intended to go. But we decided to have a relaxed walk in Ward Island itself rather than becoming ones among many tourists in Central Island.

C N Tower seen from Ward Island

Unknown flower in the frontage of a house in Ward Island

Unknown flower, almost whithering seen in Ward Island

Another marina at the lagoon in Ward Island

'This fish is for you' .The fellow who cought the fish in the lagoon told me while taking this picture.

One of the many independent houses in Ward Island

The long walking trails, the park with fall colour trees, the beach and lagoons makes the Ward Island an ideal place for a relax long walk, cycling, boating and fishing. The owners of a few independent houses in Ward Island should consider themselves lucky ones to have a peaceful and secluded stay away from the crowd and at the same time having all the advantages of a metropolis Toronto within 10 minutes reach. All Toronto Islands are connected with bridges over the lagoons. Hence, it is possible to walk down through all the islands and catch the return ferry from any one of three jetties in these islands without needing fresh tickets. All in all, it was an enjoyable visit to Ward Island. Click for details.

In the late evening, my son came from his office and took us for a dinner at Richtree restaurant located in the cancourse of Eaton Centre. What we liked about this restaurant was that its open kitchens from where we could place orders for varieties of international cuisines made in front of the customers.

Inside the Concourse of Eaton Centre. In the background is Richtree Restaurant

Day-3 : Toronto Downtown

The morning was cloudy as we went out for a breakfast. Since wind chill was not much, we decided to explore the downtown areas by walk. A 15 minute leisure walk took us to Nathan Philips Square. The Old City Hall which is now a court house and the new City Hall located across the road were in the vicinity of the Sqaure.

Yonge Street, Toronto Downtown

Old City Hall which is now a court house

New City Hall

The frontage of City Hall entrance. The open space behind fountain is used as ice skating rink in winter.

A tram (street car) passing through Nathan Square

The Old City Hall which was constructed in 1899 has now become a court house when the new City Hall was constructed in 1965. Both are architectural marvels representing the medieval and the modern periods respectively. The streets around the city halls are one of the main shopping areas in downtown.

A sudden rain made us to run towards Eaton Tower which is a part of PATH - an underground pedestrian walkway of about 27 kms in length linking shopping, entertainment, city halls and Metro stations. The PATH is a boon to pedestrians during rains, snow and chilli winter.[Click for PATH facts]. Eaton Tower is a 4 level popular shopping mall with glass domed galleria running the entire length of the centre. It has nearly 300 retail shops and restaurants etc. The shopping centre is so huge that one really requires a map to fully explore the areas. We did some window shopping as the prices were on high side even by american standards.

Bank of Montreal Tower, the tallest building in Toronto

Inside the 4 Levels Eaton Centre, the biggest and most visited shopping mall in Toronto

Another part of Eaton Centre

The underground pedestrian walkway inside Eaton Centre in the night

In the afternoon, we walked down to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), the largest museum in Canada. The aluminium and glass facade of the old stone building gave the museum somewhat modern look. The four level museum has an elegant lobby. There are Chinese, Canadian, Japanese, European, and Natural History galleries. Those interested in world cultural and natural history can easily spend the entire day. We spent about 4 hours and had to hurriedly complete the last two levels of Egyptian and European history before the closing time of the museum.
[ Click for details].

The ceiling fresco on Level-1

An Old passenger boat

One of many paintings in the Canadian gallery

A box made of porcupines quills

A giant bronze bell

A horse carriage made of wood, bronze and iron around 1850 during Qing dynasty. In the background is the graveyard gate found during Qing dynasty.

Sculpture of Buddha with clasped hands found during Ming dynasty.

A stuffed Panda

Butterflies and Moths

It was good that we decided to make a short visit to Toronto and Niagara Falls. We were really apprehensive about our timing of the visit as the winter was setting in. But in retrospects, we felt happy and comfortable in Toronto - a city of diverse culture and a better replica of New York in Canada. There were few places like China Town, Toronto Zoo, Distillery Districts etc which we missed due to lack of time and weather constraints. We would certainly like to revisit Toronto if the opportunity comes in future.

Photos by the author

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