I went on an adventure with my husband today…just him and me without our children. We got up at dawn and headed for the station with a Toronto guide book in hand and joined the very civilised queue to board the enormous beast of a train.
Basking in the expansive leg room while munching on chocolate brownie and watching southeast Canada pass by the window, I consciously put anxious thoughts about whether I had left Bethan enough milk for the day and looked forward to behaving like a right tourist.
We saw the CN Tower in the distance from the train as we approached Toronto and it seemed like the obvious place to start our day, so we bought tickets for the Sky Pod (the small, white doughnut near the top of the tower) and clambered into the lift. The sides of the lift are glass and there was a glass panel below our feet too, so heading upwards to the main viewing doughnut felt like taking off into the sky superhero-style (but with knickers underneath trousers). It took less than a minute to reach the main viewing doughnut and we then transferred into the small lift which goes up the inside of the pointy section near the top to the Sky Pod. 44 seconds later and the view was incredible. I’m not sure exactly how far we could see, but it looked a very long way far beyond the edge of Toronto and out to the horizon across Lake Ontario.
After gazing at the mini city below us and lying on the glass floor for a bit we came back down to earth and headed next door to the Rogers Stadium (formerly the Sky Dome – where the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team are based) for the ‘stadium tour experience’. The walk around the building was actually really interesting. Our guide had his patter down to a tee and had memorised anything you could ever want to know about the stadium and the sports and events which take place there, imparting his knowledge in a humorous and engaging manner. We saw part of the changeover following an American football match to be ready for the next baseball game…this involved the reconfiguration of the lower banks of seating and rearranging the turf.
I learnt the following things on the tour:
1. The turf is actually astroturf which is rolled out in strips like a huge carpet and velcroed together by hand. Then sand and grains of rubber are sprinkled on top of the turf to make it look more like real grass and to make sliding on it less painful.
2. The floor underneath the pitch is concrete with some ‘trapdoors’ covered with metal plates. The trapdoor under the pitcher’s mound is used to pump water into a bag above it…this is how the raised mound area is made. The water-filled bag is then covered with dirt to keep it firm.
3. An executive box can be rented for $3500 for a game (plus half an hour or so either side of the game) and the boxes have lovely sofas, a bar and food served in them and a great view of the field. Groups of 30 or more are needed to use a box, so for a group of 35 people, it would only cost $100 (£54) to hire a box. So I need to find 34 willing people to come and see a baseball game next time I visit Toronto…
3. There is a dress code for journalists reporting on the games (flip flops are not allowed).
4. There are hotel rooms with glass walls overlooking the field above the score display board, which can be booked (at various prices) to stay in overnight and watch the games from your hotel bed (it might be best to change into your pyjamas in the bathroom during a game, though).
5. Everything has the Blu Jays logo on it…and there is a lot of official merchandise…
After a lovely lunch by the harbour in the sunshine, we bought tickets for a harbour boat tour. Unfortunately the boat we were due to ride on developed engine trouble on the trip before ours (lots of ominous smoke was coming out of it), so we were put on a different boat which was set up as more of a party boat… It had a bar (but no drinks), a few garden chairs and a big empty space (perhaps this was a dance floor?). The commentary was good, though, and it was hard to believe that we were less than a mile from the middle of Canada’s biggest city as we were gliding between the tranquil and beautiful islands in the harbour. Every now and then an aeroplane would take off from the little airport on the island nearest to the city and fly over the other islands where vehicles are banned, where camping by the river is popular and where plants and animals are protected on 7 of their own dedicated nature reserve islands.
We just had enough time to visit Eaton Shopping Mall after the boat tour. I was particularly taken by the central water feature which reminded me of a giant toilet. It consisted of a huge round bowl surrounded by a ring of water jets which squirted water into the bowl until the bowl was full of water. At this point the bowl sort of flushed itself and all of the water drained out of a hole in the bottom of the bowl before a central jet of water shot up 2 storeys and then the filling the bowl sequence started again.
I couldn’t stay and watch the huge toilet bowl fountain for too long though as we had to catch the subway to Union Station and travel back to London on the last train.
I really like Toronto…it has its urban problems, just as all cities do (homeless chaps were curled up at the base of a skyscraper with actual gold in its windows, for example). But there is so much space and respect for the environment that litter is actually put into bins, rather than dropped by lazy, inconsiderate people and the public spaces are well maintained and enjoyed by many people. The city architecture is modern and shiny and there is evidence of rapid expansion and big building projects. Maybe it was the sunshine but Toronto seemed to have a relaxed and happy feel about it which I don’t sense very often at home in English London.