First Impressions: Toronto

Toronto, you have a nice airport, and an efficient one too. I glided through border control, baggage reclaim and customs with ease and speed. It's always pleasant to be introduced to a new destination and  a new-to-me country in that way.

I also think I met one of your biggest advocates. The driver of my airport transfer, a Croatian gentleman who has lived in Toronto for 16 years told me all the best places to go, the things I must see, the spots he likes most. There's a reason I found this so charming and it's because Croatia is one of my favourite countries and has to be one of the most beautiful places in Europe - he agreed with me on this point. For him to then be so passionate about Toronto and Canada, well, it's quite an introduction. I hadn't changed up money before I got to the hotel so when we arrived I apologised to him that I couldn't tip him. His smile didn't waver and he shook my hand without acknowledging my grovelling. Instead he said "Thank you for your lovely conversation,". No, Mr Driver from Dubrovnik, thank you.I have been staying in the Financial District, but walking distance from the flashing lights of Yonge Dundas Square and the highly convincing hustle and bustle of Chinatown. Yesterday as I walked away from the Central Business District I enjoyed seeing the heights of buildings plummet down to within my eye line from the neck-breaking height they were before. I was then intrigued by how swiftly a residential, almost town like atmosphere was to be found in Kensington Market. I couldn't help but compare it to Camden or Portobello Road in London, just without the crushing traffic of tourists. Toronto, my strolls around just a few of your corners has shown me that people here are obedient (waiting for pedestrian crossing signals dutifully), gentle and patient (I have walked past rows and rows of people lining up for tickets to TIFF and not heard a single mumble or grumble) and unassumingly proud; this is a slight shock to me as I'd be lying if I said I hadn't met more than a few Canadians while travelling who very obviously boasted at least three Maple Leafs on their person and were seemingly unable to complete a sentence without mentioning the word "Canada". Perhaps you should screen who leaves your country with a backpack? Perhaps we all should?You feel like a substantial and successful city. The streets are clean, the grid street system works well and people appear happy to be here. There have also been unexpected moments of loveliness and quirkiness like a dog waiting patiently for its owner, some boys breakdancing on a street corner and these men all working together to fix this little girl's bike in Kensington Market. Oh yes the bikes, I've been happy to see your bikes. I have heard good things about the food you have on offer, the personalities to be found in other pockets of the city and about the nightlife, though unfortunately a stomach churning dose of jet lag has stopped me indulging in the latter. What I can say, though, is that you feel safe and secure and that should never be overlooked in a city of your size. (Did you know that Toronto is the fifth largest city in North America? No, neither did I.)

You remind me a little of Sydney or Auckland in the way that your old buildings sit strangely side by side with the incredibly modern constructions. I'd like to know more about your history and why those buildings still stand but others do not...I've also learnt that to the locals you are not Toronto. In fact, you are "Tronno" and I like that.

Because of my questionable sense of humour, I find it amusing that you call your underground train network The Rocket, particularly because you then advise people to "Ride the Rocket" because it's "The Better Way". Call me smutty but it did amuse me.

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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