A sly “would you like a taxi?” from a furtive looking Pakistani just outside the exit to Pearson International (Toronto). I like his style – he has parked himself underneath a sign warning visitors to ignore taxi touts. When I respond in the affirmative (we need a cab) he spins on his heel and beckons us to follow him inside, in the opposite direction of the taxi rank just metres away. So we ignore him and step into the frigid air and join a line of puffy jackets and faux fur collars.
India supplies the world with its cab drivers, our Pakistani tout notwithstanding. Our Sikh knows the building address we threw at him, and we are instantly assured we are in the right place. With no fuss at all he quickly pulls out from the kerb and spears into the night. It’s midnight and we have been travelling for twenty four hours. More actually. But I got about ten hours sleep across the Pacific so I am feeling pretty good given the distance travelled and time that has slipped under our keel.
I am feeling even better the next morning. We wake to an overcast sky and flurries of snow which float and swirl past our nineteenth floor window. We have a slow, drifting start but eventually get out on to the street. We have been warned it’s “-1 feels like -7” but it is still a slight shock to step into such a brisk environment so soon after leaving Sydney and its 30 degrees. It is Saturday and the rugged up crowds all seem to be enjoying being outdoors and the cold has not dampened any spirits whatsoever. The most exuberant are a couple getting their wedding photos taken in Town Hall Square, she in a sleeveless gown. Despite the freezer like air and swirling snow she gives no indication that she feels the cold, though when she hitches her dress up to move to a new location she reveals thermals protecting the undercarriage. Good for her.
Our wandering takes us through a fairly humdrum, barren part of town otherwise known as the financial district, abandoned on this Saturday just like any financial district in any large city is abandoned at this time of the week. But we push on and move into ‘old Toronto”, dining on burger and fries to keep the energy up. We declined an offer of the “Poutine”, a mix of fries, cheese curds and gravy. Only north Americans seem to be able to invent such gourmet delights. We finished the refuelling and wander the St Lawrence Markets which are closing but are an interesting mix of nationalities, fresh produce, not so fresh produce and farmers market history. We press on into the night from there and follow the swelling crowds to the Distillery District which, for this weekend is given over to the Christmas Fair. The snow swirled out of the dark and into street lights before being blasted up the lanes by a stiff breeze, all of which drove us out of the Fair quicker than we expected. Mind you, the crowds were extraordinary and while the lights and attractions were intriguing the lure was not enough to overcome the cold. By the time we left the snow was mostly horizontal, carried on a breeze that tried to cut us in pieces, despite our own thermals and Goretex. Backtracking up through the old town, through the Financial District, and mostly being able to stay off the streets by following PATH, an underground network of lanes that were warm but sometimes confusing. Back to the shopping centre next to where we are staying, in order to buy an ice cream.
Seriously. After putting up with his adult minders walking all sorts of places for crazy distances in sub zero temperatures our four year old companion was keen for an ice cream. Who were we to refuse? After all, in the land of the Poutine, ice cream is king.
Toronto 19 December 2015
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