Friday 15 December 2017

Canada High: Why Toronto's the perfect base for exploring

Kevin Doyle in Toronto
Kevin Doyle in Toronto
Kevin Doyle in Toronto
Kevin Doyle in Toronto
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Toronto’s eye-catching in its own right – and the perfect base for a visit to Niagara.

IT'S not quite the edge of the world but it might as well be. Standing in the fresh evening breeze, 356 metres over an unsuspecting city with not even a handrail to reassure a racing mind.

“I like to call this one ‘toes over Toronto’,” says our instructor Steve who fancies himself as a 'daredevil dad' type.

Two hours earlier I was 11,000 metres above the Atlantic Ocean but it wasn't nearly as terrifying as the 20-minute walk around the Canadian National Tower overlooking the nation’s biggest city.

The Edge Walk is a relatively new attraction in Toronto and one that will leave a lasting impression.

The only comparable activities I can think of are a skydive or a bungee jump – but in this case you hope your feet never leave the ground.

The 31,000 souls who have so far braved the stroll are greeted by a direct drop into the downtown area.

It's the perfect introduction to a city that thousands of young Irish have adopted as their home since the economic crash.

At street level it's easy to see why so many have opted for Toronto to start all over.

The streets aren't exactly paved with gold but some of their buildings are. The Royal Bank Plaza Towers have been insulated by having the windows covered with very thin coating of 24-carat gold leaf.

It cost more than €1m to cover the 14,000 windows with 2,500 ounces of gold.

Hidden beneath the ever expanding rows of condos and office blocks is a diverse population that speaks 125 languages and practises 80 religions.

Above most things the people seem to have a distinct love of art, take pride in their partying and border on being obsessed with sport.

One percent of all money spent on construction must be diverted to public art, meaning you'll spot the most random flocks of metal migrating birds and mangled music clefs outside buildings.

West Queen Streets boosts a wide selection of small galleries, artistic graffiti, and cultural surprises that are well worth an afternoon stroll.

If you want a walking tour this might be a better option than taking one in the city centre where you can easily navigate the main attractions yourself with the aid of a decent map.

Two of the more interesting buildings are oldest boutique hotels.

The Gladstone and Drake are living, breathing hotels where you can lunch, enjoy a drink and even stay in an individually designed room if you've got a hefty wallet.

And while during the day they are filled with culture vultures, on weekend nights the trendy youth of Toronto move in to make use of the bars, including a rooftop one at The Drake.

The other main areas for walking are Chinatown and Kensington Markets.

The latter is blotted with colourful restaurants, even more colourful people and shops that will sell you anything from army gas masks for kids to dodgy DVDs. It is the origin of multicultural Toronto and at one stage the locals fought a bitter battle to keep Starbucks out.

By night there are endless options for dinner – but my favourite was Mengrai Thai Restaurant. From the outside it doesn't look like much but ask the shockingly enthusiastic owner named Allan about its history and he'll show you why it’s a favourite of John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson.

Of course it goes without writing that a trip to Toronto lends itself to a day trip to the Niagara Falls. Most hotels, including the Delta Chelsea where I stayed, will help you find a day tour that includes an excursion to a vineyard.

The falls can viewed from every angle using cable

cars, boats and helicopters. It's hard to say which offers the best vantage point but if your wallet can stretch to it try all three.

Parting with €100 at the Niagara Helicopters company will get you a 12-minute flyover that offers the most spectacular views. For €15 the Maid of Mist boat will bring you right under the falls, but be warned that the blue ponchos they give are about as useful as a fishing rod in a desert. Bring a change of clothes, you will get wet. After all that a few glasses of ice-wine is recommended. For an Irish link and some of the regions best wine try the Inniskillin Winery.

It was originally built on land owned by Colonel Cooper of the Irish Regiment of the Enniskillen Fusiliers in the 1800s but the spelling went awry somewhere along the way.

In just four days I got a taste for Toronto – but was left hungry for more.

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