Toronto 2013 – College Street at Night

For my last night in Toronto, I stayed at Planet Traveler hostel. It’s on College Street near Augusta Avenue and just at the edge of the Kensington Market.  I do recommend staying here.  The shared accommodation is cheap, clean and comfortable.  It has the 3 C’s of hostelling that are hard to come by.  It has free WiFi and free breakfast.  Hard to go wrong with free breakfast.  I just needed the one night, so I only got to know my roommates for a short while.

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Toronto 2013 – Kensington Market

After my visit to the AGO, I had to make my way to the hostel that I booked for my last night in Toronto. I wanted to spend an extra night in Toronto to just see a little bit more.  The hostel was all the way on College and Augusta.  I had to make my way from Dundas and Beverley to get there.

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Toronto 2013 – Ai Weiwei at the AGO

When I told one of my high school friends that I was going to Toronto, he highly recommended dropping by the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) to see the Ai Weiwei exhibit. Thankfully, the exhibit had been on for a while and the David Bowie exhibit just started the weekend I was there.  So basically, I wasn’t fighting to buy a ticket.  The David Bowie exhibit had already sold out for the day.

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Toronto 2013 – Eating Along Dundas

I didn’t expect to find some good food along Dundas Street.  When I lived in Toronto 10 years ago, I don’t recall coming down to this part of Dundas for food.  However, there are definitely a couple of gems along this stretch of Dundas between Chinatown and University Avenue.

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Toronto 2013 – Toronto at Night

Previously on metrobabel:

At the end of September, I had the chance to be in Toronto for a work-related meeting.  The weather in Vancouver had already an added crispness while Toronto was still hovering in the low 20’s and high teens for temperature.

[Toronto 2013 – Around the Royal York]

After all the work meetings were done for the day and I had grabbed a little dinner, I would wonder around Toronto with Camera in hand.  This time, I had also carried along my Gorillapod SLR-Zoom.  I couldn’t fit my usual tripod in my carry-on to Toronto.  So I packed my much smaller Gorillapod.

I’ve never actually done much long exposure photography.  However, Toronto is probably a perfect place to take a lot of photos at nights with all the bright lights of the largest city in Canada.  So the small and flexible Gorillapod would help me to keep my camera still while I took long exposures.  The only problem was finding enough flat top newspaper boxes in the right spots to get the right angles.  Sometimes I just put it down on the sidewalk to take some of my shots.

Here are my shots of downtown Toronto at night.  The photos were taken on two separate nights and are primarily from the west side of downtown Toronto.

RBC Centre – Wellington St at University Ave

Toronto International Film Festival’s TIFF Bell Lightbox – King St at John St

SW corner of King St and John St

Chapters & Scotiabank Theatre – John St at Richmond St

CHUM Radio neon – Duncan St and Richmond St

Art Gallery of Ontario – Dundas St at McCaul St

Sharp Centre for Design at Ontario College of Art & Design University

Ontario College of Art & Design University

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts – University Ave and Queen St

Toronto 2013 – Around the Royal York

At the end of September, I had the chance to be in Toronto for a work-related meeting.  The weather in Vancouver had already an added crispness while Toronto was still hovering in the low 20’s and high teens for temperature.

It had been at least 4 years since I last visited Toronto itself.  I had flown through Pearson International Airport a few times, but I hadn’t ventured out to the city in a long time.  2013 also marks the 10 year anniversary of my year of life in Toronto.  So it was good to be back at the end of a warm Toronto September.

Royal York clock and lobby

I was lucky enough to be put up in the Fairmont Royal York right downtown along Front Street.  It was the first time I stayed at the grand old dame of all Toronto hotels.  It’s also the first time I’ve ever actually stayed overnight in one of the old Canadian Pacific hotels.

Being an older hotel, the rooms were not all that large. However, no complaint being in a nice hotel like the Royal York.  Meetings also took place here.  So it was quick and convenient to run down, grab a quick breakfast, and then run back up to the conference floor for the meeting. The subterranean shopping arcade had a nice deli that offered decent coffee and hot breakfast bagels.

Inside Union Station

The only issue with the hotel was all the construction happening outside.  Union Station, Toronto’s major rail and subway hub, is under reconstruction.  So most of Front Street just outside the Royal York had been ripped up in order to expand the station.  A friend had come down to pick me up for dinner and got caught with nowhere to turn for about 15 minutes because of the construction.

Excavation and construction at Front Street and University Avenue

The construction also affected me at night.  In order to minimize impact on car traffic, construction was carried out in the middle of the night.  Thankfully, I came prepared and brought ear plugs with me on this trip.  I really needed them as they processed concrete and gravel 5 stories below outside my hotel window.

Union Station construction at midnight

Apart from all the ruckus at night, I was still able to enjoy the immediate vicinity.  I went for drinks at the Jack Astor’s across from the hotel with my old boss in Toronto.  It was a good hour to share a drink and catch up.  We happened to be there as a Blue Jays game finished. So there were baseball fans everywhere on the street and in the bar.

The hotel room view

Toronto has also been busy pumping up more skyscrapers.  Toronto probably has the most planned and/or under construction skyscrapers in North America at the moment. The iconic L Tower could easily be seen a few blocks down from the Royal York.  It’ll be quite the architectural gem from the looks of it.  Skyscraper fans will love to descend upon Toronto in the next few years as more of these buildings are finished.

L Tower under construction

Another big change that I noticed about Toronto was the presence of a bike share program. I had seen the Hubway back in Boston in March 2011.  This is the first bike share that I’ve actually seen in Canada (Montreal had the first major bike share in Canada).  The bikes and payment machines for the Toronto Bixi bike share looked similar to the Boston Hubway system.  The bike share covered most of downtown Toronto and some locations slightly further outside the downtown perimeter.

Toronto’s Bixi Bike Share

Staying down on Front Street was a good place to start my short Toronto weekend work trip.  Lots of stuff around if needed and the accommodation was fancy.  Maybe fancier than it needed to be, but it was still greatly appreciated. And yes, did I mention it was a beautiful end of September?

moment in the sunlight along Wellington St

My Switch To Trolleys from B-Line in September

A Vancouver trolley bus, but not the one I take during my morning commute

As usual, the Tuesday right after Labour Day is famously the most busy day for traffic via all modes of transport across the city. I personally change my transport pattern at this time of year.

The B-Line is part of my usual commute.  It’s actually a somewhat pleasant ride in the summer because it’s quick and spacious when less people are going to school.  That’s high school and university that I’m referring to.  However, September brings everyone back to school and work.  I find the “B-Line Crush” really crazy at this time of year.  The line up at Broadway & Commercial tends to wrap around the corner past the Blenz Coffee.  Often there are 4 buses that pass me up before I can get on a B-Line.  I don’t mind one, but 4 is ridiculous.

So instead of taking the B-Line, I go through downtown to take a trolley to West Broadway.  It seems counter-intuitive, but I decide to sacrifice speed in favour of sanity.  The B-Line is guaranteed to be a sardine can.  It is quick once you’re on a B-Line, but it’s quite the jostle to get on the bus itself.  (At least I’m not one of the poor Main Street riders trying to board an already overflowing bus).

The trolley can be admittedly slow, but as long as I give myself enough time, it can be a much more pleasant ride.  Sure, it stops all along Granville Street on its way out of the downtown peninsula. And occasionally, the trolleys get really snarled in traffic.  However, I am always pleasantly rewarded with a scenic ride over the Granville Street Bridge.  Plus, at this time of year, I will probably arrive at work roughly in the same time frame if I had taken the B-Line.

My only exception to this transit pattern change is Thursday.  Thursday is the day at UBC where the most students have somehow managed to wriggle a day off in their schedule.  So on Thursdays, I take my chances with the B-Line.

One new wrinkle this year in the commute.  The Up Escalator on the north side of Broadway Station has been down since May of this year.  When I passed by last week, it looked nowhere close to being finished.  This escalator is the one that most Millennium Line passengers take when they transfer to the Expo Line.  So now they all have to take the stairs or elevator.  It’s already been busy during the summer when Millennium Line passengers use those stairs.  It’s only going to be worse with the September rush.

By the way, how long does it take to fix an escalator exactly?  It’s been 4 months!!

Summery September Cycling

With the Vancouver summer extending deep into September, it’s been a great chance to bike to work.  Usually, by this time of year, we are already covered in a blanket of grey.  However, this year, we’ve been blessed with a warmer and drier than usual September.  Even the leaves are only starting to change colour now.  In some previous years, the trees are turning autumnal at the end of August.  I can’t believe we are still hitting highs above 20C in the middle of the day

This great weather makes my 11 kilometre cycling commute a lot easier to enjoy.  The only thing I don’t enjoy is the elevation change that I have to deal with.

It’s okay going to work, but my commute home is not so fun.  My RunKeeper tells me that I rode from 40 m above sea level to 94 m above sea level.  Most of that elevation change happens around the 8-9 km mark of my commute.  Now that it’s almost the end of the summer, though, it’s not so bad.  I definitely get a good sweat going home.  Some much needed exercise to fit into my life.

Let’s hope that the summer holds out just a little longer.  Enjoy it while it lasts.