A weekend in Toronto

Oct 23, 2007

I'm just back from Toronto where I was from Friday to Sunday. And I had a truly wonderful time there.

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I was very fortunate to have several great local hosts. Jim Courtney took me out to lunch on Friday. I hanged out with Andres on Friday and Sunday. And we went to CN Tower with Kevin and his mom on Saturday, and after that they found they have enough time and energy to take me out to Niagara Falls. Which was completely a bonus for me to the otherwise already wonderful trip. I knew the Falls are great, but hadn't planned to go this time as it sounded like a hassle for me to get there and I had my days sort of booked already. But since we could drive on Saturday, everything turned out to be just great.

Many thanks again, Jim, Kevin, Kevin's mom and Andres :-) and I'm sorry I wasn't in my best condition at all times, as I had got a nasty cold a few days before (but I'm getting better, no worries).

The nominal reason for going out to Canada was the Estdocs Estonian documentary film festival -- I hear it's their third year already. (It's still ongoing, so if you're around Toronto, go take a look -- but make sure you get a ticket in advance, as I hear it keeps selling out quickly.) I say "nominal" because I had wanted to go to Canada all along to meet up with people and see just generally what it's like, and this festival provided me a perfect excuse to do just that.

I expected that I would like Canada, and I did. Even though you know you're still on the American continent, it somehow feels very different from the US. Not only because they use the metric system (km and C instead of miles and F), but just because there's another ambience. With the British monarch still as head of state, there are hints of UK here and there. But the city landscape is much more modern in Toronto than in, say, central London where things are mostly very old. Toronto still keeps growing and rebuilding and as some of my travel guides said, seeking its identity. The way I can see it, there's plenty of identity there, consisting of a rich mix of communities, and they shouldn't worry about it too much :)

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Toronto isn't actually very "touristy". There are of course a few staple attractions like the CN Tower, and you can take a bus tour in the city (which I did, and it was decent), and there are many museums and other things to explore, but it's not the main focus of the city. Instead, the city is more interested in the people actually living there, which I guess is the right way to run cities. It sounded like everyone I met living there is optimistic about it and enjoys the experience of Toronto, Ontario and Canada. I didn't hear too much complaining at all.

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... except how their communication infrastructure is a bit backwards. There's only one GSM provider, and the iPhone isn't on sale here for an unknown amount of time. I also experienced this myself -- it's 2007, and I didn't get a hotel room with Internet, despite being at a fairly large chain, and specifically indicating that I want Internet in my booking. (And there was wifi in the lobby, but it was crap and didn't work adequately most of the time.) It didn't particularly disrupt anything for me, as I was on vacation and didn't vitally need to go online, but come on, people. Internet is not something that you should specifically ask for in a Toronto downtown hotel in 2007. Get your communications act together.

I did some data and call roaming, but very little of it, so it will be interesting to see what roaming charges I'll get slapped with from AT&T and Rogers Wireless. And AT&T considers Canada to be part of USA :-) I don't have an international calling plan on my iPhone yet, but I could do in- and outbound calling and SMSing with Canada numbers without any problems. Yes, I know they have the same country code and all that, but it's still a bit funny.

So anyway... back to Canada :) Niagara Falls were impressive, and I should visit them also from the US side at one time to get a closer view. You can see the details from the US side, being closer to the water, while the Canadian side provides a bigger picture of how the whole thing actually looks. But I didn't know there was a Las Vegas-style tourist trap close to the falls, with eateries, game arcades, movie theatres and god knows what else. So it was bustling with tourist life. At least this thing wasn't immediately next to the falls, there was some distance inbetween, so each can have their own of the two.

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I won't say too much about the Singing Revolution film that I've now seen twice. I'm somewhat biased to provide an objective overview to an outsider, but it's rolling out in theatres in the US throughout late this and early next year, so we can expect more reviews then. Oh, and it was also on the Warsaw Film Festival. If you have a chance, go see it and let me know what you think :) I've written about the film before. See also what Andres says about the Saturday's Canadian premiere.

I couldn't link all the photos here inline, see here for more pictures.