Love and Layovers in Toronto

Old City Hall, Toronto, Canada []
It was tough to sleep on the red-eye from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Toronto, Ontario. When I initially booked my tickets from Portland, Oregon, to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the cheapest route put me through Canada, which I certainly didn’t mind. A short jump to Vancouver, a red-eye flight, and a day to play in Toronto before I boarded for Brazil. An experienced traveler, I figured I’d sleep on the plane to Toronto without a problem, but the winds thought otherwise, and we were pushed back and forth, up and down as we floated across the midnight sky. It seemed as though I only got a few minutes of sleep before we’d experience another shake, and I found myself peering up at the multi-colored lights of the Air Canada cabin much more than I had hoped. In my fight for sleep, I thought about the last time I had been to Toronto.

A Toronto Tale of Yore

Twenty years ago, nearly to the day, I boarded a bus in Ann Arbor for a ride north. Back then, I had met a boy on the internet, back when it was still uncool to do so, and in my parents’ absence that weekend, took my nineteen-year-old self across the border to meet my online connection. I had traveled to Toronto before with my mother, to see plays and musicals, so it wasn’t completely unknown, but the adrenaline still surged as the bus pulled into the city. Our friendship was easy in person, with a bit of reckless, youthful chemistry, and we spent our time together flitting about town, celebrating Canada Day with dinner in Greektown, watching the flags of the Pride parade, staring out at a rare blue moon from a 23rd floor apartment as Bob Marley played in the background. When it was time for me to head home, he yelled that he loved me as I crossed the street to the bus station, and in true teenage angst, I felt as though I’d never have a weekend like that again.

I reflected on that magical stay years ago as my flight touched down in Toronto just after dawn. I emerged bleary-eyed and hopped the Union Pearson Express with a coffee in my hand for a trip to Union Station – the same station where I had caught the bus years before.

It was morning rush hour when the train arrived, and the CN Tower stood tall amongst all the construction of the downtown corridor. I made my way to the waterfront for breakfast and watched as the local tour boats prepared for their day.

The eats at Barque Smokehouse. []

Just Passing Through

In doing my layover research, I learned that Toronto is a hub for long (7+ hours) layovers, particularly when flying Air Canada internationally. Some people choose to book hotel rooms for the duration of their layovers, to sleep and shower. The airport itself offers a club lounge in which you can recline if you prefer to stay on site during your time in Toronto. However, I wanted to explore – and take a shower – like an normal person. In vetting my options, it stood to be gyms, who will oftentimes extend an open door policy (sometimes with a fee) for using the facilities as a guest – and hotel gym/spa facilities, where members of rewards programs can also gain guest access.

Ultimately, however, I opted for the finest layover choice I could think of – a massage and lunch package from a local spa. In this case, Elmwood Spa, an easy walk from my breakfast spot at the waterfront, down Bay Street past both the old City Hall and current Toronto City Hall, and the grounds of Nathan Phillips Square.

After my spa visit, more caffeine was needed, and I stopped into Infuse Café along the city’s eclectic Yonge Street, a shopping mecca whether perusing for cheap buys or expensive tastes. From there, I turned down Dundas Street, meandering towards the Art Gallery of Toronto (which is unfortunately closed on Mondays). The colorful shops and displays of Chinatown were just beyond, and shortly thereafter, I found myself in the central intersection of one of the hippest little neighborhoods, Kensington Market.

There’s a streetcar stop at the end of the Kensington Market – the streetcars, an amazing, refurbished part of the city’s history – and after perusing a bit, I hopped aboard towards another up-and-comer, the Roncesvalles Village neighborhood.

A perfect lemon meringue at Barque. []
I was, of course, most concerned about where to eat during my one day in Toronto, and though all of my Canadian friends pointed me in great directions, I opted for comfort over upper class, for cocktails, barbecue, and all the fixings at Barque Smokehouse, located in the heart of Roncesvalles Village. A full meal including a stellar whiskey sour, saucy meats, plenty of sides, and a pint-sized lemon meringue closed out the day for me, and it was just a few blocks further to the Union Pearson train post-dinner, where a departure to South America awaited at the other end.

No proclamations of love this time, Toronto, but I’d definitely like to see you again.

The Fairmont Royal York beams in front of you as you exit Union Station. []
Toronto’s waterfront harbour. []
Walking down Bay Street. []
Sidewalk seating across from the Elmwood Spa. []
The sights of Yonge Street. []
A streetcar heading down Dundas. []
Wall art at the College Hostel. []
All aboard the streetcar. []
The lovely Barque Smokehouse in Roncesvalles. []
Let’s get together again soon, Toronto. []
~Jennifer Matthewson

Photo credit: Jennifer Matthewson / Daily Blender

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