Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Visit to Toronto

It is rarely that working people get to go off on a vacation on a week day. I got lucky a week and half ago to take a good break – when the Mr. had to get his visa stamped in Toronto. I tagged along to make the best out the excuse.

Sometimes I feel that the Mr.’s life is all like a Hindi movie – in the beginning everything seems to be fine, then a bunch of problems crop up – and finally it is a happy ‘The End’. I cannot recollect any such episode that happened to him without any hitches at all. But then I am glad and thankful to God that the ‘The End’ is always a happy one. Following Suite, the stamping for a Canada visa had a hitch. We landed at the Canadian consulate (about 2 weeks ago having readied all our papers couple of weeks earlier, being prompt and getting the M.O. for the amount and all) on the dot – 8:30, were 2nd in line and were just about being quite pleased with ourselves – when the guy at the counter said the Fees has been dropped down by 5$ , so the MO would not work and we need to go and get cash. Hey! I am willing to pay you 5 bucks extra – why don’t you just accept it! Well, I sat there for about 20 mins while the Mister went in search of an ATM and got cash – by which time the line had about 10 or 15 people! Grrrr…. Talk about Early bird getting the worm!

I should have guessed when things at the Canada border went too smoothly; that there was something ‘BIG” going to happen! I was at the wheel for the 1st half of the journey. The Canadian border is about 80 miles from our place. As I reached the booth at the border, I pulled up at the drive thru counter – the fat chubby ‘moron’ smiles and jokes with us while inquiring about why we were going to Canada and ends the conversation with a ‘You know where you are going right?’. Assuming that he was asking me directions to Toronto , I nodded , smiled , waved good bye and started off towards the signpost that showed the way to 401! Girl – did you never hear ‘Assume’ means making ‘An ass of you and Me’ … Get that into your brain atleast now!

I had driven only a few feet forward when a siren sounded – I slowed and looked around but there seemed no indication that the siren was for us. Commenting on that strange incident we went on our way – rejoicing at the fact that we were again on a trip – noting the landscape and all. After nearly traveling for 40 km (yes Canada measures distances in Km, weight in Kg …. Well there ends the similarity with India hee hee), a cop car pulled up behind me and started to flash lights. I was dead scared and so was the Mr.

At this point, I would like to point out the Mr.’s affiliation to Cop Cars. As long as I am behind the wheel, we would never see a cop car and the moment the Mr. takes over from me to drive, suddenly there always has been a flurry of the ‘Mamu’ (as he is fondly called) cars.

I pulled over to the shoulder. Neatly dressed, wearing a nice furry cap – he walks and knocks on the Mr.’s window pane. Very politely he inquires why we never entered the ‘immigration building’ (pink one) at the border. We were surprised – hello! – were we supposed to go there? Then why did not Mister Fatty at the booth direct us properly? After taking all our documents, he went back to his car and came back about 20 mins later. In all that time, you really could not imagine our panicked state! With the same smile he told us that we would have to go back to the border and do some paperwork at the immigration building. Did I have a choice? So, royally escorted by the colorful and most dreaded ‘Cop Car’ , I took the next exit – joined back the freeway in the opposite direction and drove back all the way. I might have as well gone home and come back! We lost about 1 and half hours in all the process. So much for starting early to avoid driving in the dark. Well, at the immigration building , we were given ‘royal ‘ looks – even escaped convicts get looked at better – as if it was all my mistake. After the paperwork – well that was nothing but a scratch across the Canada visa and a valid end date for the visa – she should have only told me, I would have made a neat scratch with a felt pen! , the Chief Policeman had a ‘chat’ with us about our ‘language communication problem’ at the booth. Wait ! We had A LANGUAGE Problem! – tell that stupid fat person at the booth not to talk in puzzles and spell out the rules clearly. Anyways, what could we say – he did apologize for the trouble we were put thru. And then again we started back towards the signpost that said 401.

Needless to say we both were no longer bubbling with enthusiasm. One of my colleagues had had a very bad experience in Visa stamping at Ottawa. His name appeared on a black list and the authorities asked him to stay in Canada till the matter was cleared – which took about 2 months. This was one of our major fears – what is something like that happened to us. Now that this stupid incident happened, we were all the more worried. After about an hour of driving, the Mr. took over and a miserable rain also started. Driving on the 402 and 403 freeways at night is a pain because of the large number of gigantic and never-ending-long trucks, who don’t seem to care about any speed limit and just whiz past you or tail you so close (indicating that you change to another lane) that soon you wonder if your car’s length also will get added to its. Slowly our spirits lifted as I opened boxes of food that I packed from home. The Mr. who makes fun of my habit of eating curd rice after every meal, himself remarked after completing nearly ¾ th of the curd rice that it was the best meal he had had! Just shows how some traditional stuff that we ignore in life turn out to be the most comforting things in the toughest of times. As we approached Toronto, it was as if the day had started again at 9:30 PM. It was bright as a day in the dazzling lights emanated from the skyscrapers. It was awesome driving by the side of those tall buildings , zooming past at 120 kmph! I guess I sound like a ‘gawar’ – maybe because for the past 1 and ½ hours the tallest building I have seen is the 4 storied office I work in!

For a change, we managed to reach our destination without losing the way. The Mr. and I have a penchant for losing way especially while driving at night. Tucked away, just two blocks from the heart of Toronto downtown called ‘Yonge Downtown’ is the B&B (bed and breakfast) called Alan Gardens Bed & Breakfast, run by a very charming middle aged ukranian lady – Nadia. When we had searched for hotels in Toronto close to the embassy, we found that the cost of a hotel and having breakfast was more than what we would pay for a day’s stay at a B&B (breakfast included in the deal as well as the name). Besides, we also wanted to experience staying at a B&B – and let me tell you, it is worth the stay. A totally difference experience it was. When we stayed at a hotel, we cared very little about how the room was, where our things lay, who the person at the reception was and so on – it was all so impersonal. But here, it is like staying in your own home except that you don’t have to cook breakfast or make the bed , there is a person who will make you feel at home in a new city – be more personal to you. The breakfast was not elaborate but a very tastefully designed one. Nadia is a remarkable person – at the age of , can’t say exactly but she must be about 50, she runs a B&B with a capacity of about 3 rooms and also does part time acting. She explained us all about the city, what sights we could see and how we could reach there. What we loved most was how much attention she placed to small things – her breakfast ensemble was most admirable – cutlery very tasteful in decoration – fruits cut in thin slices and arranged well, the toast perfectly done and the best was the steamed egg (it looked exactly like an idli). She took pains to make the eggs differently on both days, when all she could have done was do the same thing daily. She would inquire if we liked the stuff or should she make it differently or what we wanted the next day and so on. Overall, something I would definitely recommend to anybody traveling to Toronto.

Toronto downtown reminded me of Manhattan, though the streets seemed narrower and more crowded because of the tram/street car as it is called. After having lived in a place where public transport consists of only the 1 bus that is seen once a day, going to a place whose lifeline is the public transport is a big relief. The two lifeline of downtown Toronto are – the street car and the subway train. A day pass for a family costing $8.50, during holiday season – is probably the cheapest amount that you ever paid to visit a new city for a day. All the attractions are reachable using these two modes of transport. Toronto is a very Cosmopolitan city in all aspects. You will find people from possible all countries in the world here – Chinese leading in the numbers. 1 out of every 3 people we saw was a Chinese – and their English was very good unlike the broken statements of the Chinese I meet in Detroit. There are a lot of Indians also in Toronto. On one street you can find restaurants catering to almost all the cuisine in the world - Thai, Chinese, American, Lebanese, Indian, Middle Eastern, Greek … you name it and it is there! The food is also superb. At every nook and corner you will find one Hot dog vendor making really ‘hot’ business and I was very surprised to find all of them selling ‘Veg Hot Dogs! – though did not dare taste one (I am a very big skeptic when it comes to tasting new stuff – I leave that all to the Mr.). There are plenty of very tall skyscrapers all around – mass produced buildings as the Mr. put it.

Many parts of this city reminded me so much of India – the best being the Chinese market. Shops selling all kinds of wares – just as the ones you would find on the streets of Mambalam – plastic wares, clothes, shoes, decorative show pieces – all crammed into one small room and hanging outside the shop from poles or racks.. Fresh vegetables being sold on the streets, shops selling only nuts and variety of other stuff – just like the ones you see back at home. And definitely it was one of the dirtiest places of Toronto downtown – no doubt about that too. What struck me strange was – whenever you see an Indian grocery shop you will notice that the title is written only in English and not in Hindi or Tamil or Telugu right? But all the Chinese shops had the name written in Chinese as well as English. The variety of these shops – the wares they sold, the services they provided just amazes me.

The downtown boasts of two very large and old fresh produce markets – the Kensington market and the St. Lawrence Market, the latter having a history of 200 years of existence. The Kensington market is partly like the Chinese market made up of many small shops, but the St. Lawrence market consists of all shops inside one single large complex. It is said to be the most crowded on Saturdays when the Market opens at 5:00 AM! Nadia told us that if you went to the place at about 10 in the morning, it was difficult to even find room to put your foot in. The Mr. commented about how he had never seen fresher meat / fish, as the ones there.

Royal Ontario Museum is one of the 10 most popular museums in the world. It is definitely worth a visit. Since it was Spring break for the schools at the time we visited, the museum was brimming with kids of all ages. And there were so many activities conducted by the museum authorities for kids. This is one museum which was far from being quiet and boring – as one always says museums are. The current special running there was the ancient Peruvian display – which was very informative and pretty.

The Bata shoe museum is one of the different kinds of museums that I have been too. It is all about Shoes, their history and stories attached to them. The museum is very well –laid out in terms of the presentation. Starting from the history of when man started the concept of shoes to depicting the shoes of different cultures of the world and ending with the imaginative creations of man using one of the most indispensable attire. This is one of the Must-See’s in Toronto attractions.

CN Tower – You just cannot miss this tallest tower in the world. And you won’t find a single person who has gone to Toronto and not gone to the top of it. It is right there staring at you no matter which part of the downtown you go to. Towering over you, with a height of 1815 Ft, 5 in; it has held the record of the tallest building in the world for 30 years now. At a height of 1,122 Ft is built the Observation deck and a very unique attraction called the ‘Glass Floor’. A small part of the floor is made of see- through Glass. It is a mind boggling experience to stand at the centre of the Glass floor and see down – it feels like you are suspended in the mid-air. I was bitterly disappointed to see that the observation deck was completely covered with mesh windows and there was absolutely no chance of a good photograph.

We did not have enough time to visit the harbor front of Toronto. We were planning on taking the ferry to the island across the downtown for some photos, but the sights above itself took up most of our time. It always is interesting to visit a new place, see the local sights and gather a bit about the lifestyle of the people around. I really did not want to come back to the bland and boring Michigan after the hulchul of Toronto – but … can’t help it, can


Gomathi said...

I can understand how it would have been for you, but believe me it was so funny reading your drive experience to Canada; especially your emotional remarks :). You write so beautiful that even the worst thing can be read with so much of laughter. Keep up the good work.

Looks like you both had wonderful time going around places there. I have never been to Toronto myself. My stamping was in Vancouver.

Writing about all the fun - I think you forgotto mention how the interview way. I hope it was a happy ending and you both are back home safe.

trupti said...

HI Vidya....sorry to hear about all the troubles but glad you did enjoy Canada in the end.....driving on 401 is indeed scary!

Glad you had a nice time though....Gerrad Street in Toronto is a great place to shop...but then again, there is an Indian shop at every corner...


Vidhya Rajesh said...

$$ Gomez - ooops! I forgot to write all about that na? Yup the stamping was done with no hassles :) ...

$$ Trupti - I was thinking of you when we were in Toronto , especially when you mentioned in your blog that you go to Toronto to get indian food .. We wanted to go to Gerrard street , but did not have time :(