Sunday, January 2, 2011

Toronto: Where Earth meets the Sky

The first impression about Toronto is its vertical limitlessness. Everything appears to be racing up-up-upper to meet the sky. Winch your neck and all you see is a bit of blue peeping from between two tall orders of concrete and glass. At night this sensation gets exaggerated when it seems the stars have come sailing down to twinkle. It’s the sparkle of the city’s neon lights but considering the dizzying heights these glow from they could just as well be the stars, the celestial real as it is not standing a chance to shine through the urban luminosity. 

Yet, Toronto can be dwarfed. And it’s Canada’s National Tower, more famously known as the CN Tower, which shrinks it in 58 seconds flat. That’s the time taken to rocket up 1,122 ft (342 m), just a few feet below its pinnacle, in a glass elevator to get a bird's eye view of the city. During daylight hours, from up above here, the metropolis layout looks like Lego-land with all blocks impeccably intact but come night and it seems the stars are beneath your feet! Located in Downtown Toronto, the CN Tower is quite predictably the city’s pride, as till recently it was considered the world’s tallest freestanding tower at 1,815 ft (553.3 m), an honour it held since it was opened to the public in 1976. Its status moved to second spot in 2010 with the inauguration of the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, which stands at a staggering 2,717 ft (828 m). The CN Tower dominates the Toronto skyline and visitors are enthusiastically shown the tapering structure. My city tour, true to form, began from this landmark. 
We had reached Toronto in the evening, about 20-long-hours after taking-off from Delhi, layover included. Immigration check had taken another hour and more, with some among us being scrutinised twice over, lest we cause trouble in ‘immigrant paradise’. The disciplined drive from Pearson airport to Downtown provided a preview of a city  we would explore the next day. Besides the vertical what impressed was the pretty, maple-fringed Lake Ontario that lends its name to the district.
The CN Tower is essentially a communication and surveillance tower containing multiple observation levels — including Sky Pod the highest of them all; a glass floor with a view right down till the ground which can give butterflies in the stomach to the weak-hearted; souvenir shops; and a one-of-its-kind revolving restaurant offering fine-dining experience and the world’s highest wine cellar. Appropriately called ‘360’, this is where I got my first taste of Toronto, quite literally so. The best time to be here is at dusk when the sky is a painter’s canvas and the city skyline a dramatic silhouette. The cuisine at 360 is designed by an award-wining chef and I looked forward to a piping hot platter just perfect for a cold night. Instead with there being just one vegetarian option I had to settle for ‘crispy curried eggplant with buffalo mozzarella’. I found it was arty but a little too gourmet for a ruggedness my tastebuds demanded at that time. I missed my tureen of dal! 
During a Toronto visit, the CN Tower is a singular experience for the unrivalled variety it offers. Even its security check is unusual and I was taken completely by surprise when I entered the futuristic blue-and-silver portals of the puffer machine (usually seen at US airports, I'm told). This latest technology uses puffs of air to detect explosives or drugs. Air blasts hit me all over for about 14 seconds during the scrutiny. Thankfully, I was declared safe and stepped out feeling I had mercifully escaped a gale. 
Canada’s most bustling city, Toronto is considered its financial and entertainment capital, and Central District is the place to catch this buzz. It has the best spread of gourmet restaurants, nightlife, hotels, visual arts, fashion and more. To mention a few, there’s the Princess of Wales and Royal Alexandra theatres; the new permanent home of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the Bell Lightbox; the happening Yonge Street—the oldest street of the city and also considered the longest in all North America; prĂȘt shopping hot-spot as King Street or ritzy boutiques of Yorkville and Bloor St West; the outdoorsy St Lawrence Market and Kensington Market known for fresh food products; the ever-popular Queen West, the city’s one-stop hip cultural street; and of course it’s got the CN Tower that lord’s over them all.
In addition to these diverse attractions, Central Toronto is also the parliamentary and academic heart of the city, these institutions being housed in a set of heritage buildings, standing in pleasant architectural contrast to contemporary glitz. Within the beautiful Queen’s Park is the AD 1893 Legislative Building, a meeting place for Ontario’s Members of Provincial Parliament and it looked serene when I saw it in the early sunlight, a world away from the nightlife frames I had witnessed a few blocks away. Around the corner is the sprawling and impressive AD 1856 Romanesque Revival St George campus at the University of Toronto. This neighbourhood is part of the ‘discovery district’ that includes the Royal Ontario Museum and the Royal Conservatory of Music.
A place where old and new coalesce in a unique blend is at the Toronto City Hall. The complex has semi-circle twin towers and between them is the inverted-saucer-shaped council chamber, the positioning seeming like two hands cradling the chamber, representative of safeguarding the interests of the state. This arrangement has also given it the moniker of ‘Eye of the Government’. It overlooks the Nathan Phillips square, which in winter turns into a popular skating rink. Adjoining the twin towers is the Old City Hall, at present the court house, which has classical architecture. The two landmarks together present a past-blends-into-present frame signifying a dynamic and growing city which is proud of its roots. It’s a thought shared by millions of immigrants who have made vertically-expanding Toronto their home and contribute in making it a vibrant multi-ethnic city.     

Quick Facts:
Air: Daily flights from Delhi, Mumbai to Toronto
Railways: The VIA Rail System has a network throughout Canada. As compared to India, railway travel in Canada is an expensive mode and its tickets have flexi-rates.
Bus: A day pass of C$ 10 is available for TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) buses and it allows limitless travel within the city.
Tram: Toronto is the only Canadaian city where trams (streecars) run.
For city tour: www.allabouttoronto.com; Phone: 416-495-8687


Published in The Hindu, January 2011

1 comment:

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