Travel truisms from the Great White North
Took the Missus (Momrock?) up to Canada for a quick vacation last week. Some things we learned along the way
Truism 1: Flying Is Taking The Bus
Back in the day, flying was glamorous. Men wore suits; women, dresses. Now our taxpayer dollars went to bail out a business falsely deemed “too big to fail” and what did we get in return? Preposterous prices. Nary a bag of shitty pretzels. In our case, we also got a three hour wait for our luggage to come off the plane. Apparently, instead of the usual 25 luggage handlers, Toronto International employed two that night. Two! Apparently these two pour souls were so overwhelmed routing bags that they essentially gave up. The luggage desk had to give them a pep talk to keep them going. At least on a bus you’re cargo-adjacent.
Truism 2: You Can Never Go Wrong With The Room Service Cheeseburger
After the luggage snafu, we didn’t get to our hotel till after 3AM. Let there be no doubt: the room service cheeseburger never fails to satisfy. This one was actually a Beyond burger, and the best beer they could provide at that hour was a plain ol’ Coors Light, but damn if it still didn’t hit the spot.
Truism 3: We Are All Equal
We were in Toronto during Pride. At first we couldn’t really figure out how it was being celebrated, but one afternoon, on our way back to the hotel we stumbled into a massive parade. It was quite a sight to behold. Shout out to the LGBTQ+ community for knowing how to party. This led to confirming what we already knew, that we are all the same – a large mass of people, who, when gathered together on a hot summer day will create a pungent smell of body odor and hot garbage.
Truism 4 (Canada Version): Canada Is One Big Outlet Mall…or is it?
US currency is typically stronger than Canada’s, so everything is like 15-20% less expensive there than it is at home. Of course with inflation these days it basically evens out and costs a fortune. Every time I hesitated on spending money I rationalized it by muttering “Canadian Dollars” as I headed to the cash register. Then again, when I got home and checked my credit card bills there were all of these charges that seemed to balance out the costs? Maybe this is a False-ism after all…sigh.
Truism 5: The Internet Makes Travel A Buzzkill
The world has become too gentrified and homogenized for a unique shopping experience in most western cities. Toronto has at least two interesting shopping locales. Kensington Market is a hippie haven of indie boutiques, vegan food, bands playing to a handful of tattooed onlookers, sweet ganja scent in the air. The Distillery District, an old warehouse converted to a shopping/restaurant center, houses some cool shops that piqued my wallet. Ironically the Distillery District is more of a market, while Kensington Market is more of a district, but what are you gonna do. After checking everything out, I went back to one of the shops in the Distillery District to buy a hat I had my eye on. Turns out the shop was closed, with one of those “we’ll be back soon” signs. No matter; within a few moments on my way back to the hotel I bought it on their website. It was waiting for me when I got home.
Truism 6: Be Prepared To Be Whelmed
To be a tourist is to experience shakedowns disguised as “once in a lifetime” experiences. To be a parental tourist is to be a sucker for said shakedowns, in an effort to provide your kids with fond memories. Alas, we were child-free on this excursion, which changes the equation. Faced with the overwhelming offer to go to the top of CN Tower and experience that Drake album cover IRL, all for the handsome sum of $86 and a 45 minute wait, we figured it wasn’t worth it. It’s not always a financial consideration – when we visited the Art Gallery of Ontario museum and waited in a short line to get our allotted 1 minute in Yayoi Kasama’s Infinity Mirrored Room, we were neither over- nor underwhelmed. The whole experience was rather whelming.
Truism 7: Go With Your Gut
As a corollary of Truism 5, and 6 to a degree, if most experiences are going to be gentrified and whelming, then what are you left with? You’re left with eating, that’s what. Good eating we did. Highlights included Lee in Toronto, an Asian fusion restaurant that offered a 19 ingredient Singaporean slaw and a kick ass sangria cart; Flame & Smith, a super cool family owned restaurant in Bloomfield, on our way to Prince Edward; the Big Apple, a rest stop kitschy bacchanal, selling every apple treat you can imagine (we went with the fritters, but you’ve got your crumble, pie, turnover, jerky, cider, etc etc; and Schwartz’s in Montreal, home to the smoked “Don’t Call It Brisket” meat sandwich. God bless those Jews who made it over in 1928 to open this slice of carnivore heaven.
Truism 8: Home Is Anywhere You Hang Your Head
A considerable yet essential expense of any vacation is, of course, hotels. I know better than to skimp on hotel accommodations when traveling with my family, or if I’m being honest, myself. We leveraged Bonvoy points to stay at the St Regis in Toronto and the W in Montreal. We hit up the trendy Drake Devonshire, a lakeside inn that was transformed from an old age home into a very cool hipster enclave. In Ottawa we were happy with Le Germain. Pro tip when planning a trip: you want to be careful not to move around too much, or stay in too many hotels. We spent 7 nights in 4 hotels, which was about the maximum moving around I’d recommend. It was nice to have 2 nights in Toronto, 3 in Montreal, and 1 night apiece in the other two spots. By the end, whether your hotel is 1 or 5 stars, you start to feel like an aging rock band on tour, minus the groupies, tour manager and green M&Ms.
Truism 9: Covid Ain’t Over
Canada did a much better job adhering to covid protocols than the US these last few years. Since the issue of masking and vaccinations wasn’t turned into a poison political pill in Canada, they were more responsible. We were diligent with wearing masks in the airport/plane, but were admittedly lax in wearing them throughout the trip. I know this is a lazy excuse, but wearing a mask while on vacation inhibits the freedom sought when traveling. So it should come as no surprise that I tested positive two days after returning home. I traded in my Kerouac-esque highway troubadour lifestyle for a quarantine mattress on the floor of my office. Once I was a modern day warrior with a mean, mean stride; now I’m in the basement, mixing up the medicine. Traded poutine for Paxlovid. But I guess the good news is I made it through my brain fog to put some of this down on paper.