I didn't forget about Canada.
A trip to the Americas felt incomplete without seeing the USA's chilly northern brother, even if I didn't have the time (or the money--dollars aren't cheap, not even Canadian) for a comprehensive visit. Toronto, sometimes known as Polite New York, seemed like the perfect spot to fly home from.
Primarily composed of gleaming skyscrapers and quaint little eateries, Toronto is the embodiment of the manageable metropolis. Threaded by trams, it's just small enough to walk across in a day, and just big enough to be crowded with distractions. From the trendy hipster thrum of Kensington Market to the verdant parks of Central Island, Toronto feels a bit like someone has taken all the nicest parts of other cities, spruced them up, and stitched them together.
But the city isn't just the surface. Beneath Toronto lies The Path--a gigantic, labyrinthine mall that runs under much of the city. It's like something Tolkien's dwarves would have built if they'd been keen on plexiglass and frozen yogurt stands, and it'd be the perfect thing to use as a metaphor for the city's seedy underbelly... if it wasn't so shiny and polished. As it is, it's just hard to think of Toronto as having seedy subterranean secrets. Canadians are so darn polite, even their underworld is well maintained.
Yet there is one obvious aspect of Toronto life that runs against the city's squeaky clean exterior: the city's homeless. Dressed in rags and holding plaintive signs, Toronto's homeless will cross streets, stalk pedestrians, and even enter restaurants to plead for help. I asked one Toronto tour guide for his view on the city's homeless problem. "This is just my opinion," he said, "but a lot of it is, mental health care has gotten way worse in this country recently. People used to be looked after by the health service, but nowadays sadly there's a lot of emphasis on just giving people pills and putting them back out on the streets."
It was a carefully given answer, tone filled with diplomacy and tact. More polite that the Americans but brasher than the British, Canadians can sometimes seem like the peacemaking middle children between the new and old worlds. Used to surviving drastic weather swings (Toronto vacillates between 40 c in summer and -40 c in winter) it's no wonder Canadians seem reluctant to add any additional extremes to their lives.
But perhaps I'm just projecting a little--I am British, after all, and I crave a certain amount of socially enforced tact and emotional repression... even if Canadians are a bit sunnier than my bitterly mannered countrymen.
It rained while I was in Toronto. Not the middling, slightly embarrassed rain of the South American alps (where the rain knows it doesn't belong) or the mad lashing deluges of the tropical United States. Just the kind of dull, grim downpour that reluctantly gets on with falling, much like London's finest autumn weather.
That's how you know it's time to head home, even if the urge is one I reflexively rebel against.
When your bank balance is missing lots of numbers, and you've begun to miss the British weather.
>Canadian cuisine appears to mostly involve taking any given foodstuff, then adding cinnamon, blueberries and maple syrup.
>At $40 to go inside, Toronto's famous CN tower seems overpriced. But it's an incredible useful navigation aid--thanks to the tower, you always know which way is North.
>Toronto is of course famous for its appearances in American movies and television, where it tends to play Chicago.