Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 26, 2013

Travel twist in Toronto

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — The thrill of traveling is in the unexpected, and sometimes the exhilarating starts off disappointing.

My latest trip to Toronto, Canada, was suppose to be centered around watching my favorite band. While there, we planned to ascend to the top of one of the world’s largest buildings and Carl planned to get an old-style Navy tattoo from a well-known artist there.

Almost immediately, our trip took a turn from the expected. As we rounded Lake Ontario on the way in, I squirmed in my seat with anticipation of seeing the skyline. I was greeted instead by a wall of gray clouds.

When we finally exited the highway, a mile from our downtown hotel, I still couldn’t see the CN Tower because heavy rains had begun falling. Over the next 30 minutes, the streets became rivers and the plan to spend a night on the town was washed away.

Over the next seven hours, Toronto received the rain of a lifetime. It caused flooding and widespread power outages, shutting down part of the subway system and canceling scheduled events.

 The next morning, low clouds continued to threaten rain and the tops of its tall buildings remained hidden from view. We totted umbrellas to the tattoo shop, but found although we arrived before it opened the parlor was completely booked by other walk-ins.

We tried to shake off the disappointment, and stay positive while praying the rains wouldn’t affect the concert later that night. We ate lunch a few blocks from the city center where skyscrapers supposedly rose above us still invisible in the clouds.

By 4 p.m. the skies had begun to clear and we headed to the venue full of anticipation. We had our best seats ever, and we were excited.

Then 30 minutes before show time the news came. The concert had been rescheduled due to the storm’s havoc on local transportation.

We were crushed. As we turned to slog back toward the city to catch a cab, we grumbled in disappointment.

Toronto hadn’t turned out as we had expected. We should have gone to Florida instead, we agreed.

Then something remarkable happened. We found ourselves walking along the harbor just as the sun was setting. The skyline came into view and Lake Ontario sparkled as sailboats bobbed in the harbor.

In Chinatown, we settled on a dumplings for dinner, agreeing after the meal they were the best we’d ever eaten. Back at our bed and breakfast, we sipped wine on the balcony and watched the CN Tower’s light show.

The next morning dawned clear and bright and we took a ferry to the Toronto Islands. It was here on a quite beach along Lake Ontario that we realized despite our initial feelings, we were falling for Toronto.

It was simply unlike any other city we’d ever visited. The mix of peoples and cultures was unique and unexpected, and, unlike many big cities, people were friendly, warm and relaxed.

At the same time, the excitement and energy was palpable. A quick count of high-rise cranes rising in the distance was undisputable evidence that the city is growing rapidly.

Then there were the amenities, recycling receptacles outpaced trash cans, public transportation was abundant — and functioning even after historic rains. There was green space tucked in around almost every corner. Green space, I had noticed, that often featured manicured French-style gardens, which I love.

Then there is the food culture. There were breweries galore, raw milk cheeses, local wines and plenty of fresh fish. That’s not counting the coffee houses, creperies and bakeries, pubs, gelato shops and bistros.

By the next morning, Toronto had leap-frogged to the front of our “favorite big cities list.”  As we headed south on the next leg of our Canadian adventure, we were already plotting a return trip.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by email at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com.