I wanted a decent night’s sleep, but jet lag clearly had other times. I woke up about five times, completely confused as to what time it was (had to check my watch, phone and tablet to figure out what time was right), before giving up at 6 and getting up. I even have to wait for breakfast, as the bar below doesn’t start serving until 7:30. Normally I’d just go out and buy something to eat, but HI-Hostel offer you 50% off your first meal in their bar ‘The Cavern.’ With this deal, I grab ‘The Backpacker’ – two eggs, 3 rashers of bacon, hash browns, toast and beans. It’s more than enough to keep me going, and I head upward to look at all the tourist pamphlets and plan my next move.
Despite the forecast promising rain, it looks fairly dry out, so I decide I’ll explore the city and head towards Casa Loma, a castle-like building on the outskirts of the main area of Toronto, at least an hours walk. I could take public transport, but then I won’t see the city. Besides, the easiest way to get there is to head to Spadina Street, which is home to Chinatown, something I wouldn’t mind seeing.
The weather stays dry throughout the two-mile walk, and I get to check out Chinatown with is lined along both sides of the very wide highway street. Most of the shops are fruit stands or tourist stalls, and they spread along the side streets if you dare take a peek.
It takes me closer to 90 minutes to make it to Casa Loma since I’m exploring the area, but walking it was definitely the right choice since I got to appreciate the area too. The building was the pride and joy of Toronto business owner Henry Pellat, who wanted to create a European style castle in Canada. Although it wouldn’t look out of place in America, it raised a lot of eyebrows in Canada for its outlandish design. Sadly, it was never fully completed, as Pellat lost much of his fortune in the Great Depression and had to give up his dream home. It’s had a fascinating history, and been at risk of demolishing more than once, but has now become an iconic feature of Toronto. Thanks to my Hi-Hostel membership, I also got in for $22.50 instead of $25.
There are 98 rooms, including a beautiful conservatory, a cinema, several bedroom suits and even an underground tunnel connecting the Hunting Lodge, Greenhouses and Garage across the road to the main building (so that servants could cross the roads without issue). It also has two secret doors that lead to different floors (records state there are three, but the third has never been found).
Casa Loma is also something of a Hollywood celebrity. Since a lot of movies get filmed in Toronto for financial reasons, when a movie needs a ‘mansion-style’ room, it often gets filmed here. In the basement, they run a film reel of some of the movies Casa Loma has featured in – such as Scott Pilgrim, Mortal Instruments, the Pacifier and the remake of Rocky Horror Show. Possibly the most famous however, would be the X-men movies – The Oak Room was Professor Xavier’s office, and the Peacock Avenue was the hallway Logan hid from students as he tried to escape (clearly with some additional panelling hiding the exit and the entrance to the third floor).
It also has escape rooms, and unlike the ones I’ve done before, these ones allow solo players as they advertise for 12 people, so I’ll probably be popping in here at least once next week!
It takes about 2 hours to explore the place. Even longer if you choose to listen to every part of the audio guide (free from the gift shop), but I found it a little dull after a point and skipped through some of it.
By the time I made it back to the hostel, I’d walked over 5 miles and my jetlag started creeping up on me, so I found myself recovering in my room for a few hours, before forcing myself up and heading to the nearest supermarket. In Toronto, that was a Metro.
After a year of painful prices in New Zealand, I was curious to see what I’d be paying in Canada for food. It’s not as cheap as the UK can be, but it was a definite improvement on what I was paying in New Zealand…right up until I remembered the minimum wage here is significantly lower and it might not be that great anyway. It’s going to be hard to tell until I have to budget on a wage.
My biggest frustrations are naturally the milk types though. WHY can’t this be a universal thing? Every time I go to a new country I have to decipher the codes they’ve chosen for their milk. It should not be this hard to figure out which one is semi-skimmed, but I still took me ten minutes and a lot of guesswork. I also got a nasty surprise when I bought Special K and found that in Canada, these are as skinny as corn flakes and interspersed with the odd rice krispie.
Oh, and milk is sold in plastic bags, so that’s a thing.