This was the second time that I had been to Toronto for business. Unfortunately, it appeared that this would also be the second time that I would not have an opportunity to get out and see the city. That was too bad, because I had never heard anything but positive reviews of Toronto and from what I had seen it looked absolutely beautiful. Then, on the morning of our last day of meetings, I found out that we wouldn’t need to attend. We had a free day and an option of either flying home a day early or staying for another 24 hours. However, if we stayed we would need to find our own hotel room in Toronto. I was the only one who wanted to stay, but that was fine with me – that left me with the rental car for another day and a flight home. All I needed to do was find a Toronto hotel with a vacancy.
That’s often easier said than done at the last minute. Vacancies can be hard to come by on the day of, especially in big cities. I banged around on my phone and searched for hotel apps. I found one called HotelTonight. I searched for Toronto hotels and was impressed at the quality and quantity of returns. I picked one that I liked and got ready for what I assumed would be an arduous booking process. It was anything but – I had my Toronto hotel room within a matter of minutes. With that, I grabbed my things, jumped in the car and headed to the new hotel, excited at the parts of town I was going to see.
No matter how big or small a city may be, I’ve always found that the best way to get a feel for it is by starting your exploration downtown. This is where the people in these cities converge and you get a good snapshot of what it’s like to follow a routine here. Downtown Toronto is obviously the business and financial center of town, but I also spent some time in Dundas Square, just watching the mix of people. Some were hurrying to their next meeting, others were taking their time strolling along and still others were preparing for some type of performance here. It was a neat area to see.
Yorkville is near downtown, and it’s immediately clear to anyone who sees it for the first time that it is quite upscale. It almost reminded me a bit of Manhattan in New York, although it seems that there is still growth that’s occurring in Yorkville by way of large development investments. I spent some time looking through the windows of some very exclusive-looking boutiques and shops. At that point, I also needed some coffee, and there were plenty of choices for it within a block or two. I picked one that had a nice view of the street and sat and enjoyed my coffee while people-watching.
A bit west of downtown sits Etobkicoke, one of the largest residential neighborhoods I think I had ever seen. As it turns out, this part of town was originally settled back towards the end of the 18th Century by European immigrants, and families began settling here then. Since then, it’s become a true melting pot, with people coming from Europe, Asia, Africa and just about everywhere else. That also meant that there were restaurants serving just about everything imaginable nearby, which was great because I was starving. I stopped in a Middle Eastern restaurant and really enjoyed my meal. I was ready to jump into my afternoon.
I jumped back across the city a bit to visit Cabbagetown, a place with quite a history. This used to be the poor section of town, and local legend says that it got its name because the people who lived here prior to World War II were too poor to cook anything but cabbage. One person told me people used to grow it in their front yards because there was no other space available. These days, it’s become an upscale and very pretty part of Toronto, filled with Victorian homes that some groups are working hard to preserve.
Not far from Cabbagetown is the Toronto version of Chinatown, and it’s also quite a place to see. I didn’t even know there was a Chinatown here, so I spent some time buying some gifts for the important people in my life. Of course, when it got to be dinnertime, I had a hard time choosing which restaurant at which to eat, but the last shopkeeper where I bought gifts gave me a recommendation, which I followed. I’m glad I did – my dinner was absolutely spectacular, and I’ve eaten enough Chinese food to know that this was the real deal. I was quite full and more than satisfied.
As I made my way back to my hotel, I looked back on what had been quite a memorable day. Not only did I get to see a new city, but I got to see a new city from the perspective of what it’s like to live and work here. I also got to use HotelTonight for the first time, which I was sure I’d use again several times in the future. It helped me find a last-minute hotel room in Toronto that was perfect for what I needed.