Swept up in a Toronto summer

Riot of colour: Frilly crinoline petticoats hanging along the street are a quaint sight at the Kensington Market area in Downtown Toronto.

Streetcars, sharks, pandas and parasols about sum up what visitors to this Canadian city will see.

THIS summer, Canada’s largest city, Toronto, will be vibrantly alive. Just watch out for construction! The biggest news here is the planned opening this summer of Ripley’s Aquarium, a US$130mil (RM416mil) project that is Toronto’s first big new tourist attraction in two decades.

It will be home to 15,000 fish and other creatures. It also promises a moving walkway that passes through a tunnel below a 2.8mil-litre (750,000-gallon) shark lagoon.

On a windy April day, I walked to the aquarium in the shadow of the CN Tower to find dozens of workmen toiling on the unfinished glass building.

“When will it be done?” I inquired.

“Never,” said a grinning, hard-hatted workman. “The outside windows won’t keep out the rain, and the inside windows won’t keep in the fish.”

Ah, a little aquatic joke! The aquarium was supposed to start stocking fish tanks in June and open this summer, according to Ripley’s spokeswoman Erin Burcham.

The public transit system is easy to navigate in the city, where C$20 (RM62) will get you seven ride tokens.

But fish are not the only tourism story here. In furry mammal news, the Toronto Zoo has just welcomed two giant pandas from China, which arrived in March. The zoo will showcase Er Shun and Da Mao for at least five years.

The third thing tourists should know about Toronto this summer is that there will be a lot of construction in this booming city. Spindly cranes reach for the clouds as new glass skyscrapers rise. The biggest disruptions are on Front Street, which is partly closed, and at Union Station – all part of a giant five-year renovation to modernise.

Many tourists are familiar with Toronto from its earnest days as a Phantom Of The Opera one-note destination. Today, the multicultural city welcomes two million visitors a year from the United States – and this ever-growing city of 2.7 million people spreads out like a colourful quilt.

Most American visitors get the hang of riding the Toronto TTC subway with its U-shaped route. Many still shy away from the bright red streetcars, which require one to run into the street and jump onto a car packed elbow to elbow.

That is too bad because the streetcars generally run east and west to supplement the subway, which primarily goes north and south. And the same US$3 (RM9.60) token works for both. Just elbow your way on. When you want to get off, pull the yellow cord.

Shoppers looking for something offbeat can check out wares at Kensington Market.

This summer will also be lively at two of Toronto’s most endearing spots, St Lawrence Market and Kensington Market, the two places that tourists often mix up.

St Lawrence Market is a real market. One giant hall has dozens of vendors and farmers selling fish, meat, fruit, vegetables, pastries – everything from halibut heads to tulips. There is a Saturday farmers market, a Sunday antiques market and more activities that spill out onto the streets. The market is on Front Street at Jarvis, a few blocks east of Union Station.

Toronto’s cosmopolitan atmosphere is obvious in the many ethnic wares sold by vendors, such as these colourful parasols found on Spadina.

Kensington Market is a groovy neighbourhood near Chinatown north-west of Spadina and Dundas. (Both streets have streetcars, so take a chance and ride one to the market.) During the summer, on some days, the area becomes a pedestrian-only zone.

One of the coolest little corners is where Kensington meets Baldwin, home of the Good Luck Shop. “The name brings good luck to the customers,” says the manager of the shop that sells games, socks, clocks, wigs and assorted low-budget merchandise. Across the street is Global Cheese, from which the ripe smell of Stilton drifts into the street.

Houses in unique hues along Kensington Street add character and contrast to the city’s skyscrapers.

On the blocks nearby are wares for sale, including frilly petticoats, macrame hammocks, artisan bread, curried goat meat, chocolate truffles and buckets of parasols; in other words, all the necessities of life in modern Toronto. — Detroit Free Press/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

For details on all these and other events, go to www.seetorontonow.com.

New for tourists in Toronto

Ripley’s Aquarium – At 288 Bremner Blvd., next to the CN Tower. Admission not yet set but other Ripley’s Aquariums are US$24.99 (RM80), US$12.99 (RM41.50) for children ages three to 11. (www.ripleyaquariums.com/canada/, 647-351-3474)

CN Tower EdgeWalk – Season Three is now open for those who want to walk on the outside ledge of the tower. (www.cntower.ca, 416-868-6937)

Legoland Discovery Centre – This just opened near Canada’s Wonderland. It’s an indoor playland, with rides, LEGO building areas and replicas of the Toronto skyline built with LEGO blocks; US$22 (RM70.40), US$18 (RM57.60) for ages three to 13, free for ages two and younger. (www.legolanddiscoverycentre.ca/toronto/)

If you go:

Getting around: Use public transit, unless you are physically challenged (subways have a lot of stairs and walking).

Lodging: Toronto is the biggest city in Canada, with major metropolitan city prices to match. Lodging is generally US$180 (RM576)t o US$350 (RM1,120) a night. Make sure any hotel-rate quote includes taxes and fees.

Dining: Toronto’s varied dining scene means you can try high-end restaurants every night or choose tiny ethnic restaurants (my preference). Lots of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, hole-in-the-wall spots save your budget without sacrificing flavour.

Mobile phones: Beware of international roaming charges on your cell phone. Contact your carrier to confirm service rates.

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Swept up in a Toronto summer


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