No puking toddlers or harried families on this flight, it was pinstriped suits and one weird Nordic guy with a laptop and a “HACKER” T-shirt all the way. I had an exit row bulkhead aisle seat, which was nice, but on this B737(?) that means there was no window, just a teensy porthole to squint at. We took off on time, business class was served refreshment but we weren’t, and pretty soon we landed. But there are worse things than uneventful flights.
As downtown Toronto seemed to have no sensibly priced/available with points Marriotts, I spent the night at the Fairfield Inn Toronto Airport, which has drawn rave reviews (for an FI) on Flyertalk. I was bumped up into a thoroughly unnecessary if not unwelcome suite, had my Platinum water & pretzels waiting, and had an edible and not unreasonably priced meal at the cafe downstairs. (This is the hotel’s Achilles heel; there are absolutely zero other eating options in the vicinity, unless you can eat gravel or ball bearings.)
Next morning, earlier than I would have liked but still in a bit of a rush, I hit the gym, the buffet breakfast and the airport shuttle back to YYZ. Air Canada’s website states in no uncertain terms that baggage can only be checked in from 4 hours before a flight, but I tried my luck anyway and was pleasantly surprised that they took in my bag without the slightest quibble. My ATM luck was still zilch though, so I ended up changing US$40 cash into C$40.50, a rate that could charitably be described as ungenerous, but certainly does wonders for any Canadians with lingering currency inferiority complexes.
And then it was time to face the Toronto Transit Commission and try to make my way into the city. The TTC offers handy day passes and packs of five tokens, but they’re not available at the airport: your only choice is to fork out C$2.75 in exact change for a single fare, which is kinda tough if you’ve only got tens and two quarters. Luckily, the bus driver (who probably sees this all the time) let me board for free, and the Airport Rocket’s destination, Kipling station, had a token-o-mat.
It was around 11 AM by the time I reached the city center, leaving me around 4 hours to sightsee. The Art Gallery of Ontario was closed, and the Royal Ontario Museum seemed rather to massive to tackle, so I tried the Gardiner Ceramic museum instead. It was small, but very nice (well, at least if you share my unmanly hobby of collecting Asian pottery), if fairly expensive at $12 a throw. Walking down through the U of Toronto grounds was free though, and I saw more attractive Indian women in one hour than I did during 6 months in Delhi. A loop through Chinatown, where I was delighted to find the Merlion Singaporean Restaurant yet bitterly disappointed to find it closed — I ended up wandering into a very Chinese shopping mall (you can always tell by the smell of dried seahorses wafting from the herbalist) and into the basement, where I correctly surmised there’d be cheap food aplenty. There were half a dozen stalls with an identical deal: pay C$3.50 and get your choice of 6 toppings piled on rice… and when they said pile, they weren’t kidding. Quality was queasy (pink mincemeat is never a good sign) and, while authentic, it was still terrible. Sometimes pinching pennies is a waste.
Then past the CN Tower to the Harbourfront, which with its flocks of seagulls (lakegulls?) and pointy buildings rather reminded me of Vancouver minus the mountains. A detour into the Design Exchange, a purposeful stroll through a small chunk of PATH, a photo of egregious misuse of umlauts (you talkin’ to me?) and then it was time to head back to the airport.
After taking off, the aircraft did a 270 degree turn and flew over central Nassau and Paradise Island, rising up in its emerald majesty from the fathomless depths. Da-yamn.
They say Canada feels American if you arrive from Europe and European if you arrive from America, and boarding Air Canada flights fits the pattern. This A319 is old and crusty, but not as bad as mainline US carriers; seat pitch is bad, but not terrible; your meal is free, but booze still costs money; and there’s some inflight entertainment, just not much of it. Kind of a halfway house, in other words.
The plane arrived at Toronto more or less on time; unfortunately, Toronto was in the process of being hammered by a thunderstorm, so the pilot flew leisurely bumpy loops around it for an hour, allowing all passengers to get a good look at the impenetrable fog. Engrossed in my laptop, it didn’t even occur to me that others might find this distressing, but there was an audible groan when the pilot announced for the third time that we’d be on the ground in “20 minutes”, and only when landing (with distraction devices packed away) did I realize that the cabin was getting kinda whiffy. After landing, we spent another good half hour sitting around on tarmac, and the increasingly puke-laden atmosphere prompted the little girl in the seat in front of me to announce that she was going to be sick, even though the plane was perfectly stationary. On the way out, slowed down by an interminable shuffle of strollers and oversized carryons, we all got a good luck at the cause of the carnage: two green-faced toddlers and a spew of projectile vomit over any nearby seats. Welcome back to reality.
The new international wing of Toronto Pearson opened in January 2007, a mere 3 months before my first visit, so it’s nice and new-looking, although I do like the way they’ve nostalgically clung onto that fixture of North American airports, the big red dot LED panel, and used “dot matrix” fonts for spelling out gate numbers, baggage carousel numbers, etc. Immigration was fairly painless, with the agent spending most of his time looking for the fullest possible page in my passport and then clobbering a Korean stamp with his maple-leaved overprint, but baggage took ages to arrive.
I then had my first suspicion that this airport wasn’t quite up to its appearance when I had some trouble locating the exit from the baggage carousels. My suspicions deepened when the ATM manifestly refused to be where the map said it should be, and none of the three I eventually found would accept Visa Plus (which is, after all, only the world’s most common system) despite wanting $2 service fees. Every American airport has a handy panel of courtesy phones from where you can call your hotel; but YYZ doesn’t. Hotel shuttle signage was absent, but I consulted the map (of missing ATM fame) and navigated my way to the basement, which had a lonely looking stand outside. A call to the hotel on my own dime then revealed that the shuttle stops at “S5”; I peered around quizzically, unsuccessfully looking for numbers or letters on the stands scattered about, until I realized that the concrete pillars holding up the building were numbered high up, and “S5” was waaaaaaaaay at the other end, near the stand labeled “Group Drop-Off Only”.
Once I eventually schlepped myself to the other end, I lucked out and caught the shuttle almost immediately, and when I whined about how difficult it was to find, the driver commiserated: “Yeah, everybody else says that too.” Sigh.