Overlooking Toronto

Toronto on the surface pretty much feels like the U.S., except there are slightly different accents, sentences punctuated with “eh” and signs translated in French. Someone lame is a dude bro, and fries with gravy are totally natural.

I knew little about Toronto and preferred to keep it that way.

“Toronto?” A Canadian friend said after I asked him what there was to do there. “Go to Montreal. Or Vancouver.”

“CN Tower,” said my friend in Virginia. “The glass floor is ridiculous.”

Other than that, my inquiries went unanswered, and I was beginning to think that despite being so close to American (Well, U.S. American) soil, Toronto was uncharted territory.

When it comes to travel, there are universal responses at the mention of certain places. Somewhere European, Asian or  exotic-sounding usually elicit unified expressions of “Awesome!” and “Wow!” My mention of Toronto, on the other hand, was met with confusion: “Why?”

While it’s perfectly acceptable to venture to certain places without purpose (No one ever asks “Why Italy?” for instance), places like Toronto require explanations. I’d like to say I had a real desire to learn more about our North American neighbor and its biggest city, but my reasons weren’t quite so ambitious. A friend needed to go there for a conference, and accommodations were provided. I hadn’t been on a plane in about a year, much less out of the country, so I figured it was time.

I rarely thought about Toronto before the trip and even after booking the flight I’d all but forgotten about it. The night before I left, it suddenly dawned on me I had no idea where we were staying or how close it was to the airport. A few quick Facebook messages solved that, and soon I was on my way to see Canada for the first time.

I often draw energy from places — New York has a distinct energy that at times can be overwhelming — but in Toronto I felt nothing. I was OK with that. Being a writer means having to possess some sort of imagination and the ability to find something interesting in anything. I briefly consulted some sites and decided the best way to take in Toronto was to wander somewhat aimlessly.

I was quickly reminded not everyone traveled this way.

For 31 years the CN Tower was the tallest free-standing structure in the world.
In 2007, Dubai unveiled the Burj Khalifa.

A burst of color.

Lovers above the city.

Tiny, tiny world.

Lurking behind my friends.

Long way down.

Shiny surfaces.

A Brush With Royalty

After climbing a hilly sidewalk to get to Casa Loma, we stumbled upon soldiers in uniform.

They were lined up facing the mansion, and a small crowd had begun to gather. I saw a woman in black walk solemnly into the house. Was it a funeral? An arrest? We later learned they were celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, Canada’s oldest infantry regiment. Another gawker told us a princess was about to exit.

Twenty-five minutes of much of the same, and 30 pictures with different angles of much of the same, the colonel-inchief finally appeared.

Princess Alexandra, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and 33rd in line of succession to the British throne, emerged from the mansion in a white suit and blue scarf. The men welcomed her. She approached them, briefly speaking with each and apologizing for keeping them waiting. She addressed them casually, at least as casual as royalty could be, as if no one was watching.

I’d gotten a great spot away from the crowd and just a few feet from the guards. As soon as the princess approached the men, however, the official photographers blocked my view. My height impediment (and the fact that I’d run out of memory) restricted me from taking too many photos, so I just watched and absorbed the moment.

After addressing the men, she spoke to a spectator. She talked to the girl as if she’d seen her before, though I’m sure she was just a stranger in the crowd.

Then, with a wave, the princess was whisked away.

Minutes before the princess’s grand exit.

Cameras galore.

In height order.

Perfectly still.

Switching places.

Falling in line.

“I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.”

Fancy photographer in the distance.

Everyone but the princess.

Princess Alexandra.

Final salute.

Update: This post made it to WordPress’s “Freshly Pressed” list today, which the site describes as “The best of 300,828 bloggers, 278,358 new posts, 336,321 comments, & 63,502,639 words today on WordPress.com.”

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