Last weekend I took a trip up to Toronto to visit a high school friend I hadn’t seen in a while. The little getaway consisted of an 11 hour Megabus ride back and forth, a fake beach, a giant mall, some interesting cafes, a lot of food, and a lot of money well (?) spent.
The bus ride itself was what I had expected at the rate of $120 round-trip. I was mashed in an uncomfortable aisle seat between a woman donning pajamas and fluffy slippers who would not stop carrying out a loud phone conversation past midnight even when the couple in front of us politely asked her to lower her voice, and an aspiring rapper who insisted on sharing his life story even though all I wanted to do was sleep through the bus ride. I was finally able to pass out, albeit waking up occasionally. I woke up for about the twentieth time to see day lighting up a gloomy-looking Buffalo, New York, from where we crossed the Peace Bridge into Canada. After going through immigration and napping sporadically some more, we finally approached Toronto.
My first impression was: glass, and so much of it. Fancy apartment complexes and office buildings made of pristine glass towered over the highways leading into downtown Toronto. I had just come from the North Philadelphia, and was unaccustomed to being surrounded by so many infrastructures that just screamed wealth. After being blinded by a couple more blocks of expensive apartment condos (many of which were uninhabited) I was finally able to escape the bus which I had been imprisoned in for 11 hours; a joy comparable to the happiness I felt at seeing my friend again.
Amidst catching up with my friend, sightseeing, and various other activities, there were three places I visited on my trip that really stood out to me. The first, which we visited on the first day after I’d had a few hours to rest, was the Castle Board Game Café. It was a cozy little set-up staffed by hipster-looking twenty-somethings clad in dark clothing, dyed hair, tattoos, and a couple piercings each. The walls were lined with shelves brimming with board games spanning over decades. Among them, I spotted a nostalgic-looking Candyland neglected in one corner, several Snakes and Ladders spread around, a couple of Scattergories, and TV trivia board games for The Office, Lost, and Desperate Housewives, which I got embarrassingly excited about. At $2.50 CAD an hour for the games, it was a great place to relax, get ridiculously competitive, have fun, and have a glass of Amsterdam Natural Blonde, which I learned was a local favorite. I hadn’t heard of any similar establishments in Philadelphia and made a mental note to look into whether there were any board game cafés in Philly and if not, to make it my potential business venture.
The next day, we headed out to Sugar Beach early in the morning (2pm in the afternoon. Sleeping sporadically on the bus had taken its toll on me). As my friend reiterated several times so I would not have unrealistic expectations, Sugar Beach was not a real beach. Originally a derelict parking lot, it had been transformed in 2010 to revitalize Toronto’s waterfront and create a popular destination for relaxing and more importantly sun-tanning, which was our main purpose for being there (fun fact: I am perpetually pale). After a couple hours of being burnt to a crisp, we packed up and roamed around downtown Toronto for some sightseeing. We visited the CN Tower, but being poor college students on a budget, did not ride the elevator up to the top ($35.00 CAD!). On the way home we also stopped by Union Station, which I learned was like Toronto’s version of New York’s Grand Central Station and with its connections to numerous cities, admirable architecture, and symmetrical design, I could see why.
We planned to spend my last day at the famed Eaton Centre, stopping first at a small brunch place named Over Easy for some delicious pancakes and heavenly maple syrup. Named the second-largest mall in Canada in 2014, Eaton Centre definitely earned its reputation as a major tourist destination with a million visitors a week and almost 300 stores to offer. Within just the first half hour of exploring the mall I had counted four or five Aldo stores, which seemed a little unnecessary. To me, the endless sense of walking in the mall was almost reminiscent of exploring the Louvre. The overwhelming crowds of people also made me feel like I was right at home back in overpopulated Hong Kong. I’m not complaining; I was in need of a new pair of sandals and the abundance of stores gave me countless options to choose from. We also ducked into an emptier dress shop, trying on princess-like gowns while feeling like we were back in high school searching for the perfect prom dress, which we had actually done together back then (I feel ancient).
The day came to an end with a rushed taxi ride to the Megabus station after saying goodbye. I recognized a few familiar faces on the bus ride back to Philly, and amongst them was Aspiring Rapper himself who somehow managed to situate himself near me again. Having successfully secured a more comfortable window seat this time, I was able to tone out his narration of his weekend in Toronto after some time (imagine his dismay at learning Montreal was a five hour drive from Toronto and not right next to it!) and fell asleep.