Getting under the skin of a city in a scant few days is a tricky proposition, but sometimes a city gets under your skin immediately and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Toronto is easily accessible from Cayman these days, and the three-and-a-bit hour flight transports the traveller from beach laze to a city bulging with different nationalities.
We arrive relatively late in the evening, having travelled from nearby Niagara and reach our basic accommodation of an apartment down Dundas Street West situated bang between Chinatown, Little Italy and Little Portugal. It proves to be a smart choice; we almost immediately find a quite exceptional family-run Portuguese restaurant called Vila Verde and gorge ourselves on ultra-fresh, rustic nosh including a brilliantly tender calamari. Indeed, our location means we dine well all week. From Vietnamese frogs’ legs through to Italian meatballs from the aptly-named Hey! Meatball, there’s a plethora of choice in this cosmopolitan city.
A trip to the famous St. Lawrence market also produces not just one of the trip’s culinary highlights but one of the greatest sandwiches we’ve ever had: a peameal bacon bap from Carousel Bakery. It’s a true Toronto classic - the thick bacon is salty and cooked to perfection, the bap soft and yielding and the mustard sauce tangy and exciting. Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Bourdain are all big fans. The market is a haven for fresh produce, artisans and artists - definitely worth the trip.
And worth it to get sustenance for the inevitable trip up the CN tower, where the views of the city are ace and the queues are pretty long. Get there early is our advice. For the ridiculously adventurous there’s the Edge Walk, in which the intrepid traveller can have the dubious experience of being attached to the outside of the building by rope and leaning back. To each their own; we’re content with standing on the glass floor and looking way, way down. The tower’s right next to the baseball stadium and there’s a game on when we visit so we get a very unusual view from above.
The Distillery Historic District is an amazing pedestrianised set of brick-lined streets, which once housed a variety of Victorian industrial buildings including the Gooderham & Worts Distillery. It’s now been re-purposed as a centre for crafts, arts and some incredible places to hang out. The rain falls the day we go and we take the advantage to first visit the ace Mill Street Brewpub, which serves a range of small-batch seasonal brews along with excellent food. The smell of the hops is wonderful and the warm atmosphere of this traditional pub is in itself intoxicating, never mind the hours we spend there sampling our way through some punchily-sweet Helles B Bock, golden Mill Street Pilsner and an excellent IPA. After all that, it’s time to retreat to the Soma Chocolate and Gelato cafe/store for a shot of the chilli-infused Mayan Hot Chocolate. For any chocaholic this is heaven, with house-created goodies available to eat in or take away. We stock up on chocs and find the sun has come back out so it’s time for a trip to Toronto Islands, a short boat ride across the bay. There’s all sorts of attractions in this picnic park including a lighthouse, a children’s garden and the Centreville amusement park. The atmosphere is chilled-out but with kids running about in and out of the fountains (kids love that don’t they?) and the ubiquitous cyclists out for a healthy romp. The point is that even though Toronto is a bustler of a city, with great shopping and entertainment options, you can still get some peace by just nipping across the water. Finally our time is up but we’ve just time to spend the day at the bohemian Kensington market, a short walk down Dundas Street West. The market is a heady blend of vintage stores, ethnic foods and all manner of independent retailers - just the sort of place to really grab a slice of that indie attitude.
Which pretty much sums up Toronto: a place where you can be as slick or scruffy as you feel, where music, art and great architecture sit alongside edgy theatre, classic food and street hot dog stands. Such is the nature of a cosmopolitan city, which is a relatively short hop from home. We arrive back in Cayman utterly refreshed by the experience.