Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Trip to Canada: Day 1 - Toronto & Niagara Falls

After crossing the U.S.A.-Canada border just after 5 a.m. on Friday, May 22, Canada didn't feel all that much different from the U.S.

Indeed, after spending a day in Toronto, a city that I last visited a decade ago, it felt like Ontario province in Canada was, at first sight, just like America -- with the ubiquitous Walgreen's, obese people, and decrepit roads excluded.

It is hard to fathom that such a large country has a population of just over 30 million. The U.S.A., though slightly smaller in land area than Canada, has a population that is 10 times greater. Canada didn't seem so sparsely populated when looking at the U.S. over the Niagara Falls, but that is because most of the population lives in cities and towns near the border -- the world's longest undefended border, which lies along the 49th parallel and stretches over 3,000 miles.

In any case, Toronto didn't seem like a small city by any means. As Canada's financial capital and most populated city (with a population of some 6 million if including the greater metropolitan area), it felt almost like Chicago on steroids (read: neon). OK, maybe not so much neon as advertisements, but the city did pleasantly surprise me by its architecture: whereas in Chicago our districts are largely distinct by both their ethnic makeup and architecture, in Toronto it was only the former that, perhaps, is similar to Chicago. Walking around central Toronto, one immediately gets the feeling that skyscrapers, three-story houses, and companies' financial headquarters are oftentimes located side-by-side (on the same street), separated by a shop or two. Not exactly gaudy, but it takes getting used to for an American.

However, this is not to say that I didn't enjoy Toronto. In fact, quite the opposite is true: it is an interesting city that is replete with immigrants and cultures. Within six hours, I saw the fringes of Chinatown, various Lebanese eateries, and a march in honor of the dead in Sri Lanka's war with the Tamil Tigers (or vice-versa, depending on your interpretation of history and current events). It's like the Canadian city that doesn't sleep, seemingly a Canadian version of New York, which it is. And it also happens to be a lot cleaner than the Big Apple, too.

Overall, it is a great start on a warm, sunny day to a trip that will take me further north to Montreal, lying some 300 miles northeast of Toronto in Canada's French-speaking Quebec province, and then to Quebec City, which itself is 160 miles northeast of Montreal, or nearly 500 miles away from Toronto.

P.S. Niagara Falls was an amazing site, too. Having last visited Canada in 1999, I forgot just how intense such a waterfall is. It is also quaint how the U.S. and the Niagara Falls from the U.S. side are literally meters away at places. Indeed, Niagara Falls may not be one of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it surely comes close. Rarely have I seen waterfalls this large or intense in other countries (perhaps what comes closest is the Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland). The sheer adrenaline rush that one unmistakably feels the closer one approaches the water has to be experienced to be believed, almost comparable to walking on the Shibuya crossing in downtown Tokyo in concert with thousands of other people.

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