Monday, August 13, 2012

Go for the Parade, Stay for the Island

Recently, I drove over 500 miles from Chicago to Toronto to attend The Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival (AKA Caribana).  When I tell you I was excited, I was EXCITED!  This was my first Carnival type parade and I was seriously like a kid at Christmas.  
My journey began before sunrise, arriving in Toronto early afternoon and the excitement in the air was contagious.  The hotel was buzzing with activity while the sound of calypso music floated through the lobby.  Groups of masqueraders checked in, carrying their colorful costumes and large head pieces. Everyone was in good spirits and why not?  After all, the largest Caribbean style parade in North America was about to happen!

I had some time on my hands so I decided to explore Toronto a bit.  I will admit, I had not done any research on things to do in the Toronto area since my main focus was the parade, so I took the easy way out and spoke with the concierge.  He was eager to share with me all of the best things to do in his town and started his rundown, “Toronto Eaton Centre, CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto Island where there are beaches, including a clothing optional beach”  STOP THE PRESSES…did he just say beaches?  Clothing optional?  Nothing he said after that mattered.  I began my interrogation: 

Me:  I’m sorry.  Did you just say beach?
Him: Yes
Me:  Did you just say clothing optional beach?
Him: *LOL* yes, I did throw that in there
Me:  *hyperventilating* where
Him:  A 10 minute ferry ride across the harbour
Me:   Where is ferry
Him:  Right behind us.  $7 round trip

Ohhhhhh – the joy!  It’s not 2 Girls & a Bikini for nothing!  I had to get there, but it was already mid-afternoon, not to mention overcast skies.  There was always tomorrow – but there was also the parade.  I was in a bit of a quandary.  Surely I would find a way to fit it all in, I simply had to. 

I set out of the hotel to explore downtown Toronto.  First, the Eaton Centre, a beautiful glass structure rising above downtown and filled with over 250 retailers and restaurants. Then a quick walk over to Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto’s version of Times Square, not as large but filled with people and activity.  I walked and walked.  Toronto was busting at the seams and alive with languages and accents.

Evening came and after a quick dinner and a visit to the official “Tribe House” I was off to bed, looking forward to the day ahead.
I arrived at the parade route early to get a prime spot and to be up close and personal with the masqueraders.   The parade was fascinating and more thrilling than I imagined!  The music.  The colors.  The people.  The unity. The diversity. 
I was having a great time, but you know me and the promise of a beach was still calling. The sun was shining bright and it was time to check out this Island I heard about.

Toronto Island is actually several islands, loaded with green space for picnics, a lighthouse, a children’s garden, boat and bike rentals, a farm, wading pools, tennis courts, and of course – BEACHES.  It was beautiful.  I spent the reminder of the afternoon walking and exploring.  This little island was captivating and I was captivated.  The ferry ride back provided the best view of the Toronto skyline.  I was in my happy place.

Sunday afternoon I headed out of Toronto with my car pointed towards Niagara Falls.  I have never seen the Falls in person and excitement began building in me all over again, but I regretted not seeing more of Toronto.  My heart was already planning a return visit with more time to get to know the city, and of course, lots more time on the little island I didn't know existed.

See all of my pictures from the weekend on my FaceBook page!