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Over The Water

Toronto, Canada

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The Canadian city of Toronto really is ‘just over the water’ – the water in question being Lake Ontario, which divides the city from New York State. On very clear days, if you climb to the observation balcony of the CN Tower you can even see the city of Rochester, NY, shimmering on the far horizon.

One of the first things you’ll notice about this city is that no two people who live there can seem to agree on how to pronounce its name. You’ll hear Toronno, Taronno, Taranna, Tranta, Tronta and (from French-speaking residents) Teur-ohn-toe. Basically pronouncing the‘t’ of the final syllable, while not technically incorrect, will indicate to natives that you’re from out of town.

When you’ve made the acquaintance of some of these natives, however, they’ll tell you that Toronto, however you pronounce its name, is a pretty darned great place to live. It’s a beautiful city, carefully maintained and prosperous. It’s a center for culture, sport and the arts, and it’s got just about the lowest crime rate of any major world city you care to think of. Despite the fact that residents seem constantly to be obsessing about rising crime rates, the truth is that this is genuinely one of the safest cities in the world.

As you might expect, there’s more to see and do than you can comfortably fit into a short stay. Toronto’s major landmark, the aforementioned CN Tower, is a must-see for all visitors. It was originally named for the Canada National Railway company, who funded its construction as a tourist attraction and communications center. However, since construction it’s been bought by the Canadian government – so the name now stands for ‘Canadian National’, though that’s the kind of picky distinction that Torontonians don’t care much for. At any rate, it’s a truly stunning piece of architecture. At 533 meters tall, it’s the tallest free standing structure in the world, and has been ever since it was built. There are structures taller than this – mostly TV and radio masts – but they don’t class as freestanding on account of being guyed with steel cable. The CN Tower stays up under its own steam, and is likely to continue staying up for a good many years to come – though there’s a chance it may lose its height record to the up-and-coming Burj Dubai skyscraper in the Middle East, which scheduled for completion in 2008.

You’ll find that most people in the CN Tower aren’t that bothered about threats from distant feats of civil engineering: Torontonians love the tower not for its record-breaking height but for the identity if gives their city and great views it offers over Lake Ontario. You can climb up to the upper and lower observation decks between 300 and 400 meters up the tower. The structure incorporates not just one but two restaurants – the Horizons Café and the 360 restaurant, which serves great food and rotates on the axis of the tower about once and hour, so wherever you sit for dinner you’ll get a great all-round view! If you feel your stomach can take the strain after an excellent meal, you can even take the ride up to the topmost observation deck, SkyPod, at 442 meters.

Back down on ground level there’s much else to see. Once a year Toronto hosts the Canadian National Exhibition. Held in and around the custom-built Exhibition Place, the CNE grew out of the various agricultural shows that used to take place in the area during the nineteenth century. These days it’s a showcase for Canadian arts, culture and technology. In the past couple of years the CNE has been hit a little by the aftermath of the 2003 SARS outbreak, when the deadly Asian virus spread from the Far East and caused a number of deaths in the Toronto area. Tourism – for no good reason – has been a little slow to recover, though the CNE and the city’s re-branding efforts seem to have been having some effect in drawing back the crowds.

Eating in Toronto is a great pleasure – it’s a typical “surf ‘n’ turf” city, and the restaurants make great dishes out of the fish that comes out of Lake Ontario and the fantastic beef produced on the prairie pasturelands to the city’s west. Toronto also has a great tradition of independent brewing. After a few glasses of the local British-influenced beers you’ll find that you’re no longer worry about pronunciation issues, though standing up and walking straight may have become something of a problem.

Toronto is, in many respects, what all cities should be: safe, friendly and fun. In some ways it has suffered from its wholesome reputation. In tourism, as in life, the mad and the bad can make bigger headlines than the straightforward and decent.