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Sunday, April 6, 2003



[ SUNDAY TRAVEL ]


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DENNIS CALLAN / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
On top of the world: The CN Tower in Toronto is the world's tallest free-standing structure, reaching a height of 1,815 feet, 5 inches at the tip of its antenna.




Just like America

Except Toronto is
safer and cleaner

Travel information



On the Map

[ 3 Days In... ]

By Dennis Callan

Toronto is the ideal foreign destination for Americans in a sometimes frightening world. This modern city is safe, friendly, nearby, filled with exciting sights, familiar yet foreign, and a place where our dollar is worth $1.50 Canadian.

Famous for its diversity -- Toronto is home to more than 100 different nationalities -- it boasts a thriving arts scene, world-class museums, the world's third-most active theater schedule, stunning architecture and historic sights.

Most of the highlights are concentrated downtown, so it's easy to get around like a local, walking and riding on the excellent public transit system. If the weather is bad, you can explore a vast underground city of stores, banks and cafes that stretches for 21 blocks.

Many American movies and TV programs are shot in Toronto due to a urbanscape typical of any major city: "Good Will Hunting" (Toronto stood in for Boston), "Finding Forrester" (New York) and "Angel Eyes" (Chicago). Currently, there are 21 TV shows in production and a couple of feature films.

Toronto looks great on the screen, but it's more fun to see it firsthand.

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DENNIS CALLAN / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
No other waterfalls can outdo the majesty and beauty of Niagara Falls, which holds a wet ride for those visitors who board the Maid of the Mist.





Day 1
Eaton Centre, downtown, CN Tower and the waterfront

Day 2
Eaton Centre, downtown, CN Tower and the waterfront

Day 3:
Chinatown, major art museum and Niagara Falls



Day 1

Eaton Centre, downtown, Tower and the waterfront

>> Eaton Centre: Begin at the heart of town at the crossroads of Yonge, Dundas and Queen streets where this major shopping mall has 285 stores and restaurants on three main levels covered by a glass atrium roof. Calling it Eaton has become a misnomer because the department store chain for which it was named went out of business. Sears has now taken over two levels of anchor space.



Toronto is open to visitors, despite SARS

Australia is the only country to advise its citizens against traveling to Toronto because of the SARS virus. Seven people have died from SARS in Toronto -- the site of the world's biggest outbreak outside of Asia.

The World Health Organization has suggested that people not travel to Hong Kong or China's Guangdong province but has not issued a similar advisory about Toronto.


Star-Bulletin news services



Eaton Centre is the most popular place in town, welcoming 1 million visitors weekly. Even if you're not interested in shopping, you've got to stop in and have a look at this architectural landmark. There's a convenient food court in the lowest level on the south end where you can grab an inexpensive meal, or pick from nine different restaurants. There are two metro stations at either end of the center for convenient access.

>> Two City Halls: Looking something like a medieval castle, Old City Hall was designed in the rugged Romanesque Revival style, with huge stones forming battlements, arches and turrets, covering so much ground it was the largest municipal building in North America when opened in 1899. This is truly one of the nation's most impressive structures, but it was considered so ugly at one time that the politicians wanted to tear it down.

The adjacent new City Hall is an equally impressive modern structure with two slender, curving towers facing each other in a broad plaza set with ponds and large fountains. This large public space hosts many events and festivals, and in the winter it becomes an ice skating rink.

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DENNIS CALLAN / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
A tale of two city halls: The Old City Hall was the largest municipal building in North America when opened in 1899.




>> Downtown: Bay Street, leading down from the Old City Hall, is the Wall Street of Canada, lined with soaring modern skyscrapers. Toronto is a megacity, with 5 million people in the metropolitan area, about half of them living within the city limits, and on a workday it looks like they all have jobs downtown. A construction boom took off in the 1980s, partly as a result of big businesses relocating from Montreal to get away from French separatism woes, and the rapid growth continues today.

Looking up can be dizzying, especially at the Bay and King streets intersection, the epicenter of a forest of bank towers. On the southwest corner stands a major complex of three skyscrapers, the Toronto-Dominion Centre, designed by Mies van der Rohe, the guru of modern architecture. Another great architect, I.M. Pei, designed Commerce Court on the southeast corner. First Canadian Place is on the northeast corner, the tallest office building in Canada, at 953 feet.

>> Hockey Hall of Fame: Located in the heart of the financial district inside the ultramodern BCE Place at the corner of Front and Yonge streets is this tribute to Canada's national sport. The Hall of Fame houses memorabilia, video clips and hands-on games. Exhibits include a reconstructed locker room, jerseys of famous players, the evolution of goalie masks and hockey sticks, and a goal where visitors can try out their slap shots. Admission is $7.50.

>> CN Tower: On the south edge of downtown along Front Street West is a tower that makes the downtown skyscrapers look like pygmies. The CN Tower is the world's tallest free-standing structure, reaching a height of 1,815 feet, 5 inches at the tip of its antenna, so understandably this is the most popular attraction in town. You could be tempted to begin your Toronto visit here, and that would be fine, but it is even more impressive to come here after walking through downtown. As you gaze upon those seemingly miniature buildings, you will appreciate how tall they actually are.

About 2 million annual visitors thrill to the experience of taking the one-minute elevator ride up to the main observation deck at 1,100 feet. You can walk indoors or outdoors all around the tower for an awesome panoramic view. They even have a glass floor you can walk across. Look straight down to experience the sensation of floating in space. Don't worry, the reinforced glass is strong enough to hold 14 hippos, so you won't fall through, but those with a fear of heights might avoid it. From the Lookout Level you have the option to continue higher up another elevator to the world's highest observation deck, the Skypod, at 1,465 feet.

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DENNIS CALLAN / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
The new City Hall, right is a modern structure of two curved towers facing each other in a large plaza.




The tower was built over a 40-month period by a work force of 1,500 who labored around the clock to finish in April 1975. There are a two places to eat in the tower, including the quality 360 Restaurant, boasting the world's highest wine "cellar," and the slightly more casual Horizon's Cafe. During the summer season, beginning May 1, the tower opens at 8 a.m. During the rest of the year, it is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

>> Skydome: Next to the tower is another engineering marvel famous for being the first stadium with a convertible top. The Skydome's huge arched roof spans 674 feet, but it is on tracks and can slide open or shut in 20 minutes. Seating for 50,000 is provided for Blue Jays baseball games, or the field can be reconfigured for football with expanded seating for 53,000 fans of the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts.

A few blocks east is Toronto's other big sports venue, the new Air Canada Centre, now home to the Maple Leafs hockey team and the Toronto Raptors NBA team.

>> Waterfront: Just two blocks away, this area has been beautifully developed into a major destination called Harbourfront Centre, featuring modern shopping malls, galleries and restaurants, with refreshing breezes and scenic vistas looking toward downtown and out across Lake Ontario. There are a couple of docks for pleasure boats that can whisk you on a harbor cruise or a visit to the nearby Toronto Islands.

Harbourfront is a larger version of our own Aloha Tower Marketplace and draws a good crowd, especially on weekends when there are crafts, displays and a variety of free entertainment. The most colorful restaurant is Pier 4, a rustic, rambling wooden interior filled with fishnets, diving suits, anchors and sundry nautical gear.

Among the many entertaining waterfront attractions in this three-block area are Queen's Quay Terminal; Premiere Dance Theatre; York Quay Centre, with galleries, studios and a small theater; du Maurier Theatre Centre; the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery; and Canada Quay, with cafes, restaurants and a concert stage.

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DENNIS CALLAN / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
A sailboat docks at the Harbourfront Centre. Toronto has done a great job bringing its waterfront to life. Harbourfront Centre features shopping malls, galleries and restaurants, with scenic vistas toward downtown and out across Lake Ontario.




If you would like a short cruise to the Toronto Islands, catch the ferry next to the Westin Harbour Castle for a 15-minute trip out to Centre Island, where you will find walking paths, beaches, a Ferris wheel, water slide, petting zoo and miniature golf course. One of the rewards is the panoramic view of the city.

If you are hungry when you return to the Harbour Quay, consider an elegant Italian meal at Toula, North America's first branch of this popular Milanese chain, located on the Westin's 38th floor and offering a fabulous view. This elegant romantic experience is available for lunch and dinner.

The St. Lawrence Market is a few blocks inland from Harbourfront, especially popular with locals shopping for fresh produce, meat, fish and cheese. Located on Front Street East near Jarvis, the city's largest food market is in a classic 19th-century brick building constructed in 1844 as the City Hall but now bursting with food stands offering all things edible.

>> Queen Street West: If you have any time or energy left at the end of the day, head over to this street, a trendy hangout for young hipsters, that runs about one mile between University and Spadina avenues. It's also a mile from the St. Lawrence Market, so you might hail a cab, or walk a few blocks north to Queen Street where a tram will take you to the west side. This funky neighborhood is filled with cafes, offbeat clothing shops, record stores, bars and other student magnets.

Around the corner is the Theatre District, with a cluster of major venues featuring such big current hits as "The Lion King," "Aida" and "Mamma Mia."

Day 2

Yonge Street, Yorkville, history museum, university and Little Italy

>> Yonge Street: Begin once again in the heart of town at Eaton Centre, from the intersection of Yonge and Dundas. Continue your exploration by heading north to Yorkville along Yonge Street. This main thoroughfare stretches north for 1,178 miles, making it the longest street in the world, but you can just sample the first mile, which is the most enjoyable part. It's a historic neighborhood with a lot of character and diversity, tinged with some seediness. Many of the old buildings are partly camouflaged with tacky billboards and neon signs that obscure the original facades but are now part of an urban mosaic that make this street unique.

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DENNIS CALLAN / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
A room with a view: Visitors to the CN Tower can look right into the middle of the downtown financial district.




There are no extravagant boutiques or expensive jewelry shops along this stretch of Yonge, but you will find a lineup of thriving retail along both sides of the street selling watches, film, liquor, pizza, used books, discount electronics, novelties, shoes, clothing, military surplus and so on for 15 blocks. Of course there are many places to snack along the way, at a variety of prices.

Yonge Street makes a great urban walk, but if you would rather skip through it, you could take the city bus, which provides a quick look at the shops as you speed along the way; or for a faster ride, take the subway, which runs underneath Yonge. Public transit fare is $1.50 per ride, or $5.25 for a day pass. One way or the other, at the end of the mile you arrive at the charming Yorkville section of town.

>> Yorkville: This is Toronto's most popular shopping neighborhood, offering about three miles of wonderful streets for strolling, ranging from a refined Rodeo Drive atmosphere to funky beatnik. The most elegant shopping is along Bloor Street, where you find expensive designer shops like Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermes, Bulgari, Tiffany and Cartier, along with more affordable shops like Nike, Benetton and the Gap.

This high-end retail experience continues for about a mile along Bloor, from Yonge Street to Avenue Road, and if you would like to stay in this neighborhood, you can pick from three of the city's top hotels: the Intercontinental, across from the Royal Ontario Museum; the Park Hyatt, with beautiful art deco styling; and the world's first Four Seasons, which is headquartered in Toronto.

For an elegant meal at the Zagat Guide's top restaurant, come back later to Truffles in the Four Seasons. If you would rather just enjoy the view from a skyscraper's outdoor terrace roof, have a drink at the Panorama bar, on the 51st floor at 55 Bloor St., open from 5 p.m.

The shopping fun continues with two more parallel streets to double back and forth on, Cumberland Street and Yorkville Avenue. These are more informal than Bloor, with some quirky bohemian elements and small independent shops.

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DENNIS CALLAN / SPECIAL TO THE STAR-BULLETIN
Toronto has the third-largest Asian community in North America, and they shop in Chinatown, along Spadina Avenue.




>> Detour to Casa Loma: North of Yorkville you'll find this medieval fantasy castle on a hill that resembles a Disney version of the Middle Ages gone wild, with turrets, gun slits, rugged stone construction and a high central tower. There is no convenient public transit leading directly to the castle, but you can take the metro to the Dupont station and walk a few blocks north to the Baldwin Steps, which lead up the hill to Casa Loma. Alternatively, this site is visited by tour buses, so if you had signed up for the tour mentioned earlier, you could hop off, then hop on the next bus when finished.

Casa Loma was built in 1914 by John Lennox for wealthy industrialist Sir Henry Pellatt, who lived here until 1924, when he went bankrupt. It was a social showcase of its time, boasting 98 rooms furnished in great splendor and hosting many opulent gatherings until things went bad for poor Henry, who finished his days alone in a grim suburban room.

Now owned by the city and open to the public for a $6 admission fee, the castle tour includes access to all four floors and the beautiful gardens. Highlights include the Great Hall, with a 60-foot-high ceiling, a library and dining room with exquisite wood paneling and sculpted figures, and a cafe in the lower level, which also has an indoor swimming pool.

Aficionados of old homes who have come this far might also visit the Spadina House one block over, which presents another elaborate upper-class interior. Built in 1866, it is the grandest of several 19th-century homes owned by the city and is the only one with original Victorian furnishings.

>> Royal Ontario Museum: On the west edge of Yorkville at the corner of Bloor Street and Queen's Park Avenue, you will find Canada's largest museum, the Royal Ontario. Affectionately called the ROM, this is a great treasure house of history with something for everybody, ranging from insects to Greek statues and 20th-century home interiors. The ROM presents the grand sweep of human and natural history.

The lower level is devoted to Canadian culture. Street level is where you will find the arts of Asia, featuring the largest collection of Chinese artifacts in the Western Hemisphere, including a full-size Ming tomb. On the second level you enter the world of natural history, with 12 galleries designed with dioramas that re-create the environment of birds, mammals and insects, with a reproduction of a bat cave and 13 dinosaur skeletons.

>> University of Toronto: Just behind the ROM on Bloor Street is a lovely walkway with the inviting name of Philosophers Walk that will lead you through the University of Toronto. The picturesque campus is laid out in a traditional British style, with abundant greenery and many buildings in the Gothic style, although the university was founded in the mid-19th century.

After visiting the campus you could stroll across the street to Queen's Park, the site of Ontario's Parliament Building, another massive architectural landmark, built of pink sandstone.

>> Little Italy: The southern boundary of the university and Parliament is College Street, which leads one mile west to Little Italy. This would be an excellent time to hop on a tram and visit this wonderful ethnic neighborhood and maybe find some pizza or pasta for dinner.

A half-million residents of Italian ancestry form Toronto's largest ethnic group and make Little Italy one of the most colorful neighborhoods. Easy to reach by tram 506, Little Italy spreads along five blocks of College Street, a 10-minute ride west of the city center just beyond Bathurst Street where it's like being back in the Mediterranean. Outdoor vegetable markets and sidewalk cafes serve strong espresso.

For decades this had been a working-class section for Italian immigrants, but it is being gentrified, in a positive way: Young hipsters have been attracted by this European atmosphere. They've moved in, taken over a few old shops and transformed them into small art galleries that fit nicely into the eclectic mix of pizza joints, secondhand shops, bakeries, flower shops and restaurants.

After you have had a good look around, it's an easy ride back into town on the same tram 506 that brought you here. You'll want to get off at Spadina Avenue and walk a few blocks south to Chinatown. However, since Little Italy is on the west side of town near Bathurst Street, this would be a good time for history fans to make a detour to visit Fort York, a few miles south.

>> Fort York: Considered to be the birthplace of modern Toronto, this wooden fortress was the first structure built in the area in 1793. Before then, only a handful of French-Canadian and British fur traders had temporary camps in this region. Fort York saw action in the War of 1812 in which American forces attacked with 1,700 soldiers, many of whom were blown up when the fort's gunpowder supplies were torched. Reconstructed after the Battle of York, this is now Canada's largest assembly of military buildings from that era. Admission to the fort is $3.50. When finished, retrace your journey on tram 511, heading north to Dundas, and then transfer onto tram 506 heading back to the center of town.

Day 3

Chinatown, major art museum and Niagara Falls

Continue your sightseeing in the morning, then take an afternoon tour to Niagara Falls, which departs at 1 p.m. and gets you to the falls in plenty of time for daytime viewing, dinner and illuminated nighttime views.

>> Chinatown: Toronto has more Chinese residents than any other Canadian city, and this group makes up the third-largest Asian population in North America, behind San Francisco, which follows New York.

There are at least five Chinatowns in Toronto, but the main one stretches about 10 blocks along Spadina Avenue and the side streets. Food is always the main attraction in Chinatown, with one restaurant after another and sidewalk stands offering mountains of fresh produce, all mixed in a colorful jumble of scent, color and noise. To find a good restaurant, just use the universal rule: Look for a place that is crowded, and you can be assured of a fine meal with good service.

The Kensington Market is one block further west, so walk over for another adventure in shopping in a multicultural world of the Portuguese, Indian, Ethiopian, Caribbean, Vietnamese and others. The market comprises a series of short, narrow streets along which you find open-air sidewalk stalls offering food to trendy retro deals.

>> Art Gallery of Ontario: Walk a few blocks east from Chinatown along Dundas Street to visit the eighth-largest art museum in North America, the Art Gallery of Ontario. Art museums have been rapidly expanding in recent years as the public appetite for paintings, sculpture and contemporary exhibits grows. Regular expansions of the Art Gallery of Ontario over the past 15 years have reflected this trend, doubling the space for its growing collections.

The biggest news is that Frank Gehry, of Bilbao fame, is designing a major new expansion. The world's hottest museum architect grew up on the same street the museum is on, so he is taking a special interest in this project. Work will begin in 2005 and continue through 2007, with the museum remaining fully open throughout the construction process. While not yet widely known in America, this will soon become a world-famous landmark.

There is also an excellent restaurant and large museum shop. Toronto's oldest brick building, a historic mansion called the Grange, was the first home of the museum in 1900, and it still functions as gallery space today, connected to the rear of the main building.

For science buffs the Ontario Science Center is the city's top attraction, with 13 exhibit halls and 800 individual displays, including an Omnimax theater.

Another fun way to spend time is exploring other ethnic neighborhoods, such as Indiatown, Little Poland and Portugal Village. For the best Greek food, head out to Danforth Street's Greektown.

>> Niagara Falls: This is a must-see attraction. Some of the world's other waterfalls are bigger, higher, wider, deeper, but none can compare with the beauty of this site.

Here's a quick tip: When you get there, be sure to find the perfect viewing location at the railing at street level next to the end of the falls and stare, stare, stare for as long as you possibly can. You are so close you can almost reach out and touch it. Most people just take a quick look, pose for a snapshot and then head for the gift shop and toilets (must be the rushing water), but don't fall prey to that tourist syndrome. You are devoting a day to get here, so soak it up as much as you can while you have the opportunity.

Unlike most other sights, these falls are changing every second before your eyes, so they really are putting on a show that can be appreciated over time. The Canadian side you will see at Horseshoe Falls is generally considered much more dramatic than the American side.

An even more spectacular view can be enjoyed from the famous Maid of the Mist boat ride, which runs from May through October and takes you right into the falls for a drenching immersion. They provide flimsy blue plastic rain ponchos that help keep you dry, but you are going to get a little wet. Reluctant riders can stay indoors but miss the full impact. You can also pay an additional fee to walk behind the falls.

There are several tour operators that offer comprehensive trips to Niagara Falls. It takes about 90 minutes to drive to the falls, and you want to spend time there enjoying the view, taking the incredible boat ride and having a meal, so all this usually takes nine hours. Some tours also include a visit to the wine region, the fastest expanding in North America, and a stop at the charming town of Niagara-on-the-Lake.



Dennis Callan is the president of the Hawaii Geographic Society
and produces the "World Traveler" TV series, airing 8 p.m. Mondays
on 'Olelo, channel 52. He frequently leads tours through Europe,
Canada and the United States, and writes "Three Days in ..." the first
Sunday of each month, explaining how to get the most out of three
days in the world's great places.


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If you go ...

Here is a list of places to stay and dine while in Toronto. The area code is 416.


HOTELS

>> Metropolitan Hotel: My favorite, 108 Chestnut St., Toronto M5G 1R3. Call 977-5000 or 800-668-6600; www.metropolitan.com.

Top five luxury hotels
From a Toronto.com poll

>> Four Seasons: 21 Avenue Road, Toronto M5R 2G1. Call 800-332-3442, or 964-0411; www.fourseasons.com.

>> The Fairmont Royal York: 100 Front St. W., M5J 1E3. Call 368-2511; www.fairmont.com.

>> Windsor Arms: 18 St. Thomas, Toronto, M5S 3E7. Call 971-9666

>> Park Hyatt: 4 Avenue Road, Toronto M5R 2E8. Call 800-233-1234 or 925-1234 www.hyatt.com.

>> Royal Meridien King Edward: 37 King E., Toronto, ON M5C 1E9. Call 863-3131 www.lemeridien-kingedward.com.

Top five bargain hotels
From a Toronto.com poll

>> Howard Johnson Selby Hotel and Suites: 592 Sherbourne St., Toronto, ON M4X 1L4. Call 921-3142.

>> Days Hotels and Conference Centre: 30 Carlton St., Toronto, ON M5B 2E9. Call 977-6655.

>> Quality Hotel Downtown: 111 Lombard St., Toronto ON M5C 2T9, Call 800-228-5151.

>> The Fairmont Royal York: (again)

>> Novotel Toronto Centre: 45 The Esplanade, Toronto ON M5E 1W2. Call 367-8900 or 800-668-6835; www.novotel.com.

RESTAURANTS AND CAFES

>> 360 Restaurant: CN Tower, 301 Front St., 362-5411

>> Autogrill Italian: 495 Eglinton Ave. W., 489-0961

>> Auberge du Pommier: 4150 Yonge St., 222-2220

>> Café Diplomatico: 594 College St., 534-4637

>> Corner House: 501 Davenport Road, 923-2604

>> Lai Wah Heen: In Metropolitan Hotel, 108 Chestnut St., 977-0900

>> Little Tibet: 81 Yorkville Ave., 963-8221

>> Marche Movenpick: BCE Place, Front and Yonge streets, 366-8986

>> Pier 4: 245 Queens Quat, 203-1440

>> Salad King: 335 Yonge St., 971-7041

>> Swiss Chalet Chicken & Ribs: 234 Bloor St. W., 972-6831

>> Toula, in Westin Hotel: 1 Harbour Square, 777-2002

>> Truffles: In the Four Seasons: 21 Avenue Road, 964-0411

WEB SITES

>> www.aviewoncities.com

>> www.toronto.com

>> www.cntower.ca

>> www.wheretoronto.com

>> www.casaloma.org

>> www.hhof.com

>> www.hotoronto.com

>> www.ttc.ca

>> www.city.toronto.on.ca

>> www.torontotourism.com

>> www.torontotours.com

>> www.grayline.ca

>> www.swiftrans.ca



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