It had been an odd start to my Toronto trip. I’d been over-questioned by border control, my hostel was far from the party central I was expecting, and I was having to think of more and more creative ways to omit the fact that I was sleeping with three men from my curious mother.
The only thing that made sense on that first morning, was food. And that’s what brunch spot Sunset Grill delivered me, in the form of a bacon omelette, toast, home fries, and unlimited coffee.
My faith in the city was soon restored. An hour later, I made my way back to the hostel feeling happy, albeit slightly too full, to snatch a bit of WiFi before really exploring the city for the first time. I’d signed up for an “urban” walking tour that ran “come rain or shine”, and promised to show me around the “real” Toronto – along with a free Jamaican patty and bottle of water. Amazing!
However, a delightful email popped up to tell me that on account of the impending rain showers, there’d be no tour today. So much for that rain or shine thing, eh? I’d planned on learning about some cool city hangouts during the tour, but now I had all this time, and no real idea of how to spend it.
Undefeated, I booked myself onto a second tour (cheers, Google) and killed some time in the mall before arriving at the meeting point at 1.03pm, ready to finally see some of the city… so imagine my disappointment to find I was the only one there!
I was only three minutes late, for goodness’ sake – didn’t they account for people getting lost on the way? Surely they hadn’t really left without me?
A quick look back at the booking information and I’d realised another error, completely of my own making…this tour runs every SATURDAY, and SATURDAY alone. I was 24hrs early.
As the contents of Canadian clouds began to drip from my brolly into my trainers, I took refuge in the nearest Starbucks to dry off and regroup. After incurring the fail that was my room booking, less than a full day later I’d happened upon my second traveller fail: not having a literal rainy day plan. And it did not feel good.
A crisis WhatsApp call with my extremely organised best friend later, I decided not to let the rain, nor the wasted hours get me down and find a way to turn this flop of a day around. I also decided to drop a line to a girl from Toronto who I’d met while I was in NYC: Nancy.
After about half an hour of dollar-beer-infused chat last year, we’d exchanged Facebook details and promises to hit each other up if we were ever visiting the other’s city. And here I was, making good on that promise. It was a long shot, but you know what they say: ‘When in Toronto, contact an acquaintance to see if they’ll grab a coffee with you…’
I voyaged uptown to the Royal Ontario Museum and soon felt cultured and intellectual – that’s what three hours of First Nation displays and Ghanaian flag exhibits will do for you.
Then, I managed to interrupt the dinner of two aging socialites on the Roof Lounge of a nearby hotel, for a panoramic view of the city. TripAdvisor had told me it was a great viewpoint, but I’d missed the part where they mentioned it was a fancy, very busy restaurant where I’d have to lean over paying guests to get my shot.
Never mind, I did it for the ‘gram – used my selfie stick and all, like a true, annoying tourist.
6.00pm. I was back downtown, and there was only one thing I wanted to eat: poutine! And though I should probably have been more authentic when eating my very first officially Canadian dish, I decided to chuck some pulled pork on it – and I swear, I ascended to some strange, higher realms of pleasure during those 7 minutes of chips, gravy, cheese and meat heaven.
It was getting dark outside. By this time, I’d learnt a little something, eaten a big something and was at a loss for what to do for the rest of the evening. So I went for the safe option – drink something. A nearby bar provided me with wine, cocktails and my beloved WiFi. After explaining to bar staff that I’d come with no defined plan of what to do, I thought I may as well take this time to figure out how I’m going to spend the next four days.
And whaddaya know? My NYC acquaintance, Nancy, left me a message!
Hi Nicole, welcome to my city! Plans tonight? It’s my friend’s birthday and he is having this fancy shindig, predrinks and hors d’oeuvres at his house, then limo pick up and bottle service ALL COVERED. He said I could extend the invite to you!
A party?! On Friday night? I barely read anything else – I was SOLD. I’d planned on spending the rest of the evening continuing to chat up the three-toothed Scotsman behind the bar, but funnily enough, this sounded like a much better plan!
Outfit alteration – check.
Uncertain travel to the outskirts of Toronto – check! I took the subway, then a city bus, then walked for ten minutes down a dimly-lit street with no data, no Google Maps, and with no-one knowing where I was. In hindsight, I was really playing the safety lottery a little too much.
I reached the birthday boy’s house, and Nancy spared me the potential awkwardness of having to explain who the hell I was by greeting me at the door. Happy to report, she was awesome! Friendly, bright and a sharp sense of humour, she had a glow about her that made you want to be her friend instantly. Hazy memories from the pub crawl on the Upper West Side last year failed to give me any real impression of what to expect, but I was glad that my previous instincts had served me well. (Later on, I also discovered that she was woke AF. When you find someone who you can have a full conversation about police brutality and white privilege with, within about an hour of re-meeting, you’ve found a good one!)
In any case, she’d invited me, a Facebook stranger, to her mate’s b’day night out – so even if she hadn’t said a word more to me, I’d have been grateful to have something to do in the very least.
I only had about 30 minutes at this pre-drinks before it was time to leave for the club – and were we all about to hop back onto the hood bus? Or clamber into some Ubers?
Of course not – for outside was a stretch Limousine, waiting to deliver us to our party destination! A limo, people! It was like My Super Sweet 34, and I LOVED it.
Birthday boy Blake was not messing around! Arrival at the club saw our party walk straight in, with at least four bottles of alcohol waiting for consumption at the table. And this was no watered down Apple Sours shots, a la Tiger Tiger – this sh*t was serious …Belvedere Vodka, and Hendricks Gin, honey!
If my Snapchats had saved, you’d see drunken footage of me, trying to keep the beat to trance music with Nancy and her friend Vivien. It’s probably for the best that those videos are no more.
Anyway, the only time I opened my purse that night was to pay the taxi driver on the way home. Can you say SUCCESS?! And as I travelled back to my hostel and my dorm full of sleeping men, I tried to take stock of the unexpected turn my day had taken. From what I thought was the start of a totally fail trip turned into one of the most spontaneously, unforgettable nights of my life – and all thanks to the kindness of a relative stranger. Would I have been as kind to a random visitor to London?
Despite the hiccups, I realised that good things can be just around the corner if you open yourself up to them. My rocky beginning had made me so close to falling into that easy downward spiral of self-mocking and disappointment, feeling that I was completely trashing the great travelling hopes that friends and family had of me. Yes, I’d made a few missteps; clearly, a more thorough planning session would have made things a lot less challenging, or at least given me more ammo to deal with unexpected events. But as soon as I just let go of the idea of what the perfect introduction to Toronto would’ve been, things started falling into place. And surely that was no coincidence?
Making the most of a less than ideal situation can only make you better – something that was useful to remember when I arrived in my boy-filled bedroom. Who knows? a newly-optimistic Nicole thought. They could turn out to be good friends!
And who’d’ve thought it? I ended up being more right than I’d imagined – but that’s a story for another blog post.