I've always somewhat disliked Toronto, maybe because everyone who lives there tells me how nice it is.
My dislike stems from the impression you get of Toronto when you fly or drive into it, namely mile after mile of cement parking lots and outlet stores. All the virgin forest cut down to make this city must have been immense. What a waste.
However, given my last week here, even though I've mostly been inside, I have been warming to the city, much to my dismay.
First of all, Toronto's planners were nice enough to leave a whole lot of green areas in the city, including some awesome grassy areas, forests, and deep ravines. Second is the beautiful coastline on Lake Ontario, which remains to this day nearly unspoilt. Good work, planners.
Third is the public transport system. While a more extensive subway system would have been nice, nearly every location in the city can be reached by a bus to a subway and then a bus from the subway, at one price, of course.
Most amusing is that the bus drivers all call out the names of the streets as they approach them. "Bathurst!" A tiny minority of buses are beginning to install GPS and automatic voice systems.
Another thing about the bus drivers here, is that they don't handle money or tickets. They just drive, and they drive carefully and well. They're trained to drive smoothly and calmly. Furthermore, the buses come every 5 to 10 minutes ... off-peak. Every 3 to 5 minutes during peak hours. All around the clock.
Fourth is that the Jewish community that my wife has landed herself into is fairly wealthy. They have lovely homes and shuls and so on, and they seem to be fairly nice once you get to know them. My wife is staying in a very modest apt, mind you.
Fifth is a dinner we had at the Gladstones Bar and Grill. OK, it was twice the price I would ever normally pay for a restaurant, but it was also the nicest restaurant I've ever been to. It had live piano playing, complimentary wine tasting between each course, and someone filling my water glass every time I set it down. The food was wonderful, of course.
I would never spend half that much at a great restaurant in Israel, but they would also have nothing near as nice service. And the price was still less than half what I would have paid for Israel quality food and service in London.
What makes me reel is that this restaurant was only given one and a half stars out of five by Toronto Life! How good could those non-kosher restaurants be?!?
Sixth was Hugh's Room. I decided on the night that seemed to have the least bluesy and most folky music, and boy did I pick well. The opening act was The Undesirables who were a duo out of this world. Some sort of Canadian hippies, they were truly beautiful and passionate, harmonizing like an undiscovered Crosby, Stills, and Nash. They were so overwhelmingly good, we couldn't imagine being anything but disappointed by the main performer, Jonathan Byrd.
Well, Jonathan stepped up and blew us away. We were stunned at his opening number, and he just kept it going from there. Do NOT miss this man if he comes your direction. We ended up hearing three and a half hours of literally perfect music for next to nothing.
Hugh's room's walls are decorated with the thousands of incredible performers who have played their, including all of my favorites. The people in the audience were very warm and receptive. And, like all bars in Toronto, there was NO SMOKING!
I've not gotten out much, but I'm luckily what I've picked to do has been really good.