Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Best Weekend Ever

Let it be known that I woke up on Saturday a normal person. Tonight I will go to sleep an addict of Dutch Blitz - and that is so not my fault.

I woke up early Saturday, excited to get going on my Toronto Tour. The "Hop On, Hop Off" Tours are offered in a lot of cities. If you haven't heard of them before, it's basically a trolley that takes you around the city to the hot spot locations, and you're able to get off and on the trolley throughout the day as you visit the sites. I went on the one in Boston with my parents and had a lot of fun with it.

The closest trolley stop to me was in the most downtown portion of Tronto on Yonge Street. I had to take a street car part of the way and then walk the rest of the time on foot. After about 30 minutes, I ended up in the middle of Dundas Sqare - which is pretty much the equivalent of New York City's Time Square. The trolley was still about 20 minutes away, so I had to bunker down in a store across the street until it showed. It was impossible for me to wait outside - I would decide to go on one of these tours on the coldest day of the season. I'm pretty sure the guy at the Trolley booth told me it was -10 degrees F. Lovely.

The trolley rolled up right at 10:00. The first thing I noticed about the trolley was that it was empty. It probably could have fit fifty people comfortably, and here I was - the only person getting on. The trolley driver made a comment about waiting a few minutes in case anyone else showed, but while sitting in the second row of this enormously empty trolley - I embraced the fact that I would be the only one on the tour. After ten minutes, my trolley driver got back on and turned on the PA system and adjusted the mic on his headset.

"Welcome to Toronto! Can everyone here me?"

Confused, I looked around the trolley. He knew I was the only one on, right? In response, I just smiled. I had waited too long to make a joke about who else possibly could have been on the trolley with us and too long to have just responded yes. About 45 seconds of awkward silence passed after that.

Clearing his throat and readjusting his mic yet again, my tour guide started up his scripted dialogue. Apparently I hadn't thrown him too off. I settled back into my seat and leaned up against the window. I was thankful the tour wasn't interactive - I enjoyed just staring out the window listening about the city. It was pretty cool.

The tour itself is two hours if you just stay on the trolley and take the whole loop. I had decided I wanted to get off at the ROM, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Casa Loma. Of course, the trolley I was currently on was the only trolley in operation during this part of the year. This meant that if I decided to get off anywhere on the tour, I'd have to wait two hours for the same trolley to come back to where I was and pick me up. Apparently they're not allowed to deviate from their schedule - no matter how dead tourist season is.

I left the trolley and my tour guide around 11:00 and made my way across the street to the ROM. The exterior of the museum is amazing. Google it if you've never seen it before. The museum itself is a little confusing. I prefer the layout of the natural science museum in Houston, but then again - I'm partial to Houston in general. Regardless, I made my way through the swarms of seven-year-olds and exasperated parents to see the exhibits. I think my favorite part were the rooms they recreated of different time periods. They're sealed off behind glass and are set up with furniture and personal items. Being a history major, I can appreciate seeing how someone lived in the past.

After seeing most of the exhibits in the museum, I walked back across the street to where the trolley would be picking me up. There was a pub near the stop, so I got a quick lunch. I walked back out onto the street just as the trolley was pulling up. I saw my tour guide frantically panning the street - sure he had lost his only paying customer, I assume. When he finally saw me waving him down, I could see relief spread over his face. Sure enough, when I boarded the bus, he admitted he was worried about me being on my own for two hours and had feared I got lost somewhere and he'd have to go look for me - clearing something not worked into the trolley tour schedule.

I again took my seat in the second row and noticed the trolley had not picked up anyone else during its two hour loop of the city. I suddenly felt bad for the tour guide and hoped he didn't recite the scripted dialogue to himself while he drove around the city. We had only been driving 30 minutes or so when the trolley came to the Casa Loma stop. I couldn't decided whether or not I should get off for another two hour break, but I finally convinced myself that this was probably my only opportunity to ever see the site. My guide waved me off as I made my way to the castle and reminded me to be in view when he pulled up. Apparently he doubles as a mother :)

Casa Loma was built by the guy (I already forgot the names) who brought electric energy to the city. The castle was built for only himself and his wife. I think the castle had something like 50 plus rooms. The castle was sold and some of the furniture auctioned off when the couple went into debt. Today a preservation society owns it and shows the house for money to continue the restoration. Some of the rooms still have its original items, but most of the house is empty.

I thought it was a pretty cool place. It had secret passage ways you could go through and most of the rooms were open for you to walk through. One of the most interesting aspects was an underground tunnel that connected the castle to their stables about a mile away. I walked through the tunnel, which is just concrete, exposed pipes, and lights every ten feet. It was pretty freaky - not going to lie. And since it's off season now, I was the only one walking through the passage.

I finished the tour of the castle, stables, indoor pool and botanical garden in about an hour. The hour I had left to wait for the trolley passed at a cruelly slow pace. While I waited, I managed to occupy some time at the gift shop. On one of the walls, they hung up movie posters of the movies that had been filmed at the castle. I was surprised by how many big-named movies there were. Casa Loma has been the set for "The Skulls", "X-Men", "The Pacifier", "Cocktail", and a bunch I can't even remember now.

I went outside early to wait for the trolley. The sun had started to set by now and the wind had really picked up. When the trolley finally showed up, I couldn't feel my toes. The tour ended back at Dundas Square. I was sort of sad when I got off the trolley - I had managed to occupy most of my day, but now at 5:30, I faced another night by myself at the convent. I walked through the Eaton Center on my way home and picked up dinner before heading back to the convent. I didn't notice any of the Sisters when I got back home, so I made my way to my room, ready to watch a movie and eat dinner. Before I started, I checked Facebook. I had a message from one of my coworkers telling me he was having friends over that night and they had all asked for me to come over.

My spirits picked back up - I had something to do again. After eating dinner, I made my way back downtown to my coworkers apartment. There were quite a few people over, most of which I had met before the Christmas break. All of the young people I have met here through work and my coworker's have been so welcoming. For tonight, I felt like I was back home with friends.

On this particular night, I was introduced to Dutch Blitz. I will assume that you have no idea what Dutch Blitz is, because I had no idea what it was. Dutch Blitz is an Amish card game. It's similar to solitaire, except you can play on other people's cards and you don't have to wait for a turn to play. It's a very fast-paced game, and most of all, it's very addicting. Before I knew it, three hours had passed since I'd arrived.

Somewhat unwillingly, we ended the game in anticipation of mass in the morning. On Sundays, this same group gets together for mass and then has brunch afterwards. I had gone twice with the group, but was excited for another opportunity.

This morning we all went to a late morning mass at St. Micheal's and then to brunch across the street after. I'm always amazed by the dinner conversations this group has - they're all very aware and interested in the world. They usually spend the entire meal speaking on politics, religion and history. I usually stay quiet and soak it all in.

After brunch, a portion of the group decided to take me ice skating after they learned that I had never been. I was a little apprehensive - sure that I would either break something or hurt someone else in the process of falling on the ice - but they were adamant that it was something that must be experienced. We stopped at the Eaton Center so that I could buy a hat and one of the girls could buy some gloves. After that, we set off on foot to the harbor front, which is were the best ice skating rink was apparently.

The place was packed when we got there, but the group didn't seem to mind. We rented skates and found an empty bench to change shoes. The guys were kind enough to help me put the skates on and lace them up for me. Once the skate were on, we walked to the rink and waited for the Zamboni to finish cleaning the ice. I stood there, somewhat wobbling in my ice skates, with the voice of my mother echoing in my head. "Don't do it, Michelle - you'll break something!" I didn't have much time to try and talk myself out of the situation, because just then the Zamboni cleared the rink and everyone was allowed back on.

This rink was not made for beginners. There are absolutely no railings - the only thing I had depended on being there to help me maneuver around the ice. I baby-stepped my way around the edge, trying to avoid the skaters flying by me. I was told the only way I'd ever learn was to dive right in, and before I knew it, two arms were tugging me forward on either side.

I did okay for awhile, and then I got cocky. Despite the support of someone on either side of me, I fell four times. The funny thing is, I only ever fell when people were trying to hold me up on either side. After taking a break on the edge of the rink for awhile, one of the guys tried getting me back into the rink. This is where I took my most embarrassing fall - landing back first on the edge of the concrete bench. It was at this point that I somewhat gracefully bowed out of the rink and slowly got to non-frozen land. I watched everyone else skate as the sun set on the harbor. All in all - it was an awesome experience, but I was wet from falling on the ice and therefore completely freezing.

One of the people from the group offered to make dinner for everyone back at their apartment after we went skating. Making a quick stop at the grocery store for supplies, we made our way back downtown in a cab. It was nice to be back inside and warmed up after skating around for the past few hours. As our friend and their family cooked dinner, the rest of us, plus a few people from this morning's brunch, played more Dutch Blitz. Dinner was absolutely fantastic and I could not have been more thankful for the company or the meal. By this time it was something like 9:30 or 10:00 and I could barely stay awake. Fully aware that I would never wake up in time for work in the morning unless I got going, I said goodnight to everyone.

Like all too often happens, I've ended up making some close friends here, but just as I'm about to leave. It'll be sad to leave everyone here in the next few days, but I'm glad I was able to enjoy one perfect Toronto weekend with them. We've decided that in honor of my Texas-ness, we'll be playing a night of Texas Hold'em Wednesday. Now I have something fun to look forward to for the week.

Hopefully I won't be too sore in the morning,


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