Toronto #DMUglobal

Buenas noches*. As you may or may not know I was lucky enough to visit Toronto this November, all thanks to #DMUglobal. What took me so long to make this post? Mainly the fact that I didn’t know where to start. I had no opinion about Toronto or Canada before this trip and I certainly did not expect it to change me as much as it did. I mean how often do you get a chance to live in a beautiful loft with massive windows and a view to skyscrapers, spend evenings doing things YOU want, have an informal chat with Superior Court judges, watch interesting trials, don’t have to think about work or anything? Not often enough.

Canada. A land far far away, where people from small European countries don’t get to go. I have to admit, only when I checked in to my apartment I allowed myself to believe that I wasn’t dreaming. The idea of me going to Canada was so random that I never actually thought about it. 7 days in Toronto felt like 7 days in heaven, it’s cheesy I know, but it’s how I want to describe it.

First thing I noticed was how relaxed, friendly and helpful everyone was. People passing by would genuinely spot opportunities to help others, asking for nothing in return. A second thought I had was “Wow, it’s so… quiet!”. It’s hard to explain but the minute I stepped out of the plane it felt like someone just turned the sound of the world down. I felt it walking down the busy street, in a room full of people, listening to music… Cars would pass by but they would barely make any sound, you need to be there to fully understand. Everything felt so genuinely calm, everyone I spoke to felt it too. Another surprise was how empty the city was. I’ve been outside various times of the day, but streets were never crowded or filled with people. Weird.

I have to admit, when I saw Toronto for the first time I thought I’m not going to like it. I knew, but I didn’t knew until I saw, what term young city truly means. I was so used to London and other European giants with history and architecture going way back that I couldn’t imagine what a young city would look and feel like.

It was so easy to navigate my way through Toronto, everything felt familiar and good-natured. I wish I had more time to explore different bits and pieces, get to know more people… there’s so much left to see, but for now, I invite you to follow my journey through the photos below:

DAY 1

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Toronto Union Station. I get a bit stressed having to use train or bus in a different city, but transport system in Toronto was very easy and clear! There’s an airport train line called Union Pearson Express which departs every 15 minutes seven days a week. Trains have luggage racks, are very comfortable, quiet and clean. You can’t get lost when it takes you straight from A to B. Some people I went with chose to go by taxi, but I would recommend UPexpress – guaranteed 25min journey where you don’t have to worry about traffic jams.
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New York, is it you? This was THE first bit of Toronto I saw once I got out of the train and you can’t really blame me and my Gossip Girl ruined soul for comparing it with images of New York I used to look at. I spoke with some Canadian people and from what they told me Toronto is more American in terms of architecture than the rest of Canada and if you want to have real Canadian experience you should choose to explore opposite side of their beautiful land.
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My Airbnb host suggested I take a taxi to her place, but if you know me you know that after the 8h flight I will not miss a chance to have a nice walk. I did some research on museums and galleries, but completely missed the fact that Toronto was build using grid plan which means that streets run at right angles to each other, forming a grid. It makes navigating your way around so much easier! All I had to do was count the number of blocks I had to pass and off we go.
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One thing I realized that day was that Canadian autumn is so much different from what I saw in Europe. It felt vibrant, brassy… Can I use the word harsh, but in a good way?
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Traffic system was another thing I missed when doing my research. Please note that jaywalking is illegal, cars are allowed to turn even when traffic lights indicate that it’s pedestrians turn and instead of green light they use white (as well as numbers which will count down till exact moment lights will change for both sides).
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Golden hour, I can’t think of a better way to describe this little walk. Quick tip – when you’re exploring new city don’t be afraid to look back! You’ll be surprised what exciting views you might miss only because you’re walking to a different direction.
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I left Union Station at 4pm and by the time I reached my destination (30min walk) it was already dark. This is the view I had from my room, dream come true, right? I unpacked my stuff, went to get some food and then got back, nothing too exciting when I knew that for the rest of the week I will have to wake up very early.

DAY 2

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Compare this with the picture above. Morning and afternoon were both filled with rain and mist but it wasn’t too cold! To be honest, I wasn’t too worried about the weather since I was going to meet fellow photographers and spend the day exploring. Sunlight has its perks, but I love how rain softens the lines and makes a sky look fluffy.
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My day started at Simit & Chai (787 King St. West) – Turkish bakery and cafe where you can find fresh bagels, various coffees, and sweets. I really enjoyed their coffee (I think I had Chai Latte?).
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Floating in the sea of umbrellas.
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Kate Moss mural. You might not know (I didn’t!), but Toronto is filled with the extraordinary amount of street art to admire, you just need to open your eyes. Shout out to Jessika who showed me where to look and shared stories behind following murals.
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This one is known as Monopoly man. It was created by Alec, one of the world’s most famous unidentified graffiti artist. You can find it on the back of a King and Portland shop, opposite Kate Moss.
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Just around the corner – mini Monopoly man.
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Toronto – we don’t take naps! You can probably spot a corner of an umbrella and just to clarify I like to do this on purpose. Have you ever noticed how different a photo will look if you’ll add a detail to define the lines? Try it.
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Jerry Rugg aka Birdo Massive Wall Mural.
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This one is included in almost every post with title Toronto/Instagramable Places. You can find it at 367 King Street West on the corner of Cali Love. Apparently, there is always a queue of people waiting for their turn to take a picture, lucky for us the place was empty because of the rain! The cafe itself is worth a visit, a lot of celebrities goes there.
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408 Queen St. W., on the side of Cameron House. As the story goes, Tom Dean’s landlord had kicked him out of his studio apartment over a renovation dispute. So Dean sought refuge at the Cameron House and a nearby hotel. The bar had recently undergone new management, and the new owner offered Dean a place to live above Cameron House. As a thank you, Dean painted the iconic blue and yellow block lettering on the side of the building. The wall is now seen as a constant reminder for artists of Toronto’s continuous support for their art and one of the most iconic graffiti spots of the city. I can’t find a picture now, but there are some giant ants on the side of the building if you look up.
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Unfortunately, I don’t remember the exact location of this… thing (?) and there were no indications that the building had a name, but it’s somewhere around the paradise wall.
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Graffiti Alley in The Fashion District runs south of Queen Street West from Spadina Avenue to Portland Street, it’s about a kilometer’s worth of wall space full of art! What you see today may not be there tomorrow and nobody knows when a new piece of art will pop up. It’s colorful, always changing and full of surprises. Below you can see some of the most eye-catching artworks.

 

 

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This one deserves a separate mention. I can’t find the name of this house (TripAdvisor suggests The Fish House), but the bottom line is that it’s a house fully covered in graffiti by one (!) artist. I can just imagine how long it took.

 

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This adorable place, called Sud Forno (716 Queen St. W), is a Terroni bakery.
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These things are called Bombolone – fried sweet bun filled with Nutella or vanilla pastry cream. They are out of this world! Again, shout out to Jessika for introducing me to this sweet miracle.
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On the way to…
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The Distillery Historic District! The optional walking tour was first #DMUglobal activity and although I’m not a big fan of touristy things and I wasn’t planning on going – I changed my mind the last minute. It was actually very entertaining and I recommend booking one from Go Tours (ask for Gavin, he was our guide and he was great!).
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It was 5th of November, the place was getting ready for Christmas Market which was supposed to open the week after we left, how unfortunate.
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As the Toronto Star says: “To enter The Distillery is to step back into an era of horse-drawn carts, windmills and sailing ships” (x)
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According to our guide, a lot of film production companies use Distillery District for their projects. And Toronto is used as an alternative place for New York, because of all the similarity.  Now, when I watch movie or tv show that was filmed in Toronto I can’t help but recognize bits and pieces.
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Chocolate and wine tasting were included in our tour and you can find loads of various shops and dining places all around Distillery District. My favorite part was when we got to try Mill St. seasonal pumpkin beer. Yummy! This is also where tour finishes and you can then stay at Mill St. to try their food, have more drinks and just spend some quality time with friends. Highly recommend that, our waiter was very professional and the food was delicious.
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By the time I got home, it was dark already, but streets of Toronto are well lit and I personally had no issues walking home after dark, it felt safe and quiet (yes that word again).

DAY 3

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I started my day bright and early. Very early. I had to walk in order to fully wake up.
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I told you that Canadian autumn was something else, just look at these colors! Anyway, this is where the court is. We had a chance to speak with judges and watch trials. Oh Canadian legal system, I love you.
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Break time! Starbucks was a random decision, but I really enjoyed it. In my opinion, the quality of their food and drinks in Canada was x3 times better than in the UK.
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This building has many names – Ontario’s Legislative Building, Ontario Provincial Parliament, Ontario State Parliament etc. If you look closely you can see people protesting in front of main entrance, this was the first time I saw a big protest.

 

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The building itself was beautiful. One part was made completely out of marble, however, my phone camera couldn’t capture all that beauty and even Google couldn’t offer anything I can use to illustrate it. I guess it’s one of those things you need to go and see with your own eyes. I can’t remember taking any photos of Legislative Chamber, but take a look here. There are so many little hidden details that builders left, you can read more online if you’re into this sort of things!
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And another mini break. According to my Canadian friends, you are not allowed to say you’ve been to Canada if you haven’t had Tim Horton’s.
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This is where we attended Law Society ‘s of Upper Canada “Defamation Law in the Internet Age: Public Lecture and Consultation Paper Launch”. Trust me, it was more interesting than it sounds.
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By the time event finished it was dark outside. We probably spend another hour taking photos of Nathan Phillips Square and selfies with Toronto sign.

 

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I can be a bit of a crybaby if I’m hungry and tired, but my friends persuaded me to go and visit CN Tower with them, if you’re reading this – thanks, guys, I miss you! ♥️

 

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I was quite skeptical about this night visit thing – what can you see at night, I should have gone during the day, but oh boy how wrong I was! It turned out to be for the best – no tourists at this time of the day and beautiful city lights.
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AND finally (!!!) we had time to eat. This place is called Boston Pizza, it’s half restaurant, half sports bar (that evening everyone was watching hockey, Canadians love hockey trust me) and I don’t know whether it was because of how hungry I was or great people I went there with but I genuinely enjoyed everything. They also serve baked 7 cheese ravioli which I’m going to try next time I’m in Toronto.

DAY 4

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Our #DMUglobal activity for the day was Metropolitan Toronto Police Museum and Discovery Centre. It was alright and the building itself was something else, but not highlight of the day.
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As you can probably tell I’m a bit of a plant addict. It shouldn’t surprise you that I went to see Allan Gardens.

 

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It was beautiful there. I don’t want to dilate too much, but you can read more here. Loads of photos can be found on my Instagram. That evening we had food at Scaddabush Italian Kitchen & Bar which was nice. The place was full of people, their fresh pasta is made in-house daily, and they offer fresh mozzarella made to order each evening. Wine lovers won’t be disappointed with their drinks menu and did I mention their heavenly tomato sauce? We then went for some drinks however it surprised me how quiet Toronto nightlife was compared to what we have in Britain.

 

DAY 5

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Law is fun and games, but you need to get used to early morning start. I think I had to wake up at around 5am to get ready and meet everyone to go to York University that day. We used subway which was fun, it was a bit different from London Underground, but the whole system is not that complicated – they use tiny tokens and their checkpoints might look confusing at the beginning, but it makes connecting journeys so much easier. We met Canadian law studentsthere and had a little chat about our legal systems and education.
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Campus food! You can buy hot dogs almost on every corner and they also do vegetarian option which we tried. It was… interesting.
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We then got back to Nathan Phillips Square. You see that round building on the left? It’s where Toronto City Hall is. We had a little tour around and then spend few hours at Council Chamber watching how people work. I have to admit I really enjoyed this part of our #DMUglobal program. I used to attend similar events in my home country and it was nice seeing how things are done on the other side of the world. We then took 1.8237 more pictures with Toronto sign.

 

We then went to Eaton Centre and did some shopping, eating and you know, things people do when they go to shopping centre.

DAY 6

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It was cold and windy that day, I was ill and barely human. And when I’m feeling this bad there’s only one thing that can help – sleep and museums. I allowed myself to sleep longer that day and woke up feeling a bit better. Off we go!
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I’m so glad I decided to fill that afternoon with some quality me time. I can’t remember last time I had a chance to do something similar, just go and independently explore a new place. I can’t stress enough how helpful and important such things are if you’re not feeling well. Since I’m at least 5% mermaid I thought I should go and see the aquarium. I had everything planned, but on my way there I felt like taking a different route. With no map or navigation, I simply followed my intuition and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I found Starbucks where I had a cup of my favorite soy hot chocolate followed by greatly inspiring harbor walk. I hope you could feel from these photos how peaceful and beautiful it was.

 

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In Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada I mostly took videos, they will appear on my Instagram sooner or later or maybe I’ll create a separate post. You can find more photos on their official website.
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That evening we went to Drake One Fifty. If I would live in Toronto this is the place where I would come to hang out with friends. It’s in the Financial District and it’s art gallery/restaurant/bar in one place. Check out their website!

DAY 7

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For my last day, I wanted to go visit some of the art galleries/museums but none of the exhibitions particularly interested me. It was very cold that day and it snowed a bit the night before!
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I did some last minute research and decided to go find Design Exchange. DX is Canada’s only museum dedicated exclusively to the pursuit of design excellence and preservation of design heritage. They have everything from furniture and architecture to graphics and fashion (read more)! It’s located downtown and this is where I accidentally found out that there is an underground path connecting all the main skyscrapers. Long story short I somehow ended up at Eaton Centre.
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I love Christmas window displays, shops invest so much money in them that it feels more like an art gallery exhibition. I don’t remember taking any picture, but some of them were fairytale based – Snowhite, Evil Witch and other similar characters were wearing themed designers clothes and accessories. Love it!
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I’m not ashamed to admit that I then found a bookshop at Eaton Centre and spend a good few hours going through everything they had. I should probably make a list of all the books I went through last month, because I did buy quite a few.
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In the evening I met with my friends and this is a photo from CN tower that Luke took earlier that day. Night or day it’s a great experience.
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We decided to go to Canyon Creek Restaurant at 156 Front Street (Front & Simcoe). I’m a foodie and this place ticked all the right boxes on my list. Their menu was fantastic and had quite a few vegetarian options as well as steak for meat lovers. I had The Garden Burger which came with skinny fries. I never had such thing before (skinny fries, not veggie burger duh) but they were actually quite nice and very filling. And I’m not even going to begin describing their service, let’s just say that it was fabulous.
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Since it was our last evening in Toronto and we were celebrating successful week I decided to reward myself with a cocktail. I went for FOXY LADY (1.5 OZ) made with Hendrick’s Gin, Mediterranean tonic, fresh strawberry, English cucumber, mint bitters, rose water. Again, I never had anything similar and it was great, if I’ll ever go back to being a bartender I will definitely create my own cocktail recipe with rose water.

DAY 8

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My flight was in the evening. I allowed myself to have a nice long sleep and then spend my morning packing. It took me about an hour to get to the airport (UPexpress from Union Station) and security and all of that was very quick and easy. I usually buy snacks straight from the airport, but I wouldn’t say that there was a lot to choose from at Pearson’s International. Next time I will sort this out before leaving the city. The rest is history.

That’s a wrap! It took me proper three days to edit all the photos and write everything WOAH. I hope you’ll find this useful and inspiring, feel free to let me know if you will have any questions etc.

– Gabriele Marija

*My Spanish classes are going great, thanks! They are also the part of my university’s #DMUglobal program, you can read more on their website here.

Dear Maria,

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