Wednesday, January 26, 2011

AUGUST 2 - 3

Canada, once cheap, has become expensive.    However, the costs of this trip were offset by things we did two years ago and this year.

In November 2009 we put a large share of our retirement funds in a Canadian bank (TD)  because we thought massive USA government deficits would erode the value of the USA dollar.   Since then our TD funds have appreciated 12% against the USA dollar.   As we started this trip our government was in crisis, when disagreement about raising the debt limit threatened financial chaos.   A smaller advantage of the TD investment is that we got a Canadian chip-and-pin Visa, a technology now nearly universal in Europe, and safer because when you use it, it doesn't have to leave your hands, and you have to key in a PIN.

We booked four nights, essentially "free", at Marriott's Residence Inn two blocks from the iconic CN Tower.   Rack rate is about $200, a bargain for a nice city hotel, especially for the elegant one we got.   From our USA Marriott Visa we had a credit for one night expiring August 4.   We had vouchers for two more nights from a previous Marriott 3-for-2 promotion.   We used accumulated Marriott points for the fourth night.    The free breakfasts and free buffet suppers were the most elaborate ever, with attentive staff.   We were welcome to take enough from breakfast for lunch in our full kitchen.

Our hotel experience agreed with very favorable comments about the Inn on the Internet.  We asked for a high mini-suite with a view of Lake Ontario, and got it.  However, although it was on the 19th floor, the view included very little water.   We then asked to move to a view of the Tower, so the lady manager showed us a mini-suite with the Tower seemingly right outside and far above our windows.   The view is especially spectacular in the evening, when the Tower is lit with constantly changing rainbow colors.     

Since Marge is not up to striding long distances, especially in the heat of this week, I walked several blocks to a TD bank to make some changes to our bank accounts and Visa.   Those accounts are now paying 1.10%, a lot better than our Key account at home, with the equivalent of FDIC, and the Visa is now fee-free.  Enroute I had a great time exploring downtown on foot, its businesses, its innovative and skyscraper architecture, and its people.  Toronto has the highest perentage of first-generation immigrants of any city in the world, a real United Nations.   Each of these people I've approached seem to welcome my asking where they are from, even telling short stories of their background, so this has become a  fascinating highlight of the trip.   I've talked here with immigrant residents: the maid from Tibet, the quite young waiter from Poland (he didn't like Lech Walesa), the bank manager (elephants, tea, Sir Arthur Clarke, the civil war with Tamils) and floor sweeper both from Sri Lanka, a radio host from Guatemala (Julietta, long talk), others from Philippines, India, China, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Pakistan, California (really !).  This is on Canada's immigration policy:  click here

A highlight of our two trips to Toronto many years ago, and this trip, has been supper in the revolving restaurant in the CN Tower, once the world's tallest free-standing structure.  We've enjoyed high revolving restaurants in San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto, but the latter is the highest and best.   We arrange these experiences to start an hour before sunset.  The leisurely supper takes about 2 hours, which is about 2 revolutions.  During the first revolution we see around and below us the dozens of skyscrapers in this financial center of Canada, and the New York shore far across Lake Ontario.  Then sunset.  In the second hour a spectacular sea of lights extends to the horizon all around, beyond the shining skyscrapers.  Expensive, but romantic beyond price.
Here's a slick video on the tower.  Note the airport. click here
I think this is uproarious, although real:   click here

The food was elegant.  I took this picture looking northeast as we started our meal.  In the middle is the turnpike we'll take to return to New York and home.

About a half hour later we saw below us the airport at which we landed our club Cessna about 30 years ago.  We could walk from there to our hotel.  Beside it is the 400 foot wide channel traversed by the "world's shortest ferry".

The airport traffic pattern is not the usual one, because skyscrapers and the Tower are in the way.  Occasionally a small plane flew closer than I would have thought legal, but the waiter said that before 9/11 they flew closer, close enough to exchange waves.  Apparently this Canadian icon could survive being hit by a Cessna, although not by a 747, and they don't seem worried.  There's been a lot of local controversy about the airport, because some want to remove it, as Mayor Daley of Chicago did in 2003 to their similarly convenient airport there.

The next day, August 3, we went around the city on a tour bus, then a boat ride to the pretty islands off the city shore.   This was a less positive experience: a hidden fee was added, the bus was late so long walks were necessary, it was cold and rainy on the boat.   Still, it was educational and worth it.  

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