Monday, October 8, 2012

A full Saturday in Toronto -- touring and cheering DC United on to victory

We woke up on Saturday morning and headed down for breakfast.  We were staying at the Jarvis House.  This was a modest hotel indeed – some spots on the walls unpainted, small cracks in the sink, and despite the assurance on the web site that there was be no noise from busy street, that was assuredly not the case.   But our room was a good size and the bed very comfortable.  Breakfast was prepared by our host (fresh fruit, eggs prepared to taste and two strips of bacon, in addition to provided cold cereal, bread and coffee/tea) , and when I was unable to print out the boarding passes for our flight home because the tray holding the keyboard and mouse for the provided computer got stuck, the host actually took the thumb drive onto which I had downloaded boarding passes the night before, and went back to her own home nearby to print them out.  So I recommend the Jarvis House as an inexpensive place to stay, so long as you can accept the limitations of the place.

The game was scheduled for early afternoon but we began our touring with a trip to the St. Lawrence Market, a daily market held about a mile south or our hotel. we did not have to walk, however, because Toronto’s mass transit company has a special deal on a weekend day-pass — for $10 two adults, or an adult and up to five children, can have as many rides as they want on any of the city’s subways, street cars, or buses. 
Toronto Transit Commission Day Pass

So we walked over to the Yonge Street subway line and bought our pass for the day, then took the subway down to King Street.  We could have ridden a street car along King to the market, we wanted to see the city so we walked. 

So we walked.   As we walked, we marveled at the number of recent office buildings and apartment buildings, apparently condos, not to speak of the amount of new construction.  Indeed, Toronto seemed to be experience heavy yuppification. One sign, in two days of walking, we saw a large number of dog parks but only one children’s playground — with five adults and one child — and only two schools.   A staff member at the Allan Conservatory with whom we chatted when we visited there on Sunday morning confirmed this impression.  For all the yuppiness, the city had a fine diverse feeling to it.  Might be a nice place to live if it weren’t so darn cold so soon!

The St Lawrence Market  itself consisted of two older buildings, across Front Street from each other, each jam packed with small shops featuring various foodstuffs and dry goods; the northern building also had a farmers market feature in Saturdays.  Both buildings were crowded with shoppers getting ready for the Canadian Thanksgiving, which was to be held on Monday (in retrospect, I understood why it had been so hard to find an moderately-priced hotel room even though I had tried to make reservations months in advance).

Inside St.Lawrence Market
Mural on the side wall of St Lawrence Market north  building
Looking west along Front Street past St. Lawrence Market
Vendor inside the southern building of St Lawrence market

We stopped at a small creperie inside the market for a snack before heading off to the game. 

We walked back to King and Jarvis to catch the street car, pausing next to this art installation

then rode the street car west along King Street. Taking advice from one of the passengers, we switched to a southbound streetcar on Bathurst – maybe a mistake, because streetcars ride in the leftmost lane on any street, and we got caught for maybe 20 minutes in a left-turning lane with time ticking away toward starting time.  Eventually the traffic cleared, and we rode the rest of the way to the stadium.   It was a nice stadium typically-sized for an MLS soccer specific stadium, and nicely situated with a view of Lake Ontario. Nice for the view, but not so nice for the chill wind that swept off the lake keeping us chilly throughout the game.

BMO field before the DC United game

Note the small red rectangle atop the roof above the “wall of honor” that’s the perch for a falcon, the tiny speck that can be seen atop the rectangle.  Apparently, seagulls are enough of a problem at the stadium that management has brought in a predator.

BMO field -- looking south toward Lake Ontario

The crowd, sad to say, was a real disappointment.  By the time I got to see a game in Toronto, the team was paying the price for years of total mediocrity.  There were thousands of empty seats, and if there was a supporters group I couldn’t hear them at all, or see them for that matter.   The fans were amazingly quiet throughout, except for a few kids who were energized by the DC United traveling contingent to call out “sucks” when our chants mentioned the name United.  The following morning, at the Allan Conservatory, we ran into a young military couple with their children.  They noticed my DC United scarf and said that they had become fans of United when stationed in DC, and had chosen to come to Toronto instead of Montreal for the weekend so that they could see the game.  Apparently, they had been sitting near some Toronto season ticketholders who were thoroughly disillusioned.

The traveling United supporters contingent was also rather small.  I was told that most of the usual suspects had chosen to go to see the United States play at Antigua the following week (a reasonable choice at this time of year).  With the group so small, I had an extra need to lend my voice, and I was hoarse by the end.  At least, the thuggish Barra Brava fellow who likes to get into it with opposing fans was also missing, although the local fans were so passive that he would have been hard-pressed to find an adult he could properly antagonize.

The game was also disappointing.  United played fairly aimlessly, with neither style nor rhythm.  The DC United supporters began to chant “we want Bosko,” a call for coach Ben Olsen to substitute in Montenegrin star Branko Boskovic.  Boskovich did enter the game in the second half, but United still showed no sign of scoring until just before the end of the game, when Maicon Santos took a speculative shot toward the goal right in front of us. Milos Kocic, a former DC United goalkeeper, botched the play by bobbling the ball; it squirted out at Hamid Salihi, our Bosnian striker, was right there to finish it off.  He came over to celebrate at the corner flag right in front of us.

Salihi and teammates celebrating the goal in front of our small traveling supporters section

Amazing – United had eked out three points on the road.  We had not been playing well, but perhaps we should console ourselves with the thought that a good team is one that finds a way to win even when they aren’t playing particularly well.  Later that day, Montreal managed a tie at Houston and Columbus could only tie at Kansas City, leaving United in excellent shape to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in several years. Indeed, we were left with a reasonable chance of getting a home game in the playoffs!

Afer the game, decided to take the advice of a Toronto resident to whom we had talked on the street car after the game, who suggested that we try the C’est What café back near the St.Lawrence market to sample some of its microbrews on draft.  But we decided to walk along the waterfront and then through the city to see more of the architecture.

These views of the skyline were all seen from Roundhouse Park, and inside a furniture showroom that occupies part of thew John Street Roundhouse around which the park is centered

Leon's Furniture inside the original roundhouse

Condos to the south of the roundhouse
Buildings seen north from Roundhouse Park

We proceeded to C’est What,  where we enjoyed some of their own brews – a caraway rye beer and “Steve's Dreaded Chocolate Orange” – as well as lunch dishes.  Nancy had the calamari, which was OK, and I had the "staggering pig," a pulled pork sandwich with a very nice coffee porter sauce.  As a bonus, we caught a live show of traditional jazz by a longtime Toronto group, the “Hot Five Jazzmakers”  – I particularly liked the one-per-set singing of the young bassist Tyler Thomson. If there had been space to get up and dance a bit (and if Nancy had been willing!) I would have been moved to do so.
Hot Five Jazzmakers performing at C'est What

The audience was unlike any other crowd we saw during our time in Toronto -- all older white folks.  Worrisome for traditional jazz if it appeals only to this demographic -- but maybe it was just the time of day and the fact that many of the audience seemed to know the band personally.

We headed back to the hotel to rest, catching a few more interesting building along Front Street and Yonge Street

West along Front Street toward the CN Tower

The Hockey Hall of Fame at Yonge and Front Streets

Office buildings looking north along Yonge Street
Then we took a streetcar west along Carleton and College Streets to Little Italy, when we had a nice dinner at La Forchetta.

The menu was a combination of traditional and nouvelle Italian – we had mostly the nouvelle, including a roasted pumpkin soup, a salad of organic field greens, a haddock fillet (although the potatoes served with it were reminiscent of tater tots)  and an excellent grilled sea bass with chipotle-citrus sauce.  Only the panna cotta for dessert was traditional

Wild Haddock Fillet with Mascarpone Sauce on the side

Grilled Sea Bass with an interesting mashed potato

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