By BRAD BARTH
It was Day 2 of my mission to tour Toronto in a day-and-a-half, and I was down to my final 12 hours. Unfortunately, I had to attend a Toronto International Film Festival press junket on Sunday morning -- you know, the reason I was sent to Canada in the first place -- so at best I would have maybe five or six hours to polish off my ambitious itinerary. Okay, Brad, get your game face on.
ROAMING THRU ROM
After a frustrating and largely fruitless hunt for early-morning NFL coverage on TV (Seriously? I have to watch Canadian Football League highlights?), I checked out of my room, stored my bags and headed to the Hyatt in Yorkville for some Q&A with the stars of It's Kind of a Funny Story (article on this forthcoming).
Luckily, just around the block from the hotel was my first sightseeing stop of the day: ROM, the Royal Ontario Museum, which arguably boasts Canada's finest collection of natural history exhibits and global treasures.
I made sure to check out the recently remodeled exterior, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Dubbed The Crystal, Libeskind's jagged creation of glass and aluminum has been a polarizing conversation piece among critics since it debuted in 2007. I kinda dug it, but of course it's what's on the inside that truly counts. And while I personally wouldn't put this museum in quite the same company as its counterparts in New York, Chicago or DC, ROM does house several iconic pieces well worth checking out, including four towering totem poles carved by Aboriginal people of the Pacific Northwest, and the largest cerussite gemstone ever discovered -- an 898-carat sparkler that puts the Hope Diamond to shame. And of course let's not forget... dinosaurs!
For an additional fee, visitors can descend into the basement to view the museum's signature touring exhibit, featuring terracotta figures from the tomb complex of China's first emperor, Ying Zheng. Apparently, the emperor believed that these life-sized ceramic statues would protect and entertain him in the afterlife -- which might seem a little crazy, until you realize that before the use of terracotta figures, Chinese leaders used to literally have people killed and buried with them just so they'd have company in the great beyond. I can only imagine that if such a thing actually worked, that first afterlife conversion must've been really awkward.
A TREAT FOR THE FEET
A short walk west of ROM, just past Toronto University's football stadium, stands what is one of the most unusual museums I've ever set foot in -- the Bata Shoe Museum. That's right, ladies and fetishists, this one's for you.
Literally designed to invoke the image of a shoebox, this four-story museum has a collection that would make Imelda Marcos jealous. With my time running short and scores of shoes to inspect -- the museum owns over 10,000 -- I couldn't afford to be a loafer, even if I was wearing a pair of cheap brown ones.
The museum offers exhibits on the history of shoes, cultural and religious footwear, shoe art and footwear in popular culture. The second floor has a fun (but limited) assemblage of gaudy celebrity shoes, including shiny silver boots sporting Elton John's initials, Shaq's size-20EEE sneakers, and a pair of heels worn by Marilyn Monroe, who once said, "I don't know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot."
The top two floors feature rotating exhibits. I was particularly head over heels for the exhibit on Renaissance- and Baroque-period high heels and chopines, which are enormous platform shoes that can practically resemble stilts. Apparently it was considered stylish, and a status symbol, to accentuate your height with shoes, which is why in 17th Century Europe it was actually quite common for men of power to wear heels. (Then we got smart and realized they hurt.)
My sole complaint is that the museum arguably places too much focus on the anthropological study of footwear. I would have preferred to see more fun and outrageous shoe art, as well as more examples of bizarre and garish footwear that truly push the boundaries of taste and common sense. Perhaps the museum would also like to consider the following ideas for future exhibits: "A Tribute to Odor-Eaters," "Laces vs. Velcro: The Battle Continues" and "A Brief History of Bunions."
Having polished off the shoe museum (last shoe pun, I promise), and with precious time running short, I decided to conclude my trip on a high note -- literally. So I returned to the CN Tower, this time with my wallet securely in hand. The third tallest freestanding structure in the world, the tower, which doubles as a broadcasting antenna and tourist attraction, stretches up to a vertigo-inducing 1,815 feet. Completed in 1975 and directly adjacent to the Rogers Centre, where the Toronto Blue Jays play ball, this impressive structure has been classified by the American Society of Civil Engineers as one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the World.
The tower's zippy elevators allow you to look out upon the city as you ascend 1,136 feet (or 113 stories) at the rate of 15 mph. The 58-second ride up leads to the "Look Out Level," where inspiring views of downtown Toronto and Lake Ontario await you. Just one floor below, you can find both an outdoor observation deck and a very popular glass floor section that offers views straight down. Brave souls can dare to walk across or even lie down on the two-and-a-half-inch-thick panels. One young woman who didn't speak English began jumping up and down on the panel I was standing on, prompting a reaction out of me. She got a good chuckle out of that -- I guess fear is a universal language.
For an additional fee as well as an extra wait, visitors can ascend even higher to a smaller observation deck called the Skypod, offering unobstructed 360-degree views from a height of 147 stories. Which begs the question, "Why didn't they just build the original observation deck this high?" It's said that on a clear day from way up here in the stratosphere, you can see as far as Niagara Falls -- unfortunately I didn't have time to check that out. For those with more time -- and more moola -- there are additional experiences to be had here, including a 3D film; motion simulator ride; three restaurants, including a rotating one; and, of course, the mandatory gift shop.
After realizing that I was dangerously close to missing my ride to the airport, I snapped a few final photos before making a mad dash back to my hotel to collect my bags. Catching the airport shuttle with mere minutes to spare, I could finally sit back and relax, satisfied that I had fulfilled my mission to capture the essence of Toronto.
Was I rushed? Absolutely. Did I see everything the city had to offer? Obviously not. Would it have been better if I had time to take a deep breath and lounge poolside for a day? Eh, not really my style. The truth is, if I were granted another 24 hours, they would probably have been just as insane and hectic as the previous 36. It's just my nature -- too much to see, too much to do.
Upon reaching the airport, the customs agent asked me what I had been doing in Toronto over the weekend. But after all that transpired in such a short span of time, the question really should have been, "What didn't I do?"