Toronto – The Road Trip

I’ve been getting a lot of flak lately for not updating my blog in these past few months, flak I’m actually grateful for. My goal when I started writing this a year ago was to try to get at least 2-3 entries in week, and I haven’t been even close to this in this calendar year. Jeez, I think I’ve only managed 7 entries since the start of the year and this has to change.

My friend AY, who I travelled with to Toronto this past weekend, let me know that if I can’t write an entry on my first time out of Montreal in nearly 8 years (for the occasion of Celtic’s game against Roma at the Skydome), then I probably can’t write at all. So write I must…..

The last time I left the safe confines of “La Belle Province” was in September of 1996 for a friend’s wedding in Virginia. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long, but Celtic playing as close as Toronto was as good a reason to leave as I could think of. I’m a lifelong and die-hard Celtic supporter, having helped found the Montreal CSC back in early ’94, and I haven’t seen Celtic play since 1988. Getting to Toronto to see them was a no-brainer.

Toronto the Good

I want to like Toronto, I really do, but as a Montrealer (and a smoker)I’m far too aware of what I can’t do than what I can. There aren’t many smoking hotel rooms, so I can’t smoke in the room. Fine, I wasn’t planning on spending much time in the room. Then the hotel is acting as a mini-camp for OPP SWAT teams in for the Carabana, so all of a sudden I’m starting to feel like an American during a Code Orange. At least I can have a smoke at the bar w/ terrace across the street from the hotel and Maple Leaf Gardens. But it’s midnight, and the bar has to close its terrace because it’s within eyeshot of some nearby condos. You can’t serve alcohol on a terrace in Toronto if people in residences can see patrons drinking. Very bizarre, and a pain in the butt if you like to have a smoke with a cool pint.

But it’s not all bad for this smoking Montrealer. I love the character of Cabbagetown, and the Skydome turned out to be a great place to see the match. There are loads of Celtic supporters and even a thriving downtown Toronto Celtic Supporter’s Club. I like the numerous British style pubs, if only I could smoke in them.

Friday

The highlight on this night was AY and I checking out the HQ of the Toronto CSC.We arrived shortly before the start of the FC Porto v Liverpool match and were already at home with the Celtic memorabilia behind the bar and half the patrons wearing some sort of Celtic trip or T-Shirt. This is something we never see here in Montreal so it was a treat. As the game progressed, more Celtic supporters arrived and by 10:00 we could here familiar “Hail, Hail…”.

We met The Celtic Badge Collector, who traded some badges for AY’s Montreal CSC badge, which are very rare. We sang the Celtic song and “The Fields of Athenry”, and I, at least, met people just from going out every half-hour for a smoke. It was a good night, and, it turns out, the only night we could have had at McVeigh’s New Windsor Tavern, since the next day was booked solid for pre and post match festivities. It’s a good pub, and a great pub for Celtic supporters.

Saturday

Saturday we started out with one of the all-you-can eat breakfast places, the only one where I could enjoy a smoke since it had a terrace. Breakfast was so-so, but we were able to meet up with some fellow Montreal CSC folk who had just arrived at the hotel and made arrangements to meet at 16:00 for food and beers, then try to get to the match for 19:00. They went shopping and we took a stroll down to Cabbagetown to meet up with some friends from Montreal at the House on Parliament pub (highly recommended, especially for brunch). We were going to check out the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibit, but decided to do this on Sunday.

I have to say that throughout the day the sheer numbers of Celtic supporters wearing colours blew me away. Wearing the hoops that day in Toronto were thousands of Celtic supporters from all over. The walk from Union station to Skydome was a sight to behold, with a thousands of green and white hoops singing or chanting Celtic!, or saluting fellow Celtic supporters. Celtic may have lost the match on the pitch, but in terms of support there’s no doubt who won the day and that would be Celtic.

I was sceptical of the state of the just rolled in natural grass, but was thoroughly impressed with it. The dome was open, which I liked, and the game was fun even as it was frustrating. Leaving Skydome was a scene, with thousands of Celtic supporters in various states of inebriation singing, chanting, and for the most part having clean fun. A couple of idiots, both Celtic supporters, decided to have a go at each other for reasons I was never able to fathom. A couple of anarchist friends of mine were trying to break it up (bad idea), but finally realized it was hopeless. As I watched this unfold, a guy came up to me and says in a thick Glasgow accent, “Funny thing is, I’m friends with both these guys”. That’s what I thought.

We finished off the night at the same bar in front of Maple Leaf Gardens, wishing we could have a smoke while having a pint, then deciding we’d be as well to get to sleep.

Sunday

Checked out by 11:00, then went for brunch at The House on Parliament, which we thoroughly enjoyed. This place has a terrace and a reasonably priced and very tasty menu. Then it was off to the AGO for the exhibit, which turned out to be a highlight of the trip. I rarely get to museums or art galleries, but the Turner, Whistler, Monet exhibit turned out to be a score. All I can say is, if you get to Toronto by September 12, check this exhibit out and be sure to purchase the audio guide.

So that’s about it for our Toronto trip. Overall, a good time even with all the silly rules about smoking and drinking. I doubt I could last more than a weekend, though. We were glad to be home and before we even set foot in our homes, we stopped for a pint in the Barfly for bluegrass night and raised a glass to Montreal – then lit a smoke. It’s good to be home.

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