Hi there. Been a while.
Last year, I wrote down some of my travel experiences way after the fact, and never really got around to finishing my account of the wild ride I took across the eastern quarter of North America. I think it’s probably a better idea to write down my travel experiences as they occur.
So, let’s get down to business: starting the day in London Gatwick, and ending up at Toronto Pride twelve hours later.
After the travesty of flying with WestJet last year, I decided I’d fly to Toronto with British Airways. As it happened, they were doing extremely good deals on flights out of Gatwick Airport, and at a reasonable time of day – 12:20 – meaning I wouldn’t have to be up at the crack of dawn to catch my flight, and one of my parents was willing to drive me. Setting off at 08:15 allowed for a very pleasant hour on the M25 and M23, where traffic was blissfully sparse. I’ve never seen the roads as empty before.
British Airways operates out of Gatwick’s south terminal, which is very much like the north terminal in that it has ample seating, short queues for check-in and security and a distinct lack of places to charge your phone. I feel like Gatwick is undervalued due to the towering dominance of Heathrow in the mind of London’s travellers; with a little bit of investment, Gatwick could be a serious contender, and negate the need for Heathrow’s third runway.
Flight to Toronto
The flight to Toronto pushed off ahead of schedule but was stuck in a long queue for the takeoff ramp. This had clearly been budgeted for in the plane’s flightplan, however, as it still made good time across the Atlantic.
I sprung for Premium Economy, but that turned out to be a mistake. The meagre amount of extra legroom and separate cabin area didn’t really justify the amount of extra money I paid for them – if you fly British Airways and have enough cash to afford Premium Economy but don’t want to spring for business class, just fly Economy and save money for the rest of the trip.
Also, if it’s available, always grab the vegetarian meal option on long-haul flights, even if you’re not vegetarian. Not only is it much safer (I got food poisoning off of a dodgy airline chicken curry once) but it generally tastes better.
British Airways’ media selection isn’t great, but I did get to watch The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a two-hour crime thriller that was surprisingly slick and reserved for a Hollywood adaptation of a foreign novel. I strongly recommend it.
Although we touched down in Toronto slightly ahead of schedule and taxied to our gate quickly, there was a nearly fifteen-minute delay in getting the jetway properly aligned. After that, however, Toronto-Pearson airport was plain sailing. The only significant queue was for the automated immigration and customs kiosks, which automatically raise or lower to match the height of the person using them, very slowly, and will absolutely not take photos until they’re at precisely the right height. Being extremely tall, it took me three failures before I just crouched down about a third of my height.
After that, while there were large queues for the immigration officers, they moved very quickly.
The airport has free WiFi, which was a godsend since my phone had no data access in Canada and I needed to square plans with my friend Ronnie. It’s also very clearly signposted and easy to navigate.
If you’re staying at a hotel near Toronto-Pearson: wait for the complimentary hotel shuttle. Cab prices are minimum $20 CAD. I made this mistake getting to my hotel, when I could’ve saved myself the fare. I stayed at the hotel only long enough to drop off my things, take a shower and change my clothes, and then I was back to the airport and on a train to downtown Toronto, for…
My trip plan is uniquely irritating, because every single town on my itenerary was having its Pride festival at a time that I wasn’t there.
All of them, that is, except for Toronto.
I’ve been in one other Pride Parade, in Cincinnatti back in 2017. That was a wonderful experience (and because my friend was running security for the Furry float, I actually got to march in it!) but it didn’t feel anywhere near as massive as Toronto Pride. The music and cheering could be heard blocks away, and everywhere you walked there were people in rainbow costumes. I managed to miss the Toronto furry community’s float by mere moments, but I watched floats passing for nearly an hour and a half before I got word from Ronnie that he was out of costume and ready to meet up, and the parade wasn’t done when I left.
I can’t fully describe how liberating it was to be around so many people united in support of LGBTQ+ people. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. People who complain about Pride festivals have clearly never actually been to one, because I would be hard pressed to see how anyone could go to something like Toronto Pride and not have fun.
Toronto is in contention with Pittsburgh for the friendliest city I’ve ever visited. On the way to the parade, I had no shortage of people willing to help point the way to it. Despite the huge crowds, getting through them never seemed to be a chore – people peeled apart to let pedestrians through. Someone lent me their phone briefly so I could call Ronnie. People were just happy to help.
Toronto Furry Community
After circling north to pick up Ronnie’s car, we drove back down towards Mississauga to hang out at a local post-Pride furry gathering, wherein a lot of weird YouTube videos were watched and I met a lot of local furries, as well as a few from further afield. I’d met a fair few of them last year, but I finally got to put faces to names I’ve heard for a while. Again, I feel like the Toronto furry community goes far out of its way to make visitors feel welcome. I did get a fair few astonished exclamations of “I didn’t know you were coming to Toronto” though, having not had a horrible two-day airline drama to announce my presence this year.
There’s a video called Shrek Retold, and everyone in the house experienced it, willing or not. In surviving it, I feel as if we’ve all grown stronger and more closely connected as friends.
Many thanks to Avwuff for his hospitality and patience. I can’t imagine having close to thirty furries in your house is a stress-free experience.
Hilton Toronto Airport
I managed most of my hotel reservations through Booking.com, and managed to get a pretty incredible deal on a very good hotel quite close to the airport. The hotel’s currently under rennovation, so half of the front lobby is consumed by safety barriers, but this didn’t pose any problem at all. The staff were kind and helpful, the hotel is extremely well-appointed (it has a swimming pool, a fitness center and a sauna!) and for the dates that I booked it, it was remarkably cheap.
Rooms are spacious, comfortable, secure and well-maintained. I didn’t get much sleep, but I think that was down to a combination of jetlag and a very noisy guest close to my room at about 04:30, which aren’t factors that the hotel can control for.
My only major criticism of Hilton Toronto Airport is that their property doesn’t have free WiFi for guests unless you join their Hilton Honors network. Almost every other hotel I’ve stayed in has provided complimentary WiFi to people who just walk in its doors, let alone people actually paying to stay in the room.
I didn’t get a chance to try out the pool or the fitness center this time, but I’m staying at the same hotel two more times before my trip’s over, so I’ll give them a more detailed examination later.
Currently, I’m taking VIA Rail Train 40 to Kingston, whereupon I’ll be spending a couple of days visiting my elderly aunt. VIA Rail has never let me down in the past, although admittedly two previous trips is a very small sample size.
Legroom in this train is probably better than a fair few planes I’ve flown in. WiFi is complimentary for passengers although connectivity can be somewhat spotty. Slight delays are to be expected if there’s a freight train in front of you, but nothing serious. The route from Toronto to Kingston is very scenic, and I must confess I was strongly reminded of the British countryside, although we don’t have anything quite as impressive and immense as Lake Ontario.
I’ll check back in with you guys after I’ve gotten to Kingston.