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First of a series

Toronto at sunrise. $copy;IBIT Photo. All rights reserved.

Toronto at sunrise. $copy;IBIT Photo. All rights reserved.

The most ambitious trip of my life starts with my first visit to Canada’s biggest city — and an almost perfect impression.

31 OCT-5 NOV
I hate driving into a new city in the middle of the night, and arriving here reminds me why. The feeling is that of a mouse in a maze of headlights and tail lights, with freeway signs in lieu of cheese.

The one saving grace, other than the GPS navigation in my iPhone, is that Toronto has a great jazz station, 91.1 FM, that calms my rattled nerves.

You know you’ve arrived when you find yourself in a canyon of high-rise condos that turn the Gardiner Expressway into a six-lane trench, lined high with concrete towers and dimly lit apartments that make it look as if the residents are living their lives in miniature.

No time this trip to check out CN Tower. The view is probably unparalleled, but the best way to enjoy any city, I think, is from ground level.

Likewise, I didn’t get to the St. Lawrence Market, which I regret more than missing out on CN Tower. Next time I hit Toronto, I want to stay somewhere with a kitchen.

The most populous city in Canada, about 2.6 million.

Toronto’s downtown core is all restaurants, hotels shopping and youthful energy, a popular chill zone for college students who attend the nearby Ryerson University and the University of Toronto.

It’s equally popular with film crews for whom Toronto makes a first-class movie location. My arrival on Yonge Street takes me past blocks full of dollies, trailers and vintage 1940s cars.

Beyond that is a comforting collection of neighborhoods, one after the other, neat rows of older homes with small front yards on tree-lined streets. Your drug store, your grocery store, your coffee shop, are all places you can walk to. The pizza delivery guy arrives on foot from around the corner.

A spiderweb of streetcar lines make central Toronto easy to navigate without a car, but driving behind them on the city’s old, narrow streets requires patience. So too does dealing with the cabbies constantly trying to slide past them — and you.

Cycling. A lot of people ride here, but the combination of narrow streets, streetcar tracks and a glaring absence of bike lanes make Toronto less than bike-friendly.

This may be the friendliest big city I’ve ever been in. People waiting in line with seem quick to share smile, a laugh, a joke. I could see some New Yorkers feeling terribly out-of-place in this town.

The one big downer: my first encounter with bedbugs. Given the amount of travel, I do, it probably was inevitable. Still, it’s not enough to ruin a generally favorable impression of Toronto’s biggest joint.

NEXT: On to New York.

Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.

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