Toronto Subway vs Montreal Metro – A Comparison

If you’re a Canadian, two major cities on everyone’s lips are Toronto and Montreal.  The two most populated cities in Canada boast extensive train systems, and yours truly had to navigate both on a daily basis.  So, how do the two stack up?

Access

Toronto: While in Toronto, I stayed in two fairly densely populated areas, Yonge and Spadina.  Both subway stations were a bit of a walk, at least 15 minutes.  The stations in general are laid out decently, but seem to cover a concentrated area.  The Yonge-Unversity-Spadina line is a U-shape, while the Bloor Danforth runs east and west, leaving out some grey areas in between.

Toronto platform

Montreal: No matter where I was in the city, or what time of day a Metro station was always near.  Whether hanging in Verdun, The Plateau, or NDG, I never felt stressed about finding a station to return to my hovel.  Montreal’s lines are organized by color and destination name, which renders it simple to understand, even if you’re a lowly Anglophone. The orange line is a U-shape, but two separate lines (blue and green) intersect at different zones in the city east and west.  That’s a lot of coverage.

Metro turnstiles

The winner? Montreal.  Excellent access all around!

Layout of Stations

Toronto: Their system is a veteran, first built in 1954 with 12 stations, but since then has expanded to 69 stations.  Accessing the platforms is either by turnstile or heavy, awkward revolving doors, difficult to push myself and a backpack through.

TTC revolving door

When you need to change trains at a major hub, the signage is overhead, easily readable with arrows to know which platform to switch to.  The one downside, sometimes signs that direct you to streetcars or buses are poorly spaced and could be missed in a snap.  Platforms are either up or down, with a set of escalators or stairs.  Some stations are finally implementing elevators for the handicapped, a smart initiative.

Montreal: Slightly younger than the Toronto system, it was inagurated in 1966, inspired by the Paris Metro.  All signs are color-coded to each line (orange, blue, yellow, green), an inviting visual to figure out where to transfer trains.  If you’re color blind, guess you’re screwed, but don’t fret, because each sign has destination names embossed in big, bold letters.  Phew.  Pretty much the same set up as Toronto, escalators or stairs access platforms or exits, and signage is plentiful.

Metro sign

Where Montreal loses is lack of handicap access.  Only seven stations have elevators.  Since I’m always injured or complaining of sciatica, oh Metro you suck.

The winner? Toronto.  While Montreal’s stations are superbly laid out, Toronto wins for improving their service for ALL users.

Aesthetics

Toronto: Ugly, ugly.  Colors are dull, grey, and uninspiring.  These old stations could use an upgrade from corpse to lively.  Another strange item, I was forever discovering random pools of water in an obviously dry subway tunnel in the middle of July.  I will say the Museum Station is the shining gem out of all of them.  Carved, intricate totems serve as pillars.

Museum Station

Montreal: A fair number of the stations are large and airy, decked out in colorful tiling.  Because the Metro is over 20 years old, some stations are in disrepair, but each station is unique, even upscaled with televisions!  The Place de Arts station caught my attention mainly because of eye-catching art as you exit the station.

Place de Arts Station

Television at Lionel-Giroux

The winner? Montreal.  European touches among the modern add flourish.

Cost

Toronto: The TTC still uses tokens (see picture), which constantly got mixed in with my change, it was the only sensible place to store them.  They are über tiny, a target for a hole in your pocket.  At $3.00 a pop, losing a token is not an option.  Day passes are $10.00 (good for single, family or group).  A weekly pass is $36.00, a bit steep.  A full-on Metro pass is useful for yearly users, so the dregs of tourists are left with single trip or daily/weekly passes.

Token for single fare

You have to pay an attendant or insert coins or dollars into a machine, which incidentally, ate my change.  Going forward, I referred to them as transit vending machines, the ones you kick to get the damn chocolate bar you paid for.  If memory serves, a measly $10.50 spat out 4 tokens.  My take?  Expensive transit.

Montreal: A single trips is only $2.75, already cheaper than Toronto.  Purchase a one day pass for $7.00 or a three day pass for $14.00. Even buy according to the number of trips.  I fell amore for the Opus Card.  It’s like a Starbucks card that you fill up with Metro trips at an automated machine that accepts cash, debit or credit card.  Simply place the card chip side on a slot on the machine, and purchase how many trips you want.  Once the transaction is done, remove the card and you’re ready to ride!

Automated machine - Metro

Opus Card recharging

The turnstiles and self-serve machines are the picture of efficienct automation. So French, so elegant.  All passes are implanted with a chip/barcode system.  Just place your pass over the scanner and the turnstile allows instant access.

The winner? La Montreal.  Catch up Toronto.  Tokens are so 1800’s.

Comfort

Toronto: Trains have large interiors, plenty of leg room or available seats.  The biggest perk?  Air conditioning in the sticky height of summer.

Interior Toronto subway

Montreal: No air conditioning, smaller cars, very tight leg room.  Pressing heat from the outdoors is the same level indoors.  I wilted many o’ time.  Date night turned into, “Take a shower and invest in face powder.”

The winner? Toronto.  Air-con is not overrated.

Maps

Toronto: Once you embark on your first subway ride, ask the attendant for a free TTC map.  It’s small enough to tote around in a daypack.  Subway cars also have maps posted, but if I got on at the wrong end, the map was out of sight.  Time where you get on in case you need to refer to a map.

Montreal: Maps galore are EVERYWHERE.  Before you walk down to a platform, once you’re on a platform, at either end of a Metro car.  You seriously can’t get lost, only if directionally challenged (moi, for instance).

The winner? A tie.  Although Metro maps are easy to identify, Toronto is just as accessible, it’s a matter of being aware.  An important trait in travel.

TTC Transfer (Toronto)

Conclusion

Both transit systems will get you where you need to go.  But for overall usability and ease, Montreal’s Metro is more superior.  Toronto has a fussy system with the tokens, even how their transfers work.  You can only utilize a transfer at the destination station when getting on a bus.  I was verbally slapped by a bus driver for trying to use a transfer that should have been used a few blocks back.  I’ve never been scolded for walking before!  I will say, their transfers are free without time limits, so that is a plus.  The TTC website isn’t overly straightforward.  Trying to do a basic map search proved annoying.  When googling the STM (Metro) website, you can get a map and fare info lighting quick.  And they’ve integrated technology so well that even your grandmother can work the Opus Card.

TTC (Toronto): www3.ttc.ca.

STM (Montreal): www.stm.info.

Photo: abdallah

Worst Washroom of the Week

Maybe it’s time to get travel insurance.  Pitch black washrooms = accident potential = body parts plunged into icy cold toilets = ewwww.

Thunder Bay, Ontario

 

10 Best Pictures of Toronto and Montreal

TORONTO

1. Toronto skyline

2.  Subway tunnel

3.  Crazy plant car, Kensington Market

4. Massey Hall

5. Royal Ontario Museum

MONTREAL

1. Metro Station

2.  Notre Dame Basillica

Notre-Dame Basilica

3. Olympic Observatory

4. Notre Dame de Bon Secours

5. Row houses

Of Love and Salsa (Toronto)

9:30 pm, couldn’t bear sleeping. So, I walked, pounding the pavement.  For a Monday, Yonge Street was a sleeping lion.  Something brimming underneath the placid sheen.

My West Coast friends call the face of Toronto corporate, an American wannabe, but I protested.

“The village feel is here, alive and well!”  My best friend grew silent on the other end of Adium.  She was unconvinced.

Where was I heading?  To prove her wrong.  Capture a flavor of Toronto that no one else had.

I passed a twenty-something smoking the last nip of his cigarette.  He tried to hand me a leaflet for a club downtown.  A forlorn face met me, faded jeans sagged off his frame, a dayglo T-shirt punctured my night vision.  I half felt sorry for him, taking a leaflet that I intended to throw away later.

Just past him, a rumbling penetrated from the pavement through my sandals zinging the soles of my feet.  I peered down a pitch black, foreboding alley.  It was not.  The flavor was found.

Pounding Latin music enveloped me as I entered.  A sweet faced Korean girl stood behind a worn wooden table, one that had seen better days. A metal cash box overflowed with money.  Korean girl?  Salsa beats?

“What is this?”

“Every Monday is Salsa night,”she uttered matter-of-factly.

“Ohh.. what’s the cover?”

“Five.”

A variety of types milled in a darkened corridor; a coffee skinned man in a full suit, a gorgeous blonde in a backless dress, a balding middle-aged bloke hovering, trying to capture a spicy glance.

I had to go in.  The twirling, gyrating bodies.  The muggy smell of sweat.  People dressed in barely anything and before me was this raunchy, celebratory dance.

From time to time I photographed, filmed or stood at the sides feeling like a wallflower at a Sadie Hawkins dance.

A Nicaraguan man named Alex asked me to dance, and while I took lessons 6 years ago, any intuition on the moves were lost.

I tried and wondered why he didn’t correct me – later it was revealed he is a beginner.  We chatted by the bar, usual introductions and small talk, but he had steal away to take a call.

The dancers hypnotized me, the curve of a woman’s back as she plunged while being dipped, or the stealth confidence of a male lead.  It was clear people knew each other, this was a regular weekly club of sensuality and camaraderie.

My spirits felt uplifted.  A man of Indian or Pakistani descent asked me to dance, it became clear he was not a novice – which made my inexperience glaringly obvious.

He offered to show me the basic steps again and we squirreled away behind the bar to practice.  My body responded to the cues, forcing my mind to remain quiet.  We clasped hands, tapping feet forward/back, eventually I gave into the spins and his hand pressing against my lower back.

He said I managed to learn quickly.  It was the kind of freeing sensation I forgot.  Ah yes, this is what it feels like to leap into something without thinking too hard about it.

Vertigo, perhaps?

His name was AZ, from Karachi, Pakistan – here I find myself meeting these international men, but not connecting to them.

The bartender refused to give me free water unless I purchased a drink, so AZ kindly offered to buy me a juice and obtain a free water.

Then it got weird.

He proceeded to flirt with me, suggest a different bar that is packed with Salsa dancers south on Yonge Street, 2 or 3 minutes from Alleycatz, called Six Degrees.  I squeaked out a weak agreement.

Instinct spoke to me acutely – a fat zero existed between us.  No hot and heavy, explosions or declarations.

Noticing my wrist tattoo, he cheekily asked where else I might have tattoos, suggesting my intimates were inked with “Welcome, come in.”

I tried to badly tease him to take the attention off my tattoos, where I was staying, what my phone number was.

AZ wasn’t one to be defeated, it was a badge – get her digits despite the fact our attraction was so icy, it bled Antarctica.

He pushed, flirted madly until I could take no more – could not invent another deflection.

“Okay, my number is 555-fake!”

The climatic moment left us spent.  The conversation deflated into silence and I told him I had to go, but thanks for the dance lesson.

Innocent.  That’s how I paint myself.  I blamed it on the pulsating music, the Salsa moves initiating a simulated mating dance.

It was 1 am by the time fresh air greeted my flushed face.

So it was.  No love for me, just for Toronto.

5 Best Eats in Toronto

Toronto is a multi-cultural hub of food. Traveling has pushed food to the forefront for me. I fantasize about it, and once in a while eat it.  Check out my faves from the largest city in Canada.

1.  Seafood – Buster’s Sea Cove

Famous St. Lawrence Market is an international food explosion.  When you enter the main doors walk all the way to the end of the first floor and take a right.  What assaults you are rows and rows of any seafood imaginable.  I munched on creamy lobster bisque and seafood orzo, chock full of mussels and prawns.  Prices are unbelievably reasonable and the variety of ways to eat a particular fish will make your head spin. The fish sandwiches are a popular item.  No metallic or fishy flavors, just damn good.  Address: 93 Front Street East.  1-416-369-9048.  Off the King subway line.  Price range: $10 to $17 CDN.

2.  Caribbean – Caribbean Bistro

You want home cooked jerk chicken or stewed oxtail, this is THE place.  I was surprised to find this gem in a fairly overpriced retail neighbourhood.  Sample the Sahiena, a spinach fritter made with split pea flour, herbs, and a hint of garlic.  Served with tamarind chutney.  Quench your thirst with Pear Drax, a carbonated drink infused with natural juices (apple and other flavors available).  I ordered the stewed fish and ate every single bite of the tender fish slowly cooked in tomato sauce, topped with rice, beans and coleslaw.  When there, ask if  any Cassava (yuca or manioc) cake is available.  Her cousin bakes it, and it’s rarely served, but when it is – yum!  Address: 2439 Yonge Street, 1-416-480-1581.  Off the Eglinton subway line. Price range: $5 to $19 CDN.

3.  Breakfast – Insomnia

A breakfast place is just that – not much.  But when a chef tosses together seemingly normal ingredients with pizzaz and creativity, the results make me quiver and see star-bursts.  My brunch included poached eggs, homemade hollandaise sauce on top of cornmeal biscuits and potatoes sauteed in a tomato based sauce.  Standard hash browns now pale in comparison.  With a side of greens, I half convinced myself this was healthy.  Address: 536 Bloor St. West, 1-416-588-3907.  Off the Bathurst subway line.  Price range: $10 to $17 CDN. http://insomniacafe.com.

4.  Gelato – Dolce Gelato

Little Italy in Toronto is a central tourist draw, which sends some lifestyle travelers seeking a dingy cafe to stake claim on yet another unknown find.  Not I.  If it’s good, I go.  I ate, and it was sweet and creamy.  Plus, they gave me a dark chocolate ice cream sandwich for free.  I indulged with a scoop of coconut and pistachio. Don’t assume all you can get is gelato here, satisfy your caffeine craving with an espresso or cappuccino. Address: 697 College Street, 1-416-915-0756.  Off the Ossington subway line.  Price range: $3 to $10 CDN (they serve alcohol,too). www.dolcegelato.net.

5.  Dim Sum – Bright Pearl

By nature or nurture, dim sum is in my blood.  I’m also a traditionalist, adoring the carts wheeling by my table, inhaling freshly steamed har gow or red bean buns. As the server grabs a bamboo steamer with tongs, ticking off your selection on a neatly typed list, the brain seizes to twitter.  This kind of scene propels you into lazy eating, where conversation filters in slowly and food consumption is not rushed, just considered.  Bright Pearl is also located in bustling Chinatown.  As I walked to meet my friend, it felt like Hong Kong had formed in 3D all around me.  Now that’s dim sum you can’t pass up.  Address: 346 – 348 Spadina Ave (upstairs).  1-416-979-3988.  Price range: varies, depends on how much you eat!  I spent a paltry $17 CDN. www.brightpearlseafood.com.

Photo: Gary Choo

Worst Washroom of the Week

You could eat off this floor.

Toronto, Ontario