Image credit: screen shot from The Wicker Man
For people coming to Greenbuild and dependent on their electronics, life can be a bit like that bad horror movie where Nicolas Cage is wandering around looking for affordable coverage; it is surprising how far we are behind the US in cost and availability of tech. Canadians pay among the world's highest cellphone rates , and if you don't plan ahead, you are going to get seriously hosed. Our internet rates are awful too.
And don't think there will be free wifi in the bunker of the convention centre (unless there is a special arrangement made)- they charge rates from the last millenium, $ 395 per show. Ashley Katz of USGBC informs me that indeed, special arrangements have been made, and there will be free wifi in the convention centre.
Your American cellphone company probably has a roaming deal with either Bell or Rogers, the two biggest players in the Toronto area. They compete with each other to see who can make us more miserable. They both have fast cellphone networks now that run on GSM, and Bell still supports a CDMA network.
But be sure to sign up for an international phone and data plan before you come to Canada. When I went to Greenbuild in Phoenix I didn't, and it cost me about $300 in voice and data; every time an email came in on my Blackberry I could here the cash register ding. When I went to Chicago last year, I spent $ 30 on a month of American roaming, and didn't worry at all.
Check the plan carefully; there may be limits on data and using an iPhone could get expensive.
There are lots of cafés and lobbies with free wifi, but you really will feel like you are partying like it's 1999.
Canada has switched to chipped cards with a PIN number instead of the magnetic stripe ones needing a signature. But unlike Europe, everyone can still swipe an old fashioned card. There may be a few portable units around that do not take a swipe, but they are rare.
The banks are like the phone companies and will charge you a lot to use an ATM, but the little private machines that are all over the convention centre and in convenience stores are worse, taking as much as $ 2.50 per withdrawal, and then your bank will hit you for the exchange. I find that when I travel in the States I use the credit card for everything that I can, it is just easier.
There are no one dollar bills; we all love our loonies and toonies. You will too, along with the multicoloured money that is easy to tell denominations apart.
A few other points:
Metric vs American
Canada went Metric 35 years ago and people are beginning to get used to it. But if you are driving to Toronto, be careful; I once got a huge ticket for doing sixty MPH in a 60 Km/hr zone because the signs had changed but speedometer on my old Porche 914 hadn't. And our gas is expensive, running about $ 5.00 per US gallon.
Going for a Run
A woman runner coming to Greenbuild asked if there were any parts of town that she should avoid. The convention Centre and most of the hotels are in a vibrant, populous part of a city with a very low crime rate. Guns are controlled and in my entire life I have never met anyone in Canada who owns a handgun. In other words, it is pretty safe here, just about wherever you go downtown. There are parts of town that I would not go running in when it's dark, but they are mostly in the suburbs, or the club district when the bars close.
The best place to run is on the Martin Goodman Trail at the waterfront; go south under the tracks and then under the expressway, get to the water and turn right. Watch out for cyclists.
A lot of guides will point you to the Eaton Centre, the big downtown mall; as malls go, it is pretty good. It was a trend-setter designed by Eberhard Zeidler, who also reworked the front of the Convention Centre. But you will recognize almost all of the stores, and as J Crew fans just found when the first store came to Toronto recently, prices here are a lot higher than in the States, thanks to a higher minimum wage, duties, special labelling requirements and gullible Canadians who don't know any better.
You will have a better time on Queen Street West, which has got a little mall-like near University Avenue, and gets funkier as you go west past Spadina, more design-oriented past Bathurst, and then really trendy as you get past Ossington.
Drinking and Dining
Ossington Avenue just north of Queen has become THE spot, it is hard to keep track. But closer to the Convention Centre, the strip of King Street Between John and Spadina has some good choices. For lunch, take a ten minute walk to St. Lawrence Market for a peameal (Canadian bacon) sandwich.
More Toronto Tips Tomorrow.
More Building up to Greenbuild:
Buildup To Greenbuild: Levitt Goodman Architects From The Archives
Buildup To Greenbuild: See The Winners of the Toronto Urban Design Awards
Buildup To Greenbuild: Green Buildings From TreeHugger Archives
Buildup to Greenbuild: A Conversation with Paul Raff (Video)
Buildup To Greenbuild: A Waterfront Of Broken Dreams
Buildup to Greenbuild: A New Vision For The Toronto Waterfront
Buildup To Greenbuild: The Green Roofs of Toronto
Building Up To Greenbuild: Bring Your Hardhat And Watch Out For Raining Panes
View Lloyd Alter's Picks For Greenbuild 2011 in a larger map