Touring: On foot and off the beaten track, the Canadian city has much to offer.


August 18, 1996|By Judi Dash | Judi Dash,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The aroma of egg noodles in rich chicken broth tugged us by the nose into the tiny doorway of King's Noodle Shop at Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street in Toronto. Behind a long metal counter, a young man in white apron and cap enveloped in a thick cloud of steam rapidly ladled noodles out of giant metal pots, tossing them high into the air and deftly parceling them into gleaming white bowls of sizzling yellow soup.

"Shall we stop for a taste?" asked Shirley Lum, our guide, looking at the noodles with undisguised longing. "We could stay just awhile. We could have just a little."

Why not? We were, after all, on a three-hour Taste of the World tour aimed at filling us with all the food and smells and impressions of Toronto's old and new Chinatowns.

The walking tour was the first of several outdoor excursions I took on a recent trip to the Canadian metropolis. Let others fill their days with bargain shopping (thanks to the weaker Canadian dollar), top Broadway shows and great museums. I hungered for a more aerobic and less costly itinerary.

In three days I sampled several of the area's diverse outdoor opportunities:

During my guided Chinatown walking tour, I feasted my eyes (and often my stomach) on freshly made Korean tofu, Vietnamese meat pies, sweet Indian pastries, spicy Chinese dim sum and a dizzying array of richly scented Malaysian, French, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Lebanese and Thai delicacies. This multitude of ethnic bakeries and cafes happily coexist along a roughly 10-block radius around the bustling core at Dundas Street and Spadina Avenue northwest of the Queen's Street Metro stop.

The next day I hiked the steep ravines of the city's Rosedale section, a residential neighborhood in the heart of Toronto undiscovered by most tourists, who might be pleasantly shocked to find quiet woods and craggy cliffs a short walk from the commercial centers of Bloor and Young streets.

Craving more rural fare for my feet, I rented a car and drove 90 minutes north to the sleepy village of Elora. Known among Ontario residents (but not many outsiders) for the twisting forest trails along the 80-foot deep Elora Gorge, Elora also offers tranquil cycling routes along shaded streets flanked by 19th-century stone houses and outlying Mennonite farmlands. At the massive stone 1850 Elora Grist Mill, now restored as a 32-room inn and restaurant, diners can sit on a glass-enclosed terrace perched directly over the Elora Gorge's thundering falls.

Had I had more time, I could have hopped a ferry and made the 10-minute trip across Toronto Harbor to the Toronto Islands. The 600-acre park made up of four main islands is a fine place to cycle or stroll past quiet cottage communities, colorful marinas, landscaped lagoons and beach-side boardwalks. Back on the mainland, I could have taken a street car down Queen Street East to Woodbine Avenue, and walked or cycled the waterfront beaches, trails and boardwalk around Kew Beach Park. Or I could have spent a day on a guided canoe or raft trip along the Grand River, an hour from downtown Toronto.

For more traditional outdoor diversions, I could have driven 90 minutes south and east around Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls. For a longer trip, I could have continued north from Niagara to pretty Niagara-on-the-Lake, with its 100-year-old storefronts, gracious bed-and-breakfast inns, and -- April to October -- its annual Shaw Theater Festival.

As it was, my three days of outdoor explorations were filled with sights and sounds most visitors to the city miss.

Chinatown on foot

Shirley Lum, a 34-year-old first-generation Chinese-Canadian, has been running her Taste of the World walking and cycling tours around Toronto's neighborhoods since 1993, when she quit her job as a test administrator at a psychology firm. With the city already surfeited with traditional tours, she based her business on unearthing offbeat nooks and crannies skipped by most guides. A food-lover, she figured it wouldn't hurt to stuff her guests with equal portions of food and facts.

And so we walked and we talked and we ate.

Even before we reached Chinatown and our official tour start, Shirley began dispensing tidbits: Strolling through trendy Yorkville en route to the southbound Metro, she led us past the bridal shop where Whoopi Goldberg bought her wedding dress last year.

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