Michelle Martin

Across the pond

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

We took Teresa on her first international trip this summer, making a short jaunt across the pond.

No, not the Atlantic Ocean. The Great Lakes.

Teresa, 12, wanted to use her passport, which she got in 2019, just months before COVID-19 locked everything down, and now, with only one child in college, we had the time and resources for a trip that wasn’t dropping someone off or picking someone up at school.

The trip was lovely. Teresa decided that Toronto felt like a mix of Chicago, where she lives, and Boston, the only other American city she’s visited with any regularity. That might have had something to do with the fact that we were staying in what appeared to be a university district in Toronto, which is like pretty much all of Boston.

There were even relatively few hiccups: The flight into Billy Bishop International Airport, located on an island in Lake Ontario just across from downtown Toronto was smooth and on time, customs and immigration getting into Canada took about 10 minutes, and we managed to meet Teresa’s Canadian friend and their mother (someone she met through playing games online; think of it as the modern version of pen pals) at a mall for a traditional pre-teen hangout.

Our hotel was next door to the former Maple Leafs Garden arena, now a huge supermarket, which offered opportunities for photos of the historical plaques outside and buying snacks and Starbucks coffee inside.

The only snag we had was checking into the hotel. It wasn’t a surprise when our room wasn’t ready when arrived in the late morning; the bell captain held our bags and we went out to explore and get lunch. It wasn’t even a surprise when we returned a couple of hours later that the room wasn’t ready; everyone is understaffed, and it was still before check-in time. The hotel was also packed. It seems travelers came back before employees did.

But when we heard the third, “Come back in an hour, maybe it will be ready then,” now after check-in time, we were … grumpy. Frustrated. Tired.

Finally, our last time waiting through the very long check-in line, we ended up in front of someone who spilled the beans. It wasn’t that the cleaners hadn’t gotten to the room yet; it was that the previous night’s occupants, a European airline flight crew, hadn’t left, and wouldn’t leave for hours yet.

The staff member — Maria — also offered us a solution: Take a smaller, less fancy room for the night (for less money) and move to the first room in the morning. And, she said, she would be back at work at noon the next day if there was a problem.

The room that first night was cramped and a bit dingy. I’m pretty sure it was only empty because it was slated for the hotel’s ongoing renovation. But it had blessedly comfortable beds, a working shower and place for us to rest before exploring again.

Lessons learned? Travel teaches us as much about ourselves as anything else, including how we respond to minor inconveniences. Riding public transit in new cities is a great way to learn your way around. And sometimes, one person can make all the difference.


  • family life