I would hazard a guess that visiting an iconic location is on the bucket list of most travellers, getting a chance to immerse yourself into history. However, how many times has the visit fallen just a little under below expectations because of unforeseen events: Venice, that city of romance, slightly tarnished by the cruise ships disgorging their clicking hoards and swamping the vistas; Machu Picchu enveloped by clouds blocking out everything more than 10 feet in every direction, or The Pyramids hidden in the midst of a sandstorm. To make such a visit truly memorable not only requires more than a touch of research, e.g. sunset times when booking that special restaurant table, but also a degree of good fortune and sometimes bravery.
The CN Tower in Toronto certainly falls into the iconic category, its image being synonymous with the city. Completed in 1976 it stands 1,815.3ft (553.3m) high and until 2010 when it was surpassed as the world’s tallest free-standing structure and world’s tallest tower by the completion of Burj Khalifa in Dubai and Canton Tower in China. At a mere 1151.6ft (351m) is the ‘360’ revolving restaurant which completes a full rotation every 72 minutes, a figure that would play an important role in the main event a little later.
It was in 2007 that we returned to Toronto for our third visit to celebrate my wife’s 50th birthday, in hindsight it was a slightly brave decision being the end of march, but as they say “nothing ventured nothing gained”. In keeping with the occasion, we also booked into the Royal York Hotel on Front street opposite another iconic building, Union Station. Three icons in one visit, were we tempting fate?
After a day’s shopping, it was her birthday after all, we get prepared and make our way along the PATH to check in at the CN Tower reception at 18.45 ready for our 19.00 reservation and here is where that chunk of good fortune came into play as, at the end of March, the sky was completely cloudless. After checking in we have our photo taken in front of a blank screen obviously in preparation for some future enhancement. Taking the glass sided elevator offering great views of the cityscape once you clear the tower fins, up 351m to the 360 restaurant and observation platform. We are met and shown to our table, which initially we a little disappointed with when we found that we were to be seated on the inner elevated circle of tables away from the windows, but soon banished that away and set about enjoying the evening.
After the celebratory Champagne, we study the menu which takes a while I must admit and, looking back rather predictably, the birthday girl has the Steak and I order the Atlantic Salmon, which I seem to be particularly addicted to when in Canada, all to be washed down with a bottle of the rather fine local wine. The food arrives and is superb there is nothing to beat fish fresh from the sea. We eat and chat as, almost imperceptibly, the restaurant turns clockwise from our starting point overlooking the city towards the harbour, with its islands and the lake itself. As the lake swings into view the sun begins to fall into the frame of the windows and we realise that perhaps we had not been so unlucky with our seat placing after all, as that orb still packs quite a punch and the window seats must be a little uncomfortable right now.
Finishing the main course, we order the desert, which neither of can recall now, but they were probably suitably chocolatey or gooey, or even both, and as we eat the sun continues on its journey faster than our rotation until the Coup de Gras when the sun finally disappears below the horizon right in front of us. Basking in the congratulations for some phenomenal planning and I must admit not a little serendipity, our world slowly turns and we watch as the external vista grow darker and, as if by the hand of an invisible Tinkerbelle, the city lights take over the display. As we finally return to our starting point, the city has taken charge with the street lights, particularly those of Yonge Street, stretching away into the distance making a glorious finale.
To fully take in this view some more we venture down to the observation deck on the level below, to take the opportunity to step on the glass floor and get that ‘walking in the air’ feeling. Step out into the open-air gallery to feel the evening wind in our hair and marvel at the sights. All the time our world keeps turning, bring another version of the world into view again that is completely different to that in the daylight.
Finally, we agree that it is time to say farewell to this wonderful structure and its glorious sights, take the elevator down to the foyer and of course the inevitable gift shop. Stepping outside into the now decidedly chilly air we find that the fairy-tale theme has been continued as the trees in Bobby Rosenfeld Park outside the tower complex are still festooned with twinkling Christmas lights lighting our way back to the hotel and a host of never to be forgotten memories.
As I alluded to initially, a fare dollop of good fortune contributed to this wonderful evening, fortune that cannot be relied upon as a work colleague at the time can testify to. Following my revelations, he decided to repeat the trip for his wife’s birthday the following year, this time in June. However, when they exited the elevator at the 351m level, the top of the tower was shrouded in cloud and they could not see a thing. I am told they enjoyed the food and that they are still together, so the present must have been special.