In the weeks leading up to Toronto, so immersed was I in other distractions and ordeals that it barely occurred to me (until right before I left town) I was going to the best film festival on the continent and visiting a new country. I'd never even been to a new country.

Although I didn’t set foot on a plane until I was 22, I suppose I've become such a well-seasoned traveler since then (back and forth to Des Moines all those Christmases) that flying across national borders still didn't seem like a big deal. Nonetheless, I was thrilled, even if I reined in any visible excitement.

With its urbane sophistication, perpendicular layout, and 20th century architecture, Toronto reminded me more than a little of that other Second City, Chicago, only cleaner (and with black squirrels). I never left downtown while I was there, which was fine because it alone provided more than enough for me to see and explore.

Between movies (I saw as many as four per day), I got in a few walks: to the Allan Gardens across from my guest house on Jarvis Street; down to Kensington Market, rows of lovingly dilapidated thrift shops dolled up in funky colors you rarely see outside the hipper enclaves of Somerville, Mass.; along that lengthy, only half-gentrified (and better for it) stretch of Yonge Street teeming with used record stores, male and female strip clubs (one of the latter dully noted that its girls never stop!) and an overstuffed cornucopia of every ethnic cuisine imaginable (including the curiously-titled “Yummi’s For Your Tummis”; it was new, not yet open for business, so I couldn’t discriminate exactly what constituted a “yummi” (for my “tummi”, no less).

Other fun stuff about Toronto: they apparently adore ketchup-flavored potato chips, foot-long hot dogs (there are stands everywhere), and weird, wild varieties of gum you can’t find in the states (like peach).

On the way from the airport to the hotel, our cab got stuck in a massive student throng. At first, I assumed we’d driven straight into an anti-war demonstration, but no, it was just an annual parade to welcome back Ryerson College students—practically the entire student body was marching. As they shuffled past our stalled cab, all I could think was, “How cute, look at all those freshly-scrubbed young Canadians!”

Seriously, though, I really felt at home in Toronto, and could even imagine myself living there (as much as I could picture myself relocating to Chicago, anyway). It’s certainly a friendlier, warmer city than Boston (although I’m guessing that doesn’t apply to the climate), with solid public transportation, lots of green space, and ample culture/arts. I wanna go back for next year’s festival, and maybe even do something ultra-touristy, like ride up the CN Tower.

Oh yes, the festival. Saw lots of good-to-great stuff (and only a minimum of total stinkers), but I’ll scream if I ever have to watch those hands again. My reviews will be up on the Chlotrudis website shortly.