Castle within a City: Casa Loma

As ashamed as I am to admit, I can never get over the feeling of limousine leather. Everything is as grand as their website has promised. The chauffeur was waiting for us outside our hotel with a smile and with the limo just behind him. He opened the door for my wife, Julienne, with a declaration of our first destination: Casa Loma.

We stepped into the car… and entered a room. I should be ashamed by my blatant amazement but I’m just surprised at all the luxuries that could exist. Flutes and glasses sparkled against lights built in the shelves. The sofa is so spacious, Julienne could sleep on one length and I on the other while staring at the ceiling window. The ceiling even has a tastefully designed fibre optic ceiling that bath the whole room with a warm ambience. I tacked a mental note to put a good testimonial on the website that we have booked for a Limo City Tour.

The chauffeur, who introduced himself as Paul, continued to blather on. Casa Loma, he said, is a “Castle within a City”.

It was a good 30 minute drive from where we came from. Paul pointed out Casa Loma as soon as its peak came into our view. Even in the distance, we could tell it’s a giantess.

After leaving Paul to park in the Visitor’s parking area, we stopped for a moment and stare at the behemoth. I tried to act mildly impressed but I have my suspicions I’m not the only one. After seeing so many storybook pictures of castles, who else could have seen a life-size medieval castle before?

Henry Palett was the owner of Casa Loma whose life-long dream is his own castle. He was said to be one of the people who “own” Canada. But due to financial struggles later on, he was forced to auction off the castle. After years of neglect, an organization restored it into a tourist attraction.

We stepped into the main hall along with a herd of other tourists. Even from there, I can smell the old oaky smell and traces of varnish fumes that tells of dignified preserve ahead. We wandered into the library and scattered into the vastness of the room. The library is fit for the sensible unlike libraries today. It’s bright by the sunlight coming from wide windows and airy to combat the summer heat. Footsteps tapped patterns in the oaken floors while people passed by walls and walls of bookcases. I pity the dusty books; I doubt they’d ever been read.

We wander around the house and it feels vaguely like intruding someone’s home. This was a dream of a man come true. I kept this with a sober mind as I walk on to his study. The guide showed us a secret door on either side of his fireplace. Again, like all men, it was made by a man who dreamed how his study should be. The difference is he made it happen.

We shambled upstairs into more personal quarters. I began to understand why Hollywood would film here. Casa Loma is a house of history that you can breathe and walk in without feeling out of place. It’s a place you could have lived in comfortably modern times or not. It’s nostalgia without the dust.

Julienne and I went into Lady Palett’s bathroom that has its own bidet. Bidet is a rare bathroom fixture which was used to wash the privates.

“You know,” Julienne said in a very conversational tone as we stare at the low sink complete with spigots, “I’ll never be able to look at another photo of hers again without imagining her using that.”

Well said, Julienne.

To the third floor is a narrow staircase leading to the highest point of the castle. It was so narrow, Julienne and I had to take turns going to it. Holding my phone securely on my hand, I walked up the spiralling staircase and ignored the vandalism scribbled on the walls. My breath caught a little at the height but I got some spectacular views of Toronto downtown.

We then joined the pack of tourists outside. I closed my eyes enjoying the sun and noted the crispier air. The garden expands as far as the eye can see; you’d forget you were in a city and not in some old romantic movie.

“If I have visited here when I was a kid,” she said, “I’d be pretending I’m a princess and this is my royal garden.”

I told her it’s never too late.

We went back to Paul with me nursing some elbowed ribs.


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