Toronto In September

 

September, 2017 – Mama D had always wanted to go back to Toronto. We had been when I was 9, coming back from a visit with my uncle friends in Rochester NY but didn’t spend much time. This time we had 7 full days of visit.

We met in Montreal where we stayed at our now favorite hotel; Hotel Bonaventure. While we waited for our room to be ready, we took a cab to Musée Pointe-à-Callière, one of my mother’s favorite museums. We had a delicious lunch there although I had a vichyssoise which is a cold soup and I was hoping for a nice hot soup; the air conditioning in museums is always too cold for me and I was looking forward to a warm meal.

The temporary exhibits were excellent and fun: Hello Montréal, Bell Canada’s Historical Collection and Amazonia, The Shaman and the mind of the forest. In Amazonia, we learned our societies are totally different and ours are quite disconnected from nature. In Hello Montreal, we saw all the old phones we used to have and an image of what they thought back in the days the telephone would look like.

 
 

Back at the hotel we were hoping to use the outdoor swimming pool but it was closed for renovations and so was the hot tub. We went to bed early and I had the most sleep I had in a long time.

The next morning we had our train ride to Toronto with Via Rail in Business class. On the train, they served us  St-Viateur bagels before lunch. They were delicious but the trays are so small it’s ridiculous! I was disappointed with my special meal; they basically gave me a vegetarian meal with all foods I can’t eat. Mama D ended up with it and I had a regular meal that I was able to eat: salmon with shrimps, rice and vegetables. We exchanged a couple of things and she got both desserts as I couldn’t eat the fruits or the chocolate cake.

We waited forever to get our luggage, staring at drywall in a packed crowd of anxious travelers. You’d think that business class on trains would be the same as on planes and you would get your luggage first but no… I also noted that the business class washrooms are always dirtier and I think I have an idea why; more alcohol being served means aims are not always pointed in the right direction… planes and trains can be shaky and make you lose your balance! And don’t get me started about women who don’t sit and pee all over the seat and don’t wipe it!

 

 

 

 

Once in Toronto, we took a taxi to our hotel, The Residence Inn. We don’t use Uber by choice and prefer riding good old fashion taxis. At our hotel, we were given a corner one bedroom suite with a south view facing the CN Tower from the bedroom and a north view from the living room. I was so happy to see the tower again after 4 years!

We were in Toronto at the end of the Toronto International film Festival but we didn’t have any plans for movies. We were there to do the usual tourist attractions and we didn’t get to see any famous stars. It was a very nice hotel with awesome breakfasts and staff but I had trouble sleeping because of my sensitivity to vibrations at night; they have those bathroom fans on the same switch as the light and I read some people even use the fans as white noise to sleep… not good for me.

I was miserable and in a bad mood. They offered to move us to another room but it was not better and we lost our nice view. Then they moved us to a two bedroom suite and it was a little better but I could still feel vibrations. At least we were in a bigger room and they really tried their best to make us feel as comfortable as possible. We would have moved to another hotel if it was possible but there was no other hotel in the area with a full kitchen and since we don’t use Air BnB anymore I had no choice but to suck it up. I cried a lot but I usually got better later in the day. One day I took the tram and went for a floating bath at Float Toronto where Misha was like a fairy sent from the enchanted forest…

On our first day we did some shopping: Winners in Toronto are like Tim Hortons in Moncton, New Brunswick 🙂 They are everywhere and I bought a carry on suitcase with a curling iron. It was a nice walk and the weather was beautiful. We tried the hot tub on our way back to relax and we were the only ones there so it was quiet and it felt so good but the changing room was so small with only one toilet to change and one shower, we didn’t feel like going back.

In the afternoon, we visited the Railway museum which was nothing compared to other museums we visited like the Saint Constant one in Quebec. Then we took the elevator up to the top of the CN Tower with its amazing views and Mama D braved the glass bottom floor! I couldn’t believe it! She is so afraid of heights and I was very proud of her! We got our City Pass at the tower and there was no wait at all.

On our second day we visited the Science Center which has a few cool things but is more suited for children than adults. It wasn’t worth the 3 hour return trip on the bus and subway. We went there mainly because Mama D loves science. We watched the IMAX movie about the train across the Rockies but the dome shaped screen had us looking up and it gave us both a head ache. On a positive note, we walked on the famous Walk of Fame on Simcoe to get to St. Andrews station, named after the beautiful St. Andrews Church.

Looking back at my pictures, I did enjoy the miniature dollhouse rooms created by immigrant children depicting daily life in their native country. One that captured my attention was Natasha’s from Moldavia having one last night with her grandmother (babuska) before coming to Canada. It must be heartbreaking to leave beloved family members to move so far away.

   

On our return to the hotel we switched rooms to a two bedroom suites with a bigger dining table and one bathroom each. It was a nice gesture and we thought there might be less vibrations but nope. It was hopeless but at least we were in one of the nicest suites of the hotel which reminded me of someone that once told me they’d rather cry in a BMW…

 

On our third day we stayed in to relax and only visited the Aquarium which was a 10 minute walk from the hotel and came back for a nap. The rolling floor in the tunnel amazed me once more. Mama D was able to see a sea turtle, her favorite animal! There were sting rays, sharks and lots of different species of fish. Mama D’s shirt coincidentally matched the ocean colors perfectly!

    

Our fourth day was spent at the zoo and it was a long train and bus ride. We left at 8:15 and started our counter clockwise visit at 10:00. The Toronto zoo is so big that you need to be in good shape to be able to see everything in one day. Being tired and not at my best we had to forego the Canada section, the butterfly and birds of the first or last pavilion depending on where you start from.

We started with the cute cuddly pandas and I couldn’t help but thinking how unfair it is that every zoo in the world has to pay for protecting, breeding and feeding these pandas that the zoos don’t even get to keep. As far as I know no other country does that with their native species! Since this is not a political blog I’ll stop my criticism here but I had to mention it because it really bugged me.

Even though they came from the wilderness, the camels at the Toronto zoo looked friendly and curious. They followed us with their stare, moving their heads as we walked passed their enclosure; they looked so smart and gentle. At the Wildlife Health Center we learned that it is more expensive to keep plants than to keep the animals. My guess is that bamboo is part of these plants… and which animal eats bamboo? Oh and also they keep a frozen panda sperm bank… I’m zipping it…

We had lunch at a picnic table near the Maya ruins waterfall and it was very nice, pleasant, relaxing and soothing. The fact that the Toronto zoo is so big is a bonus for all the extra space big animals like polar bears get. They really seem to enjoy their environment unlike some in smaller zoos we’ve visited. For instance, pictured below is a polar bear that looks like a big happy dog rolling in the grass. Even the hyena looked happy and docile, lying on its back. So did The hippopotamuses strolling around on that warm September day.

The giraffes didn’t seem to have as much outdoor space as other big animals but according to the Toronto zoo website their indoor house is among the largest ones in Canada.

The lemur pictured above, although looking a little sad seems to give the zoo a thumbs up! It was so exciting to watch the clouded leopard cubs playing, just like all kittens big and small do!

On the fifth day, both of us had a bad night sleep and Mama D wanted to stay in. I called Float Toronto and got an appointment for 11 am. Floating is the best way to feel better when lacking sleep. I wish I could sleep in it but I’m only able to relax; every time I’m about to fall asleep a jerking movement wakes me up…

It was fun to go out on my own and I took the tram for 11 stops on Queen Street. It was very easy to get to. I really enjoyed my floating bath experience and would gladly go back the next time I’m in Toronto.

The 6th day was an entire day devoted to the Royal Ontario Museum which is in my humble opinion the best in Canada. We went on two free guided tours; one with Joe across different exhibits and floors, and a second one with Rosemary in the precious stones and gold exhibit. Guides are working as volunteers and need 6 months training before they can start giving tours and their training is ongoing as temporary exhibits come and go.

Before our first guided tour we went to see the small but impressive Canada temporary exhibit and I had never seen so many furniture, pottery, porcelain and china with beavers before. I discovered Rex Woods, an amazing painter and illustrator whom I really enjoyed the work. There was a small section about New Brunswick, Canada furniture from the 1800’s, at a time when Saint John was the centre of cabinetmaking.

There was also some Cornelius Krieghoff original paintings; Krieghoff is a beloved painter of mine as when I was a child, I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s house and they had two exact large reproductions of his paintings and I stared many hours into the sceneries, especially when I was bed ridden (on the couch) after being hit by a car at 9 years old. My uncle JLD passed away suddenly and unexpectedly this winter and I will inherit the paintings. It will be bittersweet to hang them in our own house.

The Royal Ontario Museum is such a big museum with so many interesting artifacts. One of my favorites in a Museum is usually the taxidermy and they have an impressive collection of animals from all corners of the world including my favorite sloth. At their gift shop I bought the nicest 3 toed stuffed sloth I have ever seen and it now sits on my bed and I sometimes bring it on vacation with me. I have a sleep disorder and sloths sleep most of the time: I envy them! Although I don’t envy what grows on their fur (too gross to mention), my sloth is a real cutie, all clean and nice smelling and is called Tami after “mon petit ami”(my little friend); in French we pronounce the last consonant with the next word starting with a vowel. Mon petit ami is pronounced “mon peti tami”. Below is Tami meticulously placed by the housekeeping person at the Residence Inn Downtown Toronto.

At the ROM there is the 2007 Guinness World record winning Million Dollar Gold coin that is worth much more now. It was produced by the Royal Canadian Mint and is owned by Barrick Gold Corporation. In the gems section we saw the most beautiful deccan basalt with okenite which was formed in India 65 millions years ago.

I can’t believe how big it is. The ROM even has a bat cave! It has 4 levels which includes the lunch area. It would take at least 2 days visit for someone who likes to read everything and take their time.

After the Museum visit we still had some time to go to Winners and shop until we dropped! I got the t-shirt below with “Good Vibes” written on it; it was so ironic since vibrations kept me awake. Misha at Float Toronto told me I had a super power and I should embrace it. Well,  anyone with that sensitivity knows that it is nothing you feel like embracing but instead feels more like a curse. When I mention it to doctors they attribute it to the fact that I don’t get into a deep enough sleep and when I google it I don’t find much about it other than it could be from a hearing loss gene. The vibrations from the neighborhood car motors I feel are only detectable by instruments. I am a hyper sensitive person and it is not easy to cope with but I try not to let it ruin my daily life and thanks to medication it is now easier but not perfect.

On our last day in Toronto we visited Casa Loma and Spadina House. Casa Loma is a very unique castle because it is so eclectic with materials imported from all over the world. I was disappointed the underground tunnel leading to the garage and stable was closed to prepare for a hunted tour. It was very hot unlike my visit in the winter of 2014 which was the opposite. The opportunity for photography at Casa Loma is amazing although good luck getting a shot without anyone in it unless intended of course… I had to do a bad job of hiding this guy with his cellphone on the steps of the conservatory; I found him annoying for some reason.

These pictures are only a fraction of all the opulence of Casa Loma. It most certainly is the nicest castle in Canada. It took 300 men to build the castle at a cost of 3.5 millions and 3 years to complete, from 1911-1914. Ahhh, 1912… Somewhere in Time…

Although more modest than Casa Loma, The Spadina House across the road, owned by James Austin, was no less magnificent. It is interesting that Austin was into the gas business and Pellet into electricity. They were basically rivals and they were respectful neighbors but not friends. We were given a private tour and were fortunate to glimpse into a room not many people get to see because there’s not much in it but the view is beautiful even though the old glass panels were not what they are today we were able to open a window and pretend we were back in the 20’s getting a breath of fresh air looking out to the gardens…

Sir Austin was an avid hunter and one may wonder if the taxidermy in the house were creatures he captured or bought. The billiard room is gorgeous. I love green and this room is pure green delight for me! The wallpaper reminded me of the old surrealistic sceneries on the wall of the queue at Epcot’s Soarin. While gazing at the room I could almost smell the cigars and pipes, and hear the clinking of glasses. Some would call it eerie, I call it pure imaginary time travel bliss! For the kitchen pantry, they had some of the stickers made for them for items they couldn’t find. 

Back to modern times, I had another bad night sleep. The next day we took the train back to Montreal in business class again and met a lovely woman from San Diego who works as an art appraiser among another things and told me she met Jane Seymour while she was painting and had her paintings at the art gallery she was working for and told me some secrets… Can you imagine my eyeballs popping out of their sockets??? 😯 Even with no sleep I was able to do that!

That sums it up. Toronto is such a great city I can’t wait to go back. Next visit I’ll be with Dami for a shorter period of time but it promises to be an intense memorable fastcation if all goes according to plan. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next article on mama D and I in Montreal in November 2017.

DD in YYZ! (Toronto)

Toronto Dundas Square
The Bixis at Toronto Dundas Square

The last time I was in Toronto was with my mother when I was very little and I don’t remember anything. At the time we didn’t take many pictures so there was nothing to bring back the memories. This time around though, there are plenty of pictures although just before I left my Canon G7 broke and I had to use the old PS A-530. Mind you, it is far from being a piece of ****. It does the job if you know how to use its basic settings which I am still learning. I never used any of the manual settings before and started learning on the G7. Dami is a lot better than me at taking pictures and using cameras but I think I am doing not too bad.

My trip to Toronto was a short one and I wish I had at least an extra day. I was visiting my Czech friends who were there to study English at ILAC and it was a great opportunity for us to kill two birds with one stone (no birds were harmed in the process). It was great to leave the passport at home, skip customs and be scrutinized only once. Toronto is such a big city with lots to see and do even in winter and what’s great about it is that there are no line ups anywhere; the CN Tower can have 3 hour line-ups in the summer!

CN Tower
CN Tower

I arrived during a snow storm in the morning rush hour. I buckled up and my Airline cab driver was a little nervous. The roads were very slippery and the snow was a wet and heavy one. Drivers seemed careful and lots of people must have left their cars at home because it was unusually uncongested according to the cab driver. Once settled in at my friend’s apartment, I ventured to the closest grocery store, Rabba. When I say ventured, I mean it. The snow was coming sideways in gusts of wind and the sidewalks were not plowed. The store had everything I needed and my only negative comment would be that I saw a few items that were past their expiration date like eggs and milk. I have learned with experience to make sure to always look at the best before dates.

I would have been very upset to have to go out again in that weather but I did anyway because I needed a set of bed sheets which I found at The Bay on the corner of Bloor and Yonge after multiple tours of the bedding section. They didn’t have a very big selection; I couldn’t find what I wanted (white flannel) but I got what I needed which was a nice luxurious 400 thread cotton.

CN Tower Glass Bottom Floo
CN Tower Glass Bottom Floor: I walked on it! I did it!

The reunion with my friends was great. The next morning I walked on Yonge Street from Church Street all the way to Front Street where I stopped by the CBC building. I tried later to explain to my friends the importance of television for Canadians, that we grew up with television. I toured the free exhibit downstairs with the old vintage equipment and in the big hall on the main floor I had my picture taken as a figure skater; it was one of those boards where there’s an empty hole for a head. I then made my way to the CN Tower and was surprised how quiet it was. For 69.50 I bought my Toronto City Pass which includes entrance to the CN Tower, The Ontario Science Centre, The Royal Ontario Museum, Casa Loma and The Toronto Zoo. I passed security check with the computerized sniffer dog and in no time I was on top of the world. I skipped the movie presentation, and the highlight of the visit was walking on the glass floor: I was so glad I was wearing deodorant! I am very afraid of heights and I got such sweaty palms I almost dropped my camera and I had a hard time turning the setting dial.

Toronto Ripley Aquarium
Toronto Ripley Aquarium

My next visit was to Ripley’s Aquarium and I was very glad my friends encouraged me to go, it is truly spectacular. Walking in the tunnel surrounded by sharks was an amazing experience. Again it wasn’t too crowded and it was wonderful.  Being led on the moving walkway with the music was an experience out of this world: you just have to go to see, hear and feel it for yourself. I was very impressed by the room all the fish had in their tanks. The sea tank with the current simulation was something I had never seen before.

I decided to “Ride the Rocket” on my way back (I love the motto for the Toronto underground train!). My feet couldn’t stand one more step. After a late lunch, my friends and I decided to go to the Royal Ontario Museum at the last minute. We got there a little after 4 and only had 50 minutes to visit and decided on The China exhibit on the first floor and the Egypt, Italy and Greece one on the third floor. We both enjoyed our quick visit and enjoyed the mummified cats.  At the souvenir shop I bought a small dark brown Egyptian cat sculpture made of a mix of metal and rock.

On my third day, I walked all the way to Casa Loma taking the long route. Tourist maps are not always the best maps; mine only showed major streets and it seemed I would never get to my destination. I was starting to regret having walked Bloor street west but then I stumbled upon an outdoor welcome mat with cats outside the Home Hardware store…. I had to carry it all the way to the castle and back to the apartment but it was worth it!

Casa Loma
Casa Loma viewed coming from the west side

Casa Loma was an awesome visit. I was greeted by David who told me his wife was Acadian. He spoke very good French and was so friendly. Casa Loma is a castle that was built by a very rich man who didn’t get to live long in this castle because he went bankrupt. He lived too large, spent too much and put all his eggs in one basket (or castle). There is even a 700 foot underground tunnel that leads to a garage and stable: walking there and back is almost half a kilometer!

I had invited my friends for dinner and I cooked my famous Bolognese sauce without tomatoes, using instead a red sauce made with red bell peppers and beets. It was a success and they even had leftovers. Knowing they had traveled to Italy both many times I asked them if it was as good as what they would have had there and my friend’s husband said even better!  That is one of the best compliments I ever had as a home chef!

Mummified Cat
Mummified Cat

The next day planned visit was at the Toronto Zoo. We decided on the transit since it was way cheaper than taking a cab. It was a no brainer: $6 each instead of $140. We weren’t too impressed by the transit employees; the booth tellers had no clue what they were doing. We had never seen such incompetent people. I will spare you the details but the only employee that made sense was one of the drivers of the bus going to the zoo who said the female driver of the bus that left before his was stupid. Weekdays and Weekend schedules are different and even bus drivers and booth tellers are all mixed up. The zoo was a nice visit but none of us was left with a wowed impression. There were not many animals outdoors and I must say our experience at the Moncton Zoo (New Brunswick) and Granby zoo (Quebec) in winter were both better experiences. I still have nice memories of the Toronto Zoo but I expected much more from one of biggest zoos in Canada.

Ngozi's Baby
Ngozi’s Baby

On Sunday, my friend and I were supposed to visit the Ontario Science Center but as I checked in my bag to make sure I had everything I couldn’t find my City pass with the last ticket left, the one to the OSC. Doh! I was a little upset at first but I told myself I must have made someone happy, that is if someone found it. So change of plans; we went back to the apartment and decided on the Museum next to Casa Loma, the Spadina House Museum. We took the subway there and walked back on Davenport. The museum was a nice complement to the Casa Loma which we had both visited. Our volunteer guide was very passionate and knowledgeable. We learned a great deal on this visit.

We talked all the way to the apartment which made the trip seem shorter than it really was. It was already time for me to go back home and I wished I had a couple more days. My cab was waiting for me and we said our goodbyes and hoped we would see each other again within 2 years. On our way to the airport, the driver rode through Forest Hill. I tried to enjoy the beautiful scenery but I had a big lump in my throat: I was missing my friends already. Friendship is a wonderful thing and having friends overseas is something one has to experience to understand.

Visiting Toronto with my friends was awesome! I loved Toronto. I would love to go back with Dami and Mama D. With all that traveling I didn’t have time to watch the Olympics in Sochi. That being said I would give myself a gold medal for doing so much walking in such a short period of time!