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.

Alberta and British Columbia 18 Nights Itinerary (without a car)

calgary to victoria mapFrom April 29th to May 17th 2016, Mama D and I went on a trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the British Columbia Sunshine Coast and Vancouver island. It was a lot of fun to plan and so much more to experience! The itinerary was built around the train trip and everything went smoothly, and as planned. We were very happy with all the accommodations chosen; I did a lot of research before hand and in some cases, changed my mind and got a bigger room i.e in Calgary, Banff and Victoria. We did not regret our choice to go bigger as it made an even more memorable trip! Customer service and cleanliness were excellent in all seven accommodations, including the train.

This 18 nights itinerary starts in Calgary, Alberta and ends in Victoria on Vancouver island in British Columbia. If you travel light, you could add a float plane trip from Vancouver to Sechelt or Victoria, or from Sechelt to Victoria. I hope this inspires you to plan a wonderful trip! Please don’t be shy to post any comments or suggestions you might have for us or other travelers.

Calgary, Alberta
3 days and 4 nights in Calgary
Stay at Best Western Plus Downtown Calgary in a 2 bedroom suite (Breakfast included)
Day 1 Travel to Calgary
Day 2 (Saturday) Glenbow Museum with lunch at the Devonian Gardens in Stephen Street Mall
Day 3 (Sunday) Calgary Tower in the morning, lunch at hotel, Lougheed House in the afternoon
Day 4 (Monday) Calgary Zoo, pack a lunch, arrive before opening and book a Behind The Scenes tour

Mama D and DD with the Calgary Tower MascotCalgary Tower and GlenbowLougheed HouseCalgary Zoo MapRock HyraxBehind the Scenes Calgary Zoo

 

 

DD Feeding a Carrot to a GiraffeCalgary Zoo Dinausaur and Hoodoos

 

 

 

 

From the airport, you can take a shuttle to the hotel, a taxi or a luxury Sedan which is what we opted for, for not much more than 2 shuttle tickets. Train is free in downtown Calgary and if you need to travel outside the free zone you can purchase tickets at train stations in automated machines. Safeway and London Drugs are a short walk from the hotel.

On day 1 you could if you wanted to not pack a lunch and eat instead in one of the many fast food restaurants at the food court that is right in the Devonian Gardens, on the 4th floor. On Day 2, you could have lunch in the restaurant of the Calgary Tower that includes the visit or you could opt for the Sunday Brunch at The Fort of Calgary, a few train stations away… apparently it’s one of the best kept secrets in town and it does include the Fort’s admission entry.

Banff, Alberta
3 days and 3 nights in Banff
Brewsters bus from Sandman Hotel in Calgary to Banff Hotel
Stay at Rundlestone Lodge in a family suite (No Breakfast)
Day 5 (Tuesday) Lunch in Hotel Lobby, Whyte Museum
Day 6 (Wednesday) Banff Gondola, lunch on top of Sulphur Mountain, Banff Hot Springs
Day 7 (Thursday) Shopping and laundry (3$ per machine)

Banff Whyte MuseumBanff GondolaBanff View from Sulphur MountainPath to Banff Hot Springs

 

 

 

Day 8 (Friday) Sundog Banff to Jasper Tour (10 hour)
Discounts for CAA-AAA members
An amazing tour across the rockies if you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive. There are many stops along the way to take pictures, for washroom breaks and for lunch. Do the Glacier tour and the sky walk, it’s worth it! Bring a super large bottle or two to fill with absolute pure and fresh glacier water!

Lake LouiseRocky MontainsRocky Montains2Mama D and DD at Columbia Icefiled CenterDD taking Glacier waterGlacier Bus

 

 

Columbia Icefield SkywalkAthabasca Falls

 

 

 

 

The reason why Banff Hot springs is crossed is that we had planned to go but because of the high content of chlorine we decided to opt out and took the bus back to the hotel instead. The Roam Public buses are so convenient. Buy a day pass for $5 right on the bus. We could have visited the Banff Park Museum had we known they had opened earlier in the season than planned because of the nice weather and crowds. There is lots more we could have done but needed a rest so we took it easy.

Jasper, Alberta
1 Day and 2 Nights in Jasper
Stay at Columbine House Bed and Breakfast (breakfast included)
Day 9 (Saturday) Sky Tram with free shuttle from Mount Robson Inn Hotel, lunch at launch center, shuttle back downtown, Whislter’s Inn Museum, Jasper Museum where they sell super cute animal puppets!

Jasper SkytramJasper View From Whistler's Mountain2Trail to Whistler's Mountain TopWhistler's Inn Museum

 

 

 

At Columbine House you will be welcomed with open arms by Karen. 2 nights minimum stay with breakfast and snacks included and replenished in your mini fridge daily. There is a microwave but no stove top. Comfortable king size bed and queen size sofa bed with view of the Sky tram! We would have liked to go on a Maligne Tour with Sundog on Saturday morning but they were fully booked. We should have booked ahead… Our original plan was the Maligne tour in the morning and the Skytram in the afternoon but then we wouldn’t have had enough time to see the museum and get the puppets!

Via Rail on The Canadian
Day 10 (Sunday) Via Rail Train from Jasper to Vancouver in Sleeper Cabin for 2
.5 Day and 1 Night

Mama D and DD at Jasper Train StationVia Rail PosterMother's Day on The TrainVancouver Train Station

 

 

 

The sleeper cabin for 2 includes all meals, tea, coffee and snacks. Snacks consist of cookies, muffins, fruits with teas and coffee. The food in the dining car is excellent. We had soup, salad, main course and dessert. The train leaves in the afternoon and we were fortunate that our train was on time and arrived an hour earlier than planned in Vancouver which gave us lots of time to get to our next destination. Ask for cabin F when you make your reservation for extra room.

People from all over the world come to Canada to experience this beautiful train ride through the Alberta and British Columbia rocky mountains.

Sechelt, British Columbia
2.5 days and 3 nights
Stay at Above The Inlet B&B, Leopard Suite (breakfast is extra$)
On day of arrival we went grocery shopping at The Independent for PC points!
Day 12 (Tuesday) walk to Sechelt marsh, Birthday Buffet lunch in our suite, lounge in the sun
Day 13 (Wednesday) Walking and shopping

BC FerriesSuitcases On The FerryOn The BC Ferry To SecheltHeron At Sechelt MarinaSechelt MarshGeese at Sechelt MarshSechelt High School TrailMama D and Mama J on High School Trail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sechelt inlet is a small town north of Vancouver only accessible by ferry boat. We like to go there to visit family. There are not many things to do but there is a lot of beauty to take in and it’s the perfect place to unwind. The views from the B&B are amazing! There is a nice short hiking trail from the top of Trail Avenue to the high school and there is the Sechelt Marsh near the marina. You could easily spend more time than we did.

The easiest and fastest way to get to the Horseshoe Bay ferry dock is by taxi. Ask where to check your suitcase before heading to the waiting room. This is a 45 minute ferry ride. There is a restaurant on board. Once you get off in Langdale, you can either get a taxi or ride the public transit if you don’t have too much luggage like we do… There is a new shuttle service that wasn’t yet available when we were there. We love staying at Above the Inlet where Patricia and Peter are like family to us. The views are amazing. You could spend one day in Sechelt going to the marina, the marsh, do a little shopping, walk on the ocean front and walk the high school trail. A second day can be spent in Gibsons, using the public transit. We did a bit of shopping in Gibsons on our way back.

Vancouver, British Columbia
.5 day and 1 night
Stay at Residence Inn by Marriott, 2 Queen Suite, (Breakfast included)
There is a Safeway walking distance but we didn’t go because we were having dinner with a friend who lives in Vancouver and came to pick us up. We decided not to stay in Vancouver because we wanted to spend more time in Victoria and Sechelt instead. This was a stepping stone and a little rest before the last leg of our trip.

Victoria, British Columbia
3 days and 4 nights
Stay at Best Western Inner Harbour, 2 bedrooms Penthouse Suite (Breakfast included)
Day 15 (Saturday) Douglas park, Petting zoo, lunch at hotel, laundry ($1.50 per machine)
Day 16 (Sunday) Gorge taxi boat tour, shopping, lunch at hotel, Hollywood movie at IMAX
Day 17 (Monday) private tour in rural Victoria, IMAX movies in the afternoon, Dinner with family.
Day 18 Travel back home.

Rododendrons at Victoria Beacon Hill ParkHarbour Tours VictoriaMama D and The Goats at Beacon Hill Petting ZooPeacock at Beacon Hill Petting ZooBeacon Hill Park Fountainhop on hop off victoria petting zoo

 

 

 

Goldstream Provincial ParkMama D and DD at Kinsol Trestle Bridge

 

 

 

The best accommodation of our trip was in Victoria. There is a wraparound wooden deck with gorgeous views of the harbor and the Washington Mountains. We’ve been to Victoria twice before so we had seen most of the museums and attractions. We love the fact that you can walk to almost all of the major attractions. There is a magical feel not unlike what we feel when we visit Walt Disney World in Orlando and stay in a deluxe villa at Boardwalk although the price is so much better!