To T.O.: District Diversity

One of the things I liked most about Toronto was the diversity of neighbourhoods – it was great to be able to take in such a variety of areas even in the short amount of time I was there. I know there were many neighbourhoods I just didn’t get to – I look forward to exploring them on my next visit!

North York

On my first night in Toronto, Amanda and I stayed in her ‘hood of North York for dinner. What blew me away around Yonge Street was just how dense it was (the 2006 Census recorded a population of 635,370 in North York, only about 100,000 less than the entire population of Edmonton in that year).

North York

High rises

With high rises all around us, it was a reminder of the kind of amenities that can bloom around that sort of density. One great example was a complex with a Loblaws on a ground floor, entertainment and shopping above that, and condo towers on top – and all connected to a subway station across the street.

North York

Amenities galore

Unfortunately, it was clear what was the priority means of commuting in that neighbourhood: given the number of storefronts that lined both sides of Yonge Street, there was a dire need for crosswalks in smaller intervals. Instead, we saw innumerable pedestrians jaywalking across the five lane road.

North York

Inhospitable Yonge Street

West Queen West

Although Amanda currently lives in North York, her dream neighbourhood in Toronto is West Queen West. An eclectic mix of boutiques and lofts, I could easily see why she’d want to move here.

West Queen West

Picturesque walk-ups

The Spice Trader

The Spice Trader, a great little shop

Dufflet

Cookie from Dufflet – tasted like a Reese peanut butter cup!

Harbourfront

On those hot and humid days, there was nothing better than standing out by the lake, taking in the cool breeze.

Harbour

Feeling refreshed

I didn’t get to do this as often as we would have liked during that week, but I did really enjoy the stroll on the boardwalk we did get to take that night!

Harbour

Out on the lake

Chinatown

Our trek through Chinatown was brief, and focused – Amanda and I spent most of our time trying to track down something for our Mum.

Chinatown

Gorgeous murals

Chinatown

Yum!

We also didn’t wander past the tourist-driven shops, a shame because I know it would have been a great area to eat our way through.

Chinatown

Couldn’t resist a picture of sushi-bobbleheads

Kensington

Kensington, with its hippie sensibilities, reminded me of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury (though maybe not as rough around the edges). I loved the colourful homes-turned-shops, with wares spilling into their yards and onto the sidewalk. The area actually closes its streets once a week as well for “pedestrian Sundays”.


Charming

Judith Deutsch Park

One of the most rewarding byproducts of exploring a city on foot is the things you end up stumbling upon. Judith Deutsch Park was a fun example of this, a narrow playground we came across on our way from Chinatown to Kensington.

Julius Deutsch Park

Amanda loves to exercise!

The playground was made up of sturdy metal versions of popular gym equipment – everything from an elliptical to resistance machines.

Julius Deutsch Park

Whee!

It just seemed so random, but was such a neat interactive little pocket that definitely livened up a dreary strip of pavement.

Distillery District

Historically, the Distillery District dates back to 1832, and represents the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America. The area was purchased by developers and re-opened in 2003, offering a mix of cultural and retail experiences, as well as residential options.

Distillery District

Distillery District

Without a doubt the neighbourhood itself is picture-perfect: the area is enclosed, bastion-style, with brick and stone walls. Paired with the cobblestone, pedestrian-friendly streets, it was no surprise when we saw a wedding party traipsing through for photo opportunities. The Distillery has also been home to all sorts of interesting events, including food truck festivals and Toronto’s first Diner en Blanc.

Distillery District

Photo op

They had some interesting outdoor sculptures as well, which nicely juxtaposed the historic backdrop.

Distillery District

Arts market

Distillery District

Straight out of War of the Worlds

It was a great area to browse – an outdoor arts market was set-up, in addition to some funky gift and houseware shops. We especially enjoyed the art on display at Cube Works, all constructed entirely out of Rubik’s cubes.

Distillery District

Shopping

Distillery District

KD!

Distillery District

Only limited by their imagination…

We decided to grab a coffee at Balzac’s, which seemed to be a top-rated café in Toronto. We were puzzled, then, to encounter a sign that warned that no photography was permitted inside the shop. We had to wonder about this policy, especially for a third-wave coffee shop – wouldn’t they want the publicity from coffee addicts posting candid photos taken of their drinks?

Distillery District

Balzac’s

Mack defied the signage and snapped a quick photo of the interior, which was quite striking. The coffee, on the other hand, wasn’t a highlight.

For lunch, we stopped inside Mill Street Brewery, a microbrewery known for their organic lager (it can be found in Edmonton). The restaurant side was comfortable, serving up predictable, but comforting pub classics. Amanda liked her turkey club, and Mack’s beer-battered fish and chips were decent. My chicken pot pie was all right, though I could have done without the side of mushy, thawed peas and lead potatoes.

Mill Street Brewery

Mill Street beer

Mill Street Brewery

Inside the pub

Mill Street Brewery

Turkey club

Chicken pot pie

We stuck around for the free tour inside the small on-site brewery, which is now mostly used for R & D purposes (at that time, for example, they were trying out an Italian rice brew). Our guide reinforced how small they were in comparison to some of the big fish in the industry – what Mill Street produces in a year can be replicated by Labatt in eighteen hours.

Mill Street Brewery

Cheers!

Although it was a stunning neighbourhood to visit, I was hoping our food and drink experiences would match the grandeur of our surroundings.

Waterfront Night Market

A festival can be considered a temporary neighbourhood, which is how I thought of the Waterfront Night Market. It was such a serendipitous moment when I wondered aloud to Amanda whether or not Toronto hosted any night markets similar to the one found in Richmond, BC – then promptly stumbled across a poster advertising the Waterfront Night Market taking place that weekend.

As we didn’t have a car, we decided to take the free, advertised “fun bus” from City Hall down to the festival site (which happened to be the parking lot of the downtown T & T Supermarket). Apparently organizers didn’t learn from the previous year when similar problems happened – they again only had three buses, resulting in massive wait times. Although we waited an hour for the promised ride, they did avoid a #funbusfail.

Waterfront Night Market

The fun bus, living up to its name

When we reached the festival grounds, it was busy, but not quite as packed as I remember the Richmond equivalent to be.

Waterfront Night Market

I’m sure the smoke could have been seen for miles

It was clearly a food market, with merchandise vendors outnumbered ten to one. The hawkers in particular were entertaining, and reminded me of some of the Asian markets my family and I had visited long ago.

Waterfront Night Market

Meat on a stick

And though we had dinner not long before, we indulged anyway. To do so, Mack did have to get over the overpowering aroma of both stinky tofu and oyster omelettes though.

Waterfront Night Market

The bane of Mack’s existence

Waterfront Night Market

Thirst-quenching

Waterfront Night Market

The strawberry ice drink I ordered (featuring fruit popping pearls) had the consistency of ice cream!

Waterfront Night Market

The tornado potato was unfortunately not crispy

In addition to the vendors, there was a live music stage and an NBA tournament going on – the sights and sounds were almost overwhelming!

I’m happy we made our way to the night market – it was definitely something we wouldn’t have been able to experience at home.

To T.O.: Tourism 101

Out of all the blog posts I write, I most enjoy recounting my travel experiences. If you are a regular reader, however, you know that this category is the most neglected. Because they are the most time consuming, I tend to procrastinate on them, a habit that is becoming worse as the years pass (I still haven’t finished writing about San Francisco, a year and a half later!). I hope to turn the tide with a short series on a week-long trip I took to Toronto in July 2011 to see my sister Amanda. Mack joined me there towards the end of my trip.

This wasn’t my first time to Toronto; I visited a friend for a few days back in 2006. It was a brief stay, but I managed to hit up some of the attractions that I had on my list at that time, including the Bata Shoe Museum and Casa Loma. This time around, although it really didn’t matter where we went, Amanda was game to look at her adopted city from a tourist’s perspective, and I was able to take in quite a bit of what Toronto had to offer.

Watching the Blue Jays

I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I’d never been to a Major League Baseball game before, and tickets were cheap – rail seats at the top level of Rogers Centre were just $10. It was also a beautiful night to be outside, not too muggy, with a breeze to cool things off just right.

Rogers Centre

Rogers Centre

Rogers Centre

The view of the CN Tower

All smiles!

The Seattle Mariners were in town, but the real star that night was Roberto Alomar, who watched the game from one of the sky boxes – he was in town to prepare for his entrance into the Hall of Fame at the end of the month.

Rogers Centre

Roberto Alomar!

I loved the jumbotron, and as a non-fan, being able to keep track of the players and their batting record so far that night – it really made it easier to get into the game. The other noticeable differences between this game and Capitals games I’d been to was the lack of aggressive beer sales in the stands and no “entertainment” between innings – mascot runs or little league pitchers or the like.

Rogers Centre

Batter up!

That said, I didn’t expect that number of extended innings – after runs in the first and second, it dragged on, scoreless, until the eighth, when tie runs resulted in extra innings. Five additional innings to be exact. Finally, after 14 innings and four and a half hours, Rajai Davis stole two bases and scored the winning run.

Rogers Centre

Finally

Being Part of a Live Studio Audience

I’m never really home during the day to watch CityLine, but I knew it was a lifestyle program, and that they filmed with a live studio audience. It seemed like it would be a fun way to spend a morning.

City Line

Holding room

After a short pep talk in the holding room, the audience (99% women) was herded down into the studio. Host Tracy Moore (a bombshell in real life – it’s hard to believe she had a baby a year prior) was gracious, welcoming everyone and making sure the audience felt comfortable.

City Line

With Tracy after the show

The topics explored in that particular episode (which would be aired exactly one week later), weren’t really of interest to either Amanda or myself – children’s activities, resistance training, pet safety issues and random kitchen tips – but it was interesting to see how the production crew had to scramble to arrange the different sets in the tight space.

City Line

Filming a segment on de-seeding tomatoes

And really, it was worth our time just for the parting gifts! We each received a $50 PetValu gift certificate and Body Shop package. Thanks, CityLine!

Experiencing the Humidity

Of all the weeks I could have gone, I ended up choosing the heat wave Toronto experienced last summer. Walking out of Amanda’s basement suite on the hottest of those days (in the morning, no less!), my camera lens literally fogged up when I took it out to snap a photo.

Humidity

Seriously

Given it was +48 degrees with the humidity, people weren’t only joking about being able to fry eggs on the sidewalk – they were literally doing it.

Checking Out the View from the CN Tower

The mothership of tourist attractions in Toronto wasn’t really on my radar those first few days. But after seeing the CN Tower from almost every angle over the course of the week, we decided to just take the plunge…or rather, ascent.

CN Tower

The glass floor

As expected, the views were breathtaking, especially on such a clear day. Given it was the hottest day of the year, the outdoor platform/wind tunnel was also not a bad place to be.

CN Tower

Lake Ontario

CN Tower

Toronto from above

Visiting the St. Lawrence Market

Named by Food and Wine Magazine in 2004 as one of the “World’s 25 Best Markets”, we knew we’d have to check out the St. Lawrence Market on a bustling Saturday morning.

St. Lawrence Market

Outdoor arts and crafts vendors

Their produce was a sight for sore eyes – at that time in Edmonton, we didn’t have the same variety in our markets yet.

St. Lawrence Market

Ontario peaches (we noticed that there was a real emphasis on “Ontario” vs. “local”)

St. Lawrence Market

Multicoloured zucchini

St. Lawrence Market

Beans

St. Lawrence Market

Garlic scapes

The market was spread over several buildings, and was absolutely massive. The main building featured two levels, packed with permanent vendors that would enable anyone to do all of their grocery shopping in one trip. It reminded us of farmers’ markets in Calgary – imports like cheese and olives were permitted.

St. Lawrence Market

Rice vendor

St. Lawrence Market

Seafood

St. Lawrence Market

Whole pig, anyone?

St. Lawrence Market

Peameal bacon was everywhere in Toronto!

St. Lawrence Market

Yum…baked goods (yes, we indulged)

St. Lawrence Market

Great use of QR codes – links to the vendor’s recipes

Given how the market was such a tourist attraction, it was curious that there was no information table in sight – as a result, we couldn’t locate the one vendor we were looking for: Ewenity, a dairy cooperative which sells sheep’s milk ice cream.

We also ended up stopping into the St. Lawrence Market again on Sunday. The smaller building had been converted into an antiques fair. We didn’t buy anything, but we did did peruse the tables, and came across a Lucky Strike tin!

St. Lawrence Market

Antique fair

St. Lawrence Market

We had no idea Lucky Strike was a real company (we really miss Mad Men)

Taking in a Show

Toronto stages attract some big names, actors I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see in Edmonton. One example of this was Carrie Fisher, whose show, Wishful Drinking, was playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre that week. Based on her memoirs of the same name, Fisher discusses her family, personal life, career and mental health issues.

Wishful Drinking

Wishful Drinking set

Mack and I are both fans of Star Wars, and though that part of her film career was referenced quite heavily in the play (i.e. the “social contract” she signed when agreeing to put on that metal bikini being that she would remain that shape for the rest of her life), we learned a lot more about her. She had many funny witticisms and wry observations (the most entertaining portion was “Hollywood 101”), and involved the audience at times as well. Fisher had a casual way about her, and it was clear that she was very comfortable with herself, her past and her ghosts. I’m glad we were able to go!

Dining with a Celebrity Chef

Or at least, dining in the restaurant of a celebrity chef. One of the only restaurants I had bookmarked prior to the trip was Lee Lounge. In March, I was fortunate enough to be invited to an Element of Taste with Chef Lee at NAIT, during his Chef in Residence tenure. He was humble, and from all reports, was a respectable teacher in the kitchen – I wanted to see if his restaurant lived up to the hype.

We arrived a half our before our reservation (the skies opened up just as we arrived), but were seated right away – later diners wouldn’t be so lucky, as the place was packed by the time we left. The interior was very dim (apologies in advance for the poor photos), but was tastefully decorated, with red accents and a wall-sized family photo at the entrance. And yes, Chef Lee was in the house! We saw him a few times checking in on things in the dining room.

The only blemish to our visit was the waitress – she pushed certain dishes (such as the Singaporean style slaw) much too hard, to the point where we felt guilty when we didn’t order it. All it did was communicate to us that it must have been his most profitable item.

But other than that, it was a note-perfect experience. The spicy crisp tofu was our favourite – well crusted on the outside, and silky smooth on the inside. The sauce also played between sweet and savoury flavours quite well.

Lee Lounge

Spicy crisp tofu

Mack in particular was looking forward to the cheeseburger spring roll (a single one for $7). It should have been pre-cut, but was flavoured with great spices, and really, we loved the idea of simulating a cheeseburger in another form. It begged the question – what other spring roll possibilities are out there?

Lee Lounge

Cheeseburger spring roll

The asparagus and green bean salad was wonderfully balanced – the vinaigrette first presented itself as tangy, but smoothed itself out. We also liked the braised beef ravioli, with thin skins that didn’t overwhelm the beef, and a slightly sweet finish.

Lee Lounge

Asparagus and green bean salad

Lee Lounge

Braised beef ravioli

We finished our meal with a banana cake, served warm, melding the fruit and chocolate in smooth and creamy bites.

Lee Lounge

Banana cake

We would recommend Lee Lounge – there is no doubt the care that goes into the food. That said, it wasn’t my favourite meal that I had in Toronto – I’ll be writing about that in another post!