Canadian Vacation

I know, I know…the title of the blog is SMALL trips with Tim and Chris…and we do do those, I promise!  In the meantime, vacation in Toronto, Canada!

Whew!  It’s hard to condense 10 days of a trip in a wonderful city into something that’s not too long to read.

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View from our 22nd floor condo

Although we left in the morning 45 minutes behind schedule to start our trip, we made good time and traveled straight, uncongested roads until we got just outside of Chicago.  Between highway construction, holiday weekend traffic, and rush hour, the highway was at a stand-still.  I think we were in traffic for about three hours…that added SO MUCH TIME to our trip!  We were supposed to be able to make it to the hotel right across the border in about 9 hours.  We left at 9:45 a.m. And didn’t get to the hotel until around midnight.  There also was a long line at the border toll booth itself, as well as a long line at the customs booth.

Getting through customs was no big deal.  We had to show our passports and ID’s.  I got the health certificates for the dogs, along with their shot records, but the guy didn’t need them.  I had imagined the Canadian customs guy to be just friendly and open like what you read Canadians to be like.  He wasn’t UNfriendly, but I got the distinct impression he wouldn’t hesitate to stick somebody in customs jail if they acted stupid…definitely no joking around.

Since we weren’t driving straight through, the first night we stayed at Fauld’s Motel in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.  The hotel room was super cute!  The bathroom, in particular, was nice.  It had a marble-type counter/vanity and shower enclosure.  The shower curtain was a pretty rose color instead of standard white, the fixtures looked new and were sparkling clean, as was the rest of the bathroom.  It looked like the room itself had been recently freshened…new paint, new window AC unit, and they even had a little vase of artificial flowers and a doily on the desk.  They also had a screen/storm door.  The wi-fi was a little spotty.

Our home for the next 10+ days was a condo in the Liberty Village neighborhood of Toronto.  We had a great view from our 22nd floor balcony, looking one direction we saw the city, and the other direction we saw Lake Ontario.  We arrived on Canada Day, so that night we watched fireworks.

Since the grocery stores were closed, we started things off right by having dinner and drinks at the bar of a pub across the street, The Brazen Head, where we met and chatted all evening with a lady who works at a company that does post production for movies, like the Marvel Comics movies.  I had a great Caesar salad and Tim had Fish and Chips and he said it was wonderful.

We spent most of our days in Toronto, which has so much to see and do and also has a wonderful public transit system.  The first day out, we hadn’t downloaded any app and also didn’t have a system map, AND the city was still celebrating Canada’s 150th, so basically we just picked a streetcar that looked like it would be going our direction.  We did that several times and finally made it back “home”.

After the first day, getting around using the various buses, streetcars, and subways was a piece of cake.  There basically is no parking anywhere so it made a lot of sense.  We each got a week pass that covered all methods of travel except for the Bike Share.  We did the Bike Share on Wednesday.  I got a text via the app that Bike Share was free that day so we figured, what the heck, let’s ride somewhere.  We rode down to the harbor and around the park.  It was very nice and there were so many families and couples either biking or just walking with the dogs.  EVERYONE around here seems to have dogs!

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We also made it down to the beach of Lake Ontario once, but it was cold that day and we didn’t get in the water.  We took Lupi, Bella stayed behind at the condo.  There was a nice boardwalk that ran the length between the beach and the park area.

Some of the groceries were more expensive than in the states, and some surprisingly were not.  Bacon, for instance, was a lot cheaper than in the states.  The food choices are healthier, and there are a lot of produce markets and fresh meat, dairy, and seafood places.

I won’t go into all of the places we visited, but here are some highlights.

Kensington Market was seedy and crowded and pretty cool and is where you want to go to really experience all the different cultures that make up Toronto.  It’s got a Bohemian feel, and there are all sorts of shops and also fresh produce stands.   It’s borders are roughly College St., Spadina Ave., Dundas St. W., and Bathurst St.  The street riot scenes of Police Academy were filmed here!

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St. Lawrence Market is HUGE!  If you don’t find it here, you don’t need it.  There are two floors and it includes everything from bakeries to cheese places to seafood to butcher shops to produce stands.

On Saturday there is a large farmer’s market and Sunday an antique market (we didn’t go to the antique market).

Church-Wellesley Village is an area that is “the historic home of Toronto’s LGBTQ communities”.  It’s bounded by Gerrard, Yonge, Charles, and Jarvis Streets.  Their main areas have all sorts of shops and also many cool restaurants.  We got off the main streets and walked along and it was very peaceful and the dogs’ presence, of course, caused us to have many nice conversations with people, as they usually do.  The Artful Dodger, mentioned later, is in this neighborhood and it’s the only place we went to twice.

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Little India was an area on Gerrard Street.  There were so many shops with BEAUTIFUL clothes!  There also were a lot of book stores, gift stores, kitchen stores, and restaurants.  We didn’t notice a lot of the more formal sit-down restaurants…mostly it was a lot of Mom N Pop type places, which we prefer.  We did this neighborhood early on our trip and it was very interesting to walk through.

The city is also brimming with restaurants and eateries, and the choices of types of food is endless.  There are so many cultures in Toronto that you can find anything you might be in the mood for.  It’s not the type of place that seemed famous for anything regional, like you’d find in the south, or New Orleans, or a coastal town, for instance, but they did have one dish, Poutine.  Poutine is French fries and cheese curds smothered in brown gravy.  There are variations, but basically that’s it.

We ate or just had a drink at several places during the week, such as

Via Mercanti in Kensington, where Lora was our server.  Their sign of a $5 pint drew us in.  We sat on the patio and people watched.  The weather Toronto was great, so we were outside as much as possible.

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My view as we sipped libations at Via Mercanti

Famous Indian Cuisine in Little India had a small but tasty buffet.  Our server, Yashwanth, was very attentive and nice and also very helpful when telling me what we were actually eating.  It has a pretty small dining area, but the sign said they had a room for bigger groups.  If I wrote it down correctly, I had Matar Paneer (peas and cheese), Curried chicken, Eggplant & Potato, Lamb Curry, Tandoori chicken, butter chicken, Pakora (appetizer), and chickpeas with potatoes (Chana Aloo??)

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Sugar Beach is an area by the lake where people congregate, sunbathe, and people watch.  There’s a very shady park next to it (part of it?) where you can sit if you’re not into the sun.  However, there is no access to the lake.  We had drinks at Against the Grain which is at Sugar Beach and is an upscale place.  We sat at the bar, as we usually do, and didn’t order anything to eat so I can’t vouch for their food, but our bartender, Hannah, was especially nice.

(You can tell I got to play with my Mother’s Day present…a fisheye lens LOL)

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Against the Grain

Although Crabby Joe’s Tap and Grill is a chain, it had nice ambiance, good food, and our server, Marylou, was attentive, as well.  It took a while to get drinks, but after that everything arrived pretty quickly.  We stuck with “American” standards.  Tim had a wrap and I had chicken/prosciutto sandwich minus the sandwich (bread) part, and a Caesar side salad.

We ate dinner and had drinks at Taps on Queen after our visit to Niagara Falls.  It was a REALLY nice pub/microbrewery.  Tim got a flight of the four in house beers they offered, and I got wine.  That girl KNEW how to pour wine!  Chelsea filled that glass UP!!  This is where we tried poutine for the first time ever, and it was very good.  I had a Caesar salad and Tim had a wrap.  The ambiance was really cool.  The bar wraps around the tanks, and there is a whole wall of windows to let in a lot of light.

We stopped at Firkin on King one day for drinks and a shared appetizer before walking around the city. I fixed a big breakfast every day so we didn’t start out our wanderings hungry.  We had Bombay chicken tacos.  While they were a little spicy for me,  Tim thought they were fantastic so we’ll go with what he says LOL.  They were nicely presented, though, and our server, Mikey, was great.  We had taken the dogs with us and he brought them water right away.  He was attentive and chatted with us a little bit about Toronto and what there is to see and do…I think he, Hannah (Against the Grain), and Chelsea (at Taps) were the most friendly we had the entire trip.

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The same afternoon as Firkin on King, I just had to have us stop at Belfast Love.  Its sign touted “authentic pub”…or something like that.  Keep in mind, we took the dogs with us a lot so we would sit out on the patio to eat and drink and people watch so I don’t often have indoor experiences to share.  However, I would usually go in to use the “washroom” (that’s what they call it up there) and I’d try to remember to take my phone for indoor pix on the way.  Anyway, just here for drinks so I can’t comment on the food but, again, a very nice server.  We didn’t get any rude or inattentive people while we were in Canadian restaurants/bars.

In the Wellesley/Church neighborhood, we stopped at O’Grady’s and initially were just going to have a drink but Tim got hungry so we got calamari, too.  It was divine!  It was flavorful and also had such a crispy and light breading.  It was perfect.  Our server’s name was Joe, and he, too was very friendly.  Only had Lupi with us, and she enjoyed the attention on the other side of the fence…

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We left there, walked around a bit, and stopped at The Artful Dodger.  We actually went to The Artful Dodger twice, once just for drinks and the second time on our last night in Toronto, we went there for steak dinner, and Jason was our server.  The steak was very, very good.  The steak was cooked perfectly, and served with salad and new potatoes for $18.00 CAD which was $14.00 to us.  The first time we went, for drinks, we only had Lupi with us since Bella had reached her people limit.  Lupi had to stay on the outside of the fence and she was a really good girl.  Dogs are never allowed on the patios, unlike places in the States, so you just tie them up on the other side of the railing from you and the server will usually bring them a bowl of water.

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Another pub type place we stopped at one day was Fox and Fiddle in Greektown.  Since we had a big breakfast every day we usually weren’t hungry and just had drinks when we’d go to these places.  It was just nice to sit on a patio in the beautiful weather and watch the world go by.  It was very relaxing, and Taylor, our server, was friendly and we chatted about Toronto, Canada, college…all sorts of things.

While in Greektown, we did decide we’d have dinner, so we ate at a Greek restaurant, Astoria Shish-Kebob House.  They have a nice stucco-type low wall around their patio area, and lots of flowers.  It had a very nice ambiance and Nikos was our server.  I like wine, but am not a wine connoisseur.  I usually just stick with standards like Pinot Grigio, which most places have.  Tim, however, likes beer and it’s common for restaurants to have multiple choices, especially local craft beers, so Tim gets to sample a lot of different beers.

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One of our absolute FAVORITE places was Mill Street Brewery in the Distillery District.  We found a place with a name close to one of our local favorites, Main and Mill Brewery, so of course we weren’t going to pass up a chance at this place.  We sat at the bar, which is what we typically do if we can, and ordered up a flight for Tim and a wine for me.  Our first bartender was Taneesha and she was great!  She was very, very friendly.  When Taneesha went off to another station, she was replaced by Billy, who was also very friendly.  At Billy’s recommendation, we ordered the flat bread pizza and it was divine!  One thing Tim had been having trouble with in Canada was that absolutely no place had brewed ice tea, it was all out of a can (Brisk), which he doesn’t like.  At a friend’s suggestion the night before, Tim asked Billy for a pot of hot tea and a glass of ice.  Billy delivered and, voila!  Tea!!  Too bad we didn’t think of this and it wasn’t recommended earlier in the trip…this was our last day!  So, just a tip if you’re a tea drinker…you’re going to have to ask for hot tea and a glass of ice.

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COFFEE!!

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Finally, we couldn’t NOT go to Steam Whistle Brewery while in Toronto.  Popped in for a quick sample for Tim.  Very large, very crowded, and pretty cool.

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We did a couple out-of-the-city trips while in Canada, the first being to the Owen Sound area near Lake Huron for waterfalls, and the second being to Niagara Falls.

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Inglis Falls

There’s not much that I can write about Niagara Falls that hasn’t already been written, but even so, when you see them, you’re going to be wowed.  The power of the falls is indescribable.  I don’t know why the size of the crowd shocked me, but it did.  I think I thought it would be more of a “natural” area…or maybe like a park with people watching the falls.  It is a completely chaotic tourist area.  You have to wait to get a turn up by the railing to get a good view of the falls, but people are polite and you’ll get your turn.

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A trip to the falls is not complete without taking the shuttle bus to The White Water Walk.  Be warned in case you don’t like crowded elevators, you have to wait in line for several minutes when you get off the shuttle bus and the line ends at, yes, an elevator…and it’s gonna be crowded.  When you get off the elevator in the bowel of the cliff, you have to walk through a tunnel to get out to the actual walkway.  It’s very beautiful!

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Well…I think I covered most of what we did.  Toronto is awesome and Canada is beautiful.  You should go to there.

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Skye Stapor – 12 year old powerhouse

This is Skye Stapor.  She’s 12.  She’s amazing.  Listen to her here.

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