Toronto

January 5th

I got up early, showered, had breakfast, packed my last few items and headed to central station. I arrived on time, grabbed a coffee and boarded my train for Toronto. Hopeful that the forecast snow storms wouldn’t actually affect my ability to get to my friend Nanette.

On the train I managed to get a window seat so I could watch the world go by. Unfortunately the world was not very exciting, snow-covered flat field after snow-covered flat field. Every now and then a little township poked up out of one of these flat snow-covered fields. It really makes you wonder why people live out there…it’s freezing cold and there’s nothing for miles around.

imageThankfully the five hour train trip was over quite quickly and a family friend, Nanette, picked me up from the station. Nanette has been a family friend since she and my parents were all in their teens. She has been out to visit us in Australia, and we have all caught up in The Netherlands but this is the first time I have visited her in Canada, so it’s very exciting to get the chance to catch up.

Once we got to Nanette’s place we had a good chatterbox and enjoyed some wine and cheese, while investigating the things to see and do in Toronto, before enjoying a delicious healthy dinner.

January 6th

After a fabulous sleep I had a bit of a sleep in, and then got up and put on my fluffy robe. Nanette and I spent the morning drinking coffee and eating fresh muffins, before eventually getting dressed, de-icing the car and heading out to the Ontario Science Center.

imageAt the Science Center we enjoyed and IMAX movie on the great white shark as well as learning loads about the human body and playing with few hands-on science experiments. It was so much fun, so interesting and such a well designed center with so many helpful staff! It was a great way to spend the day, with the added bonus of not freezing our butts off outdoors.

In the afternoon we headed back to the train station to pick up my friend Liv, who despite having lived in Canada for 18 months, hadn’t made it to Toronto yet. So she thought that it would be a great reason to visit and spend more time hanging out with a friend from home.

So Nanette, Liv and I spent the evening nibbling on tasty foods and chatting.

imageJanuary 7th

With my sightseeing buddy by my side, we got up early, rugged up super well against the weather described as ‘brutally cold’ (the forecast literally included the warning that it would be ‘brutally cold’, it also warned that frostbite could occur in as little as 10 minutes) and headed downtown Toronto. The short walk from the subway station to the CN Tower was torturous, I think that the pain in my face from the icy winds was the worst I had experienced so far, but I was determined to see Toronto, and forged ahead.

imageThe CN Tower is known for having queues of people with 2 hours wait time, but we strolled up to the ticket counter, and walked straight in. We zoofed up the outside of the tower in the glass elevator and were the only people on the observation deck. Though it was a freezing cold day, it was actually a very clear day with blue skies. The view across Toronto were fab! Particularly stunning was the view across Lake Ontario towards the Toronto Islands. The lake was almost entirely frozen and it looked brilliant to see the winds blowing the snow across the surface of the ice.

After visiting the CN Tower, we asked about underground walkways linking parts of the city and thankfully these existed, so once we had directions Liv and I parted ways. I headed along the skywalk (covered walkway) back to the subway station, where I caught the subway up to Museum. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) had numerous good reviews, so even though I am not really into museums, this one was on my list.

imageThe ROM is an interesting building, it is a stunning old building, perhaps sandstone, which has a very modern diamond shape building essentially plopped into it. From the outside white, angular edges jut out of the old building; it is like this inside as well. It probably sounds horrible but it is really an amazing combination of old and new and works really well. In the scheme of things, I walked through the museum fairly quickly. The main attraction for me was the architecture of the new part, the old part and the intersection of the two. The other exhibits were all well designed and interesting, but weren’t the highlight for me.

imageAfter the ROM, I visited another place that would not normally be on my list, The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Again, the exhibits and art left me yawning, but the architectural features in the building were just stunning. The staircase was beautifully curved timber, a beautiful honey colour set against white walls, exposed steel and a glass ceiling. The shape  is basically nearly impossible to describe, so check out the pictures. The espresso bar on the second floor also made effective use of timber, steel and was a great spot to sit down and enjoy a tasty coffee.

By this stage it was early afternoon and things would be closing soon, so I messaged Liv to see if she was keen to head to Steam Whistler Brewing Company to go on a brewery tour. Freakishly, she was also in the AGO at the time, so she popped up to the espresso bar and joined me for that coffee.

imageThe two of us hopped on the subway and headed towards the waterfront. We made it just in the nick of time to get on the 4:30 tour. Our guide started off by cracking open a beer for each of us, before starting the tour of the brewery. The brewery was started by three guys who had worked for other brewing companies, which had been bought out and then they had been made redundant or fired. So these three friends some time later decided that they still wanted to be in the brewing industry, and one night over a few beers (of course), they decided to start their own company and would call it ‘three fired guys’. The wife of one of the men said they shouldn’t have a negative name, they ended up calling it Steam Whistle Brewing Company instead, but still secretly label every bottle with ‘3FG’. So these guys started up their own brewery and decided to do just one beer very well, so they learned the recipes used in the Czech republic and Bavaria, tweaked it a little bit and came up with a super tasty Pilsener. The tour guide was great and the beer awesome, so it was a great way to finish up the day.

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January 8th

Our original plan for the day had been to go to Niagara Falls, but at the last minute the forecast for that area took a turn for the worst, with snow storms and closed roads, so we took the smart option and stuck around Toronto to enjoy a beautiful mild day!

imageNanette had the day off, and knowing Liv and I both love architecture, she took us on a driving tour of the city. We drove around The Beach (the beach is a popular, and expensive, area to live in because it is on the beach. The beach looked amazing covered in snow, with mini icebergs lapping against the shore!), Leslieville, Cabbage Town, Riverdale, Yorkville, Downtown Toronto and Chinatown. We say so many lovely houses!!!

In China town we stopped for lunch as a cute cafe and I tried a traditional pie, tourtière, which had ground pork, mashed potato, raisins and cinnamon. It didn’t sounds amazing, but it tasted pretty good.

imageAfter lunch Nanette dropped Liv and I off at the harbourfront area, as it is an arty district with loads of cute galleries, but since its January and the middle of winter, everything was closed. So, Liv headed off to find other art galleries and I headed off for a wander.

imageI had a look in the CBC Museum which was tiny but quite interesting, then I wandered around Queen Street West, the downtown shopping strip, over to St Lawrence Market, through the adorable old part of town over to the Distillery District.

imageThe Distillery District had lots of cute little shops and is such a beautiful old district. It was great just to wander around. As I concluded my wanderings, I headed to Tappo Wine Var to meet Nanette and Liv for dinner.

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It was a beautiful old building, lots of exposed brickwork, polished concrete floors, timber columns and exposed steel. Very industrial but made to feel warm and welcoming. We had an AMAZING dinner together and enjoyed a glass of wine. For anyone in the area, I would definitely recommend having dinner there. We shared a seafood entrée of Octopus, Calamari and Squid, followed by a first course of wild boar pappardelle, and then we had a main. I had a delicious, tender, beef strip-loin dish served on roasted potatoes, Liv had a lamb dish and Nanette had Mahi-Mahi. We were all very impressed with the quality and the food and the amazing flavours! In addition to that, our waiter Eric provided brilliant service and it was just a fabulous evening out!

January 9th

imageWith the weather forecast looking mild and clear, the three of us rugged up, grabbed our recently charged camera’s and hopped in the car. Traffic was pretty good and it took around 1.5 hours to reach Niagara-on-the-lake. An adorable little town with lots of cute little boutiques stores. We had a bit of a look around and stopped for a coffee at a cute English pub called the Prince of Wales. We sat in big leather arm chairs by the fire, it was so cosy! (Although considering the mild weather it wasn’t as necessary as on other days)

imageWe jumped back in the car and drove along the Niagara Parkway admiring the stunning view of the frozen river along the way. At Niagara Falls itself, it was just STUNNING! A lot of the falls were frozen, as was the river below, but there was still a large quantity of water falling, producing a huge plume of mist and highlighting a beautiful full rainbow arcing across the river. It was breathtaking!

imageWhile most of the standard Niagara attractions were closed, we were able to do the ‘journey behind the falls’ where you take an elevator down to near the base of the falls and look out portals at the falls from the side and down to the frozen river below.

The beauty of Niagara Falls in winter is hard to describe, but it really was simply breathtaking!

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Once we had taken hundreds of photos of this amazing sight, we jumped back in the car and headed for the US! Niagara is partly in Canada and partly in the US. So since we re so close to the border we had planned to head over so that Liv and I could do a little bit of shopping while Nanette visited a good friend of hers.

imageHeading across the border, our documents were taken from us and we had to head in to immigration. We had to wait half an hour or more before we were able to speak to the immigration officer (which was frustrating because the officers were sitting around doing nothing, while the people queued up), but the immigration officer we had was really pleasant and waved us through in no time. (Yay I have another stamp in my passport!)

So off we went, into New York State, headed for Buffalo. I tried to take a photo of the sign but an immigration officer got super cranky with me for getting out of the car, so I took a picture as we drove past the sign.

The shopping mall we visited was huge and there were so many great sales on! We were like kids in a candy store! But while it was loads of fun and we tried on lots of funky clothes, we both had our baggage restrictions for the flight home in mind and walked away with only a few funky items.

Soon enough it was time to head home. The man at the border was really condescending and treated us like rubbish, so that was a bit frustrating, but at least he let us back into Canada. So we got home around 9:30pm and soon after, headed to bed. It had been a very long, but amazing day!

January 10th

imageMy last day in Toronto. While you may expect I would be cramming my last day full of sightseeing, as I had almost every other day. I was exhausted, and instead opted to spend the day catching up on some sleep, packing my bag, blogging and reading. I also completed a standard daily Canadian chore…shovel snow and ice off the sidewalk!

In the afternoon Nanette and I ran a few errands and did some groceries. At home we chopped loads of veggies and Nanette made a big wok of Bami Goreng.

We had a little dinner party with a friend Tonny, Nanette, Liv and I – it was a fantastic evening with loads of delicious food and fantastic conversation. After dinner was some last minute packing and an alarm set for 4am.

So ended the amazing Canadian adventure!
Thanks to all the friends and family who shared in my adventures over the last month!

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