Our visit to Toronto

toronto

Like most big cities when one arrives, the question will come up, “What are the things to do in Toronto, Ontario as a visitor?” Fortunately for this Canadian town, we found out there is plenty.

Toronto generally makes up the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. So if you’ve never seen 750,000 gallons of water dropping per second, it’s worth a sight and it’s only a 90-minute drive from town.

On the other hand, if leaving town is out of the question, then a walk to the CN Tower is in order. This Toronto-central feature is 533 meters high, and visitors can go inside to look out on the city at different levels. Altitude choices include terraces at the 350 meter and 450 meter levels above ground. It’s definitely breathtaking.

Of course, one can’t go to Toronto and Canada without experiencing the national sport pasttime – hockey. The Toronto Maple Leafs are a hockey team with a tremendous amount of history, so catching a home game is well worth the trouble when in town. And if you then think ice-skating is easy, take a spin during the winter months at one of the 50 city ice rinks around town. The ice rink at Nathan Philips Square is a popular choice.

The above said, some folks would rather see history, and the Royal Ontario Museum is a great choice. The facility is home to thousands of artifacts and pieces of history as well as one of the largest shoe collections in one location, 13,000 different shoes. Imelda Marcos would have been jealous.cn-tower

And for the real tourists who don’t believe a trip is actual made without shopping, there is the Toronto Eaton Centre which is has enough stores in it to keep someone busy for a week. This covers everything from simple street stores to high-end design as well as everything in between. On the other hand, if antiques are more of the focus, then shopping at St. Lawrence Market will provide plenty of choices and inventory to look at.

All of the above locations and running around is going to make someone hungry, however, so grabbing a bite should be on the agenda. Toronto has its own Little India, Chinatown, Little Italy, and more, so there’s something for everyone. Yet whatever you eat, you need to make sure that you have room to eat some Poutine, Canada’s own version of french fries and sauce.

In the evening, Toronto has its own version of Broadway, being home to dozens of stage plays and touring shows every year. The two big facilities to take a look at as well as their billing include the Young Centre for the Performing Arts and the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre. Alternatively, the city has plenty of stand up comic humor, and comedians can be found at the Bad Dog Theatre Company as well as at Second City. Finally, the late evening can be spent in the Entertainment District going from night club to night club. 30,000 dancing people can’t be wrong, and most clubs are running DJ music until the wee hours of the morning.

Those visiting with children can sometimes find seeing a town challenging as there isn’t always a whole lot for kids. Toronto is an exception to the rule. The Toronto Zoo is an easy place to spend a day with children, providing access to Canada’s biggest zoo, and 5,000 different animals. And that includes a Panda family.

For more excitement, there is Canada’s Wonderland. The location serve’s as Toronto’s main amusement park with roller coasters, contests, skill games, rides, and a gigantic IMAX movie theatre on the water. Toronto is definitely a place we’d love to visit again in the future.

Montreal: North America’s Version of Europe

montreal

When we entered Montreal, it was something else. First, it is completely on an island for the most part, so we saw some amazing views of the river. We felt like we were entering a completely different European country. We might as well have, because most the people spoke French here, but we were able to find English speakers rather easily.

Old Montreal

My wife wanted to eat at first, but I wanted to see some of the interesting landmarks. So we made a compromise, and we would go eat in Old Montreal. I figured that it would have some historic spots to check out. The area has the look of 18th century Europe and was complete with the cobblestones.  The streets were alive with not only tourists but street performers doing all sorts of shows in an attempt to get some of that sweet tourist cash. Another street offered artists selling their paintings and other works. We decided to eat at Chez Suzette which had amazing crepes at an affordable price. Afterwards, we took an amazing walking tour that showed us many of the old landmarks, such as the clock tower and the perfect view of the river.

Downtown

Since we were already in Old Montreal, the next place I suggested was Downtown. It was only a few minutes’ walk away from our current location. Downtown was a stark contrast than Old Montreal because of all the giant skyscrapers. We stopped by the Mary Queen of the World Cathedral which is a cathedral that is 1/4th the scale of the one that is said to be in Italy. We also checked out Parc du Mont-Royal. It is a park next to Mount Royal, but it really happens to just be a small hill. My wife really enjoyed the beauty of the place, and it offered me a serene feeling as well. There were so many places to eat, so we vowed to come back later at night.

Mile – End

I had read about this area of Montreal in a book when I was younger so I insisted my wife we go check it out. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as spectacular as I thought. Nonetheless, I was still impressed at the ambience. It seemed to be a trendy area, the word “hipster” comes to mind when visiting here. There were plenty of shops and boutiques which my wife loved, of course. Mile-End offers the most amazing bagel shop in the world though. There is a shop called St-Viateur Bagel. When we approached, there was a huge line there and when we received our bagel, we were not disappointed. There was another bagel shop nearby that competed with this one. Apparently, these bagel shops are world famous, but I didn’t know that when I first walked up to them.

Montreal is a perfect vacation destination for those wanting to travel to Europe but don’t have the money for a transatlantic flight. There are plenty of old style architecture, roads and landmarks. Beware that many people will speak French and even seem rude if you try to talk to them in English. However, I didn’t have any difficulty, and eventually I would just find someone else who did speak both to translate.

Our First Visit to Edmonton

Edmonton

This was written prior to making Edmonton our home. Our first visit was all it took for us to fall in love with the city.

When we rolled into Edmonton, Alberta my wife, Julia, instantly fell in love with the bright city lights.  We discovered that Canada’s “Festival City” truly lives up to its name.  We had heard there was something to do almost every day of the year and apparently there really is.  In our case, we had arrived smack in the middle of the Edmonton International Jazz Festival.  It looked fun, so we decided to park the RV.  It took awhile to find a place to park but knew I’d find something if I kept at it.  I finally found a decent spot in the parking lot of a nearby mall.  I waited as my wife grabbed her purse, then we climbed out of our RV.  We strolled past Edmonton City Hall and the beautiful fountains that lay before it.  Julia and I stopped to admire them before we headed toward Churchill Square where a crowd had gathered to witness a band that was performing.  I never caught the band’s name but they sure had a good sound.  As we wandered through the area I spotted a large chess set.  The pieces were taller than I was!  My wife decided to take a picture of me standing next to the knight.

We stopped to eat at a nearby local establishment before venturing on to something new.  Pico Bello Cafe was where my wife wanted to go.  It was a nice Italian/Spanish restaurant that also offered some Mediterranean dishes.  Julia absolutely loved the turkey cob salad sandwich.  I was in the mood for something else so I ordered the Italian Burger.  Our waitress was excellent and highly attentive but we had to wait awhile since they seemed to be a bit understaffed that day.  I was very impressed overall with not only the food, service, and atmosphere, but the prices weren’t as steep as I initially thought they would be given the portions of the food.  We didn’t even have room left to sample dessert!

After we left Pico Bello Cafe, I wanted to scope out the Art Gallery of Alberta.  While I never studied French, I did appreciate the exhibits.  There were numerous contemporary drawings from the national gallery of Canada and artist Amy Melbeauf had some of her work there as well.  I didn’t really get her whole concept of the physical to the immaterial but Julia did a good job explaining it all to me.

We had a great time in Edmonton, Alberta.  There was too much for us to see in one visit but Julia took plenty of pictures of what we had time to explore.  I’d like to come back one day.  Until then, we’ll be focusing on our next destination.  My wife and I can’t wait to see more of this beautiful country.

 

Fear and Loving in Vancouver

vancouver

I love Canada and especially Vancouver. It has quickly become one of my favorite destinations. It’s far enough that I feel I see a completely different culture, but it is also close enough that I don’t get too homesick and start to feel like a tourist. It also retains that big city feel, without feeling like a giant metropolis unlike New York. The people are generally very friendly.

Stanley Park and the West End

The drive out to Vancouver was pretty relaxing, and we stopped at the West End first. This is an extremely popular place for tourist and the locals. It was likewise my wife’s favorite spot. She absolutely loved the beauty of the 1000 acre park that is known as Stanley Park. My wife loved walking the trails and seeing nature and the totem poles peppered around the park. I preferred the little train that rode around the park. It was a relaxing ride. I wanted to have a beer on it, but my wife heavily discouraged me. However, the best part of Stanley Park is the Vancouver Aquarium. It simply must not be missed, because they have an amazing array of animals.

City Centre

This is the downtown area of Vancouver, and it did not disappoint. We left the R/V near Stanley Park as we were warned that traffic in the city center would be quite packed. So we optioned for a bus instead. There is so much to see and do here I couldn’t possibly list them all. The city has a laid back atmosphere that is evident everywhere you go. The Vancouver Lookout is a must. This 360 panoramic view of Vancouver is on the top floor of the Harbour Centre.

We stopped by a little restaurant called “New Amsterdam Cafe”. If you didn’t know, the attitudes towards marijuana here are very lax. You will see people smoking everywhere, and this cafe is one of those that allows patrons to smoke. We were told it was illegal to do this, but that it was hardly enforced. It seemed to be in a grey area of “we don’t see, we don’t know”. However, the coffee and service there was great, but there’s a reason why Vancouver is called “Vansteram”.

Some of the restaurants downtown are rather expensive, and we decided to splurge for once. We stopped at Hy’s Encore, which offered some of the best steaks I have ever had. The service was amazing, I felt like I was being treated like movie star or crooked politician. We also tried The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Vancouver for a more affordable place to eat. This is a school where you pay $10, and the students cook for you. The food there was surprisingly good, especially given that they were students.

Gastown/Chinatown

This is the oldest part of Vancouver and must be experienced before leaving. We were also told to avoid driving here as the parking in the area would be expensive (if we could find any). So we walked. The first thing you notice is that the streets are still made of cobblestone and retain that classic, aged feeling. While this may be the local Chinatown, there are plenty of non-oriental places to eat at. Our favorite was an old pub called “The Irish Heather”. They serve a delectable pheasant, but the main draw is that this is the only place in all of Vancouver where you can find a pint of Guinness!

Such a great city, I just wish I had more time to see it all.