Author Archives: Cux

Beijing, the City of Skyscrapers

Never forget the time when I stepped into Beijing with the hope of exploring a foreign land and found a wondrous and modern city. So industrial-looking yet so entrenched in culture and tradition. It truly felt like a home away from home. Perhaps, due to my experience there or thanks to the many friends I made or the delicious food I got to eat while being introduced to one of my favorite dishes, the Beijing Hotpot, I don’t know what but Beijing and the Chinese culture will always remain very dear to me.

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Much for my experience climbing the Great Wall of China, there were also other awe-filled moments that made me fall in love with the city. Hiking up Fragrant Hills or Xiangshan Park to see the Fall colors (even my Chinese friends envy me for this!) was one rare expedition to an exotic scenic location which is now an exquisite memory. In the awesome company of my friends, I could see the whole of Beijing city from the top of the hills. It is an “imperial garden at the foot of the Western Mountains covering 395 acres” and a natural pine-cypress forest with maple trees and other beautiful trees.

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If you manage to go all the way up to the fortress on the peak, you become a hero and win a medal (from your friend!) 🙂 Nature was sure at its splendid best there! And yes! Another awe-inspiring experience was attending the Beijing Opera. It is traditional Chinese musical theatre where the actors are great performers. Donning colorful costumes of the Chinese kings and queens of yesteryears, they usually enact out legends and fables. The men wear painted masks with long beards and the women are nymphlike with painted faces. Enjoyed watching the performance at the Chang’an Grand Theatre while relaxing with a cup of green tea.

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Of course, I also did the usual touristy stuff like checking out Tiananmen Square, going to the Forbidden City (an erstwhile palace!), strolling around the verdant summer palace, be treated to a spectacular acrobatics show (where the performers were as young as five years old!) hogging on the myriad varieties of dim sums, noodles, and congee, taking a ride along a Hutong (a type of residential locality that has narrow streets and courtyard houses; now more of a heritage structure), bargaining crazy at the innumerable flea markets like Hongqiao pearl market, Silk market, and gaping at the fancy malls at Wangfujing (Seriously, those are Some Fancy buildings!)

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Now I yearn to return someday to re-explore the city and meet my old friends! 🙂

05 Aug 2014

Yonge-Dundas Square-The Heart and Soul of Toronto City

Quiz a visitor or a new resident in TO, on the first place they have been to in the city and you will invariably find the answer is ‘Yonge-Dundas Square’. (Of course, some crazies go elsewhere! 🙂 ) Following the majority, it was also my first destination downtown. The most happening place in town that sure stands up to its name! I don’t even remember the number of events I have attended there. Most cultural and music events either start or end there; Nuit Blanche and Pride Parade to name a few among the many.

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I was surprised to find that the Yonge-Dundas Square came into being only in 2002. Planned in 1997, it was designed by Brown + Storey Architects, and constructed as part of the Yonge Street Regeneration Project, managed by the Toronto City Council and the city residents, making it a one-of-a-kind public-private partnership. It was developed at the intersection of Yonge Street and Dundas Street East in downtown Toronto.

On the lines of New York’s Time Square, this public square is also decked with colorful LCD and LED screens and panels, digital displays and advertisements and neon signs. The true charm of this eye-catching scene comes alive only at night. The square has granite flooring and a stage made out of stone meant for concerts and adequate seating with overhead canopies.

Surrounded by famous and known buildings, facing east is the Toronto Eaton Centre, a fancy and expensive shopping mall, which is a major attraction for mall tourists (who outnumber the regular tourists these days!)

Facing north of the square is 10 Dundas Street East, a structure that houses a multiplex and many grill restaurants. Of particular note is Jack Astor’s lovely patio restaurant that overlooks Dundas Square. Providing a lovely view and blending tasty food with excellent customer service, it sure offers an awesome ambience. As the most popular restaurant in the area, they are usually busy. I always look forward to going there.

Recently, the world cup euphoria took me to Shark Club, a sports bar in the same building and all I remember is that I left the place happy. Well, blame the match for the single-minded focus!

South of the square is the building that has Hard Rock Café which I wanna visit sometime soon. Mainly to add one more to the collection of Hard Rock tees that I have stashed away from around the world! Then there are other commercial buildings around like a studio, Atrium on Bay, and the City TV building.

Yonge-Dundas Square is the place where the PATH system begins. A long, underground labyrinth of shops, food courts, and restaurants that will lead you to Lakeshore Boulevard in case you did not already lose your way. The PATH sustains offices all across this area, spanning 29 kilometres. Another unique feature at Yonge-Dundas is the pedestrian scramble, an intersection where pedestrians can cross the road in all directions even diagonally. The traffic lights guide you on when to cross.

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Now that’s a short preview of what you can expect when you are ambling along this popular landmark next time.

15 Jul 2014

Technology and I: Past and Future

Technology became an important part of my life the day my mom brought home a computer for her work. This was while I was in high school. Though it was meant for her, I was at the computer most of the time, playing games. Suddenly, the world of gaming took my fancy with the Prince of Persia, Dangerous Dave, and Duke Nukem becoming my heroes in real life. I was thoroughly fascinated by their superpowers and their abilities to sprint and fly. Those were the good old days of DOS games, which I still miss.

Then, came the Windows-based games like Minesweeper and Solitaire, which always kept me pre-occupied in between classes or on boring assignment days. I was comfortable using the computer and was interested in learning to use more programs. So, I worked at becoming proficient in the Microsoft suite and also, dabbled in using the graphic design tools.

Another major encounter with technology took place when I got my car. It was a Maruti Suzuki 800. Driving an automobile made me aware of the mechanics of engineering products. My fascination towards cars grew. I loved driving my car and taking care of it. I used to particularly enjoy taking it to the garage for servicing and listening to the mechanic’s assessment of its condition. ‘Trudy’ was the apple of my eye and received a lot of attention and care.

These days, an iPod and a cell phone are integral parts of my handbag…the way technological gadgets have become indispensable to all of us. The Android mobile phone I carry is a prime example of technological advancement as I can not only make and receive calls and text messages but also surf the Internet, check e-mails, use the GPS functionality, and watch high-definition videos on my phone.

Over the past two decades, telecommunications technology has evolved from standalone voice and data communication to image, video, and multimedia, providing a communication backbone to our society. Wired and wireless communication has converged for this integrated system, leaving transmission cables extraneous and redundant. This gives way to a cheaper, more efficient way for exchange of information and data.

Ex-IBM CEO, Louis Gerstner, had once predicted that computing capabilities will be embedded in everything from clothes and wall paints all the way to big robots and apparatus.

Currently, we have an abundant number of devices and applications directed towards keeping in touch with our fellow human beings. Social media like Facebook and Twitter connect our lives, interminably, with others. We no longer go to bookshops or buy newspapers; the online subscription newsletters and the e-book readers like Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad, present us with the latest dose of news, staying within the comforts of our homes.

I believe the future lies in an all-Internet Protocol (IP) network, a single network on which everything travels as interleaved streams of IP packets, where you can use the same device to control all your electronic equipment within your home and workplace, backed by a smooth flow of IP traffic.

This next generation network technology constitutes an amalgam of Internet technologies and telecom infrastructure, accompanied by Long Term Evolution (LTE), a standard in high-quality wireless communication.

My technological wishlist would definitely contain an Apple home theater system since I am completely gaga about movies and I believe Apple makes the best computer hardware and software.

08 Jul 2014

Worldpride Toronto…I’m Impressed!

June 29, 2014. Never expected the day to turn into such a big party. It was an experience of a lifetime. A celebration of life, love, and liberty as I have never seen before. Yes, I am talking of the final pride march, the concluding event at the ten-day Worldpride festival that took place in the last week of June in Toronto. As an ally and supporter, standing by the railings, cheering on, I felt truly proud. It was a spectacle of openness, doing what you like, and not caring a damn. Strong emphasis on the last point.

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This was the event I have been waiting for since I heard of its popularity from my friends who had attended the pride parade the previous years. But the parade this year exceeded even their expectations. Way grander and bigger with a huge audience. And not just the marchers but the spectators were also an interesting crowd. I was walking around in open-mouthed wonder most of the time.

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It was sheer excitement to see people, most exotically dressed in all imaginable costumes, performing for us. The drag queens looked drop-dead gorgeous. There was representation from human rights groups, affiliated with the Worldpride ideologies, as well as major Canadian for-profit organizations. I must admit though, the corporates do not make good entertainment material. It was slightly boring to watch them. Not so much the other groups who put in some thought into their costumes and exhibits in order to provide the most appealing display of their group’s mission and values.

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The LGBT communities from different universities and sports clubs also put up a great show. It was interesting to note the firm statement put forth by communities originating in restrictive cultures like the (gaysi) The Gayi Desi and the Ismaili Queers. It was the spirit of solidarity that bound us all. Our cultural backgrounds, faiths, opinions, and orientation mattered no more. What mattered was that we were all there personifying unity in diversity and most importantly, having fun.

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The authorities including the politicians and the police were there in tow providing their support. An estimated 12,000 people marched in the parade while more than a million supporters (I think!) grooved to the music played on the vans and vehicles carrying the floats and the people. The parade spanned across downtown Toronto, culminating at Yonge-Dundas Square, the most popular entertainment spot, for a musical evening of some great rock and pop music. This has been the best event I have attended in Toronto till date.

01 Jul 2014

High Park: Nature at its Best in Toronto

It was nice and sunny. The weather showed a maximum of 25 degree celsius for the day. The breeze floating about helped cool off the temperatures a bit. It was supposed to turn cloudy later in the day. With one eye open, I squinted towards the sky, still drowsy with sleep. Sprawled on the lush green grass, I was enjoying my afternoon siesta. The canopy of trees swaying gently above lulled my senses. At that point of time, the only thought that entered my mind was ‘Margarita! What would I not do for a margarita?!!’ 🙂

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Sitting up, I viewed the large Grenadier Pond that had ducks and beautiful swans swimming by. It was truly a sight to behold! Behind me were people playing frisbee and badminton, walking, chatting, above all, relaxing in this serene atmosphere, far from the hustle and bustle of the city and yet so near. I was at High Park, a four hundred acres wooded area in downtown Toronto. The park gets its name from the previous owner, John George Howard, in 1873, who constructed his residence, the Colborne Lodge, there. Since the house was located on the highest point in that area, it came to be known as High Park along with the surrounding areas.

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Developed as a natural park, it offers recreational facilities to Torontonians. Situated on a hilly terrain with steep inclines and valleys, there are also paved walking trails and tracks for those on a leisurely spree. For me, the walking tours are a major attraction of the park, organized on Sundays. The Colborne Lodge and the High Park Zoo are other things one could check out. So are the well-kept gardens that are embellishments to the raw wilderness around.

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The High Park Zoo is a stretch of road with sections, enclosed by wired fences, providing habitats for many interesting animals like llamas, bisons, barbary sheeps, mouflon sheeps, reindeers, yaks, etc. The signboards hung outside the fences are humorously documented with information on the animals.

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Ready for some nourishment, I glanced at my friends enquiringly. They were also up for a bite. We slowly started walking towards the parking lot. On the way, the High Park train, an open carriage for people wanting to tour the park on wheels, passed us. I mused over how much of the wonderment of the park they were able to take in as I felt that it was done best on foot. A break at the food trucks helped us hold our hunger for the time being and satisfied our childish cravings for popsicles, hotdogs, and cone ice creams.

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I have heard that the blooming cherry blossoms in the spring are a spectacle worth seeing at High Park. In fact, the nature centre has a cherry blossom watch which tracks the date of peak bloom so people can plan their trip accordingly. Guess I need to get those pictures next!

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24 Jun 2014

Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto

We all met at a postgraduate certificate program. We were a bunch of students from varied backgrounds, professions, and cultures. And among us was a marine biologist. Now, it was time for him to leave, at the end of the program. What would be the best farewell for him? We pondered. What would make it a memorable experience that he would remember us by?!! Of course, a trip to Ripley’s Aquarium. This suggestion from his closest friend was accepted by all.

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OK wait, I had heard of Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Those scary shows! But when did Ripley own an aquarium? And how come I didn’t know?!! I guiltily accept that that last point is not entirely true. I did hear all the fanfare when the place was under construction and when it finally opened last year to the public. Since it especially occupied prime property near CN Tower. After all, which Torontonian can stay untouched by media frenzy?!! But somehow I failed to pay attention.

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I also found that Ripley had two other aquariums, one at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and the other at Gatlinburg, Tennessee that were identical to this one. Reportedly, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada features 5.7 million litres of aquatic life with 13,500 sea creatures. Considering all the hype, we decided this was the perfect place.

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The aquarium was unusually crowded and people were bumping into each other. But then, these days that’s pretty much the scene on a holiday at most entertainment areas in Toronto. If you are taking the TTC, the skywalk from the Union subway station will get you there. If you are driving, you will have to hunt around for a parking space.

The aquarium is split into different sections displaying various kinds of sea animals. The Planet Jellies section was the most attractive as iridescent jelly fishes floated around in a luminescent bluish-lit enclosure. Interestingly, there were people sitting and watching this display like it was a show or a concert.

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The ride along the moving walkway in the underwater tunnel showed us some fascinating creatures. Ironically described as the dangerous lagoon, we saw cute baby sharks, stingrays and zillions of multicolored fishes of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Our friend helped us identify each species.

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A green sawfish was resting on the glass roof. Its face had an uncanny resemblance to one of our professors. I was almost talking to it.
One surprising thing was that they also included artificial plants to the aquatic exhibits to enhance the look of the fish tanks. I guess, everything had to be picture perfect, even the wildlife!

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The open stingray tanks caused a bit of excitement among the children as each ventured to compete for the bravest spot by touching a stingray. However, the adults did not demonstrate the same amount of heroism. Wonder why?!! Need to ask self! 🙂

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We concluded our visit by a stopover at the souvenir gift shop where stuff was overpriced as always. Yet there were long queues at the cash counter. All in all, the experience was a good one. I enjoyed going there with my friends, though I don’t think I will be in a hurry to come back to this aquarium for a second peek.

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17 Jun 2014

A Street with an Identity

It was to Bloor-Yorkville, the so-called swanky neighborhood that I took my friend to show her the fashionable areas in Toronto. “Well, this looks pretty usual!” was her response; my friend didn’t seem very impressed.

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I agreed with her as, unfortunately, that day, even the streets were crowded, with the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) plying shuttle buses from Bloor further south to downtown Toronto. So, the extra load of subway people on the streets along with the construction work obstructing the roads (related to the condos and the sidewalks) added to the chaos.

The high-end shopping malls and the big branded stores located in Bloor-Yorkville makes it known as ‘the shopping district of Toronto.’ According to the Fortune Magazine, it is ‘the seventh most expensive shopping street in the world.’

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Bloor Street spans 25 kms and is an important arterial road in Toronto, the other being Yonge Street. Beginning at Prince Edward Viaduct in the east of Toronto, the road extends till Mississauga in the west. I could not find the exact year when Bloor Street was built but it was in the nineteenth century that the street got its name from Joseph Bloor, an industrialist, who established the Village of Yorkville in 1830, courtesy Wikipedia.

Gradually, the region grew into a major residential and commercial hub. 2008 data reveal that the shops in Yorkville earn a rent of 300$ per square foot and the condos are priced from 1mn$ upwards.

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A section of Yorkville Avenue enclosed by Cumberland Street and Bellair Street looks hip and resembles a European town, with cobblestoned roads lined with cafes, pubs, sushi bars, posh restaurants, salons, and designer boutiques. Facing the opposite side of the street is an artistic park strewn with stone and metal sculptures and branded shops. For a change, my friend was charmed by the elegant surroundings there.

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Cumberland Street is that part of Bloor Street where people love to be seen drinking, eating, and shopping.

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Hemingway’s is a popular pub there and Trattoria Nervosa serves awesome-tasting Italian food, moderately priced. Definitely worthy of multiple visits!

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Bloor Street has a unique historical appeal as it houses many old buildings embodying European style architecture and design. The intersection of Yonge and Bloor divides Bloor into east and west zones. Yorkville is situated on the west side while the east side mostly has tall corporate buildings and is more recently developed. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) with the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, world-renowned as an architectural splendor, and the Bata Shoe Museum are two significant places to visit.

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The ROM is a wonderful treat for art lovers with five floors of beautiful art and sculpture from cultures around the world, depicted through the ages. The natural history sections are also very informative whilst no kid can ever forget the huge dinosaur exhibits that they were delighted to see and which still remain as their fond childhood memories.

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I have made a custom of visiting the ROM once every six months. Or so it happens! With each visit, it seems like there is more and more to see and I come away regretfully with the feeling of not having spent adequate time.

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My friend was more interested in the Bata Shoe Museum that showcased the evolution of footwear for different societies along with shoes worn by prominent celebrities. I loved the intricately designed and beaded moccasins of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada the best.

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10 Jun 2014

Toronto’s Summer Destination

In case you want to know what Torontonians do on a hot and humid weekend, just take a look at the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal near Queen’s Quay, Harbourfront. You definitely would not miss the long lines of people and the bustling activity. This is the Toronto ferry docks from where you catch a ride to the Toronto Islands.

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Toronto Islands is a group of eight islands on Lake Ontario near downtown Toronto. Historically, it is said to have been formed in the nineteenth century when a storm caused a sandspit to separate from the mainland, creating small islands. As part of Toronto, it was supposed to have been occupied by the First Nations communities that gave it its earlier names as the Island of Hiawatha or Menecing.

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Like true Torontonians, we too were there at the Ferry Terminal among the island-going crowd. So was batman. Not joking! He, of course, was just getting his pics clicked with young’uns. Did my best to not stare at this huge guy wearing a tight batman suit!

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The journey on the ferry boat was enjoyable as we caught glimpses of the posh buildings up close as well as from a far-off distance. The Toronto Harbourfront is home to the most beautiful buildings in Toronto. The weather was breezy and warm. The sky a perfect blue. Within ten minutes, we reached Centre Island, the largest of all the islands and the one that has all the activities and the maximum commotion! 🙂

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After a quick lunch from Pizza Pizza, we started our trek to see the main attractions. We passed an amusement park and lovely greenery and small ponds on the way. Reached a beach where we had time to chill and hang out though it was not all that clean. Rented a quadricycle, a four-wheel carriage so that we could quickly cover all the interesting areas of the island. This soon turned out to be sheer drudgery as it was a struggle for us to move it along. We gave up on the way and decided to return it rightaway.

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This was the first time I came across a clothing optional beach. Unfortunately, I couldn’t muster enough courage to drop in. Guess I need to do some more growing up! But I certainly visited the clothing mandatory beach at Hanlan’s point. It was a gorgeous and neat and clean beach even though my legs froze in the water.
Four yacht clubs dock their boats at the islands. We saw many stunning beauties passing by and also docked at bay. Or shall I say, we were enjoying ‘yacht porn’!

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Hanlan’s point gives you that view of Toronto that most people have seen…on picture postcards, advertisements, web sites and all other literature that is distinctive of Toronto. The Toronto skyline of CN Tower and Rogers Center along with the multitudinous tall and glassy office buildings and condominiums are really impressive. This, particularly seen at night is the most memorable view of Toronto one would remember. It made our day! It was almost like watching a live show. Observing this sight at twilight against the rippling waters of Lake Ontario is one of the many wondrous moments that Toronto can offer you!

03 Jun 2014

A Castle Fit for a King

After procrastinating for more than two years, I finally ventured out to see Casa Loma, a historical building which is now a cultural landmark for Toronto. I have always wanted to do this since I came here as I have heard a lot about the place. So, my friends and I planned this as a fun activity on a rainy day which was also a good way for us to stay indoors yet not be bored.

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Our day was pretty productive and Casa Loma turned out to be way more beautiful than I anticipated. Firstly, there was ample parking and that always scores high in my list of impressive things. 🙂 Secondly, there was more to see inside the building than I had expected. My prior expectation was based on the information that Casa Loma was not really a king’s castle but somebody’s erstwhile residence, hence does not bear the ornamentation of a palace. This was proved wrong.

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Built like a castle, it is a heritage structure that is more than a century old. Following Gothic-style architecture, it used be a villa owned by a prominent figure of those times, Sir Henry Mill Pellatt. Since we weren’t sure of who he was, we sat in on the documentary that was being screened in one of the rooms of the castle.

Sir Pellatt was a Canadian financier and soldier for The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada. His most significant achievement was that he brought hydro-electricity to Toronto. He commissioned architect, E. J. Lennox, who is known to have designed 70 buildings in Toronto, including the City Hall, to construct this huge mansion.

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Sir Pellatt liked to throw lavish parties and entertain guests in style and looking at the palatial nature of the rooms, I wished I could have attended one of those parties. I was reminded of the book, The Great Gatsby, written around the same time, by F. Scott Fitzgerald where the author portrays the extravagant and flashy life of the rich and the famous in that era.

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Casa Loma was built in three years, between 1911 and 1914, by 300 workers and incurred a total cost of 3.5 million dollars. It was strategically located, on a hill, to gain a complete aerial view of downtown Toronto. Surrounding the castle are well-tended gardens spanning five acres and fountains that make for interesting photo ops. I read that the Casa Loma gardens won the Phoenix award from the Society of American Travel Writers.

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My favorite room, in the castle, is the library with its crystal chandeliers and the continuous array of wooden bookshelves lined up floor-to-ceiling, covering an entire wall. The conservatory has a mesmerizing glass dome roof adorned by stained glass paintings; so were the windows that spread across the room, making it the best-lit room in the house.

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The exciting part came up when we took a walk along a long winding dark underground tunnel that led us to the garage and the horse stable. The stable, once upon a time, was home to six gorgeous stallions. Each stall had the name of the horse carved in it and looked royal. The garage displayed refurbished vintage cars, which seemed fabulous to wheelcrazy me.

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Some of the rooms, on the upper floors, are converted into war museums in order to treasure the artifacts from World War I and II.

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We saw some interesting signs along certain articles like the below.

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These days, the library and the conservatory are used as wedding venues. In fact, just as we were leaving, we saw the staff getting the place ready for such a function and for a fleeting moment, we thought of lingering back and crashing the party!

27 May 2014

Toronto’s Artsy District

If you are a first-time visitor to Toronto, you would have certainly got the suggestion to visit the Distillery District, considered a ‘happening place in town’! It is a fashionable area that is also a heritage site. Having cultural leanings, the Distillery District houses a slew of art and craft shops. It is also an entertainment hotspot with many restaurants and cafes to complement the ambience.

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Located in downtown Toronto, near Harbourfront, the Distillery District is listed under the National Historic Sites of Canada. Originally, it was the Gooderham and Worts Distillery, which was founded in 1832 and which closed down in 1990. Since then, the area was preserved as it contained one of the rarest assortments of Victorian buildings and heritage architecture.

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Later, the place was redeveloped into a classy and arty hub. This was done with the intention of keeping away the commercialization prevalent in the surrounding areas. This change proved transformational and the end result is now clearly visible in the district’s designer boutiques, design studios, art galleries, and high-end cafes. Once in, you are mesmerized by the magic of the red brick buildings adorned by green doors and windows. On googling, I found that the shade of green was called British racing green, a phrase originating from the international motor racing colour of the United Kingdom.

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The hi-storied stone buildings have an aesthetic appeal. Spread over 13 acres, there are around 40 buildings and 10 streets. A short clock tower marks the center of the district. The last time I was there, people had put up tents to showcase their artwork, which was part of an art exhibition that was going on, along the main Trinity Street.

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Sadly, we couldn’t take pictures of the articles inside any of the art boutiques or you would have wondered at the display of everyday objects turned into the most unique items, brimming with creativity. Inside the district were designer furniture shops, clothes boutiques, candle stores, jewellery stores, and also event management companies and performing art schools.

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The place offers a variety of fine dining restaurants serving different cuisines such as Italian, Mexican, seafood, etc. A cocktail lounge and a bar and a grill restaurant completed this selection. We dined at a Mexican restaurant, Elcatrin Destileria, that was playing loud music while the waiters donned painted faces and looked scary. Apparently, it was for an event scheduled for the night. Wonder how many guests turned up!

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We also saw many people stroll around the vicinity with a coffee in hand from the rustic-looking Balzac’s Coffee Roasters.

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We decided that we would go to the Mill Street brew pub next time, a microbrewery situated there. I also noticed a new construction, a theatre named the Young Centre for the Performing Arts where, I read, that the Soulpepper Theatre Company performed their plays.

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Exploring the distillery district was certainly a worthwhile experience, something I am glad I did!

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20 May 2014