Canada

Quebec Oh Quebec!

Quebec, oh Quebec… why did you leave me? After enchanting me with your delightful little cobblestone streets and quaint town squares and charming architecture and pretty little art shops and beautiful parks and delicious food and your charming French-accented English speech and your many many alluring ways, why did you leave me? Yes, yes, you are right, I’m sorry… Yes, it was I who left you! Buckling under the pressure of life’s million little cares, I had to leave you. But this I promise you… I’ll be back. And we will spend many an enjoyable day together… Promise!

Obviously, I enjoyed the trip to the province of Quebec and especially to its capital Quebec City very much. Surrounded on three sides by the waters of St. Lawrence and St. Charles rivers, Ville de Quebec (Quebec City’s French name) is one of the oldest cities of North America.

 
QOQ-river

Quebec City was founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608, a French explorer and diplomat. It was the first permanent European settlement in the territory of present-day Canada and the capital of New France, the French colony till 1867.

Old Quebec, a historical neighbourhood of Quebec city, is utterly charming. Its cobblestone streets and quaint shops bring forth images of Europe. No wonder Quebec City is sometimes called ‘Petit Paris’! Old Quebec is a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.

 
QOQ-market1

Upper Town in Old Quebec is located on top of Cap Diamant (Cape Diamond) promontory, provides a beautiful view of the St Lawrence river below. A statue of Samuel de Champlain stands prominent on the square.

 QOQ-statue1

The Chateau Frontenac, said to be the most photographed hotel in the world, is an imposing structure and dominates the city’s skyline spectacularly.

 
QOQ-chateau-front

Built in 1893, the hotel was the site of the Quebec Conference in 1943, where Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt met to discuss world war 2 strategy. If you would like to check out the rates for a weekend’s stay, here is the link.

 
QOQ-chateau-front-closeup

Also, located in the Upper Town is La Citadelle, a functioning fortress. Quebec City is the only fortified city north of Mexico. The ramparts of the city stand strong even today, along with the citadel. Work on the citadel was started in 1820, and guess why? To prevent attacks from the United States! Seriously… in 1812, the US had tried to conquer Quebec City and other parts of Canada which were British holdings while fighting a war with Britain over the blockading of the oceans by Britain. Needless to say, the attempt failed and today the citadel is a National Historic Site of Canada.

 
QOQ-citadel

Century-old great looking houses of the for-generations rich and famous populate the residential areas of Upper Town. Historical sites and beautiful parks add to the uniqueness of the area.
 
Lower Town, located at the foot of the Cap Diamant, is the commercial center of Old Quebec. This is the location where Samuel de Champlain built his original settlement, remains of which can still be discerned and are marked. I can doubtlessly say Lower Town is my most favourite spot in the entire city.

 
QOQ-street3

Place Royale, a public square was named so in 1686 after a bust of King Louis XIV of France was placed in the square. Once, this was the commercial center around where the merchants and businessmen lived, who during the French-British wars moved to the Upper Town for its safer environments.

 

QOQ-place-royale

At one end of the square stands the Fresque des Quebecois (fresco for the people of Quebec), a huge mural on the face of a building. Completed in 1999, this mural encompasses the local history of 400 hundred years in a canvass of 420 sq meters.

 
QOQ-fresco

In addition to the daily life activities and the four seasons, 16 of the prominent historical figures are also represented. The details of the creation of this mural are very interesting.

 
QOQ-fresco1

On the opposite side of the square is the Eglise Notre Dame des Victoires (Our Lady of Victory church). Built on the site of the Champlain’s first residence, it is one of the oldest stone churches.

 
QOQ-church1

And then there is the Rue de Petit Champlain, the most picturesque street ever.

 
QOQ-street2

In addition to wonderful arts and crafts shops and restaurants, the narrow stone-paved street has a little area with benches and swings and live music where you can sip your wine and chill out.

 
QOQ-street1

The whole Quartier Petit Champlain area is indeed beautiful.
 
By the way, Rue de Petit Champlain is the oldest street in North America! Yep, I know, I have been repeating the word ‘oldest’ a lot! 🙂
 
To be continued…

~Ria

23 Jul 2015

Thousand Islands Castles… Truly Majestic

The castle was designed with soaring spires and high ramparts, after the castles in the Rhineland, the neighbourhood where he grew up. A self-made millionaire, he had risen from a kitchen worker in a hotel to the proprietor of the great hotels Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan and the Bellevue-Stratford in Philadelphia. And when George Boldt wanted to build a castle to demonstrate his love for his wife Louise, no expenses were spared. He bought the Hart Island in the Thousand Islands group which he reshaped in the form a heart and renamed ‘Heart’ Island. Going up six stories, the castle had 120 rooms, a powerhouse, Italian gardens, a drawbridge, tunnels, and a children’s play castle.

TIC-boldt-castle

The castle was to be presented to Louise on Valentine’s Day of 1904, but things went wrong before that. In January, Louise died of a heart failure at age 41. A heart-broken George Boldt immediately ordered all construction stopped at the castle and never again set foot on Heart Island.
 
TIC-boldt-staircase

The grand staircase
 
The Boldt Castle, the biggest castle on Thousand Islands, stood abandoned for 73 years, subject to harsh winters and random acts of vandalism. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority was handed over charge of the castle. Currently the castle is undergoing restoration, as per the original plans. The lower two floors are fully restored and work is going on, on the upper floors. All entrance fees collected from visitors are used solely for the restoration work.
 
TIC-boldt-ceiling

Stained glass dome of the cupola
 
The Thousand Islands salad dressing was first introduced at the Waldorf Astoria by George Bolt. So was the Waldorf salad.
 
TIC-boldt-powerhouse1

The power house, which was planned to generate all the electric power needed for the Boldt Castle, was destroyed in a fire in 1939. Now it has been fully restored.
 
TIC-boldt-grounds

A gazebo on the castle grounds
 
TIC-boldt-children

Children’s play castle named the Alster Tower
 
TIC-boldt-portrait

The portrait of Louise Boldt displayed in the castle
 
Another very prominent castle among the Thousand Islands, is the Singer Castle, named by Frederick Bourne, the president of… you guessed it, the Singer Sewing Machine Company! And every room in the castle, I mean every room, has a sewing machine in it!
 
TIC-singer-far-view

When Bourne acquired the island, it was named Dark Island because of the dark pine trees growing thick. A self-made millionaire, he started working in his teens, in the offices of a thread company which developed a thread suitable for a sewing machine for the first time. He wanted to build a castle and engaged the famous architect Ernest Flagg to build one, around the same time as the Boldt castle was being built, 1902 to 1904. And as model, he pointed to the castle in Walter Scott’s novel ‘Woodstock’.
 
TIC-singer-near-view

And the result was the 4-story, 28-room Singer Castle, with many hideaways, underground tunnels, dungeons, spy holes and secret rooms all over the place, just like in Woodstock Place. Today, many of those are open and visible to visitors. The castle boasts of elaborate boathouses, a workshop, powerhouse and a 2-story ice house.
 
TIC-singer-breakfast

While the castle was being built, Bourne kept it an absolute secret from his family so that he could present it to them as a surprise! I can really imagine the whole family of nine kids, going ‘OMG!’ 🙂
 
TIC-singer-dining-room

The dining room with elk, caribou, deer and moose heads mounted on the four walls
The furnishings included Italian hand-carved ornate tables and chairs, wrought-iron chandeliers, brass lamps, oak cabinets, bronze work, and paintings.
 
TIC-singer-beds

Do you see the difference in the height of the headboards? And the size of the breakfast trays? Yep, the wife had to know that she could never be equal to the man! 🙂
 
TIC-singer-corn-island

Corn Island seen from Singer Castle
 
During the days of prohibition in the US (1920-1933), groups of guests used to be ferried across by luxury launches, to Corn Island which is located in Canada, but had the same owner. After the cocktail party, they will get back in time for dinner!
 
TIC-singer-sewing-machine

I wonder whether this is still functional!
 
Today, Boldt Castle and Singer Castle are available for weddings and other functions. You can also stay at the royal suite at the Singer Castle for a not-too-exorbitant rate.
 
One fact that impressed me while listening to the stories of these castles, was that both were built by men who rose from the bottom rungs to the highest positions in the society of their day, only through the dint of their hard work. Would such a feat be possible today?
 
There were several more castles built among the Thousand Islands… Castle Rest, the first castle to be built on Thousand Islands, Imperial Isle, Calumet Castle, Arcadia, Carlton Villa… it is a long list. But none of them are in existence today. Most were demolished and replaced by more modest and modern edifices.
 
This was a weekend well-spent, but I doubt there will be any more such outings this year. As the weather gets cool, cold, icy, activities turn indoors. And food! How about this gorgeous caramelised pear and roquefort tart for a start?

 

~Ria

26 Sep 2014

Single House Islands… So Many of Them!

Oh yeah, we were talking about the Thousand Islands. What really really enchanted me about the place were the cute little islands with just one home on them. Of course, these are summer dwellings as it will be physically impossible to live in the middle of a frozen river in the winter. Or would it? Imagine sledding to go visit your neighbour! 🙂

The most picturesque of all the houses, is this little gem, with the water and water birds almost coming up to the front steps.

 
TI-one-home-island1

In fact, if you get out of the back door, you will be stepping directly into the water!

 
TI-one-home-island1-2

There are no industries emitting effluence into the St. Lawrence river and the boats on the river have to adhere to strict cleanliness regulations. Also, it is a crime, punishable by law, for a resident to throw any garbage into the river. Thus the water of the St. Lawrence river is extremely clean and clear. Even at a depth of meters, you can make out the dark patches of the rocky river bottom.

 

Look at another red house. This one has more trees around it, and it has its own boat jetty.

 
TI-single-home-island2

This barge like house is built covering the entire width of the narrow island, like someone picked up and placed it there precisely.

 
TI-single-home-island3

Some of the large islands have common power generation facilities. And recently, underwater power connections have been introduced to a few islands located closer to the mainland. But most of the islands depend on individual generators and battery power for household needs.
See the neat boat house at the side of this house? The tree look huge, comparatively.

 

This house is directly under the tree. Hot summer’s day, blue chair, heavenly breeze… aah!

 
TI-single-home-island5

Perfect oval of an island. Can’t really see the boat house hidden among the trees.

 
TI-single-home-island6

There are no natural springs or waterfalls anywhere on the islands to provide drinking water. So the islanders have to bring their own water from the mainland. For cleaning and washing needs, water from the river is used.

 

Here is a blue house among blue waters! Step off the boat and you are directly on the deck of the house.

 
TI-single-home-island7

What do you do with your household garbage when you are located in the middle of water? And it is a crime to throw anything in the water? Not to worry, garbage collection is done regularly, by a barge nicknamed ‘honey barge’.

 

Here is a house located at the extreme end of the island. Also, I believe there is a pathway built to the neighbouring island.

 
TI-single-home-island8

While our boat passed by, the two guys sitting on the deck chugging beer waved to us. Many of the houses are owned by weekenders who live and work elsewhere during the week.

 
TI-single-home-island9

The Wau-Winet Island was written up in New York Times a while back.
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/24/travel/escapes/24thousand.html

 
TI-wau-winet-island

Tourist guides on the boats always tell the story of the Zavikon Islands, owned by the same person and connected by a bridge but located in two countries. And how it is the shortest international bridge. Our guide was no exception… he spoke of the owner telling him about the convenience of being able to escape to another country for a while, whenever he had a little spat with his wife. (I could see the wistful looks on the faces of many a man on the boat!) And the boats stop around that area for a photo-op. However, that story has been debunked; both islands are in Canada!

 
TI-zavikon

Apparently the owner likes the fake story and is encouraging the telling of it, by displaying the different flags prominently on the little bridge.
 
After seeing the small houses, let’s take a look at the huge castles next.
 

~Ria

23 Sep 2014

Thousand Islands… Beyond Beautiful!

Usually half the fun of travelling to a new place is the planning, the talking, the anticipation… but this was a trip without any of those. When Gloria asked me whether I wanted to go to Thousand Islands with two more of her friends, my only question was… when? The answer ‘tomorrow’ was not what I expected, but what the heck, how long does it take to throw some clothes and toiletries in a bag? So there we were, driving to upstate New York and the Thousand Islands on a Friday evening.

 
TI-island-view4

The group of islands known as Thousand Islands, is located in the St. Lawrence river, flowing along the border between Canada and the US. The river originates at Lake Ontario in the Great Lakes region and drains into the Atlantic Ocean, flowing in the north east direction. It is the widest river estuary in the world and shelters the beautiful islands in its blue waters. And though the group is called Thousand Islands, there are actually 1864 islands in all, in a 50 miles long stretch of the river.

 
TI-island-view7

The only way to experience the beauty of the islands is to go for boat rides among them. And there are several shore towns on either bank that offer such tours. We chose to go to Alexandria Bay, one of the big towns on our side, the US side. And it has a variety of tours to suit people of different interests.

 
TI-island-view1

To be qualified as an island in the group, a land mass should be above water the year round, should be at least one square mile in area and should support at least one living tree.

 
TI-island-view2

The area of the islands vary considerably, from 40 square miles to tiny ones with just one home and one tree. Also, there are numerous outcroppings of rock without any inhabitants except for the birds. The majority of the islands are modest sized with two or three homes on them. And there are two castles that you can visit, also on the islands. More about them later.

 
TI-island-view6

The river St Lawrence was named after the saint himself. Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, was the first European to explore this area, in the first half of the 16th century. He arrived at the mouth of the river on an August 10th, which is the martyr day of St. Lawrence and hence he named the river St. Lawrence.

 
TI-island-view5

On a cliff overlooking the river on the Canadian side, is a statue of St. Lawrence, put up as a tourist attraction.

 
TI-st-lawrence

 
TI-st-lawrence2

The statue is shown holding a book and a gridiron. Legend has it that St. Lawrence, who was the archdeacon of Rome, was asked to surrender the treasures of the church by the Roman prefect. St. Lawrence brought forward the poor of the church saying that they indeed are the treasures of the church. The enraged prefect ordered that St. Lawrence be punished by a slow death on a gridiron with burning coals underneath it. The gridiron is thus associated with the saint and he is worshipped as the patron saint of cooks.

 
TI-island-view8

In the early 1900s, many industrialists, businessmen and other prominent men in the society bought islands and built houses on them. Today the Millionaire’s Row boasts of large beautifully landscaped homes occupied by the rich and famous of the land.

 
TI-island-view3

St. Lawrence river is a major shipping route connecting ocean going ships to the Great Lakes. Due to the presence of the islands and rock formations under the water, it is a difficult river to navigate. There are plenty of navigation aids like lighthouses and beacons present to help the ships and boats.

 
TI-light-house

Beacons indicate the boundaries of the navigable area of the river. A ship should keep the red beacons on the port (left) side and the green beacons on the starboard (right) side when going upstream, away from the ocean.

 
TI-beacon-red

Similarly, when going towards the ocean, the green beacons should be on the left and red ones on the right.

 
TI-beacon-green

During days of the prohibition in the US from 1920 to 1933, a lot of money was made by a lot people on the St. Lawrence river by transporting liquor from Canada where there was no prohibition. One of the amusing stories is about how smugglers will have the cases of whiskey bottles trailing their boats so that the rope could be instantly cut if there was any chance of the prohibition agents approaching the boat. But then, the losses became so unaffordable that they started packing half of each case with salt. When the rope was cut, the load will sink, but once the salt got dissolved the case with the whiskey bottles will promptly rise up in three or four days! And the boats were often painted different colours on either side to trick the agents watching.

 
TI-wheel

One of the islands in the group is actually called ‘Whiskey Island’. Apparently, boats from Canada used to leave their cargo on this island, of course within the territory of Canada, to be retrieved by their counterparts from the US conveniently out of sight of the agents. Interesting times and interesting stories!
 
How would you like to live on an island where you are the only resident? There are several such one-home islands! More about them when we continue.

 

~Ria

 

19 Sep 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.

YD

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.

YD_Square

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

15 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.

Poster

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.

Drag

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.

Men

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.

Drag2

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?!!’ 🙂

IMG_1045

Duckies

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.

IMG_1098

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.

IMG_1087

IMG_1076

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.

Zoo

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.

Train

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!

Color

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.

IMG_0129

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.

IMG_0209

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.

Colorful

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.

IMG_0282

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.

IMG_0246

Face

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!

IMG_0197

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! 🙂

Lion

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.

Fish

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.

DSCN0783

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.’

image_5

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.

image_2

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.

image_1

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

Cumberland

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

Drink

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.

DSCN0660

DSCN0676

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.

DSCN0034

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.

Bata

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.

DSCN0749

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.

DSCN0346

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.

Toronto_Islands

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!

Boat

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! 🙂

Pond

DSCN0389

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.

Quadracycle

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’!

Yachts

Toronto_Skyline

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