Canada

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.

Casa Loma

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.

Room

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.

Garden

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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Roof

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.

Tunnel

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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

Toronto Khalsa Day Parade: A Truly Multicultural Experience!

That was precisely how I felt when I entered Nathan Philips Square, the huge atrium surrounding Toronto City Hall to watch the 29th Khalsa Day Parade. The parade is organized by the Ontario Sikhs and Gurdwaras Council (OSGC) every year to celebrate Vaisakhi, the New Year in the Sikh community.
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It is an expression of solidarity within the Canadian Sikh community, who invite everybody to come out and share the day with them. Around 85,000-100,000 people were estimated to have attended the event. Beginning at Exhibition Place at 1 pm, the parade reached Toronto City Hall via Lakeshore Blvd. Marching to drumbeats, the procession included school bands and carriages with posters of Sikh history and culture, intermingled with Canadian culture. Following them were spectators in their thousands, some of them singing in the true spirit of participation.
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Delving into history, we find that Sikhism, as a religion, originated in the north-western part of the Indian subcontinent in the 15th century. Toronto boasts of one of the largest Sikh communities in the world next to Surrey in Vancouver. ‘Khalsa’ is the name ascribed to the Sikh community. Canadian Sikhs form 1.4% of the population in Canada and 28% among the South Asians, according to Wikipedia, our everyday resort for facts of these kinds. Giving these a once-over, we can now move to the more interesting part, the food.
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I was amazed by the awesome variety of free food available at the event. There were at least 20 food stalls serving different types of Indian food and beverage. And it was all for free! The whole day! Also, did I mention that it was extremely tasty?!! Frankly speaking, we were doing the rounds of the food counters most of the time, pigging out on savory and sweet stuff, drinking tea, smoothies, juice, etc. Even in the procession, volunteers were distributing pizza and juice.
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Actually, I saw people making up doggie bags to take food home. What was best about this was that there were people from different cultures from all corners of the world. Everybody was welcome to the delicious food. People were there lining up, ready to snack on the readymade food. Well, that was another thing, the huge line-ups! The food stalls were overcrowded and there was some shoving and pushing. But it was all in good spirit!
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Many top politicians and dignitaries also graced the occasion to pay their respects to the huge gathering. And probably to remind us to vote for them! Some of them stood out, donning traditional Indian clothing. This added a touch of novelty to the event, in the minds of people like me. There were also small-time fun activities for kids such as face painting and games. All in all, it was a day well-spent!

06 May 2014

A Toast to Ontario’s Crowning Glory

It’s very common that many of my friends envy me my home close to the Canadian side of the famous Niagara Falls. After all, it is the most well-known of the waterfalls with the maximum number of visitors and also the largest in North America. It is indeed an amazing sight to look at the gigantic sheet of water thundering down and splashing on the rocks below, often creating multiple rainbows.

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Located on the US-Canadian border, on the Niagara River, there are three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls, namely the Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls, and the Bridal Veil Falls. Among these three, it is the Horseshoe Falls that takes the spotlight with a width of 2,600 feet (790 m) and a height of 173 feet (53 m).
Niagara Falls came into being 10,000 years ago when the ice melted after the Wisconsin glaciation and the water from the Great Lakes made its way through the Niagara River to the Atlantic Ocean, forming Niagara Falls on the way. Gradual erosion over the years has given the Falls its current shape. Geologists predict that, at this rate of erosion, the Falls will be nonexistent in 50,000 years.

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American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls

Compare the height of the people to get an idea of the size of the waterfall!

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Horseshoe Falls

The name, Niagara, comes from the name of the local people who used to reside in the area. Niagara Falls happens to be a hop, skip and jump away from my home city… one of the reasons for having seen the Falls in every season, may it be spring, summer, fall, or winter. And I must admit, it is the fall season I like the best when the trees are in brilliant colors, the gardens are well-tended, and the beautiful scenery extends beyond the magnanimous flow of water to the fall colors, the orangish-red foliage of the trees and the iridescent floral gardens.
In the winter ice storm of 2013, Niagara Falls looked picturesque as a huge ice sculpture. It was subfreezing temperatures most of the time though fun to hang out.

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The Maid of the Mist boat ride is a summer event that takes you to the base of the Falls where you are drenched by the mist from the Falls. A thrilling experience, worth a try.

Niagara Falls has been a venue for many publicity stunts. In 2012, Nik Wallenda, a tightrope artist, walked across Niagara Falls on a wire strung from the American side to the Canadian side. That was a major show for the public, broadcast live on national television as well as a great achievement for him.

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In earlier years, there have been people who have rolled over the Falls or jumped over. In 1901, Annie Edson Taylor survived the experience of rolling over the Falls in a barrel. Sam Patch was the first person to jump over the Falls. Some of these daredevil stunts were staged to garner money.

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Along the falls lies a commercial town filled with casinos, posh hotels and restaurants, observation towers, souvenir shops, amusement parks, game shops, neon billboards, and advertisements.

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Surrounding this area is the wine country and the provincial town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. It is this town that I always look forward to while visiting Niagara Falls. Not only do I get to taste different kinds of wine from the nearby vineries but also for its quiet splendour and relaxing environment.

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~Cux

15 Apr 2014

A Trip to Canada’s Capital City

Is it the end of the month already? Where did the whole month go? 🙂 This month’s guest post is by Cux, who talks about her foray into one of the very interesting cities of Canada.

~Admin

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Toronto is a great city… spectacular architecture, a great array of lovely restaurants and a buzzling arts and cultural scene… all add to its charm. But it is the classic international city! Very multicultural and diversified, it somehow lacks a unique identity. Having lived here for a while, I was determined to get around and explore other Canadian cities.
 
When a couple of my friends from the Czech Republic turned up in Toronto, it was the ideal opportunity to go visit Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. These cities were so different in their architecture, culture, signature food, and the outlook of their inhabitants that it was a real pleasure to be there. It was fascinating, to say the least.
 
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Ottawa, the main center of the Canadian government, is a quiet, introspective city which mesmerized me with its colonial buildings and Victorian structures. The many walking trails that weave around the city gives one the opportunity to investigate its varied environments. Whether it is the Discovery walk that begins at the Canadian Museum of Civilization on the banks of the Ottawa River, and ends at Parliament Hill, or the walking trails around the Provincial Parks, all of them provide unique experiences.
 
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My tour companions were seasoned walkers and helped me keep up my enthusiasm for walking throughout the trip.
 
The beautiful Alexandria bridge that connects Ottawa to Quebec is a beautiful sight. Ottawa has the most well-kempt parks and gardens. Also, it is home to the Canadian Tulip festival.
 
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We saw the Rideau Canal which totally freezes over and becomes the world’s largest skating rink in the winter. The canal was opened in 1832 and is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The National Gallery of Canada houses the most creative art that I have seen in Canada till date including a landmark sculpture of a spider in front of the building. The sculpture, named Maman by the artist Louise Bourgeois, is among the world’s largest sculptures, measuring over 30 ft high and over 33 ft wide. It is made of bronze, stainless steel, and marble.
 
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We sat in for a parliament session as well… it was interesting to watch the proceedings in the House of Commons though we were more taken in by the stained glass paintings and the intricate architecture of the hall! Do take a look
 
The Byward market is the happening place in town, lined with posh cafes and shops. Interestingly enough, adjacent to it, was an old old farmers market. This, I thought, was a perfect blend of tradition and modernity. I found the best cookie shop in this market where I tasted cookies designed as Canadian flags.
 
The friend in Ottawa who hosted us was a good cook and lived in a lovely house in a great locality. He introduced us to homemade maple butter, the next best thing to chocolate. Since then, I am hooked on it.
 
At some distance from the city, on the way to Montreal, we checked in on Plaisance National Park, which has a beautiful lake and some scenic wetlands, spread across the Ottawa river.
 
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That was the best hiking trail of the trip.

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It felt like walking in the wilderness of a natural forest. Protected by forest range officers, this huge park is good for camping. I hope I can go back there with my family sometime in the future.

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And my photographer friend captured splendid shots of the floating gardens, open fields, flora and fauna including deer, squirrels, ducks, and beavers.
 
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More about Montreal and Quebec City later…

~Cux

31 Mar 2014