Summer in England
After our trip to India, we returned to the UK for a couple of months. We caught up with family in Eastbourne and Norfolk and our friends in Brighton. We also did our first official house sit in Brighton, looking after a couple of cute dogs named Snoop and Biscuit.
A Housesit next to Lake Ontario
We applied for a four-and-a-half-month house sit in Toronto, and after exchanging emails with the house owner and having a chat on the phone, we booked our flight to Toronto. We are taking care of a house and sweet natured cat in Scarborough, a sprawling suburb of Toronto about half an hour by public transport to the downtown area. It’s a very multicultural neighbourhood and home to immigrants from all over the world. At the end of our road, about a minute’s walk away, we can see Lake Ontario through the trees.
It’s a lovely time of the year to be here as the trees are amazing colours. Halloween is approaching and there are pumpkins everywhere you look. Many of the houses and gardens have spooky decorations. The house opposite has a giant inflated pumpkin. It’s fun to check out the decorations as we walk around the neighbourhood.
We have enjoyed exploring Toronto. It’s a fantastic city with lots to do, some fascinating ethnic areas, a great music and art scene and lots of green spaces. Initially, we bought Discovery Passes, which worked out substantially cheaper than buying individual tickets; The pass includes entrance to Casa Loma, CN Tower, Toronto Zoo, Royal Ontario Museum and Toronto Science Center. You are given nine days to visit the five attractions. Even though we gave the Science Center a miss, it still worked out better value than purchasing individual tickets.
Royal Ontario Museum
On our first trip downtown we took the elevator to up to the viewing deck of the CN Tower for panoramic views of the city and Lake Ontario. We walked up University Avenue to Bloor Street, where we had lunch at Gabby’s Diner before visiting the Royal Ontario Museum. It’s a very impressive contemporary building with extensive natural history and world cultural departments. We both loved it and the gift shop was fabulous!
St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery
On another occasion, we checked out St. Lawrence Market, an undercover market with an array of speciality foods including bread, cheese, fish, meat and cakes. I tried a pea meal bacon bun, which is apparently a Toronto tradition and it was rather delicious!
The Distillery, an inside/outside gentrified area is full of galleries. Kensington Market is similar to Camden in London. Adjacent to Chinatown, it has funky cafes/restaurants, shops, organic bakeries, fruit stalls and colourful murals. We had burritos at a Mexican cantina and sat to people watch for a while.
Casa Loma is a hundred-year-old castle on a hill overlooking the downtown area. It has been used in many movies including Cocktail, Chicago and Skulls. It’s a Gothic building with secret passages and towers and was interesting to wander round.
Making the Most of Toronto’ s Music & Theatre Scene
We were able to get tickets to see ‘Sister Act’ at The Ed Mervish Theatre, which was a fun and very dynamic show. Before we left the UK, we had booked to see Alanis Morrisette at The Sound Academy. The venue is rather detached from the downtown area and located down at the port by Lake Ontario.
We started walking, not realising just how far it was. When we finally got there, there was an amazing night time view of the Toronto skyline. It was a pretty quiet and desolate area, but luckily, we found a cosy bar for dinner and drinks before the gig. Alanis was fantastic, even though it was somewhat difficult to catch a glimpse of her as we were standing at the back.
A Trip to Niagara Falls
We took a tour to Niagara Falls. Although we don’t usually do tours, it was the cheapest and most convenient way to get there from Toronto. Consequently, we set off in a mini-bus with five other people. We stopped at Niagara-on-the-Lake, a quaint town crammed with independent shops, including a Christmas store. From the lake, we could see the Toronto in the distance.
We continued on to a vineyard, where we did a little wine tasting. We sampled Ice wine, a dessert wine, which was surprisingly good. Apparently, the grapes are only picked at night and only after the temperature has been below -20 centigrade for three consecutive days.
From the boat, it was difficult to see the falls through the mist, but it was fun. We got a better view when we walked to the brink afterwards. We wandered up Carlton Hill, which is like a mini Las Vegas, but full of haunted houses, waxwork museums and houses of fun on various themes. After a quick (and unprofitable) visit to the casino, it was time to head back.
A Relaxing Winter
As we come to the end of our stay in snowy Toronto, it’s time to look back at the last few months. It has certainly been very relaxing and couldn’t be more in contrast to the first half of last year when we were backpacking through India, Nepal and Sri Lanka!
Although we have been concentrating on writing, learning Spanish, raking leaves (thousands of them!) and planning for the future, we have also found time to explore the area and enjoy what the city has to offer.
Back in October, we went to the Zombie March downtown. The gathering of zombies in Nathan Phillips Square was not for the feint-hearted! It has become an annual event in many cities throughout the world, including our home town of Brighton.
A Frida & Diego Exhibition
We made it to the excellent Frida Kahlo/Diego Rivera exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It was very well presented, vibrant and colourful. There was lots of fascinating background information, footage and music in addition to the amazing paintings. The gallery itself is very impressive, a contemporary space with an extensive collection of work by Canadian artists.
Lake Ontario Beach
We eventually managed to find our way from where we are living down to the beach at Lake Ontario. Although the lake is only a two-minute walk away, it is difficult to get access to the beach, and it took us some time to find a way to get there! After a walk through some woods, we found a sandy stretch of beach – a nice spot for a walk and a view of Toronto’s skyline. Scarborough is massive – impossible to get around by foot, but luckily there is a very good transport network.
Christmas in Toronto
The week before Christmas, we went to the Christmas Market at the Distillery, which is a gentrified area similar to Convent Garden. There were stalls, fairground rides, carol singers, seasonal snacks and dancing elves. It was a particularly cold day and we warmed ourselves up with mulled wine sitting next to a log fire in an outside bar.
On Christmas Eve, we had a light snow, and by morning there was a thin layer on the ground, so it’s true to say we had a white Christmas (just!) The next day, however, there was a snowstorm and it was over a foot deep by the time it stopped snowing. Because the temperature is so low here, it takes a long time for the snow to melt so it has become a permanent feature.
Canada is quite expensive, so we have had to limit our activities, but have found lots to occupy us. It’s so lovely to have the time to do the things we aren’t able to when at work. We have seen some interesting birds in the garden including blue jays, red cardinals and an owl. The area is over run with squirrels – we have never seen so many! We have yet to spot raccoon, although there were some mysterious footprints in the snow that came up to the front door and back. The housesitting is going well and we have become fond of Connie the cat. We will miss her when we go, but new horizons beckon…