Category Archives: Canada

Memorial Day & More in Toronto


We took an extra day off and would be spending Monday and Tuesday in Toronto as well. That Monday we decided to visit the Toronto Islands, a set of small islands off the city, with a spectacular view of the skyline. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but absolutely loved it. The islands felt divided into two parts: one that felt like a casual summer-camp beach-town, and another that felt like a small backwoods residential neighborhood. Both were charming, but I preferred the latter.

We rented bikes to get around, I think this was Alex’s longest bike ride to date. There were few cars on the road, so the only hazards were other bikers, including some three-person circular bikes. We went completely across the island.

View from Toronto Islands

The residential neighborhood – really little cottages – enjoyed a spectacular view of the city. It was quiet here, cool in the shade, and forested; I think this was my favorite part of the city. It felt a little like upstate NY in the summer.

Beaver Tail

Back in the more touristy area, after dropping off our bikes, we felt that we had to try a Canadian specialty, the beaver tail. We’d observed these sold in stands in a few parts of the city. It was basically a fried dough with a layer of glaze; in this case we chose maple syrup and chocolate glaze. Delicious, though overpriced.


Sunburnt and a little tired we returned to our apartment. That afternoon we were going to see a baseball game: Blue Jays vs Yankees. As a kid I rooted for the Blue Jays; don’t ask me why. I still have some marginal affection for them, so wanted to see them win over the Yankees.

Getting into the game, we were gonna pick up tickets at the stadium, figuring it wouldn’t sell out. As we made our purchase, a 12-year old girl walked up to us and asked if we were buying tickets. Hesitantly (figuring some scalping racket), we said yes. She gave us free tickets – I guess they’d purchased too many. Same thing happened to a German couple who ended up seated next to us. I wanted to buy this family a drink or snack but we never saw them again – I guess they were all seated together elsewhere in the stadium. This was the most Canadian thing to happen on the trip. Also the Blue Jays won, and a charming group of Blue Jays superfans in front of us explained the game to our German neighbors.

Edge walk

By the way, the stadium was right next to our apartment, and so too was the CN tower, which looms over the field. As the game proceeded, we looked up to see people leaning off the edge of the tower in bright orange jump suits – an adrenaline tourist option (see here). Not for me.

The next day we revisited some of the city highlights, but also met up with another friend.

Sweet Jesus ice cream

Along the way, we stopped for what I can confidently say was the best ice cream I’ve ever had, at Sweet Jesus. As you might guess from the picture, the toppings push the boundaries of a normal Sunday. But the quality of the ice cream was so much more right than I’ve had anywhere else all this for a bargain $5-6 (and the line moved quick too).

Board game cafe

We played some boardgames in the afternoon in the Trinity Bellwoods neighboorhood, a friendlier, more residential part of the city, and then met a friend at Mamakas Taverna for some amazing Greek food, before being chauffeured to the airport.

All in all, I recommend Toronto as a weekend excursion. If I was to make the same trip again, I would forfeit the great view and stay somewhere more hip and walkable, since it seemed like there were many such neighborhoods in the city. In fact, it seems like a city where the tourist destinations and downtown overwhelm, and the outer neighborhoods are underrated. And I’d get more ice cream.

Sunday in Toronto


Our Saturday had been, frankly, brutal – not the length (although we’d crammed so many sights into one day), but also the intense heat, and the amount of walking. We’d take it easier on Sunday. First on deck: the ‘graffiti tour,’ a stroll down a back alley covered in enormous graffiti murals. This alley lay 30 minutes from our AirBnB, so we got to see more of the city. It underwhelmed, a little, but there was also some very cool artwork.

Hyena art

I find that I enjoy graffiti and street art much more than museum artwork. Banksy is at least as thought-provoking as stuff in museums, and 90% of graffiti art that isn’t just a tag is better to me than 90% of ‘modern art’ in a museum.

Dumpster eagle

We also visited Chinatown – a huge area in Toronto. Unfortunately, we seemed to find the only rude person in Canada in this Chinatown, and many of the stores were cheap knick-knacks… we didn’t want to buy much food, since we couldn’t take it back on our flight without checked bags.

Underground mall

The city also has the largest continuous underground walkable area in the world – not suprising given its size and climate, and we knew we had to see it (though in the end it was basically a huge shopping mall, I thought it was a-maze-ing).


That afternoon we took a nap in our AirBnB. It was quiet and nice to just relax a bit. Also, our host had an absolutely beautiful cat, Timo, who started out shy, but quickly became friendly. I don’t think I’d spent time with a cat who had blue eyes, they were stunning.

Near the waterfront

In the evening, we took a tour of a brewery on the waterfront (AmsterDam brewery). Turns out we were the only guests, and the brewery was a little bit of a tourist destination (located where it was), but we got to try a bunch of free beer and got a keychain.

That night we met up with a friend of mine and went to a place he recommended, The Hogtown Vegan, located far from the city center. It was nice getting outside of the main city and seeing a more residential, hip neighborhood. This was also my first true ‘vegan restaurant’. I don’t think I’d ever in my life been to a restaurant where I could order everything on the menu, without worry. To top it off, all the food was US southern comfort food. Traditionally so meat-heavy, I got to try some of it for the first time ever.

A long Saturday in Toronto


Living in NY, Canada seems so close – but it’s also so far away. Drive for 6 hours to Montreal, or 8 hours to Toronto? It’s hardly a weekend trip. And normally, flights cost so much for such a short distance – $300 or more.

Thankfully, for memorial day we were able to snag cheap tickets into Toronto, and for a long weekend no less. I had some friends in Toronto, and it’s a huge city (the fourth-largest in North America at 2.7 million in the city proper and 6 million in the area), so we had a lot of ground to cover.


We arrived in the city early in the morning, hungry. The first step was to figure out where to eat, and we found an awesome spot for that: a diner close to downtown, but with an old-time feel. Of course, we could have gone somewhere else, but we wanted to get straight into the maple syrup!

Old City Hall

It turns out, though we hadn’t planned this, that there was a city-wide festival that Saturday and Sunday, “Open Doors Toronto:” public and private buildings across the city opened their doors to anyone who wanted to take a look inside; there were also walking tours. We signed up for one that featured Toronto’s walkable downtown that started near the beautiful old city hall, but ditched pretty quickly (far too many people, and Toronto’s downtown isn’t walkable!) – instead we found a courthouse near downtown.

Justice served!

It felt so welcoming, so Canadian to see inside. We got to sit in the judge’s seat and wear the fancy robes; although it was similar to an American courtroom, it was also different enough that I can’t recall ever seeing a Canadian courtroom on TV before, so there wasn’t a whole lot of emotional resonance. That said, the building was beautiful and we even met a judge – very friendly!

Later that afternoon, instead of visiting an (expensive museum), we stumbled on OCAD, the Ontario College of Art and Design. This place, a really unique building, was also open for visitors. At the top, there was a wonderful view.

OCAD workshop

The workspace entranced me – lots of extension cords hanging from the ceiling, random desks and benches and cubicles scattered all over, graffiti and art installations all over. I’m not sure what entirely is built there, but the whole space felt alive.

Locker? I hardly know ‘er!

I also found that Alex can fit in a half-size locker. So there’s that. On University Ave, two blocks away, we joined a march (or parade?) and mingled with the locals.

Field hockey in Toronto

It was swelteringly hot, a heat wave, and as we continued to walk around, we actually found a men’s field hockey tournament in progress. It was free to check it out, and there were tents for spectators, so we watched for a while (and cheered for Chile), but even so it was still hot out.

Our final tourist destination for the day was the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, housed in a dystopian brutalist building. Maybe ‘tourist’ is too strong a word! The inside of the building really was beautiful – 5 or 6 floors of dimly-lit books surrounding an open center.

Weird Toronto duplex – a very common style.

By this point, we really were exhausted. Rather than try to figure out public transit, we wanted to go to our AirBnB and settle in, and although we had neither walked far, nor in a straight line, but it was still 40 minutes in blinding sun and terrible heat to get to the AirBnB.

Along the way, we stopped at the first grocery store we found, an enormous supermarket (bigger than I think I’ve seen in any other downtown), and also grabbed some booze. Unfortunately, we got all this stuff way too early and traipsed around with it for almost half an hour.

Thankfully, although the apartment was located in a sterile, businessy part of the city, it had a spectacular view of the CN Tower, the tallest free-standing building in the Western Hemisphere (and tallest building in the world when it was built). From our balcony (tailor-made for lazing about and downing beer and wine), we could also see the Rogers Centre (home of the Toronto Blue Jays), the waterfront, and the Toronto Islands. If or when I return to Toronto, I think I’d be more likely to stay in a cozy neighborhood, but for a first-time visitor, this apartment was quite an experience.

The apartment