Toronto: Fun, Games and Food

Upon entering Snakes & Lattes, billed as North America’s premiere board game cafe, I was immediately struck by the extensive library of games lining the walls waiting to be played. There were certainly familiar ones, like Agricola pictured in the window below, however, most were new to me.

image

As we headed to our table, we passed game playing customers enjoying a variety of games chosen from the cafe’s extensive selection. I couldn’t help but smile seeing a group playing Mysterium employing their best seance skills to investigate clues to unlock a mystery.

Once seated, we were greeted by a staff member who explained that our $5.00 per person admission enabled us to stay as long as we wanted playing games from their library. In addition, we could order food and drinks…but that was not required. Game gurus were also available to recommend and/or teach games.

image

We let Jonathan, our family game guru, do the honors of choosing and teaching us a game. His selection of Cinque Terre was a good one. It had us competing to sell the most valuable produce to the five villages of Cinque Terre.

Ready for dinner, we only stayed to play one game. We ordered some drinks at Snakes & Lattes, but we aren’t accustomed to mixing food and games.

image

Our second night, we took in a show at The Second City, Toronto’s famous comedy club. Tickets to the show were a Mother’s Day gift from Meghan and Jonathan, and our “VIP” seats on the rail were close enough for a good view of all of the action on stage while insuring we wouldn’t be included in any of the skits…a good move! The Best of Second City show provided nearly two hours of fun watching the casts’ comedy sketches and unscripted improvisations. What a fun night of laughs!

image

This trip was not one of fancy meals. Instead we concentrated on good, standard fare, but with stops at a couple of famous eateries. That means breakfast at Tim Horton’s. How can you go to Canada without eating a donut at one of the country’s 4,413 locations?  So how was the donut? Good, but not something I have to have again. Of course, I’m not really a big donut fan.

Fresh baked goods at St. Lawrence Market was our other breakfast choice. Much more to my taste, and the bagels were terrific.

image

Pizza at Pizzaiolo Gourmet Pizza, hamburgers, fries, and delicious milk shakes at The Works, fish, salads, and appetizers at Firkin on Bloor satisfied our taste buds in Toronto. But buffalo wings from Anchor Bar in Buffalo was another must. Credited with inventing buffalo wings, a favorite; and with a restaurant located in the Buffalo Airport, how could we resist? We didn’t. Ate wings before boarding our flight home.

image

While our dining experiences won’t be all that memorable, we highly recommend Snake & Lattes and The Second City for fun and games in Toronto.

Tips: More Fun and Games

Hockey Hall of Fame

Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)

Toronto Raptors (NBA)

Toronto Blue Jays (MBL)

Massey Hall and Roy Thomson Hall – two of Canada’s most renowned concert halls

 

Check out ROM: Royal Ontario Museum

Considered among the world’s leading museums of natural history and world cultures, the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) is Canada’s largest museum, attracting over a million visitors a year.

The 2007 Michael Lee-Chin Crystal was the latest of more than a half dozen additions to the original museum which opened more than one hundred years ago in 1914.

image

 

While providing additional gallery space and a lobby, the appearance of the Crystal has been controversial, described by some as oppressive and hellish, while others have declared it a monument. In any case, it certainly attracts attention from the casual passerby. In fact, we stopped in the building just to peak inside the day before our visit.

image

Of course some of the controversy may come from the sharp contrast of the domed mosaic ceiling in the museum’s ceremonial entrance hall, considered by many to be one of the ROM’s most impressive architectural jewels.image

Needless to say with over forty galleries, our four hour visit barely scratched the surface of the ROM’s collection. We spent most of our time in the First People’s Gallery and the Gallery of Canada where four impressive crest poles border the entrances. Considered “must see” pieces in the museum, the largest of the poles extends 80 feet and dates back to the late 1800s.

Among the large collection of artifacts, those from Crazy Horse captured my attention. And I also spent a good part of our visit examining the Native shoes and clothing.

image

After our trip to Niagara Falls only three days earlier, I enjoyed the artwork in the Gallery of Canada depicting the falls in days gone by, especially the one that pictures the boat exploring the falls. I guess some things don’t change.

image

Naturally you’d expect to see a beaver pelt in this gallery, but I also enjoyed the Norman Rockwell-like posters and magazine covers of artist Rex Woods portraying middle-class Canadian life. And being election season, I found myself drawn to the political cartoons of Sam Hunter. Something else that hasn’t changed.

image

For all the children at the museum, as well as the young at heart, the dinosaur exhibit caused the expected excitement as did the bat cave. However, our interests were primarily on the cultural exhibits.

image

While they can’t be classified as an exhibit, there was absolutely no way we could pass up going into and taking pictures in the All Gender Washrooms. Just had to see what they looked like.

Actually, they’re not so different from any other public restroom other than the urinals being covered with plastic to make them off limits to users. The gender neutral washrooms have been opened less than a month and in fact were inspired by a new Royal Ontario Museum exhibit exploring gender and sexual diversity in ancient Japan.

image

John and I joined one tour led by a museum docent, but because of the size of the group it was difficult to hear and understand the soft spoken guide so we abandoned the group and meandered on our own. Meghan and Jon linked up with a smaller group and said the tour of the Gallery of Rome was first rate. A reminder to always check the the tour schedules to get the most out of the experience.

Tips:

  • Location – 100 Queens Park, Toronto
  • Museum Hours – Daily 10:00-5:30; extended hours Friday 10:00-8:30
  • General Admission – Adults $17.00 (Canadian; currently about $13 US) with additional charge for special exhibitions
  • Tattoos: Ritual. Identity. Obsession. Art. Exhibition through September 5th
  • Coming soon: CHIHULY June 25, 2016-January 2, 2017
  • Check the schedule of tours and take advantage of the knowledge of docents.
  • Spend a couple of hours or the whole day.

***On the day we visited the ROM there were numerous student groups from pre-schoolers to University of Toronto students accompanied by professors. Apparently, John and I still look like teachers because both of us were asked if we were teachers by museum staff hoping that we’d step in and control rambunctious youngsters.

 

 

 

Toronto: A City of Art

As part of the Doors Open event in Toronto on Saturday and Sunday May 29th and 30th, art tours were conducted in the city. In the West Don Lands neighborhood we met our guide under the highway, below a sculpture installed in such a way as to reflect our group gathering below.

image

We walked with our guides learning about the artwork as well as the history of the West Don Lands.

image

A 40 meter long linear piece called Site Specific, tells the story of Thornton and Lucie Blackburn.image

Water Guardians recognizes the need to protect the community’s water. And structures like old railroad tracks and a series of interlocking light posts from throughout Toronto’s history have been transformed as pieces of art.

image

I especially liked Peeled Pavement as it truly looks like an exposed layer of the sidewalk with the tools of the past exposed. It cleverly serves as a bench as well. This public art project brings great pride to the Toronto waterfront.image

We also took a self-guided tour in the Village of Islington with over two dozen murals depicting the town’s history. From the building of the Methodist Church and the role of the Circuit Riders:

image

to a class picture on the side of a building.

image

A residence painted so that it appears that John, the photographer, is part of the scene.

image

Lots of murals of residents participating in recreational activities.

image

And others illustrating transportation.

image

One representing recovery after a hurricane and another recounting a football game stormed by eager fans trying to collect coupons dropped on the field.

image

Our expressions mimic the somber ones of Islington’s founding families.

image

The art in the West Don Lands and the Village of Islington are by no means the only public art to be found in Toronto. Many statues can be seen throughout the city. Toronto really is a great place to take an Art Walk.

Tips:

 

Murals of Islington Self Tour – Download the map. Follow the path. Information about each mural is on the building next to each mural.

Art Gallery of Ontario – Admission $19.50 (Canadian, about $15.50 US)
Monday CLOSED
Tuesday 10:30 am – 5 pm
Wednesday 10:30 am – 9 pm
Thursday 10:30 am – 5 pm
Friday 10:30 am – 9 pm
Saturday 10:30 am – 5:30 pm
Sunday 10:30 am – 5:30 pm

Museum of Contemporary Art – opens May 2, 2017

Art & Performance Tour on Saturdays 10:00-12:00 and a Culture and Campus Tour on Sundays 1:30-3:30 – Led by Toronto Society of Architects; They also offer a Tower Tour Saturdays 1:30-3:30; Tickets to all tours are $10 (Canadian about $7.75 US) and require advance registration.

Tour Guys – Free Walking Tours in Toronto including a Downtown Tour, Old Town Toronto History Tour, Food Tour at St. Lawrence Market and a Graffiti Tour While these are called Free Walking Tours, they aren’t really free, but instead participants are expected to tip your guide “whatever they think the tour is worth”, usually between $15-$20. (We couldn’t take advantage of these tours because none are scheduled on Monday, the only day we had sufficient time for a tour.)

 

 

 

 

Toronto and its Buildings

Walking through the streets of Toronto, it’s easy to see how the city has changed from its British roots of Georgian and Victorian architecture which dominated the city before World War II to a modern style reflected in the tall structures that monopolize the skyline of Canada’s financial capital today.

image

The last weekend in May, the city hosted the Doors Open event. During those two days residents as well as visitors to the city could explore Toronto’s buildings at no charge. In addition, members of the Toronto Society of Architects conducting tours of the city’s buildings and public art.

image

More than 130 buildings in the city, including the Old City Hall, were open to the public during the two day event. The Old City Hall was where we met for our first tour, the Tower Tour. Over the course of an hour and a half we learned about that building as well as the current City Hall and their proud histories.

image

We then proceeded to the Financial District where on the corner of Bay and King four of the nation’s Big Five banks tower over pedestrians. Known as Commerce Court, the 34 story North Tower of the complex held the title of tallest tower in the city for over thirty years from 1931-1962, however today it’s dwarfed by the glass and steel structures, the tallest reaching more than 20 stories above the North Tower.

image

Our plans had been made before we learned of the Doors Open event so we were only in Toronto for the final afternoon of the event and were not able to take advantage of walking inside the open buildings.

image

However, even without a tour, there were so many buildings to enjoy. The Flatiron Building. Many churches. And skyscrapers designed by world renown architects.

image

 

image

Of course the CN Tower is the most recognizable feature in the Toronto Skyline. At a height of 1,815 feet, it’s the tallest free standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. And while it’s open to the public daily, we decided not to part with $45 per person for tickets. This decision was based partially on the cost but also on our poor experience at the Empire State Building where we spent about three hours in line. We were on a tight schedule and didn’t want to risk wasting valuable time in line.

image

Above: The Roy Thomson Hall, home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in the shadow of the CN Tower.

Below: The home of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Rogers Center, can be seen to the left of the CN Tower.

image

Since I’m a sucker for libraries, we did spend some time in the Toronto Public Library and enjoyed the modern, curves of the stairways.

image

We also enjoyed the Toronto Music Garden, an outdoor space at Harbourfront.

image

A place inspired by Yo Yo Ma, the garden sections represent movements from Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for unaccompanied cello: Prelude, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Menuett and Gigue. A concert venue with a full slate of performances scheduled from July through September, Toronto Music Garden proved to be a relaxing place to enjoy the natural beauty of the city.

image

Tips:

Towers Tour – Led by Toronto Society of Architects; Saturdays 1:30-3:30; Tickets $10 (Canadian about $7.75 US) They also offer an Art & Performance Tour on Saturdays and a Culture and Campus Tour on Sundays

Tour Guys – Free Walking Tours in Toronto including a Downtown Tour, Old Town Toronto History Tour, Food Tour at St. Lawrence Market and a Graffiti Tour While these are called Free Walking Tours, they aren’t really free, but instead participants are expected to tip your guide “whatever they think the tour is worth”, usually between $15-$20. (We couldn’t take advantage of these tours because none are scheduled on Monday, the only day we had sufficient time for a tour.)

Somehow, we missed the University of Toronto campus. I noticed it as we were leaving the city (only blocks from our hotel), and it’s a beautiful campus I’d like to explore.

Niagara Falls – Less than two hours from Niagara Falls, perhaps the world’s most famous waterfall, check out my blog on a trip to the falls.

Niagara Falls: Check

We checked Niagara Falls off our “bucket list” last week. A long weekend to Toronto started by spending one day basking in the power of one of the world’s most celebrated waterfalls.

image

After crossing Rainbow Bridge, we spent the day with Meghan and Jon in Queen Victoria Park on the Canadian side of the falls which serve as the border between New York and Ontario.

image

While not the tallest waterfall in North America, it is the largest by volume, and it is by far the most famous waterfall in the world, at least partly because of its portrayal in movies.

image

Just over 30 minutes from Buffalo and less than two hours from Toronto, between 14 million and 20 million people from all over the world visit Niagara Falls every year. Of course, that 30 minute drive was closer to two hours for us since we were crossing Rainbow Bridge into Canada on the Saturday before Memorial Day. It was nearly impossible to move in the massive traffic jam created by travelers not only crossing the bridge but also progressing across the border check.

image

The weather was unseasonably warm (hot) with a temperature of 85° (especially considering they had snow earlier in May), but it was absolutely perfect with cloudless skies. We were even surprised by a rainbow stretching across the river. It’s no wonder Rainbow Bridge is the name of the bridge crossing the border.

image

Meghan and Jon decided to get a closer look at the falls on the Hornblower Niagara Cruise. Donning the cruise issued red rain ponchos, they prepared for the mist infused ride where they could feel the power of the falls.

image

The boat carried them past the American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and into the very heart of the famous Horseshoe Falls. This short video taken by Meghan gives a glimpse of the falls from water level.

You can’t beat the view from our room at the Embassy Suites overlooking the falls. Our plan was to enjoy the nightly illumination from our room. However, the massive cloud of mist did not allow us to see the falls in color. I’m not sure you could beat the rainbow over the water anyway.

image

Tips:

We heard tourists debating whether it’s best to view the falls from the U.S. or Canada. We enjoyed strolling along the river in Queen Victoria Park on the Canadian side. From Canada you get a front view of the falls while in the U.S., the view is from the side or behind the water; but you’re also much closer to the water. Goat Island, in New York, is the oldest state park and provides trails and excellent views, but Goat Island will not open until later in the summer as it undergoes renovations. Maybe the best decision is based on whether or not you have a passport, but I’m sure Niagara Falls is remarkable from both sides of the border.

Fireworks are at 9:30 or 10:00pm on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays with a few extra dates such as the 4th of July. Of course, we were there on a Saturday so we missed the show. Click for fireworks calendar.

Bring your walking shoes. You’ll want to walk along the river to get multiple views of the falling water.

You’ll need plenty of patience if your crossing the border at a peak time. Maybe you should download a podcast or two to help you pass the time.