Get out of Toronto for the day – 10 Unforgettably Unusual ideas for a getaway – Part 1


Toronto is the best in terms of the diverse nature of entertainment and culture available within its realms; but traveling just a few hours outside opens up a whole “other” world of unusual possibilities.
All of the following are experiences you can only have outside the city: many afford the opportunity to make a weekend of it

Hot Air Ballooning
Up, up and away with Sundance Balloons, and see the gorgeous Lake Simcoe area of Ontario from a different perspective. Hop into your wicker “gondola”, spend a tranquil hour silently floating over the countryside below and then celebrate your return to earth with one Ballooning’s oldest traditions – a Champagne toast

Warplane Heritage Museum
Reach for the skies and take a ride in a WW2 warplane. Choose from a Douglas Dakota or a de Havilland Tiger Moth bi wing
at the bottom end of the price spectrum to the chance to fly in the worlds last passenger carrying “Dam-Busting WW2 Lancaster

St Jacobs Mennonite Story – St Jacobs Ontario
Tuck yourself into the heart of Mennonite -country at the “St Jacobs Mennonite Story” and learn about the fascinating culture of both the Mennonites and the Amish that occupy this part of Ontario. Look out for the ubiquitous black horse drawn cabs that dominate the country lanes round these parts.

Dundern Castle in Hamilton
Immerse yourself in the authentic atmosphere of a 1830,s “Castle”. Once the dynamic home to Canada’s first Prime Minister Sir Allan McNab (and erstwhile ancestor of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and wife to Prince Charles), the clock has been stopped at a time somewhere in the early 1800’s as the house and docent interpreters are “dressed” to represent this historic mansion during its Regency heyday. Christmas is a great time to visit as the house lends itself beautifully to the annual “Victorian Christmas” event.

Bell Homestead
Not many people realize that this unassuming white Ontarian house was backdrop to the events leading up to one of the scientific breakthroughs that would reshape History. This was the home of Alexander Graham Bell; the home where he breathed life into his ideas for a “speaking telegraph and the original home of Canadian Telephone operations in 1880.

Encaustic Workshop at the beautiful Alton Mills Art Studio
Create amazing tactile artwork at “The Hive” in the stunning Alton Mills Art Studio. Encaustic media is a melted down melange of delicious Beeswax and oil paint. “The Hive” at Alton Mills offers half day and day workshops from beginner to advanced levels with all sorts of variations between.

Collingwood’s Elvis Festival
The king of Rock and Roll may be dead (or is he?) but his spirit is alive and kicking at the annual Collingwood Elvis Festival
“Long live the King”

From the Bard to “The Biebs”
Everybody knows that Stratford Ontario is famous for its Shakespeare Festival but did you know that you can walk in the footsteps of Ontario’s pop sensation “Justin Bieber” – literally.
This ingenious Justin Bieber Tour of Stratford utilizes a specially created map detailing all his favourite childhood haunts: his favourite ice cream parlour; the schools he went to and the place he took his first date

Tour the Spirit Tree Cidery
Ontario is blessed with scores of great wineries but how about watching a cider press in operation and tasting samples of both hard and sweet cider in the Spirit Tree’s tasting room. Pair your cider sipping with a home baked treat fresh from the wood burning oven.

Visit Ontario’s Badlands
French trappers called these “les mauvaises terres à traverser” – “the bad lands to cross” and that just about sums up the characteristics of
The Cheltenham Badlands with its
steep slopes and gullies of alternating shale and clay, forming massive spectacularly coloured (red and green) undulating rock striations.
Located on the Niagara Escarpment and by default a part of the Bruce Trail.

Part 2 of this article in a few weeks Enjoy….

Toronto’s Most Unusual Dining Venues Part 3 – for the Experience

Sultan's Tent

Sultan’s Tent (Photo credit: Henna Sooq)




O ‘Noir
Led by a blind host into the blanketing darkness ( were talking black and some!)” of the dining room puts all your other senses on high alert particularly when it comes to tasting food you cannot see!
This may appear to be a sort of voyeurism without vision but you can enjoy this most unique sensory culinary experience knowing that it is a dining concept with a conscience – set up to give sighted folk an insight into the world of the blind and in this respect it totally delivers.

Mysteriously Yours
How about dinner served with dash of innuendo and a hint of murder.
This is nicely done, fast-paced and lewdly witty and with minimal humiliation reserved for those set up by friends and family prior to the evening!
The food is incidental when booking a dinner venue like this; however it is surprisingly good and when coupled with the dinner- long entertainment, great value for money.

Sultans Tent and Cafe Moroc
Midnight at the Oasis in downtown Toronto. Immerse yourself in the exotic culture of North Africa and enjoy an exuberant evening of belly-dancing entertainment and exquisite delicately seasoned Moroccan fare amidst the exotic jewel and spice-coloured hues of tented lounges and Moroccan themed decor.

Guu Izakaya on Church
Shout “Guu is Guuu’d!”
Shout “Kampai” (cheers) as you raise a glass
In fact shout just about anything because shouting and noise is the hallmark of the GUU brand’s energetic version of an authentic Japanese Pub (Izakaya)
Serving an eclectic selection of Japanese dishes and a wide selection of sake – try the plum varieties

> 3030 Dundas West
Slated to become one of Toronto’s next landmark venues this vast warehouse space houses a stellar dining and entertainment concept. Order your drink and/or your food – small plate tapas-style food freshly prepared from $5 a dish – then choose a board game or puzzle; play pinball on the vintage machines or watch VHS tapes playing on a “true vision” set. Fancy drawing something -knock yourself out!
Check the website for the many events (DJ/live music/quiz nights)


Over and Out

Here and There – subjective snapshots of an Ex-pat

Proposed Canadian flag in 1946; red ensign wit...

Image via Wikipedia

Same Language – different way of life.
With a background of living and growing up in the UK, moving to Canada would as you’d expect present immediate and obvious differences. Climate; driving on the other side of the road on other side of the car; currency and banking system; education system; healthcare; pension rationale; being unable to buy alcohol any time of the day or night and anywhere but government regulated outlets (LCBO) and even food choices. These were the obvious challenges. Furthermore we chose Canada ( or did it choose us ) because we figured that having the same language in common (lol) would make the transition easier; furthermore I was Canadian born and my son piggy-backing on that birthright – also had Canadian citizenship. So with only one sponsorship to figure out – how difficult could it be?
Hold that thought.
We obtained the relevant forms ( a truckload actually) and thought we’d fill them out in a leisurly manner over drinks one evening in a local hostelry. Four months later; having reviewed; zillions of family photographs desperately trying to find at least one photo of my husband and I together in one picture, looking like Canada-worthy citizens and and not at a” tops and socks” party, drunk or up a mountain somewhere. In our quest to satisfy the Canadian authorities that we were who we said we were, we bugged my Mother endlessly for details of the 15 or so different addresses I had had since birth, and for information on my long departed Father – birth and death dates; family tree and inside-leg measurements; Someone told me once that Canada was one of the m ost difficult countries in the world to emigragte too, and 2 of us were already Canadian – it took months. Almost ready to roll. One more thing left – that was for my husband to make an entrance into Canada through an official entry port such as Montreal before we all joined up in Toronto!
So now we were getting a preview of the crippling bureaucracy (as we saw it) and the Canadian love of form-filling and paper. Best ever was one of the requirements that my other half fill in a form detailing every trip in and out of the UK in the last 10 years. Who records that sort of stuff? Me actually…… Hours spent in Second Cup reviewing my diaries for last 10 years – kept getting sentimentally sidetracked by the wonder of my own life!! it’ like looking at piccies without the horror of seeing the ageing process/bad sartorial choices. My husband and son went sightseeing for the afternoon. One week later my husband phones me with the bad news. “You know that form you spent hours completing; you know, the one where you had to list all our travel dates in and out of the UK – My bad……………. that form only needs to be submitted if you are applying from somewhere in Eastern Europe” – Another day of my life wasted………..
So backtracking – apart from the obvious stated at the outset of this blog, after 6 years I think I am now qualified to do a comparative analysis – lightheartedly because I LOVE living here – on many other aspects of “Alien” living in Toronto vis-a-vis Oxfordshire UK. Immediately you can see the flaw in this statement. Living in a Canadian city versus living in Rural UK – will try to factor this in……………
Loosely encompasses the following for me:
Banking system– no central clearing system here as there is in the UK- you are told that cheque paid in can take up to 10 days to clear, You cannot pay cheques or credit slips into other Banks – they can’t transfer between banks.
No Building Society institutions
Unlike the UK; very little ability to make tax-free savings here exception being the relatively new $5000 tax free savings scheme) Could be out of date now but as at the date of leaving the UK, we had all sorts of ways of legitimately avoiding tax on hard earned savings.
You cannot guarantee cheque payments by using them in conjunction with cheque cards; but then again who still uses cheques – I use up a book of 30 cheques – I’m sorry – checks, in about 3 years here.
Biggest difference re banking/love of paper issue is innocent enough. Every time you pay for something here, you get 2 receipts not one as in the UK – and they are always carefully stapled together. Can you imagine how much future shredding that entails!!
If you are lucky enough to have this provided through your employment,and even luckier in that both of you are covered by health insurance plans, the amount of form filling and coordination of these is enough to bring on a coronary, especially if you have a family; I have folders and folders of claim forms and assessments. Worst of all you have to pay cash and then claim it back – better check your cashflow if you are going to be sick here. The Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) program is pretty good but doesn’t include myriad things like prescription drugs; physio or dentistry. God, I really miss BUPA and UK health insurance schemes where you didn’t have to lay out a penny upon treatment. Sounds like I’m moaning – many people don’t have the luxury of Health insurance plans, but it’s simply a comparison.
GP’s don’t appear to have computerized records – at least mine doesn’t – everything is still written by hand. One great thing here is that you are expected to have an annual check up with your GP which is pretty comprehensive including blood work and a health overhaul so I guess that probably catches a lot of health issues that might have gone unnoticed.
Waiting lists – people moan about these, but we are lucky as Toronto is one of the world’s foremost medical capitals in the wolrdwith more hospitals than you can shake a stick at. I’ve never had to wait more than a couple of days for an MRI. Not the same picture in other parts of the country where outlying and isolated places are not able to attract GP’s and Dentists at all.
Not rocket science and of course every where else in the world has a view of living in the cold white north. Unless you live in out in places like Calgary or YellowKnife or the North West Territories, living somewhere like Toronto, whilst a shock initially with occasional -30% temperatures is nowhere near as scary as it sounds. Our winter runs from about mid December (sometimes even we don’t have a white Christmas) through March with April’s that can go either way. Life carries on as normal; buses and trains still run; occasional airport closure but nowhere as near as bad as Chicago in this respect. We all cosy up in our”mostly” timber-framed houses which seem to retain the heat somehow; venture out kitted out inaccordingly and in the very worst of weathers walk our dogs with Yaktraks strapped to our boots to avoid slipping over in the ice. Those who are not fortunate enough to have garages, wake up an hour early every morning to dig our cars out of the mountain of sidewalk dredges snow from the snow ploughs. If you’ve been away during as snowstorm; you might actually have trouble loacting your c ar at all. Makes my wingeing about having to spend 15 minutes in the UK every morning simply de-icing the vehicle seem fatuous!!
In Toronto we have an underground “PATH” system and many of us simply stumble out of the underground sytem, into one of these and can make our way to downtown offices without setting foot in the snow or ice. Montreal also has these but many are not actually joined together so you have to freeze your eyebrows stepping outside between underground thoroughfares!!
Summer – starts around end of May and through to end September if we’re lucky. Heralded in by the chirping of the cicadas by day and the crickets by night, their sudden silence a few days ago signals that our summer is at an end.
Here unlike most of the UK, air conditioning in domestic homes and all public transport is a necessity not a luxury and makes the heat bearable.
Fall/Autumn is the absolute best over here. Households start fall decorating with burnt orange and red chrysanthemum pots flamking the doorways and an autumnal door wreath or two and then even before Canadian thanksgiving, the halloween garden scenes and lights appear. These stay up long after Halloween and are replaced by Christmas/Holiday (don’t even started onthis definition of the festive season) lights, and then as if to keep us cheery and optimistic through the darkest brass monkey days of January to March, these remain in situ till the snow stops.
Not even going there except to comment on the fact that “Realtors” here unlike Estate Agents in the UK, are licensed; workshopped and qualified to the hilt and treated like respected professionals and rightly so, in our limited experience and listening to those of our friends, they work miracles especially for those of us transitioning from another country (that would be most of the population). One disadvantage here though as opposed to UK is that you have to be out of the house – dog and all – each time a prospective buyer visits – you are persona non grata when it comes to “selling” your own property – weird or what?
Oh yeah and here in Toronto there is the Condo thing going on – would you rather live in a freehold house with the gardening; snow clearing; repairs and maintenance or would you rather live in a leased condo with all the grind of house maintenance and bills removed and rolled into one monthly fee and often including a swimming pool/ gym/party room/ movie theatre / concierge services and maybe a twinkly view of the city etc, etc – Choices, choices. Didn’t have to make that one in the UK . Almost all major cities here offer this as a mostly affordable lifestyle option, exceptions St Johns; Winnipeg; and probably some of the most northerly cities.
I haven’t even covered the subject of sports; street parties; dogs; critters; obsession with power launches and cottages; language – meaning and understanding – shopping and culinary matters; Driving around/distance/ scenery and travel. Blimey the list is endless. Reading this back and cognisant of what I haven’t yet tackled I almost feel like we landed on the moon. Sometimes it doesn’t do to analyze things too much!!
So folks – what was going to be a series of soundbites on my observations of the differences of living here rather than there, has become a discombobulated missive to be continued……..
Over & Out……………..