Monday, August 22, 2016

The First Turning

I skipped church today, but I think God will understand.

Today was the day I have been waiting for all summer, and it wasn't just because my husband and daughter were leaving for a three day backpacking trip to a remote island, although it was an added bonus. No, today was special because the weather exhibited the first turn towards Autumn, my favorite season of the year.

I love summer for about two weeks, and then I am ready for the heat, the humidity (terrible for a curly-haired girl), and the bright sunshine that washes out every color, all to go away.

This morning I woke to change in the air; the humidity had disappeared overnight, the temperature was the perfect 68 degrees, and the breeze...oh how I have missed the breeze. Throw open the windows and let it in.

After listening to my husband and daughter go through their packing list for the tenth time, I kissed them both, extracted promises from both of them that they wouldn't kill each other, and sent them on their way.

The next three days were mine. Well actually, mine with Scout and Findley, but the worst they do is bark. Scout was still snoozing downstairs, the life of the aged golden retriever, and well earned. I coaxed Findley into his walking harness with the promise of a car ride and off we set for a walking trail that I had discovered this spring. A trail we can't do in the summer because it is too sunny and too hot.

Today was perfect, a refreshing breeze blowing through the wildflower fields, an amazing cloud display, and not a bead of sweat anywhere on my body.

It took a little time to settle into our pace on the wide paved path, but finally Findley became content with looking for sticks to carry in his mouth, and I could tune in the voice in my head. The voice has been missing the last few weeks, lost amongst the busyness of the final weeks of summer. I could slow my breath and truly see the things around me. The vibrant purples and yellows of the wildflowers, and how the breeze made them dance. The breeze carried the smell of rotisserie chicken on the grill, bringing back pleasant childhood memories of my dad making chicken on the grill for Sunday dinner.

The two hour walk brought more peace than church could have today. I think God will understand.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Hummingbird and the Jackhammer

"And curiosity is an impulse that just taps you on the shoulder very lightly and invites you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look a little closer at something that has intrigued you."         ~Elizabeth Gilbert

Many of us are probably familiar with Elizabeth Gilbert's speech on The Flight of the Hummingbird and Passion versus Curiosity. Finally, somebody was saying that is was ok to not have a burning passion for one thing, it was ok to be interested in lots of things, it was ok to be curious and to follow that curiosity, much like the flight of a hummingbird flitting from one flower to the next, in the end cross-pollenating everywhere it goes.  

Photo Credit: Glen Huizenga

My husband, largely due to his job, is a "have one focus, one destination and get there as quick as possible" kind of guy, a jackhammer. Opposites do attract.

In Toronto I think we balanced out hummingbird and jackhammer personalities very well. I was in charge of the wanderings and curiosity during the day, and he was in charge of the  research and destination for our breakfasts and suppers. 

Monday, our first full day in Toronto, he steered us to Over Easy, a diner around the corner from our hotel, delightful omelettes. Over breakfast I unfolded our downtown Toronto street map, and picked a road for us to start our hummingbird flight on. 

Shortly into our walk I spied the above church tower through a break in the buildings. I knew my curiosity would lead us there, and what a marvelous turning of the head it was. St. James Cathedral and it was open for self-guided tours. 

I felt something move inside me in that church, looking at the exquisite stained glass windows, touching the wooden pews, worn from generations of hands passing along the wood. These details are lost in today's modern buildings. Awe-struck wonder is what I felt.  I don't fully understand my fascination with old buildings, and may never, but that feeling of awe is enough. 

The Distillery Historic District

My curiosity led us to The Distillery District, with only one directional hiccup, that caused a bit of a debate and to which I will admit I was wrong. This is the only time you will see those words printed on this blog.

Our family has a wonderful relationship with the distillery at home, so we were excited to try some Canadian spirits. Unfortunately, there are no distilleries in the Distillery District. Although the area is very touristy, I loved it. The old buildings were delightful to photograph. Artist studios were located in one of the buildings. I was particularly drawn to the work of artist, Jodi Wheeler. I had an engaging and informative conversation with her about her photo transfer process. 

We had lunch here. I would highly recommend the bratwursts. We were too early for the tour.

St. Lawrence Market

I saw a photograph of the outside of the main St. Lawrence Market building when I was doing that tiny bit of internet research on Toronto before we left, I knew we would have to go there.

Unfortunately the first day we tried to go they were closed - Closed Mondays.

So we went back on Wednesday. 120 vendors of every imaginable edible delicacy, including ostrich thighs. We were there early, shortly after they opened, so it wasn't busy yet. I can only imagine later in the day what a zoo it probably is.

I am the only olive lover in my family, I was swooning with delight at all these and would have liked to sample every one, but I doubt they would have mixed very well with the pancakes I had for breakfast.

Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres

The best slight turn of my head happened Tuesday night after dinner at Oliver & Bonacini Cafe'. My husband had heard about the restaurant from a fellow that he works with, like I said, always doing research. We decided to take a walk along Yonge street to see the sights at night and people watch. We approached a beautifully preserved theatre and I had to stop and take a few shots with my phone.

Then I noticed this sign on one of the windows. I knew what we would be doing Thursday at 5 p.m.

Lobby off of Yonge Street
The history of the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre is a long and fascinating one, spanning nearly 100 years. It not only chronicles the magnificent design, architectural and entertainment highlights of an era, it also reflects the evolution and growth of our heritage and culture.

Winter Garden Theatre

Built in 1913, the complex was the Canadian flagship of Marcus Loew's legendary theatre chain. Designed by Thomas Lamb as a "double-decker" theatre complex, it contained the Winter Garden Theatre, constructed seven stories above the Elgin Theatre.

Elgin Theatre

The two theaters were of distinctly different personality: the Elgin was all gold leaf and rich fabrics, a formal theatre of plaster cherubs and ornate opera boxes. The Winter Garden was a botanical fantasy, its walls hand-painted to resemble a garden, its ceiling a mass of real beech boughs and twinkling lanterns. 

Winter Garden Theatre

With the decline of vaudeville, the Winter Garden closed in 1928. It remained closed for more than half a century, becoming a time capsule of a bygone era. The Elgin, with its grand domed ceiling, continued as a movie house, gradually slipping into disrepair with the passing of each decade.

Winter Garden Theatre

What a restoration treasure these two theatres are now. To read more about the history and restoration work click here. This hour and a half tour was the best $12 I have ever spent. If you love old buildings and history, and find yourself in Toronto, you must go on this tour. 

After the tour, the hummingbird and the jackhammer walked hand-in-hand back to the hotel to get ready for one last magical night in Toronto. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Curiously Wandering Toronto

The sound of a trumpet pierces the early morning hour. Wait a minute! A trumpet! I open my eyes and hit the button on the side of my Fitbit - 4:30. Seriously! Who plays a trumpet at four-thirty in the morning? Knowing that sleep is now lost, I slip out of bed and tip-toe off to the bathroom. Too early to get up, I return to bed, settle myself on my wedge pillow, arrange the soft white sheet carefully over me, knowing I will be pushing the button on my Fitbit every fifteen minutes for the next hour and a half. Six o'clock a slightly more reasonable hour to get up when on vacation.

I love to travel, but I am a terrible sleeper away from home. Who am I kidding! I am a terrible sleeper, even at home. Too often on vacation, the beds are too hard, the room too hot, the fan too loud, or the neighbors next door decide to have an alcohol induced discussion at midnight. None of those things are a problem here in our studio suite on the sixteen floor of our historic hotel. One King West situated on the base of an old bank building is located on the corner of King and Yonge Street, on the edge of the Financial and Old Town districts in the heart of downtown Toronto. No, the problem here seems to be an early morning trumpet player. This might, slightly, be my own fault. When my husband noticed that one of the windows was ajar and wanted to close it, I told him to leave it open, I love hearing the street sounds. Sometimes you get more than you bargain for.

My husband and I are here to celebrate our 30th Anniversary. Toronto is quite the departure from our usual relaxing country vacation. I decided as we embarked on our thirty-first year together, we should push ourselves out of our comfort zone, see some new sights and work on discovering places together. He loves to do research on places, and know where he is going. I prefer to lace up my shoes, walk out the front door, and set off down the sidewalk, seeing what catches my eye as I wander along.

Already pushing us out of his comfort zone and knowing that I wanted to be able to celebrate our thirty-first anniversary together next year, I did do some research before the trip. There were a couple of places that I wanted us to visit, just as we had when we did a brief stay in Toronto twenty-seven years earlier. Casa Loma was at the top of the list, me being the lover of old, unique buildings. When I did some internet searching I found the City Pass which included entry to Casa Loma, CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Ripley's Aquarium, and the Toronto Zoo, all these places for $58 US dollars per person. Even if we only made it to four out of the five, we had already saved quite a bit of money. I printed a map of downtown Toronto that I could easily fold up and put in my pocket, not entirely trusting that the Travel Pass plan that I had signed up for on my iPhone with Verizon would actually work, and then there would be no Google Maps. I also printed a map of the subway lines, although in the end we walked everywhere we went, Toronto being an easily walkable city.

We arrived in Toronto on Sunday afternoon, a smooth drive into the city and located our hotel quickly, thanks to Google Maps. The one dilemma we had was finding the valet parking for the hotel, not knowing it was behind the hotel, on a side street. So we first parked in a public parking garage and walked to the hotel, instead of driving around endlessly. After registering, we walked back to the garage, drove the car to the proper area and handed it off to the valet, always a weird feeling to hand someone you don't know your car keys and walk away.

Once unpacked, clothes stowed in drawers and hung on hangers, no living out of a suitcase for the next five days for this girl, I was excited to get out and explore. Neatly folded downtown street map shoved into my pocket, camera slung across my body, we were off to the waterfront. I grabbed our City Pass paperwork before we walked out the door, just in case we happened to wander down to the CN Tower.

Coming from Michigan and living within a mile of Lake Michigan, it takes a lot for a body of water to impress me, and honestly Toronto's waterfront felt lacking. So many people wandering around, all looking at the screens on their phones. I think my husband and I were the only ones without our phones in hand. It was also kind of dirty. We hurried along. Sighting the CN Tower, we made that our new destination.


The City Pass helped us skip some of the line, but we were still eventually herded into lines like cattle. Having been to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the differences in the structures were quite apparent. Less space on the enclosed viewing platform, a much smaller open air viewing platform. A small section of glass floor at the CN Tower than people felt compelled to sprawl out on for lengthy periods of time.

Still, a delightful view of the city of Toronto, although looking back we probably should have done the CN Tower later in the trip so we could look at all the places we had been, as opposed to not knowing the places we were yet to go. I recommend visiting the tower once, but once is probably enough.

What caught my photographer's eye and history lover's heart was Roundhouse Park across the street from the tower. A 17-acre park that contains a preserved locomotive roundhouse which now houses the Toronto Railway Museum.  We never made it to the museum, that leaves something for next time.

Also located in Roundhouse Park is Steam Whistle Brewing, a brewery that sells only one beer, which is hard to fathom for somebody that comes from Beer City USA where the average is 40 different brews on tap. We did make it to the brewery the next day, at least I didn't have to ponder what to order.

By this time it was getting late, and we still had to eat supper. We wandered back to the hotel amid the traffic and horn honking...

**The rest of our wanderings of Toronto coming soon...