We have a lot of family and friends in Southern Ontario. More than we could possibly see in one trip, but we did our best to catch up with people we haven’t seen in a long time (in some cases over 10 years). It was a whirlwind 10 day trip, but it was great to see people again, meet their families for the first time, and catch up.
We rented a car for the first few days and visited all the suburban friends in Milton, Kitchener, Mississauga, and Grand Valley.
Then we settled into an Airbnb in Toronto for a week, with more friends and family to visit. It was our first time meeting our niece Layla (one of the main motivators for the trip to Ontario).
There wasn’t a lot of free time, but we did get to explore the Toronto waterfront and take Astrid to the ROM.
Astrid did really well with all the new people, the rushed days, the lack of consistency, and the time change. She was pretty hyper at bedtime most nights, but once we got her settled she slept well. We did almost all of her naps on the go in the car seat or stroller. She really enjoyed playing with the other kids, especially the babies, and she held her own with the older kids too.
If you live in or near Toronto and we didn’t get a chance to see you, I’m sorry. You’ll just have to visit us in Vancouver (where you don’t need to wear toques in May 😛).
After our week in Manitoba, we flew to London (Ontario) for Leanne and Andrew’s wedding, and then took the train to Toronto to visit family and friends there. Astrid travelled really well and had no problem sleeping in different beds. She didn’t like the heat when we arrived in London (over 30 C) but other than that she did really well with all the change.
Leanne and Andrew had a lovely wedding surrounded by towering trees. Emily was a bridesmaid, so I was a single parent for long stretches. It gave me new respect for all the hard work Emily does while I’m at work. Keeping her fed, entertained, and clean with only two hands can be a challenge.
The trip represented a lot of firsts for Astrid – the first train ride, first meal at a restaurant (we were nervous, and she had a freak out at the end, but she did well enough that we took her to another 5 sit down restaurants), first night sleeping in a crib, and her first shower. We didn’t know how she would nap without her swing or be entertained without her toys, but we improvised and learned a few new tricks along the way.
Toronto has a lot of great restaurant options for vegans. We discovered some great new restaurants on our most recent trip, but the highlight was a visit to Fabbrica.
We got the rock star treatment. Celebrity chef Missy Hui, winner of Chopped, prepared a 3-course vegan feast for us. You could really taste the quality of the ingredients being served up. Missy really knows how to cook. Wood-fired mushroom pizza, grilled vegetables, braised greens, fried polenta, and chocolate fudge. All of it mouthwatering.
The other places we ate: Tabülè – Tasty Lebanese food with an almost identical menu to Nuba in Vancouver. Hot Beans – Vegan taco and burrito shop in Kensington Market. Really liked the jackfruit taco. The mac and cheese burrito was oddly good. Lola’s Kitchen – Healthy meals for meat-eaters and vegetarians. The Israeli Couscous Bowl was a hit. Mamma’s Pizza – Pizza chain that now offers vegan pizza with Daiya cheese.
One of the things I like about Toronto, is all the cool neighbourhoods to explore. On our most recent trip, we stayed in the Beaches, a funky neighbourhood east of downtown. It had a relaxed vibe that reminded me a lot of Vancouver – with funky shops, a beach packed with volleyball courts, and a busy seawall with walkers, joggers, and cyclists.
Another trip to Toronto, another chance to compare The Big Smoke to Lotus Land. Last time I visited, it was the patios, streetcars, and compost pickup that caught my attention; this time it was the bikes and funky neighbourhoods.
Cyclists were everywhere. Hip, fashionable people riding fixed gear bikes. Women in skirts with flowery baskets on their bikes. Hardly anyone was wearing a helmet (maybe 30%) and, unlike Vancouver, not a single piece of Gore-Tex or lycra to be found. These weren’t the “hardcore cyclists” you often see in Vancouver, but people using bikes for what their best at – providing a convenient means of transportation.
We spent most of our time in the core of Toronto (especially around Bloor), where the city is dense, walkable, relatively flat, and dotted with BIXI stations. So my perspective on the popularity of cycling is probably skewed.
We did get to jump on BIXI bikes and cycle around Toronto ourselves. Renting bikes from BIXI was really easy. We were able to rent two bikes on one credit card, and once you’ve paid for your membership (we got 24 hour memberships for $5 each) you can take out bikes for free, as long as you return them in under 30 minutes. The bikes are heavy and don’t go very fast, although they do have 3 gears. Several times I felt bad for holding up a long line of cyclists behind, but most of them were going the same speed – I guess casual cyclists aren’t rushing from light to light.
Biking through Toronto’s traffic calmed neighbourhoods is a joy – lots of old houses and large shade trees. The only downside is they’re a mess of one-way streets and we didn’t want to be “bike salmon”, although lots of others biked upstream. Some of the major streets have painted bike lanes (especially around U of T), but they’re often blocked by taxis and delivery trucks. I’m really impressed by the number of cyclists, considering the lack of dedicated bike infrastructure. One day we biked down to King and Bay, and I thought we were going to die. Google Maps told us that King is a bike route, but there isn’t even a painted lane or sharrow. We had to squeeze between parked cars and a busy traffic lane, trying not to get a wheel stuck in the streetcar tracks. It was the only time I really noticed I wasn’t wearing a helmet.
It seems like beautiful weather has been following me all summer. If you’re willing to fly me to where you live, I’ll consider a trip. Vancouver has been amazingly rain free for so long that the grass is turning brown. When it did rain, Emily and I were in Toronto enjoying the best weather they had all summer.
We spent the last week of June in Ontario celebrating Emily’s Mom’s Birthday and Donna & Brandon’s Wedding. I thoroughly enjoyed both events and was glad I was able to be there for them. In between, we explored Toronto and spent time with Emily’s friend and family.
The best parts of Toronto:
Patios – every restaurant and cafe has an outdoor patio, which is really nice when the temperature is around 30 C. I think we only ate 2 meals indoors the whole trip.
Plastic Bag Fee – As of June 1, every retailer in Toronto has to charge 5 cents for plastic bags. Some cities have attempted to ban plastic bags, but I like this approach better. 5 cents might not seem like a huge deterrent, but it forces retailers to ask customers if they want a bag and customers to think if they really need it. One of my biggest peeves is cashiers who automatically put what I bought in a plastic bag without asking if I need a bag. And the 5 cents isn’t a tax, but a mandatory fee – the money goes to the retailer.
Green Bins – Toronto has a municipal composting program (although with the garbage strike no one was picking up the scraps).
Public Transport – Each subway train in Toronto is at least 10 times longer then a SkyTrain in Vancouver, and wasn’t nearly as crowded during rush hour. The street car system was also really convenient for getting around.
Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) – I’m not a huge art gallery fan, but the AGO was impressive. The building is a piece of art in itself.
The worst parts:
Garbage Strike – the strike had only started when we were there, but it was annoying that all the street garbage bins were taped up. The worst part was seeing people illegally dumping garbage only a few days into the strike.
Smog and congestion – When you’re in Toronto, everything is great. Leaving or entering the city is another matter. That’s when you notice the giant freeways, the traffic, and the blanket of smog that covers the city.
Beaches – we didn’t make it to the official Beaches neighbourhood, but we did visit “Urban Beach” – a small split of sand in downtown Toronto. Compared to Vancouver, it was disappointing.