Toronto – Poutine

The locals decided if there’s one thing we have to do in Canada it is eat poutine. So, after a night out in the city, we were taken to a poutanerie. To the unacquainted, poutine is french fries topped with cheese curds and  gravy(usually beef) .  For a french fries lover like me, I can finish an entire meal sized box by myself. Yes, they did have veggie options where we ate, and not one but three.  For a french fries hater like the husband –oh putin!! what fresh horror from hell is this!!

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The story goes that a restaurant regular once asked the  restaurateur  to add a handful of  cheese curds on some french fries, to which the restaurateur is said to have exclaimed, “ça va faire une maudite poutine” (“it will make a damn mess”), and that is how the dish got its name. I wonder if the name could have come from the French putin though.

There was a line to place your order and then another line to pick it up, but hot french fries in the middle of the night, with cheese and toppings, (that too after a few drinks) how can it not be worth it?

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Toronto – Party Like the Locals

Toronto by Night

Toronto by Night

On Friday and Saturday nights we went with the husband’s plan – party like the locals. We would start the party at home, go out and party so more, then grab some late night grub and head home.

a surefire recipe inducing a food coma

a surefire recipe inducing a food coma

Saturday afternoon saw us at an Indian buffet that claimed to have upto 150 items on their spread. I counted around 90. Worth a dekho.

Toronto – Day 2

Day 2 was better planned. After the parking debacle on Day 1, we decided to use public transit. If public transit is available, I think it’s a great way to experience a city. The plan went like this –

Drive down to Islington station- pick up breakfast at a Tim Horton’s drive through window on the way – park the car at the free parking lot –  buy a day pass, supposedly valid for upto 2 people on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays – take a train from the Eastbound platform to Spadina Station

Take M1  from Spadina Southbound platform to  Saint George Station  ( 1 stop)  – walk to  Royal Ontario museum  (300m) – grab lunch -spend some time at the museum

From Saint George Station Northbound  platform take a train to Dupont Station ( 2 stops) – walk to Casa Loma  (650m) – wander around the castle

Take bus no. 127, Davenport Towards Spadina Station from  Casa Loma to Spadina (6 stops)

What happened was a slightly different story. After staying up talking till past 2 am the night before, I don’t know how the bestie and family managed to be up and out early that morning, we had a hard time rolling out of bed. We left home a little later than planned, so we skipped breakfast.  The parking lot is adjacent to the station. It  is not free, but the charges are quite nominal – $ 4-$ 5 (Canadian) for the day. The day pass can be used on both the trains and buses. On weekends (Saturday and Sunday), a single day pass can be used by upto two people.  The train from Islington goes all the way to Saint George. We did get down at Spadina, but we took the next train from the same platform, after confirming with the driver that it would stop at St. George. We grabbed a quick lunch at a small diner opposite the museum and went in.

Don't fall in love with people like me.I will take you to museums, and parks, and monuments,.... get lost, have a panic attack and announce for you on the public announcement system :P

Don’t fall in love with people like me.I will take you to museums, and parks, and monuments…. get lost, have a panic attack and call you on the public announcement system 😛 Photo courtesy Ganesh Sankaran aka the husband

The husband lost me in the museum. When I turn around and don’t see the people I came with, I panic. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. My heart starts racing. My stomach starts sinking. I get anxious. When the husband did the disappearing act,  I tried to keep calm and enjoy the exhibits.  I looked at the displays and attempted to read  the description under each glass case, only to realize that words were registering but without any meaning. An active part of my mind was trying to figure out how to find someone in a vast museum building. Every few steps  I had to pause,  take a deep breath and tell myself – if I didn’t find him wandering around, every building has a public announcement system. Believe me, I have announced for him in the past. I had too.  I found him an hour and a half later in the lobby, coolly observing an exhibit. He says he looked for me all over the place, going back and forth through sections, up and down 3 levels before finally deciding to wait in the lobby. Next time I’m going to tie us together with a bit of string.

The Lady is a Tramp

The Lady is a Tramp Photo courtesy Ganesh Sankaran aka the husband

Casa Loma – The Castle on the (small) Hill, is a wonderful place to take fairytale wedding photographs.

Once upon a time, this castle was the private residence of  pioneering Canadian financier,  Sir Henry Pellatt and  his wife Lady Mary Pellatt. Sir Henry Pellet was nothing short of a business visionary. In addition, when he retired from the Queen’s own Rifles, he was  a Major-General and was made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order.  You can read more about him here. Lady Pellatt was accomplished in her own right. She played an active role in the growth of the Girl Guides of Canada. She was appointed the first Commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada and later  awarded the Silver Fish, the Girl Guides highest award. Canadian architect E. J. Lennox designed Casa Loma in the Gothic Revival style. It is touted to be North America’s only full size castle today. Sir Pellatt built it with the hope of entertaining royalty. Unfortunately after World War I, the Canadian economy went into a slump and the Pellatt’s went bankrupt. They had to sell their possessions for a fraction of what they were worth and move out of Casa Loma. Years later the castle was converted into a tourist attraction. Self guided audio tours allow visitors to explore the castle, complete with its secret passages and an 800m long tunnel leading to the stables across the street. There is a short film on the life of Sir Pellatt that is shown every 20 minutes or so. It would be a good idea to watch it before taking the caste tour as it sets the stage for it. One can easily spend a few hours to half a day at the castle.

Toronto – Day 1 – Reflections

Reflected on the Day

Pondering- Reflecting -Meditating on the day that was today

By the end of Day 1 we had learned Lessons 3 and 2.

Lesson 3 – The USD might be stronger, but the local currency is  king. We paid for gas in USD (cash). When the husband returned with change, he looked extremely puzzled. “I should be getting more change than this, right?”, he asked me. On checking the bill  we found that the conversion rate used was not just below market rate, it made the Canadian dollar stronger. Ergo, convert in advance and always trade in local currency.

On a separate note,  yes it’s the bill here as one waitress made it a point to tell us. Talking of currency, the USD may be stronger, but the Canadian dollar is prettier; and as we found out the USD is not always stronger. A clear case of beauty bringing might to its knees, eh?

Lesson 2 – Check your roaming rates before you leave the country. I was using my cell phone to co-ordinate with the bestie and my data plan to navigate the city, when I got a message from AT&T asking me to call on their toll free number to avoid an astronomical bill. Usually I ignore messages from my service provider, luckily this time I called. In less than 24 hours I had run up a bill of $100+ (USD) for usage of approximately 8 MB of data. We immediately purchased an international data package – $30 (USD)for 120 MB, which AT&T backdated. The plan is valid for a month after which it automatically lapses.

We paid $ 42  (Canadian) for 4 hrs of parking because we didn’t interpret the rate board correctly. Since we had parked for beyond 6 pm, day charges and night charges both were applied. Look for parking spots marked with big green Ps for more reasonable parking in the city. Talking of Ps, this is Canada, please mind your Ps and Qs, thank you.

Thanksgiving 2014, Toronto

I have a lot to give thanks for – good health, access  electricity and clean drinking water, the internet, but what tops my list is family..and friends who are like family.  Keeping with our idea to travel to meet people, we picked Toronto as our destination this Thanksgiving. What better way to give thanks for friend who cares and has been there, than to go see her?

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So despite the snow swirling outside and storm warnings, we packed our bags and valiantly set out for the Great White North. Lesson no.1 – Always check if you GPS device has maps for a different country. As we pulled out of the apartment complex we realized that ours did not know where Canada was. We figured we could drive down to the Niagara Falls on the American side and then switch over to Google maps on our phones. Lesson 2 would be always check cellular rates before leaving the country, but more on that later. The weather and Thanksgiving kept most people home, so we had the roads mostly to ourselves. We left home at around 4:30 pm on the day before Thanksgiving and reached the border  close to  1:30 am the next morning. We had been warned of long immigration queues, but at that hour it was just us and the officials, who let us pass after a few cursory questions. There is a currency exchange facility at the border, use it and make sure you have sufficient local currency. Soon that would be Lesson 3.

Time flies..We try to follow suit

Time flies..We try to follow suit

The bestie stays at Mississauga. Mississauga was developed as a suburb of Toronto and is a 50 min drive away. A word of caution, the speed limits in Canada are lower than those in the United States, and there is a $10,000 fine for going  50 km* over speed limit. Buckle up – it’s the law! For those on the back seat too, and the fine for not doing so is, I believe, $240. New Yorkers visiting should remember that in Toronto pedestrians wait for their signal. American Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Canada, so the bestie and family were not going to be around during the day on Thursday and Friday. The husband and I decided we would do the city tours on those days. We had 3 options – the hop on/hop off which would take us around to 20 attractions, the city pass which provided discounted entry to the 5 main attractions or to take the hop on/ hop off to travel to the 5 main attractions and use the citypass to see them.

The best way to experience a city is by foot

The best way to experience a city is by foot

We were keen on option 3, but by the time we woke up, got to the city, parked and found the hop on/hop off office, the last bus had departed. Winter schedule! We walked down to the nearest main attraction – the Canada National Tower  or the CN Tower. Here we bought the citypass. A few enquiries and some quick math proved that the pass is only economical if you do a minimum of 3 out of the 5 attractions it covers. We decided to wait until dark to go up the tower. There is something very romantic about seeing city lights twinkle below you. Perhaps dreamy would be a better word.

At the aquarium Photos courtesy Ganesh Sankaran aka the husband

At the aquarium
Photos courtesy Ganesh Sankaran aka the husband

We had an hour or so till darkness enveloped the city, and with nothing better to do we went to the aquarium next door. My cousin gifted me a fish tank when I was an undergrad student. Aquariums always remind me of those days when we spent hours staring at our fish,  and researching on the internet about home aquariums. We’ve had guppie fish, gold fish, angel fish, tetras and little suckers. We’ve fed them green peas  with our hands when they wouldn’t eat fish food, because the internet said so! We even tried having a few water plants in our tank. The bestie had a fish tank too. When we got ours, she was inspired to restart hers.

The CN Tower

The CN Tower

The best way to experience the CN Tower would be to book a table at 360 – The Restaurant at the CN Tower. For the price of around $65 per person, you get a 3 course meal in the revolving restaurant, as well as access to the Lookout and the Glass Floor. Access to the Lookout and Glass Floor otherwise costs $32 per person.

The City of Toronto

The City of Toronto

*they use the metric system in Canada

** All $ amounts are in Canadian Dollars