Autumn leaves in Algonquin Park

Fall has arrived and Ontario’s leaves are going gangbusters with the colour. Bec, Alastair, Julian and I took a drive (well, Julian drove) up to Algonquin Park. Bec sent messages during the week saying how the leaf metre was at its peak, and Saturday was set to be about 26 and sunny.

We left Toronto at 7am, sadly leaving Glen behind as he had to work. The drive up went by pretty quickly and we could already see trees whose leaves had changed colour. The contrast was stunning with a gorgeous display of red, orange, yellow and green. Mist lay heavy as we drove north, giving the whole place a moors feel.

We stopped at Henrietta’s bakery on the way, after Bec and Alastair recommended the apple strudels. From the number of cars outside, it seemed we weren’t the only ones who were after Henrietta’s strudel. There was a long queue inside, which we joined. We each bought something, including the much talked about strudel and some savoury things. We ate some of what we bought outside, Julian giving the strudel an enthusiastic review. I saved mine for later.

Soon we were entering Algonquin Park, got our permit, and headed about 38km in to the Centennial Ridges hike. Bec and Alastair had done it before, recommending it for its views from the different ridges. It’s a 10km loop, with a recommended walking time of 6 hours. I don’t mind saying I was apprehensive about going on such a long walk but they assured me it wouldn’t take that long. But after seeing the colour of the leaves on the way in, my interest outweighed my worries.

The walk was pretty easy. There were a few uphill bits but nothing too steep. We were rewarded with some amazing views, and every time we got a glimpse across the park our jaws would drop and we’d exclaim how spectacular the view was. I’ll leave out going on and on about how beautiful it all was (and how truly unreal it seemed – like something out of a postcard) and let you see for yourself in the pictures below. Just know that it was a billion times more beautiful.

Sadly, we didn’t see any moose. We didn’t see any bears either. We may or may not have seen two beavers swimming in a lake. Someone pointed out where they’d been and I may have seen two heads bobbing around on the far side, but can’t actually say I’ve definitively seen a beaver. Le sigh.

We also saw a garter snake next to the path soon after setting off. It was pretty nifty, a short, very slender snake. We also saw chipmunks and squirrels.

We stopped about halfway and had lunch at some rocks. The walk back was harder going, especially as our water had run out and we were sweaty. We arrived back at the car park at about 4pm, so the whole thing had only taken four hours (as Bec and Alastair had said).

We left Algonquin Park in the beautiful late afternoon light so the trees were bursting with colour. We were all quite worn out on the drive home, but managed to find the energy to stop off for Japanese at Fukui Sushi at Bayview and Eglinton.

The only downside to today was that Glen couldn’t be there with us. I think he would have loved it and stopped every couple of metres to take a photo of a leaf or a rock or a leaf on a rock. I brought back a bouquet of coloured leaves as a small consolation prize. We might have to find some time to take a drive ourselves.

(PS In most cases with the photos, I’ve barely enhanced any of the colours. It really was that vibrant out there.)

Book of Mormon

Friday night Glen and I went to see the musical Book of Mormon playing at Princess of Wales Theatre. Book of Mormon had been our radar for a few years, with plenty of people saying how funny it was and well worth seeing. Usually when something is that hyped up, we’re often a bit disappointed. I’m happy to say that it lived up to expectations and was a great – if highly irreverent – show.

When we arrived, there was a real Mormon outside one of the doors handed out the real Book of Mormon. Thinking it was some promotion for the show, Glen took one. It’s quite a long book, isn’t it?

We had excellent seats, seated about halfway back and in the centre of the stage so we got a good view of the action while also still being able to see the actors’ expressions. The musical was written by the guys behind South Park so it was filled with typical South Park humour – very rude, very non-PC – but if you weren’t too offended, it was a great show.

Fun musical numbers, great laughs, and all in all a great night at the theatre.

(We also ate a Mormon Gingerbread Man. He was very tasty.)

Book of Mormon Gingerbread Man

This isn’t Canada’s Wonderland

BOOM! The windows shook this morning as a massive thunderclap shook the condo — and us awake. It was bucketing down with rain and we thought it unlikely we’d be making it to Canada’s Wonderland today with Julian, Cam and Vincent. Instead we organised to go for brunch at the Distillery District.

Glen, Julian and I went early to have a coffee as Glen was complaining how tired he was (despite sleeping in until 8:30). We stopped into Balzac’s for a drink, chatted for a bit, before Cam and Vincent arrived. By then, the sky was clear, and the sun had come out. Perhaps we could have gone to Canada’s Wonderland after all.

Even so, we had a lovely brunch at Cluny. The food and drink were pretty decent so that was a nice find. We caught up on our travels (Cam and Vince had recently been to Belgium, while we’d been to Newfoundland). Afterwards we wandered around the Distillery District for a little bit in beautiful sunlight, before heading home at about 2pm.

Glen and I promptly went to bed and lost about two hours of the afternoon in blissful slumber. A nap on a weekend: is there anything more wonderful?

Farmers markets, wedding rings and a dip in the pool

It feels like we’ve spent so few weekends in Toronto that it’s actually nice to have some time to do ordinary things like go shopping and visit friends (though I wouldn’t want to do it forever).

Saturday morning we went with Julian to the farmers’ markets at the Evergreen Brickworks. It’s filled with organic, locally grown produce, which means there are a lot of ugly and heirloom vegetables. It’s nice. The only thing is you really need to go knowing what you’re cooking during the week. In the end I bought some tomatoes, zucchinis and squash, and some berries. Spent WAY more than I would have in the shops, but hopefully the taste is better.

From there we went to Queen Street West to a jewellers called Made You Look. I hadn’t had any lucky in getting in touch with a friend of a friend who’s a jeweller so on Friday night I went online to find alternatives. Looking at Made You Look’s website, I found some styles I liked and so we went to take a gander.

The shop assistant was excellent. Not too pushy but not disinterested. Gave us space to look but pointed out a few alternatives. The ones I looked at online were nice but then she showed me one that was a wood and metal combination which really caught my eye. I’ve requested a quote for it and wanted a few questions answered too. All going well, I’ve got a ring with a minimum of fuss.

Glen also found a ring. He wasn’t meant to but he did. He really likes it, and it’s very nice. We’re waiting for his quote too.

We then went to Chinatown and Julian and I waited in the car while Glen picked up his new Prada glasses. I really wish I’d bought them now too as they look really good (and suit me too). It’s a shame we don’t have the same level of blindness (his vision is worse than mine).

All that shopping made us hungry so we went for yum cha in Yorkville. The food was nice but more expensive than Chinatown (obviously). We went home and soon had to leave for Ur and Israel’s as we were going to swim in their pool and have a bbq. Alastair came too.

We jumped in the pool soon after arriving. It was warm, which was good or else there wouldn’t have been any way we could get in it. There’s also a hot tub. The kids swam about and tired themselves out. I wasn’t too far behind them. We then had dinner, and I’d brought the mix to make meringues (yes, another Eton mess), but it didn’t turn out as planned. We still ate it though, with cream and berries. The kids’ reactions to it were funny. Leia didn’t like any of it, Etye was happy with the bits and pieces, and Liad only wanted the berries.

We left at about 9:30/10, Ur giving us a ride home. It was a big day.

Tim Minchin in Toronto

Glen and I joined Bec and Alastair to see Tim Minchin as part of the Just for Laughs 42 (JFL42) comedy festival on Thursday night. I’d nearly had a fit trying to figure out the ticketing system with this festival, as the “simple” instructions didn’t give a full picture of what was required to book, and the FAQs were a little buried.

The long and the short of it was we had two credits each which entitled us to see two JFL42 shows (excluding the headliners). We picked Tim Minchin because hey, it’s Tim Minchin and he was the whole reason we wanted to go, but didn’t pick any others. Reason being I was so fed up with the system that I was in a foul mood any time I looked at the damn site, and the other reason being that there wasn’t anyone who looked worthwhile going to see. So the second credit (actually, we have two credits again because if you check in at a show an hour before you get that credit back and can use it for something else. It’s a trick to help build the comedy festival’s audience quickly) has gone unused.

Anyway…

The four of us headed down to King St West for dinner. We were on the streetcar heading in the general direction of Bathurst when Glen realised we had no specific restaurant in mind and would just wander until we found something we liked. He wasn’t having a bar of it so quickly jumped on his phone to find somewhere. He found Buca, which was hidden down an alleyway, but was a really great find.

Buca is an Italian restaurant but doesn’t carry the usual fare. The dishes includes things like intestines, offal, brains, sweetbreads, that sort of thing. I settled on scallops. Glen had a funghi pizza. Alastair chose a duck offal pasta and Bec had a vegetarian ravioli type dish. Everything was delicious, and we all considered it one of our better finds in Toronto.

We then chose three desserts after seeing a zuccotti being prepared, which is a round sponge cake stuffed with mousse and topped with chocolate sauce. The others were flourless cakes (apple maybe) and a tiramisu. All really tasty. We then had to rush to catch a cab down to the theatre for the show.

It was really good to see Tim perform again. The last time was a few years ago in Perth. He hasn’t been doing gigs for the past couple of years and has written new material for his shows (he’s working on musicals at the moment), but even though we’d heard them all before, we still had a good laugh. This time we actually knew what he was singing so could pay attention to things we missed last time.

The crowd loved him, which was good as I wondered if he’d translate to a Canadian audience. The show wrapped up at about 11, giving us about an hour and a half of his stuff. We poured out into the street, walked up a way through the CNE before catching a cab home. Another great night with friends complete.

Diner en Blanc in Toronto

Some time ago Bec and Alastair asked if we wanted to go to Diner en Blanc, an annual event where people dress all in white and go to a secret location to have an elegant evening of food, drink and dancing. It began in Paris but has been adopted in cities around the world.

We signed up and soon after began to have doubts. Everything had to be white (except shoes). Tables had to be a specific size. Chairs foldable (and white). White table cloths and white cloth napkins. Proper cutlery and plates and glasses and three courses. And there would be dire consequences for anyone who didn’t confirm.

Not having much of anything in Toronto, it was a bit of hassle to go buy white pants (particularly after Labour Day). Julian came to the rescue with a picnic basket and a foldable table, and then went to IKEA for us to buy a couple of cheap chairs. They didn’t fold but with only a couple of days before the event we weren’t exactly concerned. By that time, I was in the frame of mind where if they wanted to stop us from getting on the bus, they damn well could. We also bought a table cloth from Bed, Bath and Beyond, which was on sale for $5.99, and then some napkins.

Wednesday rolled around. I put together our food, once again making meringues for Eton mess. Bec and Alastair bought the cream and the berries. I made a chicken salad, also a pesto dip and bought some bread and crackers. All was set. Glen raced home after work and we made it to the museum where four buses were waiting to take everyone to wherever it was we were meant to be.

We were told to be there at 5:45 but didn’t leave until 6:15. People were not all in white. There was a fair splash of cream. A wide assortment of table sizes and chair configurations, and a whole bunch of people truly excited about the night ahead. I just wanted to eat.

We boarded the bus and it took us downtown towards the water’s edge. The previous year they’d had it in a car park (which apparently got the coordinator fired or moved on) and the year before that was at Fort York. We passed Fort York so they weren’t doing a repeat. We ended up at Ontario Place, somewhere we’d never been before. We had a great view of the city.

We set up our tables in rows, laid out the table cloths, added our crockery and cutlery, put out the first course and then waited. Apparently we had to wait until everyone was seated and ready before we could start eating. Then there would be a signal, we’d twirled our napkins above our head and the evening proper would begin.

It didn’t quite work out like that. Someone started twirling their napkin, even though not everyone was setup, and it just snowballed from there. We’d already started to nibble anyway. The pesto dip went down a treat, the chicken salad less so as the dressing wasn’t very nice. Eton mess was a hit. The bottle of prosecco we bought from the supplier at the event was awful.

After dinner, we went for a bit of a walk, danced a bit, looked at the city. Then at 9:30 we all lit our sparklers, once again without a real coordinated effort, but it looked pretty in the dim light (almost dim because there were plenty of phone flashes going off as people took selfies with their sparklers).

The rules said that we had to stay to the end, which is when the buses would transport us back to our starting locations, but soon after the sparklers burned down we noticed people taking away their tables. Suddenly there were empty spaces in the line. We’d had a good enough time that we were ready to go too. We packed up, exited the venue and got straight into a taxi to take us home.

It was an interesting event. I’m not sure I need to go to it again (even though I now have white pants and a table cloth). Some people go all out though and there were some great costumes (including one woman in a wedding dress), fancy table decorations and amazing food. Must just be their thing.

Another busy weekend

Saturday evening we went to the final of our five TIFF films, What We Do In The Shadows. Julian had booked a ticket too so we all went for dinner at Lisa Marie’s on Queen Street West. Julian was appalled when we said we hadn’t found Toronto to have much good food, so he took it as his mission to change our minds. The pressure was on, but he succeeded in his first attempt.

Lisa Marie’s serves a variety of tapas-sized foods so we chose a selection of them and shared. Phad thai fries, some potato and sausage dish, a bun stuffed with duck, three types of schnitzel, a tune ceviche and a couple of other dishes. We were sated by the end of it…but still with room for a dessert crepe from the shop near Scotiabank theatre.

We went into the cinema at 9pm, half an hour before the movie was due to start. It was in the IMAX theatre so we figured there would be space. We ended up in the third row from the front. It was not a pleasant experience as you’ll soon see.

What We Do In The Shadows is a mockumentary about vampires living in Wellington, New Zealand. One of the producers, Jemaine Clement, was there at the start to read out a humorous letter he’d received from the New Zealand Documentary Board asking him to make this documentary. His intro set the tone for the film.

We loved it. A great retelling of vampire stories all done in front of the sad backdrop of three (vampire) housemates just trying to have a good time in Wellington. I really enjoyed all of it, but my favourite parts were the New Zealand police and their concern for the community, and the werewolves (who go around saying, ‘werewolves, not swear-wolves.’). If you can see it, go see it (I think it’s on in Australia at the moment).

The one downside for us was that the filming is quite jerky (a la Blair Witch) so sitting so close, the three of us came out of the theatre feeling incredibly nauseated. It was a bit of a relief for the film to end so I didn’t feel so ill.

After the screening, Jermaine came out the front, along with one of the actors (Stu), and they answered questions in character. Great way to round out the film, and to finish the festival.

Sunday is Shopping Day

Glen in a new Canada Goose jacket

Glen in a new Canada Goose jacket

On Sunday afternoon, Glen and I went ‘outside’ to do a bit of shopping. First was a trip to the bank to top up our accounts, then we cycled to Eaton Centre to look at white pants at Le Chateau for Diner en Blanc this Wednesday. Glen found some that were on sale. Unfortunately they’re a couple of inches smaller around the waist than he usually buys, though he says he’ll survive. We were just glad that was one more thing out of the way for this event on Wednesday. If we’d realised how much effort was required, we wouldn’t have bothered.

We also stopped into Harry Rosen to have a look at the Canada Goose jackets. Glen nearly convinced himself to buy one of the new ones, and I nearly convinced myself to buy some other jacket. However, paying more than $700 (and in Glen’s case, more than $1000) for a jacket is not a decision to be taken lightly. We left empty-handed.

From Eaton Centre, we rode on our Bixie Bikes to Chinatown so Glen could look for some new glasses. Along the way he had an $8 haircut. Once inside the optometrist, it took a while to find a pair Glen liked, eventually being shown a pair of Prada Sports glasses. They had thicker rims than he’d normally wear but they look really good. They even looked good on me too and I had to resist buying a pair for myself. Alastair has already paid us out for buying the same (style) tshirts (Glen’s is black and grey, while mine is orange and brown), and jackets (which we originally thought were the same but have since discovered there are a couple of differences in design that make them dissimilar). Who knows? I might change my mind and buy them anyway.

We then took a ride on one of the new streetcars along Spadina Ave. We’d seen them on their test runs a couple of times around the city but this was our first time on one. It still had that new streetcar smell. They’re pretty nice, and they don’t have such a death drop to the street anymore.

In the evening we failed to help Julian carry stuff up from his car as Glen had missed the message and mine didn’t come through. We felt terrible and went down to visit him, ending up staying for about an hour and a half watching the Mindy Project. It was a good Sunday.