As much love as I have for Toronto, I will acknowledge that “love” is not the first thing you might associate with our skyline.
Somehow the CN Tower’s silhouette, while impressive in its own way, just doesn’t lend itself to romance the way, say, the Eiffel Tower’s lacy and intricate structure does.
That said, this time of year, the cold brings with it plenty of excuses to cozy up to some lovely someone in the city.
With that in mind, and the help of some of my trusty Toronto advisers, I’ve come up with a list of places to take your sweetheart that will surely help you see the city in a different light.
Escape chilly northern nights at Southern Accent, a sparkling, mysterious treasure box of delicious spicy Cajun food to get your blood pumping. They have amazing cocktails AND an on-site psychic, if you dare to find out what the future has in store for you and your lovebird.
For thrill-seekers with $175 to spare, the CN Tower edge walk would definitely make for a memorable date. Plus, if you’re one of those Torontonians who has no fondness for the image of our iconic sky-scraping structure, look at is this way: if you’re dangling from the edge of it, you don’t have to look at it.
For a slightly less terrifying, but equally spectacular view of the city, Emily recommends swapping your jumpsuit and harness for some fancy duds and popping up to the Panorama Lounge at the top of the Manulife Centre for a romantic cocktail or two.
Take your beloved bookworm to BMV Books – Not your typical date spot, I grant you, but someone who knew I was a reader once took me there on the way to dinner and insisted we run around the giant used bookstore and pick out a book each that the other person then had to read. It was a fun way to break the ice a little before dinner and I really appreciated that he had obviously paid attention to my interests and put a little creative effort into our date.
Cozy up with tea or hot chocolate in the (fairly ostentatious) sumptuous purple dining room and treat your honey to a little box of beautiful bonbons to take home from the sparkling, jewellery shop inspired chocolate boutique on your way out the door of Moroco Chocolat in Yorkville.
Though she acknowledges it isn’t situated in a particularly romantic area, Emma says lately she swears by bistro cafe Zocalo for a cheap and cozy (and flatteringly lit) date spot. She also says, and I quote: “There is also an outrageous hipster tea shop across the street, so if the date doesn’t go well and you need a confidence boost, just pop over there and you’re guaranteed to be hit on by half a dozen toque-wearing bearded men who will try to tell you about their performance art. I’m not exaggerating.”
So. there’s that.
Step inside the Sultan’s Tent to feast on seriously incredible Morrocan food and be entertained by equally incredible belly dancers.
For the Goth couple, a stroll through the gorgeous and historic Mount Pleasant Cemetery is the perfect way to while away an afternoon (or for the really goth couple, an evening).
The Distillery District (another Emily recommendation) is terribly charming in a cobblestone sort of way. There are plenty of galleries and shops to poke your head into, and it’s also host to an annual Christmas market. Mulled wine by an outdoor fireplace anyone?
For adventuresome winter dates, pack a flask and a thermos of hot chocolate, and go tobogganing either in High Park or at Riverdale.
And for the super successful date, Emily also suggests breakfast at Aunties and Uncles.
Also, if you’re an app-y sort of person, this week, Toronto is the featured city on Spotted by Locals and they are offering a free app download of our fantastic city guide, so be sure to take advantage of that while you can!
Do you have a go-to great date spot? Have you ever been on a really unique, memorable date? You know I want to hear about it in the comments!
One of the things I was the most excited to move to the city for was the food. Toronto has an incredible array of diverse restaurants in every price range, helmed by some incredibly talented chefs.
Lately I’ve been documenting some of this incredible fare for spotted by locals, a fantastic travel guide written by locals in the know that you should definitely take a look at if you are travelling to or live in any major cities in the UK or North America.
Here are a few of my delicious, delicious outtakes for you to feast your eyes on.
Last night I popped by 401 Richmond, a gorgeous old restored industrial building that houses over a hundred studios, galleries and shops for local artists and businesses here in Toronto. It also boasts a rooftop garden, which I am determined to take a tour of one of these days.
My friend Erin and I had a grand old time strolling around and checking out some of the exhibits, many of which, looking back, skewed a little creepy. Behind a mysterious curtain reminiscent of that crazy curtain of death in Order of the Phoenix, a video taken from the viewpoint of a driver on dark country roads played under a recording of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds. Creepy.
I peered through a series of portholes to view three black and white photos, one of a giant pile of discarded glasses, one of a pile of shoes. It was the one of the pile of discarded walkers, canes and artificial legs that raised the hairs on the back of my neck as I realized what I must be looking at. Reading the wall placard confirmed these were things taken from Holocaust victims. Definitely creepy and of course, horrifying to contemplate. Amazing how inanimate objects can tell such a powerful story.
I felt so spooked after viewing them that it took me a minute to get up the nerve to walk in to one of the next exhibits we came across. Though, to be fair, I think it would have given me the heebs and jeebs all on its own. It featured an empty bed covered with a quilt, gaudy funeral wreaths in the corner, and paintings of women’s hair and rugs and more funeral wreaths.
There were also some stunningly gorgeous giant charcoal drawings I’d have happily taken home were I in a position to cough up a few month’s rent. I bought these adorable cards at the rad book/gift shop instead:
A film about a man with a porn addiction could so easily skew towards cheap, raunchy laughs and be filled with gratuitous sex scenes, all wrapped up with a cliché “happy ending.”
Fortunately for me and my high hopes at the TIFF premiere of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s new feature Tuesday night, Don Jon managed to avoid all these lurking potential pitfalls to deliver a sincerely thoughtful and cleverly funny little piece of movie magic.
Without getting into major spoiler territory (because y’all are going to want to go see this movie), I can tell you that the movie is about a guy with a bit of a pornography addiction, who is so emotionally strangled, that he prefers getting off to porn alone than having sex with a woman because he can’t just lose himself in another person the way he can in porn.
The way he objectifies women and his lack of ability to really empathize and connect with other people on more than a surface level spills over or is reflected in the rest of his life.
He jokes with his friends but doesn’t share or connect on a real level. His family have dinners together but all seem totally disconnected, his father escapes into the ever-on big screen tv, his mom is cooking/drinking, and his sister is perpetually texting. He cares about a short list of things, and lives his life in a very regimented rut, with plenty of time spent in solitude, even when he’s surrounded by other people.
And dude has some severe road rage.
When he meets and falls for Scarlett Johansson’s character Barbara, he says she’s the most beautiful “thing” he’s ever seen.
I often think about the effect that the worldwide pervasive objectification of women has on women, it was interesting to see a thoughtful look at the effects it can have on men.
He’s an extreme example, I suppose, with his near-constant consumption of pornography, and the carefully compartmentalized way he lives his life. But at the same time, a lot of his personality, attitudes and issues seem all too familiar.
I loved Johansson’s character, Barbara too. Flawed as she is, she is a rather strong character who has found a way to use whatever means available to her to get what she wants. While she’s manipulative as hell, she’s far from a villain, she’s just trapped in her own fairly narrow view of the way the world works and the way her life should look. And, as Johansson pointed out, the woman’s certainly got conviction.
What I find really exciting about this film is that it’s mainstream and entertaining (laugh-out-loud hilarious, actually) and far-from-preachy enough that it might catch moviegoers out for the usual romcom (even Don Jon might be coaxed into seeing Don Jon – for the right piece of ass) and get them thinking about some of these issues.
Maybe it will make them consider what they might be missing out on if they fall into the trap of keeping closed-off to real, meaningful and honest connections with both men and women, and what a difference that could make to a life.
What a ripple effect that could have.
On the way home from a doctor’s appointment recently, I stumbled across (not literally, thankfully, or I’d have sustained some terrible shin injuries) a teeny concrete robot watching the world go by on Queen West.
I thought he was sweet, with his little red heart on his square little chest, so I snapped a photo of him.
He reminded me of this damned catchy tune by Dan Magnan (which I heard live at GOTR thank-you-very-much!) and I thought I could use a snap of him to illustrate a post about how my friends think it’s weird that I only cry once in a blue moon.
It turns out the robot I saw is one of a whole army of lovebots created by OCAD student, Matthew Del Degan, to recognize acts of kinds in Toronto and to remind us that while it might feel at times like we are faceless drones, we all have lovely bright hearts to share, we just have to choose to let them show.
According to their website, the project aims to “disrupt people’s daily routines and remind them that there is magic in this city and love around every corner.”
Well, I couldn’t agree with that particular sentiment more.
You might even say, I love it.
Have a story of love and kindness you’d like to see commemorated with a lovebot? Submit it to the project through lovebot.com.
It can be overwhelming trying to explore a city as lively and diverse as Toronto. There is so much to see and do (and eat!) that it’s hard to know where to start.
Lucky for me, I’ve always had friends who lived in the city and could point me in the most delightful, delicious or entertaining directions. And lucky for you, I’ve decided to share some of their recommendations in a little series called Favourite Places with photos by my lovely and talented friend, Emma.
My dear friend Irene is what you might call a dynamo.
As well as working a full-time non-profit job, she is an accomplished choreographer, dancer, photographer, traveller and co-founder of Mother Nature Partnership. Her to-do lists make me absolutely dizzy but she pulls it all off with considerable aplomb and a great sense of humour, and makes it all look easy to boot!
After a long day of moving, shaking and world-changing, she is lucky enough to head home to Ward’s Island, one of the loveliest spots in Toronto.
Here’s what she has to say when I asked her about her beautiful island home:
1. Do you remember the first time you visited the Toronto Islands? Was it love at first sight?
I do remember my first ever visit to Toronto Islands – about 16 years ago. (Talking this way is not helping me dispel rumours that I am actually a 90-year old in a 28-year old body). I was in the city on a choir trip in the big smoke of Toronto, a very exciting adventure for a small town girl who was obsessed with big cities. (Obviously I am now living in the big smoke and obsessed with the idea of rural living. So there’s that.) What stood out from that initial visit was the boat ride more than the islands themselves. I was twelve, and I can clearly remember standing with my dear friend Yvonne and getting photographs against the rail of the old ferry.
2. What’s so great about them (besides, you know, everything?)
You said it: everything. I love hearing the sound of the lake when I’m lying in bed, and I love having for the first time the space to garden – I’ve planted beans, lavender, basil, peppers, blueberries and nasturtiums. To walk into the garden, you walk under a trellis overgrown with leaves, and it feels like a storybook. I love that I don’t lock up my bicycle, and that I don’t lock my front door, and that I feel like I am at a cottage whenever I am home. I love that after an unreasonably stressful day I can walk barefoot from my house to the beach and have a late night swim and remember that there is a world outside of my stress and that the night sky is calm.
3. Did you ever think you’d actually get to live there?
I can honestly say I never thought I would actually get to live here on Wards Island – definitely not when I first came here at age twelve and the reality of leaving Stratford, Ontario felt so elusive. (I was fixated on moving to California or Upstate New York mostly – so somehow Wards was not on my radar.) Since then I have worked on the island for three-ish summers, and toyed with the idea of putting my name on the list to get a home. I think I will still do that, and then in thirty years at just the right time a letter will arrive at my door – wherever that may be. Now that I live there it feels so perfect – I can’t imagine a more idyllic place, especially with the benefit of being in the city and not in the city all at once.
4. How do you deal with the commute? Any other challenges?
The commute is actually shorter than when I lived on the mainland. I go by ferry or kayak, so there are options, and it’s only 15 minutes until I’m right downtown. The main thing its taught me is that, if I (literally) miss the boat coming home, instead of fixating my head on a plan of how things should be, I just go and get a glass of wine or sushi and get on the next boat. But definitely it wouldn’t work for all lifestyles. The only challenges? Ummmmm… there are lots of cobwebs in my house? But I feel like there is a solution for that…
5. How does the culture differ from that on the mainland?
One of the greatest aspects of Wards Island is the sense of community – it really has redefined community for me, and helped me to understand it more fully. People know where their neighbours live, and will stop and chat about the leaves turning or garden tips. I never experienced that in the city. People chat with each other, and when you sign up for the island listserv you have to put your address every time so that people know where you live, and people’s posts mention that a group of geese flew over the island in the early evening. It is definitely like being on a different planet than the mainland: once you arrive on the island it is like being in a small hamlet of a few hundred people, where everyone knows everyone. Plus in the island culture you always know what groceries people buy because it is spilling off the back of their eccentric bicycles.
6. What would you recommend a visitor to the islands do or see?
I would recommend that a visitor to Wards Island wander. I would recommend that they bring a bottle of wine and a picnic with baguette, cheese, olives, strawberries and chocolate, and turn off their cell phone and leave their wristwatch at home, and find a nook amongst some trees with a book or a lover or a friend (or all three) and not get too worried if it is rain or shine, because it’ll be beautiful either way.
Hey pals, guess what? Today is my birthday!
It’s been a crazy year, with some pretty extreme highs and lows, but one thing that has been a consistent high for me has been writing this blog. I’m so proud of how it’s growing and so grateful for you, the lovely, supportive, interesting and hilarious people I’ve gotten to know through blogging.
So, I have a present for you!
As you may recall from the scrillion times I’ve mentioned them on this blog, I am a huge fan of the delightfully kick-ass workouts offered at the fantastic Barreworks studios here in Toronto. Their unique combination of cardio, core conditioning, motivating tunes and actual fun has been tricking me into becoming fitter, stronger and calmer for over a year now, and I’m still not sick of them!
Just when I thought I couldn’t love the studio, its staff or owner any more, they generously agreed to sponsor my very first blog giveaway.
Up for grabs are eight (my lucky number) free class cards, which can be used at either of their beautiful Toronto locations (sorry, out-of-town friends, I promise I love you just as much as my locals and I’ll come up with another giveaway for you to participate in soon!)
To enter, just pop over to their website, check out their class offerings and leave a comment below telling me which of their classes you would like to try out (or which is your favourite if you’ve already been).
I’ll draw 8 lucky winners on August 27th and send them their free class cards via old fashioned mail. And who doesn’t love mail!?
The best thing about having a summer birthday, as far as I’m concerned, is one more excuse to throw down a patchwork of blankets, grab some friends and spend an al fresco afternoon in the park. This weekend, I did exactly that in Trinity Bellwoods Park in honour of my birthday, which inconveniently falls on a Tuesday this year.
I couldn’t have asked for better weather or lovelier friends to share it with. They were even kind enough to oblige me with a couple of rounds of Taboo. (Note the intense concentration in the top left photo above).
And I definitely couldn’t have wished for any more food. It was a very good thing my skirt was so stretchy. And while wearing a crop top while demolishing a bucket of fried chicken is not an activity for the faint of heart (literally, you could probably have a heart attack) I think I did myself proud!
Well, heavens to Betsy.
I actually managed to follow through with my goal of not over-scheduling myself and leaving plenty of time for R&R this weekend.
In fact, it turned out to be a fairly solitary long weekend in the city, which got me thinking about what advice I would give to someone visiting the city solo, without the benefit of my couch to lie around on:
1.Stuff some Junior mints in your purse and head to The Royal – there’s always something interesting on at this historic movie house. You’ll feel a bit like you’ve travelled back in time thanks to its lovely old-timey decor and if you go alone, you won’t have to share your popcorn. Bonus!
2. Paint Nite – I haven’t done this yet, but a coworker went with her husband and they loved it! They learned how to paint some birds (everyone follows instructions and attempts to paint the same thing – no painting experience required) at the designated bar for the evening they signed up for, and the best part was that all of the materials were supplied, and they didn’t have to clean up! (Dread of clean-up is my main deterrent from becoming an artistic genius, guys)
3. Ceramics class – Pop by the Gardiner museum for one of their drop-in clay classes throughout the week. I would go alone so as not to humiliate myself in front of my friends when I inevitably come away with the world’s ugliest ash tray, but I’m sure there’s at least one couple re-enacting “Ghost” in every class, so, prepare for that.
4. Pick up a book at BMV – I love wandering around this massive used bookstore on Bloor West, choosing books by their covers and peeking at what other people are picking up.
5.Take said book to Trinity Bellwoods Park – If the weather is good, Trinity Bellwoods is fantastic for lounging under a tree and reading, or pretending to read and people (and dog -how many french bulldogs can one city contain!?) watching.
6. Check out a show or exhibit at TIFF – Perfect your Hollywood sexy stranger act at the TIFF Bell Lightbox’ second floor restaurant/bar and then wander through one of their exhibits or catch a flick.
7. Take a salsa class at Lula Lounge – You don’t need a partner to check out their weekend lessons. So if your particular version of solitary involves meeting some new people, check it out!
8. Shop Queen West -much as it’s nice to get a second opinion, I do love being able to puruse awesome shops like Durumi and Chocolate Shoes or Coal Miner’s Daughter without worrying that someone else might be bored and ready to move on without carefully examining everything in the stores.
9. Get pampererd – I’m not huge on manis, pedis or spa treatments, but almost every Torontonian woman I know is obsessed with Body Blitz and their “therapeutic waters.” As the only person on earth who hates hot tubs, I have avoided the place so far, but I can certainly see the appeal of a massage or something called a “body glow” so I may wind up trying it yet.
10. Embrace being a tourist (even if you live here) and hop on one of those double-decker tour buses that drops people off in various neighbourhoods to explore the city. I always thought this seemed really hokey but my travel buddy and I hopped aboard one in Madrid and it was actually a really cheap and easy way to travel around the city and learn a little history we wouldn’t have come across otherwise.
Any Torontonians or former tourists have any good solitary activities to add?
My friends, I am SO beyond ready for a long weekend. I don’t know what’s happened to my life this year, but it seems I am never not running in 8 scrillion directions at once.
I’m making an effort not to over-schedule this weekend. A little movie night here, a clothing swap there, and I treated myself to three bouquets of gorgeous roses from one of the amazing florists on Avenue road, north of Bloor (their selection of dirt cheap flowers is seriously amazing) to display around the apartment in an effort to motivate myself to clean and tidy to make the place worthy of them.
For those of you eschewing Caribana and looking to entertain yourselves and your friends this weekend, might I suggest a good old-fashioned slumber party?
We had one last weekend in honour of Red’s birthday, and, as usual, had a blast.
We wore pjs, ate candy necklaces, played spin the bottle, and did totally consensual makeovers (pictured above).
And, the icing on the cake?
A good old-fashioned DQ ice cream cake.
(Update: Apparently Bluehost is having some issues today which is why you may not be able to see some of the photos accompanying my posts today. Let me just assure you, they are awesome. Just imagine awesome photos depicting fun and frolic until this thing is back on its feet and everything will be as it should!)