What’s a gal to do when it’s crazy-cold in Toronto? Why grab a couple of her best pals and head to Ottawa, where it is about 20 degrees colder, naturally!
It may seem counter-intuitive to some, but three of us have been meaning to go since one of us made a move to the nation’s capital a few months ago, and it’s so terrifically rare that we all have a weekend free, that we didn’t dare wait until it warmed up to hop a train to see her.
Ottawa can be a strange place to navigate as a relatively young person looking for activities, entertainment and something delicious to eat, but we did a decent job of it and I thought I’d share what we found in case any of you are planning a trip there anytime soon.
Food and Drink
Mamma Teresa Ristorante – We were only too happy to tuck into generous portions of mouth-wateringly delicious Italian food on our first night in the city. Mama Teresa’s, a fairly upscale eatery in an old house was the perfect place to do exactly that and then linger and visit over glasses of wine.
Must wine bar – We kicked ourselves for checking this place out after we’d just eaten, because the menu looked delicious, and if the drinks were anything to go by, it certainly would have been. This bar/restaurant tucked into a heritage building in the market was the perfect place to cozy up with cocktails and wine for the evening. It would make a great romantic date spot too!
Benny’s Bistro – Holy brunch, batman! The great thing about dining out with a pack of women is that they will probably all offer to let you try their meals and because of this fact I was able to verify that everything on the brunch menu at this place tucked in the back of a little bakery was SO DAMN GOOD. Go there. Eat all the things. Be happy.
Moscow Tea Room – This place gets an honourable mention for ambiance. We went in the afternoon and it was a great place to cozy up with a cup of tea in front of their giant windows and watch the snowy world go by. Unfortunately the food left something to be desired, but if you need a tea-fix, and a pretty place to sit on your way to the National Gallery, it’s perfect.
Byward Market – While it’s more bustling in the summer, the market area was still the perfect place to pop in and out of the cute little boutiques
Victoire – This store, which apparently also has a Toronto location, could be alternately named: Excellent Gifts for Sarah. They have very cool jewelry and carry lots of awesome Canadian-designed clothes. If it had just a little more give, I’d have taken home this fantastic medieval-unicorn-print jumpsuit, despite my clothing budget cut-back!
Giant Tiger – if you didn’t grow up in small-town Canada, you may not be familiar with the treasure hunt that is Giant Tiger, or as those in the know call it, GT Boutique. While they carry all kinds of weird junk, it’s also the perfect place to pick up some fleece leggings for any canal skating adventures you might attempt, and cheap snacks for your pregnant pal’s midnight cravings. Plus there’s the thrill of the Ottawa location being the original GT. Or maybe that was just us.
Mugshots -We made a very brief appearance at this bar housed, along with a hostel, in the city’s former jail, only because we nattered away so long at dinner that the band we wanted to see was finishing up as we arrived, but I’d like give it a proper chance sometime as the vibe seemed cool and I dug the unusual venue.
The Rideau Canal – There’s nothing more Canadian than skating on the Rideau Canal, unless it’s (as I mentioned on Instagram) the guy I passed who was skating on the Rideau in a toque and plaid jacket, carrying a toboggan under one arm. Or maybe if it’s that guy with a beaver under his other arm and a maple leaf in his lapel? Anyway, being a touristy activity doesn’t make it any less wonderful to have the opportunity to skate for miles without being restricted to the tiny circle most rinks provide. A word of warning though, if you don’t bring your own skates it’s not cheap! Be prepared to shell out $17 for a two-hour rental.
This week on the League of Extraordinary Ladies, we are chatting about our dream vacation destinations. While a hefty percentage of my dream vacations are motivated by local cuisine, the one I’ve been dreaming about lately is all about the local wildlife.
What draws you to a particular location? Do you have a dream vacation in the works?
Between my full-time job, my part time job, my volunteer job and this blog, a gal can get mired down and lately that’s just how I’ve been feeling: trapped in one place while my feet do a Flinstones run underneath me. There is never enough time to do all of the things I mean to do or see all the things I mean to see. There certainly isn’t time to slow down long enough for proper R&R.
That’s why I was SO grateful to my past self for scheduling a mini-escape this long weekend. That woman damn sure knew what she was about. Of course, she couldn’t resist a little multitasking, so it wasn’t just me heading home to visit my family, but a little flock of my beautiful pals. Apparently, after last May, they can’t get enough of the place.
We spent a beautiful couple of days being spoiled by my parents and my brother, who cooked us gorgeous, energizing winter feasts, and getting our fill of (freezing) fresh air, sunshine and of course, Rheo Thompson chocolate.
It reminded me just how important it is to hop off the treadmill every once in a while and clear my head.
And how important it is to wear appropriate footwear to my hometown.
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?
I was fortunate enough to grow up in an absurdly beautiful little theatre town. Of course, I was fairly immune to its charms as a kid and too busy rolling my eyes as a teen (seriously, there’s a traffic jam because a swan is crossing the road right now and 50 tourists have abandoned their vehicles to photograph it???) to really look around and appreciate it.
So it’s always fun to bring a friend home for the first time and see the place through their un-jaded eyes. This weekend I brought four of them. We had a blast strolling through the park, paddle boating on the river, browsing the little shops downtown, creeping around backstage at one of the theatres, eating spectacular meals and just breathing the small-town air (which, I kid you not, smelled like flowers everywhere we went. Ridiculous.)
My parents were kind enough to put us up for the weekend as well as being super charming and extremely generous with food and drink and are now more popular with my friends than I am.
I was worried it might be a difficult trip as at one point, not so long ago someone suggested we make it our wedding weekend. I was just optimistic and crazy-in-love enough to agree. I’d be married in the park with the lilacs in May.
My words were plans and promises. His were just words.
But I think facing that wedding-less date side by side with some of my beautiful, hilarious friends and family was exactly the right thing to do.
Of course there were moments that nipped at my heart. Little glimpses of the weekend that wasn’t revealed themselves. An empty marquee, lace, the lilacs.
But I went to sleep on our last night, filled with visions of blue sky, bumblebees and sparklers, exhausted from laughing, eating, playing and lying in the sun.
I went to sleep feeling nothing but peace.
One of the projects that has been keeping me the aforementioned busy bee the last little while has been writing for the brand new Toronto section of Spotted By Locals, a European and now North American city guide for travellers who like to get off the beaten path, for tourists who don’t like to feel like tourists.
I really love this approach to travelling, don’t you? It’s so much fun to get out of the tourist traps and experience a city and culture in a way that approximates what it would feel like to live there.
The concept behind Spotted By Locals is simple. Founders Bart and Sanne Van Poll select 4-6 local “spotters” from each featured city to write about their favourite places to eat, drink, shop, play etc. in their city, and rely on them to check back frequently to write about new spots and update old ones so that the information is seasonally appropriate, accurate and never stale.
So, if you want to know where to take me for dinner in Toronto, pop on over and check out my recommendations. Or, better yet, do what I’ve been doing and read through the European city pages and plan the ultimate Euro-getaway in your head.
Let me know what you think! Would you use this as a travel guide? Are there any spots we should add (I’ll be writing about a few spots each month)? Is it weird that my profile page on their website so prominently features the year of my birth? haha. (the answer is yes.)
When all goes smoothly, I adore train travel. I love hopping on, losing myself in a book, taking a nap or chatting with the lovely old woman sitting next to me. There’s something romantic and old-fashioned about the train, something soothing about watching the rolling hills and brilliantly coloured trees this time of year whir by, while the train gently rocks you on your way.
Of course, when things go awry it can be hell on wheels, bringing what might, in other circumstances be minor behaviour or personal flaws of your co-passengers into hideously sharp relief.
This was never more evident than on a recent trip home. To be fair, I have actually developed a fair amount of patience and even fondness for the quirks and foibles of my fellow travellers, but after first waiting in line for over an hour for our delayed train, and then being trapped on a moving escalator when people didn’t get out of the way of the top of it quickly enough, and people just kept getting on like some kind of nightmare, my patience was wearing thin.
And so, rather than shaking inexplicably peacefully sleeping Jordan awake to point out all of the annoying things that were going on around us, I compiled the following list of helpful train etiquette tips:
1. Raw carrots are not train food.
No. They are not. In fact, nothing crunchy or crinkly or slurpy should be eaten on a train. If this is unavoidable, then for the love of all that is good, eat ’em quickly and try to tone down the extreme(ly loud) gusto you might usually eat with.
2. If you are travelling alone, remember, you’re not ACTUALLY alone so don’t keep your bags on the seat next to you. You paid for one seat and it is a rare day indeed that they are not all needed for other passengers. Don’t make someone ask you to move them. You look like a jerk.
3. Headphones. Wear them. No, not around your neck dear, in your pretty little ears. And before you put them in your ears, turn on your movie or music and do a quick check to see if they are leaking horrible tinny music for everyone else on the train to be subjected to.
4. Turn off your cell phone alerts. And if you need to chat on your phone, imagine the person you’re talking to is right beside you. Not on the moon. Or, if you just can’t help but speak as if you’ve just been to a week-long metal festival, at least come up with something interesting for me to unwillingly eavesdrop on.
5. Relax. Have some wine. I’m damn sure going to. But try to avoid turning into the guy who drunkenly sings “We’re on the night traiiiiinnnn. BAM!!!” at regular intervals on a four-hour trip. Remember, it’s all fun and games until someone throws up.
Unfortunately (fortunately) Jordan woke up before I could distribute these tidbits of advice for our fellow passengers’ edification and magically dissolved my irritation with an episode of Human Planet. Which brings me to my final piece of advice:
6. When trapped on a train with a herd of people who seem hell-bent on doing everything they can to work your last tiny nerve, remember that there are people in the world right now whose only means of keeping their families and villages alive is to take a rickety boat out onto the ocean every few months, hurl their near-naked bodies at a WHALE and try to kill it with a spear.
Because people are seriously, astoundingly amazing.
And the train’s not so bad.