2023 Toronto, ON, Canada

I met El at her work location in Syracuse last night where we dropped my car in their parking lot, jumped into hers and hit the road for what we hope will be a fantastic weekend. We make it as far as Batavia, NY before needing to call it a day and find a room. A quick online check tells us that there is a room at the Quality Inn with our name all over it. We get checked in and find a local/non-chain restaurant that looks good enough and eat our dinner at Alex’s Place a half mile from the hotel. The dinner was fine, though I wasn’t 100% starving and kept my order limited to a beer, a soup, and we split an entrée. It was certainly fine. Afterwards, we headed back to the room and soon after turned in for the night.

Thursday September 21

We were up around 7:00 and on the road before 9:00 for the 2.5 hour ride to Toronto. The ride itself was pretty smooth, in fact remarking that there was not one car in front of us at the border crossing and for 10:00am, I found that surprising. We continued into the city and I think it may have taken us longer to get from the outskirts of town into the neighborhood we are staying in than it did to get from the border to the city limits...well maybe that’s a stretch, but the driving in this city is frustratingly slow. Meanwhile, on our drive up we found some travel podcasts to listen to as we rolled into town. Some were certainly better than others, but we are beginning to hear some patterns to visiting this city from the perspective (mostly) of people who live here. I have, of course, done some pre-trip planning which usually consists of making a list of things to do, places to eat and drink, as well as recommendations from friends who know this city. The list runs about 50 items long with some repetition. But, as we listen to the podcasts we begin to hear some of the same recommendations from each of the hosts or guests on the episode. Anyway, we hear some good ones, and some bad ones, but keep track of the tips from the locals.

We arrived at the hostel around noon. We find a sweet parking spot on the street in front of the hostel and grab our bags to at least drop them even if we cannot check in yet. As expected, we are not allowed to check in until 3pm, but leave our bags at the luggage room. On our drive in we saw a knitting shop within a block of the hostel, so we start by walking there to begin exploring the neighborhood. When El comes out after a few minutes, she has gotten a recommendation for a brewpub called the Collective Arts. It’s not all that far and we are able to spot a parking lot a few blocks down that we can park at for the rest of our time here. We make it to the Collective Arts just as they are opening and get set up at the bar in an otherwise empty room. The bartender is friendly and interested in our plans for our time here. Eventually, we pull out our list of potential things to do and he seems knowledgeable enough to point out which places are worth our time and effort to seek out, adding some of his own recommendations along the way. We stay here for a bit longer than an hour. I am feeling like I need a snack. He points me to a shawarma place across the street and invites me to bring it back with me. The food is OK, but the beer is better. We stay until we need to get back to the car to top up the parking meter. On the route home we walk through Little Italy, stopping at a pharmacy to buy our Presto (transit) cards that we will plan to use tomorrow. We have officially turned a corner in our place in society because, as the clerk is helping us buy the pass she sheepishly- in an effort to be as non-confrontational as possible, asks for our ages. This is kind of an odd question since we are buying a card that you put money onto and then it just decrements the balance as you ride through the system. Why would she need our age? Then it dawns on me that she needs to know if we are entitled to a senior discount which must be programmed into the card upon purchase. We get a laugh out of it, but she says that sometimes people are very rude figuring she should know that they are older or know that they are not yet old enough. As we continue on we start to spot some places (like bars or eateries) that we were just speaking with the bartender about. We have dinner reservations at 5:30 tonight and after consulting the maps, figure we should leave about 4:30. On the way back to the hostel to check in, we spot a recommended bar called Ronnie’s Local 069. We have plenty of time before dinner so we stop in for a beer. One bartender and one customer are the only ones inside. We grab a seat and I pose my question to both of them: “if you had only 24 hours in this city what would be the one thing you would do?” Immediately the bartender buries his head in his phone pretending not to realize I am speaking to him while the customer lady looks pensively before deciding “swimming” would be the one thing she would recommend. Swimming? Like in a local lake or in your pool? She seemed to act like I didn’t get her joke...which I guess she was right since if an Icelander advised visiting a “pool” they’d have a real answer for you as to why. But, once she realized I was asking for recommendations and gave it some thought we were actually able to have a decent conversation about things to do in this town. She was able, to support some of the ideas the last bartender (at Collective Arts) had given us. After we finish our beers, we go to check in at the hostel. It is a little on the cheap side, but so far, all indications are that this location cannot be beat for this price. With our parking reset until 4:30 we get settled into the room and familiarize ourselves with the place- locating the bathrooms, showers, kitchen etc. We change and causally head for the car. It doesn’t seem like the restaurant is too far, only a few miles, but the traffic in this city is already getting to me and I am already looking forward to not having to use it after tonight. So, it seems like there is a big buzz in the foodie community that Michelin has just recently included Canadian restaurants in the guide for the first time, meaning that the country recently went from zero Michelin stars to a bunch of them. While many of the Tooronto spots in the guide are one star spots, one did get two stars. However, with our relatively short notice on trip planning, most places I looked into were fully booked. I was able to score a 5:30 reservation at a place called Yukashi. As with several of the restaurants in the guide, it is Japanese which isn’t necessarily bad, but, I have to admit that I/we do not like all Japanese food equally. There are flavors that are just incredibly unappetizing. I seem to have a bit more of a tolerance than El, but when it comes down to it, a bad bite can really turn an otherwise fine dish into a chore to get down. What we have signed up for is a 9 course tasting menu called an ‘omakase’ where the chef prepares dishes based on local seasonal availability- though there were plenty of ingredients throughout the meal that were sourced directly from Japan! Hokkaido, mostly. The entire meal was El and I with one other couple all seated in a row at the 12 seat bar. Since it was a tasting menu- meaning everyone is being served the same course at the same time, it was incredibly frustrating that the man of the other couple (who arrived on time) kept informing the chef that his date was “on her way” sometimes adding her method of transport and location [she’s at King Street and Augusta Ave. She just got off the metro and is now getting a taxi…etc]. So, in an effort to be practical, because it was just the four of us, we did tell the chef that since we were not in any rush, that we would be willing to wait for her to arrive to allow the presentations to flow smoothly instead of allowing the timing offset to cause us to be on a different course as them for the rest of the night. The chef was grateful, as was the man, but still sometimes restaurants like this make you jump through hoops to get a reservation or to present yourself to dine there, her 45 minute tardiness was inexcusable. And once we met her, if not for the chef, I would have been sorry I waited. 

a plate of fresh limes and wasabi waiting to be grated

Once we eventually got going with the service, the first thing the chef did was prepare the dashi for the evening, as most dishes would incorporate it somehow. Dashi, is a broth basically of simmered kelp and bonito flakes. Oh yeah, reconstituted fish and seaweed, what a way to start the meal! He also takes a few moments to grate and prepare some fresh wasabi root- creating a small stash that he can pull from when garnishing plates he's serving us. There is no menu, so you need to make notes as you are being presented with the course. I was usually the photographer, while El discreetly takes the notes. Of the nine courses, some were really great while others fell flat or were lost on us having to do with an ingredient whose flavor soured the entire bite. 

While El and I opted for green tea as our beverage, the other couple signed up for the optional sake pairing. So, as each course was delivered, a server introduced them to a different sake. Sitting next to them, we can obviously hear any exchange and a “housemade lychee sake” catches my ear. I am not much of a sake fan, but for some reason this piqued my interest. Just before the dessert course, I ask the server for a sample of the drink. What I really hoped for was the chef to say “hey thanks for helping me keep the timing together, here’s a sample on the house.” What I got was a $25 supplemental charge on the bill for a 5oz pour of the chef’s homemade sake infusion. I wanted to confirm with him that he made the sake, but he was quick to temper my curiosity by telling me that I shouldn’t make this menu item public knowledge as I am pretty sure, as in America, it’s probably illegal to infuse a bottle of spirits and serve it. It was good, but probably not worth the extra $25. After dinner we head back to the hostel neighborhood to park the car and change clothes before heading out to explore Kensington Market for the evening. As we start out, I remember seeing one of the bars on the list called Sneaky Dee’s. Still full from dinner, we don’t need food, but casually working on a beer listening to some good tunes is all we need. It is around 9:00 and even though we didn't walk much today, we are still kind of exhausted and wanting to get a relatively early start tomorrow- we plan to not make it a late night. We walk up to Sneaky Dee’s and walk in to some decent music and some decent beer. I settle in to catch up on my journal, though after a few sips of my beer I am starting to feel my eyes getting heavy and attention waning. We call it a night before the first pint is finished. We are only a few blocks from the hostel, so we are back and ready for bed just a short time later. While getting ready for bed I spot a note- not uncommon in hostels, reminding us that Kensington Market can be a “lively” neighborhood and that if you have sleeping issues, you can feel free to use the provided earplugs. What was in store…we had no idea!

Friday September 22

Well, boy were they saying something! Though we both slept relatively well most of the night, both were jarred awake at 4:00am when the garbage collection started on our block. It was so loud between the grinding of the truck and the clang of the recyclable glass that we sprang awake in unison. The clamor only lasted a few minutes as they worked their way down the block past our street-facing window. The drunks, on the other hand...these are people who either scream to themselves/anyone in earshot- which is anyone trying to sleep at that hour, or a fight breaks out between two or more and instead of coming to blows, usually devolves to a screaming match that fizzles out just around the time we can get back to sleep. For a small bed we are able to make do through until morning- showering and eating at the hostel as we get ready for the day. I grab a bagel in the common room and eat it before stopping at the reception on our way out to get a local map and discuss options for our first stop today- the Toronto Islands. We have heard that Centre Island is the one to go to and understand we can take a ferry there. We are not sure what we will do once we get there, but that is the plan. I understand that the ferry ride over is a great photo op of the Toronto skyline, but beyond that maybe we’ll try to get a better breakfast? We opt to walk to the ferry wharf and when we go to buy the $9.00 r/t ticket, we learn that the Centre Island ferry is more than an hour from now, but that we can get an earlier ferry to one of the other islands and walk from one island to another as they are close enough to be connected by foot bridges. We take the next ferry to Hanlon’s Point and walk from the point around to Centre Island and check the ferry schedule. The islands are a nice little getaway from the city and include a “clothing optional beach,” but there’s not much more than a paved walkway around the islands until you get to Centre Island that has an amusement park, boat rentals, food vendors and other stuff that would make this an obvious family getaway from downtown especially in the summer. Most of the buildings we saw were either bathrooms or municipal plants. There was an old lighthouse, but not much in the way of points of interest. Originally planning to get some food here, the options, now that summer is officially over, are not enough to tempt us.

view of the Toronto skyline from the ferry from Centre Island

Instead, we catch the 15 minute ferry back to the harborfront and walk to the St Lawrence Market for lunch. Frankly, our guidebook is letting us down by not giving us the info we’re looking for. I was hoping to see a list of the stalls in the market, but we don't actually see a list until we are standing in the market which makes planning on the ferry difficult. Nonetheless, we walk through the covered market seeing a selection of prepared food eateries (sandwich shops and fish fry places), fresh food sellers (butchers, fresh fruit and vegetables), non-fresh food shops (mustards/maple syrup) and sellers of non-food items- mostly clothing and jewelry. Once we walk through the two floors of the market, I opt for an eastern European spot where I get a cabbage roll and some Russian potato salad. El gets something called a peameal bacon sandwich and we get a bag of chips and find a spot to eat as there are standing tables or wide railings throughout the market to enjoy your purchases on the premesis, or even outdoor seating. We don’t spend much more time in the market since we don’t plan to bring food products back to the U.S. My cabbage roll and potato salad are decent, but the nice surprise is the peameal bacon sandwich. This is a sandwich of cured pork- similar to thick cut Canadian bacon, that is coated in a mixture of cornmeal and pulverized peas, deep fried, and served on a bun with your choice of about 10 sauces. It is the signature dish at the Carousel Bakery in the market and they make so many of them that have stacks of each sauce wrapped and ready to go upon ordering. El chose hot sauce and within seconds, before you can finish paying for it, a sandwich with hot sauce is plunked down on the counter for you to take away. We both like the sandwich, but agree that hot sauce is not the best sauce choice and if we were to have another, would spend a little more time considering the options before ordering. After lunch we head to the Distillery District- we were initially thinking of grabbing a beer, but El reads about a coffee roasting place called Balzac’s Coffee. Evidently, today is roasting day, though I didn’t smell anything different than I expected- so either they were done with the roasting, or it was canceled for today? We each get a coffee and sit to journal and plan our next stop. El finds a couple of sites that have self-guided walking tours of the Distillery District. You see, back in the 1800’s this was a working mill and most of the buildings housed some aspect of the business which expanded to a whiskey making venture to capitalize on some of the byproducts from the milling industry. Today, this is a tourist destination with many of the buildings converted to shops, some selling food, some selling clothing, some selling trinkets. We are more interested in what the buildings were initially used for, back in the 1800’s whereas most of the info we can find describes what is located there today. There may be walking tours of the district, but we don't have the time to- or frankly, the heightened interest to really delve into it now. Some of the buildings do have plaques with a 2-3 sentence explanation of the original usage but nothing more detailed. We wander a little bit, but make our way to the subway to use our Presto card for the first time. On the way to the metro, I spot, what appears to be, a 24/7 pizza vending machine! We aren’t hungry now, but maybe we’ll be back this way before the weekend is out. We have a walking tour at 5:00pm that meets at College Street and Yonge Street, so a metro to the College St station is a good foray to the system. It’s only three stops, but with all the walking we have done today our feet could use a break before we set off on our walking tour. We get to the meeting spot a few minutes early and I journal while we wait.

As El and I walk, we talk over ideas for tomorrow. We have nothing planned for the entire day. El thinks she would like to watch a sunset and there are a couple of food spots I thought we could try. There is no expectation of rain, but the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) and/or the Bata Shoe Museum could be a most-of-the-day plan. Maybe we'll get some more ideas on the tour tonight. We meet the walking tour on time and for the next 2.5 hours we walk starting in Kensington Market and heading mostly through the financial district and eventually making our way to a closed, St Lawrence Market. He does point out some good spots that we surely wouldn’t have seen on our own. He included plenty of sitting stops for us which was good for my feet. I love walking in the cities and walking tours, but taking a tour at the end of a long walking day can be a little taxing. After the walking tour, we try our hands at taking the streetcar. We want to start our night at a cocktail bar called Civil Liberties. It’s a bit of a way away from the market, so the streetcar is our best method. We take the streetcar, paying with our Presto card. We get off at Spadina and transfer for free to a northbound streetcar. The big question is will the system let us transfer for free to a subway. We take the streetcar to the end of the line and it lets you off at the Spadina train station, like literally on the platform! Score! No need to pay to transfer- so we just take it a few stops and the bar is across the street from the station. There is a 5 minute wait to get a seat, and we sit patiently. We use the wait time to read up on this place and remind ourselves what made this one stand out. We got the recommendation from a podcast and the concept is that it is a cocktail bar with no set menu and all service is “bartender’s choice”. Though they will gladly craft a classic drink upon request, the fun of this place is that the mixologist actually talks to you about your likes and preferences in cocktails and creates a drink unique to you. Eventually, a standing high-top opens up. Having been on our feet all day, we reluctantly take it, figuring we won’t be here longer than one drink. While we are waiting for our bartender, the hostess comes to our table and tells us that a high-top with seats has just opened if we would like it. We are quickly moved to the new space. Soon, our mixologist, Kaz, comes and introduces herself and asks us each a few questions about our drink preferences. It is essentially a mini-interview about your drinking habits. I offer that I prefer a well made Old Fashioned, but that my everyday drinks of choice are a dirty martini, gin and tonic, or a gimlet. She then asked if I preferred gin forward or mix forward, to which I replied that I had no preference, though I wasn't looking for a full bottle of tonic with only a splash of gin. She understood...balance I suppose. She then moved on to El and a few minutes later our cocktails were served. Basically, she made me a riff on an Old Fashioned using gin as the spirit.

Kaz' tasty cocktails: mine on the left, hers right

She rattles off the other ingredients, but as she walks away, I realize I won’t remember any of them even enough to write them down fast. When she comes back around to check on us, I ask what the chances are that she still remembers what she used to make or drinks. As I prepare to write, she offers to write both recipes for us additionally telling us she will bring bottles of the more unusual ingredients for us to take pictures of. The thing is that this cocktail should not have worked for me. As we call for our check she brings us each a taste of the strange liqueur and I am surprised by the bitterness, remarking that it reminds me of Campari or Aperol- which I don’t usually like and that I had just enjoyed a cocktail similar to a Negroni, which I also don’t usually care for, but this worked. 

Kaz' tasty cocktails: mine on top, hers below

Glad we experienced the new concept in drinking, we head out to the Bovine Sex Club. It is a few miles away and with our feet aching, we opt to take public transport. Walking back to the subway, we are pleasantly surprised to learn that we are afforded a free transfer! We knew that free transfers were allowed, but understand it is only if you continue in the same direction. Since we were heading back we fully expected to pay, so saving the $3.30 fare is right up our alley! We take the subway to Bathhurst and switch to the streetcar, which surely will charge us a fare. As we enter the streetcar, it too reads “free transfer”- I am not sure how a transit system stays in business when giving away so many free rides!! We get down to Queens Street and find the number 542. The security guy at the door tells me there is a cover of $15 for the band at this bar! When I tell him we only want one beer, he points us upstairs to the tiki bar where no cover is required. This is an open roof bar with heat lamps above. As we get our beers and find seats, we agree we need some food. I ask if the bar serves food, but she says they have no kitchen, but that we can go next door to a place called Dime and bring it back. Sounded good to me, so I went down and ordered for both of us- though with the 20 minute wait time, I said I would return after my alarm went off. After about 17 minutes, the guy from Dime actually came and found us delivering the burgers to our table! Not the best burger, but, for right now, it hit the spot. The Bovine Sex Club is cool with good music, but we are fading fast, so after one beer and our burgers, we call it a night and head back to the room. We walked 13 miles today!

Saturday September 23
Our sleep was a bit better tonight. The street noise our first night was really a bit tough. We don’t have any reservations today, but a couple of ideas. We shower and breakfast at the hostel. The offerings are simple, cereal, bagels, fruit. We each make a bagel and decide our first stop will be the Bata Shoe Museum. I am quite sure I wouldn’t have given a second thought to this place, but after hearing several, and I mean several locals talk about how you wouldn’t think a shoe museum would be that interesting, it at least made it onto our radar. It’s not far from the hostel, so we walk to it. We get to the area a bit before opening, stopping at Tim Horton’s for a coffee and while we wait El learns that if you buy your tickets online, you can save $3 each on the $14 entrance fee. She buys the tickets and we walk across the street to learn more than we ever wanted to know about shoes.

more shoes than Al Bundy ever handled

It was a fun place, curated very well and really told the entire history of shoes ranging from Otzi the Iceman (a 5000 year old mummified man discovered in 1991 who was wearing rudimentary footwear) all the way up to shoes used for virtual reality systems and 3D printed sneakers and everything in between. The museum grew out of the private shoe collection of Mrs. Bata (daughter-in-law of the founder of Bata Shoes) and includes about 13,000 pieces, though not all pieces are displayed at once. It takes us about 3 hours to get through the museum and by 1:00pm we are ready for lunch. We take the subway/bus combo to the restaurant called Tea-N-Bannock which is an indigenous Canadian restaurant that came to our attention during one of the podcasts. Actually, she recommended a place called the Pow Wow Cafe, but when I looked into it, learned it was closed permanently. Then I saw there were some other indigenous food places that got decent reviews and Tea-N-Bannock was close enough. We have never eaten indigenous food and besides seeing a couple of PBS episodes featuring it, I don’t really know much about what it is. I remember “fry bread” and know I want to try it, but that’s just one thing they have here. Good thing we came hungry! We are seated immediately and given menus. It’s a small room with only about seven tables. The menu does a pretty good job at explaining the ingredients and preparations of the items. Everything looks good and not everything is new to us. We order and wait. There are people at other tables who have also already ordered. There is one guy in the back cooking and the waiter goes back and lends a hand- in between greeting walkins, delivering food, and ringing up those paying. Since other people have already ordered, we realize quickly that the guy in the back is making all portions of each order- regardless of whether it is an appetizer, main, or dessert- so even though two tables can order one of each course, instead of sending out two tables’ appetizers, they deliver everything to one table before starting on the next table’s order order. We start with a cup of corn soup and a cup of 3 sisters soup- which is like a vegetable soup with squash, corn, and beans. The flavors were fine, though the 3 sisters soup needed a lot of salt. The corn soup was made with a smoked pork broth and was pretty good, but nothing to make me order it again. Each soup came with a piece of fry bread or bannock, so we got one of each. Eating the fry bread during the soup course- which is kind of like fried dough without the powdered sugar, we are saving the bannock for a break in courses, except there was no break. Our waiter arrives with the rest of the food all at once! Good thing we grabbed a 4-top table to store our dishes while we worked our way through the meal. While finishing the soup, we split the “mushroom delight” which was an appetizer that arrived as one large ciabatta crostini with a pile of sauteed mixed mushrooms on top. The mushrooms were very good and salted perfectly, in fact going well with the remains of the saltless soup. The bread was unnecessary, save for the presentation. The star here were the mushrooms. Next up were “Navajo tacos.” We had no idea how these would differ from the tacos that we get anywhere. They look similar, except instead of using tortillas, they use fry bread. They are served with a side of salsa from a jar and sour cream. The taste is just as most tacos. Seasoned beef chili, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and hot sauce. No complaints with the concept, but fry bread is a bit more substantial than a tortilla so after one taco, you can start to feel your appetite dwindling. When ordering, we opted to split the bison stir fry entree. It was served on a bed of wild rice, with a side of mashed potatoes and winter vegetables. The wild rice is not great. Pretty tough on the teeth- which might be normal, I couldn’t help getting the sensation I was eating tree bark. The potatoes were standard and the bison was very good. Winter vegetables are never my favorite...and in fact, I am not even sure what exactly they are. My experience with something called “winter vegetables” reminds me of a stew of the stems of collard greens, kale, and chard. I am not sure if it is a generic term or even if it can include root vegetables or what, but when I hear it and see the chopped up stems, I know it’s something I am going to be avoiding. By this time in the meal though, we are pretty full, so I sit and digest as we discuss our next stop and evening plans. We still had a piece of bannock left from the soup course, so we sample it plain. It totally reminds me of a scone. A bit dense, not too sweet and would be perfect with some butter and jam- and a cup of tea. We did wind up ordering a wild blueberry crumble dessert and opted for the whipped cream topping. It was very good and before we leave, El looks at the items for sale on a side table that included bottles of pure maple syrup and house made wild blueberry jam. We grab one jar of each to add to the bill. 

3 sisters soup with fry bread

bison stir fry on a bed of wild rice

Overall, the experience was a great recommendation. I don’t know that I need to make my way back there anytime soon, but if I ever see a portion of bannock for sale, you can be sure I am going to buy it- as I love scones. The only real downside to this lunch was the wait time because of the staffing issues. All told, it was a fun experience and happy to support the local indigenous community’s business- educating myself at the same time. I see that one of the recommended bars is in the area- or more accurately, the address of a bar on my list is on the street that is nearby. I didn’t realize it was a couple of miles away from here until we walked it...all. This allowed us to walk through the Danforth Section and into the Greek Section before hitting the bar called Noonan's. Our list of good bars in the city includes a place called Dora Keough at 141 Danforth Ave. Since we are already on Danforth we decide to head there for a beer to discuss our next plans. We find the address, but the name on the front says Noonan’s. I go inside and ask if they know where Dora Keough’s is and I get an explanation of how there was an ownership change and name change and Dora’s is no more. Needing to use the restroom and with nothing else nearby on our list, we decide to stay for a pint and a pee break. While we are here, we talk to the bartender to confirm that Riverside Park is around the corner. El really wants to watch a sunset and Riverside Park is one of the recommended spots for it. We have 2 hours until sunset at 7:13 so we finish up our beers and casually make our way to the hill in the park that is known as a good overlook. We get here with plenty of time to spare, but there are already lots of people who have staked their spots on the hill. Some bring blankets, some bring picnics, and everybody brings a camera. Lots of families and young romantics and at least one husband who has a better time at sunsets than he expects he will. El is the photographer, so she goes off to make pictures while I journal and figure out our next stop. 

waiting for it to get good

as good as it got

We agreed that we are going to start the night again at Civil Liberties hoping for an end of night at Sneaky Dee’s, but knowing us, we’ll find some diversion. While waiting for the sun to set over the city, I posted a photo of the 24/7 fresh baked pizza vending machine that we saw earlier near the Distillery District. The photo I posted started a conversation with questions about the mechanics of this machine and encouragement to revisit once hunger returned and report the results. 

We watch the sunset over the city. Not the worst sunset, but today was not a particularly beautiful showing. As we watch, the sun first sets behind the towers of the skyline, then creates bright reflections on the glassfront towers as it continues to set out of view, and even though the sun is long gone from view, at 7:13 we start to see the sky turning color above the skyline. Hoping for some vibrant orange, yellows, or purples, we settle for some soft pink and dull blues. By 7:30 it is agreed that the most spectacular viewing time is behind us and we head out. Back to the metro to Ossington station to Civil Liberties. While our mixologist last night was Kaz, who was great in every way, we are hoping to get a different mixologist tonight and during the interview tell them the exact same thing we told Kaz and see how they do a different cocktail. We walk in and the hostess from last night recognizes us as does Kaz who comes over to welcome us and prove she remembered our names! She explains that she only has standing room tonight and will let us know if a table with seats opens up. As she leads us to our standing table, she informs us that she is not actually bartending tonight, but hostessing, so she is not going to be our drink creator this evening. We briefly explain in the nicest way that she was one of the main reasons we returned, but that we were kind of hoping for a different mixologist to see how their drink differed from hers. So, all was good as she left us to wait for our interview to begin. Well, tonight started off similar to last night. Our mixologist arrives but her interview consisted of only two questions: what spirit and do you have any allergies?- I have a feeling she already knew what she was going to make, though we did elaborate by telling her exactly what we told Kaz last night. And just like that she was off- returning a few minutes later with our cocktails. As she sets it down she says she made me a version of a gin and tonic and rattles off the ingredients in much the same way Kaz did last night. I remember hearing the term “house made” a few times before she set El’s drink down, rapid firing ingredients before disappearing faster than she entered. We sample the drinks and both agree they are very good. Good enough to want to know more about the ingredients. At some point she comes back to ask how we are liking the drinks and when I say I would like to know what’s in it again and maybe before we leave she could write it down for me. She gives a hearty chuckle and says “there’s too much stuff made in house in that drink...you’d never be able to recreate it at home.” And like that, she was gone again, leaving El with the same request hanging and wondering if she’d be back. The music is pretty loud techno and with a mixologist with nowhere near the charisma of Kaz, we promptly agree to move on once the check is presented. While we wait, I am seeing the conversation on my pizza vending machine post garnering more attention. Now we know what we must do. It’s a bit away from here, but easily accessible by public transit. We jump back on the metro and head to the financial district to try a fresh baked, 3 minute, pizza from a vending machine. It takes about 45 minutes to get there and as we arrive, there is a gentleman waiting for a pie he already ordered- so at least we know the machine is working. I ask him a few questions, but he explains that all instructions will appear on the screen and we will be fine. As he leaves, the screen prompts you to touch to begin.

it's not delivery, it's pizzaforno

Some options are sold out, but four cheese, pepperoni, meat lovers, and veggie lovers are still available. Hawaiian was sold out as I would have been all over that! We choose the veggie option and it asks if we want it hot to eat now or cold to take home and bake ourselves. There was only one way for us...NOW! There is a credit card payment machine on the side and once you pay, the 3 minute countdown clock begins. Even on a Saturday night at 9pm, this area is pretty deserted, which, unless there is a rush of financial people during a lunchtime, this seems like an odd place for a 24 hour pizza vending machine. Once we eat the pizza, we jump on the next streetcar back towards Sneaky Dee’s to end our night. We know it is close to the hostel with good beer and if we get hungry later, they serve food too. The street cars are more crowded than usual as tonight is an art festival in the downtown area. We wind up sitting next to a couple who are discussing their options and when I realize they are part of the festival I ask what it is all about as some people (who obviously don’t know me well) recommended we spend our Saturday night enjoying the art. From what I understand it acts like a “first night” where there are art installations all over the downtown area and when you register/pay you get a map that shows where everything is. As the couple looks at the map to choose what they will see next (they are taking the streetcar (like most others) to stops too far from others to walk. It was a funny conversation because it seemed like they were hoping for “better” art and the stuff they had already seen had not impressed them. We get involved in the conversation about the time she realizes he needs a whisky stop before hitting more art and asks if we know any good bars in this area- which is when we tell them that we only look like locals! We make our way to Sneaky Dee’s and get a spot at the bar. El knits while I journal. The music again is decent, but we are both too tired for a second beer or final stop, so we head back for bed.

Sunday September 24

Our last day in town. We don’t have much of a plan, though we know it is about a 6 hour drive home and El must be home by noon on Monday, so leaving Monday morning and driving straight though would be cutting it too close, but at least getting a start this evening would put us in good shape for easily getting home on time tomorrow if not making it home tonight. On our first day in town, El found a knitting shop around the corner from the hostel and learned that a local yarn merchant would be doing a special program at the shop on Sunday starting at 11am. So, I figured if we hit the road soon after that, we would be all set. But, what to do until then? First, we shower and pack- heading downstairs to breakfast at the hostel. After a quick bite, we grab our bags and check out so that we don’t have to worry about running back to check out should we be out of the area at 11:00am (checkout time). They offer a bag drop, but we just take our luggage to the car which is only around the corner. The big question is did we get a parking ticket? You see, parking is a big deal in this city. At least where we are, there seems to be virtually zero free street parking and you should have the parking app on your phone and when you park, you log in, type in the code on the sign and pay for your stay. Ordinarily, this might be fine, but the problem is that some blocks are 1 hour only or 3 hour only- meaning that once you have paid for 1 or 3 hours if you try to pay for another 3 three hours it will tell you that you have already parked here and you need to move on…and find a space in a different block. Obviously an issue when you need to park overnight. There are also lots and garages that you can park for 24 hours, but the cost is steep to say the least. The hostel points us to a lot around the corner and we paid for the maximum from Thursday to Saturday. But when we went back into the app to pay until Sunday, the cost was $61! We met a local woman in a bar who said she never pays for parking- I just pay my tickets and I am still way ahead! She says (and we did confirm this) that the maximum parking penalty is $30 and they can only ticket you once in 24 hours. So, if they ticketed us on Saturday night before midnight and again Sunday after midnight, that would be a $60 fine and still cheaper than $61 to park! Maybe she was onto something. As we approach the car, from across the lot we can see a ticket on the window. Maybe she wasn’t onto anything, after all. Whatever, we will just leave it there to let them know we have already been ticketed in the last 24 hours. Getting closer to the car I can’t help but think that it looks different than any ticket I have ever seen, being red with black writing…wait! what? That’s not a ticket at all, just a flier reminding me that Jesus is on his way and I need to repent! Woohoo…thank you Jesus, no ticket! I promise to work on that repenting thing soon. We drop luggage and head off to the first stop, walking to the “half-house.”

a house willie wonka would approve of

Atlas Obscura does it again and we find ourselves on St. Patrick’s St. looking at the half house. Basically, it was part of a 6 unit row house that was bought up by a developer some time ago, but the owner would never sell it, so the developer wound up taking down the five units and leaving this last one that had a lode bearing wall between this and another unit, so when the other unit came down, this one was left to rest on its own wall. Once you are there, it’s a quick stop as there is not much else about it other than just being a half looking house in the middle of the block. El seems to have developed a fondness for Tim Horton’s coffee and we keep our eyes out for a shop on our way to the next stop- Graffiti Alley. Of course we can’t find a Tim’s when we need one- as now we both need a bathroom stop, so McDonald’s will have to do for now. We buy a small coffee and walk with it down to the famed couple of blocks covered in street art. It starts where Rush Lane meets Augusta Ave and runs for a couple of blocks parallel to Queen St West. I guess it started out as a hotspot for graffiti artists to do their thing eventually resulting in a fight for the sanctioning of the art between the city and the artists and the local business district. As we walk through the alley it is obvious that there is some incredible art work here. Murals that look so life-like, it’s incredible. Personally, I cannot understand the “art” behind what I grew up knowing as graffiti. This, for the most part, is easy to see the talent that goes into what I am seeing here. We walk through the 2 blocks from end to end and take our photos. At this hour (9:00am on a Sunday) there are not many people and you can get the shots you want. If you are into this kind of thing, I understand there are some very famous artists’ works here- though no Banksy. 

some graffiti creepier than others

how did they know our sentiments exactly?

It’s getting on 10:00 and it’s still too early for the knitting shop. I suggest heading to the CN Tower. Not to go up, but according to Atlas Obscura, there is an actual piece of the Matterhorn somewhere on the grounds. It’s a beautiful morning and not more than a 20 minute walk. Once we get to the base of the tower we get some pictures and set off to find the rock. I approach a young woman working checking tickets to get into the tower and ask if she knows where the rock from the Matterhorn is. Not only does she not know where the rock is, she is wholly unclear as to what the Matterhorn is, but she points me to the guest services booth about 30 feet away. I go to the booth and ask the same question of the young lady inside. At first the look on her face told me she too didn’t know what the Matterhorn is. I tell her that she is the second person in 3 minutes who didn’t know where the rock was located and I was starting to question my sources that brought me to this spot, figuring that the internet would certainly provide better details than the workers here. Then, all of a sudden as if she was on her way to winning the grand prize at a spelling bee…she started jumping up and down in her booth, raising her hand and saying “I know, I know, yes the rock…it’s right there, behind that kiosk!” I see the kiosk located 20 feet from us and approach it to look beyond the other side to see if she did indeed know. Sure enough, just on the other side of the kiosk, sits a rock with a plaque explaining that this actual piece of the Matterhorn (the mountain in the Alps between Switzerland and Italy) was gifted to the people of Canada from the Swiss during a Salute to the Swiss celebration in 1981. Once you take the picture and read the plaque, it’s not like there is much more to see or do with it. We have a lunch spot on King St. that doesn’t open until noon, so to pass the time, El decides she wants a coffee. Hoping there is a Tim Horton’s inside the tower, we head in to visit the cafe and gift shop without paying to go up the tower. We get our coffees and sit, me journaling and her writing postcards. It’s not as good as Tim’s. 

if you look really closely, at 2 o'clock on the top of the tower, you can see the people who paid to hang off the side in a harness. a giant nope for most people...including us

Around noon we walk back to King St. and find Porchetta & Co. It is no secret that Anthony Bourdain has shaped much of the way we travel and eat and this stop is no exception. And when Bourdain described their sandwich as “juicy,” “delicious,” and “kinda genius” I knew I wanted it. We walked into the shop, which wasn’t more than a fast food joint with a couple of tables and a small counter space. I was trying to take in the menu, but got ahead of myself and after talking to the cashier about the options, as I sat and waited for the order to come out, I realized that I ordered the wrong thing! While I didn’t expect it to be bad, I should have asked “what did Bourdain eat?” instead I went with the house special on a plate. The good news is that El figured out that with everything that came with the house special plate, if we just asked for a bun and asked them to sprinkle some parmesan cheese on the pork before they brought the plate out, we would have the ingredients for the “kinda genius” sandwich. The full sandwich is sliced roasted pork loin sprinkled with grated parmesan, crackling, a truffle sauce (not mayo, thin, kind of like a truffle ranch dressing), stone ground mustard, and Frank’s hot sauce- on a brioche bun. It was really good and the plate gave us each a side dish to eat with the sandwich. It was very much worth the stop. After lunch we head back to the knitting shop. El had read about something called “butter tarts” which is something you can get at some bakeries. The idea is that I am going to buy these while she is at the yarn shop. She had done some research and found a place called the Blackbird Bakery in Kensington Market sells them. As we walk up Augusta Ave. we run into a street fair that has the street closed to traffic. We make our way to the top of Kensington Market and split as I head right to find the Blackbird and she goes left to the knitting shop. I find the bakery without much trouble, but as with any street fair on a gorgeous fall day there are a ton of people either in lines or on the street. I wade through the crowd making my way to the line extending into the street from the Blackbird. There are so many people in the line that enters the door (and sales counter) on the left and at the counter hooks right, rightfully, giving the first five people in line the space in front of the counter, so, even though most people are locals who know what they want, I have to wait until I get up to the glass before realizing I don’t see any tarts. At the risk of holding up the line I ask the clerk if they have any more butter tarts, but instead of finding them sold out, she tells me the bakery does not sell them at all and I take my allotted time to explain it odd that El actually researched the place as THE place in the neighborhood to get them before shuffling out and letting the people behind me order their goods. I have not much interest in the street fair and basically just beeline for the knitting shop on the off chance something went awry with that plan and El is finished already. I arrive to find her deep in conversation with the knitting staff, so I just wait outside. Remembering back to our first hours here when El visited this shop and asked the owner for a local watering hole recommendation which sent us to Collective Arts…I decided to try our luck again. So, while El was outside nerding out with the yarn dyer, I went in to find the owner and told her that we liked her beer suggestions the other day and maybe she could help me again. Today, she admitted that she did not know a local place that sells butter tarts, but did mention that a bakery around the corner, if they don’t sell them, surely would know where to find them…Wanda’s Pie In The Sky on Augusta. I head back into the street fair fray and go into Wanda’s. Wish I knew about this place before as it seemed like a good croissant and coffee kind of place. I ask if they have butter tarts and brace for the inevitable rejection. However, she says, “I only have three left”! I’ll take all three! She boxes them up and I am on my way. We did wait until we got home to try the tarts and they are mini- pies/tarts, about 3 inches in diameter with a pie crust and a sweet filling topped with sprinkled pecans. We enjoyed it, El says, spot-on that it tastes exactly like a pecan pie. So, in retrospect, glad we sampled a local food, but it’s too close to what we already know to justify needing to seek them out again. I get back to the yarn shop and tell El I will meet her at the car, since the shop has no husband bench, I would just sit there and wait for her. As I approach the lot though, with the street fair going on, I see every spot is taken with a continuous ring of cars waiting for someone to leave. I figure it would be a real dick move for me to sit in the car waving off every car in the ring as they ask, “are you leaving?” Instead, I walk back to the shop and El is wrapping up, so I just wait. We walk to the car together, making one driver's day as we vacate the spot for the last time. Still no ticket! We are on our way home by 3:00pm and roll into our house around 10:00pm- pee stops and dinner, you know.


As always, I figure we can have a good time no matter where we go- and this was no exception. I am a little surprised that it took us this long to get to Toronto, but there’s no time like the present. I didn’t have the time to do as much research for what to do in the city as I usually dedicate to the process when we travel. But, arriving on Thursday and out on Sunday, it isn’t like we needed to occupy ourselves for a week. That said, we only know two people who live in the Toronto area and with both out of town for our weekend, I would have liked to spend some time with either or both to see what they enjoy about their city. Would I go back? Sure. Would I go back with El? Absolutely! Because if anyone is good at second tier stuff to do, it’s us. And while I don’t need to head back right away, I wouldn’t be disappointed to find myself in this city again- hell, any city with a 24/7 fresh pizza vending machine has got something going for it.