Toronto

Our decision to head immediately west toward Buffalo NY turned out to be a good call.  I was tempted to do the coastal route (as we did last year), and hit a few beaches along Massachusetts and Connecticut, but the massive rains from Irene and Lee would have made it an unpleasant week.  Even central New York and Pennsylvania suffered from flooding, whereas we were just west enough to avoid most of the problems.

Our friends in Virginia, where we have planned to courtesy park later this  week, emailed us this picture of our courtesy parking spot.  It is not looking good in this photo, but the rain abated last Thursday and this weekend gave us all a chance to dry out.  I think it will be fine when we get there.

We left the Airstream in a secure location near Buffalo on Friday morning and took a weekend jaunt up to Toronto, where a sort of magical Canadian weather pattern had set up, bringing us sunshine and 75 degrees every day.  It was the sort of perfect late-summer weather that Canadians and northern Vermonters live for.

Our trip was ostensibly to visit John and Helena, good friends with endless hospitality and a home conveniently located walking distance from downtown.  Eleanor feeds them as a way of saying “thanks” for the stay, but really she appreciates having an audience to cook for.  It gives her a good reason to browse the ethnic sections of town for interesting food items.

Tim Horton’s is not my idea of ethnic food, but it has been a serious stop for Eleanor ever since she discovered “Timmy’s” coffee (she and Tim are on a cozy basis these days) and the fact that her beloved “Dutchie” donut is apparently not sold in the USA.  Thus, every trip to Canada involves a stop for two pounds of coffee and a few Dutchies.  It’s a good starting point.

Our big goal for Saturday was to walk the city.  Emma was intrigued by the tall CN Tower (1,100 feet at the observation level, with a glass floor) and it was the weekend of the Chinese Moon Festival so we figured we connect the two with a little street hiking.  John started us off with a short toodle around town in his Citroen Deux-Chevaux (2CV), a tiny French car with a 29-horsepower two-cylinder engine – great fun with the canvas roof open — and dropped us off near Kensington, where the good food shopping is found.

We had skipped breakfast that morning in anticipation of a big pig-out at one of the many restaurants along Spadina that advertise “DIM SUM ALL DAY.”  Usually dim sum involves a series of carts filled with strange & wonderful things. You point at what you want from the cart when it rolls by, and the waiter hands it over, then marks a tally sheet with everything you ordered, for a (usually) shocking total at the end.

This restaurant took a more expedient approach, since it was too small for the carts. We got a single-sheet menu of items, picked three each, and gradually they appeared on our table as we noshed our way from pork & shrimp shumai to red bean “cake”.  If you want to know what else we ordered, simply read the bill pictured below (click to enlarge).

At the end of the meal, the waiter rolls up the entire contents of the table, dishes and all, in the plastic tablecloth and hauls it away.  I’ve never seen that maneuver before, but I have to admit it makes for a quick turnover on the table.  We were also encouraged not to linger after the bill was paid by a waiter who posted herself directly adjacent to the table and wouldn’t leave until we did.  Ah, well, the food was very good.

Eleanor didn’t want to buy all of her food items early in the day and then have to haul them around Toronto, so we gave the Kensington area a quick look (in Eleanor-culinary terms, which means about two hours) and made notes of places we’d want to return later in the day.

The rest of our day was spent walking all over downtown Toronto.  We dropped by the CN Tower but did not go up — Eleanor and I had done it before and these days it would be about $65 for the three of us to ride the elevator to the top — and we dragged Emma past various places that were probably not nearly as memorable to her 11-year-old brain as they were to us.

We found the very grand Fairmont Royal York hotel and reminisced about our first visit to Toronto in 1995. It was an unusual week.  Eleanor and I had tent-camped in the Adirondack Park (NY) on a 14-degree January night, then we drove up to Montreal for a night at the Hilton Bonaventure where we swam in the heated rooftop pool during a snowfall, then took VIA Rail’s “Blue and Gold” service to Toronto and spent two nights in the Royal York living large.  Things were quite different back then — no Airstream, no kid — but I think we travel better now.

One thing that stays the same:  we walk a lot.  This weekend it felt like two more miles of hiking before we got back to Chinatown, with a break at a Second Cup cafe in the entertainment district.

We hit Kensington again and bought a selection of dessert pastries, three cheeses including a very challenging Spanish blue cheese called Valdeon, vegetables for a big salad, and two kinds of fresh bread.  This was later made into dinner for the five of us back at the house.

By the time we got back to Kensington we were starting to drag: we’d been out walking for over six hours.  Fortunately Toronto’s efficient public transit (streetcars and subways) got us within half a mile of John & Helena’s home.  A note was on the door:  “R&E&E:  Back door is unlocked.  Call us when you get in.”  That’s a Toronto thing.  People leave their homes unlocked all the time and don’t worry about it, even in the city.  Crime is remarkably low, the city is very clean, and every time we come here we walk everywhere and never encounter a place that we feel unsafe.  It’s like New York city if it were run under contract by Disney.

We slept in a bit on Sunday, and John made waffles for a late brunch with strawberries & cream & maple syrup, and Canadian bacon.  I don’t eat that way very often anymore, but how wonderfully Canadian it felt, with a copy of the Globe & Mail lying nearby and the front door unlocked.  But that was the end of our Toronto jaunt.  We were soon off, down the Queens Expressway back to the USA, with — of course — one last stop at Tim Horton’s north of the border for a few more Dutchies.

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