One Night In Toronto

My thirteen day trip, including travel time, to Ontario was planned in Sep. This, of course meant I was reluctant to make any changes after all the back and forth emails, phone calls and building excitement. What I had not factored in was my being ill, and needing some minor surgery at my doctor’s office. However, come Hell or high water, I was determined to make the rendezvous with my daughters.

I started to feel unwell on Christmas Day. This was fine as I ended up staying home with yet another daughter where we had a very quiet day. I did manage to enjoy a turkey dinner – I even made the gravy. However, by evening I knew I was not at all well and left the cleaning up for my daughter to take care of while I went to bed. I had come down with the flu. I had twelve days to get well. No problem. Except for the small marble sized growth on the back of neck that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. The growth that definitely felt like it might be infected. Getting sick, and needing to see your doctor over the holidays is never good planning. Fortunately I was able to get in on Jan 2nd, having made sure to call at 9:00am on the dot. There were also two doctors in that day.

I had never met my GP’s student until that day. My first impression was just young she is – I later found out she is the same age as my youngest daughter, 26. She took one look, then did a more thorough assessment, then called in my GP for further consultation before the next step – basically lancing what turned out to be a sebaceous cyst. My GP never shows a lot of emotion, so his quiet exclamation of, ‘Oh my, that will need taking care of’ did rather worry me. Three absolutely horrid needles later, to freeze the area, and a lot of tugging and pushing meant the cyst had been emptied although it was not certain the actual cyst was fully removed. It was time to discuss after care.

Even before all that was done it was suggested I might want to rethink my travel plans in case of infection or complications. My response was absolutely not. I had sound reasoning for this, first I was not leaving the country. Second, I would be spending the first weekend of my trip that included two nurses, the second week with one. I felt I was well prepared and the doctors agreed so long as I went back the following day. Armed with instructions for care I assured everyone I would be fine. Which I basically was although there were a few days that had us a little worried. I went to a walk-in clinic while in Kingston for another assessment and was given the good news that everything was healing nicely. Canadian medical is absolutely fantastic!

It is now time to go back to the beginning of my actual trip. I like to think I am always well prepared for when I travel. I tend to arrive early to my departure point, carry as little baggage as possible, have all my necessary documents, and even empty personal water bottle. What I had not factored in was just how insane security would be on this last weekend of the holiday period. Despite arriving at the airport over an hour ahead of my flight, and having only carry on bags, I nearly missed my flight. The saving grace was the 50+ passengers still behind me who were also stuck at security. Once seated my first flight, to Calgary, was fairly uneventful.

Deicing in Calgary – it looks like so much fun!

I did have to nearly run from the Calgary international gate (rather random in my opinion for a domestic flight) to my next plane at the farthest domestic gate. While flying to Calgary it suddenly dawned on me that WestJet no longer provides meals – I was looking at about another four hours flying without a meal. (I had packed four healthy cookies and a couple of ‘emergency’ granola bars) Never a good idea when on certain medication. As I neared the gate I saw that the passengers were lined up next to a Starbucks. In my head I was calculating if I had enough time to grab something to eat and make it to the plane before the doors shut. Of course I had one lady hemming and hawing over her selection of food, and then her coffee. Fortunately I was able to have my yogurt scanned, tapped my bank card and dash off. I forgot I had Starbucks money on my phone. There were still passengers behind me when I had my boarding pass swiped. Phew! I made a mental note to prepare a proper lunch for my flight home.

As if my day had not already been riddled with inconveniences, upon arriving in Toronto, the plane ended up sitting on the tarmac for 1 1/4 hours plus another 15 minutes just metres from the gate. So many flights had been cancelled due to the frigid weather and snow storms on the East Coast that the gate had another plane where we were to deboard. (Later in the evening I heard about the planes at the same airport that were clipped resulting in an emergency evacuation due to fire – my problems became minuscule) While waiting to taxi in I sent some messages to my daughter who was to meet me at the train station – no response. I sent messages to her sister – strange responses. Seems the latter had already started to party with her friends and one of them was responding for her. I was not amused. While typing a message to my missing daughter’s husband her sister called me while I was still on the tarmac – technology is grand – to let me know her sister had been robbed! That explained why I could not reach her. I was beginning to worry about this trip.

The view from the condo. We could also see the CBC building, and I gather there is a baseball field next to the CN Tower that I had a vague memory of seeing in 2014.

Eventually it was agreed the three already in Toronto would meet me at Union Station (trains) with coffee and food. I was greeted with lots of cheers, they may have been only three but they made up for that with their somewhat inebriated enthusiasm. It was bloody freezing outside at -25c. (Chill factor made it a frostbite -32c) I was convinced I had temporarily lost my sanity. A quick update about my other daughter, she would not join us that evening although she did seriously consider it, but would in the morning. (Her phone had been snatched right out of her hand at the bus station. She did the one thing police say not to do, she ran after the guy yelling at the top of her lungs.) We made run to an Uber car ( fantastic idea) and we were off to the condo we had booked for the weekend before going out for a night on the town. I was ready to sleep. This was only day one! I was feeling a little like it was One Night In Bangkok.

My daughter on the right and her friends out of the cold.

We did go out dancing. One place had a 90s theme – not really anything I could really rock to. We then went to a club called the Rocking Horse (I think that is correct) which had me worried it would be too country. The saddles and cowboy hat decorations, plus several people wearing cowboy boots, jeans and plaid shirts did not convince me otherwise. The music proved to be a good mix though, I danced up a storm – some young women seemed quite taken that I was on the dance floor keeping pace – until my foot turned but my knee did not. My daughter even tried out the bucking bull and made it over 40 seconds! She beat out every other person we saw over the course of about 20 minutes. I have that on video.

It is difficult to catch a bucking bull in a still shot! This was from the video I took – just under 5 seconds

We were all ready to call it a night, arriving back at the condo around 1:00am. Plans were made to go dress shopping the next day once my daughter arrived from Kitchener. Did I mention the weather had not been that cold since 1959?

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Lumina Borealis: Fort Henry Magic

I had the pleasure of going to an outdoor winter wonderland with my Ontario family. A time to let the worries of the day, let work and school blues be dropped for an hour, don warm winter garb and be treated to a light show for all enjoy.

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The original Fort Henry was built in 1812, for fear of an attack close to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, an important shipping and trade route, when the British were fighting against the Americans. Canada was, and remains, a member of the Commonwealth. Today it has absolutely no connection to the military in Canada besides being across the street from a base. It is now a museum and historic site. Over the winter the Fort and most of the facilities that are open for tourists are usually closed. Of course, this means I have never been inside the grounds.

My travelling companions joined us.

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Lumina Borealis opened the gates to a quiet, mystical wonderland that welcomed all who entered; from the swirling mists and illuminated walls depicting various scenes, to the soft, inviting music from beyond, it was an ethereal, magical hour. Upon entering we were encouraged to slow down, stay awhile, follow the blue movement and changes on the walls of the Fort before wending our way around a bend where we came upon lit iceberg sculptures. A short piece of poetry was illuminated on the wall, stopping walkers in their slow tracks. Arches of the Fort in this area echoed pleasantly with throat singing mingled with softer sounds. As we reluctantly left the soft light and crags of the stylized bergs we rounded another bend.

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It was a little like entering Narnia. A forest of low pine trees that held lights in their branches, then lit up all around us. On the stone walls depictions of animals slowly came to view. The curve of a head, twitch of nose, the stealth of foot, wings spread, silent howl. An owl, rabbit, a fox, the wolf, and other friends of the forest were there, then faded away. Like a memory from long ago. Of course I knew it was all done with lights. It did not matter, for a short time we were outdoors, enjoying life.

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Fire pits served three purposes, warmth, light and more creatures. The light show this time was interactive. We could walk across the path where soft blue hues dominated, heading towards s main fire pit where ‘our’ animal would present itself. I was a wolf. When several people were there, we were a party of six, a wonderful display of pale blues, purples, reds, oranges and whites mingled towards a fabulous explosion of muted colour. The shades of winter. All with music that was just there, as though not being present would diminish the sensation.

There was more, and it was wonderful to see Fort Henry being put to positive use for all. Similar winter shows are happening in Quebec, Nova Lumina, Chandler; Forest Lumina, Coaticook, QC; Anima Lumina, St – Felicien, QC. I encourage anyone living nearby to attend. It is an hour of enchantment – and we all need that. I hope a similar show is offered for the 150th birthday of Canada in December.

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I also had the pleasure of visiting a relatively new bakery, tucked away in a small plaza. We nearly missed it. Of course I had to go in, it is called Grama’s House. We bought a couple of apple tarts and one butter tart. The Apple tart was yummy! Not too sweet, the apple still a teeny crisp, flaky pastry, and a small bite. Perfect for a little snack without feeling dreadfully sinful.

Winter can be quite beautiful.

First full day in Kingston

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Too often we tend to forget that when visiting family or friends during a holiday it is also a chance for a different kind of vacation or, in my case, another opportunity to be a traveller and learn more about the place I am at. I started my day by venturing out.

Yes, the sidewalks are icy and the temperature was -7c when I headed out. We are expected to be feeling below 0 in double digits! Oh, the weather out there is frightful… I am happy to say that although it was cold I kept pretty snug, so glad I dragged along my snow boots! First on my list of getting reacquainted with downtown Kingston was to find breakfast. There are more restaurants in the city, for its size, than anywhere else in Canada. (I believe I gave that statistic last year) Lower Princess Street, finally having Phase 3 of reconstruction completed summer 2016 – budget was 13 million.

It was dreadful to navigate last winter. Too bad the sidewalks are still not treated for well enough for safe walking, particularly the corners where there are little crossing signal posts, surround by ice and snow, just out of reach of pedestrians already slip sliding along.

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I am pleased to have made my way to a coffeehouse that opened last winter and is still running strong (pun intended). Students seem to be the niche Crave has carved for itself, lots of seating, at least one shared table, plug ins for the inevitable computers, tables sturdy enough for textbooks, decent prices, and of course lots of choices of coffee and far too many of food, particularly of the baked variety.

 

I had planned to be very good after too much bread on my day of travel, but the pastries, muffins, all sorts of cinnamon buns, croissants (in a category of their own in my opinion) and bagels, which I first turned away from, drew me in again when I glimpsed the board. So I had a breakfast sandwich – whole wheat bagel with an egg, bacon and cheddar cheese. Plus an Americano.

I love university students, especially during exam time, there is such earnestness and determination in the air, along with the tip tapping of keyboards, flipping of pages, scratching of pens or pencils (still in use, usually on index cards). I might have been the only person there not using some form of electronic device.

Good coffeehouses are fantastic for people watching, and I was only near the front of the place – it is such a favourite I was lucky to have found a seat at all. I stayed for an hour or more, reading, listening and watching before grabbing a muffin and coffee, and my uneaten yogurt, for my daughter. This is where travelling and visiting so nicely meet.

I then sought out a little art studio I had found the year before, Martello Alley, where I had found two prints of places I had been to while in Kingston. I wanted a third one, and was very happy to discover they are still in business selling the work of local artists.

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I did find another print, same artist, of the bakery my SIL works at. Although I have not actually been inside the bakery/deli, I have been the delighted recipient of their delicious baked goods. I thought that would be a perfect addition for my collection.

My walk back to the house was a little perilous, I finally walked part of the way on the road, they are clear, the sidewalks are not. I even have a kitty I can cuddle with, he is new to the family, an adorable 7 month old grey with a bushy tail. He discovered snowflakes and was trying to catch them as they fell – the window kept deceiving him. An excellent way to view winter, from inside!

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Trains, planes and automobiles indeed!

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To get from Victoria to Kingston is a test of stamina. Up at 3:30 to get to the airport, there by 5:00 and so was everyone else escaping the cold weather! I did make my flight, even managed to buy a banana and fill my water bottle. However, next time I plan to leave earlier if flying out of YVR. In the air, zip across, point the nose down, land in YVR 15 mins later.

Not many choices for buying food at gate C50 so I trekked back to near the gate where we had landed from Victoria, bought a sandwich and coffee, then did a balancing act back to my gate. No spills. I worked on making my two bags easier to carry and stow. Too bad I had not done so before checking in at YVR – my carry-on had to be checked in as technically I had too many bags. I was grateful to be told the fee would be waived, this after I was trying to figure out which boots to take – severe weather or the ‘let’s pray it stays mild’ pair. Once in YVR, I realized it was just as well I was not carrying everything, what I did have was heavy. Decision to leave my winter boots and heavy sweater in Kingston when it is time to go home. I am tempted to leave my winter coat too.

Smaller gifts too. I had two containers filled with macarons my daughter made for her sisters and their families. Security guards do not listen when told to keep bags upright. I would not know how the cookies fared until late evening.

It is very easy to get from Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to Union Station. From Terminal 1 take the UP Train, it stops at Union Station. However, arrival can be more than a little confusing as the station remains in the throes of “extensive renovations through multiple phases as part of the City of Toronto Revitalization Project.” This was slated to for completion in 2016. Unless they have magic wands it is not about to happen. There appears to be no end in sight. Most recent information indicates 2017 to finish, an approximate one trillion-dollar (boggles the mind) budget and now over budget!

Unlike at airports, with pockets of places to grab a bite to eat or a coffee, (unless it is me wanting something – I seem to always have gates out in the ether) the pocketful at the train station are not easy to access, have no seating, and are a pitiful choice. Once a purchase is made ‘guests’, as Via now calls passengers, provide entertainment for all by juggling meal, drink and baggage all in an effort to find a seat back in the central area five minutes away. With Via, UP, GO and access to the metro all using Union Station I can only hope there will eventually be more than just five vendors. After all, “If you build it they will come.” I can only hope someone has actually looked at the plans.

Money – I am always amazed at how much more expensive it is to travel by air in Canada. With travel insurance, Victoria to Toronto was $560 return. Plus my UP train and Via train at $165 return. Fortunately I will not be spending anything on accommodation, meals and transportation while here unless I visit Quebec City, or Ottawa with my eldest daughter.

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The train was comfortable, nobody sat next to me, it was relatively quiet as we hurtled along the track in the dark. It is a shame Via is so expensive, more people would be inclined to take the train just as is done in so many countries. Leave the car at home, relax, get some paperwork done, even use the internet on these short routes.

I made it, the cookies made it. A hug from my SIL, not expected. A long trip but relatively easy.

Expenses for day:

  • a turkey and lettuce sandwich and coffee from Starbucks at the Vancouver terminal for nearly $15
  • a pumpernickel bagel with roasted red pepper cream cheese, $5
  • an inflated $6 flat white at Starbucks bought at Union Station in Toronto
  • water, tea and a Kit Kat on the train $6
  • taxi $13

If I spend that kind of money, $45.00, everyday I will be flat broke.

Winter Trip

Cold weather packing is far more challenging than for a summer trip. There is just so much bulk! My plan is to get everything into my Lug, plus my Tracker sling bag, for the simple reason I do not want to check anything in. I resent paying extra, so my backpack will stay home this trip. This will most likely mean I will once again be attempting to stuff my smaller Lug into my daypack. Including gifts. Gift cards for everyone?

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I thought I would add what I use to travel light and how they make my travels nearly hassle free. Tracker Sling Bag, I bought mine at Walmart, I believe in 2011. Probably the best deal for my money on luggage. I can fit all my travel documents, my panda friends, small Lug when necessary, extra clothes, snacks, two water bottles, notebook, book and so much more. It has carried food and water for day trips, teaching material, winter and summer supplies, and even survived a motor scooter accident – my daughter had that mishap, not me. This bag has travelled everywhere with me since I bought it. I love that I can change which side to carry it on and even switch from my back to my front when in crowded stations.

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My bags are black, not putrid green or camouflage.

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The IPad Pouch was for my iPad plus everything else I would need on two flights when travelling with a cat in a carrier. He, the cat, became my carry-on piece of luggage. I needed a lightweight, versatile, easy for me to access – yet safe from others – small bag. The Slingshot was perfect. It can go over my shoulder, had a long strap, a side handle and can be turned into a small back/front pack. I use it all the time and can even put my small water bottle in it.

propeller-camoblue-front-web_1024x1024Bought on my third winter trip when I wanted to dash home for a month. It is really meant as a gym/yoga bag, with a place for a mat plus a shoe bag and storage. This is a great bag for overnight or weekend trips. With luck it will suffice for a month long winter trip.

I am going to Kingston, Ontario for the holiday, except I will be there for a full month. A possible side trip to Quebec City is in the works. So, when travelling with winter in mind from the much warmer, and wetter, climes of Vancouver Island, I am always challenged with what to leave behind rather than what to take. I hate being cold just as much as I hate being hot. Visiting family does make it easier to cut back. I can borrow sweaters, toques and mittens from my daughter, and I left one wool, button up sweater there from last winter.

Considering the importance of layering, I am unlikely to cut back on the pairs (5) of leggings (versus long johns), warm pairs of socks (6), thin long sleeve tops (4) to wear under sweaters, and night gowns (2). I will wear leggings with the latter rather than take along pyjama bottoms. So, where to cut back? All of my sweaters? The two nice tops for dinners out, Christmas dinner and New Year’s? Which will also be worn with leggings. I do want some of my own clothing. I have my winter coat and boots, plus a pair of lighter, but excellent for winter, boots.

This will be my fourth winter in Ontario. I leave in twelve days. On the first day before departure….