As we move through the gears on our trip and the pace quickens, we find ourselves whisked along by our own itinerary. It feels like we’ve only just arrived in San Diego before we’re repacking again for the next stage of our journey.
Where are we going next? We’re heading north again all the way east to Toronto.
It’s the first time for both Christina and myself to visit Canada (I have no idea why we haven’t been here before), so we’re really excited about seeing what lies beneath the maple leaf. We’re also really looking forward to catching up with a couple of old friends who moved here from Sydney.
And by ‘old’ I mean high school friend old. And not only did Christina go to school with L, it was she who introduced us! Sadly we’re only in town for a couple of days, but let’s see what we can squeeze out of this fun boho town before we jet off to our next destination.
We hope you enjoy this IG Edition.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx
One thing we’re not expecting is how cold Toronto is. If you compare the first photo of us leaving San Diego’s almost annoyingly perfect weather to the wingshot of us landing in Canada, the difference is clear to see.
We narrowly missed an ice storm that brought Toronto to its knees. People were frozen inside houses and out of their cars, sheets of ice glazed the famous CN Tower, which then slid off damaging property and injuring people below. Temperatures for this time of year are usually much higher – which breaks our long streak of bringing the good weather… let’s see if we can fix that by the time we leave.
Our friends L and A live overlooking beautiful Lake Ontario. On clear days – at this height – you can see the distant shores of the USA, and eagles regularly circle up here too.
After settling in, we go out to explore the town. The CN Tower is such an icon of the city and if we’d had more time, I’m sure Christina would have insisted on going to the top. I call her The Bubble because she has to get to the top of everything. She eyes dangerous looking chained-off steps to rooftops and sneaks to penthouse floors to try and find the highest view.
I’ve heard the sights from this needle in the sky are amazing. Maybe next time.
Of course our first stop is food, and L has recommended the Drake Hotel, which has a great bar diner attached. It’s really popular with locals and is super cool. The food and beer they have here are definitely worth a stop.
The Drake Hotel is less a hotel and more a cool hang-out spot with great food and drinks (and fast free internet) that happens to also have 19 rooms you can stay in upstairs.
It’s only on Queen Street West, one of the liveliest part of the city for eats, drinks and that local vibe.
After a bite and a beer, we leave The Drake behind us, dodge a rumbling streetcar and carry on our exploration. It’s about 3°C this afternoon, so we’re keen to keep moving!
As the remnants of the ice storm turn into the grey mush of a thaw, have our eye out for the street art that Queen St W is known for. We find plenty here, but also spread out across the city. We’re finding out that Toronto has clear similarities to Melbourne. Grid system streets, trams, street art, funky cafes and bars everywhere – plus it’s quite flat here too.
Here’s some more art we found.- though our cameras are full of plenty more:
Even downtown almost next door to the CN Tower, this swanky apartment hotel has some fun about it. Looks like I’ve found a new friend!
Our friends have recommended we go to the historic Distillery District while we’re in town. It sounds like something we’d be into, so a quick Uber ride across town finds us outside the doors of the Spirit of York Distillery right at the heart of this old part of town.
This distillery has only been open since 2017, but it feels like it’s been here as long as the district. Named after Toronto’s previous title, the Spirit of York makes a gin, a vodka, a whisky and a aquavit all from 100% rye, which is rare not only by Canadian standards but globally.
We highly recommend you check this place out if you haven’t already and order a flight of their spirits. Make sure you try the vodka though – it’s surprisingly delicious.
We really love the decor and feel here in the Spirit of York. They’ve worked hard to maintain the old world ambience of the building while keeping the place contemporary. The big copper stills they use are behind glass, so you can see the workings of this distillery as you enjoy your tastings.
The Distillery Quarter is only a few laneways of old buildings (and feels quite like Sydney’s historic district The Rocks) but there’s plenty to do. I think we’re here a bit early and in weather that’s a bit cold, but on warm evenings I get the impression this place would be thronging with people an a lot of fun.
While we’re here in the Distillery District, we also find a brewery. Mill Street Brewery’s Beer Hall is a vast drinking establishment with plenty of ales to choose from and a good menu if you want to soak up some of the suds. There are a few Mill Street Brewery venues around town, but I think this one’s the best.
We carry on and explore further into the city. I really enjoy being around such recognisable monuments like the CN Tower. I still get a thrill when I see Sydney Opera house or Tower Bridge or the Eiffel Tower – even though I’ve seen them plenty of times before. It gives a bit of context to where you are.
Emerging from their nests, these black squirrels are so inquisitive and ubiquitous in even the smallest city park around Toronto. Christina loves seeing squirrels – even though you might hear her calling them ‘posh rats’ from time to time. I think I might have started that one. Sorry Chris.
At our friend’s recommendation, we also pop in to Wayne Gretzky’s Toronto – a bar started by ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky himself. Inside is full of hockey paraphernalia, screens and of course some Gretzky memorabilia. Wayne is famous for having scored more goals in the NHL than any other player ever, which is pretty cool.
It’s an interesting place to come for a slice of Canadiarama – plus the bar staff will ask you if you want to make your drink ‘great’ by adding an extra 15ml to your glass. You must do this.
On our way home, we decide to pop into one final spot on our list: Bang Bang Ice Cream and Bakery. We time it perfectly and walk through the doors minutes after they’ve opened.
The ordering process – to the uninitiated – is a little confusing, but the staff are incredibly friendly and helpful. The ice cream flavours here are just amazing (I’ve gone for a full on peanut feast) and the way they serve them is genius.
I have chosen the ice cream sandwich method, which means my peanut feast squished between two of the most delicious choc peanut cookies you’ll ever find (yes, I like peanuts). You can’t buy the cookies separately, and you can only order one flavour this way.
Christina on the other hand has picked two flavours in the most fascinating waffle cone, which they make, shape and fill fresh as you wait. You’d think it’s too cold today for ice cream – but this is more than a cold snack. It’s a whole experience.
On our last evening in Toronto, our friend has brought us to Otto’s Bier Halle on Queen Street West. This Canadian version of a German Beer Hall is awesome. Some great beers on tap on off the neck – many of which are local – and big glass steins to swig from.
However, the decor is modern and playful, and the food menus are more than just sausage and sauerkraut – though you can get that too if you like!
The beer and food is going down very well indeed. And the best is yet to come: in the bathrooms here at Otto’s Bier Halle you’ll find a special surprise. Each stall has a big button above the WC. Push it and see what happens!
The sun has finally shown her face here in Toronto. I knew we could do it! Sadly, it’s the end of our time here in T.O. We’ll have to make sure we come back in the summer and check out the rooftop bar scene and the Lake in full swing.
With a reassuring wink from L and A’s beautiful Main Coon – Chewie – we head for our next destination: Havana! That’s right, we’re going back to Cuba and we are so excited. It was 4 years ago that we were there last and we’ve got a feeling things will have changed a lot since then.
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We hope you’ve enjoyed this IG Edition and that you’ll catch next week’s to see how we get on in the home of rum and cigars.
Cheers – Jim & Christina xx