Toronto Light Festival – Distillery District

We really don't like hibernating in the winter. What we are learning coming into our second winter at home is: you really don't have to.
All of the incredible activities that happen around the city, even in the winter, PROVE - we're a city not afraid of the cold! 
(Okay, I'm afraid of the cold. And that's what warm winter jackets & boots are for, people like me who are afraid of the cold.)

This time we bring you to a unique event in the city that it is so wonderful that we have left the house willingly THREE times to enjoy it.
It's called the Toronto Light Festival. And it's happening right now in the Distillery District. It began on January 27 and it will be running until March 12.
Every night 5pm until 11pm the lights turn on and magically illuminate the spaces that are the Distillery District. 

Words I would use to describe this festival: entrancing, imaginative, magnetic, mesmerizing. (If you go check it out, let us know if I've missed any words.) 

The Toronto Light Festival (website link HERE) is coming to you from the team behind the Christmas Market in the Distillery District, so they are well versed on how to make the space spectacular. They said it best when they described it like this: 

1 Big Idea.
45 Days. 13 acres. 44 buildings.
1000s of lights.
$0 to attend.

Did you see that, ZERO dollars to attend!

Watch our video and then get out there and enjoy winter in the city!

Cheryl’s pick – Top 10 Beaches

Now that we are smack in the middle of winter, I was thinking that it may be a good time to daydream for a moment, to when life was a little warmer for us.  

After working on cruise ships for so many years, one of the questions that Jon and I get asked most often is; what have been your favourite beaches around the world?

I've narrowed my list and I now have a Top 10 that I'd like to share with you.

I should preface this list with a few facts on how I rate my beaches.

✼ I'm obsessed with clear water/white sand beaches. My travel list, before I started travelling, was filled with places that looked pristine in travel brochures. 
✼ Weather.

✼ And one of the most important factors for me to enjoy the beach is the temperature of the water. (Being the big baby that I am with the cold, that normally means the water has to be just about the temperature of bath water before I will be able to enjoy it.) 

 

I whittled down my list and we will begin in Europe.

#10: Chiaia Beach, Procida, Italy

After telling you all that I'm obsessed with white sand/clear water beaches, my #10 beach is a black sand beach. 

At first glance it's not as beautiful or striking as some other beaches, but the black sand feels like powder. And that soft powdery sand continues out into the sea, as far as your feet can touch the bottom. It's perfectly clear water as well, although it doesn't seem like it with the dark sand giving a false impression (alternative facts?)

In the summertime the water was almost like bath water and since it is in more of a cove on a protected side of the island, the water is normally very calm.

Your view is Marina Coricella to the north-west and on a clear day the island of Capri (CAH-pree) with the odd cruise ship cruising by is straight ahead. Now top that off with the addition of Italian cuisine (such as pizza Napolitana and gelato), and a day spent on this beach is close to perfect. CLOSE... but we're not there yet.

Oh and the downside to Chiaia Beach - the 180 steps (I counted) that you have to walk down to arrive at the beach (and then walk back up again to return home!)

Chiaia Beach

The view of Chiaia Beach from above

The view of Marina Coricella

The view of Capri and a cruise ship from the beach

The dreaded 180 stairs

We stay in Europe for my next beach pick.

#9: Barcelona, Spain's city beaches - from Sant Sebastian and Barceloneta (with the sail shaped W hotel at the western most edge) to Mar Bella and the nude beaches farther east, and every beach in between. 

There are many great city beaches around the world, but Barcelona is my all-time favourite. This is in part because of how much I loved Barcelona as a city. A lively, modern, cosmopolitan European city that has shopping and nightlife and museums and history, beautiful architecture, famous cuisine AND an incredible beach, all walking distance from one another. Sounds like a perfect spot to vacation or maybe even live.

The 4 km of golden sand beach areas are MASSive. There are all sorts of restaurants and bars that line the beach and there are boardwalks and bike paths too. The beach runs the span of multiple neighbourhoods, so you experience different walks of life as you leisurely explore the waterfront along the coast. 

The sand is light coloured and the Mediterranean shores are an emerald green. Because this is the Med, you won't find the calmest of waters, or the warmest. But there are too many other pluses++ that make this beach one of my top 10.

Barceloneta Beach facing east

Barceloneta Beach facing west towards the W Hotel

Barceloneta Beach facing south

Panorama of Barceloneta Beach

Jon and I have been so very lucky in our life, exploring and travelling the world. We have been able to visit many beaches all over the world, and especially the Caribbean. It is somewhat true what they say, that once you see one beach, you've seen them all. But you need to see them all in order to know this! When exploring the Caribbean there are so many beautiful beaches in Bahamas, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Grand Cayman, US and British Virgin Islands, Barbados, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Dominica and you can see where I'm going with this. For #8, 7 and 6 I chose different islands and different beaches that belong to the Caribbean. I'm leaving out so many beaches that are equally as beautiful but if I were to name them all this list would be Top 100 not Top 10, and we just don't have time for that!

#8: Palm Beach, Aruba

Many people say Eagle Beach is where it's at on the Dutch island of Aruba. But my heart belongs to the 3 kilometre strip of Palm Beach. The activity, the hustle bustle and the great people watching gets me every time.

The ocean water in Aruba is a beautiful turquoise, but it isn't clear. It may be better described more as a light 'murky' green. Under the water the sand is a soft powdery white and sometimes even pink. And the temperature... like a bath. Just how I like it!

Palm Beach is lined with hotels and piers every so often jetting out into the ocean. On these piers you may find a local run restaurant or bar (such as Bugaloe Beach Bar & Grill, our favourite), where you can buy a cold beer or enjoy a fresh ceviche that will make you want to go back for more. The water is a little calmer than what you may find on Eagle Beach and since I'm not a strong swimmer, this always appeals to me.

The area off the beach is filled with trendy shops and fancy restaurants too, giving the island a feeling of luxury and satisfies the wants and needs of most people visiting this island.

Their slogan: One Happy Island. 

Palm Beach

Aruba

Somewhere between Eagle Beach and Palm Beach

J & C on the beach

The view of Palm Beach from the Radisson

Travel a little north in the Caribbean to find my next choice. 

#7: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

The entire eastern beach coast of Punta Cana is 32 kilometres lined with more than 50 hotels of all shapes and sizes. Some southern parts of the beach are more protected with eco-areas and a calm clear oasis. Other areas in the more northern part of the resort town are less protected and are more of a surfing paradise. All of it in the most beautiful colours of blue, green and turquoise, lined by powdery white sands and palm trees, so many palm trees, that dot the beach areas. 

 

Super Cheryl getting ready to take off from Punta Cana


The northern beaches

The middle beaches

The southern and calmest beaches

Onto my next Caribbean pick.

#6: Antigua & Barbuda - Dickenson Bay

Antigua & Barbuda is an independent commonwealth country and one of the more luxurious islands in the Caribbean. My favourite fact about this island, the 365 powdery white sand beaches. A different beach for every day of the year. I chose Dickenson Bay not because it is necessarily the nicest, there are just too many to choose from. I chose it partly because it is the most accessible beach from the port when you are travelling by cruise ship. I also chose it because it has everything I want in a beach - white sandy beachfront, warm clear waters, restaurants, bars, every type of water sport to take advantage of and a reef for easy snorkelling right off the coast. As well, it's a bay. So the water is generally calm. Win-win-win-win for me!

Dickenson Bay Beach, Antigua & Barbuda

 

 

 

 

 

Dickenson Bay Beach with C & her friend A

C & A on the beach

Moving away from the Atlantic Ocean & the Caribbean sea, we jump into the Pacific Ocean for my next pick. Hawai'i!

#5: Ala Moana Beach Park - Honolulu, O'ahu, Hawai'i

Where do I begin in Hawaii? Ala Moana is just one of SO many great beaches in this chain of islands that makes up America's 50th state. I could do a Top 10 list in Hawaii alone!

My first visit was to Ka'anapali, Maui in 2005 and it was for a 10 day vacation that didn't leave me wowed. I have to be honest, I thought, 'what's so special about Hawaii?' It was after visiting Hawaii a few more times on a cruise ship that the beauty began to overwhelm me. Looking back, I think my company in 2005 may have had something to do with why I was underwhelmed the first time. I began to realize that each island and beach offered something special and unique from the last, for such vastly different reasons. And the people. Hawaiian people and their culture is something that in itself, without any beautiful beaches, could leave you amazed. 

Jon and I have been so fortunate to see all of the islands and have even had a few personal tours from our friend and Hawaiian artist, Walfrido Garcia. Because we've seen so many places, narrowing it down to one beach was so difficult! But I made my choice - Ala Moana Beach Park. 

Ala Moana is a Honolulu city beach of warm clear waters, big sandy beaches with ALL of the amenities (including restrooms and showers). If you keep walking along it's shores for a short distance, they will lead you to the famous Waikiki Beach. Although Waikiki is beautiful, Ala Moana offers a less touristy feel and wider sandy beaches, with a better view of Diamond Head! It also doesn't hurt that it's across the street from my favourite shopping mall in the world (Ala Moana Centre)!

 

 

 

Sunsets from Waikiki

Lahaina, Maui - rainbows

Baby Beach, Lahaina

Now we find ourselves in the South Pacific. I have always described the islands that I've visited in the South Pacific as the views screensavers are made of. I remember being in awe and I couldn't stop telling people that it looked exactly like screensavers and it's NOT EVEN PHOTOSHOPPED! 

Like the Caribbean, there are so many beautiful islands and beaches in the South Pacific and I had to fight my natural long windedness to not choose them all. 

#4: Yedjele BeachMaré, New Caledonia

The French territory, New Caledonia is a chain of dozens of islands. The main island is surrounded by a massive barrier reef and includes a 24,000 square foot marine-life-rich lagoon that is one of the largest in the world. Being a French Territory, you will also find Carrefour grocery stores and McDonald's with Le Big Mac and Le Royal Cheese on the menu. 

Yedejele Beach is just a big beautiful beach on the rustic and not as developed island of Maré. If you are visiting by way of cruise ship, you tender into port. Then you can rent a scooter or a bicycle or take a bus to this incredible beach for a day trip to remember. It's perfectly suited as a tourist retreat. The under development of the island gives you an authentic experience and leaves you humbled by the incredible locals.  

Maré, New Caledonia's paradise

J & C

Even the beer thinks Maré's beaches are the best!

Our Kiwi friend knows that you should always wear a hat while spending lots of time in the sun!

We are now into the top 3. 

#3: Champagne Bay, Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu 

Many people who have visited this beach have been known to describe it as, heaven on earth. I tend to agree. The crystal clear turquoise water, white sandy beaches, locals grilling fresh lobster, fresh chopped coconuts will have you pinching yourself to make sure you aren't dreaming. 

Chamagne Bay beach gets it's name from a natural phenomenon. At low tide when the water is shallow it fizzles like champagne as it passes through volcanic rocks on the sea floor. The beach is surrounded by lush tropical forest and there are fresh water blue holes close by for swimming.

And if you find yourself in Vanuatu or Fiji, don't forget to drink the kava. 

Beautiful Champagne Bay

#2: Half Moon Cay, Little San Salvador Island, Bahamas

This beach was my #1 for a long time. Although it is in the Caribbean and is an island in the Bahamian chain of islands, it isn't a beach you can get to easily. It is a private island owned by Holland America Cruise Lines and used by HAL and Carnival Cruise Lines exclusively for their passengers. I was able to visit when I was cruising on Carnival ships and felt so lucky I had been able to. 

It's an uninhabited island that is a cruise ship playground. 

It's the perfect port beach. Whiter than white sand and clearer than clear sparkling water. I've only ever visited in summer months and therefore the water was borderline so warm that it was not refreshing. I mean for normal people. I didn't complain. 

The cruise ships unload their own food and beverages into the pre-built area for service, just for the day. There are water sports also run by the cruise ship. Beds and chairs line the beach awaiting the passengers to pile off the ship and onto the sandy oasis. They have activities such as horseback riding and jet skiing to snorkelling and scuba diving excursions .There are volleyball courts in the sand and parasailers all around the cruise ship that will always be anchored at sea. Basically a playground in paradise.


This brings me to my top pick. And we have a tie!

#1: Cayo Santa Maria & Playa Pilar (Cayo Guillermo), Cuba

Both of these beaches are off of a Cayo in northern Cuba. They are the most perfect pristine beaches I have ever experienced. They took my breath away.
Both were similar in that the sand is fine and white and so powdery that it sticks to you. They both have soft sandy bottoms that feel pillowy as you walk and shallow for some time out from shore. The water is so clear that you can even see a clear colourless fish that may swim by. The sun reflects on the water and makes it look like a sparkling diamond. The shades of blue and teal and emerald had me mesmerized. The water was warm enough in the winter months for me to sit and not want to leave. I actually felt sad leaving both these beaches when the time came.

Had I experienced bad weather when I was on these beaches, my opinion may be different. But for both of these picks, the weather was perfect on the days I was there and it was truly bliss for me. These beaches were everything I had hoped all the beaches I wanted to visit looked like. The type of beaches that (my) dreams are made of. 

And they aren't far! Travelling to islands in the South Pacific may take a day long flight and a big bank account to find. Cuba is a 3 hour flight from Toronto, to an island country only 50 miles south of Florida.

J & C Cuban adventures

Somewhere between Playa Pilar and the Iberostar Playa Pilar resort

Clear waters of Cayo Santa Maria

Cayo Santa Maria

Playa Pilar perfection

Playa Pilar shines bright like a diamond

 

Cayo Santa Maria beach

Melia Buenavista lagoon - Cayo Santa Maria

Playa Pilar - Cayo Guillermo

My list is not done yet!

Honourable mentions go to:

◦ South Beach, Miami (another amazing city beach)
◦ Dravuni Island, Fiji (uninhabited paradise)
◦ Isle of Pines, New Caledonia (A+ snorkelling)
◦ Turtle Bay, St. John's, US Virgin Islands
◦ Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

◦ Orient Bay, St. Martin (the French side)

Orient Bay, St. Maarten/St.Martin

Turtle Bay, St. John's, USVI

Cane Garden Bay, Tortola

Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

J&C Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

J&C hiking Dravuni Island, Fiji

Dravuni Island, Fiji

J&C Dravuni Island, Fiji

South Beach, Miami, Florida, USA

I haven't been everywhere and still have many beaches on my bucket list.
I would say it still still reads like a novel. Or maybe a short story.

BUCKET LIST:

◦ (everywhere in) Thailand
◦ (everywhere in) Indonesia
◦ (everywhere in) Philippines
◦ (everywhere in) Vietnam
◦ Seychelles
◦ Maldives
◦ Bora Bora, French Polynesia (of course)
&
◦ the one that got away - Whitsundays, Australia
(We have been to Airlie Beach and Port Douglas multiple times, both being gateway ports for travel to the Whitsundays. Sadly I never was able to get there... One day Whitundays, one day.)

Now back to our regularly scheduled program... Winter. 

WINTER!

Skate Your Winter Blues Away

Winter in Canada.

Many of us do not look forward to this time of year. Some of us like to hibernate and hide throughout the cold winter months. I have joked since I was a teenager that I was adopted and was actually born in Jamaica, I disliked the cold that much. But if you are a Canadian you've probably had to suck it up, buy a warm jacket and get on with it. 

If you have that warm jacket, put it on and go outside. Don't hide inside! There are so many fun adventures waiting for you to experience in this city. 

There are many things to do in Toronto in the winter, but today we will take you along for the ride.... er, skate... to the rink at Nathan Phillips Square. Watch the video below:

If you aren't close to Nathan Phillips Square, there are many places around the city that you will find outdoor skating rinks. Many have change rooms and some rent skates for a minimal charge. Weather depending, they normally will open at the end of November and close in March. Links to some of our picks are below in orange:

Harbourfront Centre Natrel Rink
✽ Evergreen Brick Works
✽ Christie Pits Rink
✽ High Park - both a rink and Grenadier Pond
✽ Dufferin Grove Park
✽ Mel Lastman Square
✽ Trinity Bellwoods Park
✽ Colonel Samuel Smith Skating Trail
✽ Greenwood Park Arena
✽ The Skating Oval - Shops at Don Mills
✽ Sherboune Common Skate Pad

You can also find Narcity Toronto's picks HERE, BlogTO's picks HERE and Indie88's HERE

Now go skate!

Escape to Cuba!

It's that time of year again. That time when, if it is possible, most Canadians try to leave the country for at least a week. Game of Thrones warned us that this time was coming. We call it... WINTER. 

It's also been one full year since Jon & I have been home from working on cruise ships. Which means it's been one full year since we have done any exotic travelling. (We DID travel to Halifax for Thanksgiving and Detroit & Buffalo for summer concerts, none of which really qualifies as, 'exotic'.) 

Before booking, we were searching any and all of the last minute travel websites for the best bang for our buck. We couldn't afford to spend a great deal and we knew we wanted there to be a beautiful beach with water that I (Cheryl) wasn't afraid, or too cold, to go into. (*Note* - I have a preference for warm clear water and powdery sand mainly because I can get a little queasy if I can't see the fish coming for me.)

After much TripAdvisor review reading, the Iberostar Playa Pilar in Cayo Guillermo, Cuba seem to fit the bill.

While we were experiencing winter warmth and sunshine in the wonderful hospitable country (and favourite Canadian beach vacation spot) know as Cuba, we turned our cameras on. 

Come join us as we walk around our resort and show you what the Iberostar Playa Pilar is all about. 

Iberostar Playa Pilar - Cayo, Guillermo, Cuba

We hope you enjoy our video!

If you have any questions at all, about the resort or the travel in general, please feel free to contact us. We're here to help.

(You can find our TripAdvisor review of the property HERE!)

Now back to winter...

Honest Ed’s Final Bow

If you live or have lived in Toronto, you likely know of the popular discount department store called "Honest Ed's". You know the one... at the corner of Bloor and Bathurst, with all the saloon style marquee lights. The one that you go to for good deals on fabric, furniture, your dishwashing detergent. It's only been there for uhhhh, 68 YEARS!

As of December 31 this year, the chapter will end. Honest Ed's, an iconic landmark in Toronto, will be closing it's doors for good. But not before we went for one last jaunt around the place. And by jaunt, I mean JAUNT. We walked around the outside of the building a bunch of times (for our Fit Bit steps and Jon wanted to see how long it would take me to freeze in the +5C temperatures.) Then we walked around the inside of the of the massive two-block building a bunch of times. We wanted to discover Honest Ed Mirvish and his legacy one last time (and I needed to warm up). It was fun. And we bought a sign.

We documented said fun here (cue the video):  

In all of our fun writing and filming for this blog, we also learned quite a bit about the late great Ed Mirvish and how his era began. 

We learned that he lived and breathed his business until he passed away in 2007, at age 92. We learned that he cared about his community and his city, like it was an extension of his family. We learned that he had once said that he wanted his ashes to be put into an hourglass so that an employee could sit on a throne in the middle of the store and turn him. You know, so that people could see that even after he died he was still working in the store. 

Honest Ed was a character, like a dad, Toronto's dad. His vision seemed parental. He wanted to take care of us in the city and create an inclusive environment for all. Like when the city of Toronto reneged on permission for Ed to create a parking lot and he decided to build Mirvish Village instead. [Mirvish Village: an area of homes, shops and studios. Affordable studios for artists to create. Dare I say, a safe space?]

He thought outside the box and was a master at free publicity. He held 72 hours dance marathons at the store to defy Toronto's closing hour laws. He had a Noah's Arc Sale with live animals. He sold Robert Goulet as a dream date for 0.79¢. He hired picketers to picket his own restaurants on King Street. He was a character of the best kind. 

Before we say our final goodbyes and the building is being replaced with a "reimagined Mirvish Village",  there will be one more event. Maybe not so much of an event as a 'public experience'. It's called, Toronto for Everyone.  It will be a three-day community festival running Feb. 23-26, 2017. (For more information on this event, click HERE!)

Maybe saying goodbye isn't a bad thing. Maybe it's time for a change? Maybe he would be happy that we are evolving as a city. Either way, his spirit will live on and he will never be forgotten. 

“None of us own anything,” Ed once said. “We’re only caretakers. I have two million bosses who keep me straight. If I don’t satisfy the people of Toronto, I’m in trouble.”

Double birthday – What you can do for FREE in Toronto on your birthday!

November 9. It’s OUR birthday. A day we have also nicknamed, “First Christmas.”

After spending many birthdays together, it hit me. We exchange gifts and we try to make the other one feel (extra) special. It’s similar to what happens on Christmas, right? And only about 6 weeks before real Christmas. It’s almost as though Christmas happens twice for us. And so the nickname was born.

Yes, yes, Jon and I share the same birthday (one year apart). Seriously, what are the chances? They do say that ‘sharing is caring.’

Now… What to do for our birthday? We try to come up with something a little different every year to kick off our next one. Something that will be for both of us, celebrating ourselves and each other. This was the first year we were celebrating together at home in Toronto too! We wanted to find something memorable to do.

I had once seen an online article outlining some of the things that are offered free - services, food and beverages - on your birthday. I asked Jon what he thought of this idea to celebrate us. What if we spent the day running around the city trying to find out what offers we could take advantage of? He didn’t even have to think about it, he was onboard immediately.

Turns out the answer to, “what you can get for free on your birthday” is – a whole lotta fat. You can get a bloated belly for free on your birthday. And you can have a lot of fun doing it…

 

We've put together a video to outline our day of free. Watch it here:

Breakdown of the video and how you too can get the free benefits of being born are as follows:

1st stop:
Starbucks
(multiple locations)

If you belong to the Starbucks Rewards program you are entitled to any free beverage of your choice, on your birthday.
I had a peppermint mocha and Jon tried the new praline chesnut latte.
Saved: $11

 

2nd stop:
The Works Gourmet Burger
(multiple locations)

Remember to sign up with your email for their Burgers with Benefits program. You will receive an email coupon for a sandwich of your choice, for FREE on your birthday!
Thanks to James Cambrian, our server, for having fun with us. His initials are our initials (JC/ J & C), so we think he was meant to be our server!
I ordered the Jalapeno Popper burger and fries (a jalapeno popper was cooked inside of the burger, topped with onion rings). Jon order the Reese PBC burger with chips. (Yes, the burger was topped with cut up Reese Cups and it was amazing.) We cut the burgers in half and shared. *Remember - Sharing is caring.
Saved: $38

 

3rd stop:
Rainbow Cinema
(Imagine Cinemas Market Square – 80 Front Street East)

All you need is your ID saying it is your birthday and you get any movie for free! We went to see Trolls (it was fun!) Jon ordered popcorn from Kalen, who he said was the nicest and friendliest movie theatre employee he’s ever encountered.
Saved: $20

 

4th stop:
Booster Juice
(multiple locations)

Sign up for BoosterNation and similar to The Works Burger, you will receive an email coupon for a 710ml smoothie of your choice. David, the lovely gentleman working the cash, told us jokes while we waited for our Funky Monkey and Brazilian Thunder smoothies.
Saved: $17

 

5th Stop:
Panera Bread
(multiple locations)

Sign up for My Panera for a free pastry on your birthday.
When we arrived, Matthew at cash informed us that we also receive a sweet welcome pastry for being a part of the club! Bonus! 4 pastries, for FREE!
Saved: $18

 

6th stop:
Yuk Yuks Comedy Club
(224 Richmond Street West)

If you visit their website (www.yukyuks.com) you can register for your free birthday show. No purchase required, just free.
Saved: $26

 

7th stop:
Denny’s
On your birthday you are entitled to a free Grand Slam Breakfast by joining the MyDenny's program at: www.mydennys.ca. Since they serve breakfast all day long and are a 24 hour diner, we thought 10pm would be the perfect time to get another free meal.

When we arrived, Denny’s was closed with a sign apologizing for their short closure. Of all the days Denny’s… it’s okay, we were feeling pretty full at this point anyway.

Saved: $0

 

Total Saved: $130

Other than what we have listed, there were other places that we never made it to. We literally ran out of time but thought we would include ten more of them for those of you looking for options on your birthday.

1. Body Shop – Sign up for the Love Your Body program and receive $10 towards any purchase in your birth month.
2. Sephora – sign up for Beauty Insider and receive a free gift for your birthday.
3. Jack Astor’s – free dessert in your birth month when you sign up for their Friends With Benefits program online.
4. Boston Pizza – sign up for MyBP online and receive a free dessert on your birthday.
5. David’s Tea – sign up for the Frequent Steeper program and receive a free tea on your special day.
6. Teavana – owned by Starbucks, same rules as Starbucks apply.
7. Menchies – Sign up for My Smileage and receive $5 towards a frozen yogurt on your birthday (valid 15 days before or after your birthday).
8. Marble Slab – Join their Slab Happy Rewards program and receive $5 towards a free ice cream for your birthday.
9. Medieval Times – Join their Fellowship and receive free admission on your birthday.
10. W Burger Bar (10 College Street)– Join the e-club and receive a free burger on your birthday.

*Remember that some of these programs need to be joined a month prior to your birthday, so get planning now!

Thanks for letting us share our day with you.
Until next year…

From Sunset to Sunrise: Nuit Blanche 2016

Nuit Blanche
/nwē ˈbläNSH,ˌnwē ˈblän(t)SH/

noun

a sleepless night.

One night, from sunset to sunrise, a city is transformed by artists.

The first weekend of October, Jon and I woke up with the birds at 5:30am. This was the day of our second real estate exam. We had to be out the door for 7am to make it to our exam. Needless to say, it was a tiring day. By the time we arrived home later that afternoon, we were both looking for excuses to stay home and not leave the house for Nuit Blanche that night. We were soooooo tired.

There was an 80% chance of rain and we were both (not so) secretly hoping it would rain. Our first year home full time and our first Nuit Blanche together. That sentence right there was our motivation to get off our lazy butts. It was our first Nuit Blanche home! We HAD to go.

We found the energy and pushed ourselves out the door (without an umbrella, stating that rain would be a sign to come home.) We were so happy that we did! The rain stayed away for the entire night, with temperatures that felt more like a mild summer evening than the early weeks of fall. It was almost too perfect. We were off to experience 90 different projects strewn throughout the city, by 300 artists. Our city was illuminating.

We began our Nuit Blanche journey walking to Union Station, worked our way up Bay Street to Nathan Phillips Square, then on to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and down John Street. Just a 4 km loop around the main downtown core.

As we walked down our street, we noticed that the CN Tower looked more like a guiding spaceship than our usual landmark. Maybe just a weeeee bit creepy, but these low hanging clouds and humidity in the air seem to only add to our experience of the night.

 

We had a map of all of the art, but Toronto was organized with signage everywhere across the city directing us where to go. Great job Toronto!
---->   <----  

 

First stop - Union Station. Here we found 3 installations and the crowds were just beginning to build.

On to the Design Exchange where we easily walked into the building without any line up.  We headed straight to Vertigo Sea, a video installation by John Akomfrah. This multi-screened video installation had both Jon and I completely under it’s spell. We were mesmerized by Vertigo Sea, the beautiful and haunting visual story of the “sublime sea”. We were so taken with this installation that when we returned home later that night, we searched online to see if there was somewhere we could view it again. Fortunately we found a small portion of it online. Click here to view (and I highly suggest you do!)

After watching much of this film, we joined the small line up to head into the second art installation inside the Design Exchange. Although we were close to the front of the line for the elevator, we were told that it may be a long wait since the room could only hold 30 at a time. We spent about... mmmmm... 10 seconds deciding on whether we should wait and we decided to come back later. When we exited the Design Exchange building, there was a MASSIVE and growing line up just to get into the building! It became clear to us that we may have missed out on that second art installation and there would be no going back at the end. It also became clear to us that the threat of rain was not scaring away the crowds! 

As we wandered up the (now pedestrian only) Bay Street in the Financial District, we encountered many different installations. There were some inside the buildings and some out on the street. We stopped only momentarily at each one knowing there were a few must sees that we wanted to get to before we lost steam.

(*Note* Click on any photo to enlarge. Most words that are orange in colour contain information links.)


We took a small detour down Temperance Street to Cloud Gardens and Robert Montgomery's: Beauty Vs. The World

Robert Montgomery: Beauty Vs. The World

Robert Montgomery: Beauty Vs. The World

Robert Montgomery: Beauty Vs. The World

Robert Montgomery: Beauty Vs. The World

We then headed for the Eaton Centre to feast our eyes on Literature vs. Traffic by Luzinterrupts and Hand-Held by David Rokeby in the Church of the Holy Trinity. By the time we had arrived, they had relocated Literature vs. Traffic to somewhere that we never found. And the line up to get into the Church looked like this (no thanks).  --->

Oblivion

Oblivion

Nathan Phillips Square was next and this was the absolute highlight of the night for me. We didn’t experience enough of the art that night, but at least we were able to take in all that was ‘Oblivion’.

Oblivion was broken into 3 parts. The first we came upon was Pneuma by Floria Sigismondi. You might know Floria from her video direction career (Christina Aguilera, The White Stripes, Marilyn Manson, David Bowie, Katy Perry) or her feature films (she wrote the screenplay and directed The Runaways starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart). I was so excited when I realized she was the artist behind Pneuma because I had met Floria in 1993 at the Ontario College of Art (OCAD)! My grade 13 class had taken a field trip to different Colleges and Universities in the city to explore our school options. Floria was one of the students sharing her Photography experiences at OCAD and I was there. The then yet to be famous Floria was incredibly appealing to me and I immediately had felt inspired by her. She was of Italian decent like I was, she was into Photography like I wanted to be, she had an artistic darkness about her that I felt drawn to. I think you could say that I had a lady crush. Getting to the point - Pneuma at Nuit Blanche was amazing. I posted a photo on Instagram telling Nuit Blanchers not to miss it. I wasn’t just saying this as a bias fan. Dark and spellbinding video was projected into the fountain of water in the reflecting pool at Nathan Philips Square. It was set to beautiful and haunting music that only added to the experience. If you missed it, there are many videos on ---> YouTube.

Floria Sigismondi: Pneuma

Floria Sigismondi: Pneuma

Floria Sigismondi: Pneuma

Floria Sigismondi: Pneuma

You couldn’t ignore what was right beside this fanciful fountain. Your peripheral vision guided you to a big white globe that read, #TheSunWillComeOutTO. We didn’t realize at the time that this meant we would be observing an artistic death of the sun. Death of the Sun was the name of this installation. It was created by Torontonian, Director X (who you may know as the director of Drake’s ever so popular music video, ‘Hotline Bling’.) 

 

Director X: Death of the Sun

Director X: Death of the Sun

See our (quick) time lapse video of the Death of the Sun below:

The third part of Oblivion was inside City Hall and it was a kinetic sculpture called Ocean by Philip Beesley. One look at the line up that wrapped around the building and we knew we would have to come back another day to experience the Ocean. Although it was on my list of things I wanted to see at Nuit Blanche, Oblivion was running for more than a week after Nuit Blanche finished. We didn't feel the need to stand in line because of this. PHEW!

Although not as spectacular as photos that were taken the night of Nuit Blanche, here is our photo of Ocean:

Philip Beesley: Ocean

Philip Beesley: Ocean

We were beginning to tire (and feel a little cranky) but I wasn’t ready to give up yet. I still wanted to at least try to see what was going on at the AGO. I’ll tell you what was going on… a miracle! NO LINE UP! We realized when we walked inside the AGO that it was open in it’s entirety! This was done so that the public could also take advantage of free admission on this night. (We weren’t too excited about that, since we are fancy pants and have an AGO yearly membership.)

We did however watch the performance art happening in Walker Court. Artist Rebecca Belmore was painting New Project in what looked like clay, on the floor.

Rebecca Belmore: New Project

Rebecca Belmore: New Project


She is known for her political and social activism as well as her art and although to the eye it appeared to only be a quiet woman painting ordinary words on the floor, it felt like so much more. There was a strange sombre feeling in the room and we walked away feeling as though there were more questions to be asked.

Leaving the AGO we couldn’t believe the LINE UP to get in now! No rain AND we had made it in moments before the crowd!! Score! (<-- do people say that still?)

At this point we made a decision and began our journey home.

 

 

This is a guy who believes in safety first while riding your bike. -->

Arturo Duclos: Utopia's Ghosts

Arturo Duclos: Utopia's Ghosts

Heading down McCaul Street we came across another line up to get into OCAD, so we passed. Outside of the building was a mural called The Merging by Nicola Verlato. We only walked by, not stopping for any length of time. Home was our mission now. We stopped to look at Utopia’s Ghosts by Arturo Duclos. This was a collection of images of the world’s fallen flags. I took this photo upside down because I believe my brain was feeling upside down at the time. Or some may say I had "bed on the brain."

 

We started to hit thicker and thicker crowds as we walked through Queen Street and King Street’s Entertainment district. Both Jon and I began to feel impatient with the crowds. We unfortunately only glanced at most of the art on John Street because of this. We turned on to King Street with all intentions of walking in the underground PATH to avoid the crowds, but decided to take our last few photos outside, especially since the mild temperatures were continuing to work with us. 

Although we had only experienced a small portion of the art and installations that we were hoping to see, we had to admit that we finally hit our wall. 10:30pm felt like our bed was bellowing to us to come lay in it. We had really wanted to go to Kensington Market and the Bata Shoe Museum and the Waterfront and experience more of what we were now seeing on social media. There seem to be so many exceptional installations and works that we didn’t even know about when we first began this journey. We knew we had missed out on additional spectacular art. We kept wondering if maybe we should have planned better and chose a different date to write our exam. That hindsight... always 20-20.

To sum up our night: 

Our city had so much wonder in store for those of us who were out and about. There was a feeling of community. Smiling and laughing crowds enjoying their night. Dazzling art for your eyes and ears. And line ups, so many line ups.

For those of you who have never experienced Nuit Blanche, we highly recommend you do it. As one of the taglines said, you can sleep Sunday! It will wow you in so many ways. Some installations were more thought provoking than others and some were more visually stunning. One of the things that had surprised me the most was the attendance. In general, I have so much excitement realizing the support and love that our great city receives and Nuit Blanche highlighted that for me. Young, old, families, couples, every race, religion you name it… people were wandering the streets sharing this experience of (artistic) inclusion. Other than the graffiti on our beloved Toronto sign, there were seemingly no major issues. I love that so many people constantly come out to experience all that our city has to offer. 

(Side note: days later we saw a young Toronto worker scrubbing the graffiti off of our Toronto sign. I had said to Jon, “that is such a thankless job, but I’m so thankful he exists. I hope people tell him.” We were quite far from the worker and without a thought, Jon walked over to the young man and thanked him for helping to keep our city clean. The young man thanked us for thanking him, as you do.)

I wish we had better photos of all of these wonderful artistic installations to share. On one hand I’m glad we experienced it and weren’t focused on taking photos. On the other hand, I wish we had better photos to show all of our wondrous readers how incredible the night really was.

After the wonderful night that was Nuit Blanche, we returned to Oblivion at Nathan Phillip’s Square three more times. Oblivion was showing for 10 days in total. In my opinion, it was magical and deserved multiple visits. Below are a few of the photos that we took in those days following. 


This gentleman above knew there were people taking photos of the fountain and the art that was a part of the fountain. 
He was being inconspicuously conspicuous and allowing us all to photograph him and his bicycle as well. 

DEATH

OF THE

SUN

Thank you for joining us on our journey!
For more information on Toronto's Nuit Blanche 2016, the art & the artists and the breakdown of sponsorship & curating, click HERE.

P.S. We aced our exam!

 

 

 

Fan Expo 2016

 

2 years ago, Jon and I were headed to the Arcade Fire concert at the Molson Amphitheatre. As we walked past the Metro Toronto Convention Centre we noticed that there were an awful lot of people dressed up as though it was Hallowe’en. What in the world is going on here? We really had no idea.

Fan Expo 2014

fanexpo-2nd-photo-insert

 

The next day we walked past again on our way to the Toronto Blue Jays game. And still, costumes everywhere. (I managed to photo bomb a storm trooper that day.)

By now the curiosity was killing me. Did Toronto have a Comic-Con or something like a Comic-Con? How was I (self proclaimed Toronto expert) so out of the Toronto loop that I didn’t even know we had a Comic-Con? I asked the oracle (Google) and sure enough, we had an event running that very weekend at the Convention Centre. It wasn’t Comic-Con, but it was a Comic Convention and it was called Fan Expo.

Apparently Fan Expo had been happening since 1995! I have no idea how I had completely missed this for almost 10 years! 2014, the year we had walked by twice in one weekend, it had record attendance at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Fan Expo encapsulated both the entire north and south buildings and 127,000 people walked thru those doors on that Labour Day weekend.

Although Fan Expo had beginnings in Comics, Science Fiction and Fantasy, it has expanded greatly. Comics, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Animation, Anime, Manga, Videogames, collectibles, toys, TV, Movies. Everything… well… pop culture. 

This is our first summer back in Toronto full time and I knew I wanted to experience this “Fan Expo” thing and find out what it was all about. It took a long time for me to decide which day to go with 4 different days to choose from. We couldn’t afford to buy tickets for multiple days, so choosing just.one.day was difficult. I had no idea what the differences were between days or what to expect at all. In the end I judged it based on the most exciting draw for me - celebrities who would be there. Were they there in the flesh? Could you see them? Did you meet them? I didn’t know, but I was going to find out. And I chose Saturday.

At this point I really wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this. I’m not a 'Trekkie' (or 'Trekker' I hear is the correct term), I am not a Star Wars fan (although Jon is a HUGE fan) and I’m generally not into video games or collectibles or toys. My knowledge of comics is limited to: Stan Lee is super cool and I do prefer Marvel over DC blockbuster movies. But I do love celebrity, I LOVE people watching and I knew there would be a lot of dress up going on. (Since then I’ve learned it’s called Cosplay… And it’s serious business.)

Let me take you through our day, in photos:

 

fanexpo-1

As we get off the escalators, we begin to think maybe we should have dressed up too.

The first of many Spidermen of the day was Canadian Spiderman. Oh Canada!

He was very sweet to pose with one of the smallest Strom Troopers in the squadron (is it a squadron? I’m still learning lingo)

fanexpo-2

fanexpo-3

We were going to have to get used to asking a lot of permission for photos with people, so we practiced on these two non-human statues. We asked, they didn’t mind, so we posed.

 

We immediately stumbled upon the 'Celebrity Autograph' area. I would like to point out that this photo is of the crowds already forming for autographs, time stamped at 10:12am. Fan Expo opened at 10am.

fanexpo-5

Oh yeah, longest line up of the day. And the most expensive autograph - Mark Hamill. (He's LUKE SKYWALKER, even I fangirled a little!) Side note: Each celebrity charges for their autograph. Those charges were anywhere from $40 - $100. Stan Lee was $100, as was William Shatner. Mark Hamill though, his autograph cost $200. TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS! Luke Skywalker, shame on you! But the people still waited the longest and still paid the most.

As I was taking photos of all of the celebrity’s names, I hear someone yell, “CHERYL!” It was my oldest friend, Chris Hynes who I'd known since I was 3 (and hadn’t seen or spoken to in 5 years!) We met while we were young and attended junior and senior kindergarten together. We ran into him 3 different times that day (I have no idea how – 2 buildings, 6 floors, 100,000+ people.) We learned that he had indeed paid for the Mark Hamill autograph. He told us he had planned this great thing to say to him and when he was finally in front of Mr. Hamill all he could muster was, “Luke Skywalker.” Childhood excitement hits you in the gut when you least expect it (and takes away your ability to speak too).

 

 

 

This is what I was looking forward to the most!
<----

 

All day I continued to take random photos of the crowd. Once in awhile I would learn, after I took the photo, that someone was seeming to stare into my camera lens. (See one example here --->)

 

 

More fan line ups for cast members of The Walking Dead.

Jon’s inner fan boy came out with every Star Wars costumed person we saw. I could have made an album called, "Jon and his Star Wars heroes."

There is a story to go with Lando Calrissian (photo below). We were chatting with this young man and he told us that he is normally a very shy guy but when he gets dressed up for these events, everything changes. Dressing up helps him to come out of his shell and be able to speak easily to people. Jon and I had discussed this earlier in the day and after speaking to “Lando” we continued to feel proud of/happy for these young fans who felt empowered from and getting so much out of this experience.

There was a zombie corner where you could get yourself Zombified. And there was even the guy who won the Rick Grimes look-a-like contest who was hanging out posing for photos. (For those of you who don’t know, Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) is one of the main characters in TV’s The Walking Dead.)

Many many many kiosks of stores selling every collectible, trinket, toy, game, clothing items, costumes that you can imagine. This would be the perfect place to get all of your Christmas and birthday shopping done for any superfan of... almost anything. If they are a superfan of taxidermy rats and mice, they have that covered too. Or for the fan of lawn gnomes. Or prosthetic masks. (Can you tell we are still in the Horror area?)

Jesus yelled at me. He only let people take photos of him for donations. Which I was quickly learning wasn’t the norm and only a small percentage of cosplayers were asking for donations. I had asked him (Jesus) what the money was going toward? He opened his mouth to show me two missing molars in the very back of his mouth and he said, I need new teeth! (I didn’t give him any money, and I live with this blurry photo and the memory of our conversation.)

Snow White was there. Although I will say Elsa from Frozen seemed to be the most popular Disney costume. I missed out and I wish I had taken a photo of my two favourites of the day. One of my favourites was a grown woman dressed as Ursula (from The Little Mermaid). She had full purple body makeup and all! Another was Fiona (from Shrek) and she also had the full green body makeup. My eyes were overwhelmed with so many dazzling costumes walking by in every moment of the day.

Oh that’s Denis O’Hare (photo below). He’s in all of the American Horror Story seasons. And Dallas Buyer’s Club, Milk, The Proposal, Law & Order, True Blood… just to name a few. I’m a fan. We were allowed to take photos of the celebrities as they signed autographs, but we had to stand behind a certain line if that was what we wanted to do. My zoom didn’t allow for better photos than this. Damn you zoom lens!

One of my favourite photos of the day was Abraham from The Walking Dead (Michael Cudlitz) taking a selfie for a group of fans. He was the only celebrity that was walking around on the other side of the autograph table speaking to his fans. I heart Abraham. I hope in The Walking Dead season premiere in October, he isn’t the one to meet his end by way of Lucille. (Maybe I know more about Fan Expo, fan girling and nerd fest than I thought.)

For any vampires who need to be able to walk in the sunlight, Damon Salvatore’s ring was on sale here (The Vampire Diaries). Oh wait, just a replica. Won’t really work guys!

Do you see it? DO YOU? I had a small tear in my eye. It's DOC BROWN FROM BACK TO THE FUTURE! (The amazing Christopher Lloyd). At this point I’m starting to realize I’m in full on fan girl mode now.

 

Kate Mulgrew, but more on her later.

 

 

This man was a Star Wars fan, I could tell.

 

 

Kylo Ren getting himself put together.

 

 

Did anyone else know that the Ontario Ghostbusters existed?

Spock. This guy. This photo just happned to capture Spock while I was taking crowd photos above my head. Later on I was looking at him with my camera pointed in his direction. He wagged his finger at me and shook his head. I said, “No?” He said, 'You must first donate'. Okay cool, Jon was reaching into his pocket to find money to donate to Spock's cause. Up until this point, only a few of the organized groups with costumed characters had a donation "bucket".  All had said donate what you can but not one had said you can’t take a photo without giving (except 'Jesus'). Spock began lecturing us about exactly that. I was so taken aback by the lecture while we were already getting money to give to him that we changed our mind and walked away. When I was home later I realized I had accidentally taken a photo of him already. HA! Joke’s on you Spock! 

 

 

 

 

So much controversy around Coplay for this event. Whether it be donations made or groping of the many scantily clad females that walked around. This sign was in place to remind us all that COSPLAY IS NOT CONSENT.

This kid was THE BEST. He literally pushed past us to reach his friends who were in line for an autograph. He had just reached the front of the line for Mark Hamill. He was SO excited and was screeching to his friends that he had just met Luke Skywalker, guys! It was the most real moment I experienced all day and my heart grew two sizes bigger hearing his innocent excitement about meeting his movie hero.

 

I’m pretty sure this ghetto blaster-ed person was there for John Cusack.

 

 

 

I don’t know what to say about this photo. That kid looks terrified. Or maybe we should be terrified of that kid.

Crossing over into the South Building we saw this. We later learned that every floor of both the north and south building looked like this.

 

 

Beauty and the Beast 2: Belle and the Bunny Rabbit

 

Does anyone else see Pokemon and Pikachu going at it in the corner (I don’t know… is that Pokemon and Pikachu?)

I found myself wondering all day long if this was practice for Hallowe’en. People didn’t do half-assed dressing up, it was full on give it all, best costumes ever. All day long.

 

 

 

 

There was Sci-Fi speed dating.

This was the line up for what ended up being my favourite parts of the day – the celebrity Q&As. This particular line up was for John and Joan Cusack (see video below for sound bites.) This particular Q&A was hosted by Donnie from Orphan Black (Kristian Bruun), this was a double score for me. There was also a lady in this line who we had spoken to. She had John Cusack sign a new hairdryer. We asked, why? Her response: It was a Conair hairdryer and he was in the movie... Con Air.

No explanation needed. Except possibly to say, they were awesome! Joan was a bit quieter than expected and I had no idea John was a screenwriter (High Fidelity and Grosse Point Blank are his!) I was thoroughly entertained and they were incredibly gracious to their fans.

The lineup that we went to immediately following the Cusacks was for Gillian Anderson (The X-Files, The Fall, Hannibal etc...)

She was so much funnier than expected. I loved her already. This made me love her more. Many of her questions from the audience were from young ladies who spoke of how her characters have taught them and empowered them as females. At the end of her Q&A, she auctioned her T-shirt for charity and started it at $200. Two young ladies bid it up to $2200! In the end Gillian didn’t want to allow them to spend all their money (knowing they were both so young) and had them both come backstage to meet her. Awesome.

 

 

We had a break after that and I think it managed to get even busier in the buildings. We had time to kill before going to Kate Mulgrew’s Q&A (Red from Orange is the New Black or Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager). She was so incredibly kind, gracious, intelligent. I didn’t take photos of her, but we do have video below.

Oh did I forget to mention that Batman and Robin were there? Burt Ward and Adam West (yes, the same Adam West from Family Guy). And Ben Mackenzie and Morena Baccarin from Gotham. I don’t watch Gotham so I like to think of it as Ben Mackenzie from The OC and Morena Baccarin from Homeland and Deadpool. And yes, Morena is very pretty in person!

Oh who might that be below? Yes, yes. It’s Luke Skywalker! Although we were told we COULD take photos all day, they began telling us no photos at this time. No big deal, I’m a rebel - I got the shot.

 

Michelle Nichols from the original Star Trek (Uhura). 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, people! This called for Michelle Nichols, William Shatner, George Takei, Kate Mulgrew and Brett Spiner.

Below are Jon’s iPhone photos of Game of Throne’s Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and William Shatner. And there’s also Sasha from Walking Dead! She was SOOO pretty in person. A smile that lit up her face and probably a room. Maybe not this room, it was rather gigantic.
If money had been no object we may have stood in line for autographs, but this time around we watched how it worked and drank the experience in.

If celebrity isn’t your thing, or shopping for weird and wonderful things - they also had areas for Lego, Hasbro, Ubisoft, Sony, Playstation, Nintendo, Space channel and even more. They also had an "Artist Alley" where there were so many cartoon and comic artists, street/graffiti artists, painters, sculptors, you name it, they had it. Oh and a room with a live game of Clash of the Clans happening. Anything and everything to make anyone happy.

I think this was a costume competition. Groot only said Groot. Lego Batman couldn’t speak. Little Rae from Star Wars, well her dad made the costume (see as she points to her dad in the below photo).

So much going on in the below photo. Awesome costume of purple lady in the middle. Then you have little kid who looks to be stand sleeping on the left. And John Lennon picking his nose on the right.

 

 

He collects pins. An impressive amount of pins.

I know many think this type of event is for 'nerds'. It is for nerds, but what I learned on this day is: we are all at least a little bit of nerd!

I felt overwhelmed by the excitement that surrounded us all day, I loved watching the people and getting so many good ideas for Hallowe'en, I fan-girled out with tears during my celebrity Q&A experience. Side note - when I am at concerts, I sometimes cry. I cry because I’m excited, but also because I always think how unreal/overwhelming/surreal it must be for those artist up on the stage, looking down at tens of thousands of fans singing their songs back to them. I was teary at the Q&A’s, listening to the fans, so many of them young fans, get emotional and telling their favourite celebrity how they and their characters have changed that person’s life. --It also reiterated that celebrities have a difficult job in being this type of role model to so many unknown, young, impressionable fans. That’s probably something to be saved for a more serious blog post.

We missed seeing Jay and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes) as well as Stan Lee in his last Fan Expo appearance. These both made me sad. But we were able to see so much and had such a great day, it was only a tiny bit of sad. We now know exactly what we are going to be for Halloween (HINT: it won’t be Van Gogh and Frida Kahlo again) and we know that we may be going to Fan Expo again next year.

Oh and a tip if you attend in the future: you are allowed re-entry. Go outside to the hot dog carts in front of the Convention Centre for lunch. $8 slice of pizza inside or $2.50 jumbo dog outside. You do the math.

All in all, what a great day! Thanks, Fan Expo. Thanks, Toronto!

Hi, I’m Cheryl

It began as far back as I have memories.

I was born in Toronto and until the age of 7, I lived in Toronto. I don’t remember a lot about those days in the city. When I was 7, that’s when my family and I moved to this “small” suburb called Mississauga. I didn’t know the difference between Toronto and Mississauga, just that a new home and a new school were in my future and having to make new friends was going to be involved. We did go to visit the grandparents practically every weekend in Toronto, so I knew we didn’t live far from where we once had lived.

The age of seven. This was about the time when my memories of Toronto began to flourish.

The ride into the city, and for those of you old enough to remember, the Gardiner “bump”. The excitement I would feel knowing I was close to Toronto. The Palace Pier condos were the sign that you were almost there. And then you would see her - that beautiful tall structure named the CN Tower. And if we were lucky enough to be heading east into the city in the evening or night, to see her lit up so lonely in the sky was spectacular for this kid.

I didn’t know much about the tower. My mom always told me that I had only ever been up the tower once, when I was just out of mommy’s belly. And I didn’t really have any desire to go up her now. I was so happy as I admired her from a far. It was not so much what she was, but for what she stood for. That beautiful city of Toronto where I was born.

As I neared the teen years, I would get more and more excited about coming into the city. Being able to see the CN Tower from the highway always meant we were almost there. These years I was coming into the city with my friends who could drive and we would go to the famous Yonge Street to shop. We’d stop at all the head shops and looks for old concert t-shirts and posters. I would personally spend my allowance, and my pay cheques at the record stores. You know them – Sam the Record Man, A&A Records and my favourite, Starsound Records. I would buy as many LPs and EPs as I could afford. I don’t know why, but I thought buying records at Starsound in Toronto was way better than just picking the same ones up at Sam the Record Man at the local mall.

Leaving the city I always waved at my friend, the CN Tower. Wishing I would be back again soon to see her and the wonderful city she so proudly guarded.

Many of our teenage weekends were spent driving up Yonge Street on a Saturday night while stuck in traffic. Kids stopping their cars on the main road to show off their sound systems and their pretty girlfriends. Sitting in the car inching our way up the Yonge Street traffic, I began to memorize all of the Yonge Street cross streets. I would practice them with my mom when I would be home, proud of my memory and how I was ‘getting to know’ Toronto, without knowing Toronto.

Staring at the CN Tower from a car driving around the streets of Toronto, I would always wonder what those streets looked like from high up in the sky.

Fast forward to when I was 18 years old and I was applying for University. I had no dreams of moving far away from home, living on a campus residence, living the college dream. I applied to 3 Universities, but I knew I only wanted to go to the one that would let me be the closest to Toronto. And I got in! Accepted to Ryerson Polytechnic University. Ryerson’s first year as a University and I WAS GOING TO MOVE TO TORONTO! My memorizing of streets would finally pay off! I would be able to see my friend, the CN Tower daily. I couldn’t contain myself as excitement exploded out of me for the few months prior to having to make the move.

I moved into an off-campus residence beside ‘Hooker’s Harvey’s’. For those who know Toronto, you know exactly where I am talking about at the corner of Gerrard & Jarvis Street. I just happened to be living on the 18th floor of my building, high in the sky, with a bay window facing south towards… you guessed it, the CN Tower! I hope I never forget that view. The non-obstructed view from Gerrard Street, of the CN Tower. She became my obsession. At night, I would sit on my bay window seat and relax to the lights of the city. The CN Tower mesmerized me. It held so much meaning for me and I was so drawn to what it was. During thunderstorms I would stare out the window afraid to blink, in case I missed a lightning striking the top of the tower. In white out snowstorms I would try to figure out where the CN Tower was in the skyline that was blurred by the white snow. I would walk down to the tower and stand at the bottom and stare up. I loved my city so much, and the CN Tower was representing everything my city was.

Going to Blue Jays games when there was an open dome at the Skydome (it was still really called that back then) but making sure you were on the right side of the Dome to look up and see the tower. Playing mini golf for double the price because you were at the base of the tower. Feeling proud that we had the tallest standing structure IN THE WORLD. IN MY CITY. (*Note* We held on to that title of tallest free standing building for 35 years!) While in University everyone talks about their school, their campus, making new friends. I would tell everyone that what I was getting as my playground wasn’t a school campus. My school campus was the streets of downtown Toronto.

During my first year of University I met a boy. Who then became my boyfriend. Who had worked the previous year at the 360 restaurant. (This was the fancy schmancy restaurant in the top of the CN Tower and it still is in operation today.) I was enamored with the stories he would tell, taking the fastest elevators to the restaurant. When summer arrived that year, he asked if I wanted to work with him for the summer at the CN Tower. AT THE CN TOWER! Okay, this story could end here. All of my dreams just came true.

I worked as a cocktail waitress in the base of the tower, serving cocktails to tourists, locals, and really tall basketball players in town for the FIBA World Basketball Championships that Toronto was hosting. I worked as a hostess in the observation level lounge and was lucky enough to look at those beautiful views of Toronto regularly and get this, for free! The lucky summer didn’t stop there – I was also able to meet famous people like Henry Thomas during the newly named Toronto International Film Festival, Shaquille O’Neill during the World Basketball Championships and Dave Stewart during his nights off. (To recap, Henry Thomas was Elliott in the movie E.T., Shaq is a famous NBA Player and Dave Stewart was an awesome baseball pitcher (my opinion) for the MLB’s Oakland A’s and then the Toronto Blue Jays.) I met amazing friends working at the CN Tower who I’m still in touch with today. My favourite part of the job though was riding the super fast elevator after my shift at night, until I reached the Sky Pod. Sitting on the floor of the empty Sky Pod room and looking down at the Toronto streets. It was breathtaking. I would trace my fingers along the lights finding of all those streets I had memorized, but from high up in the sky. This was 1994.

Fast forward to 2016. 22 years later and I’m still obsessed. With Toronto, my city, and of course the CN Tower. I have never pictured myself anywhere but in the heart of my favourite city. In fact, my heart beats with Toronto. I’ve travelled the world with my boyfriend Jon while working on cruise ships. One of the best parts of that experience was being able to come home on vacations with him to live in and explore our own city, Toronto. Getting off a plane, jumping in a cab and heading down the Gardiner brought the same excitement as it did when I was just a kid. Now my lover, the CN Tower, is flanked by condos and business buildings galore, but she still stands out, showing her colours, literally. I never tire of looking at her; I never tire of taking photos (some might say I go as far as to stalk her), of walking around exploring my favourite city and finding where she peeks out. Decades of wandering this city’s streets and I still feel like I’m always finding something new around every corner. Toronto still lives up to all of my highest expectations. Toronto surprises me and entices my eyes, ears and taste buds, around every corner.

I live with Jon in the heart of the city and whenever we were home from the ships we would wander the city… trying to… I guess something similar to me memorizing the street names when I was young. Discover the city, inside and out. We always want to learn about each neighbourhood, see what new stores and restaurants and parks are new. Without always realizing it we have constantly compared our Toronto explorations to cities we had been lucky enough to explore while on the ships. And we have come to a whole hearted conclusion. There is no place like home.