Category: Photography

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!

Toronto: Then and Now

It has been said that a city is much like a person. They all have a few skeletons in their closet, they go through growing pains, and the events they experience can define them, for better or for worse.

Toronto has a rich and colorful history that can be explored in many ways. For the more active and adventurous, Heritage Toronto has an exploration map and plaques throughout the city for you to discover. 

 

 

The Toronto Archives holds a treasure trove of images for any Toronto history enthusiast. The 1.2 million photographs are housed in a climate controlled facility that reminds me of the final scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

For the cyber-explorer, the online archives  have almost 97,000 photos available to browse at your leisure. The oldest is a map of Toronto Harbour that dates back to 1792. You can also find a panorama shot stitched together from the oldest known photos of Toronto from 1856 of our very own neighborhood. I guess that’s why it’s called old town.

 

We decided to explore some of Toronto’s history online, on foot, and via Google Street View and give it the Photoshop treatment for this week’s blog, Toronto: Then and Now.

 

With special thanks and photo credits to Toronto Archives.

This before photo by Arthur Goss from 1913 was commissioned by the Toronto Health Department. It was to be included in a report regarding the poor state of Toronto's housing. The property was located in The Ward, a notorious slum in the heart of the city. This property, demolished soon after, was located where the Nathan Philips Square ice rink is today. You can see Old City Hall in the background.

Then and Now Toronto: The Ward, 1913

 

 

Did you know that our "new" city hall is actually the city's fourth? 500 designs from 42 countries were submitted in an international competition that was very much ahead of it's time. It's hard to imagine our Nathan Phillips Square without this "futuristic" and iconic building completed in 1965. It has been an integral part of numerous films and even appeared in Star Trek comics as early as 1969 and an episode of Star Trek: Next Generation. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the The Devon Corporation headquarters in the popular Pokémon franchise as well.

 

 

This inside shot was captured by John Boyd, photographer for the Globe and Mail. It was taken on Bay Street on May 7, 1945, the day Germany unconditionally surrendered to the allies.

 

 

Commissioned by the City Engineer and taken by F.W. Micklethwaite in 1899, this old photograph shows a drinking fountain just south of the Spadina Circle. These drinking fountains were commonplace in Toronto in the late nineteenth century, with a trough for horses, a common cup for people and even a basin for dogs! The Health department later deemed them a public health hazard and replaced them. One remains on King Street East near St. James Cathedral.

 

 

Commissioned by the City Engineer's Department, this photograph illustrates the near completion of the construction of the subway, or underpass, at Queen and Dufferin Streets in 1897. Visible in the background is the 1897 Gladstone Hotel.

 

 

Then and Now Toronto: Jolly Miller Hotel, 1936

Invoking memories of North York's rural past, Yonge Street appears as a mere country lane in 1936 rather than the main arterial route north out of the city that it is today. The railway track parallel to the road, is in fact, a streetcar line that took weekending Torontonians all the way to Lake Simcoe. The Jolly Miller Hotel is still there, a heritage building and popular restaurant now called The Miller Tavern.

 

 

Taken by city photographer Arthur Goss in 1917, this photograph of the Bloor Street Viaduct under construction was used as the cover image for the City of Toronto Archives' book Toronto's Visual Legacy, celebrating the city's 175th anniversary. The viaduct gained fame internationally through Michael Ondaatje's novel, In the Skin of a Lion.

 

 

Looking north up Yonge Street today you can still see some of the buildings from the turn of the century. It is amazing how many structures that are 100 years old remain here in Toronto. It is becoming a hot topic of debate - which buildings will survive the upward sprawl of today's condo boom? It is at least a consolation that many of the facades of some of our historic buildings are being preserved.

 

 

The area around Yonge and Dundas has gone through massive changes from the construction of the Eaton Centre in 1977 to the re-launch of Yonge Dundas Square in 2002. While the Hard Rock cafe building remains structurally the same from when it first opened its doors in 1978, the facade and the fashions have changed.

 

 

Finally, looking north from Yonge Dundas square today, the new Ryerson University building dominates the landscape that was once reserved for the sparkling neon lights of Sam The Record Man. Sadly, one of the only recognizable buildings remaining in this stretch of downtown Toronto is the decrepit and sad looking Zanzibar strip joint, and something tells me it's days may be numbered.

 

If you'd like to check out a few more "Then and Now" photos from New York and Berlin, click here.

 

I hope you enjoyed browsing these images of this amazing city we live in. Every day Cheryl and I discover something new by taking a side street less travelled, or simply googling "old Toronto photos". Googling "old Toronto photos" was what started me on the path that is this little blog project. Remember not to take for granted that we live in one of the best cities in the world. Go out and (re)discover it.