Toronto: lots of Mexican food and hip boutiques

After the wedding celebrations were over, we drove to Toronto and checked into our charming Airbnb in a tree-lined street in the Annex, a neighbourhood of the city north of College St. By the time we arrived in Toronto, we were ready to experience big city life again with all its perks.

Our Airbnb street in Toronto

In terms of location, we couldn’t really have asked for a better place. We were a five-minute walk from the awesome Kensington Market area with its hip bars and cool restaurants, and only a few streets from the subway station. A half an hour walk had us at Dundas St in Little Portugal, which is home to some awesome cafés, and ten to fifteen more minutes took us to Queen St with its great selection of design and fashion shops.

We happened to be in town when the CNE (Canada National Exhibition, apparently a Toronto must) and solar eclipse were taking place. We checked out the CNE, which was a slightly surreal fun-fair-come-boot-sale type affair, but it turned out to be a great spot to view the eclipse through a free pair of solar glasses. This was my attempt to capture the eclipse on my shitty smartphone camera:

This is what an eclipse looks like

It didn’t turn out too well. After the eclipse, we wandered around a bit more and stumbled upon Toronto’s oldest extant European-built house. The Scadding Cabin was first built in 1794 and was moved to its current location near the Toronto lakeshore in 1879, the year of the inaugural CNE. This is the house:

Scadding Cabin, the oldest European house in Toronto

We also ate at some amazing restaurants in Toronto. We had a great brunch at The Federal with its cool vibe (Dundas St West), fantastic currywurst with duck-fat fries at Wvrst, where they have an enormous selection of beers and a good selection of veggie and vegan options (King St West),  and a chilled-out breakfast on our last day at Aunties & Uncles (Lippincott St). We had tacos in multiple places, but the best were at La Carnita (multiple locations), where we imbibed a huge pitcher of sangria and munched some lip-smackingly good spicy corn-on-the-cob.

Also worth a mention is Otto’s döner in Kensington Market (Augusta Ave) and Caplansky’s Delicatessen (College St) which does great Jewish food like salt beef sandwiches and chicken soup, although it’s a little on the pricy side. In a moment of weakness and homesickness, we did also end up eating at Nando’s (multiple locations) and it was, thankfully, exactly the same as back in the UK, although they don’t charge you extra for piri-piri fries.

I’d also recommend strolling down Queen St and browsing in the plethora of independent boutiques there. All the way at the west end of the street is North Standard Trading Post, a great local clothes brand with a cute logo. They do all sorts of outdoor clothing and gear and have some great little patches and badges too. Further east is Drake General Store, a design/gift shop with a lot of Canadian merchandise and awesome souvenirs that you will actually want to keep. They also have a barber’s, although we didn’t try it out this time.

All in all we thought Toronto was awesome and had a great time! Once we figured out the TTC getting around was no problem and there was no shortage of things to do. We still have a whole bunch of restaurants on our list to try for when we’re next in town. Next, Montréal!

Our first few days in Canada

Exactly two weeks ago today, we landed in Toronto after a relatively pleasant if somewhat lacking-in-legroom flight from London. On board, I enjoyed a surprisingly tasty meal of generic meat in brown sauce and mashed potato. It was honestly about a million times better than it looks. And, as a bonus, about an hour before we landed, we were served a rolled up pizza in a box!

The plane food wasn’t all that bad

Once we landed, we were picked up from the airport by our friends Riley and Steve. We kind of organised our trip around their wedding date, which wasn’t anywhere near as much of an inconvenience as we made it out to be.

We stayed the first night in a hotel near their house in Toronto, and the next day they drove us down to Burlington, a town further down the shore on Lake Ontario and we checked into our place there. Our first few days with Riley and Steve served as a crash course in Canadian culture, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t experience a little bit of culture shock.

The hotel we stayed in on the first night resembled something out of The Shining

Everything here is bigger. It’s a cliché, but it’s true. The roads are wider, the buildings are taller, the rubbish bins look like they’ve lost all sense of human scale. Things come in larger package sizes than at home. This was all to be expected, but somehow it was still overwhelming.

In these first few days, we also received our first introduction to the Canadian institution that is Tim Hortons. It’s essentially their version of Costa and most Canadians are fiercely loyal to it. They sell doughnut holes known as “Timbits”  (unfortunately I didn’t get a picture) and we picked up a mixed box of 25 or so. They come in various flavours such as chocolate, apple, birthday cake (wtf?!) and soured cream. We were told that we wouldn’t be able to stop eating them but I only managed about three before entering a sugar-induced coma. However I do have an unusually low tolerance for sugar, I’m told.

We spent the next day or so being swept up into Riley and Steve’s wedding preparations, which they kept apologising profusely for but it was honestly quite a lot of fun and a great window into everyday Canadian life, and we really felt welcomed by Steve’s parents and Riley’s friends and relatives.

The wedding took place at a spectacular lakeside venue. The ceremony was due to be carried out outside on a wonderful balcony…

The splendid wedding venue

…but seconds after we arrived the heavens opened to torrential rain. I’m not sure I’d ever seen such an intense burst of rain before in my life, and in five minutes it was over! Fortunately, the venue staff were well-equipped with kitchen roll and came and dried all the seats so the ceremony could go ahead outside. The sun having re-emerged, the guests convened out on the patio and everything went off without a hitch.

We had a great time at the wedding, where alcohol was in free flow thanks to the open bar. We had our fill of beef and wine and then made our way home and slid into bed. It was set to be a great night’s sleep until the bride from another wedding party (there were four staying at the hotel that weekend) sauntered into our room at 02:00 in the morning as the hotel had double-booked our room! Luckily I’d put the latch on the door otherwise she would have been greeted by the sight of two hairy men fast asleep in bed and a load of wedding attire casually strewn over the floor.

Our route

I just finished the first map of our route showing our planned stops over our trip. As we go, I’ll upload a new map with and colour the line orange to show our progress. The first leg has already been filled out, when we flew down to New York last week.

The first leg of our trip down to New York

Setting off…

I’m just about to start the road trip of a lifetime across Canada and the US with my partner, who shall remain anonymous (let’s call him P). We’re gonna pick up a car in Toronto, driving first up to Montréal, Québec City and then through New Brunswick (which we’ll just pass through) to Nova Scotia. There, we’ll stay in a couple of cabins before heading back to Toronto.

Once we’re back in Toronto, we’ll switch cars (for top-secret reasons) and start our drive to the west coast. Our stops on the way will include Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay in Ontario, Winnipeg (from which we’ll make a detour to “New Iceland”) in Manitoba, Regina in Saskatchewan, Calgary and Banff National Park in Alberta, and Kamloops in Nova Scotia before ending up in Vancouver.

From Vancouver, we’ll head south down the west coast. In Oregon, we’ll stop in Seattle, Portland and Ashland. Then we’ll make our way to Eureka, California before driving down to San Francisco. After San Francisco our plans are not set in stone, but we need to get back to Toronto somehow with the car.

Right now we’re planning to go Salt Lake City – Denver – Kansas City – St. Louis – Chicago – Detroit – Toronto. We might shuffle around our plans for the first part of that leg, however, so we can make it to the Grand Canyon.

We’ve been on our trip for about two weeks so far. We started off with a wedding in Burlington, Ontario, which was a great initiation into Canadian culture. Then we spent a couple of nights in Toronto before heading to New York for a week. Last night, we landed back in Toronto and in a few days we’ll set off for Montréal. I’ll post about our trip to New York, including pictures, later on!