a peek inside the fishbowl

22 Jul, 2006

Toronto: summer 2006

Posted by andrea in: travel talk

We originally planned to go for two nights, but before long we realized it wouldn’t be enough time. So we pushed it to three. And it still wasn’t enough.

Day one

We drove to Toronto. The girls were keen on taking alternate transportation (“Can we take the train mummy? Do airplanes fly to Toronto?”), but that wasn’t an option.

The girls were pretty good for most of the 5.5 hour-long trip. There were times we had to tell them to pipe down, especially during white-knuckle traffic and mummy’s struggles with the map, but all in all it was great.

We’ve been playing a few games in the car to make the time go by faster. One of which you certainly know – but will explain for the benefit of my mother – it’s the game in which you see a VW beetle and then have to shout: “PUNCHBUGGY [insert colour of car] NO PUNCHBACKS” and hit the closest person in the arm.

We actually had to stop playing this game for awhile because it lead to tears. (I didn’t punch that hard, really!) But the girls revived it on this trip.

I’m cursing myself now, because I made up a similar game in which we had to spot yellow vehicles: cars, trucks, motorbikes etc. That, in itself, wouldn’t be so bad, but for some reason I announced that when you see one you have to make monkey sounds: “ooo ooo ooo ah ah ah!” And when you see a really BIG yellow vehicle, like a bus or an 18-wheeler it naturally stands to reason that you have to make MORE monkey sounds, louder and longer like this: “OOO OOO OOO OOO OOO AH AH AH AH AH AH!”

This was a very popular game, during the drive there AND the drive home. Sigh.

We arrived at the Delta Chelsea Hotel in Toronto and parked in the nether regions of the hotel parking garage. I immediately expressed heartfelt gratitude for Emma and Sarah’s suitcases – fancy new ones (with wheels!) from my in-laws. They actually hauled their own stuff. I consider this payback after years of toting a diaper bag.

The girls had never stayed in a hotel and so they didn’t know what to expect. Emma correctly predicted the hotel room “wouldn’t have a basement or a top floor” but she didn’t expect it to be so small.

“It’s all just one room!” Yes, with a bathroom and kitchenette as well. The girls slept on a foldout (big kid appeal points here) and went to bed practically at the same time we did.

On the afternoon of our arrival we almost immediately turned around and walked to the CN Tower. About 5 minutes into the walk – remember, this is Emma and Sarah’s first foray into The Big City – we passed by (what I assumed was) a drunk passed out on the sidewalk in front of Starbucks, his legs still on the chair. A barrista, holding a cup of water, looked on a bit helplessly at the scene. People stepped over him, including us.

I tried to steer the girls clear of the scene. But it was too late. They saw him, and they also saw us press forward and also not offer our own help.

They asked questions. We blamed it on the heat. Toronto: so much ugly, so much pretty. Should be their new slogan, don’t you think?

The CN Tower was great. Chalk one up for me: I suggested we ask the concierge if there were any special advance tickets we could buy. I was hoping for a discount, and that didn’t happen, but our special tickets did enable us to skip the huge line-ups at the ticket booth and at the elevators. It cost the four of us approx. $80.00 to ascend the tower. It was officially time for me to adopt a new financial mindset.

Things cost money! Sometimes it’s a lot of money. Especially when we’re at a major tourist attraction in Toronto. After a little pep talk to myself I was able to spend like crazy.

The girls were remarkably calm about the whole CN Tower experience. I didn’t know what to expect. They’ve never expressed a fear of heights, but that didn’t mean that one (or both) of them wouldn’t break down in tears when faced with a window looking out over a sizable chunk of the greater metropolitan area. Sidebar: it got me thinking about fears in general. Are they learned from our parents? From TV? We’ve done everything we can to encourage an, ahem, interest in bugs and dentists, but how were they going to approach the largest freestanding structure in the world ? Confidently or with apprehension?

Observation deck

They were completely nonplussed by the entire experience. And that includes standing on the see-through panels on the observation deck, even while others shrieked in horror and my own stomach did a little flip.

It was time for dinner so we walked back to the hotel again. We asked Emma what she wanted most for dinner. Guess what it was. Guess. She wanted pizza and she wanted to eat in our hotel room. (Did I mention we booked a room with a kitchenette? ) She didn’t want to order up a pizza either. She wanted a frozen one to bake in the oven. So that’s just we did. We discovered a small Dominion at College Park where we bought one pepperoni pizza and some takeout sushi, as well as breakfast items for the coming days. We ate on the floor in front of the coffee table, thusly we recreated Emma’s dream dinner.

Day two

We set out for Casa Loma.

Casa Loma

I had come here on a school trip in grade three or four and it made an impression on me. I figured (rightly) it would be fun to indulge the girls’ princess side and that they would really like it. We all really enjoyed ourselves. We all loved the secret passageways. I’ve always wanted a secret passageway.

Thankfully we had made it there relatively early and managed to avoid the worst crowds of the day. At times we felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Lunch was in an Irish pub in the Annex district. I had a steak salad. I still can’t get over how good it was. The girls had pogos, fries, and Shirley Temples to drink.

Shirley Temples all around

After lunch we had a rather long stop & go drive down Queen St. to Kew Gardens where we were to meet up with Marla and Josie.

I love Queen St. The part past the Nathan Phillips Square is where my high-school friends and I used to shop. A little further down I spotted Winkel. The store window jumped out at me like a diamond in the sand. I’m so sad we didn’t get to stop there. We were in a hurry to get to the park.

Confession time: I was nervous about meeting Marla.

1) Would I recognize her?
2) Was her husband coming? What if the husbands didn’t get along?
3) What if the only thing between us all was stiflingly awkward silence?

It felt like a blind date, except that I was entering into it with a cheat sheet with a person I already knew I liked.

My problem is this: I am ultimately an introvert. I find it hard to talk to people sometimes. And historically my silence has been interpreted as snobbery. Someone told me this once in grade seven and I’ve never quite forgotten it.

That’s why, when I make a new friend, she has to be chatty. It’s ying to my yang.

Marla was (and is!) amazing. And thankfully, chatty. Her daughter is sweetness times ten. She was an amazing hostess (I’m skipping forward here) – kind and generous. She gave us gifts! Gifts! Whereas I arrived with what turned out to be a leaky bottle of red wine. Gah!

So we all hung out at Kew Gardens for awhile and then made our way to the beach. We discovered a shared obsession for symmetrical stones and beach glass. I could have dug around in the sand for the whole day. When I arrived back to Ottawa I put my new little collection in a glass of water and displayed it on the windowsill in the kitchen.

After the beach we met up at her house.

Marla’s place is just as cool as you probably think it is. And she lives incredibly close to a ValVill. AND, the photos of her garden don’t do it justice.

Here are a few peeks from her place:

Marla's: five little bison

Marla's: I covet this egg cup

Marla's: where even the drinking glasses are cool

Marla's: You know who

We chatted breezily, and my family and I stayed on longer than I had intended. And then it was time to go. Boo hoo!

end of the day

Day three

Destination: Toronto Zoo. It was the number one thing the girls wanted to see while we were here.

They loved it. This, despite the fact that a number of major animals were not available for viewing. The elephants, for example, had completely disappeared. They weren’t inside, nor were they outside. Where does one stash an elephant anyway?

We tromped around each of the big areas (minus the Canadian Pavilion – why is it so far?). The crowds drove me bananas. In fact, our trip to the zoo awoke in me a powerful dislike of crowds, overcrowded facilities and screeching babies.

We pumped the girls with water at every opportunity because it was so hot. As a result, they had to pay a visit to every W.C along the way. One of the bathrooms we went to was tragically (almost comically) filled to capacity with camp councilors and their preschool charges. It seems they had decided to use it as a change room. I prayed to anyone who would listen: PLEASE GIVE ME THE STRENGTH I NEED TO GET THROUGH THE NEXT FIVE-TO-TEN MINUTES. The heat, the din, the thoughts of cesspools of bathroom bacteria were making me lose my cool one crumb at a time, like sand draining out of an egg timer.

Someone heard me. I made it out alive and no one got chewed out in the process.

We were all utterly exhausted by the end, but somehow the girls had enough energy in their reserves for Splash Island: the wonderful new waterpark that’s now a major feature of the zoo. This alone was worth the trip. I was happy to sit and watch while Mark brought them around to various points of watery amusement.

Splash Island at the Toronto Zoo

For dinner, Mark had the idea of taking us all out to the Rainforest Cafe you know, in keeping with the theme of the day. The food was nothing to write home about. Sarah, for example, had one of the kid’s meals. It was a chicken nuggets kind of thing. It came with potato chips on the side and nothing else. It grossed me out. How hard would it be to throw a carrot stick or two onto the plate? Emma’s meal was pretty much the same: penne with tomato sauce and potato chips on the side. Chips? With pasta? It doesn’t even go with it. Why not a small salad and a slice of bread? Yuck.

Despite (what I consider) the poor quality of the children’s menu, the girls loved it. Every 15 minutes there’s a fake thunderstorm complete with rumbling, flashing lights, and animatronic elephants and gorillas.

On the way out we got stuck in traffic, and I barely made it to my point-of-rendezvous with Jen and Marla. (Mark took the girls swimming in the hotel pool. Emma got to ride the corkscrew slide – the whole reason we booked the Delta Chelsea.)

Marla picked Jen and I up for a gabfest at Scarbie’s house(!). I apologized for smelling like a rhinocerous. We drank wine and ate Indian food. I also got to meet Kate. I had a great time. I laughed all night. And it was so cool to meet the babes behind the blogs.

Last day

We got our checkout extended by a few hours. (It doesn’t hurt to ask!) We had planned to do Harbourfront and Centre Island but we’d run out of steam. I couldn’t face a long drive after pounding the pavement for another half-day. Instead we walked down Yonge to do some shopping. I was hoping to snag some cool shoes (perhaps I’ll wait for a trip to Montreal to do that) but I did find a really great t-shirt (pic to come!) and the girls each picked out a t-shirts from Roots. Roots, in fact, it was the one store Emma wanted to visit. The big irony is that there are Roots stores here in Ottawa, including an outlet. Oh well.

Mark visited the Apple store in the Eaton’s Centre. I wanted to visit Sephora in order to replace my lost tube of Duwop honey lip venom that I adored so much and haven’t seen in the last 5 months. But that didn’t happen.

Before we knew it we were home again. It felt good to sleep in our own bed. Although I do miss the comfy pillows at the Delta Chelsea.

p.s. see the whole flickr set here.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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