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turism&travel : Six reasons to leave town for Toronto

Monday 11 January 2010

It is really hard to believe it, since I can barely make it from the Eastside to the Westside of Manhattan in less than 60 minutes. My destination: Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

There are so many good things to say about this major Canadian city, that I have organized the highlights into the 6 most important considerations for the international traveler.

1. Transportation a. Air Canada Air Canada has amazingly roomy economy seats and I almost wished the flight was longer: I was reading a good book, the cabin air/climate was comfortable, the beverage service was efficient, the toilets were clean and the cabin crew was pleasant. Over 32 million customers have direct passenger service to over 170 destinations on five continents via Air Canada. When you have a choice, select this airline that started the Star Alliance.

b. Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) Airport administrators from New York (JFK/LGA) should visit the Toronto airport. I was astounded that an international portal could be this efficient: modern design makes the space light and airy; clear signage correctly directs passengers from planes to immigration to luggage pick-up to ground transportation and a curbside limo kiosk is streamlined. Only 17 miles northwest from downtown Toronto, YYZ comfortably welcomes 31 million passengers a year.

c. Toronto Public Transit (TTC) Day passes $9.00; weekly passes $36.00. Tickets are good for unlimited travel on busses, trolleys and subways. Frequent availability makes this system an excellent and low-cost way to see attractions. While transit drivers are not particularly warm and fuzzy, fellow passengers are eager to help. Visitors can definitely feel comfortable about asking directions.

d. Taxi's Taxis are readily available throughout the city. Hail them along the streets or call them from your cell. Response time is very swift. Be aware – prices are close to NY (meaning expensive).

2. Accommodations (Small, unique, and affable) a. Drake Hotel (Built 1890; Renovated 2001; Reopened 2004) When guests call this property a “hotbed” hotel (see below) – they do it with affection for the Drake is noted for its Love Package, in addition to fine dining, private space for corporate and personal celebrations, late night entertainment, a must-stop for coffee and “right from the kitchen” scones plus an extraordinary contemporary art collection. Lap top computer scan be borrowed for in-room free Wi-Fi Internet access. The owner is admired for pushing the urban renewal envelope and supportive of contemporary (and local) art, music and culture.

•Sex in This City: Of special interest The Drake Hotel Pleasure Menu includes a sensual toy, an intimacy kit: lubricant, condoms, a plume of brightly colored feathers and a silver, waterproof vibrator. Just in case you were wondering – the batteries are included. Bargain priced: $39.00

Big spenders ($112) select the Joy Ride package which includes some of the above plus an erotic DVD (rental), a Durex Ring (with instructions), a velvet vibrator, and an angel hair flog (actually Lurex strands).

Guests with more money than time will opt for the $400 Lap of Luxury plan that adds a black silk scarf to use as a blind fold or for bondage, a little 24K-gold waterproof and silent vibrator (includes a 16 hours on one AA battery).

b. Gladstone Hotel (Built 1889; Rescued 2002; Reopened 2005) Thirty – seven guest rooms designed by local Toronto artists/designers. Like the Drake, this contemporary boutique property has a history that dates back to the 19th century. Part of its charm is a simultaneous look backward /forward. The Melody Bar is a venue for karaoke addicts and a Mecca for local artists.

•Toronto Celebrities The Gladstone is currently owned by Christina Zeidler a film and video artist with over twenty film and video titles to her credit. Ms. Zeidler is the daughter of Eberhard Zeidler one of Canada's most famous architects who designed the Eaton Centre and Ontario Place.

3. Location, Location, Location a. West Queen West Art and Design District •The area is noted for charming boutiques (owner designed and operated), cute/tiny dining opportunities, art galleries (living artists), and considered to be on the forefront of real estate development for the under 35-set looking for terrific living space at affordable prices.

b. Delicious Dining: Distinctive Designs •Red Tea Box. Tea shop groupies have to make at least one visit. A fine place to meet old friends and chat the afternoon away. The tea list includes a cup of Assam Black tea ($4.75) alongside a pot of White Jasmine ($11). Hungry teetotalers select a Tea Bento box ($25 - $28) and greedily devour a pot of tea, along with sandwiches, tarts, cakes and other goodies. •Comrags. Joyce Gunhouse and Judy Cornish bring contemporary / tasteful fashion to the fast-tracked woman executive. Affordably priced the designer quality and unique blend of color and fabrics will add a fashion touch to the board room and the court room. •GreenShag. If only all the men on the planet had the suits, shirts, underwear, and cuff links designed at the Shag the world would be a much prettier place. The designers lovingly insert wit and confidence into their garments making even the geekiest guys look like a million. • When it comes to jewelry, everyone wants to be unique. From personally designed wedding rings, to diamond pendants that record anniversaries and graduations, this “experimental “ jeweler cares as much as you do about the occasion. •Narwhal Art Projects. Do not think of leaving Toronto without an original work from a local artist. The place to find works by Waito, Cochrane, Douer, Horan and Feyld is here. Since 2004 the gallery has focused on young Canadian artists and introduces their newest ideas into a community setting. •PhoPa. Alexia Lewis opened this shop to highlight Canadian designers. Shoppers looking for a one-of-a-kind bit of jewelry or an entire outfit should review the selection before making a buying decision.

4. Gourmet dining (even at a Deli) •Wine Bar Chefs and Owners Scott Vivian and Rachelle Caldwell set a very high bar for Toronto dining. On the two occasions I visited the restaurant I was privileged to be seated at the bar, directly behind the Chefs, getting a perfect view of Scott's cooking style and the perfection that Rachelle places on every dish. Every food option is expertly paired with the perfect wines – creating joyful foodie memories. For example, a beet, hazelnut salad with Ontario Chevre is served with a 2007 Norman Hardie Prince Edward wine while a Mini Burger is paired with a 2000 Terralsole Sangiovese. For a sublime dessert, the Deep Fried Apple Pie, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce is paired with a 2007 Calamus Icewine.

Leadership Position This city is a haven for food and wine groupies, and there are many opportunities to sample domestic and international wines paired with local signature dishes; however, the Wine Bar is definitely at the forefront of excellence.

•Caplansky's Delicatessen If I had a 20 year-old single daughter I would Fed Ex her to Caplansky with an order to immediately propose to Zane Caplansky (Chef/Owner/Raconteur). Not only does he perform alchemy with his Montreal – style cured meats and other magical kitchen tricks, he is cute, charming, (a little pudgy), intelligent, and just the kind of son-in-law I deserve. Only a few months into having his “own” 68-seat restaurant (he had been borrowing space at a near-by bar), his smoked meats, lox and eggs, chunky chopped liver, cherry pies, and other fattening, cholesterol-laden, heart-destroying goodies grace a menu that I have memorized.

Focus Group This dining spot is becoming the favored hangout for after-the-party, before-the-theatre, holding-the-meeting, and finalizing-the-deal. Don't leave town without dining with Zane in Little Italy.

•360 The Restaurant @ CN Tower Soaring high and revolving ever so slowly above the city of Toronto, this government – owned dining destination has been pleasing corporate executives, high ranking government VIPs, celebrities and travelers since 1997. Getting into the restaurant means passing through a series of security blocks, and a high-speed elevator ride that goes straight up 1151 feet in nano seconds.

High on Wine Boasting the highest wine cellar in the world (with a 9000 bottle storage capacity) as well as a noted Executive Chef (Peter George) and exceedingly professional service (led by Neil C. Jones, Director of Operations) the menu features price fixed selections (choices of appetizer, entrees, and deserts). Finicky diners will be delighted with spoonfuls of Forest Mushroom and Parsnip Soup accompanied with candied chestnuts and thyme crème fraiche and the Apple Wood Smoked Atlantic Salmon with caper berries.

•Dhaba Indian Restaurant Do not miss creating a memorable moment by enjoying a fine Indian dining experience. If you made a reservation and ordered from the menu you would be a happy camper; however – the best thing to do is to call in advance and chat with Chef/Owner PK Singh.

Dialogue with the Chef Through a series of probing questions Chef Singh unearths food desires you did not even know you had. After a 10-minute conversation with the Chef you can be assured that when you (and your significant others) arrive at the restaurant you will reach nirvana, Indian-style. Chef Singh is a food artist and his beautifully crafted cuisine will be one of your Toronto highlights.

5. In-between Eating and Sleeping: Things to See/Do •Bonny Stern: Cooking Classes (Started 1973) Travelers inspired to take their sophisticated palates to the next step…creating gourmet level food at home, will have to register for the Bonny Stern classes. Publicized as Toronto's Martha Stewart, Ms. Stern is actually an attractive, low-key food genius, book author and TV personality who likes to share her enthusiasm and respect for the art and science of fine cuisine. Classes use a demonstration format and the 2010 schedule includes A Passion for Chocolate, a Middle Eastern take on Friday night dinners, and a Pastry Workshop (with partial participation). Noteworthy website: For excellent recipes and dining recommendations beyond Toronto, visit Stern's Internet site on a regular basis.

•Bata Shoe Museum Visitors do not have to have a closetful of Manolo Blahnik's or a foot fetish to find this museum among the best on the planet. The current exhibit On a Pedestal: from Renaissance Chopines to Baroque Heels starts with the platform chopines and widens the experience through the contemporary high heels. Visitors who think seriously about the shoes they wear for winter-marathons, mountain biking, and ice skating will be fascinated with the “Cutting-Edge Winter Sports Footwear” on view until Mid-March, 2010.

•Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art The Museum opened in 1984 thanks to the financial support of George and Helen Gardiner whose personal interests in ceramics started in 1976. Noted at Canada's only museum devoted to ceramics, the collection exceeds 3000 historical and contemporary pieces that span time, cultures, and styles. Contemporary Canadian artists are currently on view .

•Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) If the thought of yet another museum walk makes your eyelids heavy, trust me – you will not have this problem when you visit the world's largest collection of Canadian art at the AGO. The Ken Thomson collection includes 19th and 20th century Canadian paintings with the Group of Seven, Tom Thomson, Cornelius Krieghoff and David Milne represented.

•St. Lawrence Market & Carousel Bakery (Farmers Market since 1803) Foodies flock to the Market for a gourmand (and gourmet) selection of meats, seafood/fish, fresh vegetables/fruits, baked goods, teas, coffees, salts, mustards and other premium ingredients required to make memorable mealtimes. Travelers staying at hotels (without kitchens) will be frustrated by not being able to purchase the goodies gloriously displayed and favorably priced.

Take Me Home Thankfully take-out options are readily available from early morning to late afternoon. Do not leave the market without sampling Pea Meal bacon-on-a-bun (Carousel Bakery), veal or eggplant sandwiches topped with onions, tomato sauce, lettuce, peppers (Mustachio's), and Ukrainian-focused perogies, cabbage rolls, latkes and lasagna (European Delight).

6. Newest Best Friends •Bruce Bell Tours Skip the group tours, and visit Toronto with Bruce – who instantly becomes your newest best friend. Toronto is a walking city, and with a map and guidebook visitors can cover the town and be happy campers. However, what a casual tourist will not be able to do is to get “behind the scenes”…and this is where Bruce steps in.

Do you want to personally chat with the vendors at the St. Lawrence Market, see the back-stage of the Royal York Hotel, and have a running commentary on the history, current gossip, and future plans for everything (and everyone) of interest in this town? You get special treatment and a fun guide when you work with Bell who will take you along to “his” Toronto. It is really better/best to do it with Bruce then to go it alone.

•Betty Ann Jordan You could spend hours researching Toronto's “underground” contemporary art / gallery/design/boutique/music scene and invest more time attempting to meet with the artists and designers in order to see their most recent work and even make a purchase or two – or you can spend an afternoon with Betty Ann and, in a corporate sense of being both efficient and effective, see the “best” that Toronto's art/culture/shopping scene has to offer. Working with hoteliers, tourism professionals, and the movers/shakers that bring contemporary artists from the background to the foreground, spend a few hours with Betty Ann for both a pleasant and a wise investment.

Heads-Up •What to Wear Toronto is a very casual city. Leave the sequins/feathers for another time/place. Most prominent winter wear includes all-weather coats/jackets, flat boots, wool scarves and hats with earflaps.

•Safety/Security A relatively safe city (as compared to high crime cities like New Orleans, LA; Detroit, MI and Washington, DC), visitors should be aware of an aggressive homeless population. The friendliness and low-key ambiance of the city may create a pleasant bubble through which to meander along the city streets and shops; keeping a “heads-up” vigilance will assure that you have a lovely and happy weekend.

On the Web: Anne Sportun. Art Gallery of Ontario. Betty Ann Jordan, Art Insite Tours. Bonny Stern School of Cooking. Bruce Bell Tours. Caplansky's Delicatessen. Comrags. Drake Hotel. Gladstone Hotel. GreenShag. Pho Pa. St. Lawrence Market & Carousel Bakery., 360 Restaurant @CN Tower. Wine Bar. Diamond Taxi Company. 416 366 5111 Red Tea Box. 416 203 8882 Rosedale Limousine. 800 268 4967

Autor: eTurboNews