Destination: Toronto, Ontario

In just under three hours we drove from Grand Bend to Toronto and I have to say Google maps was spot on with the timing. We had chosen to drive back on the Civic holiday and almost everyone who we spoke with from Toronto said we were in for a long journey back; at least 4-5 hours so I guess we were lucky.

We were meeting a longtime friend in Toronto and her boys for a week in the controversially named neighbourhood of “The beaches” or “The Beach” east side of the city where she grew up and still resides. It was mid-afternoon and she greeted us in her usual style over a cool, crisp glass of white wine. I believe it was a gewürztraminer  and the first time I tasted a gewurz was four years ago with her in the Niagara on the lake area vineyards.

I finally introduced my son to her sons and it was a wonderful feeling to see them unite. The boys were still on holidays so it worked out perfectly. We enjoyed some beach fun,  another beautiful freshwater lake beach. Pictured is a lifeguard from Woodbine Beach on Lake Ontario.

My friend’s local cafe ‘Lazy Daisy’s’ www.lazydaisyscafe.ca located at 1515 Gerrard Street, Toronto, Ontario, became our local favourite over the course of the week. Each morning we ordered a delicious coffee which is a challenge to find anywhere in Canada, but they do exist! This homely place which has been described in reviews as ‘farmhouse chic’ reminiscent of her childhood days on her family’s farm. The menu provides a large selection of healthy options using fresh local produce and sweet treats that tasted more wholesome than naughty too.  We loved the blueberry cornmeal muffin, cooked beautifully and the right size for the three of us to share a couple of bites with our coffee. We must have worked our way through a good proportion of the sandwich menu with favourites like the Coronation Chicken, Veggie Patch wrap and Farmer’s Club with mouth-watering Egli’s smoked bacon and garlic aioli which would please most I suspect.

The owner has catered to kids with books, a train table, comfy seats and colouring in sheets with a wall of fame for the youngsters (if they are worthy) to put their finished art up on.

As my world revolves around delicious food much of the time, a trip to St Lawrence food markets –www.stlawrencemarket.com was in order. It is somewhat an escape from the hustle and bustle of downtown Toronto with like-minded people gazing at the endless treasure trove…a foodie’s heaven.

The number of food markets I have visited on my travels has really clocked up over the years. I would have to say that this one was serendipitous.

There were so many specialty ingredients and produce items you could source in the realms of this grand building. The selection of smoked meats, cheeses from around the world, seafood, wines, produce, ice-wines, truffled products, rainbow coloured pasta, tomahawk steaks from Alberta, baked goods galore was mind-blowing. It hardly does it justice, but I guarantee it is a must do, must see for yourself experience! After wearing ourselves out in the market, my friend took us to a restaurant she knew well from trips with her parents as a child. An institution which has been running for over a quarter of a century; Paddington’s Pump – St Lawrence Market, 93 Front Street E, Toronto sure packs a punch with its ‘Oink on a Kaiser’. It is the most bacon I have ever seen on a bun!

Ok, so moving on…I must note that the days have passed where I used to spend hours shopping in gorgeous boutiques and finishing with a good wine while taking great pleasure in my purchases. I am lucky these days if I can enjoy one or two stores at a time with a little boy in tow, but a girl can fantasize right?

A streetcar ride up Queen Street and I had to ask my girlfriend what area we were in at some point; she said ‘Queen West’, only one of Toronto’s coolest neighbourhoods and shopping districts. I so wanted to jump off right there and then and while away the hours with all my favourite things; fashion, art-design, patisserie and wine.

Before I could think about it a moment longer we were somewhere else, however this is moving to the top of my list next time I visit Toronto.

An area we spent time in together was a good compromise as I was able to step into some unique stores where there was something for everyone in Roncesvalles Village which is an area located east of High Park and north of Lake Ontario. Toronto is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and this part of the city is better known as the Polish community’s centre. We were funnily enough heading to lunch at Cafe Polonez – 195 Roncesvalles Ave, Toronto.

Superb! Between us, we ordered:-

Traditional Beetroot soup with dumplings (Barszcz czerwony z uszkami), which is Borscht consommé with a choice of mushroom or meat dumplings.

Pierogies (rozne nadzienia), homemade boiled dumplings served with side of sour cream and fried onions & pork; we chose the sauerkraut and mushroom, minced pork, cheddar and potato ones.

Polish Schnitzel (kotlet schabowy), plain cutlet served with potatoes and a bouquet of salads.

If I had the stomach the size of four people, I would’ve also ordered the cabbage rolls (golabki), polish sausage (kielbasa z frykami) and Goulash (gulasz wieprzowy) too!

How does the Polish proverb go? “A good appetite needs no sauce”.

My friend and her boys are so fortunate they have a wide selection of top quality Polish food on their doorstep and this is the advantage of living in a city steeped with multiple cultures and heritage.

We girls had to have a night out together to catch up. My friend booked tickets to see The Temper Trap in concert who were touring in Toronto coincidentally when we were there. They are an Australian band and had global success after releasing ‘Sweet Disposition’ which played at my wedding so it’s pretty special. The concert venue was the ‘Kool Haus’ in the Guvernment Entertainment Complex – 132 Queens Quay East, Toronto. It was a really cool space and relaxed enough for us to enjoy our vodkas and catch up over some music from home.

Dinner beforehand was a few minutes away from the venue at Against the Grain Urban Tavern – 25 Dockside Drive. When I spotted the Hendrick’s Gin that put a smile on my face and we tried the barman’s cocktail with a rosemary infused sugar syrup in it which took it to a new level for me! We ordered the fish ceviche soft tacos which were amazingly good. We were seated right on the harbour front which gave me a taste for more seafood so we both chose the Urban lobster roll with a cold glass of Niagara riesling.

I am not sure if I am saving the best till last, because the entire week was special seeing my girlfriend and her boys. However, when we were offered a date night; that is my husband and I, we jumped at the chance and booked a restaurant she recommended from a choice of a few. Given I am reading the 100 Mile Diet at present, I wanted to dine at a restaurant that focuses on locally sourced produce and more importantly we were enthusiastic to try Caribou, Elk or something that may be a rarer find on the West Coast. We dined at Globe Bistro – www.globebistro.com 124 Danforth Avenue, Toronto. To our delight, we were fortunate to enjoy the taste of Elk (a first for us) along with a duck dish, a selection of freshly shucked Malpeque (Prince Edward Island) oysters and a host of freshly picked ingredients from Ontario’s best farms on each plate. The restaurant had soft lighting with elegant chic furnishings as well as a friendly and discreet waiter who seemed to only appear with a smile whenever we needed anything leaving us to immerse ourselves in the ambient vibe.

I know my pattern of storytelling often skews towards food, but all in all the week was about seeing a very dear friend and her family at home in Toronto, meeting friends and family members.  It was a memorable time and I will miss them…until next trip of course!

“Flatiron Building” – Historic landmark of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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Destination: Guelph and Grand Bend, Ontario

I am not sure where to start. This has been the longest period between writing about our adventures and I have wanted to log in for over a week now to record it.

So I will go back to the beginning of our vacation which took off in early August flying to Toronto, Ontario. Immediately we arranged our hire car pick up and drove to Guelph, a university city in Southwestern Ontario, Canada.  It was just under an hour’s drive from Toronto Pearson International Airport. Although it was a brief stay overnight to break up our journey to Grand Bend which is approximately three hours away, we found it to be a charming town. There are many heritage buildings and distinctive limestone architecture is evident all over particularly in the downtown area of the city.

Guelph is steeped in history. With a nickname of ‘The Royal City’, according to Wikipedia; [the name Guelph comes from the Italian Guelfo and the Bavarian-Germanic Welf. It is a reference to King George IV, monarch at the time of its founding (who family was a family from the House of Hanover, a younger branch of the House of Welf) and a tongue in cheek reference to the then ascendant population in neighbouring Berlin (Kitchener). (Guelphs being the name given the northern Italian factions who opposed the reign of the Holy Roman Empire].

Guelph is the home to one of Canada’s largest breweries; Sleeman Breweries Ltd. Its headquarters were founded here in 1834. This fact is particularly important as my husband is working his way around the country trying and buying the best of what’s on offer in that department.

We booked into a bed & breakfast called the Norfolk Guest House located at 102 Eramosa Road, Guelph. It is a little pricey at the upmarket end of where B&B’s sit, however we wanted to assure maximum rest and comfort after a long flight and drive. With a glorious plush bed, double Jacuzzi tub and elegant furnishings in a large grand room we were aptly satisfied. On arrival we were greeted to a generous charcuterie and cheese plate with a bottle of red (which was pre-ordered) and we were happy. As a final unwind before hopping into bed, we enjoyed a luxury bath overflowing with bubbles, jets and soft hues of colour from lights under water. Our son found this thoroughly entertaining!

Breakfast was served in an ornate room with high ceilings and decorative fixtures. We were happy with our orders of eggs, french toast and fruit which was lovely. The only disappointment for us was the lack of warmth and hospitality from the host. My preference for bed & breakfast establishments over large chain hotels is always first and foremost for the personal service you expect. The extra touch of a friendly more intimate stay where you are introduced on a first name basis, learn more about where you are staying and the history of the location ensures a pleasant experience overall. Sadly, this was not the case but oddly enough I couldn’t flaw anything else.

Before leaving the town, we visited the Guelph Farmers’ Market located at 2 Gordon Street (corner of Gordon Street and Waterloo Avenue).  The markets are on Saturdays 7:00am to 12:00 noon (Year Round) and Wednesdays 3:00pm to 7:00pm (June 20th to October 31st only).

At 9am it was a hive of activity with locals out in full force and with over fifty vendors, these markets were plentiful; no fear in produce being scarce two hours after opening! Summer fruits were a delight, especially the peaches, watermelon and blueberries. There was a huge variety of vegetables, dairy, meat and specialty foods – we were in heaven.

By 11am it was an extremely hot 31 degrees celsius, so unfortunately we could not indulge in perishables for our long trip and there it was, we departed salivating like Pavlov’s dog.

Guelph appears to have a full calendar of events taking place and we arrived on 4 August which surprisingly was Guelph’s Annual John Galt Day (in celebration of the founder of Guelph). This was held at the City Hall & John Galt Park. While we were enjoying the sounds of the music and entertainment kicking off, we wandered over to the Cornerstone Restaurant/Cafe at 1 Wyndham Street North, Guelph.

Although we stopped in for coffee only, it has a laid back pub-like feel and serves vegetarian food. Breakfast sounded good with options like cornmeal waffles with blueberry compote and I’ve heard the African Bean Stew and the Corner Club sandwich are a reasonably good pick for lunch too. Our coffee was just how I like it, hot and not too strong.  It did the job and picked me up for a good part of the journey to Grand Bend.

We were meeting friends and their family at Grand Bend and staying with them in a cottage. Grand Bend is located on Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes in North America. Lake Huron has a surface area of 23,000 square miles making it the third largest fresh-water lake on Earth.

A Torontonian friend who now resides in Vancouver told us before we left that it was a ‘party town’. I laughed as I thought it couldn’t possibly be when I knew we were visiting friends with their children and families staying in a quaint holiday cottage to have some peaceful beach time. On arrival it did appear that way; quiet, relaxed and beach around the corner which was by no means packed on any occasions we were there. However, I understood what he meant when we took a drive on our way out one afternoon on Main Street and witnessed for myself that this lazy beach town which is populated with a few thousand inhabitants most of the year round, actually increases to approximately 100,000 in the summertime. Whoa was it busy!

We enjoyed a dinner out at the Growlin Gator Bar & Grill – 86 Main Street, Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. With a pumping vibe so close to the main beach, we were lucky to get a good table in the courtyard. With an extensive cocktail and martini list and kid’s menu, which I thought was a good combination – everybody was happy.

Service was friendly, food came quickly and although taste wise it was average, kid’s were happy and that is the most important aspect of going out with multiple families!

The beach was the closest reminder of home with soft white/yellow fine sand, and had familiar bushy green foliage surrounding it and similar outlook to the bay where I would  spend my summer holidays growing up on the south coast of NSW. The water was even warmer than any water we’d experienced in Vancouver.

I had to keep reminding myself that it was a lake not an ocean so each time I would enter, it was a little odd to taste fresh, clear water as opposed to saltwater which I expected.

As a final stop, we visited the Grand Bend Pinery Antique Flea market – 10163 Lakeshore Road, Grand Bend. It is open May through November and was full to the brim with stalls of food, poutine, bric-a-brac, new homewares, toys, antiques and more. Entertainment was very impressive too in the beer garden area. You need to allow at least a couple of hours as these markets are huge.

We had a restful beach holiday with relaxed fun company as you would expect. To finish I think the pictures speak for themselves and although it’s clearly not a hidden secret, I recommend this place to anyone visiting the glorious Lake Huron and seeking out a beach holiday in the Ontario province.

Interlude…

What’s on right now? I’m on holidays spending time in a cottage in Lake Bend, Ontario, friends in Toronto and a cabin in the mountains of BC.

Where I’m sitting…in the quiet of the forest in a cabin by a lake.

What I’m eating…french toast with natural smoked bacon, berries and maple syrup.

What I’m thinking…

I am thankful for the good things in my life right now and love my family very much.

I am sending courage and strength to one particular person today.

Canadians are generally very warm, gracious and friendly people.

I am appreciative of any comments and thoughts people have offered on my posts.

I wish I had more time to do more of things I love.

That sunsets can be spectacular all over the world.

What’s inspires me right now…the simple life in the mountains, the tranquility, beauty and peace.

What I’m reading at the moment…The 100-mile diet, a year of local eating by Alisa Smith & J.B. MacKinnon.

What I enjoyed yesterday…inviting close friends up to the cabin and cooking a local feast of wild salmon, organic chicken, quinoa salad, zucchini and lemon soup and baked potatoes for us all.