Posts Tagged 'Canada'

Top 10 things to see and do in and around Toronto (The Travel Magazine)

Toronto Skyline

“Diversity our strength” is Toronto’s motto and it’s evident throughout the city: from the statue outside Union Station that celebrates migration, to the internationally inspired cuisine and the more than 100 languages that echo around the streets. Toronto is one of the most multicultural metropolises in the world, which means it has something for everyone – the only problem is fitting it all in. My advice for where to start: go straight to the top…

1. CN Tower: Toronto’s most iconic skyscraper isn’t just something to see, it’s something to experience. Once the world’s tallest freestanding structure, the CN Tower is a modern engineering marvel that stands at 553m. With a glass elevator to take you to the transparent viewing platforms, a 360-degree rotating restaurant and the world’s highest full-circle, hands-free edge walk, you could spend a day here. Set lunches at 360 start from $55 – it’s not cheap, but the price includes complimentary access to the Look Out and Glass Floors (normally $32), which makes the unique dining experience more affordable. Edge Walk gives thrill seekers the chance to test their limits and see why the CN Tower shouldn’t be seen from below, looking up, but why Toronto should be seen from above, looking down.

2. Catch a game: Toronto’s sports teams may have had their fair share of disappointment in recent years, but what they lack for in their trophy cabinets their fans make up for in spirit. Depending on the season, take your pick from baseball, basketball or hockey, and try and match the locals as they cheer on the Blue Jays, Raptors or Maple Leafs. The entertainment’s non-stop, with cheerleading, fan competitions and the occasional half-time ballroom dancing show. If you don’t get to see the Maple Leafs take home the Stanley Cup, then head to the Hockey Hall of Fame where you can touch the coveted trophy.

3. Eat your way around the world: St Lawrence MarketWith its emphasis on diversity and heritage, it’s no surprise Toronto’s local cuisine is a mosaic of global flavours that satisfy every palette. Be sure to leave room for a peameal bacon sandwich and butter tart at Lawrence Market. Described as one of the world’s great markets, the culinary landmark was originally built in 1803 and features two floors of speciality food vendors offering a festival of sights and smells. Tip: grab your food to go and have a picnic a few blocks down beside Lake Ontario.

4. Walking/Cycling Tours: Torontonians have known their city is something special for a while, but the rest of us are only just catching on. Explore the hidden backstreets and learn about the city’s history and architecture with a local guide. In addition to free walking tours, Tour Guys offer craft beer, bacon, graffiti and ghost tours, while Toronto Bicycle Tours allows you to cover more ground (and burn off all those butter tarts) as you escape downtown and cycle through the city’s parks and surrounding neighbourhoods.

5. Streetcar: Take a 501 streetcar eastbound on Queen St. and travel through an array of neighbourhoods. The scenic loop is one of the busiest and longest in Toronto’s tram system, passing through the heart of the city and heading out towards the waterfront. If you catch it right (i.e. avoid rush hour) time seems to slow down and you get a charming glimpse of the city’s diversity. Jump off by the Humber Loop and stroll down to the water to see Toronto from a distance. It’s a tranquil walk back along the bridge over the Humber River towards the city and offers a change from the standard issue skyline shots. If you’re not feeling that energetic then hop back on the 501 westbound and get off when you arrive downtown.

6. Niagara Falls: Want to see what more than a million bathtubs of cascading water look like? Brave the crowds and drive 90 minutes out of Toronto to witness the sheer volume and magic of Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls from a helicopterThe natural beauty spans both the U.S.A and Canada, with the mighty Horseshoe Falls located on the Canadian side. It’s free to visit, but if you want to spend cash on additional experiences there’s no shortage of options. ‘Journey Behind the Falls’ takes you down tunnels and behind the Falls, and ‘Niagara’s Fury’ is a fun 4D simulation providing a brief history of the area. If you still want more, join a cruise along the water or splurge on an unforgettable helicopter ride at Niagara Helicopters. There’s no wrong time to go as the Falls are transformed in different seasons (there’s more water in the summer, but also more tourists).

7. Niagara-on-the-lake: It may be less than half an hour from Niagara Falls, but you’ll feel a million miles away in this charming historic town at the heart of Canada’s wine-growing region. Once the capital of Upper Canada, Niagara-on-the-lake was the scene of several important battles and the town’s 19th century architecture has been preserved as a National Historic Site. Nowadays the region enjoys a more relaxed pace of life – no doubt helped by its numerous wineries. Fort George, the Niagara Apothecary and the town’s many historic firsts (Canada’s first library, newspaper and golf course) are worth a visit before dinner at a local vineyard. Exhausted from all the sightseeing? Take a horse-drawn carriage through Old Town or a boat ride up Niagara River to experience the region’s serenity. Tip: don’t leave without a bottle of Peller Estates Winery’s award-winning ice wine – the perfect souvenir.

8. Wacky Museums: It’s not just the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and Fort York that are worth a stop, Toronto has a number of quirky informative attractions that also deserve your attention. Leave the traditional postcard for another day and send your loved ones a quill-written letter at Toronto’s First Post Office, which dates back to 1835. Bata Shoe Museum is great for anyone interested in fashion, celebrities and the history of high heels, while budding Sherlock fans can get up close and personal to the man behind the name at The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection.

9. See a Show: Toronto boasts the third largest theatre scene in the world, with an abundance of traditional and contemporary work, and the legendary comedy institution Second City, Toronto’s Entertainment District deserves a visit. If Tony Award-winning shows aren’t your style, Toronto’s also home to Canada’s National Ballet School, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and one of the largest opera companies in North America. Tip: make a night of it and sample Nota Bene’s pre-theatre menu before heading to a show.

10. Island hopping: Just a short ferry ride away from the mainland lies a chain of 15 small, car-free islands that are home to around 650 people. You’ll have your choice of beaches (clothing is optional on certain ones) and can rent kayaks, arrange harbour tours or visit an old-fashioned amusement park. Ferries take you between the islands and allow bikes on board during most of the year. Tip: for a romantic evening, cycle around Ward Island at dusk to see the city illuminated from a distance.


Travel Guide: 48 hours in Montreal, Canada (The Travel Magazine)

Montreal from Mont Royal
Montreal: Skyline from Mont Royal (c) wikimedia/Taxiarchos228

Montreal is a unique blend of Europe and North America. Its heady mix of British and French culture has given rise to a bilingual metropolis in Eastern Canada that boasts colonial history, architectural beauty, an abundance of green spaces and a vibrant food scene.

The island of Montreal was originally inhabited by the indigenous Iroquois people before being colonised by the French in the 1600s. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and Montreal became occupied by the British who allowed the French to continue living there, which helped shape the city’s inimitable identity as a slice of one continent, on the edge of another.

Must See The View

Montreal is a city best explored on foot, so pack your trainers and take in the skyline atop Mont Royal. Lovingly referred to by locals as their “mountain”, Mont Royal is a short hike that offers serenity in the midst of the bustle of downtown. Standing at 234m tall, it’s the highest point in the city and boasts impressive views of skyscrapers, the St. Lawrence River and the pilgrimage site of St. Joseph’s Oratory. At the top of the mountain sits a 200 hectare park, designed by the same man who created New York’s Central Park, and a lake, which is home to ice-skaters in the winter and surrounded by sunbathers in the summer. There’s no wrong turn once you get to the top, so take your time walking, cycling, rollerblading or, depending on the season, skiing around this tranquil spot.

Must Eat

While Canada is not exactly famed for its cuisine, Montrealers are passionate about poutine. Quebec’s trademark dish is simple: chips, gravy and cheese curd. One of the best poutine places in town is La Banquise, which is open 24 hours a day and offers close to 30 different varieties of the comfort food.

Poutine La Banquise
Poutine La Banquise (c) wikimedia/Sjschen

A Schwartz’s smoked meat sandwich is another essential that will set you back less than $10, and is well worth the almost year-round queues to get into the 80-year-old restaurant. The oldest deli in Canada, Schwartz’s is a sparsely decorated Hebrew joint that has seen celebrities and visitors from all over the world walk through its doors to taste its world famous smoked meat.

Stock up on all the maple syrup you can carry at trendy Jean-Talon Market in the heart of Little Italy. You can sample the local cheese, fruits, vegetables, meats and pastries that line vendors’ stalls, and choose your lunch at the seafood counter. Finish off your meal with some maple taffy (made right in front of you by pouring hot maple syrup over ice and rolling it up around a stick), which provides for some sweet and sticky entertainment.

Must Watch

Canadiens de Montréal
Canadiens de Montréal (c) wikimedia/Kristina Servant

Ice hockey is not a sport in Canada, it’s a religion. Montreal’s gods are the Canadiens and they are the most decorated team in the NHL. Tickets sell out at lightning speed so if you don’t manage to get seats to see them do battle, try some of the amateur leagues in the city. If it’s not hockey season then console yourself by checking out some of Montreal’s street fairs and music festivals that take place throughout the summer months and attract big name acts.

Must Visit

The Notre-Dame Basilica is striking from the outside, but even more remarkable from the inside. Akin to a kind of decorative, medieval theatre, the neo-gothic church is an intense work of art, filled with three tiers of ornate banisters, religious statues and hundreds of intricate wooden carvings. So impressive is the lavishly decorated basilica that the man who designed it, an Irish-American Protestant architect, allegedly converted to Catholicism just before his death in order to be buried there.

Old Montreal
Old Montreal (c) flickr/christine592

Old Montreal is a timeless labyrinth of cobbled streets that should be observed at first on foot and then from behind the window of a cosy café, with a coffee and a pastry in hand. Olive et Gourmando is a popular hang out that serves delicious baked goods, while Dulces de l’Erable gives everything a maple syrup twist and houses a small maple syrup museum below. Steeped in centuries of history, Old Montreal hosts an array of hidden architectural jewels, such as the city’s first bank and Montreal’s World Trade Centre (the latter has a piece of the Berlin Wall on the site where Montreal’s very own city walls once stood). Complete your stroll through Old Montreal by wandering along Old Port for a different view of the city and the river that surrounds it.

Must Enjoy Café Culture

Coffee connoisseurs should head straight to Pikolo Espresso Bar for a caffeine kick. Montreal’s coffee scene has been gathering momentum over the past few years and Pikolo’s hipster baristas are intent on taking it to the next level. Le Plateau-Mont-Royal is another trendy place to stop and grab a cappuccino, whilst admiring the bohemian neighbourhood’s creative street art.

Must Shop

A regular on the world’s Top 50 Fashion Capitals index, Montreal has got every style covered. Funky boutiques and antique stores line the historic region, while high street names are represented in abundance on St. Catherine’s. When temperatures plummet, shopaholics head indoors and underground to peruse the vast network of 1,700 shops within the city’s metro system. Don’t leave Montreal without taking home a bottle of the region’s famed ice cider.

Must Stay

Le Pomerol is a great-value, homely hotel situated in downtown Montreal, just around the corner from the main bus terminal. Idyllic breakfast picnic hampers are left outside your door each morning and light snacks are served in the afternoon.

Located within the Golden Mile, Le Meridien Versailles is a boutique hotel with contemporary rooms that provides easy access to museums, shops and art galleries.

The Project: Guatemala – not your average reality TV show (Tico Times)

ImageMost reality TV shows rely on scripted confessionals and spoiled, fame-hungry contestants keen to accomplish their esteemed celebrity status by doing very little. “The Project: Guatemala” is different.

It may initially look the same, with its cast of privileged 20-somethings who believe they’re embarking on a six-week trip to paradise, but the show soon changes when the pampered participants discover they are heading to rural Guatemala to build a community center for orphaned and abandoned children.

“They were shocked to say the least,” said the show’s host, Canadian adventurer Ray Zahab. “Let’s face it, this group of young people did not see this coming – it was out of their landscape of thought.”

Nine Canadians traveled with Zahab to Tecpán, 50 kilometers northwest of Guatemala City, to Project Somos, a Canadian nongovernmental organization that works with Guatemalan children in need.

“They could leave whenever they wanted to – this wasn’t about voting anyone out. But they had to want to stay and work hard,” Zahab said. “It was very real and very difficult for many of them.”

Struggling to understand the poverty and customs of the people around them, the contestants swapped their cellphones for shovels and embarked on a mission that had the potential to improve not only their neighbors’ lives, but also their own.

It’s a journey of self-discovery for the privileged youths, whose long-term goals range from “none” to “make a lot of money” and have “a few marriages.” Not without drama, the six one-hour episodes show the tantrums, tensions and frustrations that being outside your comfort zone can bring.

Culture shock takes many forms, and the failure to comprehend the “no shorts, no cleavage” rule on the construction site is just one example that illustrates the disparity between the two worlds that collide in “The Project: Guatemala.”

“It was hoped that they would be transformed from egotistical, self-centered individuals of entitlement into an unselfish, hard-working group that cared about the welfare of someone else,” said Greg Kemp, project manager at Project Somos. “That’s a tall order for 42 days, but that is the goal and premise of the show.”

The program’s distributor hopes this new style of reality TV will connect with a younger generation who have become disengaged from traditional television and are looking to make a difference in the world.

During an interview with The Hollywood ReporterSean Buckley, executive producer at the indie company that produced the show, Buck Productions, said: “We want to capitalize on the power of television to send a message to our viewers, and for them to walk away entertained and educated about another part of the world and, hopefully, themselves.”

But do the participants become more educated? Although they may have had good intentions to stay and build a community center, it will take longer than six weeks to see whether the experience will permeate their self-centered outlook and deliver lasting change.

“Some of the most difficult challenges we face in life provide the greatest rewards. The group came into this committed to something they had no idea would be so difficult. But through their perseverance and resilience they came to know they could do something extraordinary with their lives,” Zahab said.

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