From Down Under Summer To Christmas Card Toronto (With The Help Of Instagram)
It's been far too long since my last post and it's too late to start catching up now so I'm just adding… [more]
Extreme Wedding, Hardcore Honeymooning Part II: Coyote (Almost) Ate My Father-In-Law
I forgot to mention at the end of my last post that we were accompanied on our way to the… [more]
Extreme Wedding, Hardcore Honeymooning Part I: Lobster Wars, Raccoon Hunting And Killer Heels
I've been delaying writing this post because I don't know where to start and there's so much… [more]
Meeting Toronto’s Eastern Hipsters, From Cabbagetown To Leslieville
It's been all change on the domestic front for JM and myself. On Saturday morning we… [more]
Detroit Ghosts Disturbed By Tigers, Bar Brawls And Nocturnal Fountains
It's less than a week to go now before JM and I move house so we've spent part of this… [more]
Meeting Motor City: Detroit Welcomes The Wanderers
Over the long weekend a couple of weeks ago JM and I went to Detroit. It's right on the border… [more]
Florence + Her Fabulous Machine Meet The Wildlife Of Rosedale Ravine
Last Thursday JM and I went to see Florence + the Machine perform at the Molson Ampitheatre… [more]
Bursting With Olympic British Pride, From Liverpool To London
Last Saturday afternoon JM and I joined Cousin David at the Rogers Centre to watch Toronto… [more]
Bay Street Victory Unleashes Apocalyptic Weather On Heatstroked Toronto
Toronto broke the 2012 heat record today, hitting 36.4°C at three o'clock. Our apartment… [more]
Nature. Unafraid, And Definitely Out To Get Me
Just in case anyone was in any doubt that the natural world is waging pernicious rebellion… [more]
Dragon Boats & Island Hopping; Drag Queens & Blue Jays
The nice weather and added bonus of a long weekend have allowed JM and I to tick off a few… [more]
My Life In A Zoo: Creatures In Peculiar Places
We live in a lovely but undeniably subterranean apartment which, as we are rapidly discovering,… [more]
Nik Wallenda High Wire Walks Into Niagara Falls History
It's been a shamefully long time since my last post and I'm completely out of date. There's… [more]
Happy Families On The High Seas Of Tarbert
So, to go back in time a couple of weeks, JM and I flew to Glasgow and, from there, via a… [more]
Return To Toronto: Sunshine, Centipedes & An Attack From Above
JM and I are back in Toronto after a jam-packed ten-day visit to the UK. We flew to Glasgow… [more]
It’s been far too long since my last post and it’s too late to start catching up now so I’m just adding a couple of pictures which represent the extremes of our most recent adventures.
We returned a week ago from a Christmas visit to Australia, emerging from Toronto airport at 2am to an empty city disappearing under piles of snow.
I forgot to mention at the end of my last post that we were accompanied on our way to the restaurant post ceremony by the sound of bagpipes. There was a man standing at the corner of Queen and University blasting a wee bit of Scotland into Toronto. I pass the same spot everyday on the way to and from work and have never seen him there before or since.
After lunch it was time for part two of our wedding adventure. This is the point at which most couples would be saying goodbye to their parents and guests and getting ready to fly off for a romantic couple of weeks alone together somewhere hot. Not us. JM and I were continuing our unconventional elopement by packing ourselves and our parents into a car and driving down to Niagara-on-the-Lake for four days of intense and potentially dysfunctional family togetherness.
My Mum and I had spent weeks scouring the digital bowels of Niagara’s extensive holiday rental portfolio in search of the perfect family-friendly honeymoon property. Niagara-on-the-Lake is, as we were repeatedly informed/warned by the many, many websites we trawled through, the honeymoon capital, not just of Canada or North America, but the world. This means that it is almost impossible to do anything on a scale that is small or subtle.
We looked at one house called Marrakech Mansion, which has ‘one of the largest flower gardens in Niagara-on-the-Lake’ and another called Simcoe Pines with a heated pool, outdoor bar and two fireplaces. The property we eventually agreed on was love at first sight. It is described on the VRBO website as ‘fabulous, incredible, awe inspiring, breath taking, and just radiat[ing] the sense of well being’.
The hyperbolism was not unfounded. On-the-Lake was absolutely beautiful and the view across Lake Ontario and the mouth of Niagara River is spectacular. JM and I had a massive room with our own little balcony and a raised bathtub in the window. My Mum was most excited about the Sub-Zero fridge, which was soon filled by the fruits of a pillage on the local supermarket and LCBO.
For our first night we were booked into the Riverbend Inn and after a round of drinks on our lakeshore veranda we decided to try and walk there rather than take the car. Our original plan was to arrive early enough to watch the sunset with drinks on the gazebo. Instead we found ourselves marching single file along the side of a road with no pavement in pitch darkness for more than two and half kilometres. After failing to locate the official entrance we made a cross-country scramble across what we assumed was a grassy lawn and eventually found the entrance to the restaurant.
When we told our waiter about our escapade at first he thought we were joking. Then he became concerned. Apparently the area on the outskirts of Niagara-on-the-Lake that we had been trekking through is a well-known hangout for coyotes. My extensive research has revealed that attacks by coyotes on humans are not common but are becoming more frequent:
…some coyotes have begun to act aggressively toward humans, chasing joggers and bicyclists, confronting people walking their dogs, and stalking small children… The recent increase in attacks on humans is not unique to coyotes… several towns and cities in coastal Queensland, Australia, have seen a sharp increase in large packs of dingoes roaming their suburbs… This has been accompanied by attacks on pets and humans, including a fatal attack in April 2001 on a nine-year-old boy [Clinton Gage] near a tourist campground on Fraser Island.
A dingo did snatch nine-week-old baby Azaria Chamberlain in Uluru in 1980 and in January this year a little girl in Oakville, Ontario was bitten when a coyote jumped over a fence and grabbed her leg. This summer a man doing yoga in Riverdale Park near where we used to live found himself face to face with a coyote ‘when he spotted the beast emerging from the shadows’; and in an earlier incident a coyote was shot when it acted ‘strangely and aggressively’ towards a police officer guarding human remains near Cherry Beach. Footage was taken this year of yet another coyote near our new place at the Beaches; according to The Star it is ‘suspected to be the notorious Chihuahua killer who eluded capture after receiving a death sentence in 2009′.
While The Star has a seemingly infinite number of coyote horror stories, the Post has more practical advice and a useful graphic demonstrating what you should do if confronted by a coyote: put some coins in a tin and rattle it; open and close your umbrella; make yourself big; and keep your cats indoors.
Needless to say we took a taxi back to On-the-Lake.
I had originally wanted to get the whole honeymoon experience into a single post but I haven’t even finished day one and I’m already on eight hundred words so I guess this will have to be a multi-parter.
We have also done some other things since returning from Niagara – we saw Cousin David on Friday evening for champagne and oysters, we went to see Ira Glass talk about reinventing radio at Massey Hall the weekend before and a few weeks before that we watched Gossip perform at The Phoenix.
I’ve been delaying writing this post because I don’t know where to start and there’s so much to talk about that the task seems overwhelming. I guess the title is a bit of a give away but a couple of weeks ago, on Monday 17th September 2012 at 12 o’clock on level three of Toronto’s spaceship-themed City Hall JM and I got married.
The idea of a big wedding terrified both of us so over the course of several months we hatched a cunning plan. Both sets of parents had been talking, independently, of making the trip to Canada (my parents from the UK and JM’s Dad Peter from Australia) and as discussions around dates began, we managed to negotiate both parties towards an overlapping week in mid September. In the end, our parents effectively did the eloping on our behalf.
Even though our wedding was tiny and we tried to keep everything as low key as possible, I think we were both surprised at how stressful even a City Hall civil ceremony was to organise. I have no idea how anyone copes with the machinations that must go into a normal one.
A lot of the difficulty was just in finding out the basics of how you actually go about getting married. And then where you can get married, and who exactly is allowed to perform the ceremony. At first we wanted to do it in Niagara-on-the-Lake but it turns out that the marriage capital of Canada is not the place to go if your theme is ‘modest and simple’.
We lucked out completely with the rings. After weeks of frustrated Googling and one abortive mission into town I eventually found the website of jeweller and goldsmith Linda Penwarden. I can’t speak highly enough of the the lovely Kat who handled and helped us from start to finish. The rings are absolutely perfect and I am still all magpie-eyes about my sparkles.
I’ll skip over the rest of the pre-wedding arrangements as I suspect they’re fairly tedious to anyone but me, suffice to say it all came together in the end. Wedding chambers were reserved, flights confirmed, then re-negotiated; wedding chambers were cancelled and re-booked. After much dexterous internet searching by my Mum and I, the perfect dress was sourced and dispatched and the perfect 5.5 inch heels were identified, lost and eventually secured. And as a result of tireless email correspondence, my Mum also managed to sort out four nights of alternative honeymooning for wedding couple plus parents at On-The-Lake in Niagara.
Peter arrived on the Friday before the wedding after an exhausting thirty six hour trip from Australia, but somehow stayed awake through a late night dinner at our new favourite local, The Ceili Cottage. My parents landed the next day and we spent Saturday afternoon back in Cabbagetown wandering around and eating at our former local, House on Parliament.
We put my parents up in the spare room at the top level of the house where there are no curtains and they were woken in the early hours by the noisy antics of some furry burglars. It turns out my Dad is something of a raccoon whisperer (JM has dubbed him Dances With Raccoons), as every time he looked out a window he seemed to spot them. Even in broad daylight he was taking pictures of one sauntering around the back garden.
Having ambushed Cousin Ann in the car park of the Air Canada Centre with news of our peculiar wedding plans several months earlier, she had embraced our decision with admirable good humour and devised an appropriately unconventional stag/hen wedding’s eve mash-up celebration for the bridle party. On Sunday evening Peter, Mum, Dad, JM and I descended upon Cousin David and Housemate Tom, who had kindly agreed to surrender their house for the soon to be legendary Lobster Extravaganza organised by Ann.
Two dozen crustaceans had been shipped all the way from Halifax and were, when we arrived, waiting to be cooked in a pot big enough to hold a large human. Ann and David had hired a table especially for the meal and Ann had covered it in pages from JM’s paper, the National Post. There was momentary concern that the pot was so huge we wouldn’t be able to heat the water but in the end I think David and Tom managed to hoist it onto the cooker.
The lobsters, once cooked, were sweet and delicious; but I needed extra instruction from the Maritime experts about how to approach dissecting them. It was a testimony to the resilience of my freshly applied Shellac nails that they did not chip under pressure as it was a messy battle.
The morning of the wedding my Dad and I went for a run along the boardwalk and talked about work. It was all quite relaxed until suddenly we had to leave in an hour and I wasn’t even dressed.
We arrived at City Hall with time enough to spare to watch a rather subdued-looking group shuffle in ans out of the chambers ahead of us. I don’t remember ever feeling rushed but it must have all been over in about fifteen minutes.
Our celebrant, Michael, was warm and avuncular and managed to make us all feel like he didn’t say the same words and go through the same motions a hundred times a day. At no point did I need to take my shoes off, we both repeated after Michael and said I Do at the right time and after one protracted moment when I wasn’t sure if JM would get the ring over my knuckle, that was it, we were married.
Ann and David had joined us for the ceremony and once all the signings and photographs were finished we relocated round the corner (I tottered, everyone else walked), to Nota Bene.
I feel I should wrap up now because at any moment, I hope, my husband is going to appear and, thanks to the inspired generosity of my lovely friends, join me for dinner at the top of the CN Tower!
It’s been all change on the domestic front for JM and myself. On Saturday morning we upped sticks and moved to Leslieville, to the east and a few blocks south of Cabbagetown.
Toronto Life describes our new neighbourhood as ‘Toronto’s Brooklyn… untouched by big box retailers and uncharted by tour buses’. There is an oft cited, seven year old New York Times article which refers to it as the city’s ‘ hippest place to dine, drink, shop and live’. This is all very true. There are so many amazing-looking restaurants and cafés I don’t know where to start.
In my quest to caffeinate myself at each and every one of Toronto’s numerous coffee shops, I had experienced two of Leslieville’s most popular establishments prior to our move – Te Aro and Mercury Espresso Bar – so I was prepared for the weekend phenomenon of achingly beautiful nuclear families with adorable pets and never-knowingly ironic hipsters flocking like lace and denim clad butterflies around americanos and copies of the Star, tables gradually extending as their numbers increase.
As JM and I discovered on Saturday morning, everyone here seems to know each other. And there really are a disproportional number of gorgeous young mums and dads with perfect babies fuelling the coffee economy. In the absence of a small human I think if we had a dog we’d definitely make new friends.
The move itself was relatively painless. We hired an unexpectedly large van which JM drove expertly on the wrong side of the road. We had the bulk of the packing and loading completed by Friday evening and were up and out the next morning not long after 8am.
Most of the long weekend was spent inhaling chemicals as we decontaminated and expunged the toxic detritus left by the previous tenants. It was a little disheartening at first but now that we’re almost finished it’s starting to feel like a proper nest. JM has discovered a novel way of cleaning the outside of windows from inside with a dish cloth wrapped round a dustpan brush, and I have shredded my nails and burned away my fingerprints in pools of liberally applied doses of CLR.
I had my first bath this evening which was blissful as I’ve been pining for one since we only had a shower at the old place. On Monday we went for our first run along the boardwalk at the Beaches; after a day of rainstorms on Tuesday it was practically deserted and there was the most amazing triangular shard of rainbow clamped between the clouds above the lake.
There’s lots more to write but as usual it’s time for bed so I will try to blog again and take more photos at the weekend.
It’s less than a week to go now before JM and I move house so we’ve spent part of this weekend packing boxes. On my run yesterday I almost stepped on a huge dead half-eaten fish lying in the middle of the footbridge covered in flies. I pass the funny naked man so often now it’s more of a surprise if I don’t spot him – even JM has seen him. But before I start with the running tales I need to finish talking about Detroit…
Across the road from the Penebscot is the Guardian building. Inside is a muti-coloured mosaic lobby and a long cathedral-ceilinged atrium with a mural at one end and a Tiffany-designed clock at the other.
At the centre of Detroit’s downtown wheel spoke hub is a small park surrounding the geometric-shaped Woodward Fountain called Campus Martius (Field of Mars). Folding metal chairs have been set up around the perimeter – a bit like in Paris – for people to stop and rest and contemplate the water. At night time the fountain is illuminated, entrancing spectators with an aquatic dance of choreographed spurts and splashes.
We had a late lunch at the café next to the fountain then walked across to the Compuware building. The whole central area is empty space occupied by another optically illusory water feature (the largest of its kind in the world); kites of coloured glass suspended on wire hang at various intervals all the way up to the roof and in amongst them streams of water seem to spontaneously burst into existence out of thin air and rain down on the floor below.
In anticipation of our trip I had started to re-watch 8 Mile which is set in and around Detroit. One of the scenes early on is set in a car park where Rabbit and his friends leave their car to go to a club. The lot is actually housed in an abandoned theatre originally built by Henry Ford as a gift to the city. As the assembly line gradually consumed the jobs previously done by people and unemployment and migration began to make the purpose of entertainment facilities obsolete, like many pillars built on the human back of man-made success, it became useless when the machines failed to adopt the leisure time habits of their flesh and blood counterparts.
We weren’t able to go inside but I’ve seen pictures and there are some haunting shots in the ‘Requiem for Detroit’ documentary.
The old Wayne County building is another relic of a different age. It was built between 1897 and 1902 and may be, according to Wikipedia, ‘the nation’s finest surviving example of Roman Baroque architecture, with a blend of Beaux-Arts and some elements of the neo-classical architectural style’. It’s strange and sad to see such an imposing, opulent edifice left abandoned.
Our hotel room overlooked a piece of land which was, until recently, occupied by the Lafayette Building, which the Metro Times described as a ‘skyscraper from Detroit’s golden years’. It was built in 1923 in a composition similar to New York’s Flatiron and featured marble fountains, ‘bronze light fixtures, black-walnut walls and Italian Renaissance interior’. Demolition was completed at 4.30am one February morning in 2010.
As the city declined, the vacancies rose. By 1997, the handful of store owners who’d kept the Lafayette alive in its last years had abandoned it. Since then it’s been home only to scores of pigeons and a handful of tall, resilient trees that sprout from its rooftop… So now the Lafayette’s coming down, another subtraction from the skyline.
JM and I could only fill in the blank with pictures. There’s a nice-looking little park there now where it looks like vegetables are being grown and there’s a collection of empty chairs and tables.
On Saturday evening we walked to Comerica Park to watch the Detroit Tigers play the Cleveland Indians. It was like meeting a completely different, mainly white, face of the city. The venue is fantastic, with a huge set of erupting fountains and a couple of tigers whose eyes light up whenever the home team scores a run. There’s also a beautiful carousel made up of galloping tigers instead of horses.
We had only managed to get standing tickets but this actually worked out quite well as we were able to wander round the grounds and shelter in one of the bars when a rainstorm descended. Of course I bought a t-shirt and JM got a new baseball cap. We also witnessed a proper bar brawl! One of the men involved had been trying, unsuccessfully, to chat up a couple of young blonde girls standing next to us and then, moments later, was being ejected from the premises for starting a fight.
Walking back to our hotel after the game we overheard someone pointing out a lighted window right at the top of one of the abandoned buildings, which was pretty spooky.
Our second day in Detroit was spent mainly in the Henry Ford Museum out in Dearborn. It’s probably one of the biggest museums I’ve ever been to and despite spending almost six hours there I feel we barely scratched the surface. One of the most interesting exhibits is a restoration of Buckminster Fuller’s aluminium cylindrical Dymaxion House which was conceived as the solution ‘to the need for a mass-produced, affordable, easily transportable and environmentally efficient house’. Despite the hype only two prototypes were ever made, both purchased by one of the projects investors.
We also saw the chair President Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated in 1865 and the No. 2857 bus Rosa Parks was riding in Montgomery, Alabama when she refused to give up her seat in the coloured section to a white passenger.
There are obviously a lot of cars, including a selection of presidential limousines, as well as one of the largest steam-powered locomotives ever built - the Allegheny locomotive – which runs the whole length of one side of the museum. We were able to ride a real-life steam engine next door at Greenfield Village (Detroit’s answer to Beamish) on the Weiser railroad. Greenfield is an immaculately reconstructed incarnation of America’s past complete with vintage Model-T cars and the country’s oldest windmill.
After being ejected from the museum at closing time we attempted to walk along the river front from the Renaissance Centre to Belle Isle but quickly realised it was a lot further than anticipated. We had dinner at the Grand Trunk Pub which is located, as its name would suggest, in an old railway station and serves Michigan craft beers.
I don’t know how I’ve managed to get this far without mentioning the spectacular Holiday Inn breakfasts. It was all I could have hoped for and more – plastic bowls and cutlery, cereal in candy dispensers and endless supplies of magical hotel toast that stretches when you bite into it. The dining area was relatively calm when we emerged on Monday morning but the day before we had stepped out of the elevator into a scene of utter chaos – hoards of people loudly and ravenously piling their plates with sugar-swamped pastries and a yellow-hued interpretation of scrambled egg.
After satiating ourselves on these delicacies we spent our remaining time riding the People Mover – an automated public transport system that operates on an elevated single track loop around the city’s CBD and moves about 7,000 people a day, had coffee in the Guardian Building and found ourselves befriended by a mohican-sporting waiter at the Hudson Café who admired our newly-acquired Tigers gear and told us about his favourite baseball stadiums.
We had some time to kill before our train when we got back to Windsor and we sat looking back at the dramatic landscape of the city we had just left, trying to make out all the buildings we had visited. Unbeknownst to us there had actually been a shooting on the waterfront in the early hours of Monday morning when a woman opened fire during a fight on a boat cruise.
We only caught a tiny glimpse of Detroit and I think we both want to go back and see more. The people we spoke to could not have been more welcoming. There’s more still to write but it’s now bedtime.