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S.S. Keewatin, an Edwardian Jewel on Georgian Bay

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By Steven Wright

I grew up on beautiful Georgian Bay, in the summertime in Ontario there is no better place to be, its a very popular destination for the Toronto crowd that pack the car and make the 2+ hour drive north to spend time on the water enjoying their favorite past time. There are a number of great resorts, cottage rentals and camping options, quaint towns to shop, gallery and artist tours, tourist attractions and dining experiences, not to mention every water sport under the sun!

When I heard about the S.S. Keewatin, built in the British Edwardian tradition of Titanic, containing all of its original furniture, decor, flatware, place settings, quadruple expansion steam engine and the “Scotch” boilers, I managed to get a sneak peak tour before its official public opening in May 2013.

Built 5 years before the Titanic,  the S.S. Keewatin was launched in 1907 by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in Scotland, commissioned by Canadian Pacific Railway, the Keewatin was one of 5 Great Lakes Steamships transporting passengers from Port McNicoll, on Georgian Bay to Fort William & Port Arthur. The journey was a 2 1/2 day trip across Lake Superior & Lake Huron with a stop in Sault Saint Marie and the reverse starting in Georgian Bay. After 58 seasons, the Keewatin was retired in 1965 and became the last of the Great Lakes passenger liners, and the last Edwardian built passenger liner steamships in the world.

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Saved from being disposed for parts, scrap and antiques in 1967 the Keewatin was purchased by R J Peterson of Douglas Michigan. Peterson, a marina owner and Great Lakes Historian, towed the ship to its new home on Lake Kalamazoo where they established a Maritime Museum and lovingly cared for the Keewatin for 45 years.

In 2012, developer Gil Blutrich and the Friends of Keewatin purchased the Keewatin and towed her back home to Port McNicoll. The journey back became the subject of a documentary film Bring Her on Home – The return of the SS Keewatin. The Keewatin is the crowning jewel of a new park and development site in Port McNicoll which will include a  restaurant comprised of retired Canadian Pacific Railway dining coaches and yacht club (due to open in 2014.)

IMG_5973Take a step back in time on board the Keewatin, guided tours are available and an awesome opportunity to experience what it would be like to travel the Great Lakes in style. There are two guided tours that you can take on board.

The first is the upper deck tour giving you the passenger experience. Starting at the Grand Staircase you are amazed with the sheer amount of mahogany throughout the ship, giving you the impression that traveling on the Keewatin was a decadent experience. The ship is adorned with carved mahogany walls and stained glass windows complimented by incredible textiles. Up the stairs you enter the Flowerpot lounge, an area to sit and relax while listening to entertainment around the ground piano before heading to the dining room set for a first class dinner. After dinner, passengers would head to the bar or grand ballroom for the evenings entertainment, and the ladies even had their own private smoking lounge. Visit the various staterooms, dressed of the period and ready to receive arriving passengers, if you are in need of a shave and a haircut – no problem there is even a Barber Shop on board. The tour continues with wheel house, the Captains quarters and a radio museum featuring a working wireless and an all weather radar. One of my favorite parts of the tour is the fully stocked kitchens, definitely not to be missed.

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The second tour gives you access to areas of the Keewatin that only the crew would have seen, climb down the stairs to see the grain holds, coal bunkers and the piece de resistance in the engine room, the Scotch boilers and a working 3200 horsepower quadruple expansion steam engine. The engine is similar to the one that powered the Titanic and the last one in existence in the world.

Keewatin will have her official opening on Saturday May 11 2013 and the season closes mid October. Group rates are a donation of $12.00 per person ( upper deck and engine room) with a single payment made payable to “Friends of Keewatin”. Individual admittance is $15.00 ( tax in) for the upper deck and $7.00 (tax in) for the engine room. $7.50 ( tax in) for Youth 10 to 16 upper deck. $4.00 ( tax in) engine room. Children under 10 free with adults.

The Keewatin is located in Port McNicoll off Hwy 12 just 8 km from Hwy 400,  20 minutes north of Barrie.

S.S. Keewatin
Website: http://sskeewatin.com/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/sskeewatin
Twitter: @SSKeewatin

German Hospitality and Touring the Solar System

By Mike Kerr

Steven and I were on our tour of Poland and Germany and where extended an invitation to visit our German family (the cousins of Steven’s cousin’s wife)  in the small town of Donsdorf outside of Stuttgart. Steven had been to Donzdorf for cousin Jode and Carol’s reception and I was yet to experience the beauty of the town and yet to meet the extended family.

In an earlier post we shared our journey down the Autobahn in our faithful Renaud Megane and Donzdorf was our final destination. When our trusty GPS directed us to the German family’s home, we were happy the long drive was over, of course there were a few quips from the mostly Audi employed family about the jalopy we were driving, but what were we to do? It was the only car left to rent with a GPS, and my German highway and road navigation skills aren’t what they could be, and we didn’t realize we were heading into the home of Porsche (<– Steve had convinced me this one was Italian), Audi, and Volkswagen. Luckily we brought a bouquet of flowers as a gift, so we were soon forgiven as our hosts owned a flower shop and couldn’t remember the last time someone had actually brought them flowers.

We were shown to the room we would be sleeping in, asked to drop off our bags, and our tour of Donsdorf began. Starting with a quick jaunt through their neighborhood, we quickly learned that aside from ourselves, our hosts were the only ones in town who could speak very much English at all, but what can you do when you’re in small town Germany?

Our next stop was a trip by the local flower shop (the one owned by our hosts) on our way to the local castle and church where Steven’s cousin was married. In behind the church was a beautiful open park, filled with art on display by local artists. My favourite part of the displays was a scale model of the solar system, starting with the sun in the center of the park, and continuing out through the town with each of the planets including the now dwarf planet Pluto. In elementary school, the solar system tends to be studied, and dioramas made of coat hangers and Styrofoam balls are pretty commonplace, but actually getting to see it in scale, and walking the distances between each planet really gives a realistic sense of just how big our Solar System is, and a feel for the sizes of each celestial body when the sun was bigger than my head, but Mercury is the size of a ball bearing.

One of mine and Steven’s favourite things about being in Germany is Hanuta, a delicious hazelnut cream sandwiched between two crispy wafers. It sounds kind of ordinary, but it is the best chocolate treat ever. Although it is made by Kinder, which tends to be pretty internationally known, Hanuta, the best of their products, is only available for purchase in the German market.

After getting some (a lot) of sugar in us, we decided to work it off by playing some football with the kids. Steven and I are definitely not MVPs so needless to say, we had our butts handed to us by a very talented kid. We also discovered that flip flops are not the ideal footwear for the game.

Later on we sat down for a family meal, learning more about the family itself, enjoying a bounty of local sausages and meat, and getting more drunk than I ever had before. A good point to remember when visiting your German relatives, is they have a much higher tolerance for beer than you, and aren’t afraid to fill your glass while you are distracted. After my first couple of beers (giant beers) I was starting to get a bit of a buzz on, upon telling this to the German family they insisted I have another, as a buzz in Germany just isn’t good enough. By the time I hit the bottom of my fifth bottle there was no doubt I was drunk. Now at this point I would normally have stopped, but somehow the Germans managed to convince me that I would be fine having another half (and another, and another) soaking up as much as I could in my stomach by eating some authentic soft pretzels, I managed to not throw up. Steven, having been with the family before opted for the lighter lime beer.

At some point during the night, the family heard a noise that we could not, and were up in arms running to the house for a glass of water and some dish soap. Not knowing what was going on, we had to join them to figure out what all the fuss was for. The noise was apparently coming from the ground around the family garden, a quick squirt of dish soap, and a splash of water and the scariest bug I have ever seen in my life revealed itself from the depths of the earth. Imagine a cricket with mole arms, now imagine it being ten times bigger, now imagine its face being so large that you can actually tell what it is thinking by the expression on its face. That my friends, is a mole cricket, the largest bug I ever want to see for the rest of my life.

After an amazing night, and the deepest drunken sleep I have ever had, Steve managed to shake me awake in the morning, gather me up, and get me back in the car to catch the first of our connecting flights home from Stuttgart. Out of all of the small towns I have visited, Donzdorf is my favorite, not for the sights or local amenities, but for the amazing people I met who I can look back and think of as a branch of my family.

Germany Posts:
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

10+ Things to do on the West End of Toronto

By Steven Wright

Feels like summer in the city even thought its barely spring in Toronto, that has inspired me do a series of articles of things to see and do in this great city! Toronto is Canada’s largest city, the capital of the Province of Ontario and is constantly evolving. It is a vibrant and culturally diverse city, who’s unique neighborhoods are great to explore to get the whole experience eh. The third article of this series is dedicated to Toronto’s West end; here you can find some amazing shopping, great restaurants, interesting neighborhoods, theatres, galleries, museums and Toronto’s entertainment district.

Bloor-Yorkville
(Bloor Street West / Cumberland Street / Yorkville Avenue between Yonge and Avenue Road, TTC stations Yonge / Bloor or Bay)
If you are shopping for luxury goods and designer brands then this is the neighborhood for you. The Bloor Street West strip includes luxury brands like Tiffany & Co., Prada, Chanel, Coach, Hermes, Harry Rosen, and Canada’s luxury department store Holt Renfrew. Shopping continues with designer boutiques on Yorkville Avenue, Cumberland Street and Hazelton Lanes Shopping Centre. If you are searching for the perfect pair of jeans then I would recommend a stop at  Over the Rainbow (101 Yorkville). The neighborhood features a number of 5* hotels, high end condos, and fine dining. This is a good neighborhood for celebrity spotting, especially in September during the Toronto International Film Festival, grab dinner on the patio at Sassafraz for a bird’s eye view.

Royal Ontario Museum / Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art / Bata Shoe Museum
(100 Bloor Street West, TTC Station Museum / 111 Queen’s Park TTC, Station Museum / 327 Bloor Street West, TTC St. George)
Just west of Bloor-Yorkville you can not help but notice Architect Daniel Leibskind’s redevelopment of The Royal Ontario Museum, the grand entrance makes a huge impression as you look down Bloor Street. The collections are dedicated to understanding world cultures and natural history. ROM Fridays feature a special rate from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Friday Night Live @ROM includes Pop-up food, drink and DJs with $9 cover and $5 drinks, general admission is $15.  Not many cities can boast a museum of ceramic art and footwear, but Toronto has both! Across the street from the ROM on Queen’s Park find Canada’s only museum dedicated to ceramic art, The Gardiner Museum. The museum has gained international recognition and the new modern building has added more than additional gallery space, it includes a new restaurant by Canadian Chef Jamie Kennedy. If you get the chance join one of the clay classes in their state-of-the-art clay studios, instructed by professional ceramists. They have a Friday night program and family days on Sunday’s, general admission is $12. Travel down Bloor Street West to St. George Street, there you will find a building that resembles a shoe box, inside find the Bata Shoe Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of footwear with an extensive collection of shoes from around the world. With over 12,500 shoes in the permanent collection there is something for every shoe lover. General admission is $14.

The Annex
(Bloor Street West between Avenue Road and Bathurst Street, TTC Stations St. Gerorge, Spadina, and Bathurst)
The Annex is a primarily residential area north of Bloor Street, but with the proximity to University of Toronto this is the preferred neighborhood for students and educators a like. The Bloor Street West strip is filled with restaurants, cafes and bars with street side patios great for grabbing a bite and people watching on the busy streets, some of my favorites are Future Bakery (483 Bloor Street West) for their mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy and Insomnia Restaurant and Lounge (563 Bloor Street West) for brunch. Grab toasted marshmallow homemade ice cream from Greg’s Ice Cream (750 Spadina), then catch a documentary film at the newly renovated Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For an unique shopping experience don’t miss Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor Street West) the massive store has everything from dollar store items to fine antique pieces worth thousands of dollars and absolutely everything in between. Next to Honest Ed’s visit Mirvish Village, an area dedicated to art, culture and cuisine with many one of a kind vendors. In July the area is host to The Fringe Festival, Toronto’s largest theatre festival. Grab dinner on Harbord Street just one block south of Bloor Street between Spadina and Bathurst. Here you can find Toronto’s best fish and chips at a little take out stand, Harbord Fish and Chips (147 Harbord Street) or if you are looking for fine dining try Spendido (88 Harbord).

Little Italy
(College Street from Bathurst to Ossington, TTC Streetcar 506)
If you feel like a little Italian, the make sure to drop by Little Italy, the strip along College Street is filled with restaurants, bars and patios and it is a great place to spend an evening or a weekend brunch. Cafe Diplomatico (594 College) opened in 1968 and is one of the most recognizable restaurants, recently featured in Toronto Director, Atom Egoyan’s film Chloe. Kalender Restaurant and Bistro (546 College) is a great spot for dinner or weekend brunch with a great atmosphere and amazing food. Then take a relaxing stroll window shopping and grab a gelato at Dolce (697 College). If you are coming for a fun evening out start with martinis at Souz Dal (636 College), the open after dark and then head to Andy Poolhall (489 College) for a little pool and dancing, live music and djs at  The MOD Club (722 College) or dance the night away at El Convento Rico (750 College).

China Town
(Spadina Avenue from College to Dundas, TTC Streetcar 510)
One of the largest in North America, Toronto’s China Town is filled with great shops, grocery stores, herbs and Chinese remedies. There are a number of restaurants that encourage family style dining, you can order a number of items and share with your family or group around a large table equipped with a lazy Susan, other restaurants feature Dim Sum, order what you want off the carts rolled to your table. My favorites include Yeuh Tung (111 Elizabeth) for their amazing Chicken in a Hot Pot, the  Hua Sheng Supermarket (293 Spadina) and Tap Phong Trading Co. (360 Spadina) for amazing deals on kitchen ware and other home items.

Kensington Market
(Kensington Avenue, Baldwin Street & Augusta Avenue, TTC Streetcars 510, 506 & 505)
Just west of China Town find Kensington Market. Its a great area for vintage clothes and furniture, and craft shopping, picking up some groceries or grabbing a bite to eat. The last Sunday of the month from May through October the area is pedestrian only. Some of my favorite stops include Blue Banana Market (250 Augusta) for one of a kind gifts, Bungalow (273 Augusta) for retro clothes and furniture, Tom’s Place (190 Baldwin) for designer suits and accessories at discount prices, Global Cheese (76 Kensington) for exotic and specialty cheeses to bring home and enjoy, and vintage clothing favorites Dancing Days (17 Kensington) and Courage My Love (14 Kensington).

Art Gallery of Ontario
(317 Dundas Street West, TTC Streetcar 505)
I may be a little biased, but it is so amazing to have a small piece of Gehry excellence in Toronto. Toronto born Architect Frank O. Gehry’s transformation of the Art Gallery of Ontario has accomplished his goal of bringing the gallery to the public. The large glass exterior of the museum, incredible new entrance, the brilliant staircases and 5th floor tower are worth the price of admission. The museum is one of the largest in North America and houses a collection of works from 100 AD to present, the galleries feature Canadian, European, photography, the Thompson Collection, and two of my personal favorite are the contemporary and Henry Moore galleries. General admission $19.50, Wednesday nights entry to Permanent Collection is free from 6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. When you have finished in the AGO, go behind the building down Beverly Street to Grange Park, here you can see the final gallery: the exterior staircase leading to the big blue Gehry box a top the AGO and the Ontario College for Art and Design‘s Tabletop, designed by acclaimed British Architect Will Alsop.

Queen Street West
(TTC Station Queen or Osgoode, Streetcar 501)
You can spend a whole day on Queen West, so put on your comfortable walking shoes. Start at Bay Street with Toronto’s Old City Hall and City Hall Nathan Phillips Square on the East and West, then continue to the West side of University to start your shopping day. No matter what you are shopping for there is something for you on Queen West, from salons, shops and restaurants, you can get a make over, redecorate your house, catch up on the latest fashion trends, buy some great fabric and stay well nourished throughout the day. Some of my favorite stops for home decor are Pavilion (739 Queen W), Quasi Moto (789 Queen W), Style Garage (938 Queen W) and The Queen West Antique Centre (1605 Queen W). For fabrics don’t miss Designer Fabric Outlet (1360 Queen W); for shoes B2 (399 Queen W) and Get Outside (437 Queen W); and if your with your man there are even a couple of stops for him Atlas Tools (233 Queen W), Active Surplus (347 Queen West) and Steve’s Music (415 Queen W). If you are coming in for the weekend consider staying at one of the boutique hotels The Drake (1150 Queen W) or The Gladstone (1214 Queen W) and have dinner at Ultra Supper Club (314 Queen W).

Entertainment District
(Between Queen Street and King Street from University to Spadina, TTC station Osgoode or St Andrew, TTC  Streetcars 501 or 504)
This area is the heart of Toronto’s nightlife, there are lots of great restaurants and bars to start your evening before heading out to one or more of the attractions in this area. Here you will find the Canadian Opera Company and National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre, Broadway shows at The Princess of Wales and The Royal Alexandra Theatres, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and other large events at Roy Thompson Hall, and a little further west you will discover Toronto’s “club land” where you can bar hop and dance the night away in one of the many clubs, or catch a movie screening at the Bell Lightbox, the home of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Financial District
(King and Bay Street, TTC Stations King or St Andrew, Streetcar 504)
The area around King and Bay Streets is the Financial District and home to some of Canada’s tallest buildings, 5* luxury hotels and condos, incredible restaurants and great public spaces. One of my favorite stops in this area is Cloud Gardens, a small park between Richmond and Adelaide just west of Yonge, make sure to visit the Cloud Forest Conservatory while you are there. For a little history enter into the lobby of Commerce Court North (243 Bay Street), which was once the tallest building in the British Commonwealth for over three decades. Across the street at King and Bay, find TD Centre, designed by Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who even convinced the City of Toronto to allow him to change the sidewalks around the building to match his masterpiece. Here you can grab dinner at one of Canada’s best restaurants Canoe (66 Wellington Street) on the 54th floor overlooking the city, or visit Canada’s design museum the Design Exchange (234 Bay Street) in the former location of the Toronto Stock Exchange, general admission is $10, every Tuesday evening between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. admission is pay-what-you-can. Stay at one of Toronto’s newest 5* luxury hotels Trump Toronto (325 Bay Street) or the Ritz Carlton Toronto (181 Wellington Street West).

King Street West
(King Street West, TTC Streetcar 504)
King Street just West of the Financial District and South of the Entertainment district offers a number of great restaurants and bars, a great place to grab a bite before or show or have a late dinner. My favorites are Lee (601 King W) by famed chef Susur Lee, Rodney’s Oyster House (469 King W), the European style Bier Markt (600 King W), and French bistro Crush Wine Bar (455 King W). I have a couple of other favorite stores in this area, one is Design Within Reach (435 King W) for modern furniture and home design, Lee Valley Tools (590 King West) for great gardening, household items and tools and Mountain Equipment Coop (400 King W) for everything relating to outdoor activities from apparel to tents, backpacks, canoes and much much more.

Liberty Village
(South of King Street between Strachan Avenue and Dufferin Street, TTC Streetcar 504)
A whole neighborhood has popped up in these former industrial lands, now a hip new neighborhood with loft conversions of historic buildings, new developments and condos and an abundance of sores, boutiques, trendy restaurants and bars. For brunch head to trendy Midlred’s Temple Kitchen (Unit 104  85 Hanna Avenue) then go shopping for home accessories at West Elm (109 Atlantic Avenue), or play some pool and grab a bite at The Academy of Spherical Arts (1 Snooker Street).

Roncesvalles Village
(Roncesvalles Avenue between Queen W and Howard Park, TTC Streetcar 504)
If you have never had Dill Pickle soup then visiting the Polish area at Roncesvalles Village is your opportunity stop at Cafe Polonez (195 Roncesvalles) for a bowl like no other. There are a number of other Polish bakeries, delis and restaurants offering up old world charm and traditional music throughout the village. In September there is the Roncesvalles Polish Festival. Its a great neighborhood for shopping or you can also catch a movie at the Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles), one of Toronto’s oldest cultural venues.

Toronto Posts:
10+ Things to do on the east end of Toronto
10+ Things to do on Toronto’s Waterfront
Winterlicious – Toronto’s dining gem

10+ Things to do on Toronto’s Waterfront

By Steven Wright

Feels like summer in the city even thought its barely spring in Toronto, that has inspired me do a series of articles of things to see and do in this great city! Toronto is Canada’s largest city, the capital of the Province of Ontario and is constantly evolving. It is a vibrant and culturally diverse city, who’s unique neighborhoods are great to explore to get the whole experience eh. The second article of this series is dedicated to Toronto’s waterfront a bit of an oasis from the traffic in the city and the ultimate place to ride your bike, strap on your in-line skates or stroll with the family and spend the day at your favorite part of this strip.

Toronto Islands
(Via Ferrydocks at 9 Queen’s Quay West, TTC LRT 509/510 Ferry Dock from Union)
Pack a picnic lunch and head to the Island, whether you are traveling alone, as a couple or with family and friends, the islands have something to offer everyone. Remember to bring a towel and your bike or roller blades to explore all this waterfront picnic park. Recreation activities on the Islands include: volleyball nets, beaches, boat and bike rentals, restaurants, cafes and snack bars, Far Enough Farm, Centreville Amusement Area, wading pools, tennis courts, softball diamonds, disc golf course, and public boat moorings. The beach at Hanlan’s Point is one of the few public locations in Canada where full nudity is permitted. The Ferries travel to 3 arrival points on the island: Hanlans Point, Centre Island and Wards Island, a return trip costs $6.00 for adults, $4.00 for students and seniors, $3.00 for juniors (under 14) and children under 2 travel for free.

Cruise around the Islands
(Boardwalk from the Ferry Dock to Bathurst, TTC LRT 509/510 Harbourfront Centre)
The boardwalk along the waterfront from the Ferry Docks to Bathurst Street, includes a number of tour boats that cruise around the islands. Some of the operators specialize in brunch, lunch or dinner cruising and private charters; some offer more of a party atmosphere with a live dj; and some offer just the cruise. There are a number of different boat types including the Tall Ship Kajama, a 165′ Schooner and the Hippo bus, a sightseeing bus that floats. The tours can last up to 3 hours and give you an amazing view of the city skyline, and a great view of the Toronto Islands as you travel around them. Bring your camera for the best shots of the city!

Stroll along the Boardwalk
(Boardwalk from the Ferry Dock to Bathurst, TTC LRT 509/510 Harbourfront Centre)
The recent and continuing redevelopment of Toronto’s waterfront now includes an incredible boardwalk and a series of piers along the water from the Ferry Dock to Bathurst Street. Its a great way to enjoy the waterfront with interesting public art, gardens, an urban beach, galleries, restaurants and cafes along the way. Stop at Queen’s Quay Terminal for travel wear from Tilley Endurables, grab some Dim Sum from Pearl Harbourfront Restaurant or visit the Museum of Inuit Art. Continue down the boardwalk to HTO Park (339 Queen’s Quay West), an urban beach with bright yellow umbrellas, beach sand and Muskoka chairs to soak up some rays watching the boats travel around the Island. Travel down to The Toronto Music Garden the three-acre public garden with a design based on the “First Suite for the Unaccompanied Cello” by J.S. Bach.

Harbourfront Centre
(235 Queen’s Quay West, TTC LRT 509/510 Harbourfront Centre)
Harbourfront Centre is heart of the waterfront and the premiere destination for arts and culture. Every weekend all summer long head to Harbourfront for the Summer Festival series and drop by the World Cafe and International Marketplace, even canoe in the Natrel Pond, while enjoying all of the other multi-discipline programming across the site. Don’t forget to visit the artist workshops inside to see glass blowing pottery and more. The property offers programing year round and programs and venues for visual arts, artist workshops, live music, theatre, dance, kids programs, cultural festivals, a literary festival, film, skating and much much more. The Power Plant contemporary art gallery is part of the site.  Many of the programs at Harbourfront Centre are free of charge, and have a box office on site for ticketed events.

CN Tower / Metro Toronto Convention Centre / The Roundhouse
(301 / 255 Front Street West / 255 Bremner Boulevard, TTC Union)
The CN Tower at 553.33 m is the World’s Tallest Tower and probably one of the most recognizable structures in the city. Tourist attractions at the CN Tower include the glass floor, 360 degree viewing platform, the 360 Restaurant and its newest attraction EdgeWalk which gives patrons the chance to walk around the top of the tower on a platform where you are tethered to a rail above the platform. EdgeWalk is a must for adventure seekers and the best view of the city from above. Tickets for observation decks range from $24-$36 and EdgeWalk is $175). The Metro Toronto Convention Centre is a popular destination for trade shows and exhibits in Toronto including the Auto Show, the Sportsman Show, the Interior Design Show, the Travel Show and much more. Behind the tower stop at the historic John Street Roundhouse for the Steam Whistle Brewing tour and taste. Enjoy the Roundhouse Park and follow the pathways heading down to the waterfront.

Bike, Skate or Walk the Martin Goodman Trail
(Waterfront Trail from Scarborough to Etobicoke)
The Martin Goodman Trail is a recreation masterpiece along Toronto’s waterfront, extending long beyond the mega city’s borders, it offers pedestrian, bicycle and in line skating literally from one end of the city to the other. To the East it connects with the Scarborough Bluffs, Ash Bridges Bay, Cherry Beach, Sugar Beach and the Ferry Docks. To the West, after the Queens Quay Boardwalk and past Billy Bischop Airport at Bathurst is my favorite strip for a bike ride along the water. The trail is divided into 2 sections, 1 for pedestrians and 1 for cyclists and in line skates, no matter what your speed or ability this is a safe place for you. The trail is lined with parkland offering benches, public art, gardens and playgrounds. There are also parking lots along the way providing great access no matter where in the city you are coming from. I love biking past the marinas and boats passing in the harbour, and watching the condos rise to the North. Heading past the Princess gates and Ontario Place you can see Dragon Boat Races in the Quay. Past the Windmill, around the corner, and up the hill, you can stop for a game of Tennis at the Lakeshore Public Tennis Courts. Then continue downhill and grab a swim at the Sunnyside Gus Ryder Pool. Continue across the bridge and celebrate your accomplishment at the Palace Pier Park with a picnic lunch enjoying the scenery before heading back, or continue West down the trail to Hamilton.

Go See a Game!

Air Canada Centre
(40 Bay Street, TTC Union)
If you love sports there is a lot to offer on the waterfront of Toronto, starting with the ACC, home to Toronto Maple Leafs hockey, Toronto Raptors basketball and Toronto Rock lacrosse. Besides sports, the ACC is also a popular destination for live concerts and other large scale events. located directly south of Union Station. If you are coming to town for a game or concert, I would suggest taking the TTC, train or fly to the Island airport and save the frustration of looking for parking.

Rogers Centre
(1 Blue Jay’s Way, TTC Union)
Sitting under the CN Tower you can find Rogers Centre (formerly Sky Dome), the home of Toronto Blue Jays baseball and Toronto Argonauts football. The Rogers Centre also hosts large scale events like concerts, sporting events and even the Toronto International Auto Show. The premium feature of this building is the roof that opens offering amazing views of the CN Tower above. The Renaissance Toronto Downtown boasts being the only hotel in a major sports entertainment venue in the world and Sightlines and Windows restaurants give you a bird’s eye view of the action on the field from their premiere position.

BMO Field
(170 Princes’ Boulevard, TTC 509/510 Exhibition & GO Transit Exhibition)
Canada’s first soccer-specific stadium, BMO Field is home to Canada’s National Soccer Team and Toronto FC, Canada’s first Major League Soccer team. BMO Field is located at Exhibition Place.

Canadian National Exhibition / Ontario Place
(TTC 509/510 Exhibition & GO Transit Exhibition)
For the last 2 weeks of August until Labour Day Weekend the CNE hosts Canada’s largest annual community event, attracting 1.3 million people to the fairgrounds to experience amusement park rides, games, shows, gorge on food and much more. The site is also host to a number of large events through the year including Honda Indy Toronto, The Royal Ontario Winter Fair, the One of a Kind Show, the Toronto International Boat Show and more at the Direct Energy Centre. Over towards the Dufferin Gate, you can find the BMO Field for soccer events and Medieval Times. Take one of the pedestrian bridges on the south of the CNE grounds, across the Gardiner Expressway to access Ontario Place. Recently announced, Ontario Place is one of the sites that will be under redevelopment starting this year, the first phase will reopen for the 2015 Pan American Games and then will close again to open officially in 2017. That said some of the most popular attractions including the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre, Echo Beach and Atlantis Pavilions along with the marina and parking lots will remain open.

Watch the sunrise at Sky Bar!
(Guvernment/ Kool Haus Entertainment Complex 132 Queen’s Quay East, TTC Bus Jarvis)
The Guvernment/ Kool Haus Entertainment Complex is housed in over 22,000 square feet and features 8 interconnecting rooms, each with a different sound, every weekend this venue becomes the ultimate party playground. Some of the biggest DJ’s in the world have played this venue over the past 15 years and its still going strong. Expect long lines and a pat down on the way in, while you wait the parking lot is animated with street performers and other special events. Once inside its great to weave your way through the rooms and outdoor patios and tents to find your preferred music and dance the night away. I like to escape the heat and the crowds downstairs about 3AM and opt for the rooftop Sky Bar. Its a great place to dance to DJ Deko-ze and to watch the sun rise over Lake Ontario.

Easy Access to the Waterfront:

Billy Bishop Airport (YTZ)
With many more destinations, you can land right on the waterfront at Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Island. As this airport is relatively small, there is less traffic through security, the airport is very accessible at the base of Bathurst Street with ferry service to the Island, (a walkway development starting soon) and there is even complimentary shuttle service to/from Union Station. Air Canada flies direct to Montreal and Porter Airlines destinations include: Ottawa, Montréal,  St. John’s, Halifax, Québec City, Mont Tremblant, Moncton, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Boston, Chicago, New York, Myrtle Beach, Timmins, Burlington VT, and Washington DC.

Union Station
Union Station is Toronto’s central terminal. TTC, the Toronto Transit Commission offers street car service to the Ferry Docks and the waterfront on the LRT and subways north on the University and Yonge lines from this station. GO Transit‘s trains arrive at Union from Oshawa, Hamilton, Kitchener, Richmond Hill, Stouffville, & Barrie, and other Ontario destinations by Bus. VIA Rail is Canada’s national railway with connections to the rest of Canada. Also in the works is a direct rail link from Pearson International Airport to Union. The SkyWalk on the main floor of Union Station will lead you to popular venues like the CN Tower, Rogers Centre and Metro Toronto Convention Centre, to find the Air Canada Centre exit to the ACC from the lower level of Union.

Toronto Posts:
Winterlicious – Toronto’s dining gem
10+ Things to do on the east end of Toronto
10+ Things to do on the West End of Toronto

10+ Things to do on the East end of Toronto

By Steven Wright

Feels like summer in the city even thought its barely spring in Toronto, that has inspired me do a series of articles of things to see and do in this great city! Toronto is Canada’s largest city, the capital of the Province of Ontario and is constantly evolving. It is a vibrant and culturally diverse city, who’s unique neighborhoods are great to explore to get the whole experience eh. So I thought I would start with the series with a look at 10 things to do on the east end of the city.

The Danforth
(Danforth Avenue and Chester Avenue, Chester Station on the Bloor/Danforth TTC line)
This area is known as Greek Town, it is a lively neighborhood with quaint restaurants, shops and boutiques. In early August the street shuts down for a weekend festival called Taste of the Danforth. This is a great area to grab a seat on one of the many patios for drinks and dinner, people watching and shopping along the way. I love Christina’s (492 Danforth) for an amazing Greek dinner and Il Fornello (576 Danforth) for pizza and salad at lunch.

Chinatown East and Gerrard India Bazaar
(Gerrard Street East between Broadview and Carlaw and then Coxwell and Greenwood, TTC Streetcar 306)
East of the Don Valley on Gerrard Street you can find great markets, shops and restaurants featuring Chinese and South Asian cultures. At Broadview visit China Town east with fresh fruits and vegetable markets, dried foods, butchers and much more. Then continue down the street to Coxwell and the Gerrard India Bazaar, boasting the largest South Asian market in North America with over 100 shops and restaurants.

Allen Gardens Conservatory
(In Allen Gardens – the block of Jarvis, Carlton, Gerrard, Sherbourne)
An oasis in the city, Allen Gardens is one of the oldest parks in Toronto, but its star attraction is the Conservatory. Open year round, free, and home to hundreds of exotic plants from around the world, the 16,000 square foot space features tropical plants, cactus and succulents. The first Sunday in June is The Toronto Cactus & Succulent Club’s Annual Show & Sale. Its a great opportunity to buy and learn how to care for your new succulent from the pros at amazing prices. This is where I gained a love for succulents and appreciate them as I travel around the world, I was lucky enough to visit a succulent sale in Barcelona at the Conservatory in Park de la Ciutadella last year and wished I could have taken one home.

King Street East
(King Street from Church to Parliament TTC Street Car 503/504)
There is always time to shop for home decor or that special piece to take home as a memento of your trip, I recall on a trip to Brussels trying to figure out shipping costs and the exchange rate on the Euro to get 4 – Louis XVI chairs home. This stretch of King Street is a great spot for inspiration and shopping for interior design. Start at Church Street and have a look at the current exhibit in the Toronto Sculpture Garden, then continue to Jarvis Street and visit Arts on King (165 King East) for at high end Canadian artist works. The rest of the strip features a series of home and design stores from modern and contemporary to antiques to  and high end Italian kitchens. Some of my favorite stops include: Ma Zone (63 Jarvis), In Design (214 King E), EQ3 (220 King E), Urban Barn (275 King E ) and Up Country (310 King E).

The Historic Distillery District
(55 Mill Street at Trinity Street, TTC Parliament Bus)
The former Gooderham and Wortz Distillery has been transformed into The Historic Distillery District. This pedestrian area of restored Victoria era industrial buildings is now a chic destination for tourists and locals alike, home to live theatres, galleries, fashion, design and jewelry boutiques, unique cafes and award-winning restaurants. It hosts Woofstock, a summer festival for dogs and the European style Toronto Christmas Market in November and December. Its also a great place to grab dinner and spend the evening on the patio enjoying the music and events, my favorites are the Boiler House and The Mill Street Brew Pub.

Leslieville, The Beach and Ashbridges Bay
(Queen Street E from Carlaw to Leslie & Woodbine to Neville Park, TTC Streetcar 501/301)
From Carlaw to Leslie you are in the heart of Leslieville, here you can find a number of quaint shops, antique stores and cafes. Some of my favorites are: Machine Age Modern (1000 Queen E), and Ethel (1091 Queen E). Continue down Queen Street to get into the area called The Beach from Woodbine Ave to Neville Park. The Beach area is a desirable residential area because of its extremely close proximity to the beach at Ashbridge’s Bay. It is a lively area with shopping, bars, restaurants and cafe’s, when you are not sunning on the beach, playing some beach volleyball, swimming in the lake or walking the boardwalk people watching. In July the area hosts the Beaches International Jazz Festival, and Ashbridge’s Bay is home of many firework presentations throughout the summer.

Cherry and Sugar Beach
(The foot of Cherry Street & the foot of Lower Jarvis Street)
Speaking of the beach, Toronto has a few more beach destinations on the east end of the city. At the foot of Cherry Street in the Port of Toronto find Cherry Beach, a sandy beach with off leash dog area on the shore of Lake Ontario, a great place to relax and catch some sun, get involved in a beach volleyball game and watch the boats drive past. Off Cherry Street you can also check out Polson Pier, a lakeside destination with a licensed patio, swimming pool and activities including beach volleyball, indoor soccer, rock-climbing, go-karting, human foosball, and indoor event spaces. Sugar Beach is located on a 8500 square metre pier and is Toronto’s newest and hippest beach park beside the Redpath Sugar factory. Spend the day on this sandy pier equipped with a lounge chairs and umbrellas and granite maple leaf water feature to cool off in.

Church and Wellesley
(Church Street at Wellesley, TTC Wellesley)
Church Street from Carlton to Alexander is the home to Toronto’s GLBT community. The short strip is filled with shops, restaurants and bars. It is a prime destination for brunching, sitting on a patio people watching and the area comes alive on weekends after 11 when the bars and dance clubs get in full swing. The area is home to one of the largest Pride Festivals in North America, each June, which occupies many parks and closes Church Street for the weekend of festivities including a huge parade on Sunday closing a section of Yonge Street. A few of my favorite places to eat include: Cafe California (538 Church), Hair of the Dog (425 Church) and brunch at Fire on the East Side (6 Gloucester).

Pawn Shops
(Church and Queen Street, TTC Streetcar 501/301)
My Dad often took me to the Pawn Shops on Church Street when our family would visit the city, he loved to have a look around and see what deals were available. The same shops I visited as a kid are thriving in these challenging times and you never know what you will find on offer. The History Chanel has even launched Pawnathon Canada, featuring Pawn Master Howard Green and his  H. Williams & Co. shop (145 Church). Another favorite is James McTamney & Co. Inc. (139 Church).

Historic Cabbagetown and Riverdale Farm
(East of Parliament Street, between Wellesley and Carlton)
This is a coveted neighborhood within the city having a great number of the properties listed as historical. Parliament Street has a number of shops, bakeries, markets, restaurants and bars. Locals choose Jet Fuel (519 Parliament) for coffee, Johnny G’s  Diner (478 Parliament) for brunch and The Pear Tree (507 Parliament) brunch and for dinner (ask to sit in the solarium or back patio). Wonder down Carlton Street and enjoy the historic homes, at the end of Carlton walk through the park to Riverdale Farm, the only working farm in the city. A great place to bring the kids and visit all of the farm animals, there is also access here to the Lower Don Recreation Trail, a great place to hop on the bike, roller blades or walk along the trail to head to one of the beaches or north along the Don River. The area hosts the Cabbagetown Festival each September, and there is a Farmer’s Market at Riverdale Farm on Tuesday’s from May until October.

St Lawrence Market
(Front Street and Jarvis Street)
When traveling around Europe I love to explore the local markets and the St. Lawrence Market is Toronto’s best. Open Tuesday through Saturday its a great place to get farm fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and cheese. St. Lawrence Market was just named” The Best Food Market in the World”, by National Geographic. There are a number of booths featuring cooking equipment, wine and take away food. The north building features The Sunday Antique Market on Sunday’s, arrive early to get your best pick. The area around the market includes a number of quaint shops, restaurants, theatres, the Flatiron Building and the soon to be completed L Tower by architect, Daniel Leibskind above the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. There are more restaurants along The Esplanade, one block south of Front. In August, come here for BuskerFest to see some of the World’s best street performers in action.

BIXI Bike
(Locations all over the city)
Just launched last year, BIXI Bike is a new bike rental premise giving users the opportunity to rent a bike for a period of time and drop it off at one of the many locations across the city. The city has a number of dedicated bike lanes (hopefully more coming soon), and there are lots of areas along the waterfront, parks and Don River Trail for you to give them a go. They come complete with a rack and lights, but bring your own helmet. Perhaps one of the best ways to get around and see the sites of the city.

Toronto Posts:
Winterlicious – Toronto’s dining gem
10+ Things to do on Toronto’s Waterfront
10+ Things to do on the West End of Toronto

Sightseeing on the Seine

By Steven Wright

Sitting at Cavalier Bleu, my favorite Parisian patio, enjoying a buttery croissant and baguette with fruit preserves and a cappuccino is my favorite way to start the day. Art, history and culture coupled with amazing cuisine and fine wines make Paris a favorite destination among visitors to Europe. Many of the tourist sites line the banks of the River Seine, which runs through the centre of the city. One of the best ways to take in all that Paris has to offer is to take a ride on the Batobus, a hop-on-hop-off boat tour with access points to many of the attractions in the city. The boats offer a panoramic view a glass ceiling and offer an outdoor section for photographers. Get a different perspective of the great city as you travel by water to one of the 8 stations. A day pass can be purchased for 15€, 2 consecutive days for 18€, or 5 consecutive days for 21€.

Port de la Bourdonnais is the stop at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, one of the most famous landmarks in Paris. Built in 1889 for a Universal Exposition celebrating the centenary of the French Revolution, look for a bust of Gustave Eiffel at the foot of the tower on the north pillar. Climb the stairs or take the lift to the 1st & 2nd floors where there are a number of displays talking about the history and innovation of the tower, a circular gallery you can find and identify many of the sites and monuments in Paris using the panoramic tables, restaurants and souvenir shops. Make your way to the top of the tower in the glass elevators, giving you amazing views of the city on your way up. At the top you can explore two levels, one is open air and the second is covered by a roof. Here you can visit Gustave Eiffel’s office restored to its original condition and then head to the Champagne Bar for a glass while enjoying the views from your position 180 metres from the ground below. As this is a very popular destination I would recommend getting tickets to bypass the lines from your travel agent before your departure.

At Quai de Solférino you can find the Musée d’Orsay. The Museum was installed in the former d’Orsay rail station to show the great diversity of artistic creation in the western world between 1848 and 1914. The museum itself is a work of art and its collections include painting, objects of art, sculpture, photography, graphic art and architecture. Admission to the museum ranges from 9-14€. The Faubourg Saint-Germain quarter surrounding the museum is filled with 18th century mansions that now house many of the embassies and ministries in Paris and provide a great place to take a walk and view some of the finest buildings in the city.

Quai de Malaquais is where to depart for Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the area centred around the Saint-Germain Church and is known as the artsy area of the city. The streets have bookshops and galleries with a recent influx of ready to wear fashion. There is a  market on Rue de Buci and an number of famous cafes including Les Deux Magots and Café de Flore.

Another highlight is found at Quai de Montebello, the famous Notre Dame Cathedral on Île de la Cité, one of the natural islands in the Seine. Notre Dame is tourist favorite so there will be a line up to gain access to the inside of the church but definitely worth the wait. Inside you will find some incredible stained glass, art, sculptures and wooden altars. The exterior of the building is also quite remarkable and one of the first buildings to use flying buttresses to support the walls around the choir and altar, a great example of French Gothic architecture. There are many gargoyles that adorn the structure around the building which finished construction in 1345. The other buildings on the island are filled by the city’s Prefecture de Police, Palais de Justice, Hôtel-Dieu hospital and Tribunal de Commerce. Head down to Point Neuf for a great view of the Seine and an equestrian statue of Henry IV.

Quai Saint-Bernard is the home of Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle which includes the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum, the Entomology Museum and the Jardin des Plantes on a one hectare site with demonstration gardens, horticultural displays of decorative plants, an Alpine garden  Art Deco winter garden, Mexican and Australian hothouses and the Rose Garden.

There is a lot to see and do at Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville, the l’Hôtel de Ville is a beautiful building that is Paris’ city hall, children love to ride the antique carousel in the front of the grand building. Other highlights of the area include the Centre Pompidou which is focused on modern and contemporary creation, where the visual arts would rub shoulders with theatre, music, cinema, literature and the spoken word. The building itself and surrounding fountains are a works of art and worth a visit. Inside you will find exhibitions by contemporary masters like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. There are quaint shops, restaurants and cafés on the small streets outside, including some of my favorite places to eat including Cavalier Bleu and Pasta Papa. Continue across Boulevard de Sébastopol to the heart of shopping at Le Forum des Halles which is a combination of shopping centre, Metro station, park and movie theatre.

Depart at Quai du Louvre for a view of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa inside the Louvre. But that is only one small highlight of the museum and its grounds which include the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and the Jardin des Tuileries not to mention I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid (and inverted pyramid) which is the main entrance into the Louvre. The museum itself is one of the largest and most visited in the world inside a former royal palace, with collections including Egyptian, Near Eastern, Greek, Etruscan, and Roman antiquities, Islamic art, sculpture, decorative art, painting, prints and drawing. In the area around the museum there are luxury boutiques of Faubourg St-Honoré and the antique shops in the Louvre des Antiquaires.

Departing at the Port des Champs Elysées the first thing you will see is the golden top of Obelisk of Luxor, given to the French in 1829 by the viceroy of Egypt, Mehemet Ali. The Obelisk of Luxor is the central feature of the Place de la Concorde, the largest square in Paris, continue on Avenue des Champs-Élysées past the Grand Palais, with is glass roof and known as the primary venue for Chanel fashion shows.  Then the Avenue des Champs Elysées becomes a bustle of activity with luxury boutiques and shops, street side restaurants and cafés leading to the Arc de Triomphe. For the ultimate luxury shopping experience, ditch the crowds on Avenue des Champs-Élysées and head north-east of The Grand Palais to Avenue Montaigne and L’avenue George-V. All of the luxury brands boast a spot on this coveted strip.

Paris Posts:
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens
Pasta in Paris, Brunch in Blue – My guide to finding good eats.

Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin

By Steven Wright

A statue of the goddess of happiness Fortuna sits on top of the grand cupola at Schloss Charlottenburg. The palace built as a summer residence and was named after Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Friederich III. The building design is a homage to the palace of Versailles and also references Italian architecture of the time. Construction started in 1699, and was extended numerous times to include the annex and Orangeries.

Located in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Schloss Charlottenburg is the largest palace and the only former royal residence in Berlin. Visitors can tour inside the Old Palace to see the baroque style royal apartments, the largest collection of 18th century French paintings outside of France, and Chinese and Japanese porcelain and silverware collections. The New Wing features the rococo style and some incredible fine furniture  added by Friederich the Great. You can get tickets for these exhibits in the main courtyard through the golden gates.

The palace was badly damaged during WWII, and in the ’50s reconstruction started to bring the palace back to its former glory. The palace tour gives visitors a bird’s eye view of what I consider to be the gem of the property, the magnificent and massive gardens that surround the palace.

The Palace Gardens are expansive covering 33 hectares with one side bordered by the River Spree, they are a great place to relax and enjoy the day, and a popular place for runners and cyclists alike. The garden design references both French baroque and traditional English gardens and feature the Belvedere Teahouse (now a porcelain museum), the mausoleum of Queen Louise, and the Schinkel pavilion.

The baroque portions of the gardens lead to a central fountain, to the west there are a number of tree lined paths leading you further into the garden. Spend some time at the Carp pond, pack a picnic lunch and watch the tour boats travel down the Spree. I enjoyed the variety of plants and trees and was amazed at the maturity of the Agave and other plantings throughout the garden in large pots.

Definitely worth a visit!

Germany Posts:
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Garden Posts:
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens

Canadian Arctic Wildlife Safaris

By Steven Wright

If you are looking to go where few have gone before and to get up close and personal and eye to eye with wildlife in their natural environment then an Arctic Safari is the ideal destination and vacation for you. There are incredible opportunities to touch the Arctic, talk with the Inuit people and even experience snorkeling and diving with Narwal and Beluga. Staying in low impact, mobile safari inspired camps designed with the location in mind, offering all the comforts of home and zero environmental footprint in the “Serengeti of the north”. With gateways from Winnipeg, Ottawa and Montreal there are small group tours to experience the Arctic coming alive March through October. These excursions are amazing opportunities for photographers and wildlife enthusiasts alike, and great for individuals, families and groups.

In March, travelers can experience newly born Polar Bears and amazing Northern Lights in Western Hudson Bay . Although the temperatures are still pretty cold at -15 to -20 with approximately 8 hours of daylight, this is the only time to see the baby Polar Bears. These tours offer accommodations in a rustic lodge setting with travel by heated vans and you will need your Canada Goose Down jackets for optimum enjoyment.

In April through June the Arctic starts warming up with temperatures -7 to +10 offering spring skiing like weather and 24 hours of daylight. During this time tours head to upper Baffin Island to experience wildlife migration, staying in ice based safari camps and travel by Qamutik, a Inuit sled pulled by snowmobile. Travelers are taken to experience the flow edge where numerous Narwal (the unicorn of the sea) and Beluga Wales are waiting for the sea ice to break up. This is the only place in the world to see Narwal and have the opportunity to snorkel in dry suits with both Narwal and Beluga Wales. Here you can see many bird species and Polar Bears crossing the ice, not to worry, the Polar Bears are well fed during this season.

July through September is the warmest season in the Arctic with temperatures of +5 to +22 with 24 hours to 17 hours of daylight, this is the optimum time for family vacations to the Arctic. Tours offer land based safari camps with wooden floors, raised beds and sleeping bags or you can even upgrade your stay to a yurt. During this time there is hiking with Inuit guides, and travel by boat to see icebergs, Walrus, Bow-Back Wales and land based Polar Bears in lower Baffin Island. The tours also include iceberg tea.

The Arctic starts cooling down in October and November with temperatures of -5 to -20 with 10 hours down to 8 hours of daylight. Staying in Polar Bear observation cabins, travelers experience the Polar Bear migration in Western Hudson Bay and have the experience of walking with Polar Bears with Inuit guides. The cabins give you prime viewing as the bears cross literally in front of the observation cabins and offer the most spectacular Northern Lights at night.

There are opportunities to book private group tours of the Arctic including a stay on a 45′ expedition yacht, allowing your own customized experience in the Arctic. For more information or to book your Arctic Safari, please contact me.

Steve’s Picks for Luxury Stays in Italy & Greece

By Steven Wright

Hotel Castello de Casole
(opening July 1)

Be one of the first to stay in this fabulously restored 10th century castle in the heart of Tuscany between Florence and Sienna in Casole d’Elsa. Located on a 4,200 acre estate, the main hotel offers Junior and1 bedroom suites, spa services, restaurants and a fire baked pizzeria. They feature wines and olive oil made on site, there is a game reserve where you can observe wild bores and even hunt for truffles. The estate also features an outdoor amphitheatre, pools and outdoor terraces. There is great opportunity for mountain biking on any number of trails, or take a cooking class, pottery class and language class on site. The hotel has a personal shopper on site that can bee booked for shopping trips to Florence or Sienna, even the Gucci and other luxury brand outlets. Private transfers can be arranged from Florence or Sienna.

The out buildings on the estate are available for a more intimate experience, they feature 1 bedroom suites with private gardens, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and 4 and 5 bedroom villas. The Limonaia Suites are 2 story 1 bedroom suites with their own private garden terrace, the contemporary Oliveto Suites are more like a private 1 bedroom apartment overlooking the olive groves and vineyards with their own large private terrace. The apartments and villas have access to all the amenities of the main hotel, but are spread over the property offering a very exclusive experience.

Canaves Oia Hotel & Canaves Oia Suites

Set on the cliffs of Oia Village in Santorini, Greece, overlooking the Caldera and volcano. Canaves offers two properties, the modern and contemporary recently renevated Canaves Oia Hotel and the more traditional Canaves Oia Suites. Most of the rooms and suites have a private veranda, all overlooking the Caldera, some feature outdoor jacuzzi tubs while others have their own private pool. There are Superior Doubles ,Junior Suites and Superior Suites for 2 and 4 people. For the ultimate stay book the Honeymoon Suites that feature their own pool. Both of the properties have their own pools, the Canaves Oia Suites is the only hotel in Santorini to offer elevator service. The hotel features wines from the local vineyards, and the opportunity for room service to be sent to your private terrace. Canaves Oia is an amazing location for destination weddings and offers special packages. The property is open from April-October.

Explore the famous beaches, the volcano and the Caldera on a semi private or private catamaran yacht tours on Santorini’s hot springs and therapeutic waters. Whether you prefer to spend half the day in the sun or opt for a romantic sunset cruise this is a highlight of any trip. If you are looking to explore more of the Greek islands there is a Ferretti Motor yacht “Alexandros” available for your group, family, wedding or private excursion.

Armani Hotel Milano

After the success of the Armani Hotel Dubai in the Berj Kalifa, Georgio Armani opens his second hotel in the heart of Italy’s fashion capital Milan. The building is home to the Armani Privé boutique and Armani/Nobu Japanese restaurant. The hotel features 2 room styles and 5 suites styles, each with the Armani signature style including a neutral palate and items chose for their sculptural, aesthetic and sensual qualities. The Armani/Ristorante offers Italian cuisine, drawing from the rich gastronomy of the country and the Armani/Lounge gives you the opportunity to relax over cocktails while enjoying some great music. Both feature large windows with panoramic views of rooftops and terraces of the great city of Milan.

Armani’s Lifestyle Manager will help you with everything you could possibly need to enjoy your stay on site, and can also help with transfers, tours and other excursions. They can also get you an appointment in the Armani / Spa with its steam and sauna experience, then retreat to the relaxation pool with its louvered windows, roof and walls. Stay in ultimate style with Armani Hotel Milano.

The Haven – 3 Bedroom Garden Villa, Norwegian Jade

See both Italy and Greece aboard the Norwegian Jade in their exclusive The Haven – 3 Bedroom Garden Villa. The suite features 3 bedrooms each with a king or queen sized bed, large living room with a baby grand piano and your own private garden terrace equipped with your own hot tub and private dining area, and 3 1/2 bathrooms. The suite includes 24 hour butler and concierge service, priority boarding and VIP seating at restaurants and entertainment venues on board. The Haven guests have access to the exclusive courtyard, a private enclave at the top of the ship, outside all The Haven suites. The courtyard features areas for lounging, relaxing, and dining, with its own swimming pool, fitness area and hot tubs.

As with all Norwegian Freestyle Cruising, there are a number of restaurants on board and give you the flexibility to dine on your schedule, or order your meals in the exclusive courtyard or indulge in privacy having your meals on your private garden terrace. The concierge will make arrangements for all of your entertainment and shore excursions, and even set you up for a relaxing day at the on board spa. Cruising will never be the same.

Contact me to book your luxury stay in Europe – there has never been a better time to visit!

There has never been a better time to visit Europe!

By Steven Wright

I have been traveling to Europe for a number of years now. Almost immediately I have a European pastry and cappucino in hand, as soon as I land – there is nothing better! The news of late has been a bit dire with the tragedy on the Costa Concordia, the EuroZone financial crisis with austerity measures, public strikes and protests. That being said, the CDN dollar is the strongest it has ever been against the Euro making it cheaper to visit Europe than it has been in the past few years, to the tune of almost 20 cents on the dollar!

It is much easier to get from destination to destination throughout Europe than it is in Canada and the USA. Eurorail is a network of regional train services for each EU country, they give you the opportunity to buy country passes and multiple country passes that give you a certain number of days on the train for one price within a certain time period. There are two service levels 1st and 2nd Class. In 1st Class you have a reserved seat on a scheduled train, generally the items on the concession cart are complimentary, the seats are wider and leave more leg room. Some trains offer private sections within the rail car and some offer bunks for overnight hauls. In 2nd Class your ticket is a little more flexible giving you the opportunity to catch the next train, however seats are not guaranteed, you may find yourself sitting on your suitcase in the stairwell. The concession services are offered at a fee, and on busy routes the train can be quite crowded throughout the summer. I often opt for 1st Class seats on longer or very busy routes and 2nd Class for shorter distances. Chat with a travel agent about what tickets work best for you.

Europe is also the home of many discount airline carriers, some offer the opportunity to get 1 Euro flights, that’s right a plane ticket for 1 Euro (plus the fuel surcharge). On one of our trips to Europe, Michael and I planned to start our trip in Poland and decided to meet my sister and friends later in Berlin. We started exploring options to get from Warsaw to Berlin and snagged a flight on Easy Jet from Warsaw to Paris Orly for 1 Euro and then from Paris to Berlin for 10 Euro a couple of days later. Having flexibility in our schedule and early planning afforded us a less than $50 CDN voyage from Warsaw to Berlin and the option of a short stop over in Paris! Some of my favorite of these discount airlines include Easy Jet, Ryan Air, Air Berlin, Vueling and Transavia.

Now let me make a quick note about these discount airlines as they are not for everyone. These planes are equipped to carry as many passengers as possible, so if you are looking for extra legroom or wide seats I would suggest looking elsewhere. Often there are no seats assigned, which leads to passengers jockeying for pole position through the gate hoping get the best seats on the plane.  Often past the gate there is a bus loading the passengers for a transfer across the tarmac to the stairs onto the plane. Once aboard you can grab a seat and get ready for departure, everything on board is an additional charge including food and beverage. Some offer other items and gifts from their on board magazine. My tips for taking these discount carriers include, arriving early for your flight, having patience with other passengers, and bring something to read as there are no video terminals here. Relax, you are on vacation and saved a bundle on this flight.

Many of the major airlines feature regional airlines that provide a more traditional experience with business and economy class seats. These seats are confirmed and assigned. Your travel agent can assist you in booking these inter Europe flights as part of your package or as stopovers on your overseas return flights.

Car rentals are another way to get around Europe and it can be a great experience to drive a luxury sports car on the Autobahn, but here are a few things to consider when renting a vehicle in Europe. Unlike the US and Canada, the cities, towns and villages were around long before the automobile, this can make traveling a little more difficult. There may only be one road between point A and B, and construction, accidents and traffic can extend your travel time. The cars are generally much more compact than offerings in North America, and many of the rentals are standard versus automatic transmission. Parking can be another issue for rentals as parking is at a premium in many cities and not all hotels offer parking. One way rentals, dropping the car off in another location, can carry additional charges, especially if you are returning a rental to another country. I would suggest taking all of the insurance coverages, as the employee that gave you the keys may have a different opinion than the person who completes the rental on the other end, that scratch on the bumper that was not a concern at pick up can mean additional charges at drop off. Chat with a travel agent about what rental and insurance will work best for you.

One of the reasons Europe is a favorite destination for travelers is the proximity to other attractions, cultures and languages, you can see London, Paris and Rome in one trip. If you are flexible or trying to keep on a budget, the proximity of countries is also a huge advantage, you can mix in the more expensive destinations with ones that are more cost effective, for example in Warsaw you can get a 3 course meal for 2 people for about $15 CDN, a similar meal in Paris would cost at least 50 Euro. These bits of information can also help you in planning your accommodation, you may opt for a 3 or 4 star hotel in Amsterdam and a luxury 5 star hotel in Barcelona for the same room rate.

When I plan a personal trip to Europe I apply cappuccino economics in my planning. What you ask is cappuccino economics?

Well for example the price of a cappuccino in:
Barcelona is 1,50 Euro
Berlin is 2,50 Euro
Amsterdam is 2,50 Euro
Warsaw is 1.50 Euro
Paris is 5,00 Euro

These cappuccino prices help me to determine the cost of the destination and to balance my expenditures, so with this information I may choose to stay in Paris for less time than in Berlin or Amsterdam. When planning your trip I would suggest working with a travel agent who has knowledge of the destinations that you are looking to visit and can make suggestions to help you make decisions on what will create your ideal vacation.

Speaking of cappuccino, Coffee CompanyCoffee Heaven and Kamps are some of my favorite coffee chains in Europe.

Brussels, EU Headquarters & A Great Link to the Rest of Europe

By Steven Wright

Belgium may not be the most popular destination for Canadian’s traveling to Europe, but if you are planning to tour many countries, close proximity to France, The Netherlands and Germany makes Brussels a more interesting entry point. As Brussels is the home of the European Union, there are amazing air links to the rest of Europe, and rail links to The Netherlands, Germany and France, including a high speed link to Paris. Jet Airways now offers service from Toronto Pearson direct to Brussels.

Brussels is one of the few cities in Europe where it can be less expensive to stay over the weekend. As many hotel suites are occupied by the business of the EU through the week, when the weekend arrives and these officials go home you can get great rates on room nights, especially if you stay in the EU Quarter. We have stayed in a great one bedroom suite with a patio at Marriott Executive Apartments Brussels, European Quarter, a great king suite at Brussels Marriott Hotel, and hosted a group at Brussels- Le Palace.

Speaking of the EU, at Gare Bruxelles-Luxembourg‎ Station, the European Commission buildings are worth a visit. Walk through the Esplanade to discover the circular walkway that resembles the EU flag, guided tours are available for Parlamentarium and Chamber.  Continue behind the buildings and explore around the lake in Parc Leopold, a great little escape from the bustle of the Parliament. Then head over to Place du Luxembourg and grab some dinner at Quartier Léopold Brasserie, they have a great wine list and remember Belgium is the home of over 450 varieties of beer so it’s worth indulging the local culture.

For me the highlight of Brussels is the area around the Grand Place (Grote Markt). This square is called Grand for a reason and it is exactly that, the buildings that line the square are amazing, embellished with gold, there isn’t a bad vantage point from inside the square. The area surrounding the Grote Markt includes some great shopping, especially for lace, tapestries, beer, waffles and of course chocolate. My favorite place for chocolate is Chocopolis (Rue du Marché aux Herbes 110 Grasmarkt) and the Godiva at Grand-Place 22 for the chocolate dipped strawberries.

Other attractions around the Grand Place include Everard ‘t Serclaes (touch his golden body for good luck and to have your wishes come true),  Manneken Pis (the famous peeing boy statue) and parts of the comic book walk and Tin Tin. This area is a hot spot for restaurants and bars, many restaurants looking to lure you in showing off their catch of the day in the small pedestrian walkways around the square. I like Taverne du Passage in the Galeries Royales St. Hubert.

The Parc de Bruxelles is the oldest park in the city, it filled with statues and is bordered by the Royal Palace and Belgian Parliament. Throughout the summer there are many events every weekend. On the outskirts of the city you can visit the site of the 1958 World’s Expo and the Atomium and Mini Europe.

Gare de Bruxelles-Central offers rail links to visit other Belgian cities including historic Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. If you arrive early you can shop the booths of the open air market outside.

For someone who never planned on visiting Belgium, I have now visited on many occasions. With a smaller airport hub than Paris, Frankfurt, London and Amsterdam and great rail and air links to the rest of Europe, Brussels is one of my favorite arrival destinations in Europe.

Belgium posts:
Gnoshing in Brussels
One side will make you grow taller, and the other side will make you grow smaller – Mini Europe and Atomium
366 Steps to Heaven in Historic Bruges
Antwerpen – The Diamond of Belgium
Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

Costa Rica Escape

By Linda Wright

My husband Marvin and I have been escaping the cold winter in Ontario to enjoy the Caribbean, sun even for just a week. Over the years we have visited many of the Caribbean islands, most of the time staying in all inclusive resorts and on one occasion we cruised the eastern Caribbean.

For this years escape we were looking for something a little different. We like staying at the smaller resorts, although some of them may not carry a 5 star rating, we prefer the intimacy of the smaller low-rise buildings to a hotel tower. Our Travel Agent suggested the Pacific coast of Costa Rica and the Barcelo Langosta Beach through Sunquest for our vacation. We booked and were excited for the opportunity to have a new experience in a destination we had never been. Just arriving back to Canada, WOW what a trip, there wildlife is incredible here including this howler monkey Marvin photographed.

Costa Rica, which means Rich Coast and is located in Central America bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to southeast, Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. We arrived at the newly opened Liberia Costa Rica International Airport and then hopped on the bus for our 45 minute transfer to Tamarindo and Barcelo Langosta Beach.The resort sits on Taramindo Bay which is a popular surfing destination and just 2.5 km to the village of Taramindo with additional restaurants, bars and nightlife.

The rooms have all recently been renovated and are well appointed with either 1 king or 2 queen beds, a mini fridge with refreshments that is refilled daily, a desk area, sitting area, balcony,  and we were delighted every day to discover another creatively folded towel with fresh flowers in our room. The resort is focused on cleanliness and catered to our needs, and also features a spa, nightclub, restaurant and internet room.

The resort has a great range of daily activities including dance lessons, water aerobics, water & beach volleyball, ping pong, chess and surfing. There is a large pool, kiddie pool, hot tub and the magnificient Pacific Ocean. We loved watching surfers and holding hands to venture out to have the surf toss you around .  Playing in the Ocean proved to be our favourite daily activity. Get up early, or send your husband down to the beach to reserve your lounge chairs for the day. Never have we experienced such spectacular,  perfect weather with constant temperature around 28 degrees.  No need for sweaters- bring big hats and all the sunscreen you can carry.

Eating & drinking is endless.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner were served buffet style in the main dining room.  We found the food quality to be great with a variety of offerings throughout the week, with chicken, pork and beef available daily. For us there was just so much food that we opted to lunch at the pool bar where we especially developed a liking for the chicken wings and chips.  Our package included an a la carte fine dining evening at the restaurant at the resort, which we enjoyed, especially the service.

A vast array of Daily Tours (at extra cost) were available at the resort.  Canyon zip line, Rappelling & Tubing, White Water Rafting levels III & IV Arenal Volcano & Rainforest Walk, Hanging Bridges in the Rainforest, Rincon de la Veja National Park Hike, Nicaragua: Lakes, Volcanoes and Colonial Cities.

Given all the daily tour options, we were excited about the choices we made.  First, we joined 14 other tourists for a night excursion to see the black turtles come ashore and lay their eggs.  This feat of nature is one we will never forget and were fortunate enough to be able to photograph.

Our second tour included a long bus trip where the travel guide (with degrees in history, biology, anthropology) explained the history of this terrific country, their major crops which include sugar cane, watermelon, cantaloupe and talked of how critical tourism is to them.  We then enjoyed a one hour boat trip to Palo Verde National Park to observe aquatic birds, crocodiles, white-face monkeys and  numerous lizards.

This vacation was amazing – next year we should book for 2 weeks!

NYC Redux

By Steven Wright

It had been 10 years since I had traveled to New York City, I was last there in June of 2001, just months before the 911 tragedy, and since I had not had the desire to travel to the US, focusing my traveling dollars on European destinations. All that changed with  The Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s announcement of Savage Beauty, an exhibit dedicated to the evolution of Alexander McQueen‘s fashion career and an homage to his life. I had followed his career through the years with the help of Jeanne Becker and Fashion Television and I was not going to miss this opportunity.

After years of talking about my NYC experiences I was able to introduce Mike, my sister and her new husband to the big apple. There are a lot more options for traveling to NYC these days with Air Canada and a newly announced West Jet route offering direct flights to Laguardia, along with many American carriers servicing Laguardia, JFK and Newark airports. Living in the core of the city my choice for this trip was Porter Airlines from Billy Bishop Airport on the Toronto Island. As this airport is relatively small, there is less traffic through security, the airport is very accessible at the base of Bathurst Street with ferry service to the island, (a walkway development starting soon) and there is even complimentary shuttle service to/from Union Station. Air Canada services Montreal through Billy Bishop as well.

The Porter experience is all about service, the complimentary Porter Lounge features an amazing coffee and beverage bar, complete with snacks. Then relax at a table and chairs, or leather arm chair and enjoy the daily news and free WIFI. On board their fleet of Bombardier Aerospace Q400 turboprop aircraft the only seating options are window or isle, so you never have to sit in the middle. The beverages are complimentary and you even get a light meal on every flight from amazing attendants. This makes this an enjoyable voyage. Porter destinations include: Ottawa, Toronto, Montréal,  St. John’s, Halifax, Québec City, Mont Tremblant, Moncton, Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay, Windsor, Boston, Chicago, New York, Myrtle Beach, Timmins, Burlington VT, and Washington DC.

This was my first ever arrival at Newark, I was used to the transfer from Laguardia and JFK, but found the trip into the city from Newark easy, cheap and enjoyable. You can take the airport train to Penn Station, New Jersey and then transfer to a train into the city for under $10 USD. For this trip we stayed at the Sheraton Tribecca, close to my old stomping grounds in SOHO. The newly constructed hotel has great rooms with king sized beds, there is a restaurant in the lobby along with a Starbucks, and a $40 transfer by limo to and from Laguardia.

The continued evolution of NYC over the past 10 years had brought new high rise condo buildings, and boutique and other large hotel chains spreading their wings in previously undesirable locations. Trump Hotels and Suites have popped up like Starbucks all over the city. There are many more 5 star luxury hotels than ever and all over the city. The city seemed somewhat quieter, there was less horns honking, people yelling and emergency service sirens. Many new boutiques line the streets of SOHO and Tribecca including DASH by the Kardashian’s, Baby Phat by Kimora Lee Simmons, and other luxury brands like the Issey Miyiake Boutique which is a must stop as the interior was designed by Frank Gehry.

Speaking of Gehry, make your way down to City Hall and the base of the Brooklyn Bridge to see the largest residential tower in New York designed by Gehry. New York by Gehry at 8 Spruce Street offers luxury apartment rentals in glamorous suites with amazing views of the city and beyond. The building is silver in colour and almost wave like in design, a reference to the East River, the building looks almost like it is moving when the sun reflects off the curved surfaces throughout the day.

One of the newest attractions is The High Line, redeveloped from an out of service elevated rail line, the area now features public park space and activities for New Yorkers and tourists a like. The High Line is located on Manhattan’s West Side, it runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.

The newly opened National September 11th Memorial and Museum and the construction of the Freedom Tower and other buildings are well underway on the World Trade Centre site. The area is a hub of activity with visitors watching the buildings rise floor by floor and to pay respect to the lives lost. My favorite department store Century 21 is still located at the corners of Church and Courtlandt Streets and a great stop across the street from the 911 Memorial.

Times Square has cleaned up and is presenting a more family friendly environment, with the elimination of one of the lanes of traffic, providing a pedestrian walkway for tourists to enjoy all the sights and sights of the area. Broadway is holding strong with many performances Tuesday to Sunday, and you can still get day off discounted tickets at TKTS in the centre of Times Square. Further up Broadway, Columbus Circle has been redeveloped including the new corporate offices of Time Warner and Anderson Cooper’s talk show, across from Central Park.

Central Park is still the ultimate escape in the city. We took the opportunity to walk around the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, to visit Strawberry Fields, the Bethesda Fountain which was featured in Angels in America and the Hans Christian Anderson and the Alice in Wonderland statues. We got some ice cream from a vendor and enjoyed watching some of the league soccer and baseball games throughout the park. A bevy of activity was created as Police, pedestrians and other carriage operators realized a horse drawn carriage was racing down West 59th Street into traffic, towards Columbus Circle without a driver. Thankfully the carriage was stopped and the horses appeared ok as they were reunited with their owner.

We visited the Guggenhiem Museum, American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit was a patron favorite with line ups around the museum to gain access. Once inside the exhibit space, visitors had the opportunity to view clothing, accessories and footwear by the infamous designer including pieces from his early collections from alma mater Central St. Martens. Although very crowded the exhibit was awe inspiring and a great opportunity to experience the world of Alexander McQueen.

As a lover of ’90s NYC and Seinfeld, we traveled to 2880 Broadway at 112th Street for a lunch at Tom’s Restaurant made famous as the coffee shop throughout the Seinfeld series. Mike was ecstatic to be able to order multiple bowls of cereal, just like Jerry, while we joked about the big salad and who was going to pay the bill, it was our own Seinfeld episode. The food was typical of other greasy spoons through the city, cheap and filling.

Although it had been a decade since I had visited Manhattan, my love affair with the city continues. With more air competition from Toronto to NYC, its actually cheaper to get there leaving you more room to stay at one of the new 5 star hotels or to indulge yourself in more shopping.

New York Posts:
NYC Flashback
Photos:
New York Stories
MY Gehry Gallery
Gehry Posts:
Going for Gehry
Basque in the beauty of the Guggenheim and more in Bilbao
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Barcelona Beach, Mountain & Fountain

NYC Flashback

By Steven Wright

While attending university in the late 90′s, some friends and I decided we were going to take a bite out of the Big Apple. We bought tickets on the train from Union Station in Toronto to Penn Station in New York City, and arranged to stay at the unique and budget friendly Carlton Arms on 23 at 3rd. What we had not planned on was the impending snow storm that was pounding the Isle of Manhattan, and a storm that would continue through our 12 hour train ride. Actually make that 14 hours, as the storm had closed all three airports and the train was making additional stops along the way to try and help stranded commuters. Exiting Penn Station we were shocked at the amount of snow on the ground, and the general mess of traffic, partially created by the weather. We decided that without a shovel we needed a cab to get us to our hotel, and after unsuccessfully hailing our own cab, we were very observant and saw that people who were offering cash to the man in the middle of the road to get a cab, got the next one available. Following suit, we were in a cab, which took us about two blocks from The Carlton Arms and informed us that we should walk from here and dropped us off.

The Carlton Arms offers rooms designed by local artists, some with an ensuite washroom, most sharing the bathrooms in the hallways. The building is a walk up with a buzzer at the door. Every surface is covered with brightly coloured and sometimes thought provoking works of art, this includes the stairwells, the rooms and the washrooms. On arrival you are given a few keys of available rooms so you can choose which room is right for you. The staff are friendly with advice for anything you need and there is even a hotel cat.

It is incredibly easy to create a list of things to do in the city; theatres, shopping, parks, museums, restaurants and so much more, it can be hard though to fit all the things you want to do into one trip. My first trip created a love affair with the city, I found myself trying to take in all the city had to offer visiting quarterly throughout university. The energy of the city is alluring and intoxicating, constantly evolving and reinventing itself. As I started to research my new favorite destination I found an amazing 7 part, 14 hour series directed by Ric Burns for PBS called New York. The series traces the history of the city from its Dutch beginnings to present day, a must see for anyone interested in learning more about the city. As a frequent visitor and observer, the series reinforced my impression, that things are just done differently in NY than anywhere else in the world.

The late 90′s offered a lot for electronic music lovers and followers of DJ Culture, there was the emergence of Club Kids, and NY was the place to see the likes of Junior Vasquez and David Morales and visiting DJs like Carl Cox,  John Digweed, Tiesto, Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk. They played legendary venues like Peter Gatien’s Limelight, Twilo and Palladium. The club scene was amazing, brilliant lights, the DJs working the crowd and occasionally Madonna would make an appearance to drop her latest track. When the music ended, you would find yourself on the streets of the city, dawning sunglasses, heading back to catch a cat nap and a shower.

Being from Toronto, NYC gave me the opportunity to shop global brands that were not available in Canada. Fashion Television and Jeanne Becker taught me well, I would head down to Soho to the boutiques of Anna Sui, Isaac Mizrahi and my personal favorite Todd Oldham. Todd’s shop was located at 123 Wooster Street and I can not tell you how many times I was there hoping to have a chance run in with him. This was the era of Calvin Klien, Betsey Johnston and Donna Karan and many of the department stores like Bloomingdales and Macy’s were carrying these brands, which offered a poor student like me great sale prices on these popular brands. Then there were the luxury department stores like Saks, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys, here I liked to window shop and get to see the lines from the runway, truly amazing. Then I discovered NYCs best kept secret at Church and Cortlandt Sts, Century 21. This is an amazing store with last seasons items at incredible discounts, my favorite find was a pair of Jean Paul Gautier pants at 10% of the original ticket price.

NY is a haven for any fan of skyscrapers and architecture. The Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building, The Flatiron Building, 30 Rock, and the pinnacle on the tip of Manhattan was the World Trade Centre. These incredibly imposing buildings were a highlight of the city through the 90s. Towering over the rest of lower Manhattan and visible from all of the boroughs around the isle. They served as a gateway into the city and a symbol of the optimism of the city and its economic engine. I was hard to imagine the city before these buildings were constructed.

New York offers thousands of museums and galleries filled with well known and up and coming artists works. The Guggenheim Museum is Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, giving patrons the opportunity to start at the top of the gallery and make their way down the circular walkway down to the grand entrance. the opportunity to view artist works from multiple distances around the gallery allows for maximum enjoyment. The Metropolitan Museum started exhibiting fashion in their lower level, giving fashionistas the opportunity to see amazing gowns like the red dress collection from Valentino. The Museum of Modern Art is filled with works by contemporary artists like Jackson Pollack, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol.

No trip to New York City is complete without attending a Broadway show and times square. TKTS in Times Square offers day-of discounted tickets and afforded me to see up and coming stars like Matthew Broderick in How To Succeed in Business, Sarah Jessica Parker in Once Upon a Mattress, and Allen Cumming in Cabaret (at the former Studio 54). Times Square and Broadway in the ’90s was a little more colourful, as it was an area also known for prostitution and the sex trade.

Back before the world became obsessed with paparazzi photos of celebrities, you could actually find yourself in a restaurant at a table next to celebrities. I recall grabbing a bite at Joe Jr. Restaurant in Gramercy only to discover Isaac Mizrahi and Sandra Bernhard at the booth behind us. Cafeteria style seating was popular in the 90′s, you never know who would be sitting next to you, at the time I was a huge fan of Claudia Schiffer, and one night ended up sitting with a photographer that was just going over his proofs after shooting with Claudia earlier that day. What a city! One of my favorite places to eat in New York is Cowgirl on Hudson, a lesbian tex-mex bar and restaurant with one of the best chicken fried chicken I have ever tasted, served with a huge scoop of mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy.

Summertime weekends in NY feature street markets, truck arrive in early morning and within an hour the streets are closed to traffic and tents and booths are set up selling everything from food to clothing to almost anything you could imagine. The markets are traveling and move to a different street every week. This also gives you the opportunity to different areas within the city to explore interesting less touristy areas like The East Village, China Town, Little Italy, even venture up for brunch and enjoy the sounds of the Harlem Boys Choir.

Strolling through Central Park is an amazing escape in the city, whether in Strawberry Fields or walking around the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservior, you find yourself forgetting about the busy city surrounding the park. You should give yourself an entire day if you want to explore all the park has to offer.

I started watching for seat sales on airlines, I had mastered public transportation from La Guardia, JFK and Newark and eliminating the long train trip from Toronto gave me more time to explore NYC. It was in June of 2001 that I spent half a day down at the World Trade Centre, photographing and admiring the structure and their presence as I sipped on my cappuccino. It was the last time I would see these buildings in person before the 911 tragedy and the last time for almost 10 years that I would visit the city I love.

Photos:
NY Stories Photo Gallery
NYC Posts:
Going for Gehry