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 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.

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

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

Chic Outlet Shopping – Europe

By Steven Wright

Without a doubt one of the great things about traveling to Europe is the shopping. You have access to more of the luxury brand offerings and the up and coming designers labels that have yet to have major presence in the Americas. I have recently written about my trip to Outlet City Metzingen and have just discovered Chic Outlet Shopping.

Strategically located close to many tourist destinations, Chic Outlet Shopping is a series of shopping experiences throughout Europe. Each Village offers a unique setting, restaurants and cafes, tourist information and luxury and designer brands offering last season’s genuine merchandise at huge discounts. I say genuine merchandise as many US outlets carry lines that were created exclusively for the outlet stores, where Chic Outlet Shopping boasts last seasons (3-4 months old) lines that were sold on the high streets. The Villages offer Tax-Free shopping for tourists.

The Shopping Express, a round-trip luxury coach bus service with WIFI from many major centres in Europe offers a great way to have a girl’s shopping day or even take the whole family. Shopping Day Experiences give you the VIP treatment with round-trip luxury coach bus service with WIFI, a VIP Day Card, lunch and a 50€ Gift Card. Currently available at La Vallée, Fidenza and Maasmechelen Villages. Or even create your own shopping experiences including chauffeur driven transfers from your hotel, a personal shopper who will shop with you all day, provide feedback and their expertise to help you make the most of your day, and meals at the restaurants and cafes on site. A travel agent like myself can help you make those arrangements before you depart.

There are a variety of luxury and designer brands across the Villages, but each village is unique in their offering. Some of the brands include Alexander McQueen, Armani, Bvlgari, Burberry, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Mathew Williamson, Paul Smith, Polo, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Valentino, Versace, Yves St Laurent and much much more. Check each Village for their offering.

Contact me to book your escape to Chic Outlet Shopping

London · Bicester Village
Dublin · Kildare Village
Paris · La Vallée Village
Madrid · Las Rozas Village
Barcelona · La Roca Village
Milan / Bologna · Fidenza Village
Brussels / Antwerp / Cologne · Maasmechelen Village
Frankfurt · Wertheim Village
Munich · Ingolstadt Village

Other Shopping Posts:
Outlet City Metzingen
Shopping in Berlin – ja, das ist gut!
Finding Karl, Jean-Paul and Christian in Paris
La Rambla is just a warm up to shopping in Barcelona

366 Steps to Heaven in Historic Bruges

By Steven Wright

Bruges is a delightful little city with the historic centre designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cobblestone streets, historic sites and canals provide a delightful backdrop to great shopping, fine dining and upscale hotels appealing to tourists from around the world. If you only plan on having one day in town I would suggest starting early as on a sunny day the narrow streets fill up quickly and sometimes can be a little crowded.

Whether you arrive in Bruges by train or cruise ship, it is a short and reasonably cheap trip in a cab from the train station and approximately 15 km from Zeebrugge cruise port. I would suggest starting your visit in the  historic centre at Markt Square. The square is dominated by the Belfry Tower, a medieval bell tower, the tour promotes “366 steps to Heaven” which brings you to the top with a 360 degree view around the city. If you have not yet had the chance to climb a tower in Europe then this is a good one to try, if you have been up a few towers, the choice is yours.

Mrkt Square is lined with beautiful historic buildings including the Post Office, and don’t miss the cobblestone walkway on the south west corner of the square leading to Burg Square. Many of the buildings in this area are adorned with gold, everywhere you look is another beautiful building. The winding streets around the square offer great shopping with many international brands and department stores, there are also many shops and boutiques with unique items and keepsakes from your trip.

The old city is filled with churches that are open to the public and many allow pictures to be taken of their interiors. I would suggest the best one to visit would be The Church of our Lady, the tallest structure in Bruges and its Cathedral. Inside you will find a Michelangelo statue of Madonna & Child that is known to be the only sculpture to leave Italy during his lifetime.

The narrow streets are lined with small historic buildings, many with adornments of statues and sculptures of a religious or somewhat humorous nature, they are great to look out for as you make your way through town. Some areas feature have tie up posts and watering spots for horses. Grab a spot on the Braambergstraat bridge for one of the most picturesque spots in the city. Travel by horse carriage on a guided tour of the old city, or grab a seat in the many boat tours allowing you to travel through the canals for a different perspective of the city.

For a little break from the busy streets head to the Beguinage, a monastary for the Benedictine sisters who continue to reside here today. A group of small houses surround a park filled with Poplar trees slightly tilted off centre. This area of town provides a bit of a refuge from the busy city and a chance to quietly relax and rejuvenate before heading back.

Belgium is famous for a few items including chocolate, waffles  and beer and there are many opportunities to try out these delicacies while in Bruges. Freshly made Belgian waffles smothered with Belgian chocolate can be a great snack, or grab some chocolate covered strawberries for your walk. Relax at one of the patios with one of the over 450 varieties of beer produced in Belgium, kind of like the Belgian chocolate you may have to try a few.

There are many ways to visit as Bruges is centrally located with close proximity to Brussels with an international airport and rail links to The Netherlands, France, Germany and beyond. The port of Zeebrugge (Bruges by the sea) is a popular cruise ship destination with more then 10,000 annual moorings. A travel agent like myself can help you to include Bruges as part of your itinerary. See more Bruges in my photo gallery below.

Photo Gallery:
Bruges
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
Antwerpen – The Diamond of Belgium
Brussels, EU Headquarters & A Great Link to the Rest of Europe