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Hello Toronto!

Canada #21 Toronto

The subway journey from our suburban Airbnb to Toronto’s CBD was not long but the difference in outlook was amazing. In High Park, a few people were out walking or enjoying the summer weather on their front verandahs.

At Union Station in the city centre, we were engulfed by a bustling crowd all intent on their own agenda. Unlike most of those people, on our first day in Toronto, we had no particular destination. We spent the day exploring.

From Union Station, we headed south along Bay Street towards Lake Ontario. At Harbour Square Park, we watched the ferries coming and going, taking passengers over the water to Toronto Islands.

Our plan to walk some way along the lake shore was dashed by the horrified look on the face of the lady in the Tourist Information van. “Oh no. Don’t go there,” she said with an expression which told us it wasn’t a good idea. She directed us back along Bay Street with a right turn onto Front Street, assuring us this was a safer and more interesting route. She was right! There was a lot to see along Front Street.

We didn’t have to read the name on this building; the images on the sides gave away its purpose. The Hockey Hall of Fame, first opened in 1943, moved to Front Street in 1993. The building dates from 1885 and was originally head office for the Bank of Montreal.

At Berczy Park we came across this fanciful fountain, where 27 dogs pay homage to a golden bone. Later we found out there is also one cat and wished we’d known to look for it.

Just beyond Berczy Park is the original Flatiron building. Constructed in 1892, 10 years before its more famous cousin in New York, it was head office for the Gooderham and Worts Distillery for 60 years. Today,  commercial offices and a popular pub fill the building. The rear façade of the Flatiron is decorated with a large trompe l’oeil mural, a mirror image of the building opposite.

Further along Front Street is St Lawrence Market. Farmers have sold their fresh produce on this site since 1803 and the current building dates from 1848. Voted the world’s best food market by National Geographic in 2012, there are 120 speciality stores selling locally sourced fresh foods. The market is open every Tuesday to Saturday.

Our final stop in this direction was the historic Distillery District, founded by the same family who built the Flatiron building. The first building on the site was a windmill constructed in 1832. The Gooderham and Worts whiskey distillery soon followed and, by the 1860s, was the largest distillery in the world. Production continued until 1990. In 2001, the abandoned buildings were repurposed as boutique shops, restaurants and residences surrounded by gardens, sculptures and artworks. The district hosts a vibrant series of cultural events and festivals throughout the year.

We retraced our steps along Front Street back to Union Station and continued on in the other direction to CN Tower. At 553.3 metres high, the communications and observation tower is visible from anywhere. Up close, its height is daunting and tourists braving the Edge Walk outside the observation deck look like tiny insects.

The Rogers Centre, a multi-purpose stadium and home of Toronto’s major league baseball team the Toronto Blue Jays, is nearby. This day the stadium was quiet but when a home game is played more than 30,000 people come to cheer on their team.

Leaving Front Street, we walked along York Street to our final destination. Nathan Philips Square, where the old and new City Halls sit side by side, is one of the most photographed parts of the city. Toronto City Council operated in the old City Hall from 1899 before moving across the forecourt to the new building in 1966.

Three Freedom Arches dedicated to Canadians who have fought for freedom for all span the reflecting pool. The TORONTO sign is flanked at one end by a maple leaf commemorating the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation and at the other by a traditional medicine wheel acknowledging First Nations peoples.

We were glad we talked to the lady in her information van at Harbour Square Park. She really did send us in the right direction!

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In the Right Place

Canada #19 Vancouver

The distinctive white sails of Canada Place are an iconic part of the Vancouver waterfront skyline and we quickly came to recognise them everywhere we went. From the Seabus on Burrard Inlet they stood out among the city skyscrapers, even when surrounded by cruise ships. At the lookout on Grouse Mountain, they were clearly visible on the waterfront. We could even see them from our 21st floor apartment in downtown Vancouver.

Close up the 30 metre high fibreglass sails are just as spectacular, but they are only one part of Canada Place. It’s the home of the Port of Vancouver and the cruise ship terminal, which can accommodate up to four huge ships at one time. Luxury hotels stand alongside the World Trade Centre and the Vancouver Convention Centre.

On the west promenade of Canada Place we went on a virtual trek across Canada, from ocean to ocean. The Canadian Trail consists of 13 sections designed to represent the 10 provinces and three territories of the nation.

Colourful glass plates embedded in the walkway list communities small and large, some well-known to us and others not familiar. We followed our own route through Canada, a few places we’d already been to and others we were yet to visit.

A mile-marker set into the pavement was another indicator of the distances we would cover on our Canadian journey.

This part of Burrard Inlet is an airport on the water, with tiny seaplanes continually taking off and landing. Even after seeing them in Victoria we were still entranced and stopped to watch as each one arrived or departed.

The trail ends at North Point with 360° views of the city, from the snow-capped mountains of the north shore to Stanley Park in the west, across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver and east to the bustling Port of Vancouver.

We retraced our steps across Canada on the Canadian Trail and returned to the white sails of Canada Place. From our apartment to the waterfront those sails became our point of reference for our city explorations.

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Hidden Wonder

Canada #12 Brandywine Falls

We heard it long before we could see it.

The rushing water of Brandywine Creek, tumbling in a flurry of whitecaps under the little covered bridge, was the first indication of what was ahead.

Lush greenery surrounded us on the forest trail and, even when we lost sight of the water, the sound of its haste was always in the background.

We came to a railway crossing and, for a few seconds, our attention was diverted. These were not the unusual vehicles we’ve seen on train tracks.

A little further along the trail, our steps quickened in anticipation as we caught glimpses of what was to come.

All was revealed when, around the next bend, Brandywine Falls came into view. As the surging water of the creek reached the edge of an ancient lava flow, it plunged 70 metres to the base of the basalt cliffs before continuing on its way into the Cheakamus Valley.

No wonder we could hear the sound of the falls!

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For the Love of Flowers

Canada #4 Butchart Gardens

I wonder if, when Jennie Butchart first began designing her garden in 1906, she imagined how many people would come to visit in the future. Her work was the start of what would become the famous Butchart Gardens, 22 hectares of floral beauty visited by one million people every year.

Jennie’s first project was the Japanese Garden, complete with a red torii gate and traditional stone lanterns. Arched bridges span a series of ornamental lakes, and Japanese maples provide shade for beds of delicate Himalayan blue poppies.

The Sunken Garden was designed to fill the abandoned quarry which had once provided limestone to the family’s cement factory. A switchback path leads down into the garden, continuing on between raised beds of seasonal blooms, flowering trees and neatly manicured lawns.

At the furthest end of the Sunken Garden, the Ross Fountain performs a dazzling display of dancing water, at times reaching a height of 21 metres.

In contrast to the order of the Sunken Garden, the Rose Garden is almost riotous in its abundance. Fragrant blooms in every colour fill archways and spill out onto the paths. Arbors draped with climbing roses and oversized hanging baskets beckon visitors, who stop time and again to take more photos.

The Italian Garden and Star Pond are more formal in style, with trimmed hedges, waterlily ponds and ornamental fountains. Fuschias, clustered like ballerinas waiting in the wings, dangle from more hanging baskets.

Shaded seats with beautiful views are provided here for those enjoying a treat from the Gelataria.

In any season, the gardens are busy with people who’ve come to marvel at the beauty created by Jennie Butchart.

I think she’d be pleased to know how much joy her vision still brings, more than 100 years after she planted her first roses.

 

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A Change of Plans

Canada #3 Victoria

At the start, it wasn’t going to be a long walk! From the waterfront in downtown Victoria to Fisherman’s Wharf along the David Foster Harbour Pathway was just one kilometre.

We could have taken a relaxing carriage ride past the elegant buildings on Belleville Street but we were glad we didn’t.

We would have missed seeing the continual arrival and departure of the Harbour Air seaplanes. We marvelled at the skill of the pilots and the lightness with which these tiny aircraft landed on the water.

We wouldn’t have come across the Friendship Bell, symbol of a 30 year bond between the citizens of Morioka, Japan and Victoria.

We wouldn’t have seen these beautiful waterlilies, serenely floating in a water garden along the front of an apartment building.

When we arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf, the cafés, boutiques and tourist shops were all bustling with people enjoying the fine summer weather. We admired the colourful float homes lined up against the jetties and wondered about the lifestyle of the inhabitants. The queues at the cafés were long and the tables were full, so we decided to continue further along the path.

We passed the Canadian Coast Guard and the Victoria Harbour Heliport before arriving at Ogden Point, part of the traditional lands of the Lekwungen peoples. Ogden Point is the busiest cruise ship port in Canada; each year more than 400,000 passengers start their visit to Victoria here.

Ogden Point Breakwater, a 762 metre long concrete wall jutting out into the calm waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, is decorated with Na’Tsa’Maht – The Unity Wall. The mural painted by Salish Nations artists depicts the stories, past and present, of the local First Nations peoples.

After trekking out to the Ogden Point Breakwater Lighthouse and back, it was time for a rest at the Breakwater Café Bistro Bar. We enjoyed steaming hot chocolates served with a view of the snow-capped Olympic Mountains across the water in Washington State.

Continuing along Dallas Road to Holland Point Park, we joined the Waterfront Trail which passes through the park to the Shoreline Trail. Both tracks were lined with delicate pink flowers growing wild on the edge of the cliff. Huge piles of driftwood washed up by the ocean lay in stacks along the shore below.

At Douglas Street we left the Waterfront Trail, stopping first at the Mile Zero Monument which marks the start of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Nearby we paid our respects at a statue of Terry Fox, the inspirational teenager who, after losing his leg to cancer, started a run across Canada in 1980 to raise awareness and funds for cancer research. He never finished the journey, succumbing to the disease after running 5,373 kilometres in 143 days. Today, his legacy lives on in the Terry Fox Foundation.

Further down Douglas Street we entered Beacon Hill Park, where a giant watering can sprays cooling water from its spout on hot days. The ducks at Goodacre Lake didn’t need a hot day to take to the water – they were all bottoms up in search of tasty morsels.

We walked past a local school with a famous name and an intriguing place in Canadian political history and the Royal BC Museum, on our list for another day.

At last we arrived back where we’d started in downtown Victoria. Our walk may have been much longer than we planned, but we saw a lot more than we expected.

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Feathers and Fur

An Australian Point of View #6 Healesville Sanctuary

Australia is renowned for its unique wildlife and we sometimes joke that international visitors imagine there are kangaroos jumping down our main streets. While estimates put the kangaroo population at more than 50 million, urban dwellers don’t tend to see them unless they leave the towns and cities behind and head into rural areas. Other well-known Australian animals like koalas, echidnas and platypuses are even more difficult to spot in the wild.

A beautiful place to see many of our native animals is Healesville Sanctuary, an hour’s drive from Melbourne in the Yarra Valley. A bushland zoo dedicated to Australian fauna, the sanctuary is home to those native animals with which we are all familiar and some others less ordinary.



Two walk-through aviaries, Land of Parrots and the Wetlands, have purpose-built hides where visitors can quietly observe native birds in their natural environment.


Flightless emus have their own large enclosure.

The zoo has an extensive conservation and breeding program for some of Australia’s most threatened or endangered species.

Native flowering plants bring seasonal colour to the paths leading through each bushland environment.

Unsurprisingly, the most popular exhibit is the Koala Forest, where raised boardwalks and platforms rise up into the canopy of the eucalypts. Here, the sleepy marsupials rest in the forked branches of manna gums, seemingly unaware of their admiring audience.

For a close up view of Australia’s unique wildlife, Healesville Sanctuary is the perfect choice – it’s easier than waiting on the street!

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From Trash to Treasure

Kevtoberfest#24 Mitta Mitta

After our scenic drive through the Alpine National Park, we arrived at the tiny township of Mitta Mitta, home to 31 permanent residents. When Glen asked the manager if there was free Wi-Fi for our phones he laughed and said, “You’ll be lucky to get a TV channel let alone any phone reception.” It was going to be a quiet night.

With a couple of free hours before the sun set, we went for a walk beside the Mitta Mitta River. In the shallows, the water bubbled over the rocky riverbed while on the broad bends the surface was calmer, mirroring the evergreen eucalypts and bare-branched poplars on the river bank.


Kookaburras perched high in a gum tree greeted us, their raucous laugh breaking the silence.

Just as we were thinking Mitta Mitta must be the sleepiest town in Australia we came across some evidence which proved us wrong. Spaced along the grassy path were sculptures, all composed of bits and pieces, discarded scrap metal and household items past their use-by date. The plaque accompanying each piece told us these were all previous entrants in the Bushcraft Sculpture competition at the Mighty Mitta Muster.








We discovered we’d come to Mitta Mitta at the wrong time of year. Every March, the muster attracts thousands of visitors to the little town. Typical country events include a rodeo, wood chop, tug of war and whip cracking, along with craft stalls, horse and dog competitions, athletics and a fun run.

Next time we go to Mitta Mitta, we might need to book ahead!

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