Last stop Toronto…
We had left booking accommodation in Toronto until very late in the piece as we had a couple of friends that we may be catching up with. As they don’t live in the city itself, it could affect the location of our stay – or some of the nights at least – and as they were both having a few challenges, there was some uncertainty whether we’d manage to see them. Eventually, we made the decision to spend all four nights in the city and take it from there.
Hopping into our car in Montreal, Glenda switched on the GPS, and lo and behold it was asking for a PIN, something it hadn’t done in the time we’d had it. Budget emergency services couldn’t help as all they did was solve problems with the car itself, so we had to resort to Plan B. Fortunately, Walter had downloaded a navigation app that didn’t need data (we didn’t have much of that left on our plan), so we could use that.
It turned into a bit of a horror trip! No sooner had we jumped on to the highway in Montreal, than we came to a detour and couldn’t go anywhere near the road we were meant to be on. Never mind, we got over that one quickly enough – with only a few minor squabbles – and were on the 401 heading to Toronto. What we hadn’t considered was that it was a Sunday afternoon and driving into a city at the end of a summer weekend is never a good idea! Gridlock! On top of it all, the chord that Walter had used to plug into the USB port hadn’t been working, and just outside Toronto Glenda noticed his battery was at 6%! Grrr! To cut a long story short, we found another cable, charged the battery and arrived at the hotel in one piece!
Staying in the lap of luxury…
By the time we finally did bite the bullet and choose to stay in downtown Toronto, another shooting had taken place in the city. Not sure whether this had an influence on prices of hotels, but we managed to pick up a deal that we really couldn’t refuse. Having seen a number of Fairmont Hotels all over Canada (https://www.fairmont.com/about-us/), we thought it would be good to stay at one as they are such lovely historic buildings. But we couldn’t justify it as they were just way too pricey. So, when we spotted an amazing rate for one of their signature rooms, we jumped at the opportunity.
Whilst the lobby was exquisite and the room was huge and beautifully decorated, in no way did it live up to the hype – or to LHotel in Montreal. Being so big (1365 rooms), meant that service was impersonal and sporadic – even on arrival, there was little effort made by the concierge staff to assist. Interconnecting doors made the rooms really noisy – I’d expect better soundproofing from a luxury hotel – and waiting 5-10 minutes for a lift because the others weren’t working for 3 days is not what one envisages. We were glad to have stayed in a Fairmont, but would not be heralding it as the place to stay (although it is most certainly the place to be seen!).
Architecture & art…
We wouldn’t refer to Toronto as a beautiful city. As we love all things boats and water, we enjoyed strolling along the waterfront –adjacent to Lake Ontario – but won’t call it the most attractive we’ve seen. What was fascinating was watching the planes take off over the water from Billy Bishop, a regional airport on Toronto Island, minutes over the water from the city.
Behind the waterfront are rows of huge office blocks before crossing the railway and freeway to enter the main part of the city. Our friends in Ottawa had recommended a trip to the old Distillery District, restored and full of galleries, bars and restaurants.
In the main part of the city, there was a melange of architectural styles – some lovely old buildings (like our hotel and the nearby markets), some that had incorporated historic buildings into new and others that were modern skyscrapers.
Even though it wasn’t particularly high, we could see the tower from just about everywhere. There were a few interesting artworks scattered around town, including a fountain where the spouts were dogs and at the top of the structure was a large golden bone.
On one of our walks along the lake, we came across Sugar Beach. What was once a carpark, was transformed into a beach in 2010 across the wharf of the Repath Sugar Factory. Container ships still unload raw sugar here. It is rather unusual having the beach with the large ships so close. Although not in the picture we took, we were also fascinated by the planes taking off at Billy Bishop which was very close by.
Shoes, shoes & more shoes…
During our time on Vancouver Island, Helen the hiking friend of Brian & Meta, had told us about the Bata Shoe Museum (BSM) in Toronto. Being on the outskirts of the city, and seeming a strange place to visit, we didn’t think we’d get there. But on one of our typical long walks, as we had already ventured close by, we decided to take a look. And it turned out to be fascinating – even to people who don’t have a shoe obsession as so many others do.
Sonja Bata could be seen as having been the world’s most extreme lover of shoes. Since the 1940’s, she scoured the world for shoes of every description, from the most ordinary to the most extraordinary. In 1979, when her collection had outgrown the available private storage space, the Bata family established the Bata Shoe Museum Foundation. Over the years, the Foundation has funded various field trips to collect and research footwear in areas where traditions are changing rapidly. The main objective of the Foundation is to operate an international centre for footwear research which houses the Bata Shoe Museum’s collection.
The BSM has over a thousand shoes and related artefacts on display (from a collection numbering over 13,000) in architect Raymond Moriyama’s award-winning five-floor structure. It consists of four impressive galleries with footwear on display from Chinese bound foot shoes and ancient Egyptian sandals to chestnut-crushing clogs and glamorous platforms, reflecting over 4,500 years of history. Glenda was captivated by the Alaskan fish skin boots – made of salmon skin, they were tanned using urine, helping to stabilise the skin and ensure their impermeability. The Italian chopines, dating from the 16th century, would not have been visible under the sumptuous skirts of the day but were still made from extravagant materials.
At the time of our visit, there was also an exhibition of Manolo Blahnik – the Art of Shoes– showcasing over 200 of his favourite shoes and 80 drawings. The tour started in Milan in January 2017 and made its way to Prague, St Petersburg and Madrid before landing in Toronto. Manolo Blahnik is one of the world’s most influential footwear designers. He never studied shoe making formally but learned the skills by visiting shoe factories and talking to pattern cutters, technicians and machine operators. The exquisitely shaped lasts and heels he creates for his shoes are still perfected with his very own hands. The lines and silhouette of his distinctive designs remain instantly recognisable as unique exercises in precision and balance, exquisite workmanship and luxury. “Shoes,” he says, “help transform a woman.” Blahnik draws the design of a pair of shoes, and hand-crafts the shoes himself. He carves the wood last, which he then hand sculpts the shoe onto. When the time comes for mass production, he oversees every step to ensure each shoe is an exact copy of his original creation. He always keeps every one of his designs. Manolo Blahnik’s shoe styles are kept to small exclusive production numbers and his style signature is easily recognizable.
Catching up with a friend…
We had eventually managed to organise a catch-up with our friend Jan, a Canadian born Aussie we met at our church in Brisbane. She was spending time with her family near her hometown not too far from Toronto. After checking out of our hotel, we had a day to spare before we needed to head to the airport for our flight to Europe, so we drove out to meet Jan in Cambridge. Cambridge turned out to b a pretty little place at the confluence of the Grand and Speed rivers. There were heaps ofbeautiful old stone buildings and churches. It was nice to share a sandwich with Jan before taking a walk alongside the river.
Eventually we had to say goodbye – to Jan and ultimately to Canada!