I love Google Maps. Sometimes I bring up Toronto and explore the city from above, searching for interesting streets, suburbs, towns and green areas around the GTA to potentially explore in real life.
A few months ago I became curious about this peninsula extending into Lake Ontario, south of Leslie Street in Toronto’s east end:
I soon found myself researching Tommy Thompson Park to see if it was worth visiting. I was surprised to learn the peninsula, known as the Leslie Street Spit, is entirely man-made out of millions of tonnes of concrete, rubble, earth and dredged sand. Construction began in the 1950’s with the intention of providing port facilities for Toronto’s outer harbour, but the demand declined in the end due to a decrease in shipping across the lake. Nevertheless, there was still a need to dispose of disused building materials from the ever-expanding city so construction of the headland continued primarily as a dumping ground.
The headland was opened to the public in the early 1970’s with a huge transformation taking place in the decades that followed, from that of a refuse ground into an area of environmental and recreational significance. It’s with thanks to organisations such as Friends of the Spit that the people of Toronto can today enjoy a beautiful green space boasted as North America’s most remarkable public urban wilderness, complete with over 400 species of plant life, 300 species of birds, cycling tracks, walking trails and some of the most gorgeous scenery you’re likely to see so close to a major city.
I paid my first visit to Tommy Thompson Park in July of this year, where I was quick to note its impressive greenery. Unfortunately it was a gloomy day and I barely made it a few hundred metres into the park before the skies opened up and I had to turn around. I did manage to snap a few pictures that day, which I took as a brief introduction to what was yet to come:
It wasn’t until yesterday that my friend Loanne and I finally got around to embarking upon an adventure to the lighthouse at the far end of the park. It was a chilly fall morning – 1°C as I left home, as a matter of fact – but the sun was shining brightly and the air was still. Perfect weather for a 10km hike, as far as I was concerned!
Here is some of what we saw:
It’s difficult to believe that when construction of the spit began, there was no intention whatsoever for it to become an urban wilderness. I can’t imagine what anyone involved in its initial development would think if they saw how breathtaking it’s turned out today.
As with most attractions I see in & around Toronto, I would highly recommend any local to visit Tommy Thompson Park to see it for themselves. I’m already making plans to go back at some stage during the winter and I can’t wait to see how different the wetlands look under a couple of glorious feet of snow.
Way back in 2009 while living & working in London, my delightful colleagues and I embarked on a team night out to Garlic & Shots, a restaurant in Soho that serves no meal without said ingredient. I recall ordering a pasta dish (the sauce of which was absolutely piled with the spicy white clove) and washing it down with a garlic beer before rounding off the feast with a huge bowl of garlic ice cream. That’s not to mention the shot of garlic honey vodka we sampled in the Swedish gothic metal bar below the dining room. I never thought I’d ever experience so much garlic in one sitting again.
Well, I’m pleased to announce today was the day I broke my garlic consumption personal best by a long shot, thanks to the Toronto Garlic Festival. Held annually at the picturesque Don Valley Brickworks, the festival celebrates the harvest of garlic throughout the province of Ontario. With around 80 exhibitors taking part in this year’s festival, punters were spoilt for choice when it came to the sheer variety of the bulb available for purchase, garlic-themed cooking demonstrations and garlic-inspired culinary delights – both savoury and sweet.
My afternoon at the event began at the garlic sampling booth, where friendly festival staff spent their time peeling & crushing ‘shots’ of raw Ontarian garlic into the hands of whoever dared to try. There was also lemon & parsley on hand to add some zest to the fiery mouthful.
I took a shot and explored the busy marketplace a little, eventually settling upon a cup of this delicious 4,000 Clove Organic Garlic Soup – the first of what was to be many samples of garlicy cuisine throughout the day. It wasn’t overpowering at all; the ingredients were perfectly balanced. I wish I asked them for the recipe.
I felt extra macho and went back for a second shot of raw garlic.
I tried a gourmet corn tortilla – this included beans, cheese, greens and salsa on a freshly-cooked tortilla full of roasted garlic within the dough. The garlic flavour wasn’t all that prominent, but the wrap was altogether well worth the $4 I spent on it.
Man, it was busy. There was a much greater turnout than I ever could have expected there to be at a garlic festival.
Next on the menu was a light refreshment in the way of a black garlic truffle from Laura Slack Chocolate Artist. Weren’t these just divine! I bought two of them; the sweet relish of the infused syrup proved nowhere near as intimidating as their black skull-like appearance.
Morgan’s On The Danforth were putting on a cooking demonstration so I stopped by to watch for a few minutes. They were serving up a pasta dish using five different vegetables (plus garlic, of course). I didn’t get to try any but it looked pretty fancy:
Of all the recipes on offer, I was most excited about trying the garlic coffee from Incredible Spice, especially seeing as it was described as a warm garlic infused spiced coffee with maple cream and pumpkin vanilla dust. It was in hot demand located right by the market’s entrance, taking nearly 10 minutes to get my hands on a serving. Although it sounded incredible in theory, I instead quickly concluded that garlic is not likely to become a staple ingredient in my coffee any time soon.
The friendly folk at Cedar Grove Organic Farm suggested a bulb of Ontario Music Garlic as an ingredient in my spaghetti bolognese sauce (which I have since cooked and thoroughly enjoyed):
I went back to the sample booth for my third and final shot of garlic. My mouth hurt a little after devouring that one.
I wasn’t finished yet though – for dessert, I couldn’t go past a serving of Magic Oven’s Garlic Apple French Toast with Crème Fraîche. I think I was becoming desensitised to the flavour of garlic by now. The French Toast was indeed as appetising as it looked, but I could barely make out the spice in amongst the sweetness.
By this stage I was pretty well garliced out. I was ready to call it a day… and then I saw Le Dolci’s garlic macaroons. Wow.
Ok, I totally would have gone the ice cream as well but it sold out by the time I made it to the stall 🙁
Tony V was easily winning the Ontario Science Centre garlic breath contest with a reading of 17 parts hydrogen sulphide per billion! I wanted to try it out but it took 10 minutes to recalibrate the machine after every use, and there was already a substantial line up.
The many varieties of garlic on offer throughout the marketplace:
What a great idea for a festival that was. I fully encourage other cities around the globe to take inspiration from Toronto and put on their own garlic festival.
I may be all garliced out right now, but I’ll definitely come back next year for more 😀
Almost immediately after I scored my job in Toronto in October last year, I went straight onto Craigslist to look for a shared apartment to live in. Prior to that I surfed a handful of hostels and cheap hotels around various parts of the city for two weeks, waiting on that elusive moment where I secured a local income and could afford to pay rent. I was super keen on finding somewhere to live in this exciting new city and couldn’t wait to finally have my own private room, with access to a half decent kitchen.
And indeed I found somewhere. Surprisingly quickly. I responded to one ad, viewed the room that evening, and moved in the following day. Now, it wasn’t the nicest apartment in the world – I could tell from the outset that it was to be the overall dodgiest dwelling I’ve ever resided in. But I couldn’t fault its location on the outskirts of the beautiful Kensington Market, not to mention a bunch of awesome flatmates who quickly became good friends, and my comfortable little room which kept me hell warm during the frosty winter months. Aside from our shifty landlord and the feeble wifi network that was often unusable for weeks at a time, I couldn’t really complain.
Everything was going more or less ok at my pad on Dundas West & Augusta until Tuesday last week.
I was on my way out for the evening to see a Pete Murray gig, when I was greeted at the front door by around 15 people all looking very serious and official. There were a few from the fire department, a few from the council and a few from the Red Cross. A lady introduced herself and in no uncertain terms told me the city had no choice but to close down the building due to safety concerns. I was instructed to go back upstairs, pack myself a change of clothes and find a friend to stay with. If I didn’t have a friend to stay with, I could talk to the Red Cross and they’d be able to put me up for the night at a community centre somewhere. I was told the building would be open the following day between 10am and 4pm with the fire department in attendance, and everyone who lived here had those hours only to pack their stuff and get out.
Everything changed in that moment.
One second, you think you’re piecing your life together, then the next, your whole apartment gets evicted immediately & without notice and you realise you’re homeless.
I don’t know exactly how many people lived there, but at a guess I would say at least 40 of us lost our home that night.
I studied the eviction notice and found the building severely failed an inspection, which happened a couple of days beforehand:
1. The building was not designed or approved to be used as a rooming house 2. Fire safety systems in accordance with Division B Section 9.3 are not in place. Equipment such as a fire alarm system, emergency lighting and exit signs have not been installed in accordance with the Ontario Fire Code. 3. The means of egress for occupants of the basement is an exit that is through the main floor retail store. This is neither a suitable nor an approved exit to allow occupants to quickly evacuate the building 4. There were numerous uses of temporary wiring (i.e. inappropriate use of extension cords) throughout the building 5. Cooking is being performed in areas not designed for food preparation on hot plates in several areas of the building 6. The electrical panel for the building has not been appropriately wired resulting in a potential electrical fire risk situation 7. The furnace rooms in basement and second floor lack appropriate fire separation as per the Ontario Fire Code 8. There are unrated storage rooms (containing textile rolls) and sleeping rooms within the corridors that are lacking the required fire separations as per the Ontario Fire Code 9. Lacking approved fire safety plan and posted emergency procedures
In other words: if there had been a fire, we all would have died.
I heard from one of the tenants who lived in the basement that the conditions downstairs were extremely cramped & unsafe – and he shared the space with 24 other people. I had no idea about that.
As painful as it was for everyone, it was clearly for the best that the place got shut down before tragedy struck.
Thankfully, a very kind friend was able to put me up at her house that night. I probably would have slept in a park if it wasn’t for that.
I returned to the apartment the next morning. The Red Cross (who did an AMAZING job at helping us all, by the way) had found emergency accommodation for up to 2 weeks for anyone who needed it at a hotel near the airport in Mississauga, around 30km east of Toronto. But I can tell you this much: if I had to live in Mississauga, I would have just headed straight to the airport and caught the next plane back to Australia. It wasn’t an option.
By a stroke of good fortune, I found out through a friend about a summer hostel in the city that offered single rooms at a monthly rate. I booked a room straight away and spent the day moving my gear across on the tram into this building where I remain today. It’s far from ideal, but it’ll do for now. I have accommodation sorted for August thanks to another kind friend who is letting me rent her room while she’s away. I have no idea what will eventuate come September.
So here I am, nearly 10 months into my Canadian adventure, homeless, broke, single, about to turn 30 and feeling generally dejected and infuriated towards my ex-landlord for putting so many people in this situation. This is not quite what I had in mind.
But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way. Life throws these little pieces of shit at you every now & then but it really does make you appreciate the happy times even more, when they eventually come around again.
To everyone I’ve met and made friends with since I arrived (especially you hilariously beautiful people I work with), you’re the reason I’m still here. I bloody love you guys.
You may have evicted me from my house, Canada, but not yet from your country. Just you watch me turn this the hell around.
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of love locks.
I used to see them fairly regularly on my strolls across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Lovers young and old would write or engrave their names onto a padlock and fasten them to the metal criss-cross fence lining the eastern pedestrian walkway. The key would then be thrown into the harbour below, symbolically rendering their love unbroken for all of eternity. On occasion I would count upwards of 100 love locks, and I took much inspiration from stopping to read the names & messages that appeared on their metallic surfaces. I’ll always remember one in particular that simply read “Ugné + Darren” – it was late in the evening as it attracted my attention, catching a reflection from the passing traffic. I smiled and silently wished this unknown travelling couple a lifetime of happiness, knowing they’d experienced their very own moment of romance standing at this exact same spot with the magnificent sails of the Opera House peaking perfectly in the background.
Eight months after leaving Sydney, I found myself in Seoul visiting the N Seoul Tower. Being the tallest structure in South Korea at 236 metres, its overall height is further boosted to nearly 480 metres above sea level due to the fact that it sits on top of Namsan Mountain; the observatory at the top offering spectacular 360° views across the sprawling metropolis. But it wasn’t the view nor the tower itself that I found most fascinating about my visit to said attraction – it was its famous collection of love locks that roused my senses the most.
It was a busy Monday morning in the centre of the city, and I’d spent around half an hour walking through Namdaemun Market before approaching Namsan Park on foot from the northeast corner. The uphill trek toward the tower was stunning – it was almost unbelievable just how peaceful and pristine the forests of the park were, considering its proximity to one of the largest cities in the world.
Eventually the forest cleared and the N Seoul Tower stood out majestically above the canopy. I always try to reach the highest point of each city I travel through, and I couldn’t wait to see the urban sprawl of Seoul from the observation deck above.
It wasn’t until I arrived at the base of the tower that I began to understand the true extent of the love locks. I mean, I’d read about them in my guidebook but it simply described the sight as being ‘trees’ covered with padlocks which symbolise eternal love. I knew to expect a few of these trees, but much to my surprise I was greeted with an entire kaleidoscopic fence full of padlocks, key rings, phone cases, tags, hearts and toys – there was such an array of dazzling paraphernalia attached to the railings!
Some of the messages appearing on the locks were concise & to the point; others had a lifetime of thought & emotion put into them.
Some people think that it’s holding on that makes one strong, sometimes it’s letting go:
I loved the rather blunt message left for Mike on this tag:
There are a lot of signs around the premises asking lovers to hold onto their key rather than throw it over the edge. Due to safety and environmental concerns, the authorities understandably don’t want the ground below littered with thousands of tiny metal instruments.
But where’s the romance in holding onto your key, huh?!
This is one of a number of Heart Chairs that featured around the grounds of the love locks. Designed by the official mascot of the locks (a bear named Nsarang Gom, who claims to be an expert at dating), they’re described as being magical chairs that help two people fall in love. The idea is of course that shy couples sit on either end of the chair, only to find themselves being drawn closer together. What a lovely idea 🙂
Some Starbucks love:
Honestly, the fence of locks was enormous. Unlike the Sydney Harbour Bridge where I was used to seeing padlocks numbering the hundreds, here there must have been hundreds of thousands, of all different shapes, sizes and colours! It was truly a sight to behold.
These were the ‘trees’ I was originally expecting to see, as described by my guidebook:
Not to be mistaken for a post box, those who obeyed the rules and held onto their key after fastening their lock were invited to dispose of it in this bin, to save from it being thrown over the edge.
Eventually I made my way to the observation deck at the top of the tower, where I admired the spectacular but smoggy view of Seoul. The monochrome picture from the heavens didn’t quite match the vividity of the scene below, though.
Inside the observation tower, couples who wished to put in a little extra effort could purchase a tile which they were free to decorate and attach to the wall as a further token of their love.
The view of the love locks from the window of The Place restaurant, back down at the base of the tower.
And finally, a simple, heartfelt message to leave with:
There were a number of souvenir shops lining the base of the tower where padlocks could be purchased and names could be engraved. I was thinking about leaving a lock myself… but I decided not to in the end. Not this time, anyway.
The N Seoul Tower love locks are an attraction well worth visiting – if not for your own romantic endeavours, then simply to observe the astonishing display of collective happiness in the form of symbolic expression. The tower can be reached by a number of transport options, including shuttle bus, cable car, city tour bus, car, or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, simply by foot. The nearest subway station to the cable car is Myeongdong Station. For further details on public transport to the top Mt. Namsan, have a peek through the Getting Here section of the official N Seoul Tower website.
One day, I’d like to return to N Seoul Tower and fasten a padlock of my own onto the fence.
Only time will tell whose name will be engraved on the lock next to mine.
Have you ever left a love lock anywhere? Who was it dedicated to and what did it say?
It was back in May 2012 that I first came across the concept of the pet cafe. I was travelling through Tokyo at the time, and I’d heard about a craze sweeping through the city where cat-loving entrepreneurs were opening tearooms full of kittens, allowing their clientele to play with them, watch them, relax around them and ultimately fulfil their desires for feline affection while sipping on a matcha latte.
I visited one such venue with my friend Shino, a delightful cafe in Shibuya called Hapineko (it translates to ‘happy cat’ – how kawaii!). You can read my TripAdvisor review on it here, but altogether it was a very pleasant way to spend an hour, chilling out in a room with 15 or so cats waiting for us to pamper them.
I didn’t think too much more into pet cafes after that, until only a few months ago while I was busy researching unique attractions in Seoul. I had a 3-day stopover in South Korea last month on my way from Australia back to Canada and I felt like venturing a little further away from the typical touristy things that my guidebook recommended me to see. Thanks to the kind folk of Reddit, I quickly came to realise there was an area in Seoul which was abundant in pet cafes – there were not only cat cafes, but dogs and even sheep were covered! So I booked myself a room in the university district of Hongdae and happily explored the many wondrous pet cafes of Seoul during my time there.
The first stop on my journey through the Seoul pet cafes was Bau Haus, a very popular dog cafe that had recently moved to a bigger & brighter location due to overwhelming demand. And it’s not surprising to see why this place has caught on so well! There were around 25 adorable canines at my disposal; a large number of these were Border Collies, Pomeranians & Golden Retrievers, with the occasional Chihuahua, Beagle, Irish Setter plus a handful of other breeds thrown in for good measure.
Upon entering, I was offered an introduction card briefly pointing out some health & hygiene rules and explaining how to safely interact with the puppies. I was also handed a menu of light refreshments; there was no entry fee, but you were expected to buy a drink for around 7,500 won ($8). As well as a delicious smoothie, I also purchased a bag of treats to feed to the dogs for 3,000 won ($3). Judging by the amount of jumping and tail-wagging going on around my ankles, these pooches knew very well that they were about to receive a free feed from me.
This little fella was my favourite of the lot, a sweet 8-year old Brittany called Ri-ong. He followed me around for a while before eventually settling with a couple on another table:
You might wonder about the hygiene of Bau Haus considering the potential for little accidents, but I’m pleased to report the sanitation was very well-managed and the animals appeared to be greatly cared for. I did notice one dog relieve himself on the floor, but an attentive staff member had cleaned it up almost before he’d even finished his business.
Most dogs just chilled with humans either on or under the chairs & tables, but a couple of the younger, more mischievous pups enjoyed a good play fight.
Here’s a short video I took of some canine cacophony that occurred half-way through my visit – the dogs weren’t normally this crazy but I guess they need to let off a bit of steam every now & then!
I loved Bau Haus and would definitely visit again should I ever find myself in Seoul. Anybody who enjoys the company of dogs would have a ball at this place.
Here’s the first of a few cafes I visited in Seoul for all you kitty lovers out there. On the opposite end of the scale to that of Bau Haus, YCat is somewhere you can go to relax and wind down while attempting to gain the affection of a new feline friend. It becomes entirely evident when comparing a dog cafe to a cat cafe that the former are hell-bent on seeking attention whereas the latter are very independent.
Before you enter YCat you need to exchange your shoes with a pair of slippers, disinfect your hands and pack your bags into a locker. Again, there is no entry fee as such, but you do have to purchase a drink from a ticket vending machine for around 8,000 won ($8.50). Once you’re in, you’re free to chill with the cats to your hearts content.
I didn’t count them, but there easily would have been 15 (maybe 20?) furry creatures in attendance at the time. During my visit, most of them were either sleeping on a rug, gazing at the world outside the window or tucked inside a hidey hole somewhere, but occasionally a curious pussycat would wander up to investigate the new human who had just entered their territory.
The cats do have a pretty good view of the street below from up on the 3rd floor! There was a private room to the side of the cafe where cats could go for food, drink & privacy, and the staff were very attentive towards their feline needs.
There was much entertainment for the cats around the cafe in the form of toys, scratching posts, boxes and maze-like platforms, but I particularly liked this guy who was having a great time spinning himself around on the wheel.
And just before I left I managed to get a selfie with a new friend!
Now, dog and cat cafes I can understand seeing as they are the two most domesticated animals, but a sheep cafe? This was something I really wanted to see!
Located downstairs along the very busy Hongik-ro that leads towards Hongik University, Thanks Nature Cafe comprises of an indoor area where you can sit & eat in air-conditioned comfort, as well as fenced-off outdoor area with a pen that houses two gorgeous sheep that frequent the cafe. They’re brought down each day by the owner and spend most of their time being admired by fellow cafe-goers. Throughout the day, their owner keeps them fed and entertains them by letting them out of the pen to mingle with the customers.
Thanks Nature Cafe specialises in waffles & coffee – I ordered one of each which set me back around 12,000 won ($13) in total, and I sat outside where I could easily access the animals. It was late afternoon at the time of my visit and thankfully it wasn’t too busy, but being in such a central & convenient location, I can imagine it gets packed during peak hour.
Here I am giving the sheep a pat in between bites of my waffle:
Before too long they were let outside of their pen! They loved the attention.
The sheep are very tame and are comfortable around kids & adults alike. This little boy even got a kiss:
I believe that on hotter days, the sheep aren’t always brought to the cafe – they are sometimes left at the sanctuary where it’s more comfortable for them. You can check at the Thanks Nature Cafe Facebook page to see if the sheep are likely to be there on a particular day.
A few times a day they also go on a walk to the carpark to stretch their legs. It’s quite a sight to see two sheep strolling through a public area in the middle of one of the largest cities in the world.
You can’t go past Thanks Nature Cafe for a unique pet cafe experience!
All the cafes I’d visited so far had been researched online, but I stumbled upon Cats Living by accident. As I was walking through the backstreets of Hongdae, I chanced to see a shop with the curious name of Fuckfake (which turned out to be a clothing store, upon investigation), and it just so happened that the floor below Fuckfake was a cat cafe. I couldn’t help but make my way inside.
Similarly to YCat, I had to exchange my shoes for some slippers and sanitise my hands before I went in. I paid 8,000 won ($8.50) for a lavender tea which acted as my entry fee, and I was faced with around 15 sleepy cats upon my access to the building.
Admittedly the atmosphere here wasn’t quite as lively as the other pet cafes I’d visited, and I found the cats to be less social, but it was by no means a bad experience. It could just have been that lazy time of the day where they all wanted to sleep and stick to themselves.
Ok, so this isn’t a cat cafe as such, but it is a cat-themed cafe.
I must say at this stage that I have no idea who or what Hello Kitty is, but hey, it was just down the road from the Cats Living cafe and it seemed like an interesting place to check out. Plus my friend Inga is a massive fan of it and I wanted to get a photo of it for her. But I think in hindsight, you need at least a basic understanding of who or what Hello Kitty is before you step foot into this place… I still can’t comprehend what the heck it was all about :-/
The menu was mostly made up of sweet drinks, snacks & desserts, and I ordered a sweet potato latte which was served to me with some cute cocoa artwork stencilled atop the milk.
The decor was ridiculously pink. I don’t quite know how else to describe it.
A selfie with my sweet potato latte and the Hello Kitty centrepiece!
After my couple of days discovering the various pet cafes of Seoul, I left with the distinct impression that they are a bundle of fun and have potential to bring much joy to an ever-increasing & stressful urban environment. There have been numerous reports in months gone by of the pet cafe concept expanding and opening up in Australia, Canada and America – not to mention a handful of cafes that have already popped up around Europe. Let’s hope they’re as successful in these corners of the world as they are throughout Asia.
I’m just hoping somebody opens a squirrel cafe one day 🙂
Earlier today I trawled YouTube for cover versions of Australia’s other national anthem, You’re The Voice by John Farnham.
Known & loved by (almost) all Australians as one of the quintessential Aussie songs of all time, it featured as the lead single from Farnham’s hit record from 1986, Whispering Jack, which to this day remains the highest-selling album in Australian music history.
My discovery of one cover version on Youtube led to another, which led to another three; each of them leading to at least another six… basically, the song is so epically awesome that I spent a great couple of hours coming up with a huge list of my favourite (and not-so-favourite) studio recordings, remixes, reality TV performances, a cappella versions and amateur videos, which I shall share with y’all right here.
So here it is – the highlights of You’re The Voice on Youtube!
We begin with…
The original & the best:John Farnham
Now’s your chance to refamiliarise yourself with this classic Aussie film clip, a masterpiece from the mid-80’s. What a splendid profile Farnsey had back in the day. What a mullet. And don’t you love those bagpipes?
The best solo multitrack version:Matt Mulholland
Matt’s talent for the multitrack video shines through in his stirring Youtube portrayal.
The best mashup:Ben NCM (Lorde vs John Farnham)
I never would have picked Royals to fit so well with You’re The Voice.
The best rock opera version:Kate Miller-Heidke
Kate Miller-Heidke nails it with her classically-trained operatic voice. Farnsey himself would most likely need surgery to reach some of the notes she does.
The best foreign language version:Lavrenths Maxairitsas
In 1993, Greek artist Lavrenths Maxairitsas recorded a cover of You’re The Voice translated entirely into his mother tongue, called Rixe Kokkino Sth Nixta.
The best metal version:Redrum
Keeping with the Greek theme, this melodic hard rock band from Greece teamed up with a German vocalist to record a killer version of You’re The Voice. Check out the deathly guitar solo in lieu of the bagpipes.
A side-note: Redrum is Murder spelt backwards. How fucking metal is that shit?
The second best metal version:Forever Never
With a slightly more Farnham-esque vocal style than that of Redrum, Forever Never still manage to double-kick some heavy metal Farnesy arse.
The best acoustic cover:Ryan Inglis
Youtube is home to a hell of a lot of You’re The Voice acoustic covers. This is of one of the few that stopped me in my tracks as soon as I heard the opening chord. Simply beautiful.
The best swing version:John Farnham himself
Farnham included a studio recording of the Swing Version on his Anthology 3 album, but I was stoked to stumble across this live version of it, recorded at a 1997 Crown Casino concert.
The best reality TV performance:Dami Im (Australian X-Factor, 2013)
Despite Ronan Keating not being a fan, I thought Dami Im brought a true sense of style and sophistication to You’re The Voice. A fantastic effort in front of the live X-Factor audience.
The worst reality TV performance:the cast from Dutch X-Factor, 2010
The best a capella version:Club For Five
Possibly the most phenomenal act to ever come out of Finland. If this doesn’t give you chills down your spine, I don’t know what will.
The second best a capella version:Montezuma’s Revenge
Holland claim back some brownie points in the form of this gorgeous performance by Montezuma’s Revenge.
Yet another a capella version: Perfect Tripod
Eddie Perfect & Tripod team up to form the aptly-named Perfect Tripod. I can’t get the “Johnny Farnham, oh Johnny Farnham” hook out of my head.
The best home-recorded cover:Awsa
Awsa is so adorable! She performs with such vigour and humour… dammit, she makes me want to reach through the screen and give her a massive high-five! I love the unique form of percussion – and there’s even a bagpiper 😀
The second best home-recorded cover:The Royce Twins
Aussie X Factor heartthrobs The Royce Twins don’t disappoint with some mighty powerful harmonies in this home-recorded cover of YTV.
The best remix:Houseplayerz vs Pulsebass
All that’s missing are the strobe lights & pills.
The best classical crossover version:John Miles (from the Night Of The Proms, 2004)
Held yearly through many European countries, Night Of The Proms is a series of concerts that bring together contemporary and classical elements with performances by popular artists. John Miles lives up to the promise in this rousing rendition of You’re The Voice.
And I couldn’t go past this other fantastic classical crossover version by the London Symphony Orchestra
The best parody:Julian Assange
In true Wikileaks style, “we’ve got to make things leak so we can get much bolder.”
The best live performance by a well-known band:Coldplay
Featuring Johnny Farnham himself, this collaboration from 2009’s Sound Relief concert at the Sydney Cricket Ground brought the house down.
The second best live performance by a well-known band:Heart
Heart recorded both a studio and live version of You’re The Voice – this live version featured on their 1991 album, Rock The House Live and reached #20 on the US rock charts.
The best performance by one of the actual songwriters:Chris Thompson
You’re The Voice was written by Andy Qunta (the keyboardist from Icehouse), Keith Reid (the songwriter for Procol Harum), Maggie Ryder (a backing singer for bands such as the Eurythmics & Queen) and Chris Thompson (a singer & guitarist with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band).
Thompson lent his vocal talents to a studio recording of the tune on an album called Rediscovery, created in collaboration with Norwegian guitarist Mads Eriksen – but here is a live version from 2007:
The weirdest version:Sam Westphalen
Sam Westphalen experiments with inward singing in this awkwardly intriguing cover of You’re The Voice. He’s a great guitarist, but to be honest I think any further forages into inward singing should be left solely with Tenacious D.
The best John Farnham performance:Live with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra
Like I said at the beginning: the original and the best.
Do you know of any other ripper versions of You’re The Voice that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments if so!
Well it’s been nearly 6 months since I first touched down on Canadian soil, and I’m very pleased to report that it’s been a delightful experience. I love this country!
I’m at the stage now where I feel like I’ve passed my probation. Settling in Toronto has given me the fantastic opportunity to get to know first-hand what life is like within the boundaries of the most populous & multicultural city in Canada, and I’ve done enough travelling around the province and south of the border to gain a basic understanding of the North American way of life in general.
So in no particular order, here is a list of a few Canadian quirks, loves, frustrations, tongue-in-cheek observations and comparisons to life in Australia that I’ve come to notice so far during my time here.
Rather than being sold in the screw-top plastic bottles we’re used to in Australia,milk in the eastern provinces of Canada comes in a package of three 1.3 litre plastic bladders (to give 4 litres in total). You simply place the bladder into a jug, cut a small hole in the top corner and pour. Admittedly the first time I tried to pour using this method, the bladder fell out of the jug and cow juice spilt everywhere, but I’ve since figured out how to keep it in place and see its benefit. It’s a surprisingly effective, drip-free pouring method, and once the bladder is empty you’re left with a hell of a lot less waste than that of an empty carton or bottle. 1L cardboard cartons are also available, but it’s a lot more cost-effective to buy the bladders.
The fat content of milk here is predominantly referred to as a percentage, and the descriptions are slightly different from home: it’s 3.25% for homo milk, 2% for partly-skimmed and 1% for low-fat.
Also there’s none of that ‘permeate-free’ marketing garbage infiltrating Canadian milk labels like it does in Australia. It’s just plain milk.
Australia has Oporto, Britain had Wimpy, America has McDonalds and Canada has Tim Hortons!
It was founded by hockey player Tim Horton in 1964 as a donut shop, before quickly expanding into a Canadian fast-food institution, well loved by almost every Canuck for their assortment of donuts, sandwiches and weak coffee.
I made the fatal mistake of bagging out Tim Hortons on Twitter after I tried one of their sandwiches for the first time, which wasn’t met with an overly joyous response from locals. My displeasure was justified though: it was not a very appetising meal at all, and the particular branch I dined at didn’t even have any seating so I had to stand at a crowded bar to eat it.
Since then I’m happy to say that Tim Hortons has grown on me. Their donuts have proven a lifesaver in the early drunken hours of the morning. I quite enjoy their Timbits (a popular bite-sized donut snack) and I’m somewhat smitten by their signature caffeinated recipe the ‘double double’ – brewed coffee with two sugars and two servings of cream. I’d never appreciated coffee with cream until I had my first double double only last week.
Oat & aboat
I was under the impression that every Canadian I was to meet would pronounce the word “about” as a-boot, but this isn’t the case. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in Toronto they say a-boat. It’s so adorable 🙂
Another thing I’ve found synonymous with the Canadian accent is that if a word ends with R like door or floor, there’s an emphasis placed on the R at the end so that it sounds like doorrrrrhh or floorrrrrhh. This too is super adorable.
I find it quite odd that there is no need for the suburb in Canadian addresses – all you need is the street, city, province and postcode. In my case, the city is simply Toronto; there is no need to note the suburb of ‘Kensington Market’ anywhere in my address. The postcode is what holds the key to that specific information.
However in Sydney, for example, I worked on Miller St, in the suburb of North Sydney, state of NSW, postcode 2060; each of those details are required on the address for the post office to make the delivery. You can’t just put Sydney as the suburb – you have to put North Sydney specifically, because the postcode 2060 encompasses the areas of HMAS Platypus, HMAS Waterhen, Lavender Bay, McMahons Point, North Sydney, North Sydney Shoppingworld and Waverton.
People generally don’t refer to their suburb when they speak of where they live either – they either give a specific cross-street, or just say their city: ‘Toronto’ or ‘Etobicoke’ or ‘Mississauga’, all of which include multitudes of smaller neighbourhoods. I’ve heard that the naming and outlining of suburbs are only a recent addition to Toronto’s cartography.
Thanks to the grid system, cross-streets are a very popular way of communicating addresses, much more so than in Australia. In Toronto, if meeting a friend at a restaurant you’d simply say it was at ‘King & York’. Everybody knows where that is already. But back at home, we tend to use the full street/suburb address of 124 King St, Newtown… we wouldn’t really say ‘King & Bucknell’ cause most people wouldn’t have any clue where Bucknell St is.
Although I’ve passed through many areas of the world where cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, it took quite some time to get used to the fact I’m now living long-term in a country where the flow of traffic is opposite to that of home. There were a few instances early on where I’d mistakenly wait for the tram on the wrong side of the road, and when I enter a car I still habitually head toward the Canadian driver’s side when I should be aiming for the passenger side. I know I’m getting used to it though: I watched a British movie the other day with a driving scene, and it felt strange to see cars driving on the left again.
I haven’t actually driven a car over here yet, but I’m looking forward to the challenge when the day comes.
In Australia we have the “turn left at any time with care” lanes at intersections with lights, but these dedicated lanes don’t exist over here – instead, it’s completely ok to turn right at an intersection on a red light if it’s safe to do so.
There are no green & red men on the traffic signals at pedestrian crossings. The signals in Toronto (and much of North America, from what I’ve seen) display a white man when it’s safe to cross, followed by a red ‘stop’ hand and a countdown timer showing how many seconds are left until the lights change.
If a pedestrian is walking parallel to a road and comes to an intersection where there is no pedestrian signal, the pedestrian has right of way. Unlike in Australia where you wait for cars to move through the intersection before you continue on, in Toronto the cars will stop for you and let you cross first.
Everyone in every city I’ve ever lived in (including this one) is unhappy with the state of their public transit system, but I can honestly say that Toronto’s subway/streetcar/bus system run by the TTC is brilliant! Sure, there are times where scheduled streetcars don’t arrive or when a subway line is out of action for a weekend, but so far I think the pros outweigh the cons. The combination of a grid street plan with a city-wide bus, tram & underground system means public transport can get you very specifically to where you need to go, all on a single ticket which is pretty well affordable.
Something I find unique about TTC streetcars is that doors don’t open automatically when they stop – if you want the door to open, you need to stand on the step. It was an awkward moment learning this from the people behind me on a crowded tram when I was trying to figure out how to disembark at my stop.
There is another company called GO Transit who run bus & train commuter services in the Greater Toronto Area, and while the service has always been on time and comfortable whenever I’ve used them, it annoys me that their transit centres in regional areas are so bloody far away from the main hub. When I went to Unionville I had to walk 45 minutes in the freezing snow to get to the main street. Downtown Oakville was at least an hours walk away from the train station, and it was a $20 cab fare to get from Oshawa GO Station to Oshawa itself. To compare this with Sydney, it’d be like getting off at Merrylands but being told you were in the centre of Parramatta.
They’re mostly referred to as cell phones here, not mobile phones.
Canadian cell phone plans are extortionately expensive 🙁 I’m paying $65 / month at the moment with Bell Mobility. With tax, that takes it up to around $74. Add on the very minimal 7 minutes of calls (3 minutes of which were to my own voicemail) and 7 US text messages that I sent last month and my bill turned out to be $88. The only thing it’s good for is my 1GB of data. In comparison, I paid $35 a month with Virgin in Australia which gave me 2GB of data and texts/calls to just about anywhere. The only time I ever paid more than $35 was the month I made a few phone calls from within New Zealand while on global roaming.
There is a caller ID service here that automatically sends your name along with your phone number when you call someone. It’s pretty neat, because even if you don’t have the number stored in your address book, you get to see the name of whoever is calling (providing both parties are subscribed to the service).
Area codes and phone numbers are formatted differently over this side of the world. An Australian mobile number always starts with 04 and would be formatted as 0416 123 456, but in North America the cell number always starts with a three-digit location-specific area code and is formatted as 416-123-4567. The same format applies to landline phones.
Traditionally, Toronto had two area codes, 416 and 647, but the numbers are nearing exhaustion so last year they released a new area code into the mix: 437. I had no idea about this when I first got my SIM card so I chose any old number and ended up with one of the new 437 area codes. Now every time I give my digits to someone I get weird looks because it doesn’t begin with 416 or 647, and I have to give the whole spiel about how it’s the new Toronto area code. It’s important that people know this too – if they aren’t confident that I have a local number, they may hesitate when getting in touch as the cost of calling/texting a number outside the local area is significantly higher.
Toronto is a place like no other when it comes to cuisine. It’s incredibly multicultural here, and I love how there are numerous pockets of the city dedicated to the fare of specific worldly regions such as Little Italy, Little Portugal, Koreatown, Little Poland, Chinatown and Little India.
In other neighbourhoods that aren’t necessarily laid out to feature a certain geographical area, the fusion of cultures & cuisine is second to none. In my own locale of Kensington Market, for example, we have restaurants featuring Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Tibetan, Indian, Afghan, French, Italian, Portuguese, Hungarian, Spanish, Greek, American, Mexican, French Caribbean, Jamaican, Colombian and Venezuelan cuisine – and that’s not to mention other eateries that specialise in vegetarian, seafood, apple pie and grilled cheese sandwiches. To say that my taste buds enjoy living here is an understatement.
Poutine is an artery-clogging but delicious Canadian dish of hot chips, cheese curds & gravy that I became aware of in the months leading up to my departure from Sydney. For some reason I had the impression it would be more of a specialty menu item, but it turns out it’s massively popular and you can get it anywhere from dive bars to to posh hotels; from street carts to chains such as Smoke’s Poutinerie and Poutini’s who dedicate themselves entirely to said meal.
There are hot dog carts on every second street corner in downtown Toronto, where you can pick up a fix of German/Italian/Polish sausage on bread for as little as $2. I can’t believe that some of them are even open and manned at 6:30 in the morning when it’s -15°C and blowing a blizzard.
An abundance of eateries around Toronto are open 24 hours, including a bunch in Chinatown just down the road from me. It’s great to know I can order a huge bowl of Vietnamese pho from across the street at 3am, should I ever feel the need.
After hearing so many horror stories of people being chased down the street for not tipping their waiter, I was petrified when I first started dining out because I didn’t want to offend anybody by not offering enough. I’ve since learnt that it’s pretty much compulsory to tip every waiter/barman/taxi driver/concierge in the US, but the rules are a little more lax in Canada, I guess because the service wage is higher. You won’t get chased down the street for not leaving a tip, but it’s not going to gain you any brownie points either. I go with 15% for average service but 20-25% for great service.
For reasons unknown to me, people in North America refer to an entree as an appetiser, and a main course is called an entree. It’s pretty funny.
There are a couple of words I’ve begun using here that I’d never be caught dead using in Australia.
You don’t drink soft drink – you drink pop. And never refer to the sweet clear carbonated stuff as lemonade because that specifically refers to the traditional recipe of water, lemon juice & sugar. If you want the pop form you need to call it Sprite or 7-Up.
People don’t live in apartments, they live in condos.
Electricity is called hydro.
Full-cream milk is homo.
You go on vacation rather than on holiday. But it’s a holiday when referring to a national day off, except instead of a public holiday, it’s a stat holiday (statutory).
People not from Toronto call Toronto the centre of the universe.
And god forbid if you ever call it a toilet – it’s a washroom!
Film is not a form of entertainment I’ve particularly enjoyed over the years, but there is something about the film culture in Toronto that speaks to me more than it has anywhere else in the world. There are a bunch of amazing indie/arthouse cinemas dotted around the city that delve deeper than the usual Hollywood rubbish such as the Bloor Cinema (one of the only in the world that focus solely on documentaries), the Royal (host of the European Film Festival and a rare venue that gives up & coming filmmakers the chance to showcase their works) and the TIFF Bell Lightbox (the Toronto International Film Festival, screening 365 days a year). In addition to my beloved Netflix subscription, Toronto’s cinemas have opened up a whole new world for me of motion picture discovery.
There’s little need for covertness in Canada when it comes to weed. It’s as though it’s perfectly fine to smoke anywhere you like. It’s still entirely illegal to do so (unless medically regulated), and arrests do occur especially if you’re caught with more than 30g on your person, but people smoke it anyway, the authorities tolerate it to a certain degree, and everyone gets on with their lives. So long as you aren’t caught dealing the stuff, really.
As a matter of fact, only about 200 metres from home, along Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market is a funky little BYO ‘vapour lounge’ called the HotBox Cafe. Providing you don’t deal or ask, it’s completely ok for any old Joe Bloggs to use one of the in-house vapourisers and relax at their table while they study/read/socialise/chill to their hearts content.
I also highly recommend their ginger tea.
I knew I’d be up for some inclement Canadian weather pretty quickly seeing as I landed in Toronto just in time for the winter. It turned out to be the most brutal season experienced in decades, complete with metres of snow, wind chill reaching 39-below-zero and an ice storm… but despite the polar challenges, I’ve fucking loved every second of it!
Come to think of it… there are two things that piss me off about the cold weather:
As soon as it snows the council & shop owners start coating the sidewalks with salt, as it assists in melting the ice. The salt gets onto your shoes and creates ugly white marks. You then need to spend the next four days meticulously cleaning your shoes: the first cleanse of the day only moistens the salt and camouflages it with the underlying material, the second cleanse starts to remove some of the grime, and the third cleanse usually wipes the stubborn stains away. You have to repeat that process again in the evening after you’ve walked home, and continue with it for days sometimes until the snow melts away and the salt disappears from the surface. Then it snows again and the whole process starts over. I HATE CLEANING MY SHOES.
Secondly, it’s really difficult to go running outdoors when it’s icy & windy as heck. I used to be pretty active in Sydney but I’ve cut down on jogging since the Toronto winter graced us with its presence. Hopefully I can get back into a regular schedule in the coming few weeks.
They’re red, not green.
It’s commonly known that Americans write the date as mm-dd-yyyy. We wouldn’t dream of putting month before day in Australia, but Canadians tend to take a diplomatic viewpoint of the situation and accept it either way, thanks to both European and American influence.
I actually find it makes a lot more sense logically to write the date in the Americanised style. If the month is written first, it goes to follow that the sorting order appears numerically by month (Jan 1st, Jan 2nd, Jan 3rd) rather than date (1st Jan, 1st Feb, 1st Mar). I can’t wait for the day the international standard of yyyy-mm-dd is widely accepted in informal situations, but until then, I’m a happy convert to the American format.
It does get confusing sometimes in Canada with the dual acceptance… I recently quoted ‘December 3rd’ to somebody when I should have quoted ‘March 12th’.
In a similar inclusive style to that of the date, it’s completely ok to pronounce Z as either zed or zee in Canada.
The music of Canada is one of the primary reasons I chose to move here to begin with. After stumbling upon the music of Newfoundland folk/rockers Great Big Sea a few years ago, it became a dream of mine to one day see them perform on home soil – a feat achieved in November last year.
Since then I’ve been introduced to dozens more indie Canadian artists who I probably would never have heard of if it weren’t for my GBS discovery. Some of my favourites so far include Hawksley Workman, The Tragically Hip, Joel Plaskett and July Talk. I also learnt quickly that Drake is the darling of Toronto.
The live music scene in Toronto is pumping – plenty of local & well known musicians pass through the city’s eclectic venues on a nightly basis. But the best gig I’ve seen so far was at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club last Monday night – a fundraiser for the Company Theatre, feating Alan Doyle & Murray Foster (from Great Big Sea), Alan & Greg Hawco (actor & composer from TV show Republic of Doyle), Ed Robertson (from the Barenaked Ladies), Blake Manning, Stuart Cameron & Danhmait Doyle (from country band The Heartbroken), Keith Power, Kendel Carson, Barry Canning, Patrick Boyle and Tom Power… wow! A mindblowing assembly of pure Canadian talent. I can’t wait for more experiences like this; it’s only gonna get better as the summer months approach and more tours come to light.
On a freezing winters day if you needed to get from, say, the Eaton Centre to the Ripley’s Aquarium on the other side of town, you could walk the entire journey without even stepping foot outdoors. This is thanks to the PATH, the world’s largest underground shopping complex: a 1,200-store, 27km labyrinth of walkways beneath the city that acts as a link between dozens of buildings in downtown Toronto. It’s a brilliant idea – it might be -20°C outside, but it’s entirely feasible to do your grocery shopping, go to the bank, buy clothes, have lunch, take a class at the gym, fill a prescription, post some mail, watch a hockey game and venture up CN tower all while wearing a t-shirt & shorts.
Toronto isn’t the only Canadian city to feature a network of connective tunnels – Montreal has the 32km Underground City, Edmonton has the 13km Pedway, Halifax has the Downtown Halifax Link and most other major centres have some form of subterranean climate-controlled link between inner-city buildings.
I miss the simplicity in Australia of knowing exactly what you’re going to be charged at the cash register when you’re out shopping, because taxes are included in the price already.
In most cases throughout North America, items on shop floors are listed as their pre-tax price, and tax is added on at the register. It’s not so much the increased price at the end that annoys me, but more because if I pay cash for something, I always like to have the correct change prepared already to hand straight over to the cashier. Maybe I’m OCD, but it sucks to have to wait until it scans to find out how much I need to prepare.
When I first started dealing with North American cash it took a while to get used to the 25c coin denomination seeing as all I’ve ever known was the 20c/20p coin. It’s kinda cool though, and I like not having a stupid big 50c coin.
I still find it difficult to use the terms penny, nickel, dime and quarter, it hasn’t quite sunk into my head yet. I still prefer to say 1c coin, 5c coin, 10c coin and 25c coin, but people look at me funny when I do that. I really feel like a knob when I say ‘loonie’ ($1 coin) or ‘toonie’ ($2 coin) 🙂
They also look at me funny when I refer to paper money as ‘notes’ instead of ‘bills’.
Props to the Canadians for phasing out the penny. I hate the pile of copper that builds up in my wallet when in Europe or the US.
The first thing I had to learn when it came to banking was that rather than a savings account, Canadians use a chequing account for their daily spending. I became so used to pressing the SAV button on card terminals back at home that I did the same by habit in Canada the first few times and of course the transaction always declined. I’m used to the CHQ button now, and it does make a whole lot more sense to use your savings account for actual savings and not for day-to-day use. It just sucks that when you do have money in your savings and accidentally press the SAV button, the bastards at the bank charge you a $5 savings access fee.
Which brings me to my biggest Canadian frustration of all: spending money electronically.
In Australia I have a Mastercard debit card that allows me to spend my own money anywhere in the world where Mastercard is accepted. Simple.
Canada, however, uses a debit card service called Interac which can only be accepted for in-store transactions at select retailers within Canada and is utterly hopeless for those who wish to buy stuff online. So my bank gave me an even more useless “virtual” Visa Debit card for online purchases (it’s basically a card with a number only, no chip or magnetic stripe). Unlike my Australian Mastercard debit card (accepted throughout the entire Mastercard network), my virtual Visa Debit card can only be used at online retailers that specifically accept Visa Debit. In other words: virtually nobody.
For example, I had to physically go to Billy Bishop Airport to buy a plane ticket over the counter with my Interac card, because Porter Airlines won’t accept Visa Debit online. Greyhound doesn’t accept it either, so I had to use my Australian credit card to reserve a seat on a bus. (Thankfully, however, Netflix is fine with Visa Debit, so at least I get to watch my documentaries).
I wouldn’t have this problem if I had a credit card, but the bank won’t give me one because I’m a foreigner. So I’ll just have to live with the ridiculous fact that a bunch of Canadian retailers aren’t able to accept my hard-earned CAD, but are happy to accept my dwindling foreign AUD.
Tea has been my preferred choice of beverage since it was forced upon me while I lived in England, but it wasn’t until I discovered Canadian retailer DAVIDsTEA that I began to feel a real passionate devotion for the leafy hot drink. My workmates introduced me to Davids almost as soon as I started my job, and nearly every day since I’ve ventured to the shop either at the Richmond Adelaide Centre or on Queen St for my tea fix. I’m nearly two thirds of the way through sampling at least one cup of each of their blends.
Not only do they keep a delicious menu of nearly 150 varieties, but they’re one of the most loveable brands I know of. From their delightfully happy retail staff to their #caturday pics of felines exploring the insides of DAVIDsTEA boxes, everything about them is tops.
If I had to choose the #1 factor that’s brought the most joy and happiness to my Canadian experience so far, it’s gotta be the people I’ve met along the journey.
Seriously, what a top bunch the Canadians are! For quite some time now I’ve held Belgians, people from Perth and New Zealanders (only when sober) in high esteem as those who consistently come across as the most genuine, happy people I encounter throughout my travels, and it heartens me very much to now add the Canucks onto that same list. And I don’t just mean those who are born Canadian, but anyone from any country who has spent time here and adopted their beautiful, cheerful way of life.
Generally speaking, I feel a camaraderie here in Canada that’s rare to come across elsewhere in the world. It’s very similar to the Australian sense of mateship, where you celebrate the good times with a hint of larrikinism and stick together when times are tough. There’s a definite sense that the population supports & appreciates each other’s contribution to society. People smile. People say please and thank you. People are engaged and interested. People are happy.
And it’s true what they say about Canadians being delightfully apologetic. A few weeks ago I accidentally stepped in front of a car just as his light turned green, but instead of swearing at me, he smiled, waved and mouthed ‘sorry’ as if he took blame for my own error.
Aside from the cranky old bloke who runs the local coin laundry, there are very few people I’ve met so far in Toronto who I can say have been unpleasant!
To everyone so far who I’ve met with, lived with, dined with, drank with, explored the city with and – especially – worked with: you guys absolutely rock. You’re the reason I booked my flight back to Toronto after my three week Australian rendezvous in May. You haven’t gotten rid of me just yet 😀
Late last year I started planning a weekend getaway to somewhere in Canada or the US in late January or early February. I was tossing up between three or four cities within an affordable travelling distance from Toronto, when I chanced upon this tweet in my timeline:
Montpeiler, Vermont is the only US state capital without a McDonald's.
Montpelier, eh? I’d never even heard of it before. A quick spot of research led me to find that not only was it the sole US capital without a McDonalds, but it was also the smallest American capital city, with a population of around 7,800. What’s more, it was only 500km from Toronto, and Porter Airlines had some decent prices on flights to the nearby city of Burlington, about 45 minutes north-west of the capital.
If there’s no McDonalds in Montpelier, I wondered, then what on earth do the locals do for food & entertainment?
That familiar sense of intrigue sparked within me and I knew my next weekend getaway would be to the New England state of Vermont. And so it was that on Friday last week I set upon my first of three days in Montpelier: an absolutely delightful little town that would ultimately take the #1 spot on my list of favourite cities in the United States.
In case you were also wondering what there is to do in and around Montpelier sans-Mickey D’s, I’ve compiled here a list of the beautiful sights, delicious food and inspiring attractions that I was lucky enough to see, eat and visit during my trip!
The Three Penny Taproom
I arrived in the early evening and the first thing I did after checking into the lovely room I booked through AirBnB was to drop by the Three Penny Taproom at 108 Main Street. Known to locals as one of the top spots in town for authentic Vermont fare, the bar was recommended by my friend Johanna, who met with me at the venue for a couple of drinks and a bite to eat.
The first thing that struck me was the impressive list of craft beers on tap – around 25 of them all up, with a decent sample of local brews from around the state. I loved the deep fruity tastes of the Zero Gravity Ourbier, but looking back over the tap list at the website I wish I’d noticed the Honeymaker Tea Mead from Maine… honey wine with black tea, lemon & mint… it sounds incredible!
And then came the food. What more can I say, but the Daily Burger was quite possibly the best burger I’ve ever eaten in my life. Perfectly portioned beef, pickles, jalapeño, cheese, lettuce & peanut butter on the freshest brioche bun. Burgers don’t come around like that very often.
I’d made plans the next morning to have breakfast at an eatery called the Skinny Pancake, but I ended up popping into a diner across the road called Coffee Corner at 83 Main Street. My AirBnB host, Karin, spoke very highly of the service and homestyle food available here. I was originally only going to have a coffee, but I couldn’t resist sticking around for my morning meal after a quick look at the menu, ultimately settling for the O’Bryan breakfast specialty (house-made corned beef hash with sautéed green peppers, served with eggs and toast). Wow. Two exquisite American-style meals in a row – I was in food heaven.
It was around about this time that I noticed a recurring theme to the cafes & restaurants around Vermont: they pride themselves on sourcing as much local food direct from the farm as possible, with maximum community involvement at the point of consumption. At the Coffee Corner I sat at what’s known as the ‘community table’, which is essentially a square bar positioned around the barista’s counter with seating for 10-12 people. The idea at the community table was to interact with the people who sat around you – and indeed I struck up a good couple of conversations with the locals around me while munching away on my corned beef.
The Vermont State House
Located on the aptly-named State Street and adjacent to the woody hills of Hubbard Park, the grandest piece of architecture in Montpelier has to be the Vermont State House, serving as the capitol of the state since the mid-1800’s. The State House is open to visitors during the week but unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see its interior as it’s closed on weekends during the winter. I was quite disappointed about not getting a glimpse inside – I was told it’s just as beautiful internally as it is externally, and a whopping 95% of its reviews on TripAdvisor are ranked as very good or excellent.
It’s interesting to note that members of the public are welcome to sit in on parliamentary sessions whenever the legislators are at work. Apparently it’s also not uncommon to see the governor and legislators line up at Pinky’s sandwich shop for lunch, mingling and chatting with fellow Vermonters.
Reason enough to visit Montpelier again in the summertime, I think?
After my visit to the State House I made my way around the nearby backstreets in search of the path leading into Hubbard Park. Set on a hill to the north of the city, my map suggested there were some good hiking trails within its grounds, culminating with a century-old stone tower at the summit. The map wasn’t wrong. With a layer of fresh snow covering the track and the towering woods above me, it was one of the most beautiful and peaceful short hikes I’ve taken since arriving on continental North America.
After descending from the Hubbard Park trail via Cliff St, I met with my host Karin again who very kindly offered to drive me a few miles north of Montpelier to Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks. In operation for over 200 years, the farm claims to produce the best maple syrup in the whole of the state. We spent quite some time browsing through the huge store, full of every type of maple-related food item and souvenir you can imagine. They had a tasting bar where you could sample the different grades of syrup from lightest to darkest – Vermont Fancy Grade, Grade A Medium Amber, Grade A Dark Amber and Grade B. I picked up half a pint of the delicious Grade A Medium, as well as some maple candy and an apple cider donut!
Also on-site was a theatre with a multimedia display and an outdoor museum, but there wasn’t much on show when we visited, presumably due to it still being a month or two away from this year’s sugar season. However, there were some great woodwork displays, and I got to see a tapped maple tree in the woods at the rear of the shop.
Unfortunately I forgot how strict the TSA are at the airport when it comes to liquids, and as such I had to throw away my half-pint of syrup when I left Vermont 🙁 But not to worry: I ordered some more online and am looking very forward to it arriving soon.
Thanks also to Kumlu for suggesting Morse Farm as a great local attraction to visit.
The Vermont Countryside
Instead of heading straight back to Montpelier, Karin took me on a detour through the Vermont countryside. We travelled about 8 miles out of town along some gorgeous meandering dirt roads, where we eventually stopped at the North Montpelier Pond. So far over this side of the world I’d walked along the banks of a half-frozen river in Oakville and I’d seen the icy surface of Lake Ontario extending out a hundred metres before meeting water, but the North Montpelier Pond was the first time I’d experienced an entirely frozen body of water.
Our ears were met with an eerie creaking noise as we stepped onto the snowy surface, but we were reassured to see the fresh marks of car tires stretching well into the centre of the lake. The ice can’t have been that unstable. It was quite a moment to know I was standing on a thin solid meniscus only a few inches above the aquatic life trapped below.
We continued south along a few more secluded roads, past elaborate homesteads & farms and into the nearby township of Barre. The Vermont countryside is a truly wondrous area of the world to explore by car and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to see a small portion of it with Karin.
Just outside the township of Barre lies the very unique 65-acre Hope Cemetery. First used as a burial ground in the late 1800’s, it’s famous for its 10,000+ tombstones being carved entirely out of Vermont granite, many of which are the works of post-revolutionary Italian migrants. We crawled slowly along the necropolis laneways marvelling at the efforts surviving family members went to in order to memorialise their deceased loved ones, with designs ranging from a soccer ball to an airplane to a racecar.
It’s an ironic fact that the sculptors who worked on the tombstones suffered a higher-than-average death rate due to the inhalation of silica materials from the granite dust. Having said that, with knowledge that death was impending, the sculptors had the chance to design their own elaborate tombs before their time came up.
Ben & Jerry’s Factory
Karin & I returned to Montpelier after a delightful couple of hours touring the countryside. By this stage my friend Johanna had finished work for the day so we met again, and she was kind enough to take me on yet another drive west of Montpelier to visit the Ben & Jerry’s factory in Waterbury (another local attraction recommended to me by Kumlu).
I can count on half a hand the number of times I’d consumed Ben & Jerry’s in the past, and it was recent news to me that it was a Vermont institute, having been founded in Burlington in 1978. What better way to familiarise myself with the brand than to go on a tour of their ice cream plant?
The tour was quite fascinating and took us around half an hour to complete, culminating with a tasting session in the Flavour Lab (more of that in a second). We weren’t allowed to take photos of the actual factory in case we were spies from Häagen-Dazs, but I can tell you there are miles and miles of steel pipes that transport milk, cream, sugar and all kinds of delicious fruity/chocolatey/marshmallowy/swirly ingredients from massive storage barrels into mixing tubs and finally into the pint buckets that get dispatched out to the shops.
So there was a tasting session at the end of our tour where we all got to sample an experimental new ice cream recipe that hadn’t yet made its way into the shops. The idea is that the tour group is invited to give feedback on the sample; the more positive comments it receives, the more likely the recipe is to be manufactured on a larger scale.
What sample did we get?
Yep. Broccoli ice cream with kidney bean chunks and a cheddar swirl.
Now I’m a moderately adventurous guy when it comes to food, but there are some ingredients that just aren’t suitable for use with dairy products. I know from experience that mushrooms are one of them, but broccoli and kidney beans can also be added to that list.
I did try a cup of the Phish Food a few days later at the Ben & Jerry’s store in Burlington though! That’s more like it.
Cold Hollow Cider Mill
Thanks to Johanna’s keen interest in local food & beverage, she knew of a few more must-see foodie locations in the general vicinity of the Ben & Jerry’s factory, so we headed north toward Stowe to drop by the Cold Hollow Cider Mill. Similarly to Morse Farm, there was a large country-style bakery & store full of all kinds of local food items and souvenirs, including the sweetest apple cider imaginable and my second cider donut for the day, all produced on-site. Adjacent to the store was an exhibition on the cider-making process with free tastings available, which you could pour yourself out of a huge cider barrel. It wasn’t to be our last free tasting of the day either 🙂
Cabot Cheese Annex
Returning south along Route 100, we made another pitstop at the Cabot Cheese Annex. A cooperative of 1,200 dairy farms across New England and New York, Cabot Creamery has two retail outlets in Vermont dedicated to the co-op’s produce and other Vermont specialties. It was a fantastic discovery for a cheese-lover like myself, with well over 30 different cheeses available for sampling, and scores more on the shelves for purchase. I left with a highly-recommended block of Tarentaise, a semi-hard Alpine cheese from Spring Brook Farm in Reading, VT.
Green Mountain Coffee
We snuck in one final stop before returning to Montpelier – the Green Mountain Coffee Visitor’s Centre, located alongside the Waterbury train station. Although it was too late in the evening for a caffeinated beverage, the snowfall made for a perfect backdrop to photograph the gorgeous old building.
New England Culinary Institute
After bidding farewell to Johanna, I made my way up to an eatery she recommended called Salt Cafe, a small restaurant that specialises on local food and changes their menu every few weeks depending on the available produce. Unfortunately they were booked out for the night, so I fell back on plan B and had my dinner instead at the New England Culinary Institute.
The NECI operates a number of restaurants in Montpelier that act as a classroom for students, who learn the hospitality trade by cooking for & serving actual paying customers. As with seemingly every other eatery in Vermont, the NECI places a large emphasis on the farm-to-table concept, with students encouraged to develop relationships with farmers and to formulate their menu in accordance with the seasons. I dined at the NECI on Main outlet, and had the pan-seared Arctic char with a spectacular batch of dessert sushi to finish off.
The Skinny Pancake
I finally made it to the Skinny Pancake for breakfast on my final day in Montpelier. Located across the road from Coffee Corner at 89 Main St, the menu is comprised of an impressive selection of sweet & savoury crêpes & pancakes, as well as a few non-crêpe options for good measure. I had the rather compelling Frumple cake: a sweet crêpe cooked briefly, then twisted into a light pile and dusted with cinnamon sugar.
It was so good I couldn’t resist a second Skinny Pancake at their location in Burlington Airport the next day.
Buch Spieler Music
I try to make a point of visiting an independently-owned record store in each city I travel through. Buch Spieler Music was the perfect example in Montpelier, at 27 Langdon Street. They don’t just sell CDs & records; they also have a large vintage clothing section, audio accessories and a DJ hire service.
I had a chat to a guy called Jeff at the counter and asked if he could recommend some local indie music to check out. It turned out he plays in a Montpelier blues/rock band himself called Lake Superior, so I gladly bought a copy of their recently-released album Steam Engine which has a great raw Black Keys kinda sound to it. Check it out!
The streets of downtown Montpelier
I had just as much fun randomly wandering the streets of downtown Montpelier over the weekend as I did visiting its many sights & attractions. The architecture, parklands and positive spin on its street art were all very satisfying facets to discover.
Get yourself to Montpelier!
I was altogether very pleasantly surprised at how, within the space of a few weeks, I went from not knowing a thing about Vermont’s capital to securing its place at the top of my favourite US cities list. Granted I haven’t visited very many US cities yet, but it’s going to take a lot to top the serenity, friendliness and community spirit of Montpelier.
So now we all know: there is an abundance of awesome stuff to see, eat and visit in and around Montpelier despite there being no McDonalds!
If you’re ever in the area, do yourself a favour and spend some time in this beautiful little city.
But what are you supposed to do in Montpelier if you REALLY crave a fix of Maccas?
Well then you just drive a couple of miles south to the town of Berlin!
Oh, and by the way…
I was just kidding about the broccoli cheddar chunk at Ben & Jerry’s.
They actually gave us Salty Triple Caramel Chunk: salty caramel ice cream with gobs of salty caramel and milk chocolate salty caramel truffles 🙂