One of my favourite outdoor spots around Toronto to spend time in is Tommy Thompson Park (a.k.a. the Leslie St. Spit), a not-too-well-known peninsula that extends into Lake Ontario from the far south end of Leslie St. It’s essentially a chunk of reclaimed land, formed from the dumping of unwanted construction material in the 1950’s, which has since transformed into an environmental wetlands & conservation area.

I’d written about it once before here on my blog, back in 2014. Take a peek at it for a more thorough photographic depiction of the gloriousness of this urban wilderness as a whole, but what I’ve come here to talk about today is a certain corner of the park’s backroads that I chanced upon in October 2017.

The good majority of Tommy Thompson Park is accessible by an asphalt road but there are a number of smaller, more rugged trails that branch off the primary track. My friend Conor and I were cycling in the area on a fall afternoon and opted for one such weather-beaten way. We came to precisely this point on the map when we noticed a curious structure made from the countless bricks and cinder blocks that lined the shores:

A very talented & motivated artist / amateur architect (quite possibly a group of them?) had gone to an incredible effort to build a fort along the park’s southern banks. We spent some time wandering around, marveling at how such a construction could possibly have come together in such a remote and difficult-to-access area.

I returned a few weeks later with my camera and took a bunch of shots to preserve the memory. As much as I wanted to share them to Reddit at the time, I refrained from doing so as a viral post could have led to an overabundance of curious visitors and potential vandalism of the site.

Despite my frequent return visits to the park it took me quite some time to stop by this particular corner again; alas, by 2020 the fort had been demolished. I’m not sure if its demise was accelerated by the harsh Ontarian wind or if it happened purely by human hands. Regardless, I finally feel like posting my pics of this magical lakeside artwork in memory of its creator(s) and the handful of people who were also lucky enough to stumble upon it and leave their own marks of appreciation.

Dotted around the fort were some smaller pieces of art and emotive dedications:

I was also quite impressed by the sheer number of ladybugs resting on the debris-laden lakeshore:

Prior to writing this post I tried to locate some further information on the brick fort, assuming others may have posted photos or a journal onto the web in the years that have passed. It was my hope that someone out there had laid claim to its creation. Aside from this Toronto Star article seven years prior to my visit questioning the origins of a similar, smaller brick shrine, I haven’t been able to find a thing.

Whoever you were, dear creator, the time I spent getting to know your charming fort was certainly time well spent. I remain in awe of your superb craftsmanship.

Today was the big day that the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) opened the 6-station subway extension to Line 1 – nine years in the making and with a budget of over $3.2 billion!

I thought to myself yesterday while preparing to go out on a downtown pub crawl that it’d be cool to be part of Toronto history and ride the first public train along the new line from Sheppard West to Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. Despite getting kinda wasted and heading home from the last bar at a reasonably late time, I still managed to wake up early enough on a Sunday to catch the first southbound train from College, which would eventually lead me northbound towards Vaughan.

My friend Elaine had agreed to come for the ride as well, boarding the 7:55am southbound train from the first stop on the line, Finch. The plan was for me to meet her when it passed through College, but I failed to realise that other trains closer to the downtown area had commenced service at the same time. She wasn’t on the first train that passed through College, so I train-hopped until I found her on the next one. We may have missed the opportunity to be on the first ever public train to use the new track, but we were on the first train to do the full circuit from Finch to Vaughan.

We weren’t the only ones with the same idea

The best thing about the journey along the new portion of the track was that the train driver opened up his compartment and allowed a few people in at a time to see the line up close & personal, from the perspective of the operator. It was a rare privilege to be able to see the TTC in this form.

Subway driver’s compartment on the opening day of the TTC Line 1 extension!

The rear half of the train along the way to Vaughan

Elaine & I got chatting with a guy sitting next to us; he told us he also travelled on the TTC the first day the northbound Spadina line extension opened in the late 70’s. Not only that, but he remembered being 4 or 5 years old and taking the subway when the first line was completed in the 50’s. He was pretty confident he’s gonna live long enough to be the first to travel on the Eglinton LRT when it opens in 2021 – providing of course that it doesn’t get delayed!

Getting close!

Pretty much everyone on the new track was there purely for the ride. There was a surprisingly upbeat, happy & celebratory mood in the first carriage, it was a really nice event to be part of.

We reached Vaughan Metropolitan Centre around 9am to a round of applause from the fellow passengers and a lot of fanfare at the beautiful new station.

The awesome mirrored ceiling at Vaughan Metropolitan Centre

Me with my commemorative TTC Map (which is now hanging on my bedroom wall)

York Transit also wanted to be part of the action, not all the fanfare went to the TTC!

There wasn’t too much going on outside the new station, it was kinda desolate all the way up in the northern suburbs. We managed to find a nearby diner for some brunch and then made our way back to the station for the return trip downtown.

The new station from the outside

The main entrance

I’ll probably never come up this far north again but I don’t at all regret getting up early after a night on the booze¬†to be part of Toronto transit history this morning. The opening of a new train line is definitely not something that happens every day.

Bring on Eglinton 2021!

As a new resident to Toronto in 2013 it was impossible to ignore the bright lights of Honest Ed’s the first time I passed by the corner of Bloor & Bathurst, in the north-west of the downtown core.

Opened in 1948 by entrepreneur Ed Mirvish, it rose to prominence as the destination in town for no-frills bargains. Met with some resistance in its founding years, it ultimately carved a place in Toronto culture thanks its huge storefront display featuring tens of thousands of flashing light bulbs and pun-laden slogans (Honest Ed’s a nut! But look at the ‘cashew’ save!). You might compare its notoriety with something like Harrods in London – on the complete other end of the price & elegance scale, mind you – but a one-of-a-kind store that locals flock to & tourists read about in all their guidebooks. It became pretty clear to me that this place was an institution.

Unfortunately in mid-2014 it was announced Honest Ed’s would close on December 31st, 2016 to make way for a new residential & commercial development. With less than a week to go, I decided to drop by one final time today with my camera to snap a few shots of this lovable Toronto landmark before it’s gone forever.

 

One of the many glorious Honest Ed’s storefront signs

 

Busy pedestrian corner at Bloor & Bathurst

 

The first time I walked through the store I was awestruck at how full it was with all kinds of trinkets, clothes, appliances, groceries & housewares. I recall my bemusement at the randomness of some of the merchandise on offer, in particular some $2.99 water bottles with a choice of either a Jamaican flag or a Newfoundland & Labrador flag printed on it, of all things. This is exactly the kinda weird stuff that gave Honest Ed’s its charm! Only a few minutes later in the clothing section upstairs I found a pair of jeans on sale for $2 – less than the price of the bloody Jamaica water bottle. Thanks to Ed Mirvish’s contribution to the Toronto performing arts scene, my eyes were drawn to the scores of theatrical posters & props lining the walls of the two buildings, alongside hand-painted shop signs from years gone by. It was certainly a colourful & eccentric shop to spend time in.

 

Jamaica or Newfoundland & Labrador?

One of the many strange props adoring the walls

 

I wish I’d taken more pics of the place back then because the interior today was a shadow of its former self. The previously-packed rooms were now almost empty, with not much left to purchase aside from a few impractical bits & pieces which were clearly struggling to move off the shelves.

There was a whole section cordoned off for Honest Ed-related memorabilia though, where bins full of their iconic hand-painted signs were on offer as souvenirs. Most of today’s shoppers, including myself, could be found in this area trying to get their hands on a piece of Toronto signwriting history.

 

I got told off for attempting to take a pic of the memorabilia section, but there were hundreds of hand-painted signs similar to this posters one starting from $9, up to $100+ for a full-sized sign

 

A view of the rainy laneway from the overpass connecting the two buildings

 

What was left of the kitchenware department: a few tables with some unappealing mugs, plates and glasses

 

Along the Markham St entrance

 

Honest Ed Alley

 

“Only the floors are crooked” – along Bathurst St

 

Looking out at the sign from the Green Beanery Cafe across the road

 

This place looks awesome at night, I’ll miss these lights, even if half of them are blown

 

Last month the TTC subway station at Bathurst paid tribute to Honest Ed’s by installing signs & slogans in the spirit of the retailer. I’ve heard there are plans to turn it into a permanent feature of the station – here’s hoping this is true.

 

The Honest Ed’s-style entrance to Bathurst Station

 

Love a good TTC pun

 

There was another one that said Bacon & Eglinton, $3.25 … ha!

 

That Honest Ed’s typeface

 

Honest Ed’s facts plastered over the Bathurst platform

 

Thanks Honest Ed’s. It was a pleasure to have shopped in you over the past three years.

 

Bye Honest Ed’s

 

Oh and one final thing: I now have my very own authenticated piece of Honest Ed’s on display in my bathroom ūüôā

Around 35km east of Montreal lies¬†Mont Saint-Hilaire, a¬†mountain which shares the same name as the¬†surrounding township. With its multitude of hiking & skiing tracks and four summits ranging in height from 320m to 414m, it’s an accessible day trip for anyone in the Montreal region who fancies a moderately-graded trek or some cross country skiing during the snowy months.

I’ve spent much of my time in Montreal over the past year exploring Mont-Royal, the peak in the centre of the island which the city surrounds, but I’d recently been eyeing off some of the hills a little further afield. Mont Saint-Hilaire was one of those that caught my attention, so with a warm Sunday forecast of -4¬ļ (well maybe not warm in the strict sense of the word, but still 35 degrees warmer than the previous weekend) I set off on the #200 bus and completed my journey with a taxi to the park’s entrance, the¬†Gault Nature Reserve.

Here are some photos from my delightful 5 hour wander around Mont Saint-Hilaire ūüôā

 

Mont Saint-Hilaire-1

 

The eerie, foggy forest on the way to the first peak, Burnt Hill

Mont Saint-Hilaire-2

Mont Saint-Hilaire-3

 

A curious & hungry squirrel at the Pain de Sucre summit:

Mont Saint-Hilaire-4

Mont Saint-Hilaire-5

 

The breathtaking panorama of Pain de Sucre:

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Mont Saint-Hilaire-7

Mont Saint-Hilaire-8

 

From Dieppe Summit looking back towards Pain de Sucre:

Mont Saint-Hilaire-9

 

The sun finally came out of hiding along the hike to the Rocky summit:

Mont Saint-Hilaire-10

Mont Saint-Hilaire-11

 

Lake Hertel in all its icy glory:

Mont Saint-Hilaire-12

Mont Saint-Hilaire-13

Mont Saint-Hilaire-14

 

The highest peak as seen from the township:

Mont Saint-Hilaire-15

As an Australian who grew up only ever experiencing two seasons (namely: hot & wet followed by not-quite-as-hot & dry), the north American continent hasn’t yet ceased to amaze me after experiencing¬†its¬†seasonal variances for the past two years. From the brutal -38¬ļC Toronto/Montreal winter to the sweaty, humid summer a good 70¬ļ warmer than its icy counterpart, it must be a meteorologist’s dream (or nightmare, depending on how you see it) to know the job varies so extremely throughout the year.

Only last Monday the high was 24¬ļC with most of the city’s population out & about in their shorts & t-shirts; this weekend we had our first¬†snowfall of the season and it didn’t get above 6¬ļ. I think people would riot if a drastic change in weather like this ever took place in my north Queensland home town!

I took the opportunity over the past two days to explore the gorgeous¬†autumnal foliage of the city during its¬†transitional¬†period between summer & winter. I began Saturday morning on the north-western face of Mont-Royal, a small mountain in downtown Montreal bursting¬†with greenery & hiking tracks, before detouring through Mont-Royal cemetery where the skies opened up with a short but intense flurry of snow. After the sun returned¬†I ventured along a number of mountain trails, stopping by two lookouts as well as¬†the famous cross that can be seen lit up from miles away at night. Sunday saw a visit to Parc Jean-Drapeau, situated on a small island east of downtown, well-known for its 1967 world expo attraction, the ‘Biosphere’.

Here are a bunch of photos I snapped over this Montreal fall weekend:

 

Montreal Fall-1

Montreal Fall-2

Montreal Fall-3

Montreal Fall-4

Montreal Fall-5

Montreal Fall-6

Montreal Fall-7

Montreal Fall-8

Montreal Fall-9

Montreal Fall-10

Montreal Fall-11

Montreal Fall-12

Montreal Fall-13

Montreal Fall-14

Montreal Fall-15

Montreal Fall-16

 

Isn’t it beautiful?

Maybe my next post will be of Montreal in the winter…

 

Burgers are awesome! I’m living on the perfect continent to satisfy any burger craving. There are diners, bars and restaurants on almost every corner serving a myriad of recipes ranging from the traditional favourites to the highly experimental.¬†I’ve had a few burgers I would class as ‘phenomenal’ throughout my time in North America so far: notably at the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier, Vermont, and at Burger Royal¬†right here in Montreal.

A few months ago my Toronto friends Juilie & Cory told me about a burger restaurant they dined at in the small Ontario city of Cornwall called Truffles Burger Bar. They spoke extremely highly of it and suggested I check it out with them next time they were in town. Such a recommendation naturally piqued my curiosity, and it just so happened that they made the drive back to Cornwall this weekend. I took the hour-long train ride west of Montreal and joined them both in town for lunch today.

To get an idea of what to expect at Truffles, I had a browse through their online menu a couple of days beforehand. The burgers sure sounded impressive Рthey were definitely on the gourmet side of the scale, ranging from the Surf & Turf (beef, lobster & garlic butter) to the Apple Burger (pulled pork, baked apples & goat cheese). They even had a selection of exotic meats to choose from, such as llama, venison, kangaroo & bison.

However there was one burger in particular that really caught my attention:

Solid Gold Burger
Beef + foie gras + black truffle shavings + 23 kt gold dust + glass of champagne
Price: $100

Are you serious?!¬†I thought to myself.¬†A hundred dollar burger? That’s ludicrous! Who in their right mind would want to buy a gold-dusted burger with black truffles for $100?

It didn’t take long to come to the realisation that, in fact, I¬†was precisely¬†one of those people who would buy a gold-dusted burger with black truffles for $100.

We were greeted and served by a jovial young chap who had travelled all the way from Laval (in Quebec) to work at this venue in Cornwall. I wasn’t quite 100%¬†sure at this stage if¬†I would go ahead with the S.G.B. so I asked a bit more about it first. Our waiter gladly¬†assisted in¬†selling the idea to me by showing me a photo of what to expect. I can’t lie: it looked amazing.

Ok, what the hell. I’ll do it.

Juilie opted for the Snapping Alligator (with curry fruit tapenade) and Cory settled on the Beaver Creek (locally-farmed elk with blue cheese, mushroom & sautéed onion). With that, our orders were placed and we waited patiently for our meals while sipping on some delicious white wine, expertly selected again by Juilie.

A short while later, our orders arrived.

Now, it’s not every day that one forks out such a large sum of hard-earned cash for what is commonly known as an inexpensive fast food staple, so I made sure to document as much of the occasion as I could.

Here, I present to you, the Truffles Burger Bar Solid Gold Burger:

 

Truffles Burger Bar-1
It was a true work of art

 

 

Truffles Burger Bar-2
Look at those truffles

 

 

Truffles Burger Bar-3
The whole outside of the burger was dusted in 23 karat gold

 

 

Truffles Burger Bar-4
I wish I didn’t have to eat it, I just wanted to look at it

 

 

Truffles Burger Bar-5
The sweet potato fries & basil mayonnaise that came on the side

 

 

Truffles Burger Bar-6
One final pic before digging in

 

 

Truffles Burger Bar-7
The first bite!

 

 

Truffles Burger Bar-8
Man, this was a good burger

 

 

Truffles Burger Bar-9
These are expensive fingers

 

So there you have it: that’s what a $100 burger looks like.

Was it worth it? For the taste alone, probably not… I mean, yes, it was a great¬†tasting burger – the beef was cooked to precision, the black truffles added¬†a slight¬†nutty dimension to the mix and with the foie gras came a definitive hint of complexity – I just can’t say it¬†tasted like $100.

But was it worth it for the experience?

Hell yeah it was! It’s a freakin’ gold-dusted burger served on a gold plate with a glass of champagne! For 20 minutes of my life as I chewed my way through this masterpiece, I felt like royalty. And that, in my humble opinion, is well worth the money I spent.

 


 

It’s a tradition at Truffles Burger Bar that if you order the Solid Gold Burger, you get your photo taken to be included on their official Facebook page:

 

 

After we finished our meal I logged on to check the pic and saw a comment from a guy called Steven, who pretty much summed it all up:

If this guy actually flew from Australia to try this burger…no matter how good it is… and I am sure it is wonderful…it validates what my father used to say that “Some people have more money than brains.”

ūüôā

But seriously, if you ever find yourself in Cornwall, you should stop by Truffles Burger Bar for a meal. Yeah, Solid Gold is a little extreme, but there are plenty of other delicious and less expensive options to choose from. I for one have my eye on the Camel Burger for next time.

 


 

Thanks so much to Juilie & Cory for recommending this place and showing me around Cornwall, it’s a lovely town!!

This afternoon¬†I took my camera and went for a walk along the streets of Harbord Village, Kensington Market &¬†Alexandra Park – all home to a whole bunch of freakin’ spectacular urban artwork.

Here is a gallery featuring 60 reasons I fell even more in love with Toronto today.

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:

 

Tommy Thompson Park-1

 

Tommy Thompson Park-2

 

Tommy Thompson Park-3

 

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¬įC 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:

 

Tommy Thompson Park-4
Looking out upon the gorgeous Lake Ontario from a trail alongside Spine Road

 

Tommy Thompson Park-5
One of the many wetlands along the way, as seen from a lookout above the trail

 

Tommy Thompson Park-6
We took a trail off the beaten path in the marshlands only to come to this dead end – but it didn’t matter because it was so impressive!

 

Tommy Thompson Park-7
Toronto <3

 

Tommy Thompson Park-18
The lighthouse at the end of the trail

 

Tommy Thompson Park-8
The lighthouse & satellite dish, fenced away from the public

 

Tommy Thompson Park-9
The friendly grin of the satellite dish

 

Tommy Thompson Park-10
There was a hole in the fence so we snuck into the grounds of the lighthouse to find this super sketchy storage container

 

Tommy Thompson Park-11
Adjacent to the lighthouse was another storage shed. I loved the words of wisdom people had graffitied inside

 

Tommy Thompson Park-12
Stay classy!

 

Tommy Thompson Park-13
The view across the lake from the window in the storage shed. You can just make out Etobicoke in the background

 

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The many mounds of dumped bricks littering the outer headland. It kinda detracted from the serenity, but I must admit the debris did add a highly unique atmosphere to the scene

 

Tommy Thompson Park-15
Toronto as seen over the mounds of rubble

 

Tommy Thompson Park-16
Bricks in lieu of sand

 

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Tile art

 

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Toronto again <3

 

Tommy Thompson Park-20
Ugh… so tranquil

 

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.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-1

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-2

 

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.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-3

 

I felt extra macho and went back for a second shot of raw garlic.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-4

 

Such garlicy mess!

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-5

 

One of the many farmers stalls set up to celebrate Ontarian garlic. These guys were from the Brant Country Garlic Company:

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-6

 

Who ever thought garlic braiding was a thing?

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-7

 

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.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-8

 

Man, it was busy. There was a much greater turnout than I ever could have expected there to be at a garlic festival.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-9

 

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.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-10

 

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:

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-11

 

Here’s a Roasted Garlic Elk & Lamb Pie from Globe Bistro:

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-12

 

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.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-13

 

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):

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-14

 

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 Cr√®me Fra√ģche. 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.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-15

 

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.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-16

 

Ok, I totally would have gone the ice cream as well but it sold out by the time I made it to the stall¬†ūüôĀ

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-17

 

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.

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-18

 

The many varieties of garlic on offer throughout the marketplace:

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-19

 

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 ūüėÄ

 

Toronto Garlic Festival-20

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.

 

Milk

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.

Milk
Pouring the milk out of its bladder

 

Tim Hortons

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.

Double Double
A Timmy’s double double!

 

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 ūüôā

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.

 

Addresses

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.

 

Traffic

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.

Dundas West Pedestrian Signal
A pedestrian traffic signal on Dundas West

 

Public transit

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.

Toronto Streetcar
A TTC streetcar crossing the very busy University Avenue during the Santa Claus Parade

 

Cell phones

They’re mostly referred to as cell phones here, not mobile phones.

Canadian cell phone plans are extortionately expensive ūüôĀ 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.

 

Cuisine

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¬įC 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.

Poutine
POUTINE

 

Canadianisms

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

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.

 

Weed

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.

Need $ For Weed
Honesty is appreciated

 

The winter

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.

 

Exit signs

They’re red, not green.

 

The date

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’.

 

Z

In a similar inclusive style to that of the date, it’s completely ok to pronounce Z as either zed or zee in Canada.

 

Music

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 Рa 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.

Dan Schaumann & Alan Doyle
Meeting Alan Doyle after the show!

 

The PATH

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¬įC 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.

 

Tax

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.

 

Currency

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) ūüôā

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.

 

Banking

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.

 

DAVIDsTEA

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.

DAVIDsTEA
The awesome DAVIDsTEA shop at the Richmond Adelaide centre, just before Christmas 2013

 

People

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 ūüėÄ