Saturday, February 26, 2011

Downtown Family Day

A few years ago, our premier gave us a new statutory holiday. The third Monday of every February is Family Day, when most employees get the day off.

DOTH and I decided to make the most of a long weekend and do something many Torontonians may not enjoy, preferring to get out of the city --  we took a tour of downtown Toronto.

We rented a lovely room in the Harbourfront Radisson for 3 nights:

Not a very good photo, but in the centre of the room is the entertainment unit with the TV on top that can be turned toward the bed, or towards the living area of the room. The fireplace underneath heats both sides of the room.

We were on the 6th floor with a lovely view of both downtown, and Lake Ontario:
The 'small' building with peaked roof is the Royal York Hotel, which was the tallest building in the British Empire when I first came to Toronto from England in the early '60s.

 "The Royal York was a state-of-the-art hotel upon completion in 1929, with ten elevators, a radio in each of its 1,048 rooms, and a private shower or bath in each room. Other features included a large Concert Hall fitted with an impressive Casavant Frères pipe organ. With five manuals and 107 stops, it was the largest pipe organ in Canada. The telephone switchboard was 66 feet long and required 35 operators. The hotel was enlarged in 1959 with the addition of the east wing to a total of 1,600 rooms and was the largest hotel in the Commonwealth for many years.

"As guests enter the main lobby, they are greeted with nothing but grandeur. The high vaulted ceilings, the warm colour palette of deep reds and golds and the ornate ornamentation all add to this effect. The once fully carpeted lobby has been replaced with a light coloured mosaic tiled floor, but early 20th century styled carpets are still found throughout the building. Big armchairs and couches allow travelers to take in the atmosphere of the lobby while others wait patiently for friends to arrive beside the old railway clock, which is centrally located within the hotel lobby area. The railway clock rises in the middle of a large spiral staircase from the avenue level of the Hotel. The lobby of the Royal York Hotel shimmers with light from large crystal chandeliers and is over looked by the mezzanine level.

"The hotel has been the residence of choice for Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Canadian Royal Family when in Toronto. The Queen usually has an entire floor reserved for her and her party, occupying the Royal Suite herself."

The view of the lake was magnificent:

It was partially frozen, in our below zero temperatures, and the boat in the top, middle of the photo is an ice-breaker. You can see a skating rink dead-centre of the photo:
Lots of brave souls enjoying it.

We took the "hopper bus" (hop on and off at most major tourist spots for one flat fee) to the St. Lawrence Market; bought some fruit, freshly-baked bread and cheeses for lunches and enjoyed our first lunch while we were there - a Mustacios veal sandwich with eggplant, mmm, yummy - and so big we have to share one!

Chinatown was quite the experience, with DOTH feeling quite at home, since she has visited China a couple of times and is on her way again this summer:
The CN Tower from Chinatown.

We shopped in some of the Chinese malls and had a yummy Chinese cream-filled bun for dessert. Really, though, once you have been in one mall, you have virtually seen them all!

We took a tour of the CN Tower - probably the first time in almost 40 years -- since DOTH was little. The tower hasn't changed but the view certainly has:

A couple of interesting buildings....

This one was weird...the building is blue, and it looks like a fire escape on the outside, but it only covers three floors!

This was taken from the very top of the tower....Union Station, and all the railway lines, to the right of the photo.

We went to the Distillery District -- no longer a distillery, I hasten to add!

"The Distillery District is an internationally acclaimed village of brick-lined streets and dozens of vibrantly restored Victorian Industrial buildings. It’s one of Ontario’s hottest tourist attractions and home to live theatres, galleries, fashion, design and jewelry boutiques, unique cafes and award-winning restaurants. It’s all completely closed to traffic and just a few minutes walk from downtown Toronto. "

They have some unique shopping experiences there, useful if you are looking for that perfect gift for someone who has everything!

We also took the hopper bus to Casa Loma, but didn't take the time to get out and take the tour.

We had a lovely Chinese dinner in a restaurant overlooking Lake Ontario, on the Queens Quay. Lemon Chicken with shrimp and lobster rice -- delicious!

And when we weren't out touring around, there was plenty to see from the windows of our room...
including this:

The poor girl must have been frozen by the time they were finished - truly a day she will never forget!

And we had a weekend we will remember for some time to come...there is always lots to see in Toronto; a place well worth visiting!

(Posting this from California, where it's not hot but certainly a mite warmer!)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Running Amok at the Mexican Border

You always knew I was an angel, didn't you?

Well -- maybe I'm not!

I wonder if my sister remembers this:

There's a bit of a story behind it.

Back in 1985, DOTH (Daughter Of The House) and I travelled to California to visit my sister (and her MOTH - Man Of The House).

While we were there the three of us girls took a trip down to Mexico. We crossed over at the San Ysidro border into Tijuana to do some shopping.

If the name San Ysidro rings a bell, it's probably because just the year before, in 1984, there was a shooting massacre at the San Ysidro McDonalds - a disgruntled employee killed 22 people and injured 19 others. Mass murders were not so prevalent in those days; I guess that's why I remember the name of that area of San Diego  (DOTH was quite amazed that I remembered, by the way). 

I understand that it wouldn't be very wise to cross over into Tijuana these days, but back then it was kind of a fun thing to do.

(click on photos to enlarge)

This is what the border crossing loooked like. Cars drove into Mexico on the left. People walking in through the turnstyle on the right. There was no problem at all going in - I don't think we were even questioned. But coming out?  Well, that was another matter.

But first, as we walked the pathway into Tijuana we were accosted on all sides by ragged women and children, some with oozing, open sores, begging for money. The pathway ran alongside an open drain that ran throughout the town, and the smell was overpowering.

Finally we reached the centre of town, and we could start shopping at...

The Grand Shopping Centre!

It was all a lot of fun, actually, and I really got into the bargaining. We wandered all around the little booths, which were offering everything under the sun that tourists would love. You've all been there, done that, somewhere in the world, so you know what I am talking about.

I can't remember everything that I bought, but I do recall a beautiful tablecloth, that I was so proud of 'winning' for $10 -- and which, after washing was reduced to the size of a postage stamp!

But my prize possession, for the past 26 years, has been this little creche (minus the stable)

I saw it immediately, as we walked into the first booth, and fell in love with it. 

 "I give eet you for only $25 - worth mucho more..." was the cry from the vendor.

"No, no - too much", I said.
"But no -- eet made by hand - looook, special, 'and-painted!"

"No, sorry...but I'll give you $10"

"Ah, no -- tis tooo leettle!"

So I waved my hand and walked away. He didn't even call me back...just shrugged his shoulders and turned to the next American.

I saw similar nativity sets in a number of other booths, but it was always the same bargaining scenario; couldn't get them below $25. So I decided to go back to the first vendor and try once more with an offer of $20 - because I REALLY wanted it!  It had been the first booth we entered, and would also be the last, since it was on the way to the exit from Tijuana, and -- surprise, surprise!  There was a different vendor there! To make a long story short, I managed to bargain him down to $5 - I was SO proud of myself!

I must admit, that, having been on the mission field for many years now, and having seen how people in third world countries have to make a living, I have often felt quite guilty about how much I paid for it. It wasn't worth $25, but I wasn't poor and could have made his day by paying more than just $5 for it. But even that hasn't ever taken away my joy of owning it!

The figurines are only about 2.5" high, the cows a little longer, and the smallest sheep is only about 3/4" high,
and it has pride of place among our decorations every Christmas. Everytime someone new sees it, I get to tell the story all over again.

But the rest of the story wasn't so much fun. We made our way back toward the border joyfully clutching our aquisitions, where this time we received the 3rd Degree.

DOTH and my sister passed with flying colours, but much to my horror, the border guard, with rifle hung over his shoulder and flanked by a couple of similarly attired guards, kept flipping back and forth through my passport, with mumblings that got louder and louder with every flip.

My knees were trembling, and I almost fainted when he yelled,

"Where is your veeesa?"

I was travelling on a British Passport at the time, and none of us had remembered that I would need a visa to get into Mexico. DOTH and sister were ok, with American and Canadian passports.

I guess at that point I must have gone into denial, as I do remember that he was wanting to walk us down the hall to some office or other, but I honestly cannot remember what happened next and how we managed to get back into the U.S.  I think DOTH, too, must have gone into shock as she has absolutely no memory of this incident at all.
Suffice to say, I didn't land in jail, but I think in 2011, I just might have.

My sister probably remembers more, and can fill in the details.

Years later, and having had multitudes of  'incidents' at borders in Eastern Europe, I am now an old pro - but this was my first ever. Makes a great story whenever there are lapses in conversation: 

 "Did I ever tell you about the time...?"