We dined in domes, tents, and old Victorian houses. We had five dinners but we only left two tips (and we don’t suck). In between, we walked, we wined, we saw some art.
Blog title courtesy of Jean, who was determined to have some time off after not getting any at Christmas time (beyond the statutory days). We didn’t venture too far from home—Beamsville, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Toronto, Kleinburg, which are all within a two hours’ drive. And it wasn’t, per se, designed as a culinary tour. But it did turn out that way!
Because, you see, I’m still making some efforts to avoid catching Covid. And when it came to selecting restaurants, well, it wasn’t your Mom and Pop fish’n’chips places that offered space. And clean air. Those only came packaged as “dining experiences”. Covid safe(r), it turns out, is kind of delicious.
We left home mid-morning, headed to an appointment at Commisso Estate Winery in Beamsville. Their website promised wine tastings in a “fun, safe, private” environment. I didn’t necessarily trust the promise—so many places just didn’t bother to remove their Covid protocols page once they stopped following it—but I figured a smaller winery in February wouldn’t be that crowded. I optimistically (and pragmatically, given that dinner wasn’t til 7) also ordered a charcuterie board.
It worked out. We ended up being their only customers at this time. Not only that, but their tastings are conducted in a tent that was plenty warm, thanks to gas heaters. After we were seated, we got the history of the place, and overview of the wines.
American Express “Front of the Line” offer: Elvis Costello and The Imposters, live at Massey Hall in Toronto in August. Sure, why not get tickets to that? Massey Hall is a great little theatre. And surely everything will be fine by summer.
Tickets now on sale for & Juliet…
Created by the Emmy®-winning writer from “Schitt’s Creek,” this hilarious new musical flips the script on the greatest love story ever told. & Juliet asks: what would happen next if Juliet didn’t end it all over Romeo? Get whisked away on a fabulous journey as she ditches her famous ending for a fresh beginning and a second chance at life and love—her way.
Juliet’s new story bursts to life through a playlist of pop anthems as iconic as her name, including Since U Been Gone‚ Roar, Baby One More Time, Larger Than Life‚ That’s The Way It Is, and Can’t Stop the Feeling—all from the genius songwriter/producer behind more #1 hits than any other artist this century. Break free of the balcony scene and get into this romantic comedy that proves there’s life after Romeo. The only thing tragic would be missing it.
Well, that sounds fun. And hey look, it’s playing in August. We’re going to be in Toronto anyway. Why not get tickets for this the day before the Elvis Costello concert?
“What are we going to do with this?” Jean asked, about the Corsi-Rosenthal box that he’d agreed to build, to humor me. And which had turned out much larger than we’d expected.
Literally four MERV-13 furnace filter duct-taped to a floor fan, a Corsi-Rosenthal box is a kind of homemade HEPA filter. Viruses and other nasties get trapped in the filters, and the fan blows out clean air. Thus replacing bad room air with cleaner air.
I mumbled something about it being useful when we had people over, but had to concede we don’t really have much by way of visitors these days.
“It could also be useful if we ever have to isolate from one another,” I mumbled.
One week later
“Where did you put that Corsi-Paranoid box?” Jean asked, using his “affectionate” nickname for it.
“In the closet,” I said. “Why?”
“We might want to run it for a bit…”
We had a plan (of sorts) that we executed. Jean got the upstairs rooms, running the C-R box. I got the downstairs. Main floor was the masking zone. Windows open. Doors closed. Cats rather confused.
His symptoms started two days after exposure, and were confirmed by rapid test after three. Thanks to four vaccine doses, the worst of it was two days spent in bed, feeling achy and exhausted, and the only lingering symptom a bit of cough. With ongoing positive tests, though, the isolation had to continue quite a few days after he was on the road to recovery.
One week later (August 2021)
Jean gets a call from his sister, reporting that she’s not sure how much more time his mother has. (She had a stroke in February.) He reconsiders his plan to wait until Labour Day before visiting her again.
We’re both tired of the in-house Covid protocols, but having stuck with them this long, it seems important to continue. It would just suck to get infected at the very end, after making so much this effort to avoid it for so many days.
One week later
Finally his test is negative. I have never developed symptoms, and the tests I subsequently take are negative as well. Jean thinks he should visit his Mom.
I had a nice visit with Jean’s Mom in June. (Jean was there too, to be clear!) He’s OK with me not travelling with him this time. I’m OK with doing my Toronto activities with my sisters instead of with him. Brief first hug in two weeks, then we’re each off to different parts of Ontario.
Elvis & Juliet
I’m not one to drive myself to Toronto, so I have to research what transit options have survived the pandemic. It’s pretty sad, people! Via Rail has only a single train running on Sundays, and it won’t get me there in time. Go Bus is a possibility (Go Train does not run on Sundays, why would anyone want to go to Toronto on a weekend), though it’s a convoluted route. Then I find: Flixbus! It’s cheap, the stop is nearby and reachable by local transit, and it’s a direct route to Toronto that gets me there in time.
It’s the first time I have taken transit since early 2020. Except for a bit of trouble finding the actual Flixbus stop, everything went well. Local bus to Ion to and Flixbus, all stops were close to one another (and to my house)., and all were on time. And no big traffic tie-ups on the way to Toronto, either… We actually arrived early.
Despite the heat warning that is to persist all weekend, I do the half-hour walk to my hotel. So many people on the streets! So many people in the hotel lobby! It’s all a bit mind-bendy after two weeks of studiously avoiding everyone, even my husband.
The hotel room is fairly uninspiring, despite its high cost (cheapest decent hotel we could find; Toronto is not a cheap city normally, and it’s still not quite “normal” times), and slightly high in CO2. Can’t do anything about the price, but I am able to quickly improve the CO2 reading by opening the patio door for a bit, letting in all the steamy, humid air!
But then I have to be off. Juliet, and my sister, await.
I grab some lunch on the way. We mwet up at the Princess of Wales theatre (six air exchanges per hour, MERV14 filters, yes I asked). I soon forgot about all that, though, because we have excellent orchestra seats, and the show is so freakin’ fun!
It’s all music by producer / writer Max Martin, so that means songs by Britney and Katie and Backstreet Boys and Bon Jovi and Kelly Clarkson and even Adam Lambert...! Between that, and the Shakespearean premise, and the themes of girl power, and being your authentic self, and… I don’t know, I was just so entertained. I would see this musical again in a heartbeat.
Then it’s a nice family dinner with my sister, then a call with Jean back at the hotel. His trip is less entertaining than mine, but between naps (hers), his Mom is happy to see him.
After my hotel patio breakfast, with pigeon companion, I had planned to go to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario). But I checked first, and learned that it’s only open on holiday Mondays, not regular Mondays like this one. It’s another steamy day. I decide to just amble up to the Yorkville area, and take in some of its nice shops, plentiful park seating, cafes, and gelato shops.
Meanwhile, my other sister and I are emailing, trying to figure out dinner plans. Rain was threatening later in the day. I came across a list of covered patios, and found that one was near Massey Hall: the Rabbit Hole, and make a reservation there.
Sis and I meet at the hotel, and walk over. I “convince” her that we want to sit outside, despite the steamy heat. After some water, and sitting, it’s not so bad. And hey, we’re in time for “happy hour” $5 glasses of wine! We both settle on fish dishes: mackerel for me, salmon for me. They are really good! And are their nice, light desserts: the lemon posset, and the strawberry rhubarb trifle.
Then over to Massey Hall for Elvis Costello and the Imposters, with special guest Nick Lowe. Rather good seats for this show as well! (And I’ve finally stopped thinking about air exchanges—mostly.) And it all starts quite promptly.
Though I’m not as familiar with Nick Lowe and his oeuvre, he and his band (who did a few familiar instrumentals) were very good. And he did conclude with “Cruel to Be Kind”!
And Elvis Costello was just fab, and far more chatty than he had been when I’d last seen him live, many moons ago. He praised Nick Lowe, reminisced about previous trips to Toronto, mentioned the El Mocambo, talked about his musician father… And he played plenty of old favorites along with some from the new album and few others he just felt like including (Set list). His voice was still good, his band terrific, and his stage presence compelling.
Tuesday I was on the early Flixbus back to Waterloo. And I had it all to myself! (Except the driver. Which is good, because I can’t drive a bus.)
Two days later
Jean back, me still testing negative, we go out with a couple friends to the local Babylon Sisters Wine Bar. It was great to meet with them, and we were very impressed with the venue, both with the interesting wine selections (very flexible on how you can make up a wine flight), and the delicious food (supplied by Little Mushroom Catering).
It was hard not to compare The Who show at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto with the Queen + Adam Lambert one, since that was only a few weeks ago. I wasn’t a Very Important Person at The Who show, which made it cheaper. So I didn’t get any merchandise. I considered a T-shirt, but they didn’t seem to carry any women’s styles. (I need a waist in my clothes, damn it!) I was in the 35th row on the floor, not the 13th, and there was no catwalk. The Who were playing each show with a symphony orchestra, and likely in part due to the expense of that, the staging and lights were really pretty simple for a big arena rock show. Not in the Queen style at all.
On their last tour, celebrating 50 years of the band, The Who presented a crowd-pleasing set list of greatest hits. In this one, they really challenged themselves. And the audience. That, too, was unlike Queen.
Originally, our summer vacation was just going to be to Toronto, then Timmins, with one point in between (North Bay). A family canoe trip was planned for the start of the Timmins portion. I wasn’t too keen on that, so I was just going to hang with Dad during that time.
But then, the canoe trip started to get generally low on participants, to the point where it seemed a bit pointless. So Jean and I decided to add a few more points between Toronto and Timmins.
Of course, the impetus for this portion was the Queen + Adam Lambert concert that I’ve already written about. The concert was on a Sunday night, but we went to Toronto on Saturday. We traveled by Greyhound (and just for added fun, took the Ion—Waterloo’s new light rail transit—to the Greyhound station). On the way, I grew nostalgic for the days when Greyhound could get you to downtown Toronto in about 90 minutes. Yes, the bus left a bit late, and yes, they’ve added stops, but the main reason it took about 3 hours to get there was traffic. Traffic, traffic, traffic.
So we arrived around 3:00, and we had a 5:00 dinner reservation (because we didn’t book far enough ahead to get a better time). So we high-tailed it to our hotel, the Beverley. There we experienced the world’s slowest elevator ride on the way to the smallest room I’ve ever stayed in, at least in Toronto. But, it was pretty conveniently located to everything we had to get to.
And the first of those places was Buca Yorkville, where we had our dinner reservation. It’s pricey, but they’ve never let us down, and with a small exception, they didn’t this time, either. The waiter was helpful at guiding through the menu and in picking a wine.
We started with some oysters and raw salmon, then for mains, I had the risotto and Jean the braised octopus, which was really amazing. My dessert was a hit, but Jean’s, a take-off on tiramisu, was the only misstep of the meal.
Sunday morning after breakfast we went to the AGO, where we decided to buy their new, cheaper annual pass, which will pay off as long as we go at least once more this year. We first went to Yayoi Kusama’s celebrated Infinity Mirror room where, we were surprised to discover, we were given a grand total of 60 seconds to look around and take photos. Good thing that’s not the only thing we had planned to see!
We also visited a special exhibit on women and photography (as subjects and photographers) and viewed some of the permanent collection of Canadian art.
We followed that with a bit of shopping, at places like Mountain Equipment Co-op, then went for another early dinner. This time it was at Taverna Mercato, an Italian place near the Scotiabank Centre. The food was pretty good, but boy, was it loud—packed to the rafters with a mix of Blue Jays and Queen fans.
Our return trip to Kitchener was by Via Rail. It got us there in less than 90 minutes. (Too bad there are only two Via trains per day.)
We stopped back at home for the car and more luggage (and lunch), then made our way to Tobermory. We hit quite the thunderstorm on the way in to town. It had eased by the time we got there, but it remained a rainy evening. So we skipped walking around and just had dinner—some rather good local fish at Leeside—and watched some TV at the hotel.
We were booked on the early morning ferry, which was punctual, so fortunate that breakfast at Leeside was fast. It was a beautiful day, so once on the island we decided to drive to the Cup and Saucer trail and walk that.
Even at this relatively early time, it was quite a popular destination! We even took a side trail at one point just to ditch some people. But it is a nice walk, and gives you some decent elevations, at least by Ontario standards.
We then drove to Little Current for some lunch and to check into our hotel. This was the nicest booking of our trip, at the Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre. Along with a fast elevator and big rooms, they offered beautiful views and a pool that we actually used. We had breakfast at their restaurant, and that wasn’t bad, either. For dinner, we got into a popular little restaurant after a short wait at the bar, and both enjoyed local fish dinners, of trout (me) and white fish (Jean).
It was about a three hours drive from Little Current to Sudbury, where we stayed at the Day’s Inn right by Science North. (This was our fourth hotel in four days, and it was starting to get disorienting.) We had a good lunch at an Italian wine bar, Di Gusto, before taking a walk, then visiting Science North.
For dinner, we got into the Tommy’s Not Here restaurant. It was quite good. I had one of their specialties, the lamb.
We made it to Timmins on Thursday, and our visit was mostly about family. My sister Michelle also arrived this day, with her husband and one son joining the next day. (The other son was working at camp and couldn’t get away.) My other sister was also scheduled to arrive the next day, but her flight ended up cancelled due to mechanical difficulties! That was a bummer all around, especially for her.
The initial event drawing us to Timmins this long weekend were celebrations of my aunt’s 90th birthday. But my Dad thought he would take advantage of the family traveling there to also hold an inurnment ceremony for my Mom’s ashes. That took place on Saturday a morning, a simple ceremony at the cemetery.
Dad then hosted a lunch at the house. He decided to have it catered, which obviously reduced the workload a great deal. The company, Radical Gardens, did a nice job. I think the extended family enjoyed the gathering.
We had a couple more family events that weekend, these ones focused on my aunt Irene, who is a fantastic-looking 90 and still sharp mentally. My uncle Gilles hosted a pot luck / pizza party in his yard Saturday night. He had tarp up in case, but the weather was cooperative in any event. Then there was also slightly more formal afternoon affair on Sunday at the McIntyre Lion’s Den, also catered by Radical Gardens.
In between all that, Jean and I managed to visit with some of his family as well!
The drive back from Timmins seemed interminable, but basically went as well as can be expected on a holiday Monday. Now to figure out where we might go on another little driving trip in the Fall…
I’ve already written about how the stress of fast-moving Queen + Adam Lambert tickets led me to invest (sure, let’s call it that) in VIP tickets this time around. It was mainly for the better seats, but Jean wondered what else was included.
Not sure, I responded. Some kind of separate entry. Maybe a keychain or something.
Not a particularly significant birthday this year, so I wasn’t thinking too much about it. However, some months ago, when looking to pick a date to go see Sting’s The LastShip in Toronto, I figured why not pick my birthday weekend.
Then events got built around that. I took the Friday off (to do a whole lot of nothing special—but still better than a work day). And I noticed that the KW Comedy Festival was having their opening gala the Thursday night before, so I got tickets.
I don’t think it was as strong as last year. My favorite act of the first half was Arthur Simeon, originally from Uganda but now living in Toronto. In the second half it was Emily Galati, the only woman featured, along with the headliner, Sean Majunder. The rest of the comedians were a bunch of white guys. And to be fair, one of them, host Derek Seguin, provided the evening’s most hilarious bit, in his description of the challenges of man-scaping.
But overall, it was some absurdist comedy, which is not really my thing, and a lot of jokes about their kids, or about why they don’t have kids—maybe one of the few safe subjects for white guys to joke about these days? But not as effective, for me, as Simeon, Galati, and Majunder’s takes on politics, social media, racism, and sexism. Tricky time to be funny, I guess, but the event would have benefited from more diversity than it had.
Everywhere you go, always take the weather
When we booked our bus to Toronto, we discovered that the Greyhound schedule isn’t as good as it used to be. Not as many buses, and they all have more stops. (This is just annoying. It’s not as though the train service is any better on Saturdays.) There was one bus that would have gotten us there around 10:50, which would have been ideal, but it would have taken three hours. So we went with the one that scheduled to arrive around 11:30, because it was only supposed to take two hours.
I didn’t think the forecasted 2 cm of snow would really affect it, but I was wrong. For one, I think it was somewhat more snow than that. Regardless, it slowed down all the traffic. We clearly weren’t going to make our 12:15 lunch reservation, so I texted my sister about that, and suggested that she could order for us, and we’d aim to arrive by 1:00.
Off the bus, we had trouble finding a cab, so we called an Uber, and initially had trouble finding them, too, but we did connect. Only to find that they had the wrong Holiday Inn listed as the destination, which I needed to change in the app. Which was not as easy to do as one would hope. By the time I finally got it to work (Jean’s suggestion to turn off wifi was key), we were there!
Fortunately, hotel check-in went smoothly, and calling a second Uber to take us to lunch was drama-free. We ate the O&B Canteen at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. A bit pricey for what you got ($19 for a burger?), but everything was very good.
I didn’t know a whole lot about The Last Ship other than that Sting wrote the music (it was not one of those musicals built around an artist’s famous songs), inspired by the ship building heritage of his home town. But it was really good! Strong cast, great singers, and a very moving story. In the first half, I was kind of with the capitalists (“Be realistic! The ship building industry is dying!”) and identifying with the characters who felt they just had to leave the town to secure their futures elsewhere. But by the end of the second half, I was totally with the workers.
We had an hour after the play before our dinner reservation, which gave us time to walk back to the hotel, and stay there briefly before walking to dinner at Buca Yorkville.
That was a fine meal. We started with three kinds of house-cured fish, which were small taste sensations. We added in a nice rosemary foccacia that was served with the most amazing olive oil. As a main, I had chestnut-stuffed ravioli with porcini, that was just fantastic, and a side of Swiss chard.
Jean had the day’s special of uni spaghetti, also good, but not quite as good as the ravioli.
The wine with that was the waiter’s suggestion of an Italian Riesling, which did work well.
For dessert, Jean went with the waiter’s suggestion of the affogato using decaf espresso, and it really was delicious (they make their own ice cream). I also enjoyed the cranberry millefeuilles that I had.
Apart from the candle on the dessert plate, as my birthday bonus I got a takeout of fresh pasta with little containers of olive oil and pepper and little containers of cheese. And instructions on how to cook this into a meal for two. This I did this past Thursday, and it was very nice.
The whole experience somewhat reminded of New York dining: Impeccable service, fantastic food, but no dawdling. One course arrived promptly after another, and we were done by 8:00. Probably because they needed the table for someone else.
Lazing on a Sunday afternoon
After that rather packed Saturday, it was nice not to have anything planned ahead for Sunday, other than our bus back. We had breakfast at Cora, and decided it was better than the Cora we’d tried previously (forget where, but not the one in KW). We then decided to visit the ROM, as they were featuring this year’s winners of the Wildlife Photography contest. That exhibit was terrific, again. The work to get some of those shots!
We then visited the “Treasures of the Earth” exhibit, that I don’t recall having been to before. It featured some beautiful minerals, gems, meteorites, and rocks, and had a section on Canadian mining, in which my home town featured prominently.
Gold from Northern Ontario mines
Since Richmond Station is very difficult to get dinner reservations at, but recently started opening Sundays, we thought we’d try to just go there and see if we could get in for a late lunch. It worked! We got a table.
To start, with shared the duck liver pate—creamy and rich. Then I had the lamb forestiere cavatelli, while Jean had duck two ways. We had a half-glass of sparkling to start with that, then a glass of red each. We were left too full for dessert.
All that was left was to gather our luggage back at the hotel, then get to the station. There was a bit of Uber drama here too, that I won’t get into. But we made it to the station in plenty of time, and that bus was not delayed.
I was on vacation in Seattle, and awake before Jean was, for some reason, when I got an email about a pre-sale for a Who concert in Toronto nearly a year later. Buying a concert ticket on a tablet while on vacation isn’t the ideal scenario, but I had the time, so I figured I might as well see what I could get.
As anyone who’s tried it knows, buying tickets from Ticketmaster is a roll of the dice. Who knows what seats it will cough up for your consideration, and at what price, at any given time?
But this time the dice landed landed on: Floor seats! In the front centre section! And at the normal price, no VIP / resale nonsense!
Stunned, I started the checkout process…
Only to lose the connection partway as the flaky hotel wifi conked out.
Cue the swearing. (Quiet swearing, as Jean was still sleeping.)
Now that I’ve come up with it, the title of this post seem vaguely ominous, as though I’m about to recount some tragic event that, in four short days, changed my life forever.
But no, sorry, this is nothing that interesting, I’m afraid. (Mind you, I am glad I haven’t recently experienced a great tragedy.)
Jean’s work has been requiring more travel lately, including three weeks in Barrie (about a 2-hour drive away). The first weekend in between, he came home. The second one, he decided to go a conference in Toronto. I would join him there.
This conference is annual, and normally I just stay over for one, maybe two nights. But with us having seen less of each other, I went there Friday after work and took Monday off, such that we could spend three nights and (part of) four days together.
Due to heavy Toronto traffic, my Friday bus was late arriving. Meanwhile, Jean was dealing with the fact that he couldn’t get into his hotel room, because the hotel (Doubletree by Hilton) had mistakenly registered him as staying only one night, even though we had booked for four (and had the paperwork to prove it). Initially, they also weren’t sure where his luggage was. (Turned out it was still in the room.) That all got straightened out shortly before I arrived.
Originally we’d been planning to meet with my younger sister and her husband for dinner, but she’d contacted us a couple days before with the realization that her son had a basketball game and her husband would be out of town, so… We made other plans. Which was just as well, as with the bus delay and hotel troubles, we would have been late for dinner.
But we were on time for the alternative we booked, old reliable Ki, where we once again had a really nice meal of their “modern sushi”, with a bottle of Grüner Veltliner.
The jalapenos gave this a nice kick
Sushi and sashimi assortment
Saturday morning Jean had more conferencing, and we had an early dinner booking, so in the afternoon, we just did a bit of ambling about on Toronto streets…
Hospital street art
Til the weather became rainy and unpleasant, at which point we decided to explore the Toronto underground. This told us that… A lot of stores in the Toronto underground are closed on Saturdays. Kind of weird.
Dinner was at the very popular Richmond Station, which we’d really enjoyed this past summer. Given its popularity, we were only able to get reservations at either 5:15 or 10 pm. We went with 5:15 pm. We were able to do the chef’s surprise menu, which made it easy. They were able to give us five courses before they needed the table again, and everything was lovely, from the raw oysters…
To the truffle mushroom soup, and on to the trout with cauliflower and barley…
to the beef main course, and the hazelnut ice cream dessert, and polished off with some chocolates and macaroons.
The wine we had was a French Pinot noir that was a pretty flexible match.
We were back at the hotel early enough to watch Eddie the Eagle on Netflix. Pretty much the definition of “feel good movie”, that one, but it’s well done. Eddie the Eagle was the British ski jumper at the Calgary Olympics who had taken up the sport only a year before, and came dead last in the competition, but was thrilled just to land on his feet (and, incidentally, set a British record for that sport). This movie was good at showing that this really was an accomplishment! Landing at Olympic ski jumping is not easy.
So, I’d recommend it. (Canadians, though, will have to look elsewhere than Netflix to watch it. They dropped it on February 1. Hence my hurry to watch it in January.)
Sunday late morning we met with my other sister at the Crown Princess for dim sum. Food and conversation were good, as usual.
Then we headed to the ROM, where they were featuring three special exhibits. Once we got through the rather long entry lineup, we went to the first one, on the Vikings. And found it somewhat underwhelming. Definitely I learned more about the Vikings, but that included the fact that they didn’t leave behind that many artifacts. I was expecting something more spectacular, I guess.
I was amused by Zuul’s tag line
The Wildlife Photography exhibit, on the other hand, was really great. Lots of fantastic photographs (none of which we could take photos of, of course). As for Christian Dior exhibit? Honestly, we didn’t go ub because of the lineups. Which is really unfortunate, because when we first got to the exhibit door, there was no lineup. Had we realized, we would have gone in then and looked at the Wildlife Photography afterwards. But we didn’t, and we didn’t.
Our dinner that night, with some friends, was at our first new (to us) restaurant, Pearl Diver. It was a little bit noisy, but friendly service and definitely good at preparing its signature cuisine, seafood.
Jean’s meal was Spanish-style: No sides! But they weren’t all like that.
And snowy Monday was basically about getting ourselves on the road, back to our respective destination cities.
We took a week off in July in lieu of the one originally planned in June, when Jean’s work commitments meant he couldn’t get away. We had to go to Toronto on Tuesday, July 18 anyway, because we had tickets to a Queen + Adam Lambert concert. We built the rest of the vacation around that.
The city can look purty
We’d first thought of going to Québec City after Toronto, but that’s a really popular destination this time of year. Finding a hotel was a challenge, and we started to think it would just be unpleasant with so many people crowded into the Old Town there. We switched over to Kingston, which is much less of a drive, so thought of adding a day in Toronto.
But Toronto is also a very popular destination this time of year. And while we could have stayed at our hotel an extra night, the price for that extra night jumped dramatically. (And this was for a hotel room that was probably the smallest we’ve ever had in Canada. Mind, the hotel itself—the Strathcona—was very conveniently located downtown, though something of a nightmare to drive to and expensive to park at.) So, we decided to stick with just two days in “The 6”.
At night also
We took some time while there to visit my sister and brother-in-law in their lovely new apartment. That didn’t leave much time for doing Toronto “stuff”. Mainly, during the day, we walked around various neighbourhoods: The Harbourfront area, the Distillery District (highlight: visiting the Soma chocolate store), Kensington Market.
Unofficial poster. Seems to be one of these for each stop.
You see this warning sign? This show has strobe lights, it has lasers, it has smoke, it has explosions. You name it, this show has it. You’re allergic to any of these things? I suggest you go home now.
It was the first time I’d had to go through a metal detector at an Air Canada Centre concert, but all the ACC staff (like the one quoted above) were really very cheery and nice, helping everyone out to ensure we all got through quickly and safely. This was a relief to Jean, who’d been worried on seeing the lineup when arrived. As was the fact that we had no problem getting his camera in (only “professional” cameras were banned, but what is that?).
We sat next to a woman from Newfoundland, a fan of Queen but especially of Adam Lambert, who’d flown up special for the concert. (Jean shared that we’d flown all the way to Berlin for our Adam Lambert concert.) Her husband was in town with her, but not at the show, which caused Jean to give me a look. Well, he couldn’t very well abandon me on our 25th wedding anniversary night, could he?
Our view was from here—and it actually wasn’t bad. Though Jean complained that they played more to the other half of the room.
And truly, it was a really great show. Would have been a shame if he missed it.
The staging, the lights, the effects
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen better. Before the show started, we could tell the stage was in a guitar shape, but were having trouble figuring out how things (like the projection screens) were laid out… Then the show began with this huge robot hand smashing through the screen, then looking out, then raising it with both hands to reveal the band playing “We Will Rock You.” Awesome!
Other highlights included Adam Lambert literally rising from the floor to sing the exquisite “Who Wants to Live Forever”; the stunning laser show; the effect of a simple disco ball in a stadium; the interesting, multi-level video background for Brian May’s solo (built around the Queen logo, deconstructed); and the stunning amount of confetti at the end.
Dynamite with a laser beam! Source: ror0roror0ro at https://www.instagram.com/p/BWthmNKDLlL/
That’s a lotta confetti! Source: lauracjthistle at https://www.instagram.com/p/BWtkqdOFbbQ/
Of course I love all the songs. But the band also performs them so well—without vocal modulators or click tracks. And, the sound mixing at the ACC was quite good. So I could hear Adam Lambert’s impeccable, incredible vocal flourishes on songs like “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Somebody to Love,” and “Who Wants to Live Forever.” And the band’s excellent harmonies on songs like “I Want It All”.
One great band
The drum battle between Roger Taylor and new recruit (from Queen Extravaganza) Tyler Warren was fun. And the guitar solo—which I’d been dreading a bit, having found it somewhat long and dull at their last concert—was fantastic. It was shorter, for one, and all built around familiar melodies (at least to a Queen fan) from “Lost Horizon” and “Brighton Rock”. Kudos.
All the feels
The set list is designed to take you on an emotional journey. You start with the powerful adrenaline rush of a snippet of “We Will Rock You,” followed by the powerhouses “Hammer to Fall” and “Stone Cold Crazy.”
There is then a gradual segue to the fun and frothy part of the evening, introduced by Adam Lambert singing “Killer Queen” atop the head of Frank the robot, while wearing a hot pink suit. (“Gayest suit ever!” he proclaimed.) Included at the juncture was an Adam Lambert single, “Two Fux,” along with “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Bicycle Race,” wherein Adam rode around on a pink, flower-laded tricycle.
Adam’s groiny interpretation of Fat Bottomed Girls
But they really amped up to 11 on “Get Down, Make Love,” a welcome addition on this tour. The whole backdrop for this song was red, dripping, sexy imagery, which Lambert only enhanced with his orgasmic vocal prowess.
“Was it good for you?” he asked. (Umm, excuse me, I’ll be in my bunk.)
But Adam wasn’t the only significant contributor to this portion of the evening. Roger Taylor took lead vocals on another recent set addition, “I’m in Love with My Car,” a song that really shouldn’t be sexy, but somehow is, the way he sings it.
Brian May? Well, he introduced the poignant part of the evening, moving to the front of the stage to sing “Love of My Life,” accompanying himself on accoustic guitar. The effects here were a sea of cell phone lights, which was just beautiful. And though I knew that video Freddie Mercury would make an appearance near the end, the way they did that, with Freddie seeming to stand right beside Brian, I couldn’t help tearing up.
Stars in the cell phone firmament. Source: a_jm_v, https://www.instagram.com/p/BWtmDWGFpq-/
Through “Somebody to Love”, and “Under Pressure,” and “Radio Ga Ga,” [aside that I’m not listing every song they played], the band managed to create a more intimate feel in this large space.
So close you could touch them. (Not really.)
Of course, the ending was triumphant. I liked how they rejigged “Bohemian Rhapsody.” They included the usually skipped “Is this the real life?” introduction, with Adam taking lead vocals. He also sang both verses, instead of sharing those with video Freddie. Of course, the operatic part is still from the original video. Freddie just appears at the very end, trading off lines with Adam.
The crowd was really great (as I usually find with Toronto). I thought we’d spend most of the concert sitting, but no, they were up for standing for probably three-quarters of the show. Brian May’s birthday was the following day, when there was no concert, so we got the fun of singing “Happy birthday” to him, after he honoured us with a selfie stick photo (posted here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw6i-QMjSuY). At the end, Adam thought Brian should wear his crown (though that proved a bit of a problem, as it was sized for Adam’s bigger head).
(This is turning an epic post, but why stop now.) The evening before the concert, we’d originally hoped to dine at Canoe, but it was summerlicious time in Toronto (that is, specially priced meals at certain restaurants), which meant that Canoe was fully booked for two weeks. (And that likely happened on the first day summerlicious reservations were open.)
So, we went to Richmond Station, a new restaurant for us, even though we couldn’t get in til 8:30 pm. We’d read that they offered surprise, multi-course “chef’s menus”, but that wasn’t mentioned on their printed menu. Jean asked about it, though, and they confirmed that it was on offer, and the head chef was in that day, so it should be a good one.
They also asked us if we had any special occasion, and Jean mumbled something about, no, we’re just here for a darn Queen concert, but I piped about it being our 25th wedding anniversary the next day. That was good, because it resulted in a complimentary glass of bubbly each, to go along with our half-liter of (delicious) Oregon Pinot Noir that we thought should be generally food friendly.
The bubbly with our first course, oyster and trout tartar
What a nice meal we had there. All courses—eight of them—were prepared with care and delicious. The service was attentive. Our late start meant that we had a waiter switchover near the end, but that was handled very well. Tables were close together, so it was a bit loud, but that somehow didn’t bother us. And the whole thing was like, $200? Which seemed a great deal for a meal of this caliber in Toronto.
Beef tartar is not a thing I normally eat, but theirs was flavored very well. There was a small charcuterie plate. This amazingly light zucchini tempura. A set of two salads: one beet, one tomato, both great. [I feel like there might have been sweetbreads in here somewhere also?] Seared salmon with great vegetables. A smoky sirloin beef with potatoes (the smoke made it special).
It was all topped off by a very special dessert of ice cream, peanut butter, and hazelnut.
Before the concert on Tuesday, we went to our reliable Ki, where they once again did a really nice job of their “modern Japanese” food and excellent service.
A lot of grim things are happening in the world, the sun was awol for much of January, and I succumbed to one of the season’s cold viruses last week. (And now Jean is complaining of chills.)
But hey, instead complaining at length about all that, I’ll list a few things that made me happy in the past few weeks.
1. KW Glee: Redux
Two years ago we were blown away by a KW Glee (show choir) + KW Symphony concert. This year they did it again. There’s just deep entertainment value in watching a huge group of talented, enthusiastic, and attractive young people sing and dance to popular songs, in costume, while accompanied by a full orchestra.
Last time I had mentioned that I didn’t know a lot of the songs performed—they were too current for me. This time they rectified that with a set from various eras. To the point where I felt kind of bad that they were played so little of of their own generation’s music, though there was one Imagine Dragons song and one by David Guetta / Sia, both very powerful performances.
The youth choir’s 80s attire during one segment, some of which looked like it actually dated from that time. The “Frankie Say Relax” T-shirt was my favourite.
Remember the 80s? These kids don’t, but they’re dressing the part anyway.
The youth boys running scared during “Ghostbusters” only to be have the youth girls toughly emerge, declaring that they were “Bad”.
The use of sign language during “Imagine”—very touching, somehow.
The terrific soul singer who performed “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours)”. (It is great that so many of the participants get to try a lead, but with some of them, you do wish for more than one song!)
The reprise of “Hallelujah” that blew everyone away last time, performed by the same quartet, back from university for the occasion.
A Spotify playlist of their set list!
2. The Good Place
Holy motherforking shirtballs, The Good Place was good.
This is a half-hour, 13-episode, network TV show starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, debuted this year to very little notice—Jean’s the only other person I know who watches it.
But it’s like nothing else I’ve ever seen. And I’m loathe to even say that much about it, as it was so much fun to go along for the ride. And it’s so full of twists! Also, hilarious! Week to week, it was the show I found myself looking forward to most.
I will give the premise. Eleanor (Kristen Bell), a not-so-stellar human being while alive, is surprised to find herself in “the good place” (yeah, that one) after she dies. They have somehow mixed her up with some good Eleanor! How does she stay in the good place?
Look, I know there’s too much good TV, no one can keep with it all. So I won’t say you must watch The Good Place. I will just point out that if you do, it might make you happy. And that at 13 22-minute episodes, it’s less time-consuming that many series. And that despite mediocre ratings, it has already been renewed for season 2, so you don’t have to worry about being left hanging.
And by the way, Jean won another photo contest recently. (Not with this photo. Just thought I’d mention it now.)
While there, we went to Sandra Shamas’ one-woman show about “climbing mount menopause”. Despite that intro and the predominantly female audience, it wasn’t all about the hormonal challenges of being over 50. She covered a gamut of topics from her life.
Having recently dealt with a series of similar plumbing issues, we could relate to the mix of disgust and determination in which she handled the events that started when she flushed her toilet and it “came up my bathtub”. I took (hypothetical) heart in her discovery—having failed to make herself lesbian (“turns out it’s not a choice!”)—via dating apps, that plenty of 20-something men will seek the attention of women in their 50s. (She can’t bring herself to take advantage. “Does your mother know what you’re up to?”)
I wonder if I, too, will soon be entering my “ranting” years. (“I always talked to myself. Now I do it in public. And I’m angry!”) And it was hard not to be inspired by how she made it through a serious ice storm two years ago: “I was without hydro for 8 days. But I was never without power.”