Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

IMG_3422Downtown Toronto’s concrete cityscape is no deterrent to strolling its vibrant neighbourhoods packed with their own eccentricities, sounds and smells.

We are staying on King St. and John St. intersection in the dynamic Entertainment area with defunct industrial and distillery units masquerading as newly constructed condo towers, hotels and pubs and art galleries.

IMG_3387The Entertainment District and King West Village is Toronto’s fastest developing neighbourhoods, compared with New York’s Soho area, and popular with young professionals and even their elders for the entertainment and eating options.

On a cool afternoon we set out towards King St. W and Spadina Avenue intersection past constructions (another on going feature of this city) and bypass the omnipresent CN Tower, the tallest telecommunications and tourism hub till pipped by Burj Khalifa (Dubai) in 1976. I still have to venture up, not actually acrophobic, but watching the lifts slide up and down makes me change my mind every time I find myself looking skywards.

It is easy to get sidetracked with the distinctive suburban flavour of antiquity and stop at Princess of Wales Theater, inaugurated by Princess Diana in 1993, to admire the 929 sq. m mural created by Frank Stella. Across the street is another Downtown landmark, Tiff Bell Lightbox, the official venue of the ongoing Tiff40 screenings and red carpet appearances. I had joined star-struck teenagers for a glimpse of an expected actor vip, but gave up after forty minutes.  Prefer watching them on-screen.

IMG_3388From here  (King St. W) it was past cafes, pizza places, lounges and stores, including Bulk Barn, a must visit for variety of nuts, chocolates etc., till we reach King/Spadina intersection. Though distance is walkable,  the Streetcar station was the rescue I needed for my  lagging legs.  The Street Car and the slow motion ride, as it trundled along Spadina Avenue towards Spadina station, reminded me of Hong Kong trams.

The ride is through a cornucopia of migrant lifestyles showcased in eateries, gift shops, boutiques and cinema. The Kensington Market area and Spadina Avenue was mainly Jewish centric (1930s) and hub of textile industry. The shop clusters, delis, tailoring units, bookstores along the Avenue still bear their stamp. By the 1950s and 60s, the Chinese nudged out the Jews to North Bathurst Street and established their unique cluster in what is referred to China town. Soon it was their turn to move out towards Dundas and Spadina, a few remained, when the New City Hall and Nathan Philips Square were constructed. We had a glimpse of Spadina Crescent, previously known as Knox College, an academic building of the University of Toronto situated in the centre of a roundabout of Spadina Avenue and north of College Street.

IMG_3478The station exit is on Spadina and Bloor and as we walk towards Bloor St. the mid-19th century bay-and-gable structures of Old Toronto turns our amble into medieval England caper. Toronto still lingers onto its British-ness and if it were not for the glass and steel modern architecture and the continuing influx of tourists and immigrants bringing in freshness it would be a time-wraped city.

IMG_3486Spadina Avenue is a long distance runner passing through shifting demographics from working, middle and upper class neighborhoods. North of Bloor Street it transforms into Spadina Road passing through the upper middle class neighborhood, The Annex, and morphing into different avatars, the Davenport Hill, the Baldwin Steps and a walkway in Spadina Park.  From here it spins off towards Toronto’s castle, Casa Loma, a rich man’s mansion designed like a castle, and continues north towards the wealthy neighborhood of Forest Hill.

IMG_3481Our walking journey from Spadina station had terminated at The Annex, along the high energy Bloor Street that at intervals branches into tree-lined residential reminders of British sensibilities of tall narrow houses. The Annex is a vibrant hotspot of history, culture, fashion, food and personal aggrandizement as well as a reflection of the diversity and complexity of Toronto, a city painted in migrant brushstrokes. If someone asks me ‘what is Canadian’, apart from the national symbols of maple syrup etc., I would have to search for an appropriate answer. We walk past a slurping selection of eateries and restaurants, shops and outlets offering multi layered fashion, books, music, giftware, arts and craft activities along with commercial, legal, medical, financial, travel, internet services. The quaintness is alluring and by late evening the area transforms into a revelry hub, reverberating to the music and chatter from its many pubs, clubs and restaurants.

IMG_3488 The best way to map the high energy Bloor Street is by bike, available on rent, as it is one of the friendliest Toronto migrant neighbourhoods. We came across a few homeless, one did ask for money, otherwise it was a hassle free walk. In Vancouver, I am forgetting name of street, I was threatened ‘you could be killed’ when I refused to give money. South of Bloor are the Latino and Portuguese neighbourhoods but we stopped opposite the colorfully blatant and intimidating Honest Ed’s, a gigantic discount department store at corner of Bloor and Bathurst. It covers an entire block in length and at night turns into a theatre marquee using 23,000 light bulbs.

IMG_3490We left KoreaTown, on Bloor and Bathurst St., along with the Bata Shoe Museum (327 Bloor St W) said to resemble an opening shoe box; Casa Loma on 1 Austin Terrace between Spadina and Walmer; The Spadina House museum on 285 Spadina Road for authentic Canada history; Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queens Park at Bloor) and the centenarian Bloor Street Cinema for another day.

From Honest Eds, did not step inside, turned towards Bathurst subway station for a ride back to our starting point, to CN Tower.

A day well walked. Did not clock the distance.


Harvest Moon festival is also about fruits….Persimmons ….something to moon about

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Farm fresh grapes, pears and peaches…luring colors and shapes… (pictures taken near Kelowna, BC, Canada on a fruit picking outing….



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Toronto Urban Street Walk…..Rhyming Taste FullSizeRender (2)

IMG_3401 (1)Toronto in summer is a perfect antidote for eclipsing life’s turmoil and troubles. We landed on the sunny extended weekend (Labor Day) and the opening of Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) 2015. The city was in perfect order, with ‘best foot forward’, and days began with usual touristy activities, lakeside stroll along the Harbor front, the exhilarating ride up CN tower, Ripley’s Aquarium and other outdoorsy activities cheered on by the brouhaha of TIFF.

IMG_3417We are staying on intersection of John and King West (Streets), the heart of Downtown and Entertainment district, and this is where all the action is. The balcony view of red carpet appearances had me glued to the deck chair as stream of black cars deposited stars on red carpets of Princess of Wales and Tiff Bell Lightbox theaters.

IMG_3418The crescendo of screams welcoming George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Johnny Depp (BLACK MASS) for their premiers (the ones I am familiar with as there were other famous ones) matched with street music and chatter of strolling crowds and rush hour queues for last-minute tickets. I too joined in the ‘fan’ line and waited at the backdoor exit of Lightbox but 30 minutes on and I walked off.IMG_3465

IMG_3416Evenings the cordoned streets reverberated to music, chatter, excitement of the waiting crowds, the rush hour queues drawing IMG_3415one into the fray.

I did manage to see one film Thank You For Bombing directed by Austrian filmmaker Barbara Eder. The unique title and story is what made me select this film from among a bunch of interesting movies. The film chronicles (fictional look) three international television war correspondents on assignment in Afghanistan, the frenzied attempts to get that one ‘popularity rating’ personal and public. The tension of being in forefront, on delivering, filters through the scenes and Afghanistan war front comes closer home.

In the Question Answer session at end of screening someone put this question about the title and Director’s answer was her personal experience with war correspondents and how they wait for the one moment of ‘glory’. (These are not exact words but my interpretation).

Thank You For Bombing pieces together the action and experiences  of three correspondents sent to Kabul, Afghanistan, to cover the aftermath of burning of Koran by two American soldiers. The correspondents are: the middle –aged Austrian reporter Ewald whose assignment s cut short at departure point (Vienna Airport) when he recognizes someone from his past coverage and his attempts to get the person arrested; Lana (Manon Kahle) introduced trying to release her frustrations in the Zumba class. Her angst is not being assigned ‘action news’ along with her male colleagues and the third correspondent, a couple of floors above at station headquarters, is Cal (Raphael von Bargen) a burnt out reporter desperate to get one story that will resurrect his flagging career. The scene where he forces an ‘innocent’ boy to throw stones and shout ’death to Americans’  conveys the level of  desperation.

This triptych of stories is a powerful portrayal of frailties and strengths, of situational conscious sacrifices for truth and justice and the whimpering end to their efforts. The three pay the prize of their mole like persistence and their refusal to gel with their work environment.  Finally, the denouement, when the actual bombs start to fall, and the stoic reaction of Kal and Lana. The frenzied scramble to the rooftop, the placing of cameras and mikes and bloody street scenes is a reality of being another job.

For me the movie is a flash back to my days as a news reporter in a small city in India and my attempts to cover important city events only to be sidelined by fellow journalists in search of freebies. It was nothing spectacular as being on the battlefront but the contents are similar.

IMG_3405IMG_3419TIFF movie screenings continue, the roadblocks removed, crowds thinned out… except for the quirky extras, the Muskoka  chairs, the glittering heeled shoes outside the theater showing  The Kinky Boots, the trickle queues of movie aficionados and evening strollers on King and John st.


IMG_5997Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump…. for a minute you wonder who is smashing whose head and that too over jumping Buffalo or Bison and then you realize that this is one of the ‘world’s oldest, largest, and best preserved buffalo jumps’. It is not literally a jump but a 6000-year-old indigenous method of hunting unsuspecting buffalo who ‘jumped’ over a cliff to the plain below, to their death.

DSC05964Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump or Estipah-skikikini-kots site is on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains at end of the prairies of Alberta and Montana (across the border). It was a Blackfoot (tribe) food-back-up-supply (depot) to round-up buffalo/bison from their grazing areas in the Porcupine hills and driven along drive lanes to edge of cliff by specialized buffalo-runners dressed as coyotes and wolf. The petrified herd galloped at full speed, unaware of impending doom, to fall down the 300 meters high cliff to immobility and death. The carcasses were dragged to the camp and butchered into pieces with every part and entail used for different purposes. Sometimes human error resulted in death or injury to the hunters, as one learns from the tale of a Blackfoot youth who had got caught in the wave of falling animals and found with his head smashed, under the pile of carcass.

DSC05973DSC05976A walk to this World Heritage Site (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1981) on a blustery windy day is a lesson in history of the Plains People and their courage and fortitude, of hardships endured to subsist on the vast herds of buffalo/bison that existed in North America, of their understanding of buffalo and predator behavior, notably wolf and coyotes, and of life before guns and horses.

IMG_3347One can hike up the lower trail, from the car park area, up to the base of the bluff where the buffalo fell. The place has since filled up with growth and earth but one can visualise the steep fall. The Site was abandoned in the 19th century after contact with Europeans and was later discovered, in 1880s, by Europeans and excavated by the American Museum of Natural History in 1938.

We preferred the second option of walking the upper IMG_3343trail from top floor of the Visitor Center and then walked back five floors for the exhibits and the cafeteria. The Interpretative  Centre, opened in 1987, is built into the sandstone bluffs of Porcupine Hills merging with the landscape of prairie grasslands to give visitors a feel of the past.


The entrance

The Center showcases archeological evidences highlighting the ecology, mythology, lifestyle and technology of Blackfoot people. The exhibits and the 16-minute narration by a native boy, of his dreams and participation in an actual hunt, is a gripping presentation of erudite technique connecting spiritual ceremony (performed by medicine women and men for a safe and successful hunt), with preparations of ‘buffalo runners’ to locate and herd the animals to the cliff site, the involvement of entire camp in setting up ingenious V-shaped drive lanes snaking their way through ridges, crossing coulees and rising across the tops of high hills to end at the cliff from where there was no turning back. It is a  story of courage, of hardship and survival instincts of both humans and animals. Particularly poignant is the killing of maimed buffalo as Native People believed that escaping animals would warn other herds of the deadly trap.

DSC05989A successful hunt brought in food, dried meat, pemmican, fat supplements from the bones, tanned hides for clothing and dwelling and tools from bones collected. Almost every body part of the animal used to last the extreme winter conditions when the tribe moved to safer regions along the Old Man River and the valleys beyond. .

IMG_3362Chastened and clued-up we followed the steps down to the Tipi exhibit and finally to ground floor at the bottom of a life-size diorama to click selfies where the buffalo (bison) seem tragically close to falling on your head.

Another must watch is the permanent exhibition, Lost Identities: A Journey of Rediscovery, a collaboration of historical societies and museums.

DSC05988We spent sometime at the Cafeteria refreshing ourselves with coffee and apple pie. No bison burgers after watching their butchering. While waiting for family to catch up, chatted with a Native, working at Center. He had greeted us at entrance with a ‘Namaste’ (Indian greeting) acknowledging that ‘we are both Indians, one from the West and the other from East’. His words, ‘India and China had the numbers to claim their land, whereas, his people are just spectators of happenings around’ sounded of lost opportunities. I did not want to show my ignorance of the political and social history of the First Nation and Native Americans and nodded acquiescence to his statements adding my one sentence that ‘maybe they needed a Mahatma Gandhi or a Sun Yat-sen to guide them to channelize their resources’. He smiled.  ‘A head-smashing photo-shoot moment’.

*To get there. From Calgary head south on Hwy. 2 for about 160 km. till you see the signs for Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and Hwy. 785 West. The turnoff for Hwy 785 is about one km north of the major intersection with Highway 3. The Site is located 18 kilometres (15 minutes) north and west of Fort Macleod.

*The Center, designed by Le Blond Partnership, an architectural firm in Calgary, was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal for Architecture in 1990

Pumpkin stop at a farm near Kelowna, British Columbia…….


IMG_3119Calgary Tower…collective feet-strength to look down 191 metres at Downtown Calgary. We are standing on the glass floor of the Observation Deck of the Tower awaiting a picturesque presentation of the city below, the sun-burnished Rocky Mountains, the foothills and the prairies.


Looking down…The Core of Calgary (Downtown)

One glitch …it was cloudy.IMG_3153










2. Two feet-Four feetKangaroo Creek Farm, Winfield, British Columbia…a family enjoyment place with uncaged Kangaroos, Wallabies. Wallaroos, mean looking Pot_bellied Pigs (thankfully fenced), snooty Emus, Parrots, Ducks, peacock and cuddly baby goats.