Annie Bananie en Europe

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Tag Archives: toronto

A very Canadian Chinese New Year

In February, I went back home to Canada to celebrate Chinese New Year with my family, bringing along my boyfriend (now fiancé) who was visiting for the first time. After around 16 hours of flight time, we landed in Toronto 9 months after I left, with 13 hours of time difference, halfway across the Earth, just in time to catch some freezing weather and a couple of snow storms!

Being back home means lots of quality time spent with the fam and lots of yummy food! Chinese New Year celebrations included one home-cooked meal and another out at a restaurant, but both were perfect because of the company. I especially missed my goofy sister, who is happily in love with her boyfriend. What’s worthy to note is that we actually got a photo of my dad SMILING! *GASP* Now how rare is that!

Ohh yes it was cold. The boyfriend J and I, along with the entire family, visited Niagara Falls for a few days (more on that later) and were welcomed by a winter Wonderland. J’s smile in the top photo was super forced and seemingly conveyed the expression of “I’m only smiling so we could finish taking this photo and get back in the car”. But then J decided to brave the cold and take a walk around the neighbourhood on the coldest day during the two weeks that we were in Toronto (bottom photo). DEFINITELY NOT THE BEST IDEA EVER. I mean yes I’d love to show you the area where I grew up and my elementary school and all (and we did go) but you could have picked ANY OTHER DAY…but fine. I’m the true Canadian, I could endure the cold, but can you???

One of the highlights of this trip was attending my first ever live NBA game! This was the game between the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards at the Scotiabank Arena and it happened to be Jeremy Lin’s first game after joining the Raptors! I never paid attention to basketball, but everyone who went with me did – J, my dad, my sister, and her boyfriend.

And it was so much fun! The live atmosphere was so intense and the audience was extremely energetic and hyped up (I could only imagine a Leafs game…) It was also a close game as the Raptors were behind by approximately 10 points at around mid-game, but we caught up and ultimately won 129-120! Overall this was a fantastic experience and I was glad to have shared my first-ever NBA game (it was the first for all of them as well) with the ones that I love!

Oh yes, Niagara Falls. Referring to J, my dad said, “Who visits Toronto for the first time without going to the Falls?!” Yea, I hadn’t thought of that, but after he suggested we stay overnight at Niagara, I was sold. I got to see the falls frozen AND lit up at night? Sign me up. In the end, it was less about J seeing Niagara than me taking as many photos of the falls as I could. Not only were the falls frozen, so were my hands!! It was cold AND windy, the worst combination, but I couldn’t resist taking some long-exposure shots, this being my favourite one. Such a majestic view, and only we would be foolish to stick around for long as there was almost no one else out that night, compared to the always-jammed-packed tourist areas during the summertime. Worth it? A million times yes!

And this was yet another phenomenal view – barren, skeletal branches of trees along the cliff the next morning. There was a short stretch right by the large Horseshoe Falls where the trees seemed like they had been stripped of life, and as the car passed by I had to say, “Stop! I need to get off a take some photos!” In fact, it was raining that morning, and the raindrops got on my camera lens but serendipitously resulted in a blurry effect. I thought the photo were ruined at first but upon further inspection, I really liked the way it turned out! It was almost intentional, but not. It felt even a bit ghostly and delusional, as if I were dreaming…of running back to the warmth of the car because the rain was freezing!!!

Time to meet with some good friends and the ones I couldn’t miss every time I visit Toronto were Florence and Darwin and their daughter Elissa (my sister tagged along too). Florence was my university housemate for three years and from seeing each other every day, we now only reunite maybe once a year at most, but it’s always the most anticipated meet-up in Toronto. Love and miss you!

Because J is the most unromantic man in the universe (whom I love anyway), I decided to at least try to be a bit romantic and get him something for Valentine’s Day – a cute bear holding a chocolate rose. OK, I admit it, I got the bear because I thought he was too cute. What’s yours is mine anyway, no? ^_^

Finally, another group photo with the fam AND the food that we had for the home-cooked meal. There’s we go, that’s the more typical “dad expression”, which my sister says is like a bulldog. Oh, what a delicious meal and what a lovely reunion with my dearest ones on the entire planet. Chinese New Year is just an official reason to go home but now that I’m so far away from Toronto, any reason to go home is a good reason. Let’s just not mention the amount of weight that I gained from eating so much good food during those two weeks…

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Hot dogs around the world

There seems to be a phenomenon where hot dogs have become popular all over the world. Putting aside local delicacies and cuisines, who could resist a good ol’ hot dog as a form of comfort food? Indeed sometimes a hot dog is the best thing out of a bunch of choices, especially for the budget-conscious traveller. After going through my collection of photos, I found out that I too have had many a hot dog throughout my travels. Let’s take a look.

(Date eaten: January 27, 2014) Baejarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik, Iceland apparently literally translates to “the town’s best hot dog”. The joint was in a corner, not so easily noticeable, but supposedly there is always a line up. I went for a hot dog one day because as you may have realized, Iceland is rather expensive and I didn’t want to be TOO broke. The hot dog looks humble and nothing too fancy, and I can’t remember what that sauce was, though I’d guess that it’s some sort of mustard. I do remember, though, that I loaded the bun with a thick bed of crunchy onions underneath the hot dog itself, and the onions did turn out to be the highlight. RATING: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ (7/10)

(Date eaten: May 3, 2014) TORONTO STREET MEAT! This isn’t technically a travel hot dog because I live in Toronto but c’mon, we can’t miss out on Toronto hot dogs because they are so damn good, perhaps the best I’ve ever had. Not only do you have many types to choose from (Italian, Polish, German, all beef, etc.) but there are rows of toppings and condiments to go with the already delicious hot dog – your typical sauces like BBQ, ketchup, mayo, plus pickles, hot peppers, onions, jalapeno peppers, etc. etc. etc. I usually like a perfectly grilled spicy Polish dog with mustard, ketchup, pickles, fresh onions, and crunchy onions, enough toppings to compliment the hot dog but not so much that it oozes out when I bite into it. Oh my goodness my mouth is watering just thinking about it. So unhealthy, yes, but a guilty pleasure when I visit downtown Toronto and one of the more unconventional “must-haves” of Toronto – at least in my eyes. RATING: ★★★★★★★★★★ (10/10)

(Date eaten: December 24, 2014) Hot dog #3 was from a Christmas market in Prague. I only got this because I was there on Christmas eve and many stands were almost closed when I arrived (it’s a tradition for locals to eat a big meal at home on Christmas eve). This was one of the few things that were available. This was evidently a very long hot dog, and I added the classic condiments, ketchup and mustard. Tasted quite good, plus points for size 😛 RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

(Date eaten: March 20, 2017) I’ve also had a hot dog at the University of Glasgow cafeteria when I worked there, which was not like me at all because I usually don’t get things like pizza or burgers or hot dogs at the cafeteria (and I rarely go there anyway). That day I saw hot dog on the menu and started to have a huge craving for it, so I took one and added an order of potato wedges to go with it. The hot dog was rather average but not horrible, and it was enough to quench my cravings so I was satisfied. RATING: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ (5/10)

(Date eaten: October 16, 2017) Away from the centre of Oslo stood a hot dog joint, Syverkiosken, like the one in Reykjavik. Again, as a budget-conscious choice (since Norway too was soooooooo expensive), I went for a hot dog – or two, because I was hungry. The interesting thing about the hot dogs here is that they put a piece of flat tortilla bread on each hot dog. And the hot dogs already came stuffed with toppings – one had potato salad and the other I think had shrimp salad, if I remember correctly. They were both really good but the one with potato salad caught me off guard – I didn’t know potato salad would be such a good compliment to a hot dog…INSIDE a hot dog! Plus points for uniqueness! RATING: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)

(Date eaten: November 19, 2017) Finally, JAPADOG. So this is supposed to be a thing that is unique to Vancouver and I had to try it. Japanese style ingredients + hot dog? WANT. During the three days I was in Vancouver, I ate twice at JAPADOG but only took this photo of the first meal with the classic “kurobata terimayo” (with teriyaki sauce, mayo, and seaweed) and a side of karaage, or Japanese fried chicken. Good? Yes you bet it was good. It was like biting into a hot dog and a takoyaki at the exact same time – imagine THAT! The hot dog was a bit on the small side but hey that’s typical of Japanese food items – small but delicate. RATING: ★★★★★★★★★☆ (9/10)

From high places: Brussels and Toronto

As I was going through my posts in the “From high places” series, I was surprised to find that I neglected several recent visits to Brussels, one of my favourite cities (if not my favourite) in Europe.

That’s OK. Brussels deserves its own post anyway.

Come to think of it, I went back to Brussels in 2015, 2016 (short stopover), and 2017 (just last week) and each time discovered a new viewpoint. My favourite, notwithstanding the slight reflection of the glass window, would have to be the one from the restaurant at the top of the Musical Instruments Museum. From here, you can see the imposing and magnificent town hall in the Grand Place, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in the far distance, which I believe is the fifth largest church structure in the world (official source). Lovely buildings – I like both of them very much.

In 2016, I finally got up to the viewing platform at the top of the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History. Not as impressive as the previous view, but still quite nice.

And here’s the view on the other side of the viewing platform, facing east toward Merode station.

And last week, while visiting with my dad and sister, I discovered the garden and café on the fifth floor of the Royal Library. The view was similar to the one on top of the MiM, but I certainly wasn’t standing as high, and the view wasn’t as extensive. Regardless, the basilica still looks so grandiose, even if it was so far away.

After Brussels, I also found a photo of downtown Toronto that I took this year while visiting the University of Toronto with my sister, from the 11th (I think) floor of the OISE building. I was in a hurry because I wasn’t supposed to be in this room, and someone was entering as I was taking this photo…so I snapped and ran. Lots of reflection in the glass – oh well.

So the post wasn’t ALL about Brussels after all. Sorry, my beloved, but perhaps I love Toronto just as much.

The places I called home, part I

Throughout the course of my life, I’ve lived in different cities on different continents. “Home” is sometimes difficult to define as I’ve gotten used to a nomadic style of moving from here to there. Yet, at every stage of life, I had been fortunate enough to have a “home” to go back to so that I didn’t have to say that I was going back to “my flat” or “the residence” or “the studio”.

I had wanted to do a “Places I Called Home” series three years ago but somehow it never took off. However, over the course of a whole year, I had completed the “Places I Called Home” series on Picture Worthy, highlighting the eight cities where I’ve spent significant periods of my life. It’s about time, I thought, to share it here.

Guangzhou, China – Where I was born

Guangzhou is my hometown and my first ever home. As much as a part of me is deeply rooted in and connected to China, as much as I’m always going to be Chinese by blood, and as much as my heart always yearns for China, I can’t really call Guangzhou a real “home” anymore. So much has changed since my departure from the city when I immigrated to Canada with my parents 20 years ago – and wow, it HAS been 20 years. In fact, my childhood memories of Guangzhou are feeble and fading. Yet, a visit to China would never be complete without going back to the bustling city that gave me life.

There is a Chinese poem describing the feelings of one revisiting one’s hometown after a long period of absence, and one line translates roughly to “the closer you get to your hometown, the more apprehensive you become”. Not very poetic in English, I know – please excuse me for destroying the essence. It’s quite true, though. I’ve felt for a long time that I don’t belong in Guangzhou anymore, that I’m an outsider. The fact that I had to stand in the “foreigner” line at the airport made me a little sad, but that was what I was – a foreigner in my own hometown. That feeling is indescribable, to say the least. But I will keep going back, if you accept me, Guangzhou.

Toronto, Canada – I am Canadian!

Toronto. Ah, Toronto. I must have written about Toronto several times already on the blog. If there is a city that I can call my true home, it would be Toronto. With my immediate family there, familiar faces and familiar places, Toronto is the point of departure and the harbour of safety. They say that “home is where the heart is”, and sometimes I say to others that no matter where I am, in my heart I am always a Toronto girl…but am I?

Recently I’ve been more and more unsure about going back to Toronto after my time in Glasgow is done. I’m talking about finding a job there and living there again, and there is something about that thought that troubles me. Toronto was a home that was chosen for me. As a child, I really had no say in where I wanted to be (of course I also didn’t know any better), and Toronto became my de facto home after my parents settled there. I do appreciate their hard work over all of these years in creating a comfortable environment for my sister and me…in Toronto. However, the fact still remains that Toronto is not and never was my choice. This only became clear to me when I HAD the privilege to travel and to CHOOSE where I work and live, for which I am grateful beyond words. A whole new world was opened before my eyes and I thought…could it be that I’m not meant to stay in Toronto forever? Then, is it then a little too greedy and self-centered to want to find a place for me and leave my home behind, as if with my restless heart, I’m never satisfied where I am?

I’m sorry, Toronto. I owe you my apology a thousand times, I really do.

Well, it’s only the first post of the series and I’ve already talked about perhaps the two most important cities that I’ve lived in. Next up: Waterloo and Glasgow!

Somewhere that was only mine

The word “hometown” elicits complicated feelings in me because my true “hometown” is not a home. “Born in China and grew up in Canada” – that’s what I always tell people when they ask me where I’m “from”. While it is true that I still have extended family in my hometown Guangzhou, the place where I am most comfortable, the place where I feel the most sense of belonging, the one place I truly call home will always be Toronto.

Growing up in a city made me take the familiarity – or what I thought was familiarity – for granted. The same streets, the same buses, the same buildings – nothing ever seemed to change, except for me. It wasn’t until I went home after having spent three and a half years in Europe did I realize for the first time that I was so out of touch with my own home. Familiarity became the most unfamiliar part of my world.

During an 8-month period of idleness and unemployment, I decided to take full advantage of being in Toronto and to become a tourist in my own city, something I had wanted to experiment with for a while. It was then that a whole new Toronto began to unravel. Beyond the impression that Toronto has given the world as a booming metropolis and an urban centre, I ventured out of the heart of the city into its veins, to those little-known places that are so local and so authentic that perhaps only few are aware of them. I observed the city as it thrived, noticing the ever-changing colours of its ephemeral seasons and the sound of footsteps as people scurried through subway stations to and from their workplaces, day by day.

In the midst of it all, I fell in love with Toronto’s greenspace, almost to the point of obsession. I was fascinated to discover that there are parks, hiking trails, conservation areas scattered all around the city, and where were they but tucked behind the concrete highways and avenues? I really had to make an effort to find them, whether I had to drive to a secluded parking lot, take the bus and get off at a seemingly random stop, or just trust my instincts and follow a narrow path on the side of the road leading to an expanse of nature in the middle of nowhere. The sense of adventure was like looking for a treasure in your own basement – it’s got to be there, and the search is the most exciting part!

Pond in the middle of Moccasin Trail Park, Toronto, October 2014

Crothers Woods, David Balfour Park, Wilket Creek – these are just some of the places to consider if you’re looking for the perfect walk in Toronto, away from traffic and noise. And even Torontonians might not know about these places! Among the green areas that I had found, my favourite would have to be Moccasin Trail Park, right next to the Don Valley Parkway, one of the busiest and most important highways in Toronto. Most daily commuters on the DVP would probably have noticed large expanses of green areas on both sides of the highway, but few have ventured away from the main lanes and into the tree-covered parks and gardens. That was exactly what I set out to do.

Autumn was in full swing and it was the perfect time to see the exceptionally colourful foliage that Canada is known for. My walk into the woods of Moccasin Trail Park became a coveted date between my camera and me, a treasured one since it would be one of the last opportunities I had to capture Toronto through the lens before I left again. It brought me a supreme sense of serenity, especially since I was the only one there on that mid-October afternoon. Amidst the slow stroll on my way to the Rainbow Tunnel, I discovered an inconspicuous pond right in the middle of the woods, hidden from sight unless you went slightly off-road. I could still hear the sound of cars passing on the highway because as I had mentioned before, the park was right next to the DVP, but this place was like an urban oasis. The pond itself was a pristine mirror reflecting the beauty of the surrounding nature, one that I was surprised to find in the middle of the city. So calm, so eerily peaceful, so out-of-this world was the atmosphere that I marvelled at every colour and every sign of life. And at that moment, the park, the trails, the very spot where I captured the photo – they somehow became a special place within the city I thought I knew so well, somewhere that was only mine.

Perhaps I only felt this way because in my heart I knew I would leave Toronto again and wanted to cherish every unique secret that I found out about it. And I did leave, only to await coming back to the familiarity that would always welcome me. Perhaps the next time I walk the path of Moccasin Trail Park into my secret place, the leaves would have fallen, the pond would have dried up, and picture-perfect would have become a distant memory. Even though the park will still be there, I don’t expect to be ever able to duplicate the experience or reproduce the photo. And I won’t try, because one image is enough to remind me of the special feelings that only one moment could ever give me.

(I recently discovered a small camera that was released back in October from Light Co. It has the potential to be a good travel camera, combining 16 lenses into one about the size of a smartphone to keep it convenient without losing the quality. Check it out 😉 )

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