This post and the one to come next week will probably give you the impression we are getting a bit home sick. Mabye we are a little, it has been 8 months.
In searching for something to do on Australia day, Gemma stumbled across the Young Australian Canadian Association webpage. While they didn’t have much to offer for Australia day, there was a competition to win two weekend passess to Ozflix, the Australian Film Festival in Toronto, which she won by simply answering what was the name of the Fighting unit in the movie Kokoda.
So how was it?
The first thing that was apparent to me (and an elderly couple that left within 3 minutes of the first movie) was the language used in almost every movie was pretty foul. I saw Arj Barker (comedian) a year or two ago and I now know where he was comming from when he called Australia the “Swearingist country in the world”. Having not been exposed to this for a while it was a bit of a shock and while I’m sure a few Aussies would read this and with there best Alf Stewart impersonation proclaim “Stone the flamin’ crows, too right we are” or similar, based on the reactions of a few viewers I don’t think this is something we should be proud of.
That aside, we saw some very interesting films ranging from ‘2:37’ a drama surounding the suicide of a school girl with a tarantinoesque mixed timeline, a series of short films about and by Aboriginies called ‘Corroboree’, another series of short documentary style films and the two crowd pullers ‘Kenny’ and ‘Boytown’.
I’m not sure what press Kenny has received back home already but I couldn’t recommend this film enough. A mockumentary following the life of a lovable employee of a portable toilet business catering for Australias largest festivals. Brilliantly scripted with one liners that are sure to become common speak (‘sillier than a bum full of smarties’ or ‘Busier than a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad’) if the film gets the airplay it deserves. Following the film we were also able to see the man himself as Kenny addressed the crowd in costume. I think many people were confused but one lady in particular could not grasp that Kenny was an actor who just delivered an incredbily believable performance. I’m sure they could easily pull off a Borat style masquerade if they wished to.
Being big fans of Mick Malloys ‘Crackerjack’ we were very eager to see his latest offering ‘Boytown’. While it was entertaining it was defintely overshadowed by Kenny from the night before. Lead by Glenn Robbins, 5 aging men rekindle their former pop-star status as the original boy band, Boytown, with songs aimed at their matured audience such as ‘Stay at home Dad’, ‘Parent Teacher Night’ and ‘Cellulite Lady’. A lot of fun but I couldn’t help but think it was like The Wiggles for adults. Wait for this one to come to TV.
We really enjoyed the festival, especially some of the films we had only seen in order to fill time between others and it is a great way to avoid the cold. But after about 14 hours in a cinema over 3 days don’t expect any more film reviews for a while.
This morning as I turned on the news to get the snow forecast I was presented with a rodent on a log and hundreds of onlookers waiting for answers. Would it be an early spring this year? The groundhog Punxsutawney Phill says yes, on the basis that he did not see his own shadow. The Pennsylvanian groundhog also made a few statements regarding global warming, not sure why, messages about climate change seem to fall flat. Given we don’t listen to scientists proclaiming Earth’s destruction I doubt we will listen to a garden variety groundhog…although voting trends in Australia seem to suggest otherwise.
Moving on, the tradition dates back to the fifth century, the European Celts believed that animals had certain supernatural powers on special days that were half-way between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox (Wikipedia.com). Canada has a few well known groundhogs of its own, most noted is Wiarton Willy of Wiarton, Ontario. The tradition in Wiarton is not as old, commencing in 1956 after a journalist from the Toronto Star set out for Wiarton on a tip of a Groundhog Day Festival. All he found were some locals at the bar who had decided GHD was as good excuse as any to come together for a beer. Not wanting to send the journo home empty handed one of the townsfolk stuck is wife’s fir hat in the ground, declared a prognostication and it made the front page. The following year many flocked to Wiarton to join in the festivities which continue today. Wiarton Willy is now a real albino groundhog and along with Phill he predicts an early spring.
So, what of Wiarton Willy’s success rate – the locals boast a 90 – 95% success rate, the statistical data pegs Willy at 37.5%. I won’t be sending my thermals home too soon.
Unlike previous years, where Simon and I would spend Jan 26 in the sun counting down the Triple J’s Hottest 100 at Jess’s, this Australia Day was -17 degress and snowing.
Despite this, we headed to Hemingways, a pub in the Yorkville district, where a couple of hundred other expat Aussies had gathered to enjoy a few pints and a rousing rendition of the Australian anthem.
There were no meat pies and we were drinking Canadian beer but the atmosphere was great and the Aussie accents made us feel right at home. There was a lot of story telling, banter about the cricket and for a brief period Simon became a sought after commodity when it was discovered he knew most of the words to Waltzing Matilda.
Hope all at home enjoyed their Australia Day. Unfortunately its not a long weekend for us, but a good night was had, followed by a lazy Saturday at home out of the snow.
Contrary to our last topic of the Toronto Path, today Gemma and I ventured out into the cold to visit Scarborough Bluffs roughly 10km east of where we live on Lake Ontario.
A short walk from the bus stop took us to the top of the bluffs where on a clear day you can see across the lake to the USA. Today was very much overcast, hovering just below 0 degrees C.
Here we walked across the top which has a (frozen) park and walking trail where you can see the marina and man made land formations below but we really wanted to get to the bottom where we would be able to appreciate the height off the cliffs (~65m). So we found a comparitively mild decending trail complete with icy mud where we were able to scamper down.
Once down we were able to take some photos, have a wander around and catch our breath. There is some kind of water treatment at the base of the bluffs for the areas stormwater using a series of man-made inlets, filters and mangroves of some sort.
By this time it was about 3pm and we were getting a little hungry (we thought there might have been somewhere for lunch at the marina but as with a lot of things it is closed over winter) so we headed off. Not being game to return the way we came we walked along the roadside up the very steep incline and I’d estimate another 3-4km’s before finding a Subway to quench our hunger pains. The manager was shocked to hear where we had walked from, probably more so by the conditions than the distance.
This weekend we are expecting Arctic winds from the north west, which should bring a wind chill temp of about -21 degrees. So what do the citizens of Toronto do in this sort of weather – go underground!
This map is of the underground pathway that sprawls below the Toronto CBD and connects more than 50 of the cities office towers. The Path is lined with over 1200 retail outlets making it one of the most extensive shopping malls I have ever been in. To give you a rough idea of its size, Simon and I have ‘guesstimated’ that if it were under Sydney it could cover from Town hall to Circular Quay and from George St up to Macquarie St. This is a rough estimate, but if one of our readers would like to actually work it out the figures are as follows: ‘According to Guinness World Records, PATH is the largest underground shopping complex with 27 km (16 miles) of shopping arcades. It has 371,600 sq. metres (4 million sq. ft) of retail space’ (www.toronto.ca).
I first became acquainted with the PATH during my visit in September and I love it! It is however very easy to get lost, so if you don’t hear from me in a while chances are I am still wandering around the labyrinth of shops trying to find a way out, ‘there is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path’ – Morpheus.
There is only about 3 months left in Toronto before we move on so we have started making some concrete plans for the end of our adventures abroad. This Map shows all of our planed destinations, you can zoom in with the controls on the left, click and drag to move around in the map, click on any of the balloons for details and can switch to a satelite view via the buttons at the top. I will update the map if there are any changes to our plans.
Whilst we have planned which cities we want to go to, we haven’t looked too far into what we will do in each. To help us plan, we would love to hear suggestions as we know we have a few seasoned travellers amongst our readership, keep in mind we only have about 2 nights in each of the marked destinations.
Oh and before anyone asks, we are not going to Houston, Texas to pay homage to George dubya in any way but to visit our friends Ben and Louise. After reading this piece of news we had second thoughts and commented that we’d rather stay out of the USA in protest, but alas our tickets are booked and are non-refundable, oh and we coudn’t go halfway across the world and not stop in on our Aussie friends! (Gem can’t wait Lou).
So the challenge has been laid, I’m looking forward to a favourite London pub from Waratah, some local knowledge from Brian and input on other european locations from Degrassi & Dwyer.
New Years Eve was relatively quiet, we went into town to see the fireworks in Nathan Phillip Square but after an hour of standing in the rain decided to head down Queen Street to Jeremiah Bullfrog. It was there that we rang in the new year, dry and warm. We did see the fireworks on the TV but I have to say they had nothing on Sydney’s display (of which there was lots of coverage on the news).
New Years Day we got on the TTC Subway to Scarborough for a party at Celcia’s (a colleague of mine from the Ministry of Health). It took about an hour to get there but it was a great opportunity for us to see the suburbs of Toronto. I am sure in the spring, summer and fall it is very beautiful as there were lots of trees, however at this timeof year they are all sticks and branches.
Cecilia put on a wonderful spread of curries and other Indian delicacies and her cousin Shirley (at the head of the table) is the master behind the cherry cheesecake in the picture. Simon had a pretty big piece and had trouble walking home!
We were very grateful for their hospiality and enjoyed sharing stories of our travels in Canada. It was also interesting hearing about the family’s first impressions of Canada, as many of Ceclia’s cousins immigated to Canada with very little and not knowing anyone.
Cecilia’s daughter will be travelling to Australia at the end of Januray for four weeks and we look forward to catching up with her on her return to get her thoughts on our little spot in the world.
Inspired by my Dad, we have created a little video for you all to enjoy. Its a little large so those with dialup may want to wait and watch it on their employers time.
While it is still at least 10 hours till christmas here we know that people will soon be up and unwrapping presents in Australia. We hope you all have a great day and miss you more than ever at this time.
As you can see Gemma has been cooking and we will be enjoying a similar christmas cake to most of the Alberts, we might not be able to have a taste testing contest but I think ours wins on looks.
Simon and Gemma
Our first day of the Christmas holidays was spent exploring Casa Loma, a castle just two subway stops from downtown Toronto. Commissioned by Sir Henry Pellat (prominent Toronto financier, industrialist and military man), in 1911, it was handed to the the City of Toronto after Pellat could not afford to pay his property taxes.
The construction took 3 years to complete and the cost – $3.5M, which I imagine was quite a bit back then. It is not hard to see where the money went as you wander through the mahaogny lined halls with their intricate carvings and the marble bathrooms. My favourite room was Lady Pellat’s bedroom and sitting room, the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon tea with wonderful views of the city.
Interesting were the secret stairways, both out of Pellat’s study, one to the upper levels, the other straight into the cellar. Also, from the basement there is an 800ft long tunnel to the stables and the garage where Pellat stored his collection of cars. The tunnel was built after the city refused to close a road dividing the Casa Loma grounds.
At the moment the castle has a Peter Pan theme for the Christmas holiday period. This included a short theatrical performance for the kids which we enjoyed also. Speaking of performances, the castle has appeared in several major movies inlcuding X-Men, Chicago, Cocktail and a few others of lesser note.
As an aside, you can see that the weather is quite grey and cloudy but alas no snow. In fact the likelihood of having a white christmas is very slim.