Saturday 28 December 2013

Toronto Ice Storm 2013

One week ago, rain started falling from grey skies over the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). It rained all day Saturday. The temperatures dropped turning roads into ice rinks. The worst of this particular weather system was to come overnight. I went to bed.

The clock read 7:02 when I awoke Sunday morning. Too early, I thought, and continued to slumber away, cozy in my warm cocoon. At 7:30, unable to stay in bed any longer (OK, my bladder was about to explode), I got up and walked into the living room (after the bathroom stop), to discover it was actually 9:30 a.m. The power had gone out during the night, and I had slept through it.

From the 10th floor of my glass tower in south-west Mississauga, I had no idea what was really going on outside my door. We were engulfed in a mushroom of grey-white, wet mist. Indeed a miserable looking Sunday morning, but we had power and water and coffee was made. An hour later, we lost electricity. I felt trapped on the 10th floor in south-west Mississauga.

I called my children (mobile lines were unaffected) who are scattered between Burlington, Ontario and Mississauga. They were all fine. Two had electricity. One did not, but a generator was keeping them warm. My father, who lives alone in south Etobicoke, was a challenge to get a hold of. Finally, contacting a neighbour in the area, I learned that he was okay, but without power. I was relieved he was well, but concerned he had no electricity to keep the furnace humming along. My father is 84.

Three hours after our lights went out, they came back on. Yeah, hoorah! Shortly thereafter, we lost the water. When it returned a short time later, the cold water was cold and the hot water was cold. It was time for action.

I pressed a button on my phone programed to instantly connect me with our Concierge. Michael answered.

“Hi Michael,” I said in a warm, but matter-of-fact tone. “We have no hot water.”

“Yes mam,” he said. (He always calls me ‘mam’, a title I am not particularly fond of, but what can you do.)

Michael informed me that he was in the process of finagling something or other, which would ensure that hot water would once again return, and my inconvenience ended. I didn't understand much beyond, “In five minutes,” but it was good enough for me. I hung up the phone. Ten minutes later Michael called to ensure that the water was hot. It was. I gave him freshly baked cookies later that day.

That’s it. That was my trouble for the day and the impact the storm had on me. Sheltered from Mother Nature's wrath in a warm, cozy home, with water, food and all other conveniences modern life has to offer me, I had no appreciation for what was really happening across the GTA.

I soon learned that hundreds of thousands of people were without power. As I write this, there are still tens of thousands who are exhausted from a week of enduring freezing cold temperatures in dark houses. The Christmas miracle they prayed for, did not arrive. Hydro crews continue to work around the clock to restore power to everyone, but it will still be some time before everyone is back on the grid.

The clean-up of the debris and the thousands of trees we have lost in the area is overwhelming and sad.

This storm was devastating, and its impact will be felt for a long time to come, yet it was so beautiful.  One week later, neighbourhoods still sparkle and shimmer under sunlight. Trees encased in ice, glisten and twinkle as if thousands of tiny lights have been strung on every twig, on every branch, on every tree. It's quite magical.

It's beauty and devastation all at once. It's the power of nature. 

My favourite photos:

Friday 13 December 2013

Distillery District's Toronto Christmas Market

"Oh. My. God. There's a merry-go-round," I said
"And a ferris wheel," replies Celina, my daughter-in-law.
"I LOVE merry-go-rounds! Wish it wasn't so cold," I said. 

It doesn't matter how cold it is. I'm riding the carousel and taking Maddie, my grand-daughter with me. It will be her first carousel ride.  It's Christmas time in the city, and we are at the Toronto Christmas Market to take in the sounds, sights, and food. Damn be the cold.  

The carousel ride is $3.00, cash-only, which I don't have. Who carries cash these days? Not me. It's debit this, pay-pass the other, credit card everything else, what with all the loyalty points to be had and all. I borrow the funds from Celina, pay the fee, hand the ticket to the near-frozen-stiff-carousel-ticket-taking-man, grab Maddie and hop a horse.

A cold wind is blasting off Lake Ontario, the carousel is spinning at what feels like warp speed, and Maddie’s tears are falling faster than icicles off roof tops on a warm spring day. It's all making me more than a little distressed. My own tears are falling behind sunglasses (due to the biting wind), gunk is drooling down my nose (due to the biting wind) and Maddie is sliding off the horse (due to biting wind induced disequilibrium on my part). But round and round we go. Wow. Whee. Fun. It was. 

Maddie stops crying. I wipe my nose. Celina captures some great photos.  All we need now is a hot drink to warm us up, but it's going to have to wait a bit longer. There is much ground to cover.

Maddie is not so impressed

Toronto's Christmas Market is in the trendy, pedestrian-only Distillery Historic District. A national historic site consisting of over 40 heritage buildings, it is the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America. The Distillery District is the former site of Gooderham and Worts, distillers of whiskey. Founded in 1832, Gooderham and Worts was at one time the largest distillery in the world and Canada’s largest corporate tax payer.

Today, this area is a village within a large metropolis. Condominium dwellers step outside their doors to find shops, restaurants, cafes, art galleries and entertainment. 

We step into Thompson Landry Gallery where on display are the works of famous Quebecois artists (Thompson Landry exhibits only artists from Quebec).  "What's that smell? It's so yummy. I want to eat something," says Celina. Scents of cinnamon and cloves fill the air in the Cooperage space. Here, a taste of Quebec can be had with tourtier and local cheeses available to take home.

As with all good markets, street food is a must, and we are not disappointed. There is schnitzel, and poutine and...Chocolate covered bacon? Yes! We follow our noses to a sugar shack, where a large cauldron filled with melted milk chocolate is sending sweet aromas of sugar through the icy cold air. Crispy bacon is dipped into warm milk chocolate. The chocolate oozes rich droplets onto the serviette we were handed. We lick it up and indulge in what feels like a sinful pleasure. It's different. It's unique. It's heaven on a stick. 

In the evening, the market really came alive with its many strings of twinkling white lights hung over the streets and buildings. It’s all so pretty and Christmasie. All that was needed was a sprinkling of snow to make for a post-card perfect Christmas scene.

Smoke fills the air as fire pits are lit to keep revelers warm and toasty around outdoor living room spaces. Add a glass of mulled wine or a cup hot chocolate and, "Baby It's Cold Outside," won't pop into your mind, not even once, although a down filled jacket, mitts and a touque are still highly recommended. 

Ultimately, there wasn't enough bacon we could eat to make us forget the chill, and we do end up indoors for a warm-up, taking a seat in one of the Distillery's fine restaurants. A hot cup of tea, a beer (okay, two) and several spicy wings later, we are ready to head back out.  We ARE Canadian after all, and are nothing if not hardy.

I really can't stay...
Ah, but it's cold outside


Tuesday 10 December 2013

How to Spend a Day on a Cruise

If you've ever been on a cruise, you know there are days at sea, and days in port.

The days at sea are filled with activities, organized by the Entertainment department, and led by young energetic employees, whose sole responsibility is to do nothing more than ensure you're having a good time (and through their uber energy, make you feel not so spry, all at the same time).

You may or may not participate in these scheduled events. The choice is completely yours. I normally opt out, with the occasional exception of participating in a round of trivia, because if I know anything about myself, it is that my mind is filled with useless, trivial information valuable only when asked, "What kind of ducks are in the fountain at the Peabody Hotel?" (North American mallards--see what I mean--useless.)

On the days when the ship is in port, the organized on-board activities are fewer, if any, because most of the passengers are entertaining themselves somehow, on dry land. I plan my days according to whether it's a sea day or a land day.  So, what to do when the ship can't dock due to unforeseen circumstances like, oh, say, 12 foot high waves due to a hurricane? Such was the case on a recent cruise on NCL's Breakaway. What is the back-up plan? Simple. Eat. Then eat some more. And again. One more time. Eat.

Here then is a day in the life of a passenger (me) on a port day that wasn't, that I like to call:

                                          Gorge Your Way Around the Ship Day




Before dinner


After dinner 

After dinner snack

The End
(No. Not really. Next day. Repeat as above.)