It doesn't matter how often I go or what time of year it is when I arrive, a trip home to Toronto still gives me butterflies. Our visit was planned around the kids' spring break and a series of gigs Kevin put together. It was like the travel gods and the gig fairy met at Starbucks up in the heavens for a latte and decided to smile down at us. It all worked out!
The drive to Canada was relatively smooth, considering we got a late start. I was needed at work and had a bunch of things to get ready for an upcoming event. Had anyone in the office known our server was going to temporarily blow up while I was gone, I'm sure my PTO days would not have been approved. Anyhow, we arrived at our friend Chris' house quite late but managed to find her key in its secret hiding spot and tumble into bed by 2 am.
It was so strange to wake up in someone else's home in another country! Know what that's like? You have to stop and mentally recount your voyage just to make sure you aren't hallucinating. At least I do. It's probably leftover from my college years...
Up early, we didn't waste a second meeting up with friends and family. That's how it always is. Every trip we SWEAR we aren't going to over do it, over schedule ourselves and spread the Clark love too thin. And, every year we do. But, this time it didn't feel quite as crazy. A trip to Kensington Market was first on the agenda. It's one of my very favorite hang outs. The plan was to look for some cool tees, buy something fresh to eat and people watch. I'd never seen so many people in such a small radius!
Seeing as this was also Easter weekend (I guess the holiday muse met up with the other two at Starbucks!) I was prepared for weird weather. There were many times I traveled home from New Orleans at Easter with sandals and shorts on, only to be greeted with falling snow. This time however, I brought sweaters, jackets and boots. But, for absolutely no reason. It was hot in Toronto. So hot in fact, I was convinced I was witness to the effects of global warming right there in the market. Unbelievable!
I know I'd spent far too much time in the bible belt that is North Carolina cause I had forgotten that Toronto is a region that celebrates many holidays. And, stays open for them too. I knew Charlotte was going to be a virtual ghost town on Good Friday, except for church parking lots. Worried that stores might not be open, I was hesitant we'd find anything to do. Ha! The place was jammin', with grilled seafood being served up right on the street, musicians everywhere and people packed in the park. Again, hadn't seen so many people side by side in quite a while.
After lunch and visiting with friends and family, it was time for another adventure. I was going to meet up with a few friends from high school at a restaurant in the next town. Thanks to social media, I had learned that another friend living in the US was also traveling to TO and we decided to grab a drink together. She let others from high school know and before long, we had ourselves a mini reunion. It was great fun. Bizarre, but fun. You know how some people never change? Sometimes that is so true, as is the case of the friend from the US. She was as nutty as ever. Hilarious, outspoken, warm and outrageous, but still capable of eliciting a jaw-drop at any time.
We were racking up the miles on the car and had dinner plans with more friends at the other end of the city. Though it's definitely not my favorite restaurant, no trip to TO is complete without spaghetti at the Tulip. Our friends Job and Zarica and their daughter Ava joined us and Chris for dinner. The spaghetti was exactly the same. So were the super smelly washrooms. The place is always packed so they cannot be hurting for money. Someone ought to tell them to invest in a new sewer system!
Though I was exhausted, I had promised my brother we'd meet him for yet another drink. Kevin had also made plans to sit in with a few friends at a club downtown so it was going to be another 2 am night. I can't even remember the last time I'd done that in the past YEAR, and here I was pulling two late nights off in a row. I met my brother and his "friend" at a pub in our old hood, which was great. I was glad to see that she was quite good at poking fun at him. He definitely needs it. Again, another person in my life who remains consistent. He too is outrageous, hilarious and outspoken. The warm part, hmmm... jury is still out.
Now it was close to 11 pm and I was so ready for bed. But, Kevin really wanted to see some guys he used to play with, so off we went to the Pantages hotel. It's a chic little lounge, where pianist Robert Scott and drummer Great Bob Scott (no relation) did their thing. They were thrilled to see Kev and have him sit in. I settled in with a soda water and enjoyed listening to my husband play. He's a different person when he's got his horn... Just as he was getting ready to say goodbye, in walks man-about-town and jazz DJ, Jaymz Bee, with 20 or so jazz fans on one of the infamous Jazz Safaris. Watching Jaymz's reaction to seeing Kevin playing was priceless. His eyes bugged out and he furiously starting whispering to all the jazz fans. I knew at that exact moment that we weren't going anywhere!
Somehow we managed to get ourselves back home and to bed, but this time it was past 2 am. Thankfully, I didn't have to get up too early. Chris had shopped for us which meant we were going to feast that next morning. We had a lazy breakfast, then made our plans for the day. Cyre was going to spend the day and night with her friend Ava and Chris, Keller and I were driving to Guelph to meet up with Lydia and her daughter. Kev had a gig in Waterloo and was looking forward to all the accolades he was due for.
It was a long haul but great to see Lydia and Evelyn. She still has the same dry wit, wicked sense of humor that I so depend on. We managed to find ourselves some excellent Asian cuisine in town and cruised a few vintage shops while there. I never seem to have enough time to spend with Lydia but I am content to steal them whenever I can. She and I have been through so much together in our personal lives and I know we'll always remain friends.
As the afternoon faded away, I was glad to be back on the road to Toronto and was ready for a little down time. We planned dinner at a nearby restaurant with another super close friend, Deb and her son Henrique. Derrick was also going to join us. I just couldn't imagine a trip to TO without spending tons of time with my man! It was fantastic to catch up with Deb, watch Keller laugh with Henrique and eat delicious tapas. I try and eat as much ethnic food as I possibly can when I go home cause I just can't get as much in Charlotte. After dinner we went back to Chris' place for more wine. It was an awesome night and I managed to get in bed by midnight.
Sunday morning we dropped Kev off at his gig at the Distillery and headed to the One of a Kind Show. I had forgotten that the shopping gods were also with us!!! Yes, I was going to be in town for my absolute favorite retail experience!!!! Tickets to the event weren't expensive but the $3.75 bottle of freakin tap water was a shock to my system. "I hope it's from the bloody Nile" was all I could come up with when I was given the bill. The poor girl working behind the counter apologized, like somehow she was responsible for the gouging. Whatever.
Birthday gifts were found for both Kevin and Keller, and Chris and I drooled over all the gorgeous handmade clothing and crafts. Of course no trip to the One of a Kind show could ever be complete without sampling a chutney, a veggie dip or a handmade piece of chocolate something-or-other. I just couldn't believe my luck! Thank you, gods.
We picked up Cyre and Kevin and headed north to see my brother and sister-in-law which meant more fantastic food, lots of laughs, a comfortable bed and a walk in the woods. Now this is the part of the trip I never prepare for. You would think I'd know to bring one crappy pair of pants and some totally un-adorable pair of boots. But no, I always end of borrowing clothes and footwear from someone else. Jo-anne joined us and she and Sharon planned a dinner that included presents and birthday cake for the boys. It's at these moments I miss my family most; when we're sitting around the dinner table swapping stories and laughs.
As always, it was too soon before we said goodbye and headed back to the city. We had made plans to spend a night with our good friends Chris, Leigh and Jasper. But, before we made it to their place, we stopped in to see Steven and Mary Frances. Mary looks totally different every time I see her. I guess that's the beauty of being a teen. You can change your look, your music, your muses and your identity at random without anyone thinking anything of it. If only adults had that freedom!
It was starting to feel a bit nutty at this point and I was ready to stay put for at least one day. We planned on spending at least 24 hours with the Lamonts. They had just been to Charlotte a couple of months before and we couldn't wait to see them again. Their son Jasper is the cutest thing with a totally serious side and a wacky toddler sense of humor. It's a delicious combo! We had another great meal, set the kids up with some TV and built us a fire in the backyard. To be sitting outside at night in early April in Canada without freezing our asses off was very, very strange. It made me a little nervous. However, copious amounts of wine helped.
The next day we took a walk around Etobicoke and stopped by the lake for a view. That's one thing about Toronto that makes me sad. The lake always seems like an afterthought, not an integral part of the city. You know, "let's have a look," rather than "OMG look at that magnificent body of water!" I really cannot imagine it ever getting the attention it deserves. Not in my lifetime.
Chris and Leigh live close to High Park and we always try and spend time here so we can eat at our favorite Polish restaurant. Cyre's second most favorite food is perogies and Polonez makes some of the best. I ordered Borscht, which pretty much grosses everyone else out. I do love beets but it's the idea of ordering something that's readily not available anywhere in the south which secretly makes me happy. After a lovely lunch and a trip to a couple of vintages stores (score on the groovy blue leather boots!), we bid adieu to the Lamonts and headed over to our friends Benj and Pascale's place.
Kev had a gig at the Old Mill and I was going to take Cyre along. Keller was thrilled to be spending the evening with boys, doing boy things like playing soccer. My oldest friend Klara (I'm talking years, not age) and her beau were going to meet us, as was my brother Michael. I was looking forward to hearing some more great music. The show was a CD release party for a female singer. The band was great but the leading lady was not. It was like watching "April" from Glee get bombed and putting on a variety show; only Kristen Chenilworth can really sing and this babe could not. There were moments that were absolutely cring-worthy, and they had nothing to do with the band. Oh well. It was great spending time with my big brother and one of my bestest girlfriends. And, it was so exciting to take Cyre along, to a very adult evening. She behaved magnificently and managed to not be too bored.
We managed to get home by a decent hour and to bed almost early. which was a nice change. Kev had to be up early for a clinic and the kids and I had plans to head downtown to spend the day with my sister Jo. We were going to have breakfast together and then hit the mall for some shopping. It was amazing to walk past my old university and see how much it's changed. But, nothing prepared me for Dundas Square. It really is trying to be a mini Times Square and it's succeeding. Even the all-cross traffic lights were something to marvel at. It just didn't feel like the Toronto I knew.
Unfortunately, by mid day I started to feel ill and we wound day our big day. All the dashing from one end of the city to the other must have caught up with me and I was in desperate need of a nap. After many hugs, we said goodbye to auntie Jo and headed back west. Thankfully, Benj and Pascale have a ginormous house and I was able to get some rest. We had planned a dinner together with our friends which again always includes amazing food. Thank god our friends know we are total foodies! Waheeda had just arrived back home after an amazing trip down under and managed to sneak over for a few hours. Before I knew it, I was parked in front of subway saying goodbye to my buddy way sooner than I wanted to. But, I know she'll be down to see us before long.
We packed our bags that night and prepared for the second part of the trip, to another big city with bright lights... NYC. That, however, will have to be another blog entry.