Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Visiting the AGO on the free admission Wednesdays at 6 pm

I did it. I visited the AGO on the free evening starting at 6 pm. Saw tons of girlfriends enjoying the privilege. The big line-up at the entrance? It was for people who wanted to see the Picasso special exhibition. Those of us who simply wanted to see the rest of the exhibits could enter right away.

What a treat! You don't need to visit it all until you[re exhausted. You can just come back another Wednesday.

Bad news: the breathtaking tree sculptures of Giuseppe Penone we could enjoy in the Galleria Italia are gone...
Good news: they've created a new café space in the Galleria Italia, which, I must admit, is a great way to admire the gorgeous Galleria Italia.

A visit to the AGO is a nice complement to Stroll 4 (QUEEN Street Smart Stroll) in my guide Toronto Urban Strolls... for girlfriends.

I deserve a treat (from Bobbette and Belle)

Having visitors from out of town is a great excuse to go to places such as Bobbette and Belle in Leslieville, to indulge in a scrumptious cupcake.

While we're there, we can admire their $3000 creations such as their hand-made edible-butterflies cake.

Wild Waterworks: Family outing for end of July

This week, on www.torontofunplaces.com, I recommend a visit to Wild Waterworks in Hamilton, taking advantage of the reduced rates after 4 pm. One visit to the waterpark is what makes summer!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Whimsical urban sight: Prince Edward Viaduct

I've spied these little ants on Prince Edward Viaduct along Bloor Street, west of Broadview, Toronto.
Let me know if you've noticed them somewhere else.

When I see that kind of stencil work, it feels like an artist is winking at me (I take it personally, of course).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

8 TIPS: Toronto Islands with teenagers (also good for girlfriends)

Toronto Islands with teenagers 

Here's the outing I'd recommend if you're visiting Toronto Islands with kids.

My TIPS for a great visit with TEENAGERS
1) Check the Centre Island ferry schedule and arrive at the ferry docks (at the foot of Bay Street) 45 minutes prior to departure, with snacks and water. Note the schedule for your ride back at WARD's DOCK!!!
2) Walk straight to the south shore of the Islands (Centre Island Beach), past the bridge and the fountains to get to the Bike Rental outlet. And treat your teens with the rental of a quadracycle (2-seat or 4-seat) for an hour. (Don't hop on with them, rent yourself a normal bike.) Meet in an hour at the outlet. It was totally worth the $17/hour cost, according to my 15-year old companions. BRING CASH for the rental ($30 deposit).
3) They won't be too keen on the 20-min walk along the boardwalk towards Ward's Island (east of the rental outlet) but they'll appreciate what comes next (and so will you).
4) Have lunch at the Rectory Café just off the boardwalk. Their patio is a real treat. Their $15 burgers are scrumptious. (Their cocktail list is impressive, I had a natural Ginger Ale and vodka cocktail.)
5) Have a swim at Ward's Beach. I prefer Gibraltar Beach, west of Centre Island Beach, but Ward's Beach is the youth's hub.
6) Head north towards Ward's dock and check one of the carless street east of the park. What a feeling!
7) Have an ice-cream at the very funky Island Café (you can see it from Ward's dock).
8) Catch a ride back to Toronto on the Ward's ferry, seriously less busy than Centre Island's.

If your teens are not starving by the time you reach the Rectory Café, go straight to the beach for a swim and eat later at the Island Café, offering less expensive and still yummy options.

5 TIPS: Toronto Islands with older kids

Toronto Islands with older kids
This is what I would recommend if you're visiting this attraction with kids 7 years and older.

My TIPS for a great visit with OLDER KIDS
1) Check the Centre Island ferry schedule and arrive at the ferry docks (at the foot of Bay Street) 45 minutes prior to departure, with snacks and water (and maybe chalks for them to draw on the pavement while they wait). DON'T FORGET TO NOTE THE SCHEDULE FOR YOUR RIDE BACK!
2) If your family has the inclination, bring everyone's bike, with locks. There are no cars on Toronto Islands! It's cyclists haven! Then, it doesn't matter on which ferry you hop on.
3) Try to catch the Lagoon Theatre play on your way in or out of your visit to Centre Island. (Their 30-min. play is great for 3-12 years old with double-entendre for the adults (2013 update: performed by Frolick Wednesday to Sunday at 11:15, 12:15, 1:15 and 2:20 until September 2); with potential shows later on the weekends. Bring cash, its pay-what-you-can, suggested admission price of $10 but they're cool about it.) 
4) Walk straight to the other end of Centre Island, past the fountains, and turn right to reach Gibraltar Beach (skip busy centre Island Beach). You'll find many beach entrances walking 10-15 minutes along the paved path. The sand is fantastic! There are less people. It feels like the ocean.
5) At the end of the day, you must check the weird contraption of the Synthecycletron by Barry Prophet, an interactive machine generating noise as you ride it. it is part of the New Adventures in Sound Art. You'll find it on your left if you walk east, past the bike rental place near Centre Island Beach.

Note that the Carousel Café by the large bridge is pretty, with a large patio overlooking the canal, and it offers a vast menu, not too expensive (I'd make two kids share a club sandwich). 

When my companions walked by the hilarious large character by the entrance of the Lagoon Theatre, he called them: "Come closer! I want to smell your conditioner!"

5 TIPS: Toronto Islands with younger kids

Toronto Islands with younger kids
Last time I visited Toronto Islands, it had been a while since my last summer visit. I was impressed!!!

There were more people than when my kids were young, but everything was really well organized to maximize everyone's experience to the Islands.

I was with two teens (I will later post tips to better enjoy the place with teens) but had a good look at what would appeal to me, were I to return with younger kids.

My TIPS for a great visit WITH YOUNG KIDS:

1) Prior to your visit, go online to buy Centreville Amusement Park tickets (you save money and will avoid the crowd at the gate. It is absolutely perfect for kids 8 years and under.
2) Check the Centre Island ferry schedule and arrive at the ferry docks (at the foot of Bay Street) 45 minutes prior to departure, with snacks and water (and maybe chalks so the kids can draw on the asphalt while you wait). DON'T FORGET TO NOTE THE SCHEDULE FOR YOUR RIDE BACK!
3) Bring cash to pay for the ferry ride! (Last time I checked, it was cash only.)
4) Once on the other side, go directly to the amusement park, a short walk off the Centre Island dock.
5) When the kids are ready to cool down, go to the great spray pad outside of the amusement park. To reach it, cross the big bridge to your left as you exit of the amusement park. Walk until you reach the fountains on each side of the alley, and go to your right. The spray pad is hidden from the sight because of the trees but it's there! And it is very pretty.

Of the ferry, you'll see signs (and probably some of their wacky characters) for the Lagoon Theatre 30-minute pay-what-you-can performances. I'd save this attraction for kids 7 and older, simply because the amusement park and the spray pad is already a full plate for younger kids but the show is suitable for 3 to 12 years old.

On the way to the amusement park, you might also catch one of the 10 Minute Drum Circle (when we visited, they offered free playshops and they supply the drums, not sure it's still going on).

Also read 5 TIPS: Toronto Islands with older kids
Also read 8 TIPS: Toronto Islands with teenagers

41 pianos in town, I found one!

As we walked downtown (Queen & Yonge), we were thrilled to come across one the pianos part of the 41 pianos event (Pan Am promo, part of streetpianos.com events, to last until the end of July). This one is the Jamaica piano.

We've driven by another one. In both occasions, there were fantastic piano players in action.
What a fantastic event.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Summer camp: getting out of our kids' way

On my way to the car, after helping my 15-year old and her friend with their luggages to their summer camp dorm at the Zoo Camp, in Jungle Cat World, Orono, I heard a mom trying to sound detached as she said "OK, bye", to her son, who didn't even look back. She couldn't resist adding a feeble "Have fun!", to no avail.

Our eyes met, and a moment of instant connection, which often happens between mothers, took place. With a smile, the teary-eyed mom (who felt she had a good audience) launched in a tirade about how you make all the search for the perfect camp, pay the big bucks, spend the week preparing everything on the camp's list, drive them, to watch our ungrateful offspring turn their back on us without even a goodbye.

She then said, nodding toward her younger daughter: "I'm gonna head home and hug this one."
Makes you forget why you so badly wanted them to go to camp in the first place, doesn't it?

The reality is, whatever their attitude is prior to camp, they will have a chance to live something out of their ordinary. Something our daily routine could not provide.

To help parents who are a bit anxious about the whole experience, read the great articles by Joanne Kates. Yes, the Joanne Kates who was the food critic for the GLobe for all these years. She's also been the director of Camp Arowhon in Algonquin Park since 1989 and she knows a thing or two about camp life and how to help the parents.

Read her articles: Battling the bullies: How I helped curb bullying at my childhood camp and How to cure the homesick summer camper

Check this link for photos of the drop off at Jungle Cat World's Zoo Camp in Orono, from my French version of this blog.

Toronto Islands: Family outing for July 23-29

The outing of the week as of July 23 featured on my website is Toronto Islands.

This weekend, I did the unthinkable: I decided to take two teens to Toronto Islands... at 1 p.m., on a Saturday, on a bright summer day.

Well, the wait wasn't so bad, 30 minutes. We reached Centre island, walked to Centre island Beach, rented a 2-seater quadricycle, checked Gibraltar Beach, walked to Ward's Island, had a bite at the Rectory Café, a dip at Ward's Beach and an ice cream at the super cool Island Café before catching the Ward's ferry. All in all, six hours of great summer fun.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cobourg Beach: Family outing for July 16-22

Every week on my website, I select a family outing of the week for my website torontofunplaces.com.

This week, I chose Cobourg Beach. Enjoy! And don't forget the beach toys! (By the way, it's a good time to empty your cupboards of all the lidless tupperware containers. They will help create great castles.)

Money saving tips for summer trips

Happy campers
The Globe & Mail has a Saving Money section in which it recently published tips to same money on a summer trip.

As I searched for a link to the article, I came across the online questionnaire they use to gather information. The article was a summary of the 23 comments they got from experienced parents. Check it out! It seems like camping is a favourite.

If you're new at camping, I recommend you try Oastler Lake Provincial Park near Parry Sound. The 3-hour ride from Toronto is very pretty in its last third. The park is small and easy to manage for young families (preferably with kids 5 years and older).

Have you done some social grooming lately?

Social grooming, anyone?
Who knew? It turns out there's more to my guide Toronto Urban Strolls... for girlfriends then a mere reference book to walks around Toronto. It is the perfect tool to fulfill a primal human need vastly neglected lately: the need for bonding.

Thanks to Twitter, I came across a few articles from a great website called Babble (for a new generation of parents). One of them, titled A Different Kind of Playdate, Why adults-ony time is good for the whole family, really appealed to me.

I wrote my latest guide because I saw how most of us dream of long holidays and fancy vacations as if they were the only answer to recharge our batteries. Sometimes, all we need is a little adult timeout with our friends, a couple of hours for a walk and $20 for coffee and a treat in a cute café.
(Phone photo of me with my oldest friend, more than 40 years after we first met...)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Summer night in Little India, Toronto

Little India by night
Last week was a busy weekend in Little India along Gerrard Street East (between Greenwood and Coxwell), during the Festival of South Asia.

But Little India is always a fun summer night outing. The street is filled with music, lights, colourful windows, street food. And you can always count on the effervescence around Lahore Tikka House, at 1365 Gerrard Street.

The place has been under ambitious construction for ages. It went from the tiniest little shack to a huge  pink building. For whatever reason, they won't or can't use the second floor so tables are spread all aver the street level, under shiny fabrics. Quite exotic!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Fun idea when visiting Spadina House

Before and after
We visited Spadina House recently. I found a great way to amuse the teens who were accompanying me. 

We took a picture of an old photo of the house, displayed inside, and tried to reproduce it. My young friends had a blast. Here's the result.

(By the way, I had never seen it and knew that it had been fully restored to its state in the 1920s. Well, don't go expecting Art Deco all over. As it was in the 20s still was pretty much Victorian. The decor is splendid!)

Sing us a song, you're the piano man...

You're the piano man
Wow, that was fun! Yesterday, the 41 pianos part of the Play Me, I'm Yours program (which launched the countdown to the Pan Am Games 2015) were all on one site, at David Pecaut Square.

Each piano was painted by an artist from each of the 41 countries to participate in the 2015 games. Each piano was assigned a "piano buddy" to take car of it until the end of July.

As of today, all pianos were redistributed throughout the city, for us to play and enjoy until the end of the month. Check the website www.streetpianos.com for the exact location of the pianos.

The artistic event Play Me, I'm Yours has a life of its own! It started in 2008 and has now reached numerous cities throughout the world. This is public interactive art at its best!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Parents need to relax

On July 6, Steve Ladurantaye wrote an interesting parenting article in the Globe & Mail titled: Why you should add 'relax' to your to-do list.

If you want a sillier list of suggestions for a more relaxing summer with the kids, read my article It's alright to slow down! on kidsaroundcanada.com.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

41 painted pianos... Bring your camera!

On a positive note...
This is the kind of event I can't resist. To celebrate the countdown of the 2015 Pan Am games, they're assembling 41 painted pianos representing the 41 countries who will compete at the games in 2015.

On Tuesday July 10th from 8 to 10 pm (at David Pecaut Square by Roy Thomson Hall) we'll be able to admire 41 pianos painted by different artists. Apparently, there will also be a free concert (piano concert, one would imagine?).

For the rest of July, the pianos will be spread all around the city (a bit like with Mel Lastman's moose, remember?). Each piano will be assigned a "piano buddy" who will be responsible to cover it with a tarp at night and maintain it. Cool isn't it? The general public will be invited to play on the special pianos, which will then be given to different communities. We're still not sure what's the connection with the sports event but who cares! Everybody wins.

Check this article on Musical Toronto's website for details and to see more colourful pianos.

(Photo by John Terauds for Musical Toronto)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Professor's Lake in Brampton: Family outing of the week for end of June

This week's family fun suggestion on torontofunplaces.com: Professor's Lake in Brampton

Why I don't do ratings

I don't do ratings
I just read a review (good review) recently posted on amazon.ca about my guide Toronto Fun Places... for families. In it, the reviewer comments that ratings would have been nice.

I wanted to give some ratings at the beginning. But as I got further into the research for the first edition, dragging along friends and families, I came to realize that some outings I would have rated very high, considering my son's enthusiasm for the place, were not a big hit with some other kids. For example, when we visited an indoor rock climbing place, my son's experience (an outgoing little guy) was totally different from his best friend's, who was really shy and hated having all eyes glued on him as he was trying to reach the bell at the top of the climb. How do you rate this?

It made me realize that ratings are quite arbitrary and that it could actually mislead parents. I chose instead to describe the places in my guides in such a way that parents could figure out if it's suitable for their own children.

I'm hoping parents will add their own ratings to my descriptions in my new website torontofunplaces.com!