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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

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Toronto as seen through the eyes of a tourist

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Masada Siegel enjoyed her stay in Ontario's capital

Some people love to have their closets filled with expensive shoes, while others pack their homes with ornate decorations

One of my main goals is to cram my passport with as many stamps from beautiful destinations around the world as possible. So with my brand-new blue passport in hand, I was packed, ready and at the airport eagerly anticipating the first new stamp.

 This time, I was travelling out of the United States to a city filled with wonder, one with world-class museums, a phenomenal ballet and an art scene that is unending. It is a city on a lake with a diverse population of immigrants from around the world. It’s a country where equal rights extend to gay marriage, and while that might be the norm in many countries, it is a constant battle here in the United States.

As I wandered down a Toronto street filled with eclectic art galleries, trendy boutiques and bakeries with overwhelmingly colourful pastries, the sun gently shining and a breeze blowing through my hair, I started to grin.

Toronto, Canada, is where you might call home, and often the excitement of our own city is easily overlooked, but sometimes having a visitor in town that sees a place with a fresh perspective awakens us to the many great attributes of where we live.

A “stay-cation” is a fun way to experience your own city, and I found Toronto filled with choices, from staying at the ultra-hip Gladstone Hotel, where every one of the 37 rooms are decorated differently, to having a relaxing lake view at a suite in the Westin Harbour Castle. If you are looking to really pamper yourself, you might want to try a night at the Ritz Carlton and enjoy its relaxing spa.

While wandering around Toronto, I found myself at the Harbourfront, where I marvelled as the CN Tower changed colours in the deep-blue night sky. Party boats filled with laughing people cruised by, and ladies lovingly cooed to the passengers in their strollers, who happened to be dogs. I walked by a few women in barely there shorts and others who were completely covered up black chadors, only their eyes peering out into the world.   

 Queen Street West brought out different types of people, from the Greek bride I chatted with in a fabric store, who was looking for material for her veil, to the ladies from St. John, N.B., shopping for a wedding dress.  I peeked into Tealish on Queen West and bought aromatic tea to take home. Of course, I couldn’t help but work hard to improve the Canadian economy and left with some fabulous finds.

I ventured into a spice store in Kensington Market and sniffed the aromatic packages and bought a few of the Indian spices.

One of my favourite bookstores in Toronto is BMV. The books are tremendous, and the prices are reasonable.

Toronto is made for walking, and there is no better place than the Bata Shoe Museum, which is all about footware. The museum offers people a chance to walk through time and learn the history of how people walk through life, literally. One can also tiptoe among the greats, viewing Roger Federer, Napoleon and Marilyn Monroe’s shoes, which are all exhibited. I especially enjoyed the Roger Vivier exhibition, where I learned about the master shoe designer’s innovations and how they are still relevant today.

The National Ballet of Canada’s performances of Elite Syncopations, Song of a Wayfarer and Chroma brought tears to my eyes. They were visual masterpieces and so moving, I would have easily seen the performances a few times.

From one’s toes to their feet, Toronto seems to have it covered. I found my way to KC’s Hats, where milliner David Dunkley, store owner and designer has taken lessons from the former royal milliner to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. His creations have even been worn by members of Queen Elizabeth II’s royal entourage and at functions attended by the Queen.

I laughed trying on a few hats and fascinators, wishing that hats were a major fashion items in Arizona, where I live, so I could justify buying one or well, maybe 10! In October, Dunkley is offering a three-day course, an introduction to hat-making, where one can learn how to make a couture hat. 

Toronto impressed me with so many styles of art, from the spectacular Picasso exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario to an intriguing tour explaining graffiti. I wandered the colourful and bright alleys of Toronto on a graffiti tour with a guide, who explained the painted intricacies and messages on the walls of the city.

I was dazzled by the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company’s magnificent performance of Sadeh 21. It was both sophisticated and sensual. The dancers illuminated the stage, and it was refreshing to see pure magic emanating in front of me.

From light to darkness, I was mesmerized. My senses sharpened during renowned Chilean magician Juan Esteban Varela’s From the Dark, a magic show in which both magician and the audience are blindfolded. In the darkness, I gained clarity and perspective on how to view my world differently. I realized how important it is to try to appreciate the gifts around us, whether it is the love that surrounds us with family and friends or being in a beautiful city like Toronto.

It’s a challenge to slow down, or even stop and take a break, and even harder to play tourist in one’s own hometown, because it seems there’s always something we must be doing. Toronto has so much to offer, from the sights to the sounds, to simply walking down the street and peering into the shop windows.

The truth is when you look at your home city with the eyes of a tourist you might be surprised. When I get home, I am going to follow my own advice, or well, try to.

Enjoy Toronto!

Masada Siegel is the author of Window Dressings (masadasiegelauthor.com).

For more information, visit Toronto Graffiti Tour at www.tourguys.ca/toronto-tours/

Bata Shoe Museum at www.batashoemuseum.ca/

Art Gallery of Ontario at www.ago.net/

National Ballet of Canada at http://national.ballet.ca/

KC Hats at www.kcshats.com/

Gladstone Hotel at www.gladstonehotel.com/

Ritz Carlton at www.ritzcarlton.com/

 

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