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With the holiday only days away, airlines are making it easy to do last-minute tasks to alleviate pre-holiday stress. Virgin Atlantic is helping out holiday travelers by wrapping gifts. For $2, “Virgin Helpers” will wrap one carry on-sized gift while you’re waiting for your flight home for the holiday. Kiosks will be stationed in Terminal 4 of JFK Airport in New York, after you go through security (since the TSA discourages flyers from packing wrapped gifts). All of the proceeds will benefit the charity Virgin Unite.
At the Toronto-Pearson International Airport, you can arrange for a flyer to be greeted by carolers upon arrival. Through December 24, if you’re flying domestic into Toronto-Pearson, tweet @torontopearson with the person’s name, flight number, and flight date whom you’d like to surprise with some holiday cheer.
If your appetite for innovative cuisine in the multicultural city of Toronto was whet by last week’s A Taste of Toronto Part 1: Haute Hotels, here’s a look at some of the top places to savor the flavors of the region’s most passionate food producers, in settings both rustic and romantic. In case you didn’t read Part 1 and are wondering why I look like a NASCAR mechanic who’s about to rappel down a skyscraper (yes, that’s me and I thought it would get your attention), read on for info on Toronto’s newest attraction, Edgewalk at the CN Tower, and why you should definitely allow it to take you to new heights (fellas: there have been multiple proposals here in its first three months of operation), before you dine at the tower’s 360 Restaurant, located just beneath it (details on both are below). Read more
As I flew to Toronto for the first time last week, I felt a bit like I was cheating on Montreal, a city where I have several good friends and with which I have had an ongoing love affair for the past two decades. Toronto, the largest city in Canada (and fifth largest in North America) with its famously multicultural population of 2.5 million who speak 130 different languages and dialects, was never really on my radar as a place to escape to for a romantic weekend. (To be honest, it sounded a bit too much like New York, which is where I’d be escaping from.) But a recent spate of luxury hotel openings paired with an innovative dining scene finally lured me to see what Toronto has to offer couples seeking a sophisticated urban retreat with excellent food and wine (much of it from the nearby Niagara on the Lakes wine region). And wouldn’t you know it, I was pleasantly – and deliciously– surprised.
It’s November, so temperatures have begun to dip, but if you like brisk weather (which goes really well with some of the heartier local fare – Canadian bacon and horseradish-laced mustard on a Portuguese sourdough roll, for example) there is still time for a quick pre-holiday visit. If not, plan ahead for next spring or summer.
On my last two days in town, I decided to check out one of Toronto’s museums. The Gehry-desigend Art Gallery of Ontario is a stand-out, and there happened to be an exhibit of abstract expressionist paintings from New York’s MOMA. Unlike in New York City, I didn’t have to fight for space to view the special collection of artists such as Pollack, Rothko, and de Koenig.
Later, I met up with my friend for brunch at chic and trendy Sassafraz in Yorkville. The food is outstanding – as is the people- and car-watching. (Canadians love to drive their Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Lotuses around that particular corner!) Yorkville also has many high-end boutiques, and it’s nice to stroll around the neighborhood; larger stores are on nearby Bloor Street.
Speaking of on-site food, I should add that I ate dinner at restaurant E11even in Maple Leaf Square, and it was outstanding. It’s a quiet lounge-like setting in front of the modern bar, and the menu is an eclectic mix of Italian, some Asian, and American. I tried the Dim Sum appetizer and the pasta main course; both were super.
Earlier that day we began our tour by walking east along Front Street through the Old Town neighborhood, stopped in at the St. Lawrence Market (I wish New York had a meat and seafood market like this!), meandered into several furniture and design stores along King Street in what is the design district, and then walked south down Parliament Street to the Distillery.
We started with a tour to the top of the nearby CN Tower. The views, especially of the waterfront, are spectacular. The bistro on top, 360 The Restaurant, slowly rotates to let diners take in the scenery. If you purchase an entrée, admission to the top of the tower is free (about a $25 value).
We continued on to the Rogers Centre, a sports stadium, where the Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Phillies. Feeling spontaneous, my friend and I bought last-minute tickets from a scalper (we paid only a little more than face value) and watched our first Canadian baseball game.
If you visit the stadium, try the famous Canadian hot dogs, which are nothing like their American counterparts. These hot dogs are heartier and tastier, with a wide mix of toppings. The Phillies lost, by the way – though I have to admit I didn’t know Canadians even played baseball! I thought they only cared about hockey.
I’ve been to several parts of Canada, including Montreal, Whistler, and Banff. But for no particular reason, I’ve never found my way to Toronto. I’m glad to say I finally planned a long weekend over our July 4th holiday, and I’m very happy I did.
Toronto is a well-balanced, medium-sized, cosmopolitan city on the shores of Lake Ontario. It’s clean and well-organized, and a long weekend provides just enough time to explore its varied neighborhoods and attractions. Additionally, visitors can’t help but notice the surprising ethnic mix of the city; it is as diverse as many U.S. cities, and this no doubt adds to the city’s energy and entertainment offerings.
Speaking of entertainment, my visit coincided with both Canada Day (when residents celebrate the 1867 union of its three British colonies into one country) and Toronto’s Gay Pride weekend. At customs, the official asked if I was visiting for the festivities. I asked, “What festivities?” Well, I was in for an unexpected treat.
That’s right. Out with abs and in with frosty brews! Up in Canada (naturally), the Queer Beer Festival taps the kegs of Toronto on Thursday, August 4. A first-of-its-kind event in North America ? gay days at Oktoberfest come the closest in Europe ? the fest aims to embrace the queer and trans communities while celebrating Canada’s rich brewing history. Expect live entertainment, food tents, visits from experts of the craft from around the world, and tastes of more than 200 brands. Mezcal might be the drink of the summer, but on our tab, it’s time for some suds.
Low-cost bus service Megabus is expanding yet again with the creation of its 6th hub, in Pittsburgh. Fancy a weekend in Toronto? How about a quick trip to Detroit? Now you can take the bus there from the Steel City. Nine new daily routes from Pittsburgh also include Akron, Ohio; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; and Toledo, Ohio. This comes on top of existing service to Camden, New Jersey; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; New York City; Philadelphia; State College, Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C. The new routes start May 11.
THE VALUE: Compared to the cost and hassles of planes, trains, and automobiles, a $1 Megabus ticket can’t be beat.
THE CATCH: The $1 one-way fares tend to go fast, so be sure to book early. Fares do not include a $0.50 service charge.
THE DETAILS: Go to us.megabus.com to book your Megabus tickets.
WE’RE GOT MORE: Use our Travel Search price comparison tool to find hot hotel deals for your trip.
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The Luxury After a full refurbishment last year, Great Lakes Cruise Company’s all-suite Clelia II returns to Midwest waters this June for a series of seven-night themed voyages (health and wellness, photography). Fifty elegant suites (215 square feet or more) come with marble bathroom vanities and lake views or private balconies. The ship will travel from Toronto to Duluth, Minnesota, passing from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie through the Welland Canal; passengers then take a shore excursion to Niagara Falls. Other highlights include Michigan’s car-free Mackinac Island, with its Victorian dollhouse-style houses, and Ontario’s Manitoulin, the world’s largest freshwater island. Read more
All aboard! If you’re planning on attending the main festivities of the 30th anniversary celebration of Toronto Pride Week (June 25-July 4), why not extend your trip to another Canadian gateway and arrive in memorable style? VIA Rail, Canada’s national railway, official Pride sponsor and long-time supporter of LGBT rights in general in a country on the forefront of them, is offering a “Ride to Pride” package on specifically designated VIA Pride Trains.
Canada may be the place for your family this summer if you all have the fortitude and passion for long train rides. Amtrak continues its longstanding policy of permitting two kids aged 2-15 to travel for half price with each fare-paying grownup, so the 11-hour ride from New York’s Penn Station to Montreal would be $62 per adult, $31 per child, the 13-hour trip from Philly to Montreal would be $84/$42, and Washington, D.C. to Montreal $107/$53.50.
Those cities are also among the ones included in Amtrak vacation packages to Montreal where the adult fares I just quoted would be included in a price that includes two nights at one of nine participating hotels. The per person, double occupancy rate would be $320 for NYC, $325 for Philly and $345 for DC, with additional occupancy fees per child depending, as always, on individual hotel policies.
Hawaii has its lomilomi, Bali its lulur, and India its Ayurvedic repertoire, but Canada’s indigenous spa treatments (cold-stone massage, anyone?) don’t readily come to mind. That’s kind of a shame since the treatments I’ve had across the Great White North tend to swap glamour for substance, in true Canadian fashion. Plus the number of training hours for therapists far exceeds the requirements of most U.S. states, and it shows. (And you can bet the Winter Olympic athletes are availing themselves of remedies for their muscle spasms, wipeouts, and windburn.) Here are three spa services that originate in Canada. They’re on the earthy, not flashy side, but they get a gold in execution.
Maple facials and body scrubs
Ben Kaminsky is Canada’s cosmetic chemist in chief (formerly a pharmaceutical one). The Montrealer’s range of results-oriented skin and body-care products all contain an antioxidant extract called bio-maple, tapped from the sap of Canada’s emblematic tree. The hydrating and exfoliating ingredient is in the B. Kamins maple sugar scrub treatment and Beyond Botox Facial, offered at Willow Stream Spas, and many more throughout Canada (and the U.S.). Read more
Ah, travel. What better way to nourish romance. Getting away with a life-long lover, a new girlfriend, or just a seasonal fling can be a lovely thing.
Travel can also be exhausting, and sometimes a little QT with your travel partner is priority one. The Drake Hotel in Toronto has you covered. This cultural hotbed in the heart of the city touts a popular sushi bar, busy dining room, live indie music venue, neighborhood-friendly corner cafe, year round roof top patio, and more all in the confines of the hotel. So really, you never have to leave the building!
Public entertainment: check. But what about a little alone time?
Strapped for cash this summer but want to get away? Consider visiting our northern neighbors in the sprawling city of Toronto. If you’ve never been, Toronto offers a mix of lively waterfront, impressive architecture, world-class restaurants, inviting parks, and a theater scene that rivals London’s and New York’s. Not to mention that there’s a top-notch lineup of festivals and events, and of course nothing says summer like watching the Blue Jays play ball at Rogers Center. In addition to the slightly favorable exchange rate that will help cut costs a bit, the Best of Toronto Package bundles together attractions, accommodations, and entertainment for a total savings of over 55 percent.
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