Kensington Market is one of Toronto’s true gems. It’s a place that’s hard to describe with words and easier to tell through sentiments as the neighbourhood thrives through feelings.
If Kensington Market had to be a song it would be a mix of Call on Me by Janis Joplin and Kiss Off by The Violent Femmes. If it was a flower it would be that dandelion that has pushed its way up through the sidewalk. If if was an artist it would be Keith Haring and Basquiat.
This community is the living embodiment of an artistic movement.
The area is filled with different statues and murals, flags and cultures. It’s a place that you feel at home with just by walking around. Where you could be dressed anywhere from your pajamas to a suit and you wouldn’t get a crude glance.
This Torontonian community is located beside Chinatown, between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street. It’s a place that has some of the most heart, artistic flare and urban charm in Toronto and it’s an excellent excursion when visiting the city.
When going to Kensington Market there are three places you have to eat at.
First is the Big Fat Burrito. Ask anyone where to eat in Kensington and they will answer with this place. Packed with flavour, these burritos are great for any mood you’re in and will leave you wanting more.
If you like sweets, stop by Pancho’s Bakery for churros. These Spanish pastries are addicting and hit the spot when you have a sweet tooth. The dulce de leche ones are a personal favourite of mine, the confection mouth watering with the sweetness of the churros.
Finally, the best place to eat in Kensington Market is the KOS Restaurant. Great food for a great price topped off with an all day breakfast menu. However, the highlight of this restaurant is the Greek Vegetarian Burger. As a vegetarian, there’s always a few things you miss, a good burger on a patio is one of them. Luckily for us this burger is by far the best one I’ve had. I make my way to Kensington on a regular basis just to get one. Even if you eat meat you can’t miss this dish, it makes you forget that it’s not a real hamburger and fall in love with the veggie burger.
If you are visiting Toronto during the winter make sure to join in the festivities for the Annual Kensington Market Winter Solstice celebration. It’s an event like none other in Toronto, where performers, singers and circus groups put on a night to celebrate the solstice. People walk in a parade after dark with lanterns as faces are covered by brightly painted masks. Afterwards, people make their way down to a bonfire where drums are played and groups perform dances in the crackling light.
The website for the Annual Kensington Market Winter Solstice. http://www.redpepperspectacle.com/2016-winter-solstice-festival.html
Kensington Market is full of creative expression whether it’s through food or art. It’s one of the well know communities in Toronto and it’s definitely a hot spot when visiting the city. Grab your camera, your appetite and your friends, and head down to one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods that make Toronto so special.
Segovia is a city stuck in time.
From the embellished peaks to stone walls, the architecture of this city is a constant reminder of its’ great past.
The beginning of the city is what resonates with the travellers. Once you travel down the hill to the Old Town of Segovia you will see the Roman Aqueduct and the great shadow it casts over the area. These stone arches tower over buildings as people walk under this piece of history.
Segovia’s Aqueducts, also known as the Puente de Diablo meaning the Devil’s Bridge, are one of the best-preserved elevated Roman aqueducts. Years ago, they transported water from the Rio Frio river in the mountains to Segovia, travelling over 16km. This Aqueduct was created without cement or mortar, making this historic feat one of the Roman Empire’s most impressive engineering creations.
When in Segovia you have to visit their magnificent cathedral. It’s a traditional Gothic-style Roman Catholic cathedral with high towers and peaks with a rounded exterior. When you walk into the church you immediately feel that cold damp breeze, a sign of an old well built cathedral.
The ceilings are unbelievably high, the tops shadowed with mystery. Paintings and statues line the different sections, a court yard featuring a fountain and a room with a ceiling of gold. It’s a church that shouldn’t be missed when visiting Spain.
Segovia is an excellent day trip. If you are staying in Madrid take a train to Segovia. It costs anywhere between €8.00-12.00 round trip depending on the day. The city can be seen in a day and it’s a great excursion that’s true to Spanish culture and roots. It isn’t huge but it’s a long walk with different highlights spread out through the town.
Alcázar of Segovia is the pinnacle point in the city. This castle is one of the most distinctive palaces in Spain because of its’ shape and colouring. If you grew up watching Disney then this castle will be extra special for you. It is said that Walt Disney drew inspiration from for the Cinderalla castle from this one. Look at the blue peaks rising above the building and the similarities become clear.
If you are visiting the Alcázar of Segovia then you have to walk the Tower of John II. With a sign that reads “Not for the unhealthy,” it’s obvious that the 152 steps can become a bit hard. I myself was out of breath and happy to flop on the ground once I reached the top but the view makes it worth it. You see over the city, the church and hills, it’s unbelievable and it gives you a snap shot of what a real, historic Spanish town looks like.
Segovia is beautiful. It hasn’t changed much since being built in 1076 B.C. Madrid and Barcelona have the urban hustle but Segovia slows down as this traditional Spanish settlement. It hasn’t been taken over by tour buses, flashy advertising and typical Western stores but it has preserved a part of Spanish heritage and you will be lucky to see it.
Chinatown is one of the more unique neighbourhoods in Toronto. Sure cities such as New York, Boston and San Francisco have similar communities but the feel and the rush of this one is unique to Toronto. Travel to any other area in Toronto and you will not find the same hustle and urgency that Chinatown has.
The beauty of this community lies in its’ immense size. Stretching from around Queen Street East to College Street, Spadina Avenue is consumed by the surge of traffic, fresh markets and vendors that extend from their shops onto the sidewalks.
The best thing to do in Chinatown is to take advantage of their fresh produce. I’ve lived in Toronto all my life and I always make the trek down to Chinatown for certain fruits. A personal excursion of mine is buying some red bean buns, branches of longan fruit and fresh sugar cane juice before walking to the park behind the Art Galley of Ontario to eat and do some writing.
Rich culture with a bright environment.
Toronto’s Chinatown is colourful. It’s bright with reds, greens, and yellows, contrasting against the old brownstone buildings made years ago.
If you are travelling in the summer, make sure to stop by the Toronto Chinatown Festival. Attracting over 100’000 people in two days, the festival features dragon dances, street delicacies from China and a parade. The festival is a celebration of the lunar harvest, originating from the old legend of the immortal archer Hou Yi.
The Legend of Change E and Hou Yi. http://www.moonfestival.org/the-legend-of-chang-e.html
Experience the neighbourhood.
Chinatown is a quick walk so by spending an hour or two in this neighbourhood you will be able to see all of the sights and markets in this area.
For great modern Chinese food stop by the R&D. It’s a restaurant owned by the first MasterChef Canada winner Eric Chong and Michelin star chef Alvin Leung. The restaurant is an urban beauty with great food and great cocktails. Recently I had an interview with Eric Chong, the young chef as modest and humble as the day he won the popular cooking show.
Article on the excellent culinary star R&D. https://rutvnews.com/2016/11/23/eric-chongs-restaurant-rd-is-a-culinary-star-in-torontos-chinatown/
A unique Toronto energy.
Chinatown is a part of Toronto’s mosaic identity, you can’t visit the city without dropping by this urban beauty. With beautiful iron signs that stand tall over the street car lines, graffiti that brightens up the old buildings and stores that you will find nowhere else in Toronto, it’s a special neighbourhood to say the least.
Chinatown has a different energy that anywhere else, it’s a certain chaotic urgency that somehow manages to flow together. Make sure you add this special centrepiece of Toronto’s culture to your list when visiting the great city.
Porto, a historic city that’s a canvas for artistic expression.
This Portuguese city is known for their wine, soccer team FC Porto and the Douro river. With buildings that range from bright tiled walls and iron Juliet balconies to discoloured cement embellished with colourful graffiti, it’s no wonder that Lonely Planet has named Porto one of the Best in Travel 2017.
Porto’s beauty lies in the sheer quantity of artistic and religious expression. Classic stone altars line the sides of buildings, the strength of faith in the community evident to any visitor. However, it’s the graffiti that modernizes this historic town and makes it stand out from the others in Portugal.
When you are from Toronto, graffiti is another language you’ve grown up with understanding. We have Graffiti Alley by Spadina Avenue, colourful murals on almost every block and Queen Street West which has been taken over by spray paint. When travelling to Porto, their graffiti is a small memory of home. They use bright colours and abstract shapes make their designs pop off of the crumbling cement walls. The community still has its originality of a Portuguese town but the streets appear to be art galleries for anyone with a can of paint.
Take the time to walk the edge of the Douro river and cross the bridge to look from the other side. It’s one of the most beautiful shifts in perspective from seeing the patios only to walk and see the mélange of colour, umbrellas and terracotta with tin roofs from the other side.
The beauty of blue.
If there is one thing that you can never forget after visiting Portugal it’s their churches. They are blue. White tiles with blue religious paintings cover the old stone buildings as moss grows on the roofs. You can travel all over the world but the shock of azulejo tile work on a place of worship will always remain one of the beauties of this world. Porto has some of the most beautiful churches, their bells sounding in conjunction on every hour.
With the classic calcada portuguesa and hills that stretch on for blocks, you will definitely need to wear comfortable shoes. The roads and sidewalks are tiled with small stones and even though they are beautiful; heels are impossible unless you plan to break your ankle after a few blocks. Practicality is a traveler’s is key when it comes to be comfortable and seeing as much as you possibly can in this European town.
When in Porto, make sure to take the city tram that tours the area. After you have walked the city it’s nice to see how the neighbourhoods connect with each other and you can see if you have missed anything on your list. For a single trip it only costs € 3.00 and the old wooden street car will bring you all around Porto.
Porto’s tram schedule and map, http://www.stcp.pt/en/tourism/porto-tram-city-tour/.
If you are travelling to Portugal, then Porto has to be in your itinerary. Lisboa may be the capital and Sintra may have royal gardens but Porto is one of Europe’s pinnacle cities. The river view, brightly tiled buildings and cement art galleries are what give this city such a stunning appeal while preserving its historical foundation from 1123. If you have the chance to go to Porto take it, you wont regret giving this beautiful city a chance.
Toronto is a quilt of mismatch fabrics. Walk down the street and you’ll find yourself in a completely different neighbourhood than the last. It’s an assortment of clashing identities but somehow it works, it’s a beautiful mess and it makes Toronto the well known city that it is.
The Beaches community has to be one of my favourite parts of Toronto. I’ve travelled around the world but one thing stays the same, there’s no place like the Beaches. If you drive from downtown it’s only 10 minutes away, you walk the boardwalk and see the city but it’s not saturated with the traffic and oversized billboards. It’s Toronto at its’ best, an artistic community that can only be described as alive and refined.
The community is a Toronto-European hybrid. It has the red streetcars of Toronto while having the patio life of drinking coffees and walking to bakeries in the morning. Every block hosts at least one coffee shop and everyone walks everywhere.
If there’s one thing that Beachers are, it’s proud. They are proud to live where they do and they are grateful for it. They meet up with friends to run their dogs at the beach and have their morning jog along the boardwalk all while working in the downtown of Canada’s largest city.
When travelling to Toronto, take the time to visit the Beaches and walk down one of the most well known communities in Canada. Once you explore the restaurants and boutiques around Queen Street East head straight for the water. The Beaches boardwalk winds along the edge of Lake Ontario for 3.5 km, leading you by the different attractions and the different views of the lake. With sights such as the iconic Leuty Lifeguard Station, Woodbine Beach for volleyball and swimming, and the historic Balmy Beach Club, the boardwalk is well worth the time to explore.
The Beaches is an oasis from the city.
If you are coming in the summer pack your towel and flip flops. The beach is a hotspot for tourists and anyone in Toronto who is looking to escape the heat. Against common misconceptions, the lake is safe to swim in! If you’re weary you can check the City of Toronto’s site that regularly tests the city’s beaches. Toronto is certified by the Blue Flag Program for having internationally recognized water quality standards. Swimming is a great part of the Beaches experience so have lunch on a restaurant patio before heading to the water for a dip.
City of Toronto’s site on water quality testing. http://app.toronto.ca/tpha/beaches.html
The best way for getting to the Beaches is taking good ol’ fashioned Toronto transit. Depending on what time of year you come parking can be an unneeded hassle. Take the 501 Queen streetcar and ride from heart of downtown Toronto to the Beaches or take the subway. Toronto transit is one of the easier subways to master once you have a map so don’t be intimated by the different lines.
The Beaches is one of the main communities in Toronto, its’ been around since the early stages of the city and it will continue to grow in popularity for years to come. With it’s picturesque views and alluring European charm, the Beaches should be on your list of spots to visit in Toronto.