It is unbelievable how nine days can just fly by. Today my brother, sister-in-law and our two Austrian friends are scheduled to fly back to Graz, Austria, via Vienna. There has been an increasingly palpable sense of sentimentality in the air, in light of the fact that this wonderful time is coming to an end alarmingly quickly.
It's also amazing how many activities one is able to cram into a short amount of time. I wanted to give them a really good taste of everything that I love about the city of Toronto and my new country. So occasionally I put a few too many things on our plates and we ended up racing through a few of the activities. On the whole though, I think our European guests had a fabulous time and they fell in love with Toronto, just like I did, many years ago.
Saturday all six of us went golfing to a little par-3 golf course in the East end of Toronto. None of my Austrian guests had ever golfed before, so a couple of days earlier we started with a few buckets of balls at the driving range, followed up by an indoor putting practice session on the carpet. Saturday we would get to try the real thing. The attempts at the driving range didn't look all that great, with balls spraying all over the place, to the left and to the right. But on Saturday afternoon, another gorgeous day, our four Austrian guests performed quite admirably and only lost 2 balls in the water hazard.
They really enjoyed golf, a sport they had never even dreamed of playing, but the Toronto area with its several hundred golf courses, many of them reasonably priced, made it easy to give this sport a try. All preconceived notions about golf only being a sport for old people went out the window, and they enjoyed the challenge of trying to sink the round little ball in the hole.
Sunday came our second big excursion: a driving tour through the Kawartha Lakes. I had only planned two major driving tours: a wine-tasting tour through the Niagara Peninsula, and a second one to the lake district of the Kawarthas. We started by driving east on Toronto's 401, a 12 to 16 lane highway whose size duly impressed my European visitors. Then we headed north-east through rolling farm country to Peterborough, a rural university town with a population of about 70,000. From there we drove north into the Kawarthas, a gorgeous lake region set in the rocky landscape of the Canadian Shield.
Our first stop was Buckhorn, where we watched the mechanics of lift locks of the Trent-Severn Canal that links Lake Ontario with Georgian Bay. We saw how several boats assembled inside the lock following by an opening of the sluices and the water level equilibrating itself with the level of the lower portion of the river. The Parks Canada lock supervisor explained the whole process to us and it only took about 10 minutes for the boats to reach the lower level.
From Buckhorn we drove through rocky and marshy countryside to the quaint village of Bobcaygeon where we took an extended stroll. We had a nice waterfront lunch, looking across to the marina, seeing the the boats come in an out of the canal. Particularly our Austrian friends Luis and Isabella love boating and seeing the many houseboats on the Trent-Severn Canal gave them a few ideas for future vacations in Canada.
The lunch was delicious and we took a little stroll around this charming town, admiring the waterfront parks and picnic facilities that allow great access to the water. From Bobcaygeon we drove on to another little picturesque country town: Fenelon Falls, whose name comes from a waterfall in the middle of town that has been used for electricity generation since the 1870s.
After a sizeable line-up we picked up a few delicious cones of Kawartha Dairy ice cream and strolled over to the bridge over the falls and then down to the little peninsula that sticks out into the river. From there you can look into a rocky gorge where both sides of the river are surrounded by high rocks.
Again, we watched boats being lifted and lowered, this time in lock 33 of the Trent-Severn Canal System. This is another town with a beautiful little park right by the locks with lots of opportunity for barbeques or simply for a relaxing snooze in the sun . Time was flying by and by this time it was already 3:30 pm so we had to start our return to the city. We only took back roads and my brother lost count of the numerous golf courses that dotted the landscape. It was a nice relaxing drive through rolling countryside and we made it back to Toronto in less than 2 hours. All four of my Austrian guests had fallen in love with the Lake District and the prospect of another vacation in Canada to explore the waters north of Toronto seems ever more likely.
Yesterday was their last full day in Toronto, and we took our bikes out for a spin one more time. Since we all love water we rode down to the Eastern Beaches again, and leisurely explored the waterfront. We watched some lawn bowling, and one of the participants kept coming over to us to explain the rules of the game to us since none of us was familiar with this sport. My guests commented several times on the friendliness of people in the stores, restaurants, in line-ups and even I myself was surprised at the approachability of Torontonians, often known as a more reserved breed of people. But we truly kept having very positive experiences, equally with people employed in the service sector, as well as with regular citizens, taking a stroll, playing a game of lawn bowling or going for a walk with their dog.
Of course we admired the inukshuks by the beach, a public play area for adults with rocks of various shapes and sizes that are used by passers-by to create interesting stone sculptures. We watched a few tense points at the Kew Gardens Tennis Club, and checked out the picturesque Kew Gardens park itself. From there we headed west past the beach volleyball facilities to the little peninsula west of Ashbridges Bay which always offers a fabulous view of Toronto's skyline. We took in the tranquil atmosphere and soaked in the sun for a while before we started our return back along the waterfront. My European visitors commented several times how incredible it is to have all this publicly accessible land right along the waterfront and how in some secluded spots you don't even realize that you are in a major metropolitan area.
To get back up to our house we had to climb back up from the waterfront and this time we chose the Glen Stewart Ravine, where a little brook has carved a valley into the slopes leading down to the waterfront. It is a densely forested area and when you are in there it feels like you are in a remote forest somewhere, not right in the middle of Toronto.
Once back at our house, preparation got started for our final goodbye barbeque and we had invited a few extra friends to join us to give our Austrian guests a proper sendoff back home. We enjoyed some excellent food and they sampled a few more varieties of Canadian wines and beers, all of which they had commented quite favourably on. We didn't sample much restaurant cuisine since my brother is a talented chef, but the fresh ingredients that he purchased in Toronto's various markets made for some truly delicious dinners.
In the evening we took one more spin in the car, first to revisit the Distillery District at night. Luis had wanted to buy some beer glasses at the Mill Street Brewery as a souvenir, but unfortunately the brewery and restaurant were closed. The whole Distillery area was a little quiet, not surprisingly, since it was Labour Day, the last official day of summer, and the final day of respite before school would begin again. We continued our driving tour with a little spin through downtown and up Yonge Street before we turned east on Bloor Street. We crossed the Bloor Street Viaduct and arrived on the Danforth, Toronto's Greek area. As always, Greektown was quite busy and people were milling about. We sat down on the patio of one of our favourite restaurants and enjoyed some Greek snacks before we headed home after another long day, all of us a little sad, commenting how nine days can pass so quickly.
Today we'll have to take their four rented bicycles back and around 2:30 we'll have to start the trek to the airport. It's been a fabulous 9 days, an extended sleepover with four great people and we won't forget this holiday for a long, long time. We are already hoping for another reunion, either in Austria, or back here in Canada, to deepen this fabulous connection.
Susanne Pacher is the publisher of a website called Travel and Transitions(http://www.travelandtransitions.com ). Travel and Transitions deals with unconventional travel and is chock full of advice, tips, real life travel experiences, interviews with travellers and travel experts, insights and reflections, cross-cultural issues, contests and many other features. You will also find stories about life and the transitions that we face as we go through our own personal life-long journeys.
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The interview with photos is published at Travel and Transitions - Interviews