Monday, May 13, 2024

Slippery Tracks

My Alexa “home assistant” was flashing with a yellow circle this morning which means I either have a delivery from Amazon or there is a weather warning. “Alexa, what are my notification?” Produced a weather advisory of a frost warning for back home in Dartmouth: here in Toronto the forecast was for record high temperatures of over 24ÂșC. Sounded like a good day for an outing to explore another page of my “111 Things not to be missed in Toronto” book. 

This time I elected to go visit the Humber River Arch Bridge in the west end of the city on the Lake Ontario waterfront in the suburb of Etobicoke. Similar to the lovely bridges I visited on the Toronto Portlands, this bridge is an arched design but is a pedestrian and cyclist bridge which spans the mouth of the Humber River where it flows into Lake Ontario. 

Another Labyrinth to walk 

The bridge is about 15 km from the condo, so we knew we would have to take public transit. I looked at options and decided on a route involving a walk, then a subway trip, a streetcar ride and then a walk along the waterfront to the bridge. Unfortunately this was the day that TTC (Toronto Transit Corporation) who I have been bragging about, finally let me down. After walking from the condo up to Subway Line 2 on Bloor St. The crowds of people standing outside the subway station suggested something was not working as smoothly as usual. Apparently one of the subway trains had deposited gallons of hydraulic oil all over the tracks under the trains. Steel wheels, steel tracks, liberal coat of slippery oil . . . . the trains were sliding right through the stations, unable to stop. A whole section of the line was closed for the day while the mess was cleaned up. There were shuttle buses available but the crowds of people waiting to use them discouraged us from this option. 

Does it mean "Go turtle speed" on bridge?

A discussion with a TTC employee told us that a walk of four or five blocks allowed us to rejoin the subway and head west on the section not affected by the oil spill. Fortunately, being retired, we were only going out exploring the city, not going to work and keeping the economy going as were the people waiting for the shuttle buses and we did not mind the walking detour. And the rest of the transit trip worked perfectly. 

We managed to find the bridge and walk over it, take lots of photos, explore a new section of the Toronto waterfront parks, walk another labyrinth, see the Toronto Skyline from a completely different viewpoint, find a pub with a lovely view out over Lake Ontario for drinks and lunch, and I can note another page of the 111 that we have visited.  

This is the bridge . . .

Stop to lookout over Toronto

A different view of Toronto

It really is a nice bridge . . .

And . . . time for a beer and lunch

Thursday, May 9, 2024

A night at the Opera

I never thought I’d be writing about going to the opera, but last night I actually enjoyed an evening at the beautiful Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts to see the opera Don Pasquale. And yes I really did enjoy it; I was going because Regis wanted to see the show, but it was me who actually managed to stay awake through the entire show. 

The venue is home to the National Opera and Ballet Companies and is a purpose built centre to host opera and ballet on three stages and can seat over 2000 people including the orchestra on five tiers of seating. It is a beautiful stylish modern building built to allow this type of performance to show its best. 

Lots of Opera fans

The opera itself, Don Pasquale is a light hearted comedy/love story about an old and cranky hotel owner who objects to his nephew marrying the girl he wishes and how he is tricked into approving of the union. We were able to download the story itself in English, as of course the opera is in Italian, but the Four Seasons provides a running video closed captioning above the stage so those of us not speaking fluent Italian can follow along. This simple addition makes it so much easier to follow the story. 

Now, not really sure if we would enjoy the opera, we purchased “Cheap Seats” way up on the fifth tier in the back, and so most of those 2000 audience members were seated closer to the stage than we were, but the huge venue is designed so everyone can see clearly, but I could easily see how “opera glasses”might be useful, as I was not always sure who was actually singing. 

In the "cheap seats"

We were very fortunate for after the intermission, an usher came up to us and offered us two seats along the side but much closer to the stage where we had a better view of the actor/singers but also a good view of the orchestra. 

BUT, perhaps if something else interesting comes up, Regis might be able to convince me to go to another opera. 

We were sitting WAY up there. This view is from our "better" seats

Happy in our new seats

Chasing Windmills

In the book “Don Quixote” the protagonist attacks a windmill because he thinks it

A beautiful wind farm

is a fearsome monster. There is something pretty impressive about the modern windmills, properly called wind “Turbines” as they generate clean power from the wind, but they are no longer fearsome, just interesting. Regis always finds then fascinating and enjoys seeing them on our travels. She is fascinated by how impressive they look as they slowly spin in the wind. We will sometimes try to count how many wind turbines we see on distant hillsides as we drive by. 

We discovered on one of our walks that Toronto has a wind turbine down along the Lake Ontario waterfront, and Regis wanted to go see it, but we had already walked a long way by that time so decided to save the windmill for another day.

A fancy horse barn

On a warm spring day with sunshine and warm temperatures we decided to go down again and actually find the windmill for Regis. On our continued quest to master the TTC system we took a different route, using two different streetcars, one west and then another south to the Toronto Exhibition Grounds. We then walked through the Exhibition Grounds which contains some very interesting buildings and venues including the BMO field which hosts football and soccer games and is being prepared for games in the 2026 FIFA World Cup. 

We also discovered a little log cabin tucked away behind a fence that a plaque told us it was the oldest original house in Toronto, built in 1794. Although it was not open it was nice to see a historical building like this being preserved.

Scadding Cabin

And finally we did discover Regis’ windmill. We were pleasantly surprised to discover we could get right up to it and could stand right under the gently spinning blades of the wind turbine. Most of the big turbines on the wind farms you see around the country are in remote locations and protected by fences and locked gates, but here we could go right up to it. 

There it is!

Signs around the turbine give lots of information about wind power and turbines in general as well as specific information on this particular machine which we discovered is the first Urban Wind Turbine in North America. This is not surprising since there are many concerns about wind turbines being close to people. Fortunately this one is situated on the parklands of the exhibition grounds so no one lives close by. There will not be the NIMBY calls from people like Anne Murray when she objected to a proposed farm off Nova Scotia which she claimed would spoil her view from her expensive cottage. People will not be complaining that the apparent high pitched whine causes health issues. This turbine stands on its own away from the high density housing of downtown Toronto and I suspect it is mostly an attraction rather than a viable source of power for the city. 

And then the clouds moved in and we turned back into the city to find a place to shelter from the rain and get a bite to eat. 

Up close to a wind Turbine

Friday, April 26, 2024

A Guest of Google

Google's New Building

I use Google for my e-mail, and Google Chrome is my web browser of choice. I have a Google assistant in each room here in the condo in Toronto, so I guess I am a fan of the company’s products. In fact the program I use to publish these posts is another Google product. 

Now it does help that my son’s partner Ben is a Google Cloud engineer and so we do sort have an inside to the Google world and he keeps us up-to-date on the latest products and programs. 

Today, Ben invited us to come visit the new Google headquarters here in Toronto at 65 King St. They have built a beautiful new 10 story office building right downtown Toronto and it really is a spectacular site.

Welcome to Google!

We arrived at the building and waited in the foyer for Ben to come down and usher us through security and print out visitor passes to give us access to the building. We had to provide government issued identification (Our passports), but then we had complete freedom to explore most interesting areas of the building. 

We started at the Hive Cafe where we stopped for a delicious lunch in a beautiful buffet style restaurant. Google employees can get breakfast and lunch here any time of day, and most work floors have at least a coffee station but many floors have “MicroKitchens” where hard working Google employees can get quick snacks to keep them hydrated and energized going through their busy work days. The Cafe was a comfortable spot, and we saw many Google employees choosing to bring their laptops here to work instead of in a regular workspace. 

The Google Fish Tank

As Ben took us through the building, we saw a music room, a games room, a fitness room, a Makerspace room, and a Wellness centre with massage rooms and rooms to just unwind and relax. 

The decoration in the building is exclectrfc and interesting with a different theme on each floor, so there was always something interesting to see on each floor and a fact sheet we were given discusses the indigenous input into the design and use of unique local materials. 

Welcome to the 7th floor

The company encourages their employees to invite guests to come share their beautiful new building and we saw many other guests being shown around the site and enjoying the facilities Google provides. 

Now if we could only teach our Google assistant to actually recognize Regis when she asks it to do something. I get a nice “Good Morning Art” when I walk into the room in the morning but Regis does not get this treatment.

The MicroKitchen

A Paint-by-number wall

The Google Foyer

Cherry Blossoms Again

On a previous visit to Toronto, when we were simply visitors we went to see the Cherry Blossoms in High Park. This year, when we have moved into the actual “resident” category, we decided to go visit the cherry blossoms again. 

With a very mild winter here in Toronto, there was news that the blossoms were arriving early, so our trip to Nova Scotia in April caused worry that we might miss them. We planned to go the day after we got back to the city and a news story appeared abut a “Cherry Blossom” blizzard caused by high wind, which actually made driving difficult in the area. I was worried that blossoms would all be on the ground in snow drift like piles, but all was good and the blossoms were actually as good as the first time we enjoyed them. So, I am not sure where that “blossom blizzard” was?

Without the time crunch of fitting things into a short trip to Toronto, we were able to go down to High Park on a weekday to avoid the usual crowds the Cherry Blossom festival weekends brings. It was nice to be able to walk the roads and trails with only a few people this year, and the cherry trees were mostly free from parties and crowds, so we could take some nice pictures. An added bonus with the smaller crowds was that the water fowl in the lake were not scared off by the crowds and swans, ducks, Canada geese, and herons were still here posing for their photographs. This year we took a slightly different route through the park and discovered the park zoo as well, so got to see llamas, bison, sheep, highland cattle and a few hundred school children. 

Our second Cherry Blossom day was another pleasant outing here in the city of Toronto. If you are ever in Toronto during Cherry blossom season, I highly recommend a trip to High Park to see the blossoms yourself.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Surprise In the walls

Living in a construction site

You have not seen many new posts from me lately and there is a good reason; our son and his partner are doing a renovation of their condo, putting in a new kitchen, modernizing the downstairs powder room and redoing the front hall. With both of them working very hard at keeping the Canadian economy going strong to support us retired seniors, they find it hard to actually get involved in supervising the work going on around them. Fortunately, they have retired parents living close by who can cook them meals (Their kitchen is currently completely torn out) and walk over to supervise the workers who are turning their accommodations into a temporary disaster zone. 

Having done extensive renovations on our house, including a complete Kitchen redesign and renovation, built a new bathroom in the basement, and redesigned the back hallway, I felt qualified to act as “supervisor” and I actually enjoy going over and letting the workers in and checking on the ongoing work. 

Prior to the actual work starting we went over and help them organize things to get the condo ready for the renovation. One of the things I did was clean up and organize a handy storage area they have in an empty space going up the stairs between the dining room and the kitchen. As I was sorting through things there I noticed that although there was a floor to the room, the walls were simply the stud frame of the surrounding rooms and the floor only extended to the studding leaving a little space between each 2 X 4 stud which was not covered. Over the years, things had fallen down these openings and as I cleaned I pulled up a pillow, one mitten and various other things that Ryan and Ben did not recognize. That however was only the start . . . . .

The Kitchen?

Renovating the kitchen  involved moving walls to make room for a bigger fridge, and changing the size of the front hallway coat closet, so a lot of the old walls were being taken apart and the extent of the items that had fallen down from that little storage room became evident. 

In the wall above the fridge and coat closet I discovered a sleeping bag, a pillow, a blanket, a brand new unused air mattress, and a brand new 5 foot long centre section of a bed frame. Had this storage room been used as a bedroom sometime in the past?

In the wall

Above the kitchen door I pulled a little envelope containing a diamond (well this has not been confirmed yet - it might be only glass), and then later a few other similar envelopes containing diamonds were found - was this condo the hub of a smuggling operation at some time?  

Then in the wall behind the kitchen stove, one high heeled shoe, a purse (not even change in there let alone diamonds), a rack from a fridge, a paint brush and various other items fell out as a section of wall came apart. 

Other than the dubious diamonds, nothing of real value was discovered. The wall held no shocking and horrifying discoveries, and everything was just added to the construction debris to be hauled away, but I think I should probably go up and cover all these gaps in the wall or the next owners will be finding more surprises if they renovate. 

Saturday, March 9, 2024

Murdock Mysteries Live

Since the days of ‘Silent Movies’ ended, there is usually a soundtrack behind the video story in movies and TV shows. Sometimes these soundtracks actually become hits in themselves and often have big name music stars singing and performing in the background. But . . . have you ever wondered how these soundtracks are planned and performed?

We got a chance to see exactly how one of these soundtracks was made. We had an opportunity to go to Roy Thompson Hall to preview an episode of the Canadian TV hit show Murdock Mysteries and see how the soundtrack for the show was written and performed by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. 

The Concert Program

The concert was held in the Roy Thompson Hall which is the spectacular home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It is a huge beautiful concert hall designed to provide a comfortable venue to enjoy the music. 

The concert started with music from the show played by the orchestra, and then Robert Carli, the composer, Yannick Bisson (Detective Murdock) and Thomas Craig (Inspector Brackenreid), spent the first hour explaining how the music is written to go with the TV Show. Scenes from an episode of the show were shown without sound and then how particular music was written to enhance the action of the show. You do not really notice the music in the background when you are watching the action on the screen, but when you compare the silent and musical versions the value of the music is obvious. In addition the composer introduced some other music pieces that contained mysterious sections. I did not know that composers sometimes composed pieces which hid their names in the scores. 

Roy Thompson Hall

After an intermission the concert turned to a screening of a new episode of Murdock Mysteries especially written for the concert with a musical theme. As the show was projected onto a huge screen, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra played the soundtrack live behind the screen. I will admit that I have never been a fan of the show, and often when Regis wanted to watch an episode I’d respond with “That’s fine, I will be able to fall asleep for a nap.”, but this time I managed enjoy the entire episode. 

Apparently the episode of Murdock Mysteries, entitled “Rhapsody in Blood” will be shown on Monday Night, March 11th, 2024, so be sure to watch it and listen to the soundtrack behind the mystery. I’ve already seen it, so there will be no “spoilers” from me.

There's Regis waiting for the show to start