BEER HOPPING IN TORONTO: Finding the best of the Canadian beers

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Our trip to Canada included a lot of time for trying local beers. There are lots of options that I never heard about, so it was really good to be adventurous and choose a pint by its name (my first choice was Moosehead – is there anything more Canadian?)

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A great place to taste the local brew is the Old Distillery District – there are lots of nice bars around, and it’s a nice pedestrianised area to just walk around and chill. In Kensington we stopped for a beer at The Embassy, a great bar with a very impressive selection of local and international beers.

Helpfully, they always indicate in the menu whether a beer is local or imported, which is great if you’re looking to try the local fare.

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But the beer highlight of our trip was the Steamwhistle brewery tour. You get to see how they make their beers, taste some hops (not great) and you also get a very generous amount of free samples. The brewery is conveniently located by the CN Tower so it’s quite easy to get there.

You pay $10 for the tour plus a souvenir glass, $15 for the tour and a six pack (we chose that) or $26 for the tour plus a twelve pack. Great value for money! Our tour guide was really enthusiastic and really loved her job – it was really fun!

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ON TRAVEL: I’m going away to Pasargadae

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I never read Road Dahl in school. Every so often someone tells me ‘you don’t know what you’re missing out’. But then again I didn’t grow up in an English-speaking country.

Well, I grew up with Monteiro Lobato and many other great writers that many people have never even heard of. So who is missing out after all?

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The first time I moved to a new city was when I went to uni. It was unusual where I grew up to move to another city because we had a very good university there. But by then I was already way over it, so when the opportunity came, I hopped on a plane (or an overnight coach) and never looked back.

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There is a poem by Brazilian modernist Manuel Bandeira, loosely translated as ‘I will go away to Pasargadae’, about the need to escape to a new and exciting place, the place where you belong, a place which is not only better than here, but a place where you are a better person too. There aren’t many good English translations, but it starts:

I will go away to Pasargadae
There I am a friend of the king
There I will have the woman I want
In the bed I will choose

Full version in Portuguese here.

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This poem has followed me ever since I left my hometown for uni (12 years ago – ouch!).

It’s about finding yourself in a new place, where you live your life in your own terms. Sounds good to me!

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In the poem, Pasargadae is a representation of an idyllic place. In real life, it’s an ancient Greek city in Iran.

What’s the place where you’re at your best?

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(all photos from my trip to Lisbon, shot with this great Lomo redscale film).

ONE WEEK IN TORONTO: A relaxing break with stunning views

When your friend tells you she is wearing a very simple saree to her henna party, you really shouldn’t believe her.

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My good friend Smriti was getting married in Toronto, so off we went for another trip. I didn’t do much research in advance, so I didn’t really know what to expect. What I learned is that local knowledge is key: you may well miss lots of cool places if you’re not looking for them, so ask around to make the most of your visit.

Downtown, Old Town and Distillery District

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We started off our first day in Toronto by getting the subway to Dundas. There you will find the Eaton Center, a shopping centre which looks like they all do. But we managed to find a vegan fast food place there, called Urban Herbivore, which offered lots of great salads and hot dishes.

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We then walked down Yonge St, which is one of the main thoroughfares in Toronto, then reaching the Financial District. I was starting to think Toronto didn’t have much to offer, but I was wrong! They key there is knowing where to go.

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We reached the Old Town to find nice cafes and bars, as well as the amazing St Lawrence Market. This indoor food market is really great: lots of fresh produce and also free samples!

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We continued onto the Distillery District, a quirky, pedestrianised area which is a great area for bars and beer tasting. By the end of our first day in the city we had covered lots of ground and also discovered some cool places.

Chinatown and Kensington

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Knowing that the key to enjoying Toronto lies in finding the right neighbourhoods to visit, we headed to Chinatown on our second day in the city. We didn’t eat there, but I heard the dumplings are really good.

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After walking around for a while, we walked up Spadina Avenue to reach Kensington (the Hoxton of Toronto). This is a nice area full of cool bars, shops and cafes. We ended this sunny day at the terrace of the hilariously-named Bovine Sex Club, a great place for drinks.

CN Tower

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The CN tower is Toronto’s most famous highlight, and visiting when it was sunny definitely made it better. You get great views across the city and over lake Ontario, with areas full of skyscrapers contrasting with the little houses outside downtown.

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It really is amazingly high, and you get a chance to look right down through a glass floor – an experience which makes everyone quite uneasy. Tickets are a bit expensive at $49 (including the Skypod, the highest level you can visit), but it’s a good thing to do if you’re in Toronto.

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The Islands

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Many people recommended that we visited the Islands, so on our last day in the city we hopped on a ferry and off we went (return tickets cost $7.50).

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This is a great place to visit on a sunny day: only 20 minutes off the city centre there are beaches and parks in a relaxed setting.

We stopped for a beer in a beach hut that looked straight off 90s films, Spin Doctors soundtrack and slush puppies included. The waitress helpfully overheard our conversation and suggested other good spots for drinks.

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This is also where you get one of the best views of the Toronto skyline, with the CN Tower high above everything else.

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The rest of our time we spent attending the many beautiful wedding celebrations, a wonderful Nepalese-Canadian-French affair.

HOW TO DO IT:

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  • Go: We booked Air Transat flights which were relatively cheap at £500. The flight takes about 7h and flying during the day is definitely the way to do it (our return flight was overnight and we really didn’t sleep much).
  • Stay: We stayed at this nice Airbnb place which was located in a quiet neighbourhood and felt like a real home. Toronto is really big, so stay around downtown or anywhere close to the Subway.
  • Transportation: Public transportation is pretty good in downtown Toronto, but further afield it’s likely that you will need to rely on (very expensive) taxis. Traffic can be a real nightmare, so ask locals how long it takes to get to your destination.
  • Money: Canada is not very cheap. Although prices look okay at first sight, like in America taxes are added to any bill and tips are expected and high.

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SUMMER HOLIDAYS: Things to do when you don’t have a long summer break

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When I was a kid, summer holidays were the best. Two months without school (although I am a massive nerd), and we always headed to the beach for at least two weeks.

How I wish I had two months with nothing to do every year!

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But at least there are a few things you can do around an office job to get that summer holiday feeling:

  1. Spend a whole day in your pyjamas and don’t leave the house. Add a rerun of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and a big bowl of popcorn for the perfect lowbrow day.
  2. Take a relaxing bath. I’m addicted to Lush bath bombs, they all smell so amazing! Or splash out on a session at the Lush spa – now this is proper pampering!
  3. Have a picnic in a local park. I’m very lucky to live right across from a massive green area, where I can take a nice basket of food, play my frisbee and have a cold beer.
  4. Get those boardgames out of the closet. You don’t really need anything more than Monopoly and Jenga for a whole night of entertainment.

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COMING BACK FOR MORE: Places I visit again and again

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My current travel objective is to visit all European countries. And although I’m only (or already, depending on how you look at it) halfway there, I also keep coming back to my favourite places – it’s hard to find a balance! These are some of the places I want to visit again and again:

1. Berlin

I’ve been to Berlin three times already, but I think I haven’t even scratched the surface yet! Berlin strikes the perfect balance between having lots for tourists to do while still being cool and modern.

I’m looking forward to my next trip in August!

2. Paris

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Paris was the first place I’ve ever visited in Europe, and I’ve been there eight or nine times, spending whole months there. I still visit almost every year: it’s very close to London and wandering around is always great.

It’s just so scenic… you can’t really go wrong in Paris.

3. Rome

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I went to Rome for the first time in 2003, and only returned (twice) this year. Rome is, in many ways, the birthplace of western civilisation, and just by walking around you grasp the importance of the place – the architecture is absolutely awe-inspiring, and history is everywhere.

Plus the food is probably the best in the world. I’m not a foodie in any way, but as soon as I get to Italy all I can think about is food!

4. Marrakech

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My dad is always asking if I work for the Moroccan tourist board (I don’t, but I’d definitely take that job!) because Marrakech is the first place I suggest whenever people ask me where to go on holiday.

Somehow it really feels like home to me, which is weird given that it’s completely different from anywhere I’ve ever been. I love the food, the people, the architecture, and, most of all, the bustling atmosphere. I don’t know when I’ll be going back, but it’s just a matter of time!

Where do you want to go back to?

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