Five Things to Do and See in Toronto

When I flew into Toronto in early February the temperature on the ground was minus 22 degrees Celsius but with the wind chill factor, it felt closer to minus 40. Let that sink into every fiber of your being for a minute, will you? Allow the thought to settle and then freeze into place.

This was my first step outdoors on Canadian soil
This was my first step outdoors on Canadian soil

I’m convinced the city realized it was my first time on Canadian soil and decided to throw me – a warm weather island girl – its frostbite version of a welcome party. Hip hip, horaay? No way. But with every vapor-forming breath and crunch on day-old snow step, this chica was ready to make the most of her time in the stark-looking yet blissfully new and unfamiliar terrain.

Tuning into the local news
Tuning into the local news

These are a few suggestions of fun things to see and do in Canada’s most densely populated city.

Visit The Bata Shoe Museum

I love shoes, so needless to say, I was like a kid opening multiple gifts at Christmas as I entered each floor of this more than 13,000-strong collection. Picture me giddy and unsure where to focus first and dying to unwrap each lovely package!

Founder Sonja Bata and her team spent years curating this world-renown exhibition that takes you on an evolutionary journey into the design and production of shoes over many decades. Stiletto

There is an interactive Design-A-Shoe display, 17th century glass shoes from Holland, silk covered shoes from Korea and Barbie bite-sized footwear collection. I also saw Treccani Milanos, 19th Century Turkish bathhouse sandals, gold-leafed slippers of Asante rulers, plastic thong sandals worn by the Dalai Lama, and much more.

Tinier than really should be possible footwear
Tiny Barbie and Ken footwear
These Bata sandals, which show much sign of wear were donated by the 14th Dalai Lama in 2010.
These Bata sandals, which show much sign of wear were donated by the 14th Dalai Lama in 2010.
Hot-blooded movie star Marilyn Munroe wore these red stilettos suring a 1967 trip to Montreal and the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor wore these silver evening sandals at an event in the 1980s.
Hot-blooded movie star Marilyn Munroe wore these red stilettos during a 1967 trip to Montreal and the glamorous Elizabeth Taylor wore these silver evening sandals at an event in the 1980s.

Many of the artifacts are fascinating. If you’re strapped for time, go see Standing Tall: The Curious History of Men in Heels or the Traditional Artic Footwear sections first. They put an entirely different spin on shoes as we know it. The cost for adult entry is CA$14.

Walk through Kensington Market

Located in the heart of downtown Toronto and west of Spadina Street, Kensington Market is a multi-colored and multi-cultural neighborhood that is a mix of residences and shops that sell food, drinks, spices and clothing. Here’s another plus: its brightly painted buildings and graffiti-outfitted walls will form picture-perfect backdrops for your Instagram and Facebook feeds!

An alley in Kensington Market with walls that looked like an outdoor art gallery
An alley in Kensington Market with walls that looked like an outdoor art gallery
spices at kensington market
Nuts and spices of every type and variety

If it’s cold when you’re there and the weather gets too chilly, don’t despair. Super cozy cafes are likely to beckon with steaming cups of hot chocolate and energy-rebooting expressos or soothing lattes. After a warm-up cuppa something, tiny alleyways leading to throwback 19th century cottages that sit on close lots will entice you to explore more. There is no entry fee.

Time travel at Casa Loma

From the minute you step across Casa Loma’s threshold you are ushered into a time of no-expense spared splendor. Buildings of this size and grandeur were unequivocally the domain of the rich and indulgent. Actually, make that the super-rich and unapologetically indulgent – underlined and bolded, full stop.

It is the former home of Sir Henry Pellatt, a little known stock market investor who just happened to build a house the size of a castle then walk away from it when he ran into money problems 10 years later. It has 98 rooms and reportedly took 300 men and three years to build.

The exterior view of the "castle" that took three years to build.
The exterior view of the “castle”.

The ‘castle’ is now a much-visited museum and landmark but on occasion, it also is the place to be for private events. To get invited, chances are you must be loaded. The guard at the gate told me that multi-millionaire  Michael Jordan had rented the entire venue for his birthday party the night before for the cool fee of one million dollars.  C’mon now, why did you raise that eyebrow?  How else would basketball royalty throw a memorable shindig over Canada’s NBA All Star weekend? Of course, his Royal Airness had to have it in a castle!

The details on this bed frame were just mind-boggling.
The details on this bed frame were just mind-boggling.

Regular visitors like you and me can enjoy far-reaching views of the city from the towers, gaze unabashedly at the ornate and intricately built period furnishings or see a small antique car collection. Music lovers will appreciate the magnificence of the piping system for a 3/15 model Wurlitzer Theater organ that was added after the owner died and young kids can enjoy a bite or two in the on-site restaurant.

One of the three classic cars in the carriage house
One of the three classic cars in the carriage house

Everyone who has the luxury of life without knee pain, will be tempted to explore the secret passageways. Phew. Those stairs are not just narrow; they’re STEEP. The stables and carriage house are connected to the main building by an 800-ft. tunnel.  Entry admission is $24 per adult.

Take the required pilgrimage to the CN Tower

Imagine racing to the top of the world (well honestly, a tower) at 15 miles per hour! Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it? Well, the city scenes that rush by serve as the precursor to the full-spectrum of your CN Tour experience –  if you decide to brave joining all the winding queues. There is an Outdoor Sky Terrace where the natural breeze whips through your hair minus staged Beyoncé-style fans; a SkyPod observation platform; an EdgeFloor and an EdgeWalk.

The distinctive CN Tower is sure hard to miss!
The distinctive CN Tower is sure hard to miss!

There’s also my personal favorite, the Glass Floor. Entry to this level is free if you dine at the 360 Restaurant. Made of glass that was built to withstand the weight of 35 moose, you can stand on it and see the street below you, a toe-curling 342m (1,122’) straight down.

You wouldn't believe how many people were scared to step on the glass and look down.
You wouldn’t believe how many people were scared to step on the glass and look down.

Yes, you may get a little queasy or your mind might trick you into thinking  it will crack beneath you. But it won’t. Personally, I think it is a whole lot safer than taking the world’s highest full circle hands-free walk on a 5 ft (1.5 m) wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod. Now, that is outside at 116 storeys above the ground! (Never mind my weary heart, if you opt to try that, trained guides are with you all the way).

Ride a streetcar

Whether you think streetcars are ‘a remarkably efficient way of moving people’ or ‘as obsolete as the horse and buggy’, you cannot visit Toronto and NOT ride on this unique type of transportation. Operated on an intricate layer of overhead cables, the streetcars are an inexpensive way to see the city and the best part is, you can cover what you want to see at your own pace.

Canadian street car cables
Canadian streetcar cables.

There are 11 routes to choose from but the 506 Carlton Street Car is perhaps the most sight-seeing friendly. It travels from the eastern side of High Park and goes through Little Italy, past the University of Toronto, Cabbagetown and into Little India. If you’re on a walking tour, be careful! The streetcars share lanes with regular vehicles so both motorists and pedestrians must remain alert at all times.

Toronto Street Car (Image sourced from internet)
Toronto Street Car (Image sourced from internet)

What are some of the things you did when you visited or hope to do when you go? Soon, I’ll add a post about my three favorite food spots.

Hotel Review: Jewel Dunn’s River Resort & Spa

My aunt had a milestone birthday late last year and my sister, sister-friend and I flew to Jamaica to help her celebrate. The mission was to treat her to a 48-hour getaway on the north coast that involved getting up close and personal with the flora and fauna she loved, seeing historical sites, gazing spellbound at majestic waterfalls and enjoying the adult-only, all-inclusive perks at Jewel Dunn’s River Resort & Spa Ocho Rios. The hotel is part of the Curio Collection by Hilton.

Entrance area to the hotel
Entrance to the hotel

As soon as we entered the airy lobby we were greeted by a bellman with a welcome drink in-hand. That was all it took to affirm that we’d made the right decision in selecting this hotel. It was just what my aunt needed.

Dramatic staircase in the main lobby
Dramatic staircase in the main lobby

The accommodations

The property has 250 guest rooms with a variety of layouts that spread across three buildings. Each room boasts Colonial-style furniture. Picture regal four poster beds made from sturdy mahogany wood and nightstands and lamps  in the same period style.

Spacious oceanfront room outfitted with Colonial style furniture
Spacious oceanfront room outfitted with a four-poster bed and other Colonial style furniture

We stayed in the Diamond Concierge guestrooms that provided balconies with fantastic ocean views, fully-stocked mini-bars including replenishment without incurring extra charges, elegant whirlpool baths, his and her bathrobes and slippers and 24-hour room service.


Swim up pool bar
Swim up pool bar

There are beach cabanas; six restaurants; six bars; two swimming pools, one with a water feature and a place for dive-in movies. And if that alone is not enough, guests also have access to tennis courts; a fitness center; a 9-hole pitch and putt golf course; a hair and nail salon; and a full-service spa on-site. The all-inclusive rate covers all meals, food and beverage and non-motorized watersports such as kayaking and sunfish sailing.

Hot tub area in the spa
Hot tub area in the spa

The Radiant Spa – a quiet oasis from the hustle and bustle of the resort – features a range of massages and a variety of other treatments.


Dining options range from casual to formal. The Aquamarina Beach Grill, open from 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., is flip-flop and swimsuit friendly. It serves light fare like burgers, jerked chicken, fries and made-to-order sandwiches right next to the beach.

Salt mackerel with boiled yam and bananas
My breakfast dish of salt mackerel with boiled yam and bananas

The Coral Café, which requires a resort casual dress-code, welcomes guests for buffet breakfast at 7 a.m. and lunch at noon. Its specialty is international cuisine. The more formal Platinum restaurant, which features the best of Caribbean cuisine, is the place to be for a-la-carte breakfast from 8 a.m. – 11 a.m. or dinner between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

I heard great things about the Japanese restaurant, Jade Samurai, but I didn’t dine there. I didn’t indulge in any pizzas from Court Jester’s either.

The menu at Court Jesters
The menu at Court Jesters

Moonstone, the Italian hotspot, was closed on Friday night to allow guests to dine under the stars. The popular weekly program sets up dinner al aire libre on the pier where you can enjoy a pre-set three course menu while you watch the anchored boats bob idly in the ocean. I was told private beach dinner packages also were available.

Two major hang outs where drinks flowed freely were the Sunken Treasure Swim-up Bar, open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and the Emerald Tree Lounge, which stays open late.


Guests can do as much or as little as they want at the resort. Each morning, consult with your local paper – the Jewel Times – for an outline of the planned activities for the day. It is available in the lobby free of charge. Power walks, golf, tennis drills, beach and pool volleyball, aquasize and reggae dance classes, water balloon and bean toss options are some options. Sing-a-longs at the piano bar and high energy Cabaret showcases featuring prominent Jamaican entertainers, are others.

Popular and central Tree Bar area
Popular and central Tree Bar area

Nearby attractions include Dunn’s River Falls, the Dolphin Experience, Mystic Mountain, Turtle River Falls and Gardens, Seville Great House and Shaw Park Gardens.


I found the value fair considering everything that was included in the rate. You will be fine if you don’t go expecting top-shelf liquor and Michelin-star food.

Planning a trip to Egypt? Here’s my 17-point guide to Cairo, Aswan, Luxor and more

When you hear the word Egypt, the pyramids of Giza are the first thing that come to mind. But there is so much more to the country than those triangular-shaped landmarks. If you’re planning a trip to that corner of the world, use one or more of these 17 activity suggestions to help build your vacation itinerary.

1. Stroll the busy streets of Cairo. There are always tons of things going on. Absorb the sights and sounds and take it all in. 

2. Go shopping at Khan al Kalilli, Egypt’s colorful and most talked about souk (market). There are no price tags anywhere. The key to a great purchase is to pretend you really don’t like what you’re hoping to buy. Waste at least 20 minutes asking about something else, check for different colors and sizes where applicable then nonchalantly zero in on your true subject. The scarves and the papyrus paintings are great finds. Market stall at the Khan al Kalilli, Egypt

3. Watch a dizzying performance of the Sufi Dancers, a traditional folk dance involving multiple spins. The term Sufi is derived from the Arabic word that means ‘to dress in wool’. Sufi Dancers, Egypt

4. Visit the famous pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, the guardian on the tomb. For a little extra you can go inside the Little Pyramid to see the burial chamber of a pharaoh. Warning: The passage is narrow and slopes down for quite a bit so expect it to be hot and a tad claustrophobic. At night, you can watch their Light and Sound Show. The pyramids of Giza, Ehypt

5. Gorge yourself at a roadside eatery. The food is good! I recommend a chicken or beef shawarma, a typical Middle Eastern fast-food snack.

Image source: Travel Channel.com
Image source: Travel Channel.com

6. Devote a couple hours to the Egyptian Antiquities Museum, a place that houses many artifacts and national treasures. The exhibits were numerous, with the ostentatious possessions from Tutankhamen tomb’s taking center stage. the Egyptian Antiquities Museum

7. Get outside of Cairo and visit other regions like the charming seaside town of Aswan. A winter favorite for many tourists, Aswan boasts snore-conducive sailboats and lively floating restaurants that dot the watery channel. The Nubians are darker in hue than their Cairo counterparts so I felt quite at home. I got called “cousin” wherever I went. Aswan, Egypt

8. Sail in a felucca down the River Nile and somewhere along the way, stop at the Nubian Village and take a swim. Sailing on the River Nile, Egypt

8. Hike up a sand dune. Sand dune in Egypt

10. Ride a camel through the desert at sunset. Camel ride in the Egyptian dessert

11. Plan a day trip to see Abu Simbel, the great temples of Ramesses II. There are two sites, one for Ramesses II and a smaller temple built in honor of Nefertari, his wife. What makes this symbol of ancient Egyptian history even more fascinating is the fact that the site had to be dismantled and relocated in the 1960s to protect the temples from rising waters during the construction of the High Aswan Dam. You just gotta see it to believe it! Abu Simbel, the great temples of Ramesses II, Egypt

12. Walk through the Philae Temple, a gift to the Egyptians from the Greek built for the goddess Isis. Philae Temple, Egypt

13. Learn the art of making cane juice in a local market. Making sugar cane juice in Egypt

14. Head to Luxor to see the Karnak Temple, the largest known temple complex ever built by man. It’s made up of three main sections: Mott, Montu and Amun and it is believed to have been built and enlarged over a 1,300 year period.Karnak Temple, Egypt

15. Stop for photo ops at the Colossi of Memnon, two 75 feet/23 meters high statues of Amenhotep III that guarded a mortuary temple in Thebes. The temple is no longer there, but the giant statues give a glimpse into its majestic past. Colossi of Memnon statues in Egypt

16. Purchase tickets to tour the Valley of the Kings. The rulers from the 18th -20th Dynasty built their tombs in Thebes and instead of using the pyramid shape, they cut directly into limestone rock. There are 64 discovered tombs in the valley, but only some stay open for rotational viewing. Tutankhamen’s is perhaps the most famous as it was the only one found with everything intact. I didn’t go in as that was an extra cost and I had seen all the treasures at the Museum of Antiquities anyway. Valley of the Kings in Egypt

17. Try some Turkish coffee and smoke a shisha pipe with flavored tobacco if that’s your sort of thing.

Image Source: theguardian.com
Image Source: theguardian.com

And that’s a wrap!