Tag Archives: Arts

Toronto—From Good To Great.

Super Toronto's Supermoon. (Photo credit: R. Gottardo)

Super Toronto’s Supermoon. (Photo credit: R. Gottardo)

Travel is discovery and it’s a delight when you stumble upon a new favorite thing. Whether it’s music, dance, food, a cocktail, beach, park, campsite, a person, exceptional experience or an intimate moment. Large or small—it doesn’t have to work for anyone else—it just has to rock your world. I discovered my new favorite thing recently in Toronto. It’s Coco Café—coconut water with a kick of espresso, a hint of sugar, and dash of low-fat milk. I popped into a café for an iced coffee but walked out with an obsession. Crazy for anything coconut, the coffee buzz was a bonus. So there you have it, that’s my new favorite thing.cococafe

But obviously Canada’s largest city has lots more to discover than my new favorite drink. As it’s grown over the years, Toronto’s sprouted neighborhoods with a fantastic mix of ethnic cultures, food, arts and entertainment. Leslieville is a working and middle-class area, celebrated for its artistic vibe, retro shops and good eats. Chinatown and Kensington are the most multi-cultural hoods in Toronto. If you’re not adverse to a group tour, you may want to check out Urban Adventures. They offer small (no more than 12 people) guided tours. You’ll learn some history and get to experience some of what makes these heritage neighborhoods standout. Looking for another angle? The Planet D offers photography tours.

Kensington rickshaw. (Photo credit: ThePlanetD)

Kensington rickshaw. (Photo credit: ThePlanetD)

If you prefer not to run with a pack, the subway and streetcar system make navigating the city a breeze. Toronto’s easy to get around and you’ll be able to cover good ground, on foot as well, depending on the amount of time you have. From eating to exercising, here are some local, popular, and touristy things to see and do around the city.

Arts & Entertainment

Art Gallery of Toronto (AGO) – Culture vultures can get their art fix here at the one of the largest museums in North America. The AGO holds over 80,000 works in its collection and will soon premier the Ai WeiWei According To What? exhibit from August 17-October 27. The excitement this artist generates is drawing locals, and visitors from across the country and the border.

CN Tower – What would a visit to Toronto be without a peek inside of what the American Society of Engineers classified as One Of The Seven Wonders Of The Modern World? With a 360-degree view of city, the Tower also features a restaurant, entertainment, exhibitions and events.

The Toronto Islands – One of the city’s top attractions, these islands are just a 10-minute ferry ride from the city. Beaches, biking, canoeing, kayaking, festivals, picnicking—depending on how you like to hang, there’s something for you on one these islands. If you’ve got kids, there’s an amusement park and a petting zoo, too.

Distillery District, Toronto, Canada

Distillery District, Toronto, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Distillery – formerly a derelict zone of Victorian industrial buildings, in 2003 a group of creative developers transformed the area into an atmosphere that’s now heralded as one of Canada’s premier arts, culture and entertainment destinations. With one-of-a-kind shops, restaurants, galleries, theatres, and cafes, it’s a great place to hang out—day or night.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – this town is overflowing with film festivals but it’s this one, held annually for ten days in September, that set’s the city on fire.  TIFF has established itself as the premier event in the industry and built up Toronto’s city cred. Cannes and Tribeca have nothing on it, and it’s the world’s largest public film festival.  If you have any plans to visit Toronto during September 5-15, act fast—get some tix, see some flicks and don’t forget the camera.
Yummy Stuff

St. Lawrence Market – one of my favorite, previously mentioned, haunts in Toronto, I’m hungry just thinking about it. Bring an empty stomach and leave very happy and probably with lots of good stuff. The quality and variety of fresh food offered at this market from fruits, veggies, fish, meat, spices, herbs—you name it—is nuts, so go there and go crazy.

Good stuff awaits you at the Rooster Coffee Shop.

Good stuff awaits you at the Rooster Coffee Shop.

With no shortage of bars, cafes and restaurants, it’s challenging to list all the faves but here are a few standouts. For quality Italian fare, check out Buca. If you’re in The Danforth, pop into Mezes for authentic Greek cuisine served family style. Need a java jump? The Rooster Coffee House was voted one the best cafes by Toronto Life. With two locations, they make it easy for you to get your fix.

Exercise

Flemingdon Park Golf Club – This 9-hole public course is located in the Don Valley, just minutes from the city center. They rent clubs, carts, bags, and have a practice driving net.

Sunnybrook Stables – Like to ride? I do. These stables are in midtown Toronto but you’ll feel miles away. From beginner to advanced riders, the instructors—and the horses— are excellent.Horse play at Sunnybrook Stables. (Photo credit: Sunnybrook Stables.)

Sundara Yoga – When you stay in a hotel, it’s easy to just plod down to the gym. Break form, be adventurous and check out where the locals do it. Located in historic Cabbagetown, Angela Jervis-Read runs a yoga studio that’ll welcome you with open arms. Her specialty is Yin yoga and her instruction is encouraging without the woo-woo weirdness that can sometimes turn folks off to its benefits.

Sleepytime

There are loads of hotels all over the town. Depending on your budget, and the area you want to stay, here’s where a travel agent can cut your work in half. A few recs off the top of my head are The InterContinental on Bloor Street, which is well located; The Omni King Edward, in the financial district, and The Drake in the Queen Street West area.

Getting There

Depending on where you hail from, Toronto is easily accessed by rail, bus, or car, and of course…air.  If you’re flying, check out Porter Airlines. With this carrier’s excellent service, they’re at the top my list. The biggest plus is that they fly directly into Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport, which will put you right smack in the city so you can hit the ground running.

Toronto is all grown up but its evolution is nowhere near over.  Been there? Share your story…and your new favorite thing.

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What’s On Your Nightstand?


Reading on the Beach

Reading on the Beach (Photo credit: cmcgough)

The more that you read, the more things you will know.
The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!

What was the first book you read as a kid?  I don’t mean the first book your mom or dad read to you but the first book that you read.  You know, the first one that you actually enjoyed because something about it clicked for you.  The one that did it for me was The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.   I think most kids read this book but in case you didn’t, it’s a coming of age story about two teenage rival gangs from opposite sides of the tracks. The book is loaded with emotion and it was easy to identify with the characters. I savored every page and didn’t want it to end.  The bonus was finding out that S.E. Hinton was a woman—actually she was a teenager when she wrote the novel—and the story’s narrator is a boy.  In fact, the majority of characters are boys.  That pretty much blew me away.  It was my first real understanding about a writer’s voice and style.  It also led to a greater understanding that to write, you need to read.

Do you like to read? I hope so because reading is probably one of the most important things that will contribute to being a writer—and a good one.  The two pretty much go hand-in-hand.   I’m not talking about just reading travel writing.  I’m talking fiction, non-fiction, newspapers, and print or digital magazines.  If you drive to work, audiobooks make it easy to plow through books. They also make great cooking and workout companions.

Forest Hills Audio Book Month Display

Forest Hills Audio Book Month Display (Photo credit: mySAPL)

The reason I’m asking is because no matter what it is that you read, you’re learning.  Whether you realize it or not, you’re learning the art of writing in its many forms and styles—good and bad.  Much like some people have an ear for music, reading helps to develop an inner ear for writing.   If you find that you pretty much read the same type of literature, step out of that comfort zone and explore other genres.   See what’s out there.

Many times, what you may be reading at a certain point in time can trigger an idea for a story.  I’m not an architect, financial analyst or a man, but when I’m in a doctor’s office waiting room, I flip through the magazines geared towards those subjects to check out what’s happening.  I usually come away having learned a few new things and, oftentimes, an inspired thought for something I’d like to write.

reading by the fountain

reading by the fountain (Photo credit: jaroslavd)

The beauty of reading is that you can do it anywhere, and e-book readers, audiobooks and laptops make it easier than ever to access information.  These days, there’s almost no excuse not to read.  Much like the handy notebook to jot down your ideas and observations, it’s always good to have a book or other type of reading material with you.  Maybe you already do.  A Kindle is great but, like smartphones, they’ll eventually run out of juice.  Like the notebook and pencil, books are loyal travel companions wherever you may be.  I recently spent two hours in line at immigration at JFK airport.  Every once in a while when I looked up from my book, I heard people moaning and groaning about the wait.   If I hadn’t had my book, I’d have been flipping out right along with them.

Con el Kindle en todas partes

With a Kindle everywhere.  (Photo credit: edans)

Similar to travel writers whose columns you admire,  you may have already adopted a certain style of writing cultivated from your favorite authors.  That’s a good thing, because it may have already contributed to helping you define your writing style.  If you don’t read a lot then you may want to pay a visit to your local library where you can easily borrow all types of materials, including audiobooks. It also happens to be Celebrate National Library Weekanother good reason to visit.  Oddly enough, today marks the launch of the Digital Public Library of America which makes books, images, historical records, and audiovisual materials available to anyone with Internet access.  If you prefer to buy your own, there’s no need to spend tons of money when there’s plenty of used books stores around—you can even get them on Amazon.com. I don’t want to burst your bubble, but it’s kind of a cardinal rule to writing.  If you want to write—and write well—you’ve got to read…a lot.

Stephen Kings says, “The real importance of reading is that it creates an ease and intimacy with the process of writing; one comes to the country of the writer with one’s papers and identification pretty much in order.”   As far as I’m concerned, that pretty much sums it up.

Screen Shot 2013-04-17 at 12.42.30 PMRight now I’ve got the current issue of Outside magazine in my handbag and can’t wait to tear into it.  The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr is on my nightstand.  What are you reading or listening to these days?  I’d really like to know.

Get Comfortable and Take Your Hat Off.

My mom’s always told me the one thing we can always be sure of in this world is that everything changes.  It’s like a mantra I’ve lived with over the years but moms are always right.  Think about how much the travel industry has changed because of online competition and how that’s affected your role.  Being a successful travel agent or counselor will always be about providing exceptional service and unforgettable experiences but it’s also about rolling with the tides.  It’s about embracing change.  Ultimately, it’s about changing up how you view your position and the value your travel experiences bring to the community table.  Where you’ve been, what you’ve seen, people you’ve met, hotels you slept in, and the food you’ve tasted.  This is knowledge that your customers and agency needs.  This is knowledge that needs to be shared.   When you capture this information to the written word it creates the opportunity for you to increase your value beyond transactions.  It’ll take you out of the fixed role of a travel agent and position you as a travel asset.

If you want to write and publish your travels, or have been asked to write about them by your agency, but just haven’t gotten around to it, I feel your pain. It’s not far-fetched that you might have nagging thoughts like, “who do I think I am, I’m not a writer,” or maybe something like, “who would ever read my stuff, I’m no expert.”  It’s scary to put yourself out there and go public.  I still cringe a bit when I’m ready to publish and hit the send button.  You’re not the first person to experience those freaky feelings and you certainly won’t be the last.  It’s natural to have those anxieties—I’d actually think it’d be a bit weird if you didn’t.  On the other hand, you are an expert and you walked into your position with something that most people don’t have when they start a job.  You had a passion—a passion for travel—or you developed one pretty quickly.

Inspired By Voices.

If you want to share your stories, the first step in your journey will be to find your voice.  You might have many travels behind you and ahead of you but without a unique writing voice, you might not get too far.  If you’ve been writing then you may already have discovered it, in which case the next step is to be brave, make the leap and share it.  But, on the other hand, if you haven’t spent any time journaling your travels or just haven’t written on a regular basis, then this will be the first port of call.  This will be the beginning of your inner exploration and one you can practice anywhere.  This isn’t business writing, it’s about writing that sings from your soul.  Are you ready to take off your agent hat?

Every writer has a voice and chances are if there’s a travel column you like to read, it’s probably because you connect to the style of the writer’s voice.  It’s how they share an experience or moment around a particular destination that sparks your curiosity.   It’s what keeps you reading and coming back to learn about the next best place to go.

Do you have any favorite travel magazines?  What about travel websites or blogs, do you follow any?  These are good places to help identify the type of writing you admire and to get a sense of how these writers dive into the details.  Identifying the type of writing you admire will help you find your writing voice.  I’m a loyal follower of National Geographic Traveler.  It features topics important to me—from environmental protection, animal conservation, and sustainable travel to supporting a destination’s local food or art scene.  But it’s the voices of the writers who weave the stories behind these travel columns, and the photography, that keeps my yearly subscription coming.  If you’ve never read it, check it out

College Degree Not Necessary.

Maybe you think being able to write is something you needed to study—in which case, you can put your fears aside.  There are loads of writers and bloggers out there who don’t have a writing background.  All they had was a desire to share an idea and let their voice be heard.  Some are popular and some are unknown but they’re still writing and putting their stuff out there.  Some use a notebook, while others you use a laptop to get their motor running.  You don’t have to go out of your way to buy anything special.  Use whatever you’re comfortable with to get your ideas down.  Every bag I own has a notepad of some kind in it, which makes it easy to jot down an idea or observation.  You might be more comfortable with a phone app, maybe Evernote, if you prefer digital note taking.  There’s no right or wrong way to do this, the only point is to write.  Identifying your writing voice isn’t meant to be a chore.  Play around and have fun with it.

Are there some fundamental rules of the road when it comes to travel writing?  There are and the first and most important one to focus on is “show, don’t tell.”  This is the main directive for creative writing and if you think about it, it makes sense.  So let’s keep it simple and just focus on that one for now.   It’s about details and description—it’s about visuals.  It’s the difference between “the sun set in the ocean” and “a tangerine sun dipped into the indigo sea.”  It’s about staying away from words or phrases that don’t provide a description.  Don’t forget, beauty is the eye of the beholder so instead of saying “the Danube Valley is beautiful,” you’ll want to show the reader how it’s beautiful.  If your first impression of a town is “quaint” then show the reader what makes it so.   Chances are how it’s beautiful or quaint will be different for me then it is for you so just go for it and don’t be afraid to unleash your observational skills.  Break the habit of using overused and common words that really aren’t descriptive and focus on visuals, imagery….details.

What are some of the cities, beaches, towns, meals, or cruises you’ve enjoyed?  Get comfortable with your knowledge and share those observations and experiences. The more you write the easier descriptions will flow.  If you specialize in a destination or a type of travel then you might find it easier to capitalize on the details of that knowledge.  Ultimately, your travel writing will open up greater opportunities to engage your customers and create value for yourself.

So for now, concentrate on getting into a daily groove of writing stuff down.   Eventually it’ll become a habit—and a good one.   There doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason to what you jot down, the point is to just get those recollections and details out of your head and to get you writing.  Take a reading safari and investigate all the great travel writing out there.  Bop around the web and check out some travel blogs or visit your local bookstore to browse or buy some travel mags and see what writers appeal to you.  Focus on how they tell their story.  If you find yourself lost in any of them then it’s because you connect to the writer’s voice and style.

But here’s the bottom line to all this…you don’t have to read anyone’s writing.   All you need to do is write.  You have a voice.  It’s in there.  It just takes one step to make a change and let it out.

I know you can do it.