The closest I’m getting to Vietnam right now is Nightingale 9, a great restaurant in Cobble hill, Brooklyn, but for any foodies out there, here’s an incentive to get a closer seat at the table.
It felt like a scene out of a Wes Andersen movie when all of a sudden a slight man in a conductor’s uniform came zipping around the bend on an Ecoped, making a quick stop on the gravel road. In his blue uniform, matching hat, pocket watch and welcome smile he seemed too good to be true. Owner of the Train Station Inn, Jimmie LeFresne is the real deal.
A childhood spent playing in this Tatamagouche railroad station, one of the oldest in Canada, LeFresne turned his passion for trains into a hospitality reality. Back then the trains moved goods and services across the country; its stockyard was filled with pigs and cows. Times changed and it fell to ruin. To prevent its demolition, in 1974 LeFresne had the foresight, at 18, to purchase the station. In 1989 he opened the Train Station Inn, creating a love letter to a bygone era.
Uniquely appointed railway cars serve as accommodations: 2 boxcars, the rest 6 cabooses. The stationmaster’s house operates as a separate suite.
It’s not every night you get to sleep in a caboose; mine was bright orange with a small wooden patio added to one end. Investigating the authenticity of the existing apparatus within the car had me feeling like a kid.
Staying in boutique and luxury hotels is a treat but the Train Station Inn is an entirely different experience, more like a bucket list experience. Its uniqueness would appeal to friends looking for a special getaway, multi-generational family travelers, honeymooners, or couples in search of a memorable wedding destination.
Lunch and dinner is served in the dining car, where some of the good food you’ll eat comes right out of the Inn’s garden and from local farms and fishmongers. Ambassadors for keeping things local, they serve up organic and fair trade coffee and the next morning at the Jitney Café, a brick house that was once the men’s waiting room back in the day, a cup of it and a yummy breakfast of Orange Acadian Toast with maple syrup had my name on it.
Situated along the Tatamagouche River, the Inn is walking distance to this community-driven town’s attractions. Travelers visit to experience its hospitality, museums, galleries, spiritual center, and an annual event like Oktoberfest. Located about 20 minutes from town, I popped into Jost Vineyards for one more taste of their fine Tidal Bay. It’s just one of the provinces many wineries.
Later, I stopped in Pugwash where I had a date for a game of disc golf. In the nearby town of Wallace, the Chip Ship drew me in like bait and I pulled over to sample another tasty basket of fish and chips. Afterward, I slowly made my way back towards Halifax.
When I asked EatLikeALocal guide Monica MacNeil what the most significant thing is about Nova Scotia, she spoke for herself and on behalf of Nova Scotia’s tourism organization. “It’s the people,” she said. “It’s the history of the early Europeans and first peoples that we can trace our roots and origins through to today. That’s what continues to shape our hospitality, spirit and friendships.”
She also mentioned never being further than 40 minutes from the ocean, no matter where you are in Nova Scotia.
I do believe that has something to do with it.
For more information on planning your own Nova Scotia road trip to one of the province’s many shorelines, click here.
This six-part Nova Scotia road trip series was originally featured in Mrs Robinson.
While a good problem to have, deciding on a travel destination can sometimes be tricky. As someone who’s been lucky enough to have visited many incredible places, gearing up for a trip that’ll take me to the other side of the planet often involves a lot of pre-planning, whether that involves the friends who’ll go with me or the budget needed to finance it. As a New Yorker, I often gravitate to flights headed east or south of my country’s border.
People often travel far from home to experience bucket list destinations. The further away, the more the idea of a place seems to excite them. I’m guilty of it myself, yet in doing that we might overlook some incredible opportunities within our own country or continent. A recent road trip to Nova Scotia was a surprising and refreshing reminder that amazing experiences can be had closer to home. I’ve traveled to Canada multiple times, skied Quebec’s Mont Sainte-Anne, shopped the streets of Montreal, lived in Toronto for a brief period, and marveled at Vancouver’s beauty. But after a week exploring the Nova Scotia region that offers the warmest ocean beaches in Atlantic Canada, like a fish—I’m hooked.
The road trip would take me along the Northumberland Shore, known for its natural beauty, warm waters and fresh seafood. At a cocktail reception my first night in Halifax, I feasted on lobster roll sliders and a seafood chowder made with coconut milk, lemongrass, and a hint of heat, that was so ridiculously delicious had I not been in public, I would have licked the bowl. Heaven appeared in the form of a very generous slice of blueberry pie, courtesy of Between the Bushes in the Annapolis Valley.
Nova Scotia is known for the wild blueberries that grow in its fertile ground and it produces over forty million pounds a year. Nothing says summer like blueberry pie and after what seemed like a never-ending winter, the unmistakable and indelible flavor of that inky fruit was like a trumpet call to the taste buds.
Its health benefits are another plus. Van Dyk’s 100% Wild Blueberry Juice, would be the first Canadian item that would make its way into my luggage. When I learned about the Wild Blueberry Harvest Festival in August, my summer holiday plans began recalibrating. If you go wild for summer fruit, it’s just one of many reasons to pick this province.
Food often plays a large part in most travel experiences. I wasn’t sure what to expect in Nova Scotia and one of the first things to impress me was the cuisine. While it’s not part of my food regime, I was surprised to find gluten-free or vegan offerings no matter where I went. Traveling through the natural beauty of farmland and coastline, my road trip would take me through small towns. With its strong Scottish heritage, hospitality is a hallmark of Nova Scotia and from the time I arrived, it showed in every welcome I received and in every bit of food served, from food trucks to fine dining. If what I’d inhaled in Halifax was a hint of what lay in store for me, than I was heading for foodie paradise.
The flip side, thankfully, is that the province is also hailed for its access to top-notch outdoors adventure. From biking trails, kayaking, golfing, sailing, surfing, tidal bore rafting—you name it, when it comes to exercise in Nova Scotia the world is your oyster. Whether or not I made the choice to work it all off was up to me!
Join me over the next few days as I head north out of Halifax towards those warm waters…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Visiting friends or family who live in different states or countries offers up a different perspective to experience the local scene of a place. It’s a double-trip because we can check out highlights we might be curious about and capitalize on insider info. We often take these visits for granted, they’re sometimes done out of obligation, but they can be loaded with gems. Travel agents who spend time with far-flung friends or relatives can use the opportunity to hone their writing. Interviewing their hosts, and any friends or neighbors, can expose you to a bird’s-eye view on a simple slice of life. I lived in Toronto over 20 years ago, and back then the town would roll up early. Sundays were like being in lock-down, and you couldn’t buy a thing—or a drink. After several years, I paid a visit and surrendered my control freak nature to my sister Sandy and my brother-in-law Greg, and enjoyed a different experience of the city. Today, Toronto pretty much operates 24/7 and the amount of construction with all the high-rise development around the waterfront area answers the question of why there’s a crane shortage. It’s crazy.
Toronto was in the grip of a heat wave, so my hosts recommended we check out Sugar Beach. This former parking lot on Queen’s Quay is now a two-acre urban beach for city dwellers. Bright bubble-gum pink umbrellas, white Adirondack style beach chairs, candy-stripe rock outcroppings, a mini boardwalk, and artificial sand offer a welcome respite for locals and tourists and a tree-lined promenade runs through the park. Our visit coincided with the Redpath Waterfront Festival, a four-day experience of nautical history, digital storytelling, extreme watersports, concerts and the Tall Ships’ 1812. Food trucks and barbecue stands catered to the crowds and reps from Tourism Prince Edward Isle offered up a cup of their famous mussels and fries if you entered their five-day getaway drawing. I submitted an entry form and quickly went from feeling like a local to a tourist but it was all good. Under a beach umbrella, we enjoyed the scene and listened to the band. Later, we cranked up the air-conditioner and they turned me on to a sugar kiss. A fruit that’s a cross between a cantaloupe and honeydew melon, and its sugary sweetness was pure, thirst-quenching delight. That evening we grilled black cod and sweet corn they’d picked up earlier from the famous St. Lawrence Market, where you could easily plan a day trip and experience a major food orgy.
My family lives in Cabbagetown and it’s a gem of a neighborhood. It’s the largest area of preserved Victorian houses not just in Toronto, but in North America, and strolling though it is like being in a fairyland. The Irish settled this area in the 1800s and grew loads of cabbage, hence the name. Today, it’s the picturesque architecture of the brick homes with front yards of pale peach to scarlet red rambling roses, exploding hydrangea bushes, lavender, azaleas and rhododendron that creates what feels like an exclusive haven. “I’ve never sat out here,” my sis said as we settled on her front steps, breathing in the garden’s scent and sharing intimacies on life, love and the pursuit of happiness. We typically hang out in their backyard but I guess it took this Brooklyn girl to remind her of the pleasure you get sitting on your stoop. Later, we went into the night to find the Supermoon that had graced the planet but we must have looked like zombies as we staggered through the quiet streets with our heads craned trying to glimpse it through the lush trees arches.
The next evening, we enjoyed an after dinner stroll and stopped to chat with neighbors who were enjoying their own stoop. We exchanged introductions and got talking about the city and the area. Tony grew up in Pakistan during British rule and immigrated to Toronto when he was younger. “Because of my ethnic background, things were very challenging back then,” he said. But times have changed and he and his wife Holly, from Montreal, love their life in Cabbagetown. My sister mentioned that she moved to Toronto 38 years ago from New York. “Back then it felt like a small town, and it was conservative and a bit uptight. It was mostly Scottish, English, and Irish, now there’s an amazing ethnic mix,” she said. Toronto has most definitely grown into a cosmopolitan city. The Danforth is the Greek area, there’s also a Little Italy, a Little India, Little Portugal, and Chinatown. Not to mention a dynamic food scene, shopping, music, arts and all the other ingredients that contributes to a city’s cultural vibrancy. “It’s a great city, it somewhat reminds me of New York now. And then there’s lovely Cabbagetown, which is kind of like, you know…I know the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker,” she said. Greg’s American too, and originally came to Toronto on a research project. “I was disappointed Canada didn’t feel like a foreign country” he said. But two years later he set roots down and established himself as a professor of economics at the University of Toronto. These folks are all retired now.
We moved on and meandered through the neighborhood’s secret lanes, strolled through small Riverdale Park where locals walked their dogs, or just enjoyed the twilight hour on a bench. Across the park is Necropolis Cemetery, a lush and historic resting place. In front of a grand home we glimpsed feet on the top rung of a ladder that disappeared into a glorious tree whose branches spread across all directions of the garden and street. Looking up, we noticed it was a cherry tree rich with bright red drops of fruit. I asked the guy trimming it if they were edible. Then I heard a snap and he handed us a two-foot long stem, loaded with cherries. We enjoyed the sweet and juicy offering all the way home.
With the heavy heat came heavy thunderstorms. My flight was canceled and I had to spend another day with family, but it was all good.
Stay tuned for more on things to see and do in Toronto.