My Great ICEscape Visiting Ontario was made possible by Porter Airlines, Ontario Tourism, Wine Country Ontario, Tourism Toronto, the Four Seasons, Ottawa Tourism and Luxor Limousine. But this sappy story and all my opinions are entirely my own and I was not paid to write this post.
I arrived to Toronto for the first time in jeans and a t-shirt, fresh-faced and impressionable, with a mouth in the shape of an O as I took in what was a sprawling city in the early nineties and is now, a haven of high rises that bely a much greater depth than can be grasped during a mere 12 hours. Which is about how long my first visit lasted.
I arrived with the love of my high school life, my best friend and her boyfriend. We ladies changed into literal ball gowns on the top of a parking garage, half in and half out of a Saturn with the kind of bucket seats that it takes serious effort to get in or out of. The boys slipped easily into what passed for dress clothes for males still in the throes of puberty. My ball gown was red not unlike the lady in the song played at adolescent school dances and my best friend wore cotton candy pink. Our loves were treating us to a showing of The Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theatre. In those days, it was a huge deal as the rumors of it closing circulated widely around North America on a weekly basis. We drove through the very early morning hours in that cramped Saturn to get to Toronto, we returned to the suburbs of Detroit under cover of darkness, technically that same day. Like spies who have a penchant for the performing arts, it was an epic adventure all completed in the space of less than 24 hours. There were giggles, there was drama but there was no difficulty crossing the border between the United States and Canada in those pre-9/11 days.
Fast forward almost two decades. No longer fresh-faced but still in some ways just as impressionable, with a divorce behind me and a life very different from what I envisioned when I was actually delusional enough to think that my first love might be my only love, I arrived again in Toronto for a press trip that would include the great city and visiting greater Ontario.
This time visiting Ontario, I boarded an early Porter Airlines flight from Newark after enjoying their gate-side lounge with fellow travel colleagues, consumed one of the best onboard meals I’ve ever had and landed what felt like minutes later on an island which was followed by a ferry ride to the city — all before I would have even crossed the border between Michigan and Ontario, via car.
I’ve been to Toronto numerous times. Every time since that first it has been for work, but something about this trip was different. I’d never arrived by plane and yet there was some kind of symmetry that I still can’t put my finger on. Between my first trip and this last.
We stayed in the gloriously reopened Four Seasons Toronto and let me tell you, if I need to relaunch myself again at some point in my life, I’m going to the team who made their rebranding possible. Because the new Four Seasons flagship is a force to be reckoned with. Hitting notes of elegance just as sweetly as it does those of modernity and yet also of comfort, it’s a true thing of beauty. I’ve stayed in many great hotels since that painful half sleep in the bucket-seat Saturn but the Four Seasons Toronto will remain a favorite long after I stay at many more.
Looking down at the skyscrapers of Toronto from my suite, watching urban life unfold before me, I couldn’t help but wonder what the fresh-faced girl would think. I was trying to recall her wide-eyed wonderment and then I caught a glimpse of my reflected self. A mouth, in the shape of an O.
The next few days included all of my favorite things: beautiful places to photograph, incredible food to eat, engaging people to laugh and joke around with, and all the slight nuances of Canadian culture that I took for granted when I didn’t even need a passport to experience them as a teenager.
~*~ In Toronto ~*~
Ate at Cafe Boloud (Twice!)
Wandered the Distillery District with Segway of Ontario
Sampled the Brews at Mill Street Brewery & Enjoyed a Leisurely Lunch at Pure Spirits
~*~ In Ontario ~*~
We Visited Niagara Falls
Mixed with Locals at the Icewine Festival
Had the Icewine Experience at Reif Estate
Toured Stratus Vineyards and sampled their Icewine with Blue Cheese and Dark Chocolate
Paired Icewine with Cassoulet at Trius Winery & Learned How to Saber a Bottle
Learned about Ottawa during dinner at The Good Earth
I landed back at Newark in a slight (no doubt icewine & rich food-induced) daze, walked out of the terminal and climbed up into a gloriously relaxing Lincoln sedan with plush leather seats; Luxor Limousines delivered me from door to door in a ride that was the ultimate in luxury for me as far as airport transportation goes. As we were nearing my Astoria apartment that I share with a man I love far more deeply than I could have ever loved that high school boyfriend, I thought for a moment how life can change so much but still stay the same. I’ve been around the world and yet Canada is just as fun for me as it was almost two decades ago. In a different way to be sure, but a way not to be underestimated. I hope it won’t be the last time I cross that northern border, by car or by plane, now with passport in hand.