Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Final Day in Toronto

Sunday morning after breakfast, we checked out and left our bags at the Jarvis House and headed over to the nearby  Allan Gardens Conservatory

where we enjoyed looking at a nice exhibit of plants strange and familiar

Then we took a streetcar to Queens Park, where we walked around the outside of the Ontario Legislature

Ontario Provincial Legislature

and the University of Toronto

we headed back to admire more of Toronto’s office building architecture

Old Toronto municipal building reflected in office building next door

and decided that we liked the old Toronto Municipal building much more than its new City Hall
Toronto's old municipal building

Toronto City Hall

We stopped into Toronto’s major downtown shopping mall, Eaton Center, whose roof, at least, is modeled on the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan, but only to use the washroom facilities (they’re not called restrooms)
Eaton Center with flock of geese near south entrance
then headed over to the Kensington Market and Chinatown for some last touring as well as lunch.

Chinatown was full of fruit and vegetable markets along Spadina Avenue; it has been some time since we last saw durian on sale (we managed to pass up the opportunity). In Kensington Market, we liked the small Victorian houses, most of which were residential but some of which contained small shops, and the murals decorating some of the shops

This shop was actually a bit to the east of the Kensington Market area

Apparently, McDonald's is facing serious consumer skepticism in Toronto

There were several small synagogues in the neighborhood, which was once a center for Toronto’s Jewish population.  Next to one of the synagogues was the Ka Chi Korean restaurant, where we had our lunch.  

The atmosphere was rather too sterile for my taste, and I didn’t much care for the "pan fried" dumplings, which seemed to have been deep fried and were way too greasy (we much prefer the Chinese style). But Nancy liked her seafood pancake and the sides that came with my spicy bulgogi, which was also tasty.

After lunch, we hopped on a streetcar back to the Jarvis House, where we collected our bags and headed back to Billy Bishop City Airport. Having learned our lesson from the interminable walk from the airport, we used our day pass one last time and rode the subway and street cars back to the airport. It was a good two days in Toronto.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A full Saturday in Toronto -- touring and cheering DC United on to victory

We woke up on Saturday morning and headed down for breakfast.  We were staying at the Jarvis House.  This was a modest hotel indeed – some spots on the walls unpainted, small cracks in the sink, and despite the assurance on the web site that there was be no noise from busy street, that was assuredly not the case.   But our room was a good size and the bed very comfortable.  Breakfast was prepared by our host (fresh fruit, eggs prepared to taste and two strips of bacon, in addition to provided cold cereal, bread and coffee/tea) , and when I was unable to print out the boarding passes for our flight home because the tray holding the keyboard and mouse for the provided computer got stuck, the host actually took the thumb drive onto which I had downloaded boarding passes the night before, and went back to her own home nearby to print them out.  So I recommend the Jarvis House as an inexpensive place to stay, so long as you can accept the limitations of the place.

The game was scheduled for early afternoon but we began our touring with a trip to the St. Lawrence Market, a daily market held about a mile south or our hotel. we did not have to walk, however, because Toronto’s mass transit company has a special deal on a weekend day-pass — for $10 two adults, or an adult and up to five children, can have as many rides as they want on any of the city’s subways, street cars, or buses. 
Toronto Transit Commission Day Pass

So we walked over to the Yonge Street subway line and bought our pass for the day, then took the subway down to King Street.  We could have ridden a street car along King to the market, we wanted to see the city so we walked. 

So we walked.   As we walked, we marveled at the number of recent office buildings and apartment buildings, apparently condos, not to speak of the amount of new construction.  Indeed, Toronto seemed to be experience heavy yuppification. One sign, in two days of walking, we saw a large number of dog parks but only one children’s playground — with five adults and one child — and only two schools.   A staff member at the Allan Conservatory with whom we chatted when we visited there on Sunday morning confirmed this impression.  For all the yuppiness, the city had a fine diverse feeling to it.  Might be a nice place to live if it weren’t so darn cold so soon!

The St Lawrence Market  itself consisted of two older buildings, across Front Street from each other, each jam packed with small shops featuring various foodstuffs and dry goods; the northern building also had a farmers market feature in Saturdays.  Both buildings were crowded with shoppers getting ready for the Canadian Thanksgiving, which was to be held on Monday (in retrospect, I understood why it had been so hard to find an moderately-priced hotel room even though I had tried to make reservations months in advance).

Inside St.Lawrence Market
Mural on the side wall of St Lawrence Market north  building
Looking west along Front Street past St. Lawrence Market
Vendor inside the southern building of St Lawrence market

We stopped at a small creperie inside the market for a snack before heading off to the game. 

We walked back to King and Jarvis to catch the street car, pausing next to this art installation

then rode the street car west along King Street. Taking advice from one of the passengers, we switched to a southbound streetcar on Bathurst – maybe a mistake, because streetcars ride in the leftmost lane on any street, and we got caught for maybe 20 minutes in a left-turning lane with time ticking away toward starting time.  Eventually the traffic cleared, and we rode the rest of the way to the stadium.   It was a nice stadium typically-sized for an MLS soccer specific stadium, and nicely situated with a view of Lake Ontario. Nice for the view, but not so nice for the chill wind that swept off the lake keeping us chilly throughout the game.

BMO field before the DC United game

Note the small red rectangle atop the roof above the “wall of honor” that’s the perch for a falcon, the tiny speck that can be seen atop the rectangle.  Apparently, seagulls are enough of a problem at the stadium that management has brought in a predator.

BMO field -- looking south toward Lake Ontario

The crowd, sad to say, was a real disappointment.  By the time I got to see a game in Toronto, the team was paying the price for years of total mediocrity.  There were thousands of empty seats, and if there was a supporters group I couldn’t hear them at all, or see them for that matter.   The fans were amazingly quiet throughout, except for a few kids who were energized by the DC United traveling contingent to call out “sucks” when our chants mentioned the name United.  The following morning, at the Allan Conservatory, we ran into a young military couple with their children.  They noticed my DC United scarf and said that they had become fans of United when stationed in DC, and had chosen to come to Toronto instead of Montreal for the weekend so that they could see the game.  Apparently, they had been sitting near some Toronto season ticketholders who were thoroughly disillusioned.

The traveling United supporters contingent was also rather small.  I was told that most of the usual suspects had chosen to go to see the United States play at Antigua the following week (a reasonable choice at this time of year).  With the group so small, I had an extra need to lend my voice, and I was hoarse by the end.  At least, the thuggish Barra Brava fellow who likes to get into it with opposing fans was also missing, although the local fans were so passive that he would have been hard-pressed to find an adult he could properly antagonize.

The game was also disappointing.  United played fairly aimlessly, with neither style nor rhythm.  The DC United supporters began to chant “we want Bosko,” a call for coach Ben Olsen to substitute in Montenegrin star Branko Boskovic.  Boskovich did enter the game in the second half, but United still showed no sign of scoring until just before the end of the game, when Maicon Santos took a speculative shot toward the goal right in front of us. Milos Kocic, a former DC United goalkeeper, botched the play by bobbling the ball; it squirted out at Hamid Salihi, our Bosnian striker, was right there to finish it off.  He came over to celebrate at the corner flag right in front of us.

Salihi and teammates celebrating the goal in front of our small traveling supporters section

Amazing – United had eked out three points on the road.  We had not been playing well, but perhaps we should console ourselves with the thought that a good team is one that finds a way to win even when they aren’t playing particularly well.  Later that day, Montreal managed a tie at Houston and Columbus could only tie at Kansas City, leaving United in excellent shape to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in several years. Indeed, we were left with a reasonable chance of getting a home game in the playoffs!

Afer the game, decided to take the advice of a Toronto resident to whom we had talked on the street car after the game, who suggested that we try the C’est What cafĂ© back near the St.Lawrence market to sample some of its microbrews on draft.  But we decided to walk along the waterfront and then through the city to see more of the architecture.

These views of the skyline were all seen from Roundhouse Park, and inside a furniture showroom that occupies part of thew John Street Roundhouse around which the park is centered

Leon's Furniture inside the original roundhouse

Condos to the south of the roundhouse
Buildings seen north from Roundhouse Park

We proceeded to C’est What,  where we enjoyed some of their own brews – a caraway rye beer and “Steve's Dreaded Chocolate Orange” – as well as lunch dishes.  Nancy had the calamari, which was OK, and I had the "staggering pig," a pulled pork sandwich with a very nice coffee porter sauce.  As a bonus, we caught a live show of traditional jazz by a longtime Toronto group, the “Hot Five Jazzmakers”  – I particularly liked the one-per-set singing of the young bassist Tyler Thomson. If there had been space to get up and dance a bit (and if Nancy had been willing!) I would have been moved to do so.
Hot Five Jazzmakers performing at C'est What

The audience was unlike any other crowd we saw during our time in Toronto -- all older white folks.  Worrisome for traditional jazz if it appeals only to this demographic -- but maybe it was just the time of day and the fact that many of the audience seemed to know the band personally.

We headed back to the hotel to rest, catching a few more interesting building along Front Street and Yonge Street

West along Front Street toward the CN Tower

The Hockey Hall of Fame at Yonge and Front Streets

Office buildings looking north along Yonge Street
Then we took a streetcar west along Carleton and College Streets to Little Italy, when we had a nice dinner at La Forchetta.

The menu was a combination of traditional and nouvelle Italian – we had mostly the nouvelle, including a roasted pumpkin soup, a salad of organic field greens, a haddock fillet (although the potatoes served with it were reminiscent of tater tots)  and an excellent grilled sea bass with chipotle-citrus sauce.  Only the panna cotta for dessert was traditional

Wild Haddock Fillet with Mascarpone Sauce on the side

Grilled Sea Bass with an interesting mashed potato

Flying Up to Toronto to See DC United – Arrival on Friday Evening

I’ve been hearing for years about the excellent atmosphere and intense fan support for Toronto FC at BMO Field, so when Porter Airlines offered an inexpensive non-stop fare into an airport right in downtown Toronto, and Nancy said she’s be willing to come along for a weekend I jumped at the chance.  In the end, the game was an anti-climax, but the weekend was excellent.

Porter flies only propeller planes, and I am not wild about commuter flights in general, but I was psychologically committed to the trip by the time I recognized that we would have to fly on a prop plane. I don;t think I;ve ridden a propeller plane since I flew to Page Arizona forty years ago to go rafting down the Colorado, but in the end, the flights were fine, even if it was it was pretty darn bumpy flying home on Sunday.  The flight was out of Dulles, an inconvenient airport, but it went right into Billy Porter City Airport, which is even closer to downtown Toronto than National Airport is to downtown DC – it takes a ferry ride across a channel barely wider than a soccer pitch is long, and the ferry lands within a couple of blocks of a busy street car line.  An extra bonus was that we flew up on the same flight at Steve Goff, the Washington Post’s soccer writer.  He and I have corresponded by email over the years, and it was a pleasure to be able to chat in person.

As we arrived, we had this nice view of Toronto from the airplane window.

View of Toronto from plane arriving at Billy Bishop City Airport

 Looking at the AAA map, I could have sworn it was a reasonable walk to our hotel, so Nancy and I set off with our bags in hand.   A run of the Google map would have corrected this misapprehension – it was more than a three mile walk. Still, it was lovely as we strolled along the waterfront, and we got nice views of the CN Tower, Rogers Centre and the Toronto skyline.

CN Tower and Rogers Center

By the time we had walked north on Bay Street, then Church Street, and finally Jarvis, it was 8 PM and we were too tired to go across town for the dinner I had reserved.  The hotel host siad that some of her guests would buy food at Loblaws and bring it back to eat in the breakfast room, but we opted instead for we opted for my second restaurant choice, the Matagali, an Indian Thai place only a few blocks from our hotel.  The food there was good, if relatively unremarkable. The most interesting thing we had was listed on the menu as prawns pakora, actually several shrimp, lightly battered, marinated then fried, with a delicious flavor.

Prawns Pakora

On the way over, we had passed a large food store called Loblaw’s, located in an older building that turned out to be the former Maple Leaf Gardens

The former Maple Leaf Gardens, now home to Ryerson University and Loblaw

We were tired, but not too tired to satisfy our curiosity, so we stepped inside to find a huge food emporium that I can best refer to as Whole Food on steroids. in addition to ample aisles of regular groceries, there was a huge section of produce, ready-made foods of many varieties, a large cheese section, bakery, fresh candy aisle, and more.

Inside Loblaw on Carleton Street in Toronto
Inside Loblaw on Carleton Street in Toronto

Sunday, October 7, 2012

From Mount Hood to Jeld-Wen Field

Saturday morning, we woke up at the Reed College Ski Cabin, a 14-bed facility in Government Camp where we spent the night.  Oddly enough, I had never been there as a student – and we ran into a couple of students who seemed embarrassed to admit that, albeit seniors, this was their first time there.   Although the facility is meant primarily for students, as an alum I could reserve a place there up to a week in advance, and I was glad to be able to do so.  Sorry, though, not to have had the time to luxuriate in the sauna or enjoy the nice living spaces more.  Next time....
Living Room in Reed College Ski Cabin
Porch of Reed College Ski Cabin
After breakfast, we did an easy hike up to Mirror Lake, and could not resist the temptation for a quick dip in the quite-cold waters.
Gingerly easing my way into Mirror Lake, with view of Mt. Hood
We did not have the time to hike up Tom Dick and Harry Mountain above Mirror Lake

Then we drove back to Portland, and had lunch at a farmer’s market across from the houseboat at the Bridgeview Moorage on Multnomah Channel, where friend Lorene Scheer lives. We could see Mt. St. Helens looming in the distance across the cornfields.

After a few hours on the houseboat – Lorene was working on her expense reports while I was working on this blog  –

Lorene Scheer's houseboat

Houseboat from the front

we headed into town where we had dinner a block away from Jeld-Wen Field with another TDU activist, Gail Francis, who had just finished hiking the entire Pacific Crest Trail, and with Knute, a Norwegian fellow with whom Gail had hiked for a fair part of the way

Dinner was at an exceptional Thai restaurant in Goose Hollow, the Soi9 Thai Eatery

I had Pla Lui Saun, a crispy boneless trout with a spicy tamarind dressing
Pla Lui Saun
other notable dishes included Gai Yang Krati, a marinated and grilled Cornish game hen, served with som tum (papaya salad) and sticky rice,

Seafood soup (with drunken noodles behind)
Of all  the dishes we shared, only the drunken noodles were only ordinary.  This is an exceptional restaurant where I'll want to eat again on future visits to Portland.

The restaurant was full of Timbers supporters, as indeed were many other eateries around. In fact, I liked the whole vibe of a stadium in the midst of downtown Portland.

Then onto the game. Jeld-Wen is a lovely stadium, but it was not quite full as the game began, although the game had been advertised as sold out

The packed Timbers Army section at the far end was great

but I found the rest of the fans to be rather passive, very unlike my visit to the Sounders the year before, where the entire stadium was passionately behind the team from the very beginning.  Indeed, the Timbers fans near our seats almost seemed surprised to see a supporters section for the visiting fans.

At one point in the game the Timbers Army section all coordinated in a uniform movement – they would link arms together and shimmy slowly together to the right, then slowly together to the left. It was too far too get a good video, although Lorene shot this video of the cheering in our section.

As the game dragged on, I was distressed to see DC creating so few attacking chances, but then there was the dramatic penalty awarded.  I had not seen anything that looked remotely like a penalty, but Chris Pontius stepped up to the spot and converted emphatically. 

After that, Portland stepped up its game, and with barely ten minuted left they scored the tying goal. Green flares erupted from the Timbers Army end,

Flares set off by Timbers Army after Bright Dike scores the tying goal

but the entire stadium came alive, with fans standing, and cheering madly, and rooting their team on for the rest of the game, as they should have been doing from the beginning. 

Timbers fans come alive all around Jeld-Wen field

One of the Barra Brava fellows starting getting into arguments with some of the nearby Timbers fans, as if he wanted to pick fights with them.  It was the same guy who had engaged in similar behavior at with Sounders fans in Seattle, almost making me embarrassed to be in the same away supporters section.  His energy in supporting United is commendable, but he does not represent our team well when he acts this way.

The game ended in a 1-1 tie, which seemed to be to be a fair reflection of the game. Not the three points I had hoped for, but I expected we would be able to collect those in Toronto the following week.

As I flew home the next day, the sky was clear, and we had a great view of Mount Hood and Three Sisters beyond from the right-hand windows

Mt. Hood and Three Sisters seen from Alaska Airlines flight 764

Indeed, the views continued over mountains below for ninety minutes before the sky finally clouded over