Trip Report: Winter in Toronto

This New Year’s/January trip to Toronto has become something of a pilgrimage for me now that I live up north. Toronto is one of my communities, I am lucky to have many, but Toronto is one of my favorites. I love this city, it has everything you could want to do in a city and I have always felt safe there (although the TTC is not safe at the moment), and it just feels right to me.

For me this week was about seeing friends and living my best city girlie life, how I imagine my life would be if I lived in the city. Although I know if I lived in the city I couldn’t afford to do this every week, but I also wouldn’t need to go out to dinner with friends every single night because I would live in the city and wouldn’t need to cram seeing them all into one week.

I took the train, ViaRail, from Ottawa to Toronto, it’s so easy. Union Station is also, in my opinion, the best place to arrive into Toronto. It is right downtown, there are dozens of hotels nearby, the Entertainment District is nearby, and if you arrive on a clear day, you immediately get a view of the CN Tower over Union Station.

I like the TTC, I do absolutely think the TTC is the best way to get around the city, it’s combination of subways, buses, and streetcars can get you everywhere in the city and in the closest suburbs. There have been a lot of incidents with women being attacked on subway platforms lately, but don’t wear headphones, keep your back against the wall, and generally keep your wits about you and it’s fine. I had no issues at all, I never even felt unsafe.

While in the city I took several Pilates and Spin classes at Sweat and Tonic, this was a big part of my ideal city girlie lifestyle. Pilates and spin, and workout class options in general are the biggest things I miss about living in an urban area. I also adore this gym, I don’t know if I could afford it if I lived there. I went to spin classes “The Beat”, a “The Blend, mat Pilates cross yoga class, and a normal mat Pilates class. Of the two Pilates classes my favourite was the Blend. It was taught by this Pilates instructor, Maddy Cassidy, @maddycassidy on Instagram, who also runs an online platform and I think I may do some of her online classes.

It is such a chic gym, it is also suprisingly welcoming. I get nervous going to boutique gyms in case they are fatphobic, but there was not a single bad vibe felt during any of my sessions. It was great. Also the showers and change rooms are amazing and so are the shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and face wash in the shower are so nice. And they have Dyson hair dryers, and I think they may have sold me on them.

This is the lobby and café on the main floor. I spent a whole morning here one day.

On New Year’s Day a friend and I went to the Bata Shoe Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I had seen a lot of videos of their archives on TikTok and had visiting it on my list for years. It was both bigger and smaller than I expected. The first area is kind of a children’s play area, then the first exhibit is basically a history of human development across civilizations through shoes. It was fascinating – and very interesting because just the night before at a New Year’s Eve party I had a conversation with some new acquaintances about how much a role fashion plays in our history and how it is largely ignored. So going to this museum the next day felt like one of those glitches in the universe. The next exhibits were about how Shoes Became an Object of Desire and the future of shoe design and AI and the last was The Great Divide. The Great Divide was particularly fascinating, it was about privilege, race, colonization, and gender politics and demonstrating those through shoes and fashion. I would highly recommend this museum, although it seems like the exhibits may rotate pretty quickly.

This restaurant is one of the best food experiences of my life. It was so unbelievable. This is Mamakas Taverna in Ossington. It’s a Greek restaurant, we got the cheese and potatoes to start and then the risotto, bread and lamb neck. We didn’t get dessert, although my friend got one of each to take home to each of her parents and they looked incredible. I was not capable of eating another bite, I did end my meal with this pear, walnut old fashioned, it was insane.

This just made me laugh.

The next morning I got coffee at this little window spot, The Common, it was such a great way to get a coffee if you lived or worked nearby. There were so many people with dogs walking up to it. It felt wonderful. And there was a park in front, it would be lovely in warm weather. I got a flat white and a chocolate croissant and walked up to Unboxed Market, which I didn’t take any pictures of. But it is a lovely zero-waste grocery store. I needed a restock of my silk floss and bamboo toothbrushes.

I love the housing architecture in Toronto, these skinny Victorians, Toronto is full of them, and I adore them.

I also had to visit the infamous Mandy’s, I had wanted to get to the original spot in Montreal when I was there in September, but I didn’t remember that they were there until too late. So when I saw they were in Toronto I knew I had to go. I really wanted to try their salads before I bought the cookbooks, and I really wanted to buy the cookbooks. I loved it. It is super cute, would be great for a work lunch date with your work bestie or meeting up with friends for a work day lunch. So cool. It got super busy at lunchtime, I got there about 11 and it was empty but it was like vultures circling by the time I left my table.

These buildings were close to the hostel I stayed in, Parkdale Hostellerie, I would not recommend. I have to admit that I really struggle to understand Toronto’s hostel scene. They seem to be the only city where all the stereotypes are true, sketchy, dirty, uncomfortable. Disgusting bathrooms. The hostel that I stayed in in Montreal was amazing, same for the one in Thunder Bay. Nearly every one I stayed in when I was backpacking Europe was wonderful. I think I may have to be a hotel girl in Toronto which is such a bummer. I did love Parkdale and the architecture of it though.

This was also super close to my hostel, in Parkdale, I did really like the neighborhood and location and absolutely would stay in the neighborhood again. This was a specialty ink and paper shop, it was very cool. But definitely for people very intensely into paper crafts, bullet journaling, stamps and the like. But it was super cute, and Asian owned

I obviously had to go to the Cuban restaurant I saw online to try the Cuban food, this is La Cubana and it was amazing, perhaps better than any Cuban food I had in Cuba? One sip of the cafecito however it was like I was transported. It actually made me miss Cuba a little bit, which I don’t often. The bocadito (the little sandwich) was perfection, the pickled red onions and the mayo, ugh, I was in heaven. I will be back here for sure.

This coffee shop kind of became my spot when I was there. I think I went three times in the week, which is absurd because I had so many coffee shops on my list. But I went here early on the 2nd because I got up super early and wasn’t meeting my friends for hours and it was perfect. I think I got a latte and this berry ricotta muffin every time. The vibes were just great and the coffee and muffin were wonderful.

I think this was the only time I saw the CN tower my whole trip, it was so grey and gloomy the whole week. I will say if you are planning a trip to Toronto in the winter be prepared for it to either be mild (as in hovering around freezing) and rainy or super cold. Both are very possible.

I took the Go train out to Guelph to be nostalgic and meet up with a friend. Public transit to and from Guelph has improved so much since I was first a student there. It is now so easy to get to and from Toronto and then from there anywhere. It used to be a Greyhound bus was the only option.

For me a trip to Southern Ontario is not complete without at least a day in Guelph. It is my favourite place in the whole world. I arrive here and my heart skips a beat, I feel 20 pounds lighter, it’s like I’m home, but even better.

My first stop was this new Australian style coffee shop, found. They had this insane pear toast. It was sweet and spicy and OMG I think it was the best thing I ate the whole week.

Then for old time’s sake I stopped in at Balzac’s and got a coffee for walking around with. I stopped at The Bookshelf, one of the most pretentious independent bookstores I’ve ever been to, I love it. Then I walked around to Blooms and Flora, a florists and gift shop and their sister store Sunder General Store, but they were both closed until the 7th.

So I decided to stop in at Baker Street Station and pull “a Granda”, my Granda is infamous in our family for disappearing for hours to have a pint and a read. When we first moved to Canada the nearest pub was at least 10km away in an even smaller village than the one we lived in, and he would disappear for hours on foot. He was walking to the Lapasse restaurant to have a pint, a cup of tea, a glass of water (all at the same time, the original three-drink combo) and read the paper. He did it for days until one afternoon my Dad stopped in to make a reservation for all of us that night for dinner and found him! It was raining, everywhere I wanted to go was closed, and I had a new book in my pocket.

So I sat at the bar, drank two ciders and ate some delicious parmesan French Fries and read for a few hours.

Side note: if you are in Guelph looking for pub food, I think I prefer The Woolly and it’s right around the corner.

Then that night I met up with a friend for dinner at Crafty Ramen. This restaurant haunts my dreams and stalks my cravings. It is the best ramen I have ever had, ever. This is my death row meal. I would move back to Guelph exclusively for Crafty Ramen. In a heartbeat. They do offer meal kits if you live in the region, or even this coffee shop in my home town, Ottawa Valley Coffee, which blew my mind.

I saw this poster on my way home from the train station and it’s so funny now the song is out because I was like “This is a good poster, I hope it’s a good song” and it’s excellent.

And then I flew back up north with Porter, meaning I got this view from Toronto Island as we were taxiing. If you have to fly into the city, I do think that Billy Bishop Airport or Toronto City Airport, rather than Pearson is an amazing option. Again you are right downtown and you don’t have to fuss with getting into the city from the Pearson (although the UP Express train does make that so much easier now).

I had such an amazing time in Toronto, there are so many things not pictured here, but I came back up north with my soul refilled and a renewed drive to get back down south. I think it may be because I moved so much that I don’t really have any friends from elementary school, not that I keep in touch with anyways, that I had never known how fulfilling long-term friends were until now. These were all friends from undergrad and grad school and it filled my heart so much to see them again, some for the first time since the pandemic. It was incredible and wonderful.

I may do a proper “Toronto Travel Guide” post soon, I think I now have enough experience as a tourist there to be able to write one, because you do different things when you live a place than when you travel to a place.


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