To Toronto pronto!

by Dinah S. Ventura
(Manila, Philippines)

After the holiday season rush, many of us are already thinking of the summer months ahead. One destination worth exploring is Ontario’s provincial capital, Toronto, which is described by some of its long-time denizens as “laid-back New York.”

Toronto in spring may still be “cold” for tropical dwellers, but could be considered “warmer” than wintery December, which was when we recently ventured into the Canadian east coast.
The weather definitely called for layering, and out came our coats, scarves, gloves, hats and boots. While dressing so differently from our usual gear in Manila was an adventure in itself, packing these in (hopefully one suitcase) for a week’s stay was more of a challenge.

The secret to weathering winter travel is to bring comfortable footwear for all the walking one will no doubt do and, in the case of Toronto’s erratic temperatures, layering. In other words, thermals are advisable, warm but lightweight clothes, a sweater if it is particularly cold and a coat or jacket that can double as rain gear. Make sure you have gloves or mittens, a scarf and a cap or hat for the outdoors. Winter in Toronto brings some rain, some snow and some wind, which could render your usual moisturizer useless. Needless to say, it is also best to be armed with lip balm and a thick lotion or moisturizer for those freezing days.

It is easy enough to research the weather forecast for the dates you are planning to visit, then pack accordingly. In early December, when we were there, temperatures ranged from a low of -5 degrees Celsius to 10 degrees Celsius. We saw the first signs of winter with a light snowfall on our last day, and also experienced some showers while out in the wineries. The winter months last till February.

City in a jiffy
Spring and summer would be the best time to explore this city of diverse offerings. Described as “Canada’s largest city and financial center,” Toronto offers a slew of attractions — from the “modern to the historical and the cultural to the commercial,” about.com says — that could pack a traveler’s itinerary for weeks. It is easy enough to navigate, with distinctive clusters and modes of transportation like the subway, buses and the streetcar.

Among the must-see tourist attractions in the city is the Canadian National Tower (CN Tower). This famous landmark is a communications and observation tower in downtown Toronto, which was built in 1976. It is currently the “fifth tallest free-standing structure on land and in the world and the third tallest free-standing tower,” information materials reveal. At 1,815 feet (553 meters), the tower is visible almost anywhere from the city on a clear day. One can imagine the breathtaking views from there, especially for those dining in one of the CN Tower’s three restaurants, the revolving 360 Restaurant, an award-winning dining destination. Other must-see stops while in the Tower is the World’s Highest Wine Cellar, the Glass FLoor, SkyPod, Himalamazon motion theater ride, Legends of Flight 3D theater or the Edge Walk, dubbed as “the world’s highest ‘hands-free’ walk at 356 m/1,168 ft (116 stories) above ground.”

While roving the city, one should not miss pausing (and posing) by some special landmarks. These include the Old and New City Hall, which illustrates Toronto’s mix of architectural influences; the Financial District (Yonge, York and Bay Streets); Queen’s Park; Ontario Legislative Building; University of Toronto; the Casa Loma, the former estate and “architectural dream” and “downfall” of businessman Sir Henry Pellatt, which is now often used as venue for grand events; the historical Distillery District, which is where you go for the arts and bar scene; and the Lower Entertainment District on King St., where all the theaters, the TIFF Bell Light House and Rogers Centre can be found.

Locals take pride in the fact that Toronto’s theater scene is as vibrant as some of the world’s major theater capitals. On the week of our visit, War Horse was on stage at the Princess of Wales Theatre. The play’s remarkable, heart-wrenching story and simply amazing life-sized puppets that brought “breathing, galloping, charging horses to life,” as described in the theatre bill, had been opening to full houses for quite some time already. was lucky enough to have some good friends take me to see it on a free day. Most of the theaters in the Entertainment District are owned by Ed Mirvish. Alan and Rosella, avid theater-goers, told me over brunch that many plays premiere in Toronto before they hit Broadway.

Their advice? When in Toronto, make sure to do the following: catch a play or musical at the Entertainment District; experience the night life at the strictly pedestrian-only Distillery District, where bars and restaurants, galleries and wellness cetners abound and festivals are held year-round; ascend the CN Tower and gawk at the view; do some shopping at Chinatown on Spadina St., where you may even chance upon some lanzones or atis from Southeast Asia; have something warm and comforting at Canada’s coffee chain Tim Horton’s (and don’t forget to say “Double double” when ordering brewed coffee so you can taste the way they like their coffee); explore Yorkville, their upscale locale full of quaint shops and restaurants where it is said celebrities like to hang out; visit the Royal Ontario Museum, with its “the bizarre, jagged glass exterior;” and take the ferry to the lakeside destination Centre Island (also called Toronto Island) in the heart of Toronto, where an amusement park and dining destinations are some of the places to enjoy.

In Toronto, there are shopping options for every budget and inclination. Eaton Mall is a popular hub that houses many international and local brands. Some Canadian brands to take note of are Roots, Lululemon and Aritzia. Serious shoppers will want to know where the outlet mall Vaughn Mills is located, as well as the upscale Yorkdale, the largest mall Square One, as well as the supermarkets Loblaw’s, Sobey’s and Longo’s.

If you want to bring home some of Canada’s finest, your list should include the following: Tim Horton coffee grinds, cappuccino or chocolate drink mixes; maple syrup; ice wine and perhaps some cheeses and packaged crisps or cookies from the must-visit St. Lawrence Market.

Comprised of three historic buildings, St. Lawrence Market is distinguished as “the best in the world,” according to our tour guide, and by Food & Wine magazine as “one of the world’s top 25 markets.” One will see locals and tourists enjoying a quick lunch on fresh-baked goods on any given day. It also houses “an antique market, a food market and other public space.”

Wineries and waterfalls
A trip to Ontario will not be complete without a day tour of some of Canada’s best wineries on the way to Niagara Falls.

Along the way, we passed a number of tourist sights — Floral Clock, Brock Monument, Whirlpool Rapids and “the world’s smallest chapel” that people actually use, the Living Water Wayside Chapel. We also drove by the historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a quaint and picturesque stop that houses a year-round Christmas store, weather permitting.

With or without a tour guide, one can visit the wineries on the way to Niagara Falls. We stopped at the Jackson Triggs Winery and trudged on muddy ground to view the vines and learn how ice wines are made. We took a brief wine tasting course with our winery guide, and came out happily lugging a bottle or three of the famous ice wines.

Lunch was at the famous Iniskillin Winery, which sated our appetite for good food, crisp wines and conversation. At this winery, we learned some more about the way the grapes used for ice wine are harvested only in the dead of winter.

Capping off this day was the majestic Niagara Falls. Located on the Niagara River, the famed natural wonder has a vertical drop of more than 165 feet. The Niagara Falls is actually the collective name for three waterfalls: Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. These waterfalls “straddle the international border” between Ontario and the US state of New York. They are located, according to tourist information, “17 miles (27km) north-northwest of Buffalo, new York and 75 miles (121 km) south-southeast of Toronto, between the twin cities of Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.” In fact, New York is visible from the other side of the falls.

Part two: To Toronto pronto!

by Dinah S. Ventura
(Manila, Philippines)

Published in the Daily Tribune Life January 14, 2013

To ‘higher altitudes’
With all these and more to look forward to in a visit to Toronto, all Filipinos and not just Canadian citizens with Filipino roots living in Toronto should be gratified to hear about the new Philippine Airlines (PAL) thrice-weekly, non-stop Manila-Toronto flight route to the city.

“Fifteen hours direct from Manila is a significant cut from the usual 22 hours it takes to get home every time we visit the Philippines,” some sources who had migrated to Canada in the 1990s told The Daily Tribune last December.
Indeed, the convenience this new direct route affords travelers to the Canadian east coast is priceless. Even so, PAL offers quite an attractive package for travelers to and from Canada with its brand new aircraft, impeccable service and other comforts that matter greatly to long-haul travelers.

The flag carrier, which had its inaugural flight to the Canadian east coast using its brand new Boeing 777-300 ER (Extended Range) last Nov. 30, 2012, further revealed plans to increase flights to Toronto to as many as 14 a week.

“Through PAL’s direct service, we want to showcase the exciting opportunities between Manila and Toronto in terms of tourism, culture and trade relations,” said PAL vice president for marketing support Felix Cruz.

At a press conference on Dec. 3, PAL officials expressed delight at the positive response the route had thus far received from consumers. Cruz described the response as “very overwhelming.”

Philippine tourism and transport officials, who joined the PAL executives in said media briefing, were also optimistic about the ongoing expansion plans of Asia’s first carrier. Undersecretary Daniel Corpuz of the Department of Tourism (DoT) said, “The tourism industry is the fourth largest dollar earner for the country (after export, remittances and BPOs).”

After Toronto, Cruz revealed that PAL plans to fly to Darwin, Australia this year. Other than the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory, PAL will have more direct routes to major cities of the world, including New York, London, Frankfurt, Paris and Rome.

“Developing new markets through route expansion, fleet modernization (with 65 new Airbus planes on order) and customer service enhancements are part of the growth strategy outlined by PAL president and chief operating officer Ramon Ang,” Cruz is cited in a PAL statement.

“PAL is committed to serve Filipinos worldwide and to bring to the Philippines, a country of 90 million, closer to the rest of the world,” Cruz further said.

According to data provided by PAL, Filipino-Canadians are among the largest visitor groups to the Philippines, accounting for close to 120,000 arrivals in 2011. For the first eight months of 2012, the number of returning Filipinos or balikbayans from Canada had already reached 81,093.

PAL’s new long-range Boeing 777-300 ER, which seats 42 in Mabuhay Class (business) and 328 in Fiesta class (economy), is a fuel-efficient, wide body jet that features ergonomically designed Recaro seats with individual inflight entertainment systems. Its two GE 90-11BL engines — the largest and most powerful in the world, can easily cover the 13,230 kilometers between the two cities nonstop.

At the Paskuhan Village held at the Metro Toronto Convention Center, PAL offered promo rates for round-trip Toronto to Manila all-in fares at C$1,362.16 for Fiesta Class and C$5,372.16 for Mabuhay Class. Selling period is until Jan. 31, 2013 for outbound Toronto travel period from Dec. 31, 2012 to Many 24, 2013 and Aug. 15 to Nov. 30, 2013.

For more information, log on to www.philippineairlines.com, call 1-800-435-9725 (1-800-I-FLY-PAL) or contact your travel agent.

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