A Town like T'ronno


We had a nice day in Toronto last weekend with Mark, Sharilou, Rebecca and Trevor. Donna and Sharilou had arranged to spend the day looking around, taking in some of the sights, and maybe even a visit to that icon of the Toronto skyline, the CN Tower.
We'd originally planned to take the GO train into town, but instead we all squeezed into Mark's van and took the QEW into the city. Traffic was pretty heavy as we got closer to the city centre as the Toronto Bluejays were playing the Chicago Whitesox at the Rogers Centre.

We eventually got through the traffic to face the next challenge - getting a parking spot. It was easier than we first expected and we were soon walking towards the enormous phallic spire of the CN Tower. A short wait to buy tickets, and we made our way to the lifts and towards the top. The lifts on the tower are made of glass and are actually on the outside of the building, so the view during the trip up is almost as spectacular as the view once you get there, (that's if you open your eyes, Don).

Donna is not too comfortable about heights, but she's been pretty brave about our visits to places like the CN Tower, or the Sears Tower in Chicago - these are some of the tallest man-made structures in the world, so she's done well.

Once at the top, the view really is quite spectacular - looking south over Lake Ontario, and every other direction over the vast urban sprawl of the Greater Toronto Area. The visibility was not as perfect as it could be - there was quite a high level of smog at the time - but it was still pretty impressive! We walked all around the main indoor viewing platform before taking the stairs down to the outside viewing platform, and the glass floor. Yes, there is a secton of the floor that is made of clear glass, enabling you to stand on it and look directly at the ground 342 metres below. Its quite an eerie feeling at first but a lot of fun once you get over that eerieness. Donna had a few reservations about it at first and wasn't too keen but the kids eventually talked her into it and she tentatively ventured onto the glass.
We spent a bit more time looking around the outside viewing area (which was protected by steel mesh so it was good for safety but not so great for getting a clear view of the city).

After descending from the Tower, we decided that our tummies needed filling, so Mark and Sharilou led us to a great little place called Richtree Market. It was a really interesting place to eat... they issue each diner with a credit-card style swipe card, and then you just wandered around a wide range of fresh food stalls selling everything from salads, pizzas, seafood, BBQ grill, sushi... you name it, they had it. When you find something you like the look of (or rather, something you like the look of slightly more than you like the look of everything else, because it all looks fantastic!) you just order it and swipe your card. The food is all prepared fresh on the premises and is a really good feed. It's quite reasonably priced, although the overall visit can be a bit pricey just because you tend to think with your stomach and everything looks so good. Regardless, we enjoyed it, and will probably have to go back again just to try some of the things we didn't try last time!

We then walked up Yonge Street, which is one of the main streets in Toronto (and apparently the longest street in the world, at some 300+ km) We eventually found ourselves up at Dundas Square on the corner of Yonge and Dundas where there were markets, street performers, musicians and lots of people. We hung out there for a while, as it had a really lively, fun atmosphere. We looked around at the market stalls, then watched a couple of guys playing some amazingly cool live flamenco guitar music - I bought the CD they were so good - and then we watched some guys do a bit of breakdancing. They didn't call themselves breakdancers, but rather B-Boys... whatever. They were still pretty cool to watch, and they did the whole spinning-on-your-head and rolling-around-on-the-floor business. Hehe.

We walked a bit more, looking at some of the sights and buildings of downtown Toronto, before heading back along the waterfront towards the carpark. Toronto is in the process of redeveloping their waterfront and we actually saw some of the design entries at the BCE Centre on the way to lunch. As a sydneysider who is used to living in a city by the harbour, it's hard not to feel that Toronto has yet to really make the most of the fact that it's a city on the water. In Sydney, you really can't avoid the fact that the city is surrounded by water because most of the architecture and design tries to take advantage of it. As Dave Grace observed in one of his recent blog posts, Sydney's development of it's waterfront really does make it a pretty amazing city. Although Lake Ontario isn't quite Sydney Harbour, I get the impression that Toronto is yet to really capitalise on its waterfront position by the lake. It will be interesting to come back in a few years and see what the city's planners do with the waterfront area.
We found the car and made our way back home after having a really wonderful day in the city. Thanks to Mark, Sharilou, Rebecca and Trev for showing us all such a good time.

A Special Guest Appearance


We had a nice surprise on Friday night, when Heidi dropped in to see us. She happened to be back in Toronto with her work for a few days, and was staying downtown with her brother Perry. However, she was passing by Oakville that evening, so she phoned to ask if we'd mind a visitor. Of course we were thrilled to see her and so she did a flying visit to see us at her/our house.

It must be a very strange sensation to visit people who are living in your house. Heidi had said to us previously that she didn't think she would stop by to see us, as it would just be "too weird". I'm glad she changed her mind though, as it was great to see her, share a few stories and catch up with some of the news of life back in Australia.

I've heard stories from previous exchangees who barely got to have any dealings with their exchange partners at all... They didn't communicate all that much before the exchange and had virtually no contact during it... it was purely a business deal. I'm just so glad that we got to communicate a lot and get to know the Graces in the leadup to our exchange, and we are especially glad that we got to spend a few days together during that crossover period in January when we arrived. To us, this exchange is far more than a convenient business deal for the year. We feel like the Graces are friends as well as partners, and that's why it was so good to see Heidi on Friday night.

Next time you're playing the piano though. ;-)

Looking for Clues


I was just browsing the SiteMeter statistics for this blog (available by clicking the Sitemeter button on the right, if you're interested) and I am a bit perplexed by what's going on at the moment.

There are currently 13 people logged onto the site, from all over the place... mostly the USA, but also Canada and Poland (?) I know 13 people is hardly an earth shattering number of visitors, but it's a lot for this site, which normally only gets hits from Canada and Australia, and most of them from people we know. I'm curious why there is a sudden spike of "other" visitors.

Looking back through the logs for the past 100 or so visits, I'm seeing a large number of hits from all over the USA and Europe, mostly referred here from other Blogger sites. While I'm more than happy to have some traffic (hi everyone!), I'm really curious as to the reasons. Unfortunately I can't work out the cause of the spike just from looking at the stats...

So, if some of you good folk who are looking at this site wouldn't mind dropping me a brief email to let me know what caused you to visit here, I'd really appreciate it. Just to satisfy my own curiousity.

And thanks for dropping in! Feel free to look around or drop us a line.



When we arrived home from Muskoka the other day there was a message on the answering machine from Wendy. She said that the residents of nearby Linden Lane were having a street fireworks party and would we like to come. Her message said that if we'd like to join them we were welcome and to be there around 8:30.

Well, it was 8:30 when we checked the message, and even though we had just arrived from the drive home from the cottage, we'd never pass up an invitation to a party! So off we went.

It was a very pleasant social event, with Dave and Grant being the appointed Pyrotechnic Uber-Meisters for the evening. There were kids running around with sparklers, the adults were chatting, having a quiet drink and enjoying some snacks that everyone had contributed. It was really nice. This neighbourhood has such a nice feel to it, and again we thought how lucky we have been with this exchange to be able to hook into such a welcoming community.

Thou shalt not worship false Idols


From the sublime to the ridiculous...

We've never really followed the whole American Idol phenomenon. Heck, we never really even followed the Australian Idol phenomenon. For whatever reason, we seem to have been rather immune to the public commotion these shows may have caused in the past. I've always thought the whole concept of these "talent" shows was just way too cheesy to take seriously, the performers were way too manufactured, and the only real winners in the whole deal were the telcos who provided the voting infrastructure and raked a few cents off each of the millions of votes being cast.

While all of that is probably still true, we somehow managed to get swept up the the whole Idol thing this year (yeah thanks Kim!) and Donna became a keen fan of the show. So tonight, being the final episode, we went round to Kim & Sean's place for a... wait for it... Idol Party. Yes, we all sat around, had some munchies and a few red wines and watched the final show - the whole two hours of it - while waiting for the winners to be announced. Actually, it was a fun night, but I still reckon you have to wonder about a country that casts more votes for a pop star than a President...

Oh yeah, and Taylor won. Go the Soul Patrol!!! Ooh, did I say that?

Who wants to be a Millionaire?


I do. How could you not want to be a millionaire after seeing some of the amazing summer homes and boathouses which line the shores of Squirrel Island and Tondern Island in Lake Muskoka? On Sunday we enjoyed a fun boat ride out to Millionaire’s Row to see some of these stately homes by the water. Apparently many of these homes were built by the magnates and captains of industry from the Pittsburgh area around the turn of the century, as a place to escape from the noise, smog and hustle bustle of the big city... Just a place to relax, do a bit of fishing and put the feet up. Of course, there are lots of other nice places on the Lake, like that place in the photo above built on it's very own island. Or what about that boatshed in the last photo?

These days, Lake Muskoka (and also the adjoining Lake Rosseau and Lake Joseph) hosts a lot of celebrities and sports star's cottages too. People like Goldie Hawn, Stephen Speilberg, Tom Hanks and apparently every hockey player in the NHL have cottages up here. It's the home of the rich and famous, darling!

Oh, and of course, we were there too.

Muskoka Magic


About two hours north of Toronto is the beautiful Muskoka Lake region, part of Ontario’s amazing lake system. There is a huge tract of land to the north of Barrie which has literally thousands and thousands of small and not-so-small lakes scattered across it. Some lakes are quite small - less than a square kilometre - and others, like Lake Muskoka or Lake Simcoe, are huge. In fact, the Muskoka Lakes district alone covers some 2500 square miles of lakelands, from Georgian Bay in the west to Algonquin Provincial Park in the east. The lake areas are famous for their pure air and fresh water, and are surrounded by picture-perfect forests of pine, birch and maple. In winter the region gets covered in snow, the lakes freeze over and it becomes an amazing winter wonderland. In spring and summer the trees turn green, the water warms up and it turns into the ultimate aquatic playground.

The fact that the place is only a couple of hours away from Toronto has made it a favoured place to get away for a weekend, and a highly sought after area for cottages. In fact, Muskoka is generally regarded as the heart of Canada’s “cottage country”, with many cottages dotting the foreshores of just about every lake in the area. In the 1800s, a lot of wealthy old-money families from the US came to the Muskoka district to build summer homes on the lakeshores - they refer to them as cottages, but in reality they are more like mansions. Today the lakes - and islands - are fringed in all manner of residences, from large stately mansions to modest but comfortable holiday homes. As you may have read in a previous post, Sean and Kim invited us up to Sean’s family’s cottage on Loon Lake for some winter fun back in March. This weekend (which happens to be a long weekend here in Canada), we were invited up to Kim’s family’s cottage on Lake Muskoka. Kim’s mum and dad, Carol and Clint, spend their entire summer at their cottage, which is actually located on Firebrand Island, an easy 5 minute boat ride from the mainland.

We left Oakville on Saturday morning, expecting the worst with the traffic since it was a long weekend. Surprisingly, the traffic was good and we had a dream run all the way up the 400 and onto Highway 11 to Gravenhurst. We had to stop at a phone booth and call Kim to give them time to come over and pick us up in the boat, but soon we were motoring away from the landing and on our way to Firebrand Island.

What an amazing place! Carol and Clint’s cottage is situated on the top of a rocky outcrop on the island, surrounded by tall trees, with a stunning view all the way up the lake. They bought the land and built the cottage themselves over 20 years ago, but have recently added a bunkhouse, or “bunky” - a separate building for guests to stay. The bunky was not yet completed, and one of our tasks for the weekend was to try and get some of the odd jobs done to make it livable so that we could christen it that weekend. Sean bought up some furniture which we assembled and installed, while Donna, Kim and Carol added a woman’s touch to the place with the decorating and furnishing. There were also a few small (and not so small) plumbing jobs that needed doing, which Sean cleverly turned his hand to and fixed. We felt really welcomed there and had an absolutely fabulous weekend. It was very nice of the Smiths to invite us up there, and even nicer of Clint and Carol to have us come stay. We’re very lucky.

We spent a lot of Saturday just putzing about, looking around the place and enjoying the stress-free feeling of living on an island. As they say, “How’s the serenity, eh?”

I can certainly see why the Muskoka region is such a popular place. It’s a very beautiful area, and although we didn’t get the ideal weather over the course of the weekend, we still had a wonderful time. The clouds cleared on Saturday evening and I took a few photos at dusk - my favourite time for photography. We also took advantage of the clear night to let off a few fireworks down on the dock. Monday night is the more traditional time to do the long weekend fireworks thing, but since we weren’t sure what the weather was doing we decided to make the most of the clear night. Sunday was a lazy start and a big brekky, before heading into Gravenhurst for a bit of shopping and picking up some supplies. Monday was even lazier, but around our hectic plumbing schedule we managed to fit in a short boat ride out to Millionaire’s Row to see the old money area of Muskoka.

After a fun and relaxing weekend, we eventually had to say our goodbyes to Carol, Clint and Yvette (Carol’s mum) and took the boat back to the mainland where we packed the cars and headed for home. It was another dream run down the 400 - amazing for a holiday weekend - and even with a quick stop for a pizza in Barrie, we were home in just over 2 hours.

Thanks again to Kim and Sean for another memorable weekend, and especially to Carol and Clint for being such wonderful, generous hosts. We truly had a ball!

Fit for a King


Not being one who readily seeks out change for change sake (professionally that is), I had managed to accumulate many weeks of long service leave leading up to the end of 2005. This was a huge comfort when changing continents and would give me some breathing space before needing to ‘get back to work’.

Dave Grace had given me contact details of the Halton District Catholic School Board back in November last year, the aim being to begin the classification process as soon as possible. Once classified, you are then on a list which covers all the catholic schools in the region.

By February 2006, I was keen to launch my casual teaching career - or as I have learnt to say here in Canada, supply teaching - and was sure my classification would be granted shortly. It seemed though, that this was not the case. Small beaurocratic obstacles were playing havoc with the process and as the weeks crept by my frustrations were mounting.
By mid March it was clear that the red tape from the Halton Board was not going away in a hurry, so another tactic was needed. I would make enquiries at local independent schools. So armed with resume and piles of documentation, I wandered into the office of Kings Christian Collegiate here in Oakville and was warmly greeted by two lovely office staff Susan and Sharon. They directed me towards Rick, one of the Vice Principals who arranged an interview with me the following day, and my life as a supply teacher was on the way.

Kings Christian Collegiate is a relatively new co-educational school with numbers around 320 students from grades 9 to 12. Set in an almost rural environment, a massive building plan is underway, due for completion after the summer break. Unlike in Australia where casual/supply teachers are brought in for the whole day, at Kings I only teach the lessons which need covering. This might mean starting at lunchtime or perhaps only working the middle part of the day.

At what stage I am up to with the Catholic School Board, I have no idea. I haven’t pursued this option any further, as I have been fortunate enough to be working steadily at Kings and enjoying the continuity of being at just one school. I am enjoying feeling part of the Kings community with students who are friendly and co-operative and seem to be genuinely amused by my accent. Each classroom is fitted with a SmartBoard and data projector which makes life a breeze when it comes to showing DVDs and videos. (that’s when I finally learn how to connect the leads!)

As I watch Chris mark papers, set tests and attend meetings, I am totally convinced that ‘the casual approach’ is definitely the way to go. Thanks Kings!

My Magic Crystal Ball


For anyone contemplating a teaching exchange (or even just a trip to another country on a holiday) one of the most useful toys, er, I mean tools, you can bring with you is a handheld GPS, or Global Positioning System. As an avid 4WDer back in Australia, I’ve been a GPS user for a while, and thanks to the Suzuki 4WD Club and in particular David Rossiter and Burnie Morgan, I actually know how to use my GPS. All those geocaches were not done in vain!

I must say that having the GPS has been a huge help to us, right from the very first day we arrived here in Canada. I loaded in the Canadian maps before we left home, so upon arrival in Canada we just turned it on, gave it a moment to lock onto the satellites, and we’ve always known where we’re going and how we’re getting there. The software for the Canadian maps, unlike the Australian ones, is fully autorouting compliant - meaning that you can enter your desired destination and the GPS will tell you the shortest, fastest way to get there.

Of course, Oakville is a fairly easy place to find your way around. The streets run in a basic North-South/East-West grid pattern, and one you know the few main roads that form the grid it’s pretty hard to get lost. Even so, the GPS was a huge help for the first few weeks as we had to find specific addresses around Oakville and it certainly helped to get my head around “the grid” a lot quicker. Of course, when venturing further afield to downtown Toronto, or Niagara, or Ottawa, or Montreal, or Quebec, or... pretty much anywhere really, it’s been very useful.

I call it my crystal ball. My GPS tells me where I am, how to get to where I want to go, how long it will take to get there (great for answering the “are we there yet?” question from the back seat). It gives me all sorts of interesting information, like speed, altitude, time, etc... Not only that but it tracks where we go, giving us a useful record of our travels all neatly marked out and saved by the Mapsource software.

Whenever we travel interstate back in Australia we often play a little game as we cross state borders. As we approach the border we say something like “NSW, NSW, NSW, NSW... QLD!!!”. As we were flying across the Pacific Ocean on the way over here, I happened to turn the GPS on when we were only 1 degree south of the Equator... So Kate and I sat there going “Southern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere... Northern Hemisphere!!!!”, as the latitude switched from south to north. We got a few odd looks from the other passengers, but we thought it was funny.
So, if you are an impending exchangee, you might think about adding a GPS to your bag of tricks. You will find it incredibly useful I’m sure. And if you ever get bored there are enough Canadian geocaches listed on geocaching.com to keep you busy for months!

Dinner, Dancing and a Show


Just a few photos from our Mothers' day lunch in the Italian restaurant in Acton. It was a nice little place, and we had the upstairs room all to opurselves. Good thing too, as we probably did get a bit raucous at one stage! Must have been all that Italian opera they were playing in the background... it only took a few lively verses of Funiculi Funicula and we were in the zone!

Email: chris@betcher.org
Skype: betchaboy

Recent Stuff

Old Stuff

Aussie Stuff

Canuck Stuff

Other Stuff

Powered by Blogger

Creative Commons License

Locations of visitors to this page