My Camping List

Summer’s almost here.

But camping season has already arrived. (Did it ever leave?)

Straight up: I’m not a roughing-it-in-the-woods-and-portage kind of woman. More like the occasional, every-other-year, borrow-a-tent-and-chill-car-camper type.

But when I get a chance to go, I do get into it.

I like the fact there are so many campgrounds and conservation authorities with camping areas within a one-to-two-hour drive from Toronto.

But at some point – not necessarily this summer – I’d love to attempt trips to the following sites (both national and provincial):

Point Pelee National Park. My number one future camping destination – with a bullet.

Why? First off, it’s the southern most point in Canada.

There are lush forests, close to 400 species of birds, and butterflies (which holds a quirky, if special place in my heart) – all on this parcel of land.

It would just be cool to hike or bike around, taking in the lovely scenery. And there are also shuttles that take you to the very tip of Pelee.

If I understand correctly, you can’t technically camp at Point Pelee; there are campgrounds in nearby Leamington. But it’s still close enough to get to the Park to explore.

Algonquin Provincial Park. I kind of feel as if it’s a pilgrimage that campers make at least once in their lifetime. And when I think of camping, this is the park that – for me – is synonymous with camping in Ontario.

This park is MASSIVE. And I like the fact there are activities and accommodations for all kinds of visitors – campgrounds for car campers, enthusiasts who prefer to  “rough it” – even cabins for visitors who don’t like roasting marshmallows and getting a little dirty.  You can even rent a yurt, if you’re so inclined!

Obviously, there are campgrounds within the park that are open all year round.

Tobermory/Bruce Peninsula National Park. One of my close friends camped at Tobermory with a bunch of her friends a bunch of years ago. The two things I remembered from her re-telling of the trip there:

(1) It’s a beautiful area.

(2) The weekend they went, there was a massive rainstorm. (Was there a thunderstorm, too? I don’t recall. Refresh my memory.)

Now, I’ve been southwest to the Pinery, along the shores of Lake Huron. But never as far north as the Bruce Peninsula or Georgian Bay. And from the looks of some of the images I’ve seen online, it just looks absolutely stunning, and so majestic it’s almost a bit overwhelming.

Unfortunately I’m not much of a swimmer, so I probably couldn’t enjoy the clear waters as much as someone who swims like a fish. But I can certainly appreciate the beauty just the same. And there are lots of other things to do and see in the area, whether it’s hiking or checking out some of the caves.

Aaaand it’s part of a UNESCO World Biosphere. That’s pretty special.

And even if I didn’t make it to the national park, any park or campground would do – the entire area looks beautiful.

Sandbanks Provincial Park. I’ve had friends who’ve camped at this park in Picton, Ontario, and they’ve had good things to say. Plus, it’s obviously not as far as Algonquin or Pelee.

The main attraction for me to this park – as for anyone – would be the beaches. And taking a bike ride along the sand dunes, or just lounging on the beach, just sounds lovely and relaxing.

Of course, there are many, many other campgrounds and parks that campers hold dear, that I haven’t mentioned.

I’d love to hear about other campgrounds/parks in Ontario that are worth visiting. If you’ve got a recommendation/suggestion, please leave ’em in the comments!

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Day-tripping Daydreams

So based on my last post, I’ve decided to dub my quest for a personal life “Operation: Fun”.

(Yes, oh SO creative.)

In any case … After a couple of fits and stops, I’ve finally started planning my next big trip!

It’s not until September. Which isn’t that far away. But amid booking a tour and flights, that restless feeling is creeping in.

To keep the wanderlust at bay, I’d like to aim to do a couple of day trips somewhere, with friends.

It doesn’t have to be that far out of town. It could be something that lasts an afternoon. Or the better part of a day. Or – depending on the location – perhaps a jaunt with an overnight stay.

Whether it’s a hike, a play, or just exploring a town, here are some places here in Ontario that I’ve never gone (or haven’t been to in ages):

Elora and Fergus. These two little towns are number one on my list of day-trips, with a bullet.

I first heard about Elora years ago from a friend, who’d gone camping there with a boyfriend at the time (sadly, with disastrous results). But hearing the words “Elora Gorge” have always evoked an image of immense, natural beauty – even before seeing an actual picture.

Whether it’s taking up an activity in the Gorge (they’ve got ziplining!), walking around the town, or doing something nerdy like a walking tour, this might not be a bad place to visit.

(Throw in a visit to the antique market in Aberfoyle, and it could be the perfect Sunday trip!)

Kleinberg. I vaguely remember going here on a school trip as a kid – going to the Kortright Conservation Centre (now the Kortright Centre for Conservation), and visiting the McMichael Art Gallery (now – or always? – the McMichael Canadian Art Collection), and having someone point out the late Pierre Berton‘s house across from the gallery.

(I couldn’t actually see it, because of the sheer volume of trees – perhaps how Mr. Berton liked it.)

But I think I might have a different appreciation for the place, now that I’m some 25 years older. Natural landscapes! Iconic Group of Seven artwork! Cute village! And not that far of a drive away.

St. Jacob’s. I’ve ALWAYS heard about St. Jacob’s, but have never gone. In fact, the closest I think I’ve been is Elmira – but that was for a work assignment, so that doesn’t even count!

Now THIS is what I think of, when I think of “the country”. Beautiful small-town/country scenery. Yummy, fresh, homemade, home-grown food.

Also: MENNONITES.

In a world where we’re surrounded by electric cars, smartphones and tablets, seeing people driving horse-drawn buggies and wearing long dresses with bonnets, living and working alongside farmers and small-town folk, would be a refreshing change. (Not to mention, a reminder to big-city folks like myself that life is lived in all sorts of ways.)

Stratford. Forget Bieber fever. The main draw for me would be the Stratford Festival. I’ve never been to see a play. Ever. This needs to come off my bucket list. (Or would that be my “life list”?)

And although the festival is probably the biggest draw (the naming of this town surely wasn’t an accident), I’m sure there must be other things to check out while in the town.

It would be great to tool around town, take in a show, then have a nice meal somewhere. That’s not too much to ask, I don’t think.

Niagara-on-the-Lake. I was here – or nearby – several years back, on a winery tour with a small group of friends. But it would be lovely to come back and do another one (preferably, NOT the morning after a party and operating on a lack of sleep).

Actually, I’d love to find one of those tours that allow you to bike from winery to winery. Which could either be highly entertaining … or potentially hazardous, depending on who I go with, and how much they drink.

Also here: the Shaw Festival – ANOTHER festival I’ve never attended. This would be an awesome weekend getaway, in summer – OR in the fall, actually. Hmmmmm …

So many places, so many possibilities … I don’t expect to knock all of these off in one go. But it would be nice to break up the monotony of city life with the occasional city break.

We’ll see, won’t we?

Social Flutterin’

I’d like to think I’m a socially-inclined kind of person.

Usually though, it involves a restaurant with a menu and drink selection. Or (more rarely, now)  a DJ who plays a beat I move to.

Recently, I decided to change that by attempting to take advantage of some of the social events this city has to offer – a decision that was primarily prompted by two things:

(1) The increasingly warm weather.

(2) The beginning of summer-vacation-season at work – which always meaning possibly endangering my newly-acquired weekends off.

(3) The fact I squandered the previous two summers, by working instead of enjoying my non-work life.

It’s tricky and at times frustrating, due to my unpredictable work schedule. But I think I got off to a good start in May, with three distinctively different events I attended.

Street Food Block Party. This event was a very yummy collaboration between the Toronto Underground Market (which has been holding monthly events for months now), and Food Truck Eats, held at  Toronto’s Evergreen Brickworks, a community environmental centre nestled in the Don Valley.

I met up with some friends at this event, which took place at the beginning of May. There was a Cinco de Mayo theme happening, so there were a few stands set up with tacos or Mexican-themed offerings.

But the food! SO. GOOD. In addition to tacos, I sampled lobster rolls, Indonesian and Egyptian street food, even having just enough food left over for hibiscus juice and sweet treats.

The only small downside – despite the controlled crowds (you could only enter with a pre-purchased ticket) were the lineups. The first sampling we lined up for, was for street food company La Carnita.  One hour and 20 minutes later, we finally got to taste La Carnita’s squid tacos. Good, but not worth queueing for 80 minutes.

Overall, a great event for foodies and foodies-in-training. I’d definitely go to another TUM or Food Truck Eats event.

Friday Night Live @ ROM. I think this is a fantastic idea. For 10 weeks (this started back in May), the Royal Ontario Museum’s opened its doors to young folks on Friday nights for a little social interaction between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Wannabe attendees purchase tickets to enter the museum, where one can attend short lectures, explore some of the exhibits, or opt to have a drink or three (purchased at one of the two bars, with ROM bucks), nibble on some fancy street food, or sway to the resident DJ for the evening.

Each week also has a different theme: photography, film, music and so on. The theme usually determines the size of the crowd.

I went to back-to-back events, but didn’t get the full experience. The first Friday, my friends and I arrived about half an hour before the bar closed; the second Friday, work thwarted my attempts to get there at an acceptable time – but still early enough to try the food and imbibe a little (mmm! dinner!).

I think it’s a great idea: getting bodies into buildings normally not inhabited, perhaps encouraging young folks to become young patrons … it’s something that perhaps other landmarks in this city should consider. (Casa Loma, are you reading this? Archery clinics and teddy bear picnics are nice and all, but still … )

This is on until June 22nd, so check it out while you can, if you’re so inclined.

Anime North 2012. Ummm … so. This wasn’t … exactly … MY idea.

Backstory: One of my Ottawa-based friends has a 23-year-old brother who was planning on coming to this. Long story short: all four siblings – plus a cousin, a husband and a girlfriend – decided to make a weekend trip out of it. And we figured this would be the only time I’d get to see her, so … yeah.

At least I can NOW say I’ve seen the inside of an anime convention, so anything I say from here on in can be based on experience.

First of all: the lineup to get in, made the La Carnita queue at the Street Food Block Party look like a really inconvenient lineup for the ladies’ room. And from there on in, it was extremely crowded.

Second: there’s a weapons check. (I’m serious.)

Third: The attention to detail in some convention-goers’ costumes, even the poses struck when complete strangers stopped them to take pictures, was almost a bit astounding.

Fourth: Anime raves? Just watching is tiring. And it made me feel like a crabby, old chaperone at a Halloween high school dance.

It was … an experience. But for me, not one worth repeating. I also have a new understanding for folks who go to Fan Expo or other sci-fi conventions. (In fact, if given the chance, I would actually consider going, to see the difference. In plainclothes, of course.)

I only hope this is the beginning of an event-packed summer … to experience new things and boldly go where … erm, you get the idea.

Photos: Street Food Block Party image, courtesy Caroline Aksich for Toronto Life; ROM photo, courtesy Grant Gaspari for The Grid.

Thoughts on the Bag Ban

On Wednesday, Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford stepped into City Hall, and asked councillors to scrap the five-cent fee for plastic shopping bags.

City council saw that request … and raised it, by voting to ban shopping bags completely.

This not only caught the mayor off-guard, but the entire city.

Following the vote, Mayor Ford then proceeded to (a) give THIS gem of a reason as to why council got away with their surprise motion, and (b) voice his intention to quash the shopping bag ban.

But amid the mayor’s fist-clenching and councillors David Shiner and Anthony Perruzza ripping a plastic bag in victory (which I found a bit cringe-inducing … and would “ironic” be the right word?), the decision actually got me thinking.

Personally, I’m a bit torn (so to speak).

In theory, the ban is a good idea.

For example:

If I understand correctly, manufacturing plastic bags uses a process requiring a material derived from petroleum and natural gas. So – at least in this city, anyway – hypothetically speaking, that would be reduced.

As well, fewer bags would be littering streets and sidewalks, stuck in trees, floating in rivers (and Lake Ontario), or sent to landfills, to name a few places.

Plus, bags are one less danger animals have to worry about.

These goals are things I absolutely respect.

But here’s where I stop from fully embracing this idea.

It’s not about the inconvenience, when you forget your re-useable bag on the day you need to do a quick grocery run, or carry meat, or something frozen/thawing or sticky.

Or not having a shopping bag when you need to scoop your pet dog’s poop on the daily walk.

To me, it’s the long-term plan when it comes to waste diversion.

If you live in a house, chances are you’ve got a blue box, a black box and a compost bin. Perhaps you might be even more green-minded, and actually do your own composting for use in your garden.

But unless you’re in a living situation (either as a homeowner/landlord or renter, or maybe as a member of a forward-thinking co-op), where the dwelling in which you live has an agreement amongst all its residents to recycle and compost, the ban on plastic bags poses a bit of a problem.

Before last fall, I lived with my parents. Our neighbourhood – like many, many residential areas – is part of Toronto’s compost and recycling program. We put kitchen scraps in our little bin, and recycled the various items that were accepted under the city’s program.

Fast forward eight months.

I live in a low-rise apartment building – owned by a management company – with a few hundred other people. We have the most basic of recycling programs: three blue bins and three black bins. There is no compost bin. We still have garbage chutes. So people – myself included – put our garbage in shopping bags (if we have them) and chuck it down the chute.

Recently, there was a small cockroach infestation in my building. In an effort to discourage the one-roach-a-week visits to my apartment, I would take my food scraps and dispose of them in the small clear produce bags I’d bring home from the supermarket – down the chute – separate from the rest of the garbage. So I’m using twice as many types of plastic bags to dispose of my garbage.

To boot, when I take my recycling out to the bins and open the lids, it’s evident people use plastic bags to carry their newspapers, cans, bottles, plastic, and cartons to the bins and toss them in.

If Toronto had a comprehensive waste diversion program for apartment buildings like mine, perhaps the bag ban wouldn’t give me pause. But it does.

People still use garbage chutes to dispose of waste. And perhaps even IF there was a waste diversion program in place for Toronto, garbage bags might still be needed for that small percentage of waste that couldn’t be recycled or composted.

Sure, it may be well-intentioned to ban shopping bags. But what about all the OTHER plastic bags?

As I mentioned earlier, I use small plastic bags at the supermarket to bag my produce, then use them long after I’ve removed my fruit and veggies, to dispose of my food scraps. Those aren’t banned.

What about the plastic used to package produce and merchandise?

Or the plastic liners drycleaning businesses use, to protect those articles of clothing you’ve had cleaned?

And sure, if Mayor Ford is unsuccessful in overturning the ban, Toronto would join a number of towns, cities and countries, that have implemented bans on plastic bans.

But how do they stack up against the number of countries that DON’T ban plastic bags? (Or, like the city of Ottawa, don’t WANT to?)

And if you’re close enough to another municipality that still allows plastic bans – say, Markham, for example – what won’t stop my septuagenarian mother, from driving a few minutes north in 2013, and hoarding stocking up on shopping bags for garbage bins?

Perhaps I’m exaggerating. But perhaps there should have been a plan behind the ban.

(P.S.: Councillor Shiner, I wish you didn’t rip that plastic bag. I totally could’ve used that.)

Photos, courtesy Nathan Dennette/Canadian Press, David Rider/Toronto Star and BlogTO.