Monday, September 3, 2012

Summer Lovin'

Today, Labour Day in Canada, marks the official end of summer and what an enjoyable summer it's been!

The beautiful weather arrived in June and summer was kicked off in style on a very hot and humid afternoon at the University of Toronto President's Garden Party, which I was invited to attend by my friend, Richard.  The hats and canapes were all on display as we sweltered in the evening sun and it was fun to nose around the big boss's house as well as check out the tennis court!

July was quite a big month for me as I reached something of a milestone in the age department...hitting the big four oh!  Being me, I couldn't just make do with a small celebration on my actual birthday but had to stretch the occasion out for over a month with various different and highly enjoyable celebratory events.

My colleagues joined me on my actual birthday for post-work drinks at our local pub and the next evening I had a wonderful meal at my favourite Toronto restaurant, Terroni, with friends.  All the fun and cocktails certainly helped to ease the pain of entering my fifth decade and I have to say that so far my forties and proving to be fab!

That weekend, my friend Peter drove me across the border to Buffalo and we had a lovely weekend checking out Buffalo's excellent Albright-Knox Gallery and some of the houses designed by one of my favourite architects, Frank Lloyd Wright.  We also visited East Aurora, home of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The following week, I was delighted to welcome a very special couple, who have known me since birth, Rose and Chris, to stay.  I had a super time showing them Toronto in the sunshine before setting them free to explore the city and wider country for the next few weeks.

Also in July, my dear friend Rachel returned for her third visit to spend a month digging deeper below Toronto's upper surface.  It was great to have Rach around for a bit longer and be able to take in the various sights and experiences together.  Among others, we enjoyed the Dusk Dances, Shakespeare in High Park, Beaches Jazz Fest, the Toronto Zoo and Canadian National Exhibition, where we sampled deep-fried Mars Bars and Oreos!

At the beginning of August, amid hosting all my visitors, I moved house.  Despite my rather crazy planning, it actually went quite smoothly and I have now moved out of the heart of the downtown core to an area in the east of the city known as The Beaches.  I'm no longer in a condo building but have rented a ground-floor apartment in a house which gives me access to a garden, which I've really missed.  It's a lovely place and, after a month,  I'm starting to feel sorted and settled.  It's a nice area and although I enjoyed my downtown pad very much as it had a lot of energy and was very convenient, it's nice to be away from some of the traffic and noise that comes with living in the heart of the city centre.  I also love being able to get to the beach in fifteen minutes and enjoy walking along the boardwalk.

Just after my move, my parents arrived to start their three and a half week visit.  It was great to see them.  My dad and I enjoyed a lovely afternoon on Lake Ontario pootling about the harbour in a mini speedboat.  I wasn't allowed to go as fast as I'd have liked!  We also took advantage of having a rental car to explore a bit beyond the city limits.  For example, we had a lovely day with Rachel at the McMichael Art Gallery, which showcases the art of Canada's 'Group of Seven'.

My aunt, Christine, was due to arrive that day, but was delayed so instead flew in the next day.  We were due to be watching the tennis at the Rogers Cup tournament along with my friends Janet, Jude, Bibian and Monica, but, unfortunately, due to torrential rain, no matches were played.  It was a bit of a damp squib and I was gutted not see some of my tennis heroes but, hopefully, we can get a refund and see some of the matches next year.

The rain continued and although it did not spoil things, meant the special '40th birthday' weekend I'd planned to get together with everyone and spend at the Voyageur Quest log cabin near Algonquin Park was a bit damper than anticipated.  Nevertheless, it was a lovely weekend and we had fun enjoying a Canadian afternoon tea, walks, an art competition, jigsaw-making, chilling on the dock, canoeing, fishing, swimming, cooking, star-gazing and singing beside the campfire.  A real taste of Canadian nature for my Brit visitors!

The following week, after my family returned from their adventures in Ottawa, Quebec City and Montreal and I'd said good by to the rest of my visitors, my parents and I flew south to Las Vegas.  Again, we were greeted by torrential rain but, despite our initial fears, the rain did stop eventually and we had a wonderful week of sunshine exploring Nevada, Utah and Arizona.

Our first stop was the Hoover Dam, a giant construction project built in the Great Depression to harness the power of Lake Mead and now supply light to the rather excessively-lit city of Las Vegas, among other places.

After exploring the dam's construction, we drove north to the small village of Springdale, where we stayed in the lovely Cliffrose Lodge, and used it as our base to explore the magnificent Zion National Park.  The national parks in the US are very well set up and we enjoyed our day travelling by shuttle bus and walking through the spectacular high-sided canyon.  The rock colours and formations were amazing.

Later, we drove east across the plains and through a myriad of landscapes from desert to meadows to reach the Grand Canyon itself.  Wow! No matter how many times you've seen photographs of the canyon, nothing compares to the first time you set your own eyes on this, as one of the US immigration officers my mum spoke to called it, "hole in the ground".  We stayed in a cabin at the North Rim Lodge and saw the sun set over the canyon, which was an amazing sight.  The next morning, my dad and I ventured out along the side of the rim to see the early morning light shift and change how the canyon appears.

We moved on and drove around the eastern side of the Grand Canyon via the Vermillion Cliffs Highway across the lands belonging to the Navajo Nation.  The journey to the South Rim Lodge took five hours and was about 212 miles all in.  It seemed kind of crazy as the lodge is just 12 miles south  of where we'd stayed the night before as the crow flies across the canyon.  Nevertheless, the views en route were spectacular and, once at the South Rim, we were treated to yet another superb sunset along with the sights of a rare Californian Condor, which, in my opinion, has to be one of the ugliest birds there is, as well as a foraging stag on the hotel lawn.

Having taken in one of nature's greatest sights we headed west towards the man-made pleasure ground of Las Vegas.  I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the place in terms of all the glitz, glam, casino hubbub and sheer over-the-top fakery but was delighted to see the smile on my mum's face as she watched the gondoliers float past in our grandiose hotel, The Venetian.  Vegas is fun in an insane kind of way and I was blown away by the scale of the hotels as well as the attractions.  We enjoyed watching the volcano erupt at The Mirage and I insisted on watching the fountain show at The Bellagio three times to see the different displays.  We all really enjoyed the water-based Cirque du Soleil show "O" and our evening bus tour of the Strip and Fremont Street.  I also enjoyed a visit to the Neon Boneyard, where we learnt about the history of Vegas through its, now redundant, neon signage.

We returned to Toronto and my more-than-a-month birthday celebrations drew to a close as I said farewell to my folks and sent them on their way back to England.  It has been truly wonderful seeing all my visitors over the past few weeks and we've shared some wonderful times, which in turn have created fantastic memories.  Thank you all for making it so special.  I very much hope the next decade will continue to be as fun-filled and enjoyable as it has been so far.