Fun stuff in Surprising Places – The Toronto Salsa Festival


I’m in Toronto – staying at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Toronto to play bridge. Not very exciting travel I know – but be patient my readers. I promise that good stuff will happen!

I got to Toronto by train. I do love traveling by train. It’s not always a bargain of course. I prefer traveling ‘business’ class – more comfy seats, cleaner windows, and service. I adore service. Make me happy – do something nice for me! Serve me a meal, offer me coffee, or just smile. I’m relaxed and enjoying my travels.

Any way – Trip to Toronto included a lovely dinner, a glass of wine, desert and a glass of Port, Trip home will include a selection of beverages, a lovely dinner, and some more Port. I’m totally counting on the Port on the way back home to Montreal.

I arrive in Toronto – big city, big city smells, big city sounds, big city hassles. I drag myself and my carry-on up Young street to the Sheraton, navigating pass homeless camping down for the night and young business folks checking out the bars that line this main drag. Lot of lights, lots of action. But I’m focused. Get up the street safely (don’t get hit by a car, a trolley, or a group of revellers) and settle down for the night.

Task accomplished, I check in and check out my room. I guess they felt sorry for me – because the room is a bit of an upgrade. It’s in a corner with a lovely view, and a bit of extra space. More than ample for my needs. The bed is huge – it’s king sized, and since I’m on my own, will mostly stay unmussed.

Tuesday thru Sunday is bridge, bridge, bridge. I’ve written before about the issues with PUPs (Pick Up Partners) and this time is no different. Some great, some not so great. My favourite is the older gent from Sault St. Marie – we manage to place 8th overall – among 80 some teams. This earns us upwards of 2 Gold Master Points, and earns me some very nice praise from his wife! She’s a Life Master, he’s playing catch-up to her – and she’s very impressed by how well we did. Hey – I’m impressed by how well we did.

Fast forward to Saturday night. One reason I like Regionals are the night games. Fewer players, lots of fun, and a great chance to do well. And I don’t have to fuss with thinking about what I’m going to do that night in a strange town. So I’m pleased that there are 2 night games on offer this week – one on Friday, one on Saturday.

Friday’s night game goes as planned – I score some more Master Points – have fun – all is good.

Saturday’s night game is a different story. I have a partner – what I lack are opponents. No one shows up! Well – not enough folks show up. And the game is canceled. Bummer. Now what.

It’s 8:00 PM, it’s Saturday night, and I’m alone in the big city. Hmm.

I check out my options – and spot some kids dressed up in Salsa clothes walking around the hotel. A quick chat – and I find out that the Toronto Salsa Festival is this weekend – here in my hotel. Tonight there is a show, followed by 4 hours of social dancing. The show is due to start at 8:00 – and while there’s a cost of admission, the opportunity to see professionals and semi-professionals dance seems priceless. So I cough up the money – and get my pass.

The lovely ticket sellers explain that the show will start when it starts – there have been workshops all day, and until the room is clear, they won’t let the ‘tourists’ in. So I join a line of other earlier comers and prepare to wait.

I’m terrible at waiting actually – so after being polite for a while – I eventually start chatting with the folks in line with me. In front of me are an ‘older’ couple – not as old as me – but I’m as old as the hills – what do you expect. Their daughter is performing tonight – and they gleefully explain her hobby to me.

She has a full time job – but she joined this dance group – and they are frequently invited to perform at shows around Canada and the US. They are unique in that they are all female dancers (how unique is going to be clear later in the evening), and are in great demand. They will go to your event – do their performance – and then split up and dance with everyone. They give Salsa lessons, and make sure everyone has a great time. I can totally see why this would be a hot idea for a team building activity! And she and her fellow dancers are very cute. Fresh faced, young, and unremittingly cheerful.

The folks behind me are friends of other dancers – and as each group gets organized to enter the hall – they come over to blow air kisses (don’t mess the make-up), and share hugs and good wishes. I get a close-up look at some of the outfits – I can’t wait to see what they will look like on stage.

Eventually they get the stage clear and organized and we’re admitted. The couple in front invite me to sit with them, so we snag seats as close to the front as possible. The first few rows are saved for VIPs – which turn out to be the kids who have finished performing!

There are a lot of chairs – probably over 300 – and it’s hard to imagine that the space will be full, but eventually – it is full. The show starts off slowly with the less professional teams – and suffers from some organizational challenges – the music for the first group doesn’t start on cue. But they quickly straighten that out, and the show begins.

I’m completely utterly amazed. Imagine about 100 young, completely fit, beautiful young people dancing, performing, and generally have a wonderful time. They come on stage in various groupings. Larger groups are generally up to 6 or 7 couples – dancing in pairs of course, but all doing generally the same steps. Smaller groups of 1, 2, 4 or up to 6 dancers also come on stage. The fewer the dancers, generally the higher the quality of the performing. And the later in the evening, the better the performances too.

My favourites are a group of young men (5 of them), who call themselves the ‘Kingsmen’ – and frankly are highly suggestive dancers of seriously good caliber. They come back as a group of 6 – 3 men, 3 women – and trust me – they are memorable. I’m getting very curious about what is keeping on some of the outfits the women are wearing – so it’s not a total surprise when one gal has to keep tugging on the top of her outfit. We almost, but not quite, had a wardrobe malfunction!

Another memorable group feature women wearing string bikinis. To Salsa Dance. Really. The gals twerking in St. Croix have some stiff (hee, hee) competition in Toronto.

I’m totally loving this. The outfits are stunning, the dancing amazing – and then the professionals arrive.

OMG – right – that’s why these guys are the professionals. The beat gets more demanding, and the lifts get higher and the tossing more complex. I’m getting exhausted just watching them perform.

I will never think of Salsa the same way again. This isn’t dancing – this is ice skating pairs without the ice! One couple pushes this boundary the hardest by combining lifts, throws, spins and dance. There is even a death spiral – a spin where the woman’s head is inches from the floor – her weight supported totally by the guy. Strength, Beauty, and Speed.

My new friends invite me to stay for the social dancing, and I’m sorely tempted. There are 4 different rooms – each featuring a different kind of music. But my age and the efforts of a long day of bridge win out over my interest in watching folks dance.

I bid everyone good night – and dance well – and walk out past the rows of high heeled dancing shoes for sale. What an absolutely amazing hobby this must be.

If you ever have a chance to catch a Salsa Festival Show – and there will be one next year in Toronto on Easter Weekend – do it. Worth every penny.

Signing off to head off to my King Sized bed…

The Soup Lady

The ROM – Big, Overwhelming, Awe-Inspiring, Probably a Must Visit – Certainly a Must Shop


The newly redesigned entrance to this grande dame of the museum world says it all. The ROM is here to stay – and determined to stay impressive. We showed up at opening time – wanting to avoid the crowds that a civil holiday Monday were sure to inspire.

Like most major museums – there are the ‘permanent’ exhibits, and the traveling shows or special exhibits. We opted for a combined ticket that gave us access to everything – $26 each, but we’re talking a full day of walking, reading, listening and thinking. Worth it for adults, maybe not as child friendly as today’s kids might expect.

The ‘Special’ Exhibit during our visit was a very interesting one on Mesopotamia. Replete with some pretty new technology – like carved stone reliefs that came to life to show you the story they were telling in a more ‘modern’ fashion, seeing just this one exhibit took us most of the morning. That said – people shot past us frequently – either unable or unwilling to read and listen. But I found the content fascinating, the short ‘expert interviews’ appealing, and some of the technology on display impressive. My favorite, the recreation of the city of Babylon, complete with people walking the streets.

The permanent exhibits represent a quick look at just about every thing that caught the eye or interest of curators in the past. The guide gives you a handy hot list of the 13 or so ‘not to be missed’ exhibits – easily identified by the presence of a video monitor on a post nearby. Watching these quick intros into the why and wherefores of these major collectables was interesting to say the least. And believe it or not – took up all the rest of the day. It’s a huge place. Trust me on that!

For those who eat in Museums – I must say that I had some of the best food I’ve ever had in a museum in the unassuming ROM cafe. Delicious, reasonable, kid friendly, attractively presented. What’s not to like.

Is this my favorite museum in Toronto? No
Is this a must visit museum? If in Toronto, probably Yes
Would I see this one first? No
Would I see this one on my second day, or if the weather were terrible? Absolutely Yes

There you have it. The ROM
Visited August 2013

The Library Bar, Royal York Hotel, Toronto – Awful food in a great looking Bar


Library Bar at the Royal York in Toronto – forget it. Very expensive, and not very good.

Perhaps the problem was my timing. I ate lunch there on a Friday, and from the other reviews – I can see that they are normally open only Saturday and Sunday. But still – it was a simply terrible excuse for a meal.

I ordered an Ahi Tuna Wrap – and it came with either a salad or french fries. Since it was billed as a ‘low calorie’ option on the menu – why would you offer french fries with it. But moving past that, the wrap was actually terrible. A too thick tortilla, folded around 3 small slices of Ahi Tuna, a bit of salad, and 3 slices of what might have once been avocado. It was served chilled, and honestly looked and tasted like it had been made much earlier in the day, put in a fridge, and just plopped on the plate. The salad was mealy and ordinary – which given the price of an outrageous $22 – I’m sorry. That’s disgusting.

Too bad too because the Library Bar looks so lovely – all dark brown and woody with comfortable seats and sofas and a very pleasant feel of restrained elegance. Plus the service was very nice. Normally they charge for internet – but the matre-d’ took pity on me and let me sign on using his code for an hour. Question to consider, why do expensive hotels still insist on charging for something that less expensive hotels and most restaurants and even some airports give away for free? I’m talking of course about internet access.

In any case – stick to the ‘Bar’ part of the Library and avoid the food.

Library Bar - Fairmont Royal York on Urbanspoon

Oh the people you’ll meet – Riding the train from Montreal to Toronto


There are 4 different ways to get from Montreal to Toronto. You can drive – it’s about 6 hours, and very boring. You can ride the bus – which is about 8 hours, and while you don’t have to drive the thing, it’s not exactly luxurious. You can fly – either to the Island Airport (which I keep promising myself to do, and have never actually done), or to Toronto International which is an airport I avoid under all circumstances.

Or – you can take the train. The train takes 4 hours. You arrive minutes before it is due in Dorval, stand either on the platform or in the train station, climb on – and off you go. From Montreal to Toronto, seats are assigned – so you know which car, you know which seat – it’s quite easy. Most of the time.

And generally fairly reasonable. In the height of the season, a senior ticket is around $100 one way, including all taxes. So it’s less pricy than flying, and about the same amount of time if one includes arriving at least 2 hours ahead for the plane!

So – Friday am, 7:11 finds me on the train heading to Toronto. I’d selected a window seat months ago, but it was taken by a lovely older woman, who explained that she’d given up her seat to a woman with a baby. The baby in question was ensconced in one of those giant carrying seats – and the woman was apparently asleep. Oh well – guess I’m getting an aisle seat this time. I don’t mind the aisle, it’s really just that I prefer the window. But it’s hard not to feel a bit sorry for the baby at least.

I make myself comfy – I brought along fruit to munch, figuring that no matter what they had to sell it wouldn’t be either on my diet or frankly – fresh and yummy. Packaged cakes are easier for the staff – but hardly made this morning.

Naturally, being of similar ages, my seat mate and I start to chat – and chat – and chat. She has 2 sons, and 3 grandkids. She’s going to visit a friend in Toronto that she’s known since elementary school. She recently took a river boat cruise from Prague which was great except that her roommate – an extremely good friend that she’s spent much time with – turns out to be a better house mate than room-mate. In fact, she’s a lousy room-mate – insisting on lights out at 10:30 – and no noise. Hard to take a shower before bed, hard to party if you must undress in the dark. But overall the river boat was apparently a wonderful trip – worth thinking about.

My new friend continues to tell me about her life. Her husband died very young, and very suddenly. He had just been playing golf, came in – complained of not feeling well, and died. She called a neighbor who called 911 – and tried to do mouth to mouth to no avail. That was quite some time ago – since then she’s had a male companion – who she will not marry, nor live with – but loves to travel with. Interesting. I think about how truly boring my life must appear to most people – my husband and I are celebrating 43 years of marriage this September.

We discuss the challenges involved in finding someone to travel with – I remind myself how fortunate I am that I have 2 travel companions – my husband for upscale trips or downscale re-enactments, and the Intrepid Traveller for long stays in one country. Somethings just work out like that. I wonder if she thinks I’m fortunate – or merely boring. The old adage – walk a mile in someone elses shoes – seems so valid at moments like this.

We chat for effectively the entire trip, interrupted only by trying to figure out the capital of Finland (It’s Helsinki), and by the young man with the food cart. Such lousy coffee – at least it’s not insanely expensive too.

At our arrival in Toronto we part ways – her to find a porter and her friend. Me to drag myself and my tiny traveling bag to the Royal York to meet up with my husband.

Ships that collide in the night – and likely never meet again.

Great trip. Thanks Seatmate!