Relaxing - Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday was a beautiful day. The guys went to go play golf and Gwen and I went to the spa - The Ospa at the Oban Inn - which was conveniently right down the street form the cottage; good for us, maybe not so much for the guys. :) I had a fantastic pedicure and Gwen went for a massage.

The Ospa ( was perfect - very relaxing and "spa-like" - honestly, if I won the lottery, I can see hanging out all day at a like the other half live. :) The spa was pricey, but unfortunately not out of the norm of spa prices in town - Niagara-on-the-Lake caters to the tourists, so I suppose I can see why it's pricey...but I don't have to like it!

Gwen went back to the spa for a facial, while I took a nap. I swear I'm turning into a cat, because naps are all I seem to do lately! Then again, naps seem quite appropriate for vacation!

We later met Larry and Scott at the golf club for drinks. It was a perfect setting: right on the lake, a beautiful view of the U.S., great conversation...and sun!

For dinner we went to Corks, right on Queen Street (the main road of downtown N-O-T-L) - nice meal, great outdoor seating.

Corks Restaurant
Unfortunately, I was still very queasy from last night's meal, so bailed quickly and headed for bed...but I did hear Larry, Scott and Gwen have a good 'ol time playing poker. Honestly, I was so happy just to be in bed and to sleep of the mussels-from-hell, that all I wanted to do was relax and be cozy in bed with a DVD and not move...and the seemed to do the trick!


It's Cottage Time...Arrival In Niagara-On-The-Lake - Sunday, June 13, 2010

We had about an hour and a half to Niagara-on-the-Lake to and it was nice to see that finally the sun came out; I can tolerate overcast in a city...but when you are headed to wine country for a week...darn want sun!

We arrived in Niagara-on-the-Lake and it was just as beautiful as I remembered it when Larry and I were there 7 years ago for an annual meeting I had in Niagara Falls. It's such a picturesque town with shops, restaurants, spas, golf courses and the famous Shaw Festival (theater), which I must confess we did not go to. I would imagine this town is a big attraction for Torontonians to go away for the weekend - quaint and not too far away.

We found our cottage on Gate Street - relaxation here we come! It was just perfect. Although, for some strange reason both Gwen and I thought the house was yellow instead of gray. But who was "ours" for a week!

Scott and Gwen won the Cubs opening bet (what we always base our trips on for who gets to select the better room), so they picked the upstairs bedroom. But don't cry for Larry and me...we still had a great room!

Sunday was pretty low-key; just settling in and then heading out to look for a dinner spot.

After walking around and around - apparently the four of us have a hard time making a quick decision :), we settled on Grill on King Street. Great ambiance, yummy appetizers etc. The downside was the the waiter outright scolded Gwen and me when we said we ordered balsamic vinaigrette on the side for our salad. The salad came with the dressing on the salad and then instead of came with some sort of raspberry vinaigrette. When we said we ordered balsamic on the side, he then said it didn't come with balsamic and did not even offer to take them back! I was pretty miffed because I went to look at the menu and it clearly said the salad came with the balsamic vinaigrette - not that I can't be easy going, but he clearly did not know the menu and then pretty much insulted us - sheesh. And when we were ordering Scott asked him about something on the menu and the waiter not only did not answer his question...he was sarcastic when he responded! And then to add insult to injury...I ordered mussels for dinner, even though I know you are supposed to avoid them during the summer, and got sick. Not our best eveningout in Niagara-on-the-lake. Plus I felt bad because I steered everyone to this place based on the look of it.

So I was pretty much out of commission with a queasy stomach for the next couple of days - my luck!


Pastizzi & Off To Niagara On The Lake - Sunday, June 13, 2010

For this vacation Larry and I were completely thrown. I think by the time it took the four of us to pick a location for vacation, vacation was suddenly upon us and we ended up practically doing zilch on researching spots to go to in Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake, where we were renting a cottage. So needless to say, we pretty much winged this trip and probably not to our advantage, particularly in Toronto.

It seems like such a nice city and I know we missed a ton of potential great neighborhoods - hey, I watch Sandra Rinomato on HGTV's Property Virgins and she's always showing great neighborhoods in Toronto!

So on our last day, actually morning, in Toronto, there was actually one area that we were definitely going to: the Maltese neighborhood on Dundas, and specifically the Malta Bake Shop (3256 Dundas Street W,
Toronto, ON, M6P2A3. Phone: 416-769-2174).

As I mentioned in several previous posts, I am 1/2 Maltese. My heritage...actually, all of my very important to me. And I believe Toronto has the largest Maltese population outside of Malta, so short of Larry and I trekking to Malta, this seemed like a much closer alternative!

And I actually had a selfish motive for going...Pastizzi! Which I have said before I love, love, love!

So on Sunday morning we went to breakfast, packed up and headed out on College Street towards Dundas in search of Pastizzi and Maltese people!

Ironically, as we were headed out of the city, wouldn't you know it we ran smack into the Little Italy neighborhood! It was actually not too far from the Kensington area. We were quite miffed because it looked like such a fabulous area...lots of great looking restaurant options, shops and people milling about...I can't believe we missed it! Alas, at least we have a place to go to the next time we're in Toronto.

Maltese Cross

We found the Maltese area pretty quickly because...suddenly Maltese crosses were everywhere in sight!

The Malta Bake Shop was exactly what I was hoping for: maltese people having a coffee clutch, probably after mass, all speaking Maltese, great looking pastries, and...Pastizzis!

And as Larry pointed out at the bakery and when we were passing a Maltese Catholic church, everyone looked like a Vassallo! :)

So I was happy as a clam when we all purchased Maltese goodies for the house - can't beat it! Delicious!


Woofstock, Tia Carrera, Peameal Bacon & Walking In Circles In Toronto...Oh My! - Saturday, June 12, 2010

Despite last night's revelry, the four of us were ready and willing to start our exploration of Toronto - not letting the pitifully gray skyline dampen our spirits.

We first off to search for breakfast, ideally a greasy spoon frequented by the locals - check! We found a nice, albeit packed, place. Food was very good, and despite being confused that they didn't have Canadian Bacon, we discovered a local favorite alternative: peameal bacon - I believe the Boys liked it, I just settled in with my eggs and toast...happy as a clam.

After breakfast we decided to walk down towards St. Lawrence Market (, which is this beautiful indoor food market that Larry and I noticed on our way in - the May's love food, so this was a must-see!

As we were walking towards the Market, we saw some beautiful architecture, great people watching...and Woofstock (! Don't know about Woofstock? Believe me, after experiencing it first-hand, you should! It's the largest outdoor festival for dogs in North America. I can tell you, if we lived anywhere remotely near Toronto, I'd make this an annual trip. It was hysterical to see all the cute dogs of all shapes and sizes, walking around, sniffing each other, romping in the fountain, some dressed up, most not, all having a fabulous day in their honor. And most conveniently, Woofstock seemed to converged right in front of the St. Lawrence Market!

Larry and I always try to search out these type of markets (Pikes Place Market in Seattle, Milwaukee Public Market, Dayton, Oh's etc.) and the St. Lawrence Market certainly did not disappoint. I think most notably is the fact that the Market amply showcases all the different ethnic populations in Toronto - this truly is an international city.

Of course when we arrived at the Market, despite having breakfast not too long ago, we were suddenly hungry from seeing all the fabulous treats. So we decided to have a little picnic lunch (inside because it was now pouring rain outside): various cheese, crusty bread, olives, peameal bacon, nuts, and chicken kabobs - quite a diverse lunch!

At some point we were walking around and got separated from each other, during which Scott and Gwen oddly enough saw Tia Carrera walking around. And on our way out of the Market, we saw several contestants running around from the TV show the Great Race - of course, I for some ridiculous reason thought they were runners preparing for the Toronto Marathon, which was taking place tomorrow - not a clue, why I thought this other than the fact they were running around - I must have had some sugar low causing my momentary lapse of sanity.

We continued exploring the city, going to Eaton Center to check out Toronto's shopping - read for Gwen and I. Larry and Scott hung out at the Baton Rouge Restaurant, which had a nice looking pub. One thing that struck me about the shopping center is I thought I'd see things like Ann Taylor, the Loft etc...nope. Only Banana Republic. They did have high end stores, but I'm assuming mostly local to Canada - so it was kind of throwing me for a loop not knowing the stores. One thing that completely through Gwen and me was that Sears in Canada has a remarkable makeup department with all the makeup lines - we were in heaven! Wish the US Sears stores had this!

After picking up Larry and Scott from the Pub we decided to look for the Italian Village area for dinner, via China Town, because we wanted to see a couple of different areas. So we hopped on a bus and went West. China Town was huge, and had we not been so tired and hungry when we arrived I would have been a little more apt to appreciate it. But my feet were starting to give way and the stomach pangs were growing louder...

We actually had know idea where we were going except knew we needed to get on a bus on College and head West. Got the bus, started going West and West and West. We were getting a little antsy because it was looking a little iffy, so we decided to get off and look around for something.

We came upon, unbeknownst to us, the Kensington Market neighborhood. Now I'm sure it is a quite the cool, trendy area, the restaurants looked great etc. But it was going on dusk and while walking down the street we really felt not quite in our element. Actually what did it for us was the extremely creepy guy who came right up to Scott and I and started to follow-us even when we crossed the street! I swear he was high on something and the fact that he came within inches of Scott's face, made me very uneasy. So unfortunately, this neighborhood will have to wait for another time, because said creepy guy made us hightail it out of there.

So we got back on the bus, headed East because we thought we'd never find Little Italy and got off right back downtown again.

Now we were starved and headed back towards Young-Dundas Square (I'd compare it to a smaller version of Times Square in NYC) and Eaton Center. And wouldn't you know it...we ended right back at the Baton Rouge Restaurant! Now Toronto is known for great restaurants and unfortunately by the time we made it back downtown everything was packed so we settled on the Baton Rouge. Totally sub-par meal, but we had wine! So the evening was not lost.

After dinner we headed back, I crawled because my feat about gave out (20,000 steps that day!), to the hotel via Young-Square, where there was some festival going on - lots of action at 11pm - what fun!


In Toronto...With The "Wolfinfirkins" - Friday, June 11, 2010

When we arrived in Toronto we were met with an overcast view of the city, which unfortunatelt stayed with us the remainder of our stay there. But we were on vacation so nothing, not even a gray view of Toronto was going to spoil our vacation.

Larry and I zipped into the city looking for our exit. What struck me was, despite the recession, Toronto seemed to be in a condo-boom, which we always like to see, because we like to see people take advantage of city living - there is just so much to offer.

We got of the highway and were working North towards the Marriott Courtyard. So far, so good. We saw this very nice market, some great architecture, saavy dressed urbanites...this was our kind of town!

Ironically, Scott and Gwen arrived at the hotel not too long after us (they were driving up from NJ), so I suppose the series of unfortunate events helped syche our arrival times.

After cleaning off the day-of-drive-grime, we were good to go. It was Friday night and the four of us were in a new city....we were ready to hit the town!

Before we left for dinner, we went for drinks in the hotel's lobby. Since we had not a clue where to go for dinner we asked the bartender where a good Italian restauant was. She recommened a place (I think it was called Oro) on Elm Street and we headed on out.

We had a nice walk to the resturant and arrived at Elm Street. Now that I think about it, we went right passed Oro (it actually looked great), because we saw a restaurant, Donatello's (, which had this beautiful rooftop patio, so we made a beeline for it.

Now, since it was Friday night and we didn't have a reservation, I think we were all worried we'd have a horrendous wait, particularly since we were all starved. But the stars alligned for us (not like earlier in the day!) and we were able to not only get table, but to get one on the upstair patio.

All our dinner were great - I had linguini with clams and it was fabulous!

We seemed to linger there for several hours - eating, laughing, eating, drinking a great pinot, drinking some more, laughing - it was was just so relaxing to unwind in a great Italian restaurant, in a new city, with our wonderful friends; can't get better than that!

And yet it did, because the fun continued next door at the Wolf & Firkin Pub next door.

I'm not sure when we noticed the sign, either on the rooftop during dinner or while we were leaving the restaurant and decided to stop for drinks after dinner, but when we all saw the Wolf & Firkin Pub sign, we just thought it was hysterical. Could it had been the combination of a long day's drive, too much pinot or just plain-ol'-slaphappiness, we just we're rolling everytime one of us said the name. At one point we were calling each other the Wolfinfirkin's - much more catchy than the "May's" or the "Oroleks" don't you think?

We took a leisurely walk back to the hotel, taking in the fabulous nightlife of Toronto.


Part 2: Off To Vacation...Or Not - A Series of Unfortuntate Events In Illinois, Indiana and MI (Or The Curious Case Of How Our GPS Almost Derailed Our Vacation) - Friday, June 11, 2010

I'm not sure if I mentioned it before, but Larry and I really needed this vacation. We'd been going non-stop lately every weekend for who knows how long and we were at our wits end. So needless to say we were chomping at the bit to get beyond the Illinois border.

As I mentioned in my last post, Jack our beloved cat, didn't help things much prior to our embarking for the trip. But we woke up at 3:00am on Friday and got ready in record time. We actually managed to leave the house by 3:30am - which was a first for us. So confident that we were, we did our last minute checks: house locked - check! Bags all in car - check! Last minute trip to the bathroom - check! GPS hooked up check! We were good to go!

So we started off with a bang - we cleared the Chicago area in record time for us. Everything was going great...until we hit Indiana. We noticed our GPS's battery was at zero even though it was plugged in! Now of course, before GPSs came about we would be perfectly fine with our old standby, the map, but when you get one of these suckers, your world virtually comes to a standstill when it stops working - rendering you utterly and pathetically incapacitated. So we pulled over and Larry starts to take apart the part that goes into the cigarette holder - and then the part literally just falls apart. There was no getting it back together. I of course was muttering something about things should work and not fall apart several years after buying them and poor Larry is looking like he's going to blow a gasket because time is ticking away and we're on a deadline to get to Toronto.

So Larry offers that we probably don't need it for the trip. Then I interject that...yes, yes we do need it because the darn thing now has us hook-line-and-sinker because we use it for everything from the map, to looking up restaurants and shopping etc...

Then I said that we just need to look for a Best Buy. The problem is of course that it's about 8:00am and nothing is open yet and we are in Indiana and don't know where we are!

On top of that...nerves kick in and I suddenly have to stop at every rest area to use the facilities - this is not helping us get to Toronto on time and any time we gained with our earlier record time departure just went to hell-in-a-handbasket!

So for several hours we drove through IN and then into Michigan, where we finally found a Best Buy and it was open!

After going in twice to Best Buy, yes twice, the first time we purchased a part that they said would work, got back to the car, tried to make the GPS work, it didn't, walked back into Best Buy, returned said part that didn't work, talked to another sales person who recommended another part, bought said part, walked out to the car, tried the new part and...success!

So after completely blowing our time, we finally got to the US/Canadian border and then had to...wait. Sheesh, we could not catch a break.

Now we're waiting in line for customs and I of course am a nervous wreck. Not because I have anything to hide, but I just get incredibly nervous when the customs agent asks questions. The last time we were in Canada, the agent was asking me questions and I just blurted out answers and just kept talking and talking and talking - a spy I would not make!

We made it through customs relatively quickly (Larry did all the talking) and we were on our way into Canada.

Now I know this is going to sound naive, particularly since I've been to Canada before, but for some reason I was just expecting for the terrain to immediately be different. It wasn't. And for the next several hours until we we near the Toronto area, I just kept saying "It looks like Illinois." Which does make sense since Illinois has a huge amount of farms and our route to Toronto had farmland as far as the eye could see.

After our long and convoluted trip that day we finally arrived in Toronto - I swear it was like the doors to vacation nirvana opened up: we were at our destination!


Part 1: A Series of Unfortuntate Events (Or The Curious Case of the Cat Whom Almost Derailed Our Vacation) - Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cute...Yes. Evil?...Perhaps!
For the start of our vacation, Larry and I, "expert" car-trekers that we are, were confident, OK, maybe a bit too cocky, that we would make it to Toronto (the first leg of our vacation) in record time. Why wouldn't we? I'm usually the "wrench" in being timely for debarking on vacation, because although my vacation-packing-abilities have become more fine-tuned over the years, I tend to over think my packing and then I just stress out. But this time I licked the system - I actually started packed the weekend before! You should have seen me...I had all my clothes in piles on the guestroom daybed; I had all sorts of little containers, carry-alls etc...Rick Steves would have been in awe!

So what was the start of the "troubles?" Jack, our petite, and oh so cute, black and white fur ball! That's right folks...our free-loading cat almost single-handedly derailed our vacation!

Now, Jack, depending on the season, tends to have little quirks/habits that she spontaneously starts doing at night: playing with her milk tops, licking plastic so loud that I swear you could hear it down the street, and "whacking" our closet doors to get our attention...oh the fun never ends!

Now somehow the stars aligned for Jack and a perfect-storm of her OCD habits converged oh so perfectly 2 weeks before our vacation and somehow this pint-sized dictator pretty much almost destroyed her two "tenants" (in her eyes) - Larry and me (because, after all, it is her house) right before our much needed vacation!  

What we surmised well after the fact is that when we were getting ready for our neighborhood garage sale on June 4th, we had stuff strewn all over our downstairs (main level) of our house. Well, Jack saw all the clutter, put 2-and-2 together and thought we were moving.

Of course, said tenants (Larry and me), didn't put 2-and-2 together, so for every night for the 2 weeks before our vacation, Jack waited until 12:00am and continued her nightly blitzkrieg attack until we got up at 7:00am to (in this order): non-stop howl (we never had heard the particular octave before), lick plastic and magazines, beg for water out of the shower, slam the closet and bathroom cabinet doors with her paw, jump up from the floor to the bed and used my stomach as the landing pad (oh so fun when you are sleeping!) and then proceeded to use all 4 paws to walk across our faces, with kitty-litter, gag, on her paws! There has got to be some pre-mediation there - I mean, using ALL 4 PAWS to strategically walk across our faces...that's a skill folks!

And to top off her nightly repertoire of feline tricks, she ended the routine every morning...with me waking up and finding her either sitting next to me on my end table or by the door, in all her pear-shaped glory, staring at me! Just creepy! Particularly when she was on my end table - her face was only a foot away!

So needless to say Larry and I did not figure out Jackie's garage sale-somehow-equals-moving connection until pretty much waaaay into the 2 week period before vacation, so we'd been sleep deprived for quite awhile - not a good thing before vacation!

Oddly enough, Jackie didn't make a peep the night before we left for vacation. I'm not sure if it was...OK, I am pretty sure it wasn't the stern talk I had with Jackie at 9:00pm Thursday night for the love of God and everything holy to puuuleezee, give us a break and let us sleep since we had to get up at 3:00am. What actually sent Jackie into silence, was the realization/viewing Thursday night of the dreaded "black suitcase", that sent her into shear survival/panic mode of "Oh no...not again! They're leaving me for some world beyond the front door...I better be nice or they won't come back!" So I think in her mind she was being "generous" for the reprieve of her nighttime antics she granted us Thursday evening. However, it was lost on us, because, after all, we did have to get up at 3:00am!