Tips to Survive Toronto’s Heatwave

Visiting Toronto this summer? Welcome! And apologies for the heat.

Toronto summers, like much of the north east, are HAWT. In addition to a freak thunderstorm last week (aka nature’s way of saying “Hey, this city needs more rivers!”) we’ve been experiencing temperatures that crack the 30 degree celsius mark before 8 a.m. Then humidity rolls in, and your plans for a nice hair day turn into this.

These kinds of temperatures make wandering a city a tad uncomfortable, but there are many options to beat the heat! Here’s five of my favourites:

Dundas Square1. Fountains at Yonge-Dundas Square
Located right in the heart of the city, across from the Eaton Centre, Yonge-Dundas Square always has events happening which are worth checking out. It hosts concerts, film screenings, and various festivals, with a nice sprinkling of free giveaways throughout the year as well. On the far side of the Square lie a series of fountains which generally operate 24 hours a day during the summer. If you’re debating where to wander to next and need to cool down, take your planning discussion into a fountain. Don’t worry about getting soaked – you’ll dry off about 30 seconds after you exit the spray. Just be sure to keep your phone and camera tucked away in a dry place (same goes for your wallet).

2. Lounge Under a Tall Tree
There are no shortage of parks in Toronto, many with gorgeous older trees just waiting to offer you some shade. Trinity Bellwoods is located on Queen Street West and is a great spot for people watching, art perusing, picnics or picking up treats from the farmers’ market.  Grab an iced tea or coffee from the Tampered Press, my favourite coffee shop in the city and find yourself a large leafy tree to sprawl out under.

3. Cool Down With Ice Cream
Toronto does ice cream well. Ignore the bells of the ever-present ice cream trucks or the lure of a chain shop and head to Ed’s Real Scoop (try the pumpkin, if they have it), Bakerbots (delicious ice cream sandwiches), The Big Chill (can’t go wrong with banana or chocolate mint) and Hibiscus (for dairy-free fans out there).

4. Take a Dip
Toronto has many outdoor pools, but one of my favourites is Donald D. Summerville Outdoor Pool, located right on the beach near Woodbine Park in the east end. I have fond memories of going to that pool as a child, and it offers great views of the lake, depending on how high you decide to jump off the diving board. Unfortunately, the pool is closed at the moment (and if you’re thinking “Dang, why did she mention it?” should it re-open I’d highly recommend checking it out), but another great option is Gus Ryder Outdoor Pool in the west end, by Sunnyside Park. Overlooking the lake and next to the Martin Goodman Trail, you can cool off, go for a walk and get a great view of the skyline, all in an afternoon.

5.  Bone Up on History
Toronto has some amazing museums and galleries! The big guns, the Art Gallery of Ontario and Royal Ontario Museum offer an eclectic collection of permanent and guest exhibits and are great ways to spend a hot afternoon. Interested in clothing or design? Check out the Textile Museum of Canada, Design Exchange, Gardiner Museum or Bata Shoe Museum. Keen to learn more about the history of Toronto and its past residents? Visit Mackenzie House or Casa Loma. This is just a small sample – there are lots of great options!

Enjoy your visit to Toronto – and keep cool! If you have any other suggestions for places to chill out, leave them below!

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Exploring Angkor Wat

So as I alluded to in the previous post, I fulfilled one of my goals for this trip and went to Angkor Wat!  It’s one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia. Within the archaeological park there are the remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, dating from the 9th to 15th centuries, and Khmer art was developed here and had a large influence over much of South-East Asia.

Most of the group (minus Joanne – granny roommate) sleepily climbed onto a bus at 5 a.m. and made the short drive to the outer wall to see the sunrise. It was a very surreal feeling walking in the darkness with hundreds of others, climbing over unseen rocks and hearing all sorts of mystery animals chirping a morning hello.We parked ourselves in front of the temple, sitting on the steps of one of the libraries, and waited. And waited. An enterprising fellow brought over coffee and tea – genius – so we waited some more, with beverages. As a sidenote, while I have been proclaiming my love of coffee with condensed milk, this magic does NOT translate to tea. At any rate, 6:30 a.m. rolled around and there was still no sun, but dark, ominous rain clouds. We sadly decided to retreat to the hotel for breakfast and return in a few hours for the tour.

Thanks (for once) to the rain which was on and off, the humidity and heat were reduced to tolerable levels and we didn’t melt too much while exploring. It is a MASSIVE place, full of history, and was only rediscovered about 150 years ago when a Frenchman stumbled through the jungle (I may or may not have made that part up, but the way I imagine it was that he was literally stumbling around the jungle as it makes it more interesting to me). Our local guide told us all about the different kings that had modified the temples to follow their religions (Hindu and Buddhism), the reason for multiple entrances (one for the king, one for others, one for elephants), and pointed out areas that had been damaged by poor restoration efforts or the Khmer Rouge (bullet holes are visible throughout the main entrance). Even though we had to stop every five seconds due to questions being asked (repeatedly), it was still fascinating.

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Phnom Penh

Cambodia is hot, in case you didn’t catch that in my previous post. We’ve been here for a few days now, and it’s been averaging high-30s each day. BEFORE HUMIDITY. My hair is unruly, my patience waning, and energy zapped. So essentially, I’m hot and lazy. Therefore a cyclo tour of Phnom Penh was a great way to spend an evening!

The cyclos support the homeless and we had great guides zipping us around some of the sites to help orient us with the city. Granted, my guide seemed a tad hell-bent on playing chicken with traffic and consistently veered into oncoming cars – and I have video proof of this which I’ll edit and post soon. But otherwise, it was an interesting (and touristy) way to get around. We even got to ride them at one point…which almost ended in a spectacular disaster for me when I couldn’t reach the pedals or steer.

After drinks at the FCC (Foreign Correspondents’ Club) we had dinner at a great local restaurant supporting street youth, and I went to bed quite happy and content at how the day had gone.

The next day, we visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) and the Killing Fields. While I did take some photos, I felt conflicted in doing so as I didn’t want to be disrespectful to the deceased and anyone who suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. I was unprepared for the emotional impact that both of these places would have on me. Our local guide had been imprisoned as a child and spoke of his experiences, and we met one of the remaining survivors of S-21. Coming from a country that has been peaceful in my time, it’s hard to understand how such atrocities can take place, and how someone can turn on their own citizens so horrifically – over 1/5 of the country’s population was killed. While I was familiar with Pol Pot and had read about the Khmer Rouge, seeing the devastation that took place, and that people are still recovering from, was heartbreaking.

And that’s the overwhelming feeling I’ve had so far in Cambodia. There’s so much poverty here, especially with children. You can’t walk down the street without being hounded by mothers holding babies with hands outstretched for food, children selling fruits or small crafts, people begging for help. I feel guilty for not giving money, but that just encourages the behaviour and we’ve been instructed not to. I did buy a bracelet off of a charming little boy who I hope gets to follow his dream of becoming a lawyer (he was such a smooth talker, he’d make a good one). And I hope that this country is able to get back on its feet as it is absolutely beautiful.

Stuffing Tourists Into the Cu-Chi Tunnels

Ever have those moments where you laugh at something (internally, of course), and then think “Well crap, I’m going to hell for that”?

I did that yesterday.

Our group is currently in Ho Chi Minh City. When not sweating off pounds (hopefully) from the high humidity, or marvelling at the millions of scooters crammed in the streets, we’ve been fitting in some site-seeing. Yesterday we had a very educational (nerdy, hurrah!) day learning more about the Vietnam (or “American”) War. We spent the morning exploring the Cu-Chi Tunnels, a massive network of tunnels used extensively by the Viet Cong during the war. I had heard a bit about the tunnels in history class, and found it fascinating to see the many uses that these had and how well-planned they were.

As part of the tour, we were able to explore the tunnels, which have been widened for tourists, quite considerably in some spots (such as the one I’m squatting in). Despite the widening I found it EXTREMELY claustrophobic – I only went about 25 metres before bailing at the first exit (and we were also creating a bit of a hilarious traffic jam down there as it was pitch black and we kept slamming into each other’s behinds). To get through the tunnels you essentially walk in a crouching position – imagine living down there while hearing all the chaos of war above you. Just incredible.

In addition to wandering the tunnels and seeing how the typical way of life would have been at the time, you could also try to squeeze into one of the original entrances, sneakily hidden on the forest floor. A few group members took the plunge and sunk down into the hole. Then one of the Americans piped up that she wanted to try. 

Bless her. She’s a sweet lady, but a bit on the heftier side. I looked at the tiny rectangular opening and debated whether my shoulders and hips would fit. This woman is…quite a bit larger than me. So when she excitedly hopped over to the hole, I looked at her, looked at the hole in the ground, looked back at her, and imagined a life-sized version of that game we all played in our early days of school with the square holes and the round pegs. And I thought to myself, “this…may not work out so well.”

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