Fort York, Toronto’s birthplace

Did you know that American troops invaded Canada once?

Yes – well done, you history buff you!
No – don’t feel bad, I didn’t know it either.

In 1812, the United States and Great Britain went to war. In April 1813, the US Army and Navy attacked York, as Toronto was called then. The outnumbered defenders retreated to Fort York from the beachhead on Lake Ontario. The Battle of York lasted six hours. The Americans occupied the town of York for six days, looting homes, destroying supplies and burning public buildings.

The Canadians retaliated in 1814 by burning the Capitol and the White House, among other buildings, in Washington.

War ended in December 1814 but news reached the Dominion in February 1815. Both sides claim victory to this day.

Fort York’s history

Fort York started as a garrison built by Lieutenant-Governor John S. Simcoe in 1793 to enable the British to control Lake Ontario.

As is usually the case, civilians settled nearby and gave the community the name of York. Years later, in 1834, the town was renamed Toronto.

The original log buildings deteriorated and were replaced by new barracks by Simcoe’s successors. The British Army continued to sue the fort until 1870, when the Canadian government took on the responsibility for the country’s defense. The army used Fort York until the 1930s.

The city of Toronto restores the fort in the early 1930s and opened it as a museum.

Fort York today –  a visit in pictures

Fort York is located near downtown Toronto on 100 Garrison Road. I took the Red Rocket (TTC’s trolley) to the fort. I had to leg it for a bit to the entrance.

The Red Rocket
The Red Rocket
Fort York has a fantastic view of Toronto's skyline
Fort York has a fantastic view of Toronto’s skyline. What would the soldiers say about the view and the city today?
Welcome. Come in and make yourselves at home
Welcome. Come in and make yourselves at home
First, I visited the 1815 Brick Barracks, which originally housed 100 people each. The soldiers’ wives and children lived here too.
First, I visited the 1815 Brick Barracks, which originally housed 100 people each. The soldiers’ wives and children lived here too.
The 1815 stone magazine stored 900 barrels of gunpowder. Its walls are 2 metre (6 feet) thick. The adjacent well provided clean water. This one is a reconstruction based on old army plans.
The 1815 stone magazine stored 900 barrels of gunpowder. Its walls are 2 metre (6 feet) thick. The adjacent well provided clean water. This one is a reconstruction based on old army plans.
I came across a handful of groups of students. These ones seem to be enjoying the guided visit.
I came across a handful of groups of schoolchildren. These ones seem to be enjoying the guided visit.
Officer's uniform and stove.
Officer’s bedroom.
Officers' mess. Nice and cozy.
Officers’ mess. Nice and cozy.
The 1815 Officers' brick barracks and mess
The 1815 Officers’ brick barracks and mess
Another view of the fort and Toronto in the background that emphasizes  the contrast between historic and modern.
Another view of the fort and Toronto in the background that emphasizes the contrast between historic and modern.

Casa Loma, a medieval castle in… Toronto!

“What do you mean a medieval castle in Toronto?”- You’re entitled to think someone’s pulling your leg. But no, they are not. In fact, there is such a thing in the Annex North neighbourhood: Casa Loma, a medieval inspired castle built in 1911.

9 Casa Loma

The owner, industrialist and financier Sir Henry Pellatt, had his dream home built on a hill overlooking Toronto. It took 300 men almost three years to complete. The house has fantastic views of Toronto skyline. If you go down Spadina (which I recommend so you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the Annex North), you’ll walk into the Baldwin steps surrounded by a beautiful garden. Go up to find Casa Loma.

Toronto skyline
Toronto skyline

I loved the idea of visiting such a lovely house; however, it didn’t feel like a home. To make matters worse, it was rather warm that day and there were lots of school children visiting. As there is no air conditioning, they placed huge fans everywhere, which recirculated the warm air. Despite all that, I did enjoy the visit.

3 Casa Loma

Sir Henry and Lady Mary, his wife, lived in Casa Loma for about ten years until financial troubles caused by ill-advised investments and the First World War caused them to give it up and move to their farm. The City of Toronto owns the property.

Lady Mary's suite
Lady Mary’s suite

The main floor comprises the medieval-looking Great Hall, the library, the dining room, the conservatory, Sir Henry’s study and the billiards and smoking rooms. The second floor contains guest rooms; and Sir Henry’s and Lady Mary’s suites (hers was my favourite). The servants’ quarters (for 40 people!) are on the third floor.

Lovely sitting room
Lovely sitting room
Garden feature
Garden feature


Address: One Austin Terrace, Toronto M5R 1X8

Directions (from Casa Loma website)

Go to Dupont station (located two stops north of St. George station on the Spadina- University line) and walk north two blocks on Spadina Ave. At this point, visitors have the option of climbing the Baldwin Steps (110 steps) at Spadina Ave. and Davenport Road or walking up the hill on the west side of the castle.

Go to Spadina station and take the Davenport 127 bus to Davenport & Spadina. Get off the bus and climb the Baldwin steps (110 steps ), or take the bus one stop further to Davenport and Walmer and walk up the hill on the west side of the castle.

Go to St. Clair West station on the Spadina-University line, walk east on St. Clair to Spadina, turn right (south) and keep walking (approximately 15 minutes) to the castle.

Go to St. Clair station on the Yonge line. Take the St. Clair streetcar (going West) to Spadina Road, get off and walk south on Spadina Road (approximate 10 minute walk) to Casa Loma.

I visited Casa Loma when we were still living in Toronto back in 20101 (when I had short hair!). I didn’t have a blog then so I’m making up for it now!

I love these powder blue sofas
I love these powder blue sofas

Lake Buchanan and a submerged town – Texas

If you don’t want to get funny looks from people, you’ll say /buhk hăn uhn/ when in Texas.

Lake Buchanan is located in the Hill Country of Central Texas. Like most lakes in the state, it was artificially created as a water and hydroelectric power supply for the region. We visited Lake Buchanan during one of our road trips around Texas.

We stayed at the Canyon of the Eagles Resort, located on the mouth of Lake Buchanan and the Colorado River. It’s about a four-hour drive south of Dallas. The views of the lake down below were beautiful. Bald eagles nest in the area during the winter. Unfortunately, we did not see any but we enjoyed the magnificence of the flight of other big birds of prey.

View of Lake Buchanan from the Canyon of the Eagles resort
View of Lake Buchanan from the Canyon of the Eagles resort

We took a cruise around the lake. Our guide, a retired schoolteacher, told us the story of the lake and the dam, completed in 1939. She even taught us the correct pronunciation of Burnet, a nearby town, with a rhyme that went like this: It’s Burnet, durn it, can’t you learn it?” Really easy to remember. She also pointed out the local birds like egrets and herons.

An egret
An egret

The cruise included a tour of the remains of the town of Bluffton. In 1931, when the authorities started to plan the construction of the dam, the town was moved a few miles away and the site flooded. A severe drought exposed the ruins in 2011, which have become a tourist attraction ever since.

There isn't much left of Bluffton. It's exactly Atlantis.
There isn’t much left of Bluffton. It’s not  exactly Atlantis.

Lake Buchanan, Texas3



Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

“How do I find this place again?”

“Take a photo with your phone, that way you can ask for directions back here”

Carsikapi Gate (Beyazit tram stop)
Carsikapi Gate (Beyazit tram stop)

My husband was sitting at a café inside the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul with a steaming cup of tea. I was going to explore the bazaar but was worried I’d never be able to find the right café in that maze-like market. As it turned out, his advice was very helpful. When I had to ask someone for direction back to the café, I simply showed him the photo.

The jewelers’ corridor literally glittered. Each window was dripping with gold bracelets, chains, earrings, cuffs, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones in all shapes and sizes. The reflection of the light on so much gold made taking good photos impossible and made my eyes hurt.

One of the arched halls
One of the  halls

The displays were so beautiful: silk scarves, hand-painted isnik ceramics, pashminas, spices, handbags, silverware, and table linen. Even the trinkets and miscellaneous tourist tat looked pretty and enticing. The kilims, rugs and rug salesmen deserve a special note. These men are very insistent, they won’t take no for an answer. They will follow you and talk to you in different languages so pretending you don’t understand doesn’t work. We were polite but firm. No, thank you, we’re not interested in buying a rug.

Typical Turkish tea and coffee sets
Typical Turkish tea and coffee sets

I did, however, buy a leather handbag. I was coveting a gorgeous one embroidered with silk thread. I asked the price, TL (Turkish Lira) 500, more money than I had in my pocket. The young salesman then showed me cheaper ones embroidered in wool, very pretty too but not quite the same. These cost TL 380.

“I don’t have that kind of money right now, sorry.”

“How much do you have?”

“250 lira” I thought this might have been a mistake. No one needs to know how much I have. He said he was just an employee and was going to fetch the owner. I felt a bit uneasy; I do not like haggling at all. I was about to leave, anyway, because not having enough money felt embarrassing to me.

“Don’t be sorry,” he said. “This is just business. It’s not personal.”

Rugs and cushion covers
Rugs and cushion covers

The owner came in and asked if I had dollars? No. Euro? No. He smiled and let me have the handbag for the money I had. It felt like a bargain but it was definitely not at about US$ 120. “It’s made in Turkey, not China” said the owner. “Nothing from China.” A sign of the times, I thought. The young attendant wanted to give me a coin as a good luck token because I had no money left, which, apparently, is bad luck in Turkey. “It’s all right, thanks. I have some loose change.” This seemed good enough for him.



Grand Bazaar

 Grand Bazaar, Istanbul

To get here, take the tram and get off at either Beyazit or Çemberlitaş.

The bazaar was established by Mehmet II in 1453 in what is now known as the Bazaar Quarter. This labyrinthine indoor market has cafes, restaurants, a mosque, a police station, offices, public restrooms (tuvalet) and banks. The Grand Bazaar extends to the adjacent streets.

What to buy: anything you want! I bought gorgeous pashminas, an iznik ceramic bowl, silk scarves and, of course, a suede and embroidered fabric handbag. Spices and tea are a good option too.

A historic pizzeria experience in Buenos Aires

Melted cheese, baked dough, cardboard boxes, and the vapors from the espresso machine. Any old, traditional pizzeria in Buenos Aires smells like that.

El Cuartito is one of those pizzerias, founded in 1934. It is a no-frills, paper tablecloth on Formica table kind of place. Years ago, a former boyfriend of mine took me there for dinner and I felt slightly offended. Don’t I deserve linen and a candle on the table? I clearly did not appreciate the cultural value of a historic pizzeria. I do now.

In the background, the bar where people can eat "de parado"
In the background, the bar where people can eat “de parado”

Cut to the present. Since El Cuartito is within walking distance from the Colón Opera House, I decided to treat my nieces and my mother to a different culinary experience before taking the guided visit. We got there fifteen minutes before opening time at 12:30. A group of people was already waiting outside El Cuartito: tourists, office workers, old-timers, a motorcycle courier or two.

The doors opened and we all quickly found a place to sit. Or stand, as the case may be. People can order pizza by the slice or empanadas and eat standing at a special wooden counter. That’s what we call comer de parado. Service is really fast, ideal for people on the go like the motorcycle courier.

We ordered a pizza de musarela (Argentinean Spanish for mozzarella) and a pizza napolitana (with slices of tomato and tons of fresh garlic). The strings of melted cheese stretched for ever, which made it fun to serve and eat each slice. The base was neither too thin nor too thick, the traditional media masa, crispy and chewy at the same time. Our waiter acted in a very professional, brisk and efficient manner. Definitely a career waiter, as opposed to a student holding a summer job.

Our "pizza de musarela'
Our “pizza de musarela’

Old posters and prints cover every inch of the walls, mainly sports memorabilia. Autographed photos of local football teams; posters announcing boxing fights or car races. It reads like a Who’s Who of Argentinean sports history since the 1940s. It goes without saying that only my mum and I knew most of these sporting stars; my nieces, aged 10, 13 and 17, had no clue! However, they enjoyed the experience, as did we.

We felt too full for dessert. This kind of pizzeria serves traditional, old-fashioned desserts like sopa inglesa (vanilla cake, dulce de leche, whipped cream and port), rice pudding, tarantela (crème caramel with apple slices), flan casero mixto (homemade crème caramel topped with whipped cream and dulce de leche.)

I put the leftover napolitana in my spacious handbag. The smell of garlic dogged us for the rest of afternoon but it made for a wonderful dinner snack that night.

Sports memorabilia very which way.


* Address: Talcahuano 937. Open every day from 12:30 to 1 am except Mondays.