Tourist Hell — CN Tower in Toronto

While you’ll often see Toronto substitute for major American cities in movies and TV, the CN Tower is what makes Toronto recognizable. At 1,815 feet, it looms over the skyline as a beacon for visitors. Going to the top will make you want to jump off it.

Until 2010, it was the tallest freestanding structure in the world until the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea opened, but it held onto that title for three decades. It continues to be the one thing most visitors want to do.

I knew I had to check the CN Tower off my to-do list, and my plan was to get to the top for sunset. To make a long story short, I started from the bottom at 5:15. Three hours and 15 minutes later, I was done and the time I spent enjoying the view was 10 minutes. When Drake rapped “Started from the bottom now we’re here”, I don’t think he meant a visit to the Tower.

Here’s the long story, starting with my only time-shaving advice besides not to go — buy your ticket via the CN Tower app. It saves you 20-30 minutes in the first snaking line. The only drawback is once you buy your ticket and download the PDF, it’s only good for that day.

I walked into the main hall at 5:15 and saw a rather lengthy line. Obviously, it’s off season so it could have been way worse. The end of the line started where you take those dopey green screen photos, which I skipped. I asked the photographer how long the wait is at this point. “Oh, it’s 30 minutes, it moves quickly.”

That was a lie. The line snakes through a round room with TVs that all play the same video. It’s a 10-minute promo on how great Toronto is using the view from the trolley. I watched this fucking video nine times on repeat.

This could be the worst constructed line in all of tourism. There’s no place to sit, nothing to look at, bathrooms aren’t nearby, it’s stuffy and because it snakes around, people move up, shuffle around and before you know it, the guy behind you is now in front of you. There was a couple with two toddlers in front of me whom moving forward was a big production number.

After an hour of this nonsense where not even listening to comedy podcast was making it easier, I still was nowhere near the elevator. There’s one point where the line never moved for 20 minutes. By 6:45 and past sunset, I finally got to the point where my ticket was scanned. It took another 30 minutes to get to the elevator.

Now, the way to bypass this line is to get dinner reservations for the top restaurant. That’s bullshit because I’m not eating at some over-priced, shitty restaurant. So there’s one elevator for the restaurant, the other for the observation deck. At this point, I want this crap to be over with. This bloody line is separating me from dinner and beer.

I get crammed into the elevator for the one-minute ride where you rise above Toronto. It kept on going and going. FINALLY, I was at the observation deck at 7:15, two hours after getting on line.

Look at that view.


It’s sunset-ish. I was in a fowl mood, cranky and with a headache. I wondered around to see darkness all around me. I wasn’t in the mood to stare upon nothingness. I’m sure it’s wonderful in the day time. The outdoor deck was closed, so it prevented me from parachuting off of it.

Then it hit me, if it took two hours to get up, how long will it take to get down?

I look for the exit, and wouldn’t you know it? A fucking huge overflowing snaking line to get down. At least with this one, you get a different video on repeat that explains the history of the tower.

This line was only an hour to get to the bottom. I resorted to some deep, meditative breathing to help me deal this nonsense. When I got down to the gift shop, I want to overthrow a display of snowglobes.

There’s nothing that’s worth three hours of waiting, which is why I don’t like roller coasters and theme park rides. They’ve got to switch to a timed ticket system to cut down on the ridiculous lines. For a city filled with nice people, the CN Tower experience doesn’t make you feel so happy-go-lucky.


Inside How to Build a House Museum at the Art Gallery of Ontario

If you think art museums are boring and could use more dancing, then you should head to the fifth floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario for a little disco action.

Their temporary exhibit that runs until October 30th is from Chicago artist Theaster Gates. He’s turned the space into a lively dance floor complete with  DJ booth on a church pew and roomed filled with disco balls. Whoop whoop.

Gates proposes new ways of honouring and remembering Black experience and explores the potential of these spaces through music, dance, video, sculpture and painting. Organized as a world of symbolic structures and their associated objects, the exhibition is dedicated to Black luminaries including George Black, Frankie Knuckles and Muddy Waters.

When you get off the elevator, you’ll walk pass red velvet curtains. Just follow the music and you’ll come across the Frankie Knuckles DJ booth.

The beat don't stop, not even for art. #housemusic #frankieknuckles #modernart #ago #toronto #ontario #artmuseums

A video posted by Why Am I Not There? (@why_am_i_not_there) on


The other large room has projections of dancers of all ages enjoying the beat. This is a good place to take a seat to rest and recover.


Monkey Paw — The Toronto Bookstore with a Used Book Vending Machine

In the many oddball curio shops that I’ve encountered in my travels, Monkey Paw in Toronto is one of the coolest. It’s claim to fame is the Biblio-Mat, a $2CAD used book vending machine in the back of the store.


The machine says it all: “Every book is a surprise. No two alike. Collect all 112 Million Titles” Well then, I need to get $224 million Canadian dollars.

As my little video shows, all you need is a toonie coin, which they can make change for you in case you don’t have one. Put that bad boy in and watch the excitement:

The infamous used book vending machine. #vintage #usedbooks #bookstore #vendingmachine #superfun #toronto

A video posted by Why Am I Not There? (@why_am_i_not_there) on

Alien Baptism and the Baptists by W.M. Nevins is what I got, which sounds like a lost Smiths B-side album. It’s filled with scripture and poems that leaved me befuddled. It’s from 1951 and here’s what Amazon says about itArguments presented in this book: 1. We have a God-given pattern for baptism. 2. The Baptists, called Anabaptists, have alone preserved this pattern through the ages. 3. The division in Christendom has come through a failure to keep the pattern. 4. Alien baptism is a modern innovation among Baptists. 5. It cost our fathers to keep the pattern. 6. Shall we be true to the Scripture and the faith of our fathers?

My thoughts exactly.

Located on Bloor Street West opposite the Landsdown metro stop, the book shop has load of antique books spanning every subject you can think of, but be prepared to pay a hefty price for that rare Penguin Book softcover. I was eyeballing a yoga book from 1961 that would have set me back $20.

If you’re curious of how the machine works, there’s a video that shows you the mechanics. It’s basically a pulley system:


Inside The Dale Chihuly Exhibit at the Royal Museum of Ontario

Art lovers in North America within an 6 to 7 hour drive of Toronto should set out for the Dale Chihuly exhibit at the Royal Museum of Ontario (aka ROM). This is the first time such exhibit has appeared in Toronto.

To give you the rundown on the 75-year old Chihuly, the Pacific Northwest artist creates colorful glass sculptures and installation of various sizes. His creations aim to resemble glass forests and natural landscapes. He takes his inspiration from the glass blowers from the Murano island in Venice, Italy.

Walking through his Toronto exhibit, where you are encouraged to take photos and socialize them, you get a sense of the effort and patience that the artist must possess to create such elaborate ideas. I wonder if the final product is what he had in his head when he started or is he just winging it.

It runs until January 8th, so you should plan accordingly. Just don’t break anything.

dale-chihuly-1 dale-chihuly-2 dale-chihuly-3 dale-chihuly-4 dale-chihuly-5 dale-chihuly-6 dale-chihuly-8


Toronto Coffee — Odin vs. Quantum

Looking at the other side of the style spectrum, I patronized two of the modern designed coffee joints in Toronto. Previously, I looked at Balzac and Dineen, which featured old timey classic architecture, marble counters and brass fixtures.

Reflective of the strong Asian culture found in Toronto (or Canasian as my co-worker says), Odin and Quantum borrow from minimalist designed you’d find in Japan. In turn, they were inspired by the rich wood interiors of Scandinavian coffee houses.

Located northeast of the revamped and trendy Distillery District on King Street in the Corktown hood, Odin‘s ceiling will remind you of the Metropol Parasol in Sevilla. The white countertops you’ll also find in the Blue Bottle coffee chain. When you see the clean lines, the modern art, natural light and fancy espresso machine that costs more than my car, you know you’re going to get a fine cup flat white.


The cafe also services sandwiches and local beer because sometimes you can’t decide between coffee and beer to drink. There’s also a connected outdoor space for the warmer months.

They put some serious thought into this space. I didn’t know if I should drink my coffee or study the design plans. Architecture Daily has a lengthy look at the thinking behind the concept.


Similar in color tone, Quantum roasts their own single origin beans. This is a more traditionally coffee shop with baked goods and light bites. For their pour overs, they use a state-of-the art Pour Steady machine. I’ve seen one before and it’s basically a robot pouring water. Yet, another barista looses his or her job.

Located on the corner of Spadina and King Street but on the west end in Downtown, Quantum is connected to a high-end backpacker hostel. Not to get off topic, but if you’re staying in a high-end backpacker hostel, just stay in a damn hotel or AirBnb.

Anyway, since the cafe is popular for college students and a nearby tech co-working space, the backroom seating area is filled with dudes and gals on their laptop working on the next big tech start-up that will ultimately fail.


For this coffee bottle, I’m going with Quantum for the coffee and more centralized location, but Odin for the design.


For Pizza in Toronto, It’s Pizzeria Libretto

In a city of massive diversity like Toronto, you’re bound to find any cuisine that caters to your interest. For me, I’m always in the mood for great pizza. I’m not talking about the greasy takeout kind with the stereotypical Italian on the box. It has to be coal or wood fired, legit dough and simple, fresh ingredients. Add in a negroni and a beer, and you got a happy travel blogger.

While Canadian cuisine isn’t much of thing beyond peameal, maple syrup and poutine, I didn’t feel the need to find the best local Canadian restaurant. What I did want was a feel for a local neighborhood, which led me to the Trinity-Bellwoods neighborhood.

Many of the hoods in Toronto can be considered the hipster neighborhood, and Trinity-Bellwoods certainly looks like where the cool kids and young couples hang out. Ossington Ave. is the main drag that runs through the area. It’s the perfect street if you want to be spontaneous and stumble upon a cute eatery or bar with a quirky chalk board outside.

Pizzerio Libretto came up on several best of Toronto lists, so if I happened to be near one of the four locations, I can serendipitously settle there for dinner. Bellwoods Brewery is half a block down so it made sense.

The Ossington Ave. location is the original location. Each restaurant has their own specialty beer that pairs with one of their pizza.

The distinction that Pizzerio Libretto has is that it’s certified authentic Neopolitian Pizza from the Italian government and the European Union. There’s a strict guideline in terms of dough, thinness, elasticity, kind of mozzarella, diameter of the pie, heat of the oven and cooking time. They don’t mess around.

I went simple with Margherita paired with the house beer, a dark saison from Flying Monkeys. That was some damn fine pizza. There’s a chalkboard where you write your feelings, which I wrote, “Did I just eat pizza in Toronto?”

Then for dessert, espresso cinnamon gelato. Note to self, get that recipe by any means necessary.



Westvleteren 12, the Holy Grail of Beer, Can Be Found in Toronto

The Westvleteren 12 is the stuff of legend with beer connoisseurs.

The short explanation is that it’s consistently rated as the best beer in the world from popular beer sites like RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. It’s a Belgium Quad (nicknamed the Westy 12) with 10.2% ABV.

The long story is that it’s a rare beer and hard to come across beyond Belgium. Even inside the country, it’s a process.

The Westvleteren Brewery is a Trappist monastery in the town of Vleteren, which is an hour and 40 minutes from Brussels and an hour and 10 minutes from Ghent. You’ll need to rent a car to get to the brewery.

First, to buy a case of beer from the brewery (for 38 euros), you need to get through a hotline and provide your license plate. They’ll give you a time to arrive. Then you drive there, wait in your car in a long line, hand over your cash and drive away. The monks only make enough beer to sustain their lifestyle.

The easier way is to buy a beer from the cafe across the street, providing they have it available. Back in 2012, cases were shipped to America with official glasses as a fundraiser for the monastery’s new roof. As you can imagine, it sold out instantly. I didn’t get my hands to it.

I came across a beer bar in Sevilla that had it listed on their bottle list, but it was sold out. So when I saw that you can find a few places in Toronto, I had to get it.

My quest began and ended at The Town Crier on John Street in downtown. They not only had 12, but Westvleteren 8, the brewery’s dubbel. They’ve got an extensive tap and bottle list that will remind you of the Delirium Bar in Brussels.

What’s the verdict for $24CAD beer? It tasted like nothing I’ve had before, even though there are similar styles to it. It’s dark, boozy, complex and tastes of deep wood, black cherries and figs. It’s definitely a sip and savoir beer. I ordered it with poutine with beer gravy. Hmmm, beer and gravy.

I wasn’t disappointed, but is it the best beer in the world? Not all beers can be judged alike, but I can say in honesty that it is a worthy quest to get your hands on one. A quick Google search of Westvleteren 12 and Toronto will give you a list of bars that can carry it.

Here’s a news report from Germany about the brewery: