tokyo-halloween-3

What Halloween Is Like in Other World Cities

International travelers should have on their bucket list spending a holiday in another country. The United States tackles our holidays the only way we know how — all in and balls out.

Halloween is a holiday that seems to get over-hyped more and more each year. Americans just love to dress in costumes, dress their pets in costumes and stuff their face with candy. I might have to point that we can do this without all that Halloween nonsense.

This is usually when I’m out and about in the world but this is the first time since 2013 I’ve been home. Don’t be jealous. Here are a few of the cities where I’ve spent Halloween.

London: It’s been a while since I’ve spent Halloween there, but it’s mostly a chance for drunk people to wear facepaint and dress like a slutty version of something like a nurse, a football player or a pirate.

Amsterdam: I was a little disappointed that the prostitutes in the Red Light Distinct didn’t get dressed up. It would be easy to dress in a slutty outfit, but that’s really what they wear all the time. Also the lights aren’t green or orange. Plus, I wouldn’t suggest trick or treating. You might end up $500 short and with a disease.

Budapest: Not a thing at all. I saw a few college students in facepant and black clothes, but it could have been a student protest for all I know.

Johannesburg: Also not a thing. I saw a few people in witches hats and some faint cobwebs and pumpkins here and there.

Tokyo: It’s a big thing, and it’s the way it should be, for the kids. There’s a huge parade for families with kids dressed up as Mario and Luigi. I got caught up in the parade almost got run over by dragons and kids with drums. Then again, everyday is Halloween in Tokyo depending on where you go.

tokyo-halloween-2 tokyo-halloween-1

wp-1477879912862.jpg

Toronto Craft Beer: Bellwoods and Burdock

If you’re craving more than Molson or Labatt in the Great White North, Toronto provides plenty of craft beer options for the thirsty visitor. Luckily for me, I’m always thirsty and a locally made beverage in a tap room was never too far away.

The Trinity-Bellwoods neighborhood and Ossington Ave. proved to be my favorite area for the city for eats and drinks. You can walk along the street without a plan and let your eyes and stomach to the choosing for you.

My researched showed that Bellwoods Brewery is one of the most respected micro-brewers in town. The taproom is a dimly lit and cozy space that served light bites or small plates to go with their beers. When you have this sort of set up, it’s designed for small groups to order a lot of plates. Next thing you know, you just spent $60 on food and had a few nibbles.

In any event, they keep the beers to 4 to 6 choices so you can have easy enjoy a flight. I took mine to the upstairs seating area where I can overlook the proceedings below and admire their shark wearing a sweater riding a broomstick mascot. Next door is the bottom shop where you can take home a bottle.

The aim for the brewery is to keep the brews simple, but fresh — nothing elaborate or complicated. It was most pale ales, single hop IPAs, sours and saisons. Here’s what I had:

  • Jelly King (Wild Ale)
  • Wizard Wolf (Pale Ale)
  • Jutsu (Pale Ale)
  • Monogamy (Single Hop Pale Ale — Chinook)

wp-1477879937137.jpg wp-1477879928524.jpg

Identical in look, feel and philosophy, Burdock Brewery near the Landowne station (and a few block away from the Monkey Paw book store) is another perfect spot for dates and small group. Like Bellwoods, it’s a chill spot filled with chill people.

The taproom and eatery has a lovely marble bar top. If I wasn’t in a rush, I would have taken my beer outside to enjoy the happy hour sunset.

Their menu is a little more elaborate with meat and pasta dishes. As a good taproom does, they can pair your beer with your dinner.

Here’s what I drank:

  • Vermont Blond Ale
  • Oat Pale Ale
  • Brett Farmhouse Ale
  • West Coast Pilsner

wp-1477879828748.jpg wp-1477879848895.jpg

 

 

steamwhistle-brewery-1

Beer Voyage — Steam Whistle Brewing in Toronto

I’m going to dangle this little info nugget in front of you to start off this post. I learned during my tour of Steam Whistle Brewing that it’s the mostly popular wedding venue in Toronto. It’s booked up every weekend for the next year and half. That’s probably the most Canadian thing I learned on my visit.

Steam Whistle is one of the largest craft brewers in the country. They are known for one thing — the only beer they make, a pilsner. No lite version, no dark, no gluten free varieties. A pilsner — that’s it. Well, that certain cuts down on your choices. Talk about freedom from choice.

As far as I know, you can’t get it in America, so I tasted it for the first time, and I was pleasantly unimpressed. It’s not something I would crave, but I understand why Canadians love it. Its the PBR of Canada, without the hipster irony.

In any case, the brewery is located in the shadow of the CN Tower and next to the Toronto Railroad Museum. With the steam locomotion outside, you can figure out how the brewery gets its name.

For $10CAD, you get a 45-minute tour of the facility along with plenty of samples of the beer in the beginning, during and end. Don’t worry, it’s only 5%ABV, so you’re not going to sloshed. If you pay attention and answer a question, you can work the steam whistle.

The gift shop, which has all sort of branded material, was staffed by the most excited Canadian lady I met. Think of the accent, turn it up for 10 and add in sheer happiness and you have this woman. Forget a promotion, make her a VP.

steamwhistle-brewery-2

wp-1476924101524.jpg

For Hamburgers in Toronto, I Endorse Burger Priest

Go to any city in the U.S. and Canada and you’ll find a great selection of hamburgers to choose from. There’s plenty of research and Instagram photos to supplement your burger decision making.

With my research, I use a conscientious algorithm, similar to how Nate Silver determines the electoral map on FiveThirtyEight.com. I read the top travel and food websites and blogs and if a name is repeated, I’ll add that to my itinerary. I avoid TripAdvisor, Yelp and FourSquare ratings because they’re just ridiculously inaccurate. Their good for facts and inside information, but not helping you decide.

When it gets to feeding time, I’ll see which place is closest or convenient and head over there. It’s impossible to complete everything  on my to-do list, which I way I get bonkers reading food/travel material. There’s only so much eating you can do on a visit.

Which brings me to the one burger place I ate at in Toronto, The Burger Priest. The name alone sold me, even though there were no religious iconography at the joints.

The Burger Priest is a high-end fast food style burger in the mold of In-n-Out or Shake Shack. With 13 locations in Ontario and Alberta (I went to the one on Yonge Street near The Rolling Pin), the small chain relays on a simple menu with high-quality ingredients. No fancy toppings, it’s what you expect in a respected chain. Like In-in-Out, there’s a secret menu.

I housed my Low Priest (Beef patty, secret sauce, cheese, pickles, chopped lettuce, diced onions on a non-sesame seed bun). At the end I said to myself, “Well, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed that.”

My other places I picked out to try, but didn’t have time to visit included Holy Chuck and P&L Burger. I’ll will hit them up next time.

 

 

view-from-cn-tower-2

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.

view-from-cn-tower-1

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.

how-to-build-a-house-museum-4

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 post shared by Why Am I Not There? (@why_am_i_not_there) on

how-to-build-a-house-museum-1

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.

wp-1476675515973.jpg

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.

wp-1476675541324.jpg

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 post shared 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: