Saturday, 29 July 2017

Toronto, Capital of Ontario

Welcome to Toronto ©Solange Hando

With a population 4½ times larger than Ottawa's, Ontario's capital almost feels like a dream, a true cosmopolitan city where all 'new Canadians' are welcome, regardless of origin, religion or culture.

It's Canada at its best, open, tolerant and caring under the guidance of its young liberal PM Justin Trudeau. The New Toronto City Hall (above) reflects success.

CN Tower and Harbourfront ©Solange Hando

Rising to 553 metres above lake Ontario, the communication tower has been the city's icon for over 40 years. In less than a minute, elevators whizz you up to the main observation deck (346 metres)  with a glass floor section, outdoor terrace and indoor refreshments.

If you really love heights, take the next lift and enjoy an even more dizzying panorama from 447 metres above the city and the white dome of the Roger's stadium. In season, adrenaline seekers can try the 'hanging over the edge' experience.

Toronto Islands on Lake Ontario ©Solange Hando

The CN tower also guarantees one of the best bird eye's views of the Toronto islands, 15 altogether interconnected by bridges or pathways across 5 km.

Just 13 minutes from downtown, it's a lovely escape from the bustling streets with nature trails and leisure activities, including boating and swimming. Spend a whole day if you can or book a tour from the harbourfront, worth it for views of the city's skyline on one side and the vast expanse of lake on the other.

Toronto from the CN Tower ©Solange Hando

On the north bank of Lake Ontario, Canada's largest city is hemmed in by ravines on the land side and an urban forest of 10 million trees. The economy is booming and developments are ongoing. 

This is a modern provincial capital with vibrant universities, thriving businesses and myriad tourist attractions from stunning museums and its world famous aquarium to vast shopping malls or the alleyways of China town and markets brimming with local produce.

Quaint and Stylish in Toronto ©Solange Hando

Wander around and you may well come across an old building or two tucked among the tower blocks or a quiet tree-lined district and brightly-coloured houses which seem to belong to another age.

Look out for Cabbage Town, originally an Irish working class settlement, now an attractive place with restored houses, or the Kensington area with colourful ethnic lanes and gentrified houses just steps away. Set on a grid pattern, the city is easy to explore, pick up a map and you can't get lost.

Cherry Blossom in Toronto ©Solange Hando

Toronto may have extremes of temperatures but it is nevertheless on the same latitude as the French Riviera and from spring blossom and tulips through to autumn, the many parks and gardens are simply delightful.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Lisbon, Day Trip to Portugal's Land's End, Cabo da Roca and Sintra

Surfing Beach West of Lisbon ©Solange Hando

Less than an hour away north west of Lisbon, sheltered coves and beaches give way to the wild Atlantic coast battered by breakers and wind.
It's too cold for swimming but ideal for surfing, scuba diving and fishing away from the crowds.

Cabo da Roca ©Solange Hando

Then you reach Cabo da Roca, a precipitous headland marking the westernmost point in continental Europe. The red and white lighthouse rises to 165 metres with spectacular views all around,
There is a small tourist office on the site where you can buy a certificate to prove you were there.

The Rocky Coast ©Solange Hando

On this stretch of coast, the water is all shades of blue, jagged rocks glow in the setting sun and trails strewn with wild flowers meander along the clifftop.
Check the weather before venturing too far as fog and wind can sweep in from the ocean when you least expect it.

Sintra in the Hills ©Solange Hando

Beyond the cape, this popular tour follows the scenic road heading inland, meandering up and over the wooded slopes before tumbling down to Sintra, a touristy but beautiful world heritage site tucked in lush greenery.
Stylish buildings and mosaics line the colourful streets and if you don't feel like walking, you can take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

Lunch in Sintra ©Solange Hando

After a morning exploring the coast, there's plenty of time to relax in an outdoor restaurant,  hunt for souvenirs in the steep cobbled lanes or ramble in the hills in search of gurgling springs and wooded ravines.

The National Palace ©Solange Hando

Visit the National Palace, the best preserved royal residence of its kind in Portugal, with its white conical chimneys peeping above the trees or if time allows, you could climb up to the hilltop castle for a bird's eye view of Sintra and the forested hills all around.
Or stay overnight and when the crowds have gone, Sintra is simply magical.