Monday, September 30, 2013

Amtraking Home on the Empire Service

Amtrak Train 284
Morning folks. Some of you may remember that we are on another adventure. This time we are traveling by Amtrak trains. This is a picture of us heading home. In fact I'm writing this blog from the club car as we travel.
For the rail fans, this is train 284, Empire Service, a five coach train set pulled by a P-42 locomotive (4200 Hp) which will take us from Niagara Falls to Penn Station in NYC. We are traveling Bussiness Class which is what First Class is called now. Then onto a Northeast Regional train to Wilmington Delaware (our closest station).
While we were in Toronto we got to take more trains. As with most big cities (pop 750,000) folks use mass transit to get in and out and around the city. In our short stay we took the GO train which is a regional train, and the TTC, which is the Toronto Transit system.
Luckily the system is laid out in a logical order. We relied on day passes which let is get on and off all day long. BUT like all cities! rush hour is not the time to try this. Our second day in we got the the GO station early to get a parking space (didn't) and had to fight the commuter crowds. Coming back, even though we were a little later, we still had crowds.
At the moment we are in Syracuse, NY, and waiting for a freight train to clear so we can use that track to get around some track work ahead. More railing from me after we get home.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ballpark Fans

Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario which was formerly called SkyDome, is the home of the Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club™, 1992 & 1993 World Series Champions. One of its unique features  is the $5 million in artwork commissioned and on display both outside and inside the facility. 
One of those pieces is a giant whimsical sculpture of the types of people you might see watching a game there. Canadian artist Michael Snow, created The Audience in 1989 and his portrayal of excited fans greets guests at the northeast and northwest entrances.
The audience
Each gold-painted member of The Audience is involved in a directed action toward the oncoming spectator. Depending on your approach to the building, you can be caught in a fan’s photograph, be waved at by a young child or be sneered at if you're a fan of the opposing team.
Stadium art

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Roaming at the ROM

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM is a very big museum, — one of the largest in North America and among the world's leading museums of natural history and world cultures, attracting over 1 million visitors annually — and it's impossible to see it all in a single visit.

Rom older collageROM 0926 16

The museum contains notable collections of dinosaur, minerals and meteorites as well as an extensive collection of design and fine arts, including clothing, interior, and product design, especially Art Deco. People have been visiting it since it opened in 1914 to see over six million objects in its collections and 40 galleries of art, archaeology and natural science. 

Tyranasarus rex collageROM dinosaur heads

Four giant carved totem poles rise in the centre of the stairwells; the largest is over 80 feet tall. The museums's hands-on Biodiversity gallery gives families an interactive experience about the interdependence of people, animals and plants.

ROM totemEstablished in April 1912 and opened 2 years later, the museum maintained close relations with the University of Toronto throughout its history, sharing expertise and resources. The ROM was originally under the university's direct control and management until 1968, when it became an independent institution. Today, it is Canada's largest field-research institution, with activities spanning the globe.

Designed by Toronto architects, the architectural style of the original building is Italianate Neo-Romanesque. The structure is heavily massed and punctuated by rounded and segmented arched windows with heavy surrounds and hood moldings  Other features include applied decorative eave brackets, quoins (masonry blocks at the corner of a wall) and cornices (horizontal decorative moldings).

ROM older collage2

Beginning in 2002, the museum underwent a major renovation and expansion project dubbed as Renaissance ROM. The Provincial and Federal governments, both supported this venture and contributed $60 million towards completion. The campaign aimed to not only raise annual visitor attendance from 750,000 to over a million and a half, but to generate additional funding opportunities to support the museum's research, conservation, galleries, and educational public programs.

ROM newer collageROM 0926 46

The centerpiece of the project, the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, (named after its benefactor who gave $30 million towards completion) was a major addition to the building's original framework. The structure was created by architect Daniel Libeskind whose design was selected from among 50 finalists in an international competition. Libeskind is known for being selected to be the master plan architect to oversee the rebuilding of the NYC World Trade Center. The crystal derives its name from the building's five intersecting volumes, which are reminiscent of crystals. The intersection of two of the crystals, each of which is dedicated to new galleries, creates a void, known as the Spirit House.

ROM 0926 62Rom color BW

The design saw the Terrace Galleries torn down and replaced with a desconstructivist (see below) crystalline-form structure, named after Michael Lee-Chin who donated $30 million towards its construction. Existing galleries and buildings were also upgraded, along with the installation of multiple new exhibits over a period of months. The first phase of the Renaissance ROM project, the Ten Renovated Galleries in the Historic Buildings, opened to the public on 26 December 2005. The Architectural Opening for the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, however, took place years later in June 2007. The final cost of the project was about $270 million (Canadian).

ROM B W collage

Deconstructivism is a development of postmodern architecture that began in the late 1980s and is characterized by fragmentation, manipulating a structure's surface or skin, and non-rectilinear shapes which appear to distort and dislocate elements of architecture, such as  structure. The finished visual appearance of buildings that exhibit deconstructionist "styles" is characterized by unpredictability and controlled chaos. An earlier post on the Absolute Towers (Marilyn in Mississauga) is another example of this style.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Marilyn in Mississauga

IMG 1558
Curve appeal is not something usually attributed to high-rise buildings. 

But the 56-story Absolute Tower in Mississauga, Ontario has sky-high curves. It's called "Marilyn,"  a reference to the hourglass figure of the late actress Marilyn Monroe, and also has international admirers. The tower twists 209 degrees from the base to the top and is thinner in the middle as it rises.

Its design was the result of an international design competition for the building of a fourth tower for Absolute World, a residential condo complex in this Toronto suburb of 735,000 residents. It was the first time in 40 years that an international design competition was held by a private development group for building a tower greater than 50 stories and the tallest building in Mississauga when completed. Over 600 registrants and 92 submissions from architects in 70 countries participated. 

The public and judging panel voted for the six finalist designs. In March 2007, the selected winning design was from Yansong Ma, founder of the MAD Architectural Design Studio, a Beijing/China architectural design firm; Ma had never heard of Mississauga when he found the design competition online. 

The unpredictable bulges of the skyscraper, make it look different from every angle. Most skyscrapers are built on straight lines as they’re more efficient to build that way. The five-tower Absolute World project cost $450 million Canadian dollars; more than half went in constructing the two curvy towers. The second north high-rise spirals asymmetrically, not enough to steal the spotlight from “Marilyn" and gets larger in the middle; locally it's called "Joe," a reference to Marilyn Monroe's husband, baseball great Joe DiMaggio.
Marilyn collage1
The towers overlook the Square One Shopping Center, one of the largest shopping malls in the Toronto region. In the 428-unit “Marilyn”  and 433-unit "Joe," every floor is different with a wrap-around balcony. Support walls had to be widened and narrowed, and columns lengthened and shortened, to hold up each successive floor. Builders and engineers had to design an internal construction hoist, since curving walls wouldn’t allow an affordable external one. 
Towers square one
Not only are the curvy Mississauga twins associated with Hollywood’s famous blonde, but are among the world’s best new skyscrapers. They recently were awarded the prize of Best Tall Buildings in the Americas by the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.
Marilyn side views

Thursday, September 26, 2013

We Get Around

When traveling in a major city, we try to see as much as possible without using a car or sightseeing tours. For our current visit to Toronto, Ontario, that meant driving to the commuter train station and trying to find a parking space. Then, finding out that we needed to get there before 7:00 a.m. as most spaces were either Reserved or for Carpooling. For us, retired means NOT having to get up that early.

But, then we learned that IF we can find a carpooling space after 9:30 a.m. it's OK to use one, luckily, we were there at 9:45 a.m. and found (possibly) the last one.
Next, we ride the local trains — much to Grenville's delight (did you happen to know how much he likes trains?). 
GO train collage
Which take us into the city of Toronto, where we learn to navigate the subway system  — everyone is ALWAYS in a rush in the mornings and evenings — must have something to do with that thing called work, which we vaguely recall doing.
Subway rushDSCN3984
Sometimes, the subway doesn't go where we're going which meant we had to ride the streetcars. This was actually a treat as few cities still use these.
Streetcar collage

How do you navigate a major city when traveling?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Panda-monium in Toronto

Da mao yawn
Not a riot, but the popular Giant Panda Experience at the Toronto Zoo, the new home of two giant pandas visiting Canada for 10 years as part of a long-term conservation partnership between China and Canada.

Da Mao, a four-year old male from Chongqing and Er Shun, a five year old female from Chengdu, became the city's biggest celebrities when the display opened in May. The pair traveled first class via a special FedEx flight from China, and after five years in Toronto, they will relocate to the Calgary Zoo, which has announced a major redesign for the future visitors.
Their Toronto "panda digs" include interpretive and interactive elements as well as several indoor areas and a combination laboratory and nursery space, should the pair start a family while visiting. For now, they live in separate quarters as pandas are solitary by nature and only "date to mate." Since this pair reportedly don't even get along, it won't be easy — female pandas are only receptive to the male 24 to 72 hours each year. Should Er Shun become pregnant while in Toronto, the parents and cub(s) would remain there until they can be moved safely — no splitting up the family.

Da Mao is the more outgoing of the pair and seems to really enjoy having company come to visit. He will lie on his back and look at the gathered crowds.
Da mao collage
Da Mao
His female counterpart, Er Shun, is more reserved and zoo staff are training her to move in and out of the displays.
Er Shun collage
Feeding is another challenge as bamboo makes up over 90 percent of their diet. Up to 1,985 pounds of fresh bamboo are shipped in from a panda-specific plantation in Tennessee, near the Memphis Zoo, twice weekly. Talk about big eaters — they consume 93 to 141 pounds daily
Da Mao strut
Ever get to a new place and feel out of sorts? Not so for this couple. Da Mao and Er Shun have expert travel companions from China to help them feel at home in Toronto. An animal nutritionist and panda house curator came along and are working with zoo staff for six months, living in a house at the zoo.
Giant pandas live in a few mountain ranges in central China. They once lived in lowland areas, but farming, forest clearing, and other development now restrict them to the mountains. The giant panda is listed as endangered in the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals. There are about 1,600 left in the wild; nearly 300 pandas live in zoos and breeding centers around the world, mostly in China.

The Giant Panda Experience has proved so popular that on busy days an estimated 20,000 visitors have crowded in to see them up close. Luckily, there were no waiting lines when we visited, a definite plus of traveling off-peak and on a week day.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Castle in the City

IF every man's home is his castle, then Sir Henry Mill Pellatt certainly knew how to live. His former home was a 98-room Gothic style castle in midtown Toronto, Ontario that's now a city landmark.Casa loma1Casa loma gargoyles
Casa Loma (House on the Hill) was the fairy-tale home of Sir Pellatt, a well-known Canadian financier and soldier, who was best known for bringing hydro-electricity to Toronto by harnessing the power of Niagara Falls for electricity.
Casa loma features
Sir Pellatt purchased 25 lots and engaged noted architect Edward J. Lennox, the architect who designed Toronto's old city hall, to help him realize a life-long dream — the creation of a medieval castle based on his life-long fascination with European castles.
Casa Loma rooms
Casa Loma became known as the largest private residence ever constructed in Canada. Sir Henry borrowed the most pleasing elements of Norman, Gothic and Romanesque styles to create his castle. It was constructed by 300 workers over a three-year period from 1911–1914; costs soared from $250,000 to $3.5 million.
Henry Pellatt BR
Mary Pellatt BR
Construction on the house was halted at the start of World War I. Still. The house included 30 bathrooms and Sir Henry's private bath included a free-standing shower with six heads. Other amenities included electrical power, a telephone exchange with 59 phones, elevator, oven large enough to cook an ox, two vertical passages for pipe organs, and a central vacuum, two secret passages in Sir Henry's ground-floor office, and three uncompleted bowling alleys.
Casa loma bathrooms
The castle grounds included a large fountain and formal gardens.During the depression after World War I, the City of Toronto increased the annual property taxes from $600 per year to $1,000 a month for Casa Loma. Sir Pellatt, already experiencing financial difficulties, was forced to auction off $1.5 million in art and $250,000 in furnishings.
Casa loma gardens
A castle is a home unless taxes are unpaid. Sir Henry enjoyed his castle home for less than 10 years, leaving in 1923. The strain of maintaining his large home led to ill-advised and unsuccessful real estate investments. The Province expropriated his electrical power generating business, and his aircraft manufacturing business was later taken over as part of the war effort during World War I. Combined, these difficulties led to his near bankruptcy and forced him and Lady Pellatt to leave Casa Loma.
It was later operated briefly as a luxury hotel and in the late 1920s, it was a popular nightspot. The Canadian Orange Blossoms, later known as Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra, played there for eight months in 1927–1928, before leaving for a North American tour and becoming a major swing era dance band.
Casa loma3
Most of the third floor was left unfinished, and now serves as the Regimental Museum for The Queen's Own Rifles of Canada. Pellatt joined the Regiment as a Rifleman, rose through the ranks, becoming the Commanding Officer and knighted for his dedication to the Regiment. Later, Pellatt served as the Honorary Colonel and was promoted Major-General upon retirement.Casa loma4
The city seized Casa Loma in 1933 for $27,303 in back taxes. The castle was extremely run down and the city was calling for it to be demolished. In 1937, it was leased by the Kiwanis Club of Toronto (currently called the Kiwanis Club of Casa Loma) and a 15-year restoration was undertaken. Today, Casa Loma is one of Toronto's top sightseeing attractions.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Prettiest Ontario Town

Niagara-on-the-Lake, located in the heart of Ontario's wine region, has been described as "the prettiest town in Ontario" and after visiting here over the weekend, we would  agree with this statement.
NOTL streetsNOTL flowers
There are flowering plants on every street corner, hanging from lamp posts and in sidewalk flower beds. And, there's no shortage of places to shop and dine.
NOTL stores collage
Site of the old Neutral Indian village of Onghiara, it was settled at the close of the American Revolution by Loyalists coming to Upper Canada, many had been members of Butler's Rangers, a British provincial regiment composed of Loyalists (Tories) in the American Revolutionary War. The town was called Butlersburg in honor of Colonel John Butler, the group's commander. In 1781, it received official status and was renamed Newark, a British military site and haven for British loyalists fleeing the U.S. in the aftermath of the American Revolution. Later, it was was renamed Niagara and became the first capitol of Upper Canada (now Ontario).
NOTL flower scapes1
During the War of 1812, the capitol was moved to York (now Toronto) farther from the areas of combat. Niagara played a central part in the War of 1812; it was taken by American forces after a two-day bombardment by cannons from Fort Niagara and the American Fleet, followed by a bloody battle. American forces razed and burnt the town as they withdrew to Fort Niagara. It was rebuilt it after the war and, in the 1880s, renamed as Niagara-on-the-Lake to avoid confusion with Niagara Falls.
NOTL older bldgs collage
After its reconstruction, Niagara-on-the-Lake became an active commercial centre, with a busy shipping and ship-building industry, shops and warehouses. Beautiful old buildings that line flowered and the tree-shaded streets attest to its prosperity, over 200 years later.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Orange You Glad . . .

That fall arrived today.

Fall colors

Yes, I know, it WAS an awful pun. September 22 marks the official start of fall/autumn here in the U.S. and the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. This season (the only one with dual names) runs from today (Sunday, Sept 22) until Friday, Dec 20.

How beautifully the leaves grow old. How full of light and color their last days. (John Burroughs, American naturalist and essayist)

Fall leaves

The first day of the autumn season is the day of the year when the sun crosses the celestial equator moving southward, referred to as the Autumnal Equinox, when the hours of day and night are roughly equal.

Fall trees

These early signs of fall colors were taken today during a trip to Niagara on the Lake, a picturesque town in southern Ontario, Canada; more about this day trip in a future post.