Hanging out with sharks in Toronto

Needing a quick winter getaway, we packed up the kids and headed for Toronto this past weekend. It was a much-needed escape from the snowy prison we currently inhabit up here by Lake Huron, but full of the usual tension and exhaustion that comes with going anywhere with two young children! Even though they’re wonderful little travellers and never complain, I’m always amazed at how much effort and work it takes to leave home. As soon as we leave the cocoon of predictable naps, adequate sleep, and reliable mealtimes, life becomes a whole lot harder. I return home, thankful from the bottom of heart for my good old fried Routine, as boring as she may be…

On Saturday afternoon, we had a visit with Jason’s teta (aunt) a lovely elderly woman who speaks in a half-decipherable mix of English and Croatian all the time. She switches back and forth, regardless of who’s listening, which I find absolutely endearing. After six years with Jason and one trip to Croatia, I’m no longer entirely in the dark when she rambles on and can usually figure out what she’s talking about. Teta always provides a feast that starts with her iconic Croatian juha – a divine pot of bubbling chicken noodle soup that is, hands down, one of my best soups I’ve ever eaten. I polished off three bowls before the rest of dinner arrived on the table.

We spent the night at my cousin’s apartment, though she wasn’t there. Unfortunately, the combination of extreme warmth that we couldn’t figure out how to turn down (I have to sleep in a cold, cold room at night), pounding footsteps overhead, and overexcited boys resulted in very little sleep for all, and a morning that came far too early. Jason’s attempt at making lattes with my cousin’s fancy coffee machine was foiled because the steam wouldn’t work, but then, just as he accidentally spilled an entire container of yogurt into the sink, the steam valve came on and began spewing the milk – which he’d left below the steamer – all over the entire kitchen. It was a small dairy disaster, but I got my latte at the end of it all. What a hero he is!

We headed to the new Ripley’s Aquarium downtown Toronto and spent a glorious morning gaping at the beautiful, spectacular sea creatures. The tanks are huge, some with 6-inch-thick glass to hold in the pressure. Many have clear plastic tunnels that cut through them, giving us the sensation that we were right inside the tank. Sharks and manta rays swam overhead and around. It was dizzying and terribly exciting for all of us.

I liked that the first part of the exhibit focused on our local Great Lakes ecosystem, followed by the Canadian Pacific and Atlantic coasts. Usually I think of tropical, coral reef fish when I think of an aquarium, but there were wonderful extensive exhibits of lobsters, crabs, bass, thousands of alewives, a funky-looking sawfish that I didn’t even know existed around here, and other cold-water creatures.

Great Lakes fish tank
Great Lakes fish tank
I didn't know lobsters grew to this size. It was as big as my two-year-old!
I didn’t know lobsters grew to this size. It was as big as my two-year-old!
My favourite starfish are the beautiful dark purple ones on the left.
My favourite starfish are the beautiful dark purple ones on the left.

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Creepy and gorgeous at the same time… there were so many sharks everywhere we looked.
Creepy and gorgeous at the same time… there were so many sharks everywhere we looked.

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We hit up an old favourite spot for lunch – the Korean grill house on Queen – and showed the boys how to cook marinated meat and seafood on the gas grill that’s embedded in the middle of the table. They loved grilling the squid rings and couldn’t eat enough of them. (Appropriate and somewhat perverse, I thought, after just visiting the aquarium. Oh well.)

The day wrapped up with a violin lesson with my teacher – the original goal for going to the city – as well as some zero-waste bulk grocery shopping for me. (Ha! I know I’m hooked when my reaction to Toronto is, “Awesome, I’ll bring a dozen jars and containers along with me. Yay!”) I found a great food co-op called Karma near Bloor and Bathurst where reusables are obviously the norm; plastic containers, by contrast, will set you back 40 cents apiece.

It was a good weekend away, though I’m very happy to be home and to have had a solid eight-hour sleep in my frigid bedroom last night. Oh, and I’m very ready for winter to be over. I am officially sick and tired of snow, though I never thought I’d say that. At least the countdown is on till my getaway… Honduras in exactly 21 days!

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