Start off at the CN Tower – What, go up it? With my head for heights? That’s something I have to work up to, probably after a wee session in a bar – anyway, start off at the Tower, head into the city, keep walking until your feet hurt and then start moaning until Ged gives in and you go to the first coffee shop you find for cake and, you guessed it, coffee. That’s how we found Toronto’s legendary Kensington Market.
This part of town dates back to the early 1800s and has always been a popular site for newly-arrived immigrants. The result is a hotch-potch of ethnicities who have all added their touch to the boho feel that surrounds the area. It’s also highly popular with writers and artists and those people who think they’re artists (no, Mr Busker, an out-of-tune guitar and a badly-sung Bob Dylan song is not worth a couple of dollars. We have tips to afford, you know). Like all boho-chic areas, there’s a wide range of tie-dye and people hoping to get sky-high. Or perhaps they have other uses for all the bongs on sale. What do I know? Add a smattering of “vintage” – *coughs* “secondhand” – shops and you get the idea. It’s a busy, happening place filled with “colourful” characters, some trying a bit too hard to be alternative, but that’s what happens with trendy areas. Nevertheless, the Market is a nice place to hang out, even if you are old enough to have had pink hair the first time around and think a nice, sensible winter’s coat is more suitable than Army & Navy Surplus.
Anyway, the coffee shop was a lovely café called Wanda’s Pie in the Sky (left, http://www.wandaspieinthesky.com), where we sat down with a trendy – ie. posh bottle with a price to match – bottle of cola, a coffee and two giant cookies (it wasn’t my fault, Ged refused to share so I had to have one of my own).
“Enjoy and come back for a free refill of your coffee,” extolled our server.
My first offer of a refill! That legendary moment, as seen in Grease, Happy Days and everything other show with a North American slant. The dreams this coffee-lover had had about this moment – it would be a waitress (they’re always female in the shows) in a frilly apron, her hair in rolls, walking around a light, bright diner with a coffee pot, topping up cups without asking and passing on her worldly yet slightly-cynical advice about life.
Amazingly, the truth isn’t quite like this. We ended up sitting by the window, negotiating our way through a maze of chairs and tables filled with people talking about incredibly trendy and important things. Not only was there no worldweary yet kind-hearted waitress to serve me, I realised that I was British and we just don’t do things like go back voluntarily to ask for more. I mean, look what happened to Oliver Twist. So we ate the cookies – which I highly recommend – drank our drinks and left.
(By the way, I would never have imagined having more than one café con leche in Madrid. I once had two at my friend María Jesus’s home and was so hyper on the journey back from Lavapiés that no-one would sit next to me fearing I had nits. Canadian coffee, to be honest, is a little bland and contains merely a fraction of the caffeine Madrileños are used to.)
But by then – as has been the way throughout our first few weeks here – it was raining heavily and the sugar rush had died off, leaving us both hungry, so we dived into Mexican Salsas (right) and quickly ordered a couple of tacos – dos con pollo, para mi, y dos con carnitas para él.
But as we were munching away,
we heard, in Spanish:
“They only wanted two tacos.”
“I know! Just two!”
A little word to the wise, guys – WE UNDERSTOOD YOU! You would have thought the fact that I ordered in Castillian – “sí, con tomate, lechuga y cebolla, por favor” – might have given the game away that although we are currently whiter than the zombies on The Walking Dead and my wrinkles at times mean I do a very passable shar pei impression, we’re not teenage Americans on the loose in Cancun about whom you can gossip to your heart’s content. Plus, if you’d just had had one of Wanda’s fab cookies, you’d only have been able to have two tacos too.
Being talked about by the staff didn’t, however, deter us from returning a couple of evenings later – these are seriously good tacos. Eight o’clock, the following Thursday evening, we rolled up the stairs, starving and ready to have – get ready, Mexican Salsa staff – three double tacos, with all the trimmings.
It was shut.
So never mind. This is Kensington Market, after all, a hub of boho life for two centuries, with restaurants and cafés everywhere you look.
There was nothing. Everything was closing or looked closed. Perhaps you need to know the special knock to get in to some places, but we don’t. We are, after all, old(er) farts.
And we’re still hip enough to be round when you’re all closing up.