Now that the Toronto Raptors have secured the NBA title, I can take a deep breath and document more of our honeymoon to Canada. To say that the Great White North surpassed my expectations would be an understatement.
However, I think it’s fair to say we were more enamored by Montreal than we were Toronto. I’ll write about Quebec soon. Nevertheless, the 6ix, as they call Toronto, reminded me of a hipper, cooler version of Chicago, another city I like quite a bit. I’m even writing this blog in a Blue Jays t-shirt. Here are a couple highlights from Day 1 of our time in Toronto.
We were blown away by Canada’s friendliness and cleanliness, and we were not deterred by overcast conditions the night we decided to dine atop the CN Tower.
If you’re not familiar with the CN Tower, it’s the giant structure you see in the Toronto skyline.
CN Tower History
It was at one time the tallest free-standing structure in the world, but now it’s the ninth, I think. It was built by Canadian National, a railway, in 1976, but was divested to an arm of the Canadian government. So, I don’t know who exactly owns 360 The Restaurant, a fine-dining establishment atop the tower.
We had just come from a Blue Jays game, so I wasn’t dressed as nicely as I probably should have been, but nobody shooed me away.
360 Restaurant Food & Drink
Here’s a peek at the menus.
I’ll do my best to recall what each of us had, but my memory is mostly a slave to the photos I take with my phone. I do remember having a Gotham, a cocktail concocted of Lot 40 Rye Whisky, Amaro Norino, Dillon’s Absinthe, Bitters and Maple. If I didn’t have that, I had my standard – an Old Fashioned. Kristi had a blackberry lemonade, as she recalls.
Even though the CN Tower is very touristy, the restaurant was legit. Drinks, food, service everything was spot-on. To me, it was a no-brainer stop if you’re already going to tour the tower anyway.
After our bread and salad service, we made our dinner selections.
For Kristi: Herb & Brewis Crusted Fogo Island Cod on a bed of sweet potato rosti, French beans and caper beurre blanc.
For me: Seared Manitoulin Island Lake Trout with celeriac puree, bay scallops and celery saute, citrus oil and red wine butter jus.
And then for dessert, we ordered ice cream and cookies but got a dark chocolate tower on the house because it was our honeymoon. That’s tip No. 1 for honeymoon travelers: tell everybody it’s your honeymoon.
As for the view atop the tower, it wasn’t perfect. They give you fair warning on days like ours, but it cleared up somewhat during the evening, and I have to think it’s super gorgeous during the summer. The entire restaurant rotates very slowly throughout your dinner, so you get to see it all regardless of where you sit.
Here were some of our views. Beautiful, even if overcast!
My first out-of-town date with Kristi was a Texas Rangers game against the visiting Toronto Blue Jays, a team I had grown to despise thanks to Jose Bautista. Drew Stubbs walked it off with a homer in extras, and the Rangers had exacted at least one morsel of revenge.
The very next day, Rougned Odor won the hearts of every Rangers fan but obliterating the jaw of Bautista after a dirty slide. In the long-term, it wasn’t an effective move but in the short-term it sure felt good. Kristi and I attended the game before because, I thought, the fracas might happen THAT night, and I wasn’t going to mind being there to witness it.
Does that make me an awful human? Lol.
Sports have been a big part of our adventures the past three years, and we made it a part of our honeymoon, too.
And thus explains why I have fallen completely nuts for the Toronto Raptors.
Our honeymoon started in Buffalo, where we rented a car and drove to Niagara Falls. Much more on that later, but we went from there to Hamilton, Ontario, where Kristi graciously allowed me to stop at Tim Horton’s Stadium, home of the mighty Tiger-Cats. We spent all of about five minutes there. This is something I do. I like to see arenas and stadiums.
But then it was on to Toronto and Montreal.
I’m going to write about our experiences in each city, which is very different from the other. In fact, I got the sense talking to locals in each city that they didn’t like the other. I guess it’s the equivalent of Oklahoma’s OKC-Tulsa rivalry or Texas’ Dallas-Houston.
However, today I explain my fascination for these Raptors and why I’m all-in on #WeTheNorth.
Even before we tied the knot, Kristi and I had made it a plan to spend one evening at a bar watching the Raptors during our honeymoon. It also happened to be a night when the Oklahoma City Thunder were playing Portland, a series they lost. Sad trombone. But we wanted to be strangers in a strange land.
And the Raptors had lost the first game of their series, too, to Orlando, just two nights before. In the eyes of Raptors fans, that first-game-of-the-first-series loss had to be discouraging given all the years their hopes had been lifted only to have them sunk.
After two days of wandering the streets of Toronto and taking in a Blue Jays game, we wandered toward Scotiabank Arena and the legendary Jurrasic Park area for fans. I say legendary because it’s gotten a lot of TV time during the playoffs and because I remember Oklahoma City’s own Thunder Alley.
The vibes were similar albeit Toronto’s is way bigger. And a much cooler name.
Also, this is something you should know about Toronto, Ontario. It’s the fourth-largest city in North America, behind Mexico City, New York City and Los Angeles. It’s clean and sort of European. Definitely cosmopolitan. Gray. Cool.
On game night, we walked into a bar right by Scotiabank Arena called Real Sports Bar. It was a giant sports bar with at least 100 TVs, and I was sure given our lack of a reservation that we wouldn’t be able to get a seat for Game 2 between the Toronto Raptors and the Orlando Magic.
I was wearing an Oklahoma City Dodgers cap. Representing the 405.
The host took us to two good seats right behind the main seating area but in perfect view of all the screens. Not only were the Raptors playing but so were the Blue Jays, who took second-fiddle this night. The Maple Leafs played the night before, otherwise I’m not sure we would have been watching the Raptors.
We asked her if we could watch the Oklahoma City Thunder game after the Raptors’, and she asked if we were from Oklahoma City.
“We are,” I said. “But tonight we wanted to come hang out with Raptors and root on Toronto,” not yet having any emotional investment in the team.
Besides Kawhi Leonard,Kyle Lowry,Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, I knew nothing about this team. They were pieces put together without much of an on-the-floor theme, in my opinion. Nevertheless, my declaration was met with an extraordinarily welcoming, “We are glad you’re here. Tonight you’re Raptors!”
Something like that.
The two seats to our left were soon taken by two diminutive Asian women who were rabid Raptors fans. I couldn’t get a sense of whether English was their primary language when they asked us if the seats were taken. They weren’t, and we sat next to them for the entire game. I mention them to provide observational evidence of Toronto’s diversity in basketball. When the Raptors-Warriors series starts on Thursday, please look at the faces of Toronto’s fans.
The team’s president, Masai Ujiri, is a 48-year-old Nigerian who’s best known right now for his gamble on a one-year deal for Kawhi Leonard but who is most respected in the basketball community for his ambassadorship of basketball in Africa. In many ways, the Toronto Raptors are the future of professional basketball both on and off the floor — extraordinarily international.
At the bar, Kristi and I ordered some food, some drinks and just observed. I ran across the bar to a sports apparel shop at halftime to get myself a We The North long-sleeved t-shirt. I ran back for the second half. Toronto won in anti-climatic fashion.
And I didn’t think much about them until we got back from our honeymoon. Truly, I spent more time rooting on the Maple Leafs while in Canada because I knew how much hockey meant to the city compared to anything else. And, oh how the Maple Leafs are long-suffering, not having touched Lord Stanley’s Cup since 1967.
Once we got back to Oklahoma City, with the Maple Leafs eliminated, I made it a point to tune in to the Raptors-76ers series.
And I got to learn about Cameroonian Pascal Siakam. And I got to watch former Thunder player Serge Ibaka and former Grizzly Marc Gasol. The three of them together speak Spanish and French on the floor, which I love.
Freddie Van Vleet plays for the Raptors. I was a huge Wichita State fan when he and Ron Baker were together. Loved those teams.
Danny Green, Norman Powell, Jeremy Lin.
I saw first-hand why Kyle Lowry is the heart-and-soul of the team.
And I (and the world) discovered the meme-factory that is Nick Nurse. That man paid his dues. At one point he made $300 a week coaching for the Oklahoma Storm, a USBL team from Enid, Oklahoma. He’s living the North-American dream.
You know who else is? Nav Bhatia, a 67-year-old Canadian immigrant who’s attended every Raptors game since 1995. Everybody talks about Drake, but Bhatia is the real superfan of this team, and if you have an extra three minutes, read his story. It’s incredible.
But just as I was getting to know the team, Game 7 against Philadelphia happened, and I knew I was going to be sad if their run ended because, symbolically, it would also close out what was a logical memory extension of our honeymoon.
I know; I’m a total sap. Sue me.
And then Kawhi’s shot bounced and bounced and bounced, and bounced, and went in. Now, if I told you that I had a premonition of that shot before it happened, you wouldn’t believe me and that’s ok. I didn’t even tell my wife. The premonition was merely that the Raptors were going to win on a long shot that bounced around the rim and went in. The thought lasted about one full second. I didn’t really have time even to communicate it before it happened. But I swear to you that it’s true.
It doesn’t even matter. It went in. Kristi screamed. I high-fived her, and 10-year-old Olivia ran in faux-fear, not understanding what all the hullabaloo was about.
Like it or not, at least for this playoff run, these Raptors were ours.
The Bucks series felt like a long-shot by most accounts, especially after two games.
Then Nick Nurse put Kawhi on Giannis, and the Raptors invented The Wall. Kyle Lowry had his monster game. And then Fred Van Vleet had an even bigger game after the birth of his child.
And then 26-3 happened in Game 6. In the 6ix, which is what Toronto calls itself.
At some point, you start thinking the Raptors are darlings of destiny.
Like this is ordained.
Given everything I’ve seen — Kawhi’s shot, the emergence of Nick Nurse, Jurassic Park, The Wall, what Kyle Lowry and Freddie Van Vleet can do when they get hot — it’s hard not to think the Toronto Raptors are simply starring in a feel-good movie.
And despite not knowing whether Kawhi will come back to Toronto after his one season there, I can’t guarantee that I won’t always root for this team, at least a little. Maybe not if they’re playing the Thunder, of course.
Then again, we don’t yet know just how good, how dramatic these NBA Finals will be.
How does this movie end?
If it’s up to me, it’s Raptors in 7. Kawhi is MVP, and this time the game-winner is all net.
One of the things I noticed about Canadian radio on our honeymoon is that a lot of the songs we heard aren’t marketed in the States. Some for good reason, and others perplexing. A lot of the songs are in French; so that stands to reason.
But there was a lot I liked, and I love to share terrific music.
This isn’t the whole of the ‘Funky French Playlist’ as Kristi and I have called it, but this works in some of my favorites from Canada and adds a handful of songs I’m obsessing over during the past month. And I’ll start with the first, which I heard on Dwight Yoakam’s Bakersfield Beat channel on SiriusXM. It’s Linda Ronstadt’s famous cover of the Lowell George (Little Feat) tune called “Willin’.” I’ve listened to about 30 versions over the past couple of days, and hers is the best.
There is more soul in that song than anything on the radio in 2019. I’m pretty sure I own this album, too, and didn’t really even realize it. Not the first time that’s happened.
For what it’s worth, my second favorite version is Mandy Moore’s. I like the electric guitar and all although admittedly I’m having trouble juxtaposing ‘This Is Us’ Mandy singing a song I know came from the girl who sang “Candy.” Kidding aside; she’s super underrated vocally. Her “Whole Of The Moon” cover is one of my favorite songs.
Anyway, that’s not a Canada honeymoon trip tune. I’ll tell you when I get there. I’m knocking out my other recent musical obsessions first. This next one is a classic from Led Zeppelin that struck me while driving a few days ago. It struck me by how beautiful the verse is against the soulful, gritty rock chorus. It’s “What Is And What Should Never Be.”
This next tune I keep hearing on old early-1980s ‘American Top 40’ broadcasts. It’s a Commodores hit called “Old Fashioned Love.” Over the years it’s really grown on me.
OK, we’re almost to the Canada songs, but first a tune that stunned me Sunday as I was setting up Kristi’s Sirius XM subscription presets. I heard this song (“Raining In My Heart”) from Buddy Holly and had to do a double-take because, to me, it was akin to hearing the male version of Dinah Washington’s“September In The Rain.” Much respect to a long-gone legend whose discography was apparently much more broad stylistically than I ever would have guessed. This is beautiful.
Next up is Kacey Musgraves’“Slow Burn,” whose craftsmanship really hits the ear upon second or third listen, especially the second verse. If you haven’t listened to the album, do. It’s wonderful.
Last on the not-Canada part of the playlist is a funky ear-worm from DNCE, the band headed by Joe Jonas. Want me to fight you? Disrespect the musicality of Hanson or the Jonas Brothers, either one. Between Nick’s “Jealous” and this, they’ve earned my listening time. This is as good a pop song as I’ve heard in years.
Now for the Canadian honeymoon tunes, the first of which is a rap that became our theme song for the entire trip, “Bonjour, Hi” from ST X LIAM and Mori$$ Regal. I have very little idea what they’re saying except for, “Bonjour, Hi,” which is the greeting you get in every Montreal establishment — and as you might be guessing, these cats are from Quebec. Love it.
So before we spent three days in Montreal, we stayed in Toronto for four. On one of our day-tours, we stopped in an Asian-food store and heard this K-pop tune from a group called Seventeen or SVT for short. The song is called “Mansae,” and I have zero idea what they’re saying. However, the music hearkens memories of early-90s pop and Jeremy Jordan’s“Wanna Girl.”
Side note: that Toronto store had the best, strangest candy selection of all-time.
We listened to a lot of CBC Radio while there, and I was a Shazam-using fool. This song translates to something like “As We Wait For Spring” or “As It Happens In Spring.” The singer, Jerome Couture, is a La Voix Season 1 runner up, the French-Canadian version of “The Voice.”
This is “Comme On Attend Le Printemps.” This song is permanently etched into my brain as a honeymoon song.
Francesco Yates is a kid we heard a lot of in Canada. Shades of MJ and Bruno, and we both wondered how soon it would be before he was a North American star. “Better To Be Loved” was the best tune we heard from him. Maybe consider him to be the funky Bieber.
Echosmith was a band that caught my ear a couple years ago with “Cool Kids.” I don’t know that I loved, loved this song, but their vibe comes off as a more-pop version of Paramore. And I 100 percent believe Sydney Sierota is destined for solo stardom if she wants it. This is “Over My Head.”
Color me among those who thought Mac Miller was musically gifted, highly so. This tune we heard in Canada was one of many examples I could provide — and it foreshadows the mental anguish that afflicted him. It’s called “Come Back To Earth.”
The last song for this edition of the playlist is called “Last Tango In Paris” from a French group called Gotan Project. It’s beautiful, and I was immediately struck by how much my mom would have loved it, especially when the chromatic harp (or what mimics it) comes in.
If you’ve got any music, new or old, I need to be listening to, add it to the comments below!