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Exploring Toronto’s PATH

My university had one – an extensive underground walkway that connected all the buildings on campus so there was little need to go outside on those bone-chilling cold days. We called ours the tunnel.

Toronto's Path

On a recent trip to Toronto, I discovered a similar underground walkway in the downtown area. Known as the Toronto PATH or simply the PATH, at 19 miles, this network of subterranean pathways vastly surpasses my former school’s tunnel.

Its main artery runs along Yonge and Bay Streets, as far north as the Toronto Coach Terminal on Dundas Street and south to Queen’s Quay. This conduit, through which 200,000 people pass daily, connects retail, business, entertainment and public transportation hubs. Add visitors and residents and the number rises.

The PATH’s impressive 4 million square feet of retail space earned it a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest underground shopping complex.

Toronto's PATH
The PATH, TD Centre Food Hall

Each letter in the PATH’s four color logo is a directional code pointing you south (red P), west (orange A), north (blue T) and east (yellow H). In addition, there are other signs to office buildings and major centers.

To me, the PATH is ambitious and intimidating — ambitious because of Matthew Lawson’s vision. Lawson, the 1960s city planner, was able to get a few developers to buy into the idea of including underground shopping in their complexes. This expanded the original and limited 1900s underground walkway that connected Eaton’s department stores, and the newer Union Station to the Royal York Hotel leg.

The PATH Map
The Map

Intimidating, because it is so extensive – I felt like I was walking a maze. Despite finding my way from my office to the hotel the first day, the next morning when I tried to reverse my route, I got turned around several times. I realized only when I found myself in the same spot I had been a few minutes earlier. After the third time, I gave up in frustration and headed to the closest exit, even though it was raining.

As soon as I got outside, I oriented myself by looking for a familiar building and was in my office a few minutes later. I’m not one to give up easily and felt a delightful sense of accomplishment the next morning when I didn’t get lost.  

Some PATH Stats:

  • 1 railway terminal
  • 2 major department stores
  • 2 major shopping centers
  • 5 subway stations
  • 6 major hotels
  • 20 parking garages
  • 50+ buildings and office towers

Have you explored Toronto’s PATH?

Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday that Nancie at Budget Travelers Sandbox organizes.
Click the link to view other photos from around the world.


Witch Finger Grapes, An Unusual Find

The best thing about travel is discovering something new, different or unusual. This past weekend in  a small fruit and vegetable shop in Toronto, I stumbled on something both new (to me) and different – witch finger grapes. 

I hadn’t planned on buying when my friend and I stopped into the shop but as soon as I walked in, I felt a powerful urge to buy grapes. I love grapes: they’re tasty and easy to eat.

The store had the usual green and red seedless grapes. Next to them were these purple chilli pepper-looking variety. I hesitated. One of the guys in the store likely saw the puzzled look on my face. Before I could ask, he volunteered, “Those are witch fingers.”

Witch fingers? Where are they from?

I expected him to say somewhere in Ontario but he didn’t. They’re from California, he added.

California? You mean I had to come to Canada to find these California grapes?

I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy them – not because of the name. I wondered if they’d be sweet.
Try them, he said.

I broke a few off, rubbed them on my pants and popped them into my mouth. The juice that exploded and found its way down the back of my throat was unexpectedly, deliciously sweet. There was no question which ones I’d take.

Witch Finger Grapes are a hybrid variety that, according to, is a cross between an American cultivar and a Mediterranean variety. I’ve been unable to find out how it got its distinctive shape or why it’s called witch fingers.

These little bundle of sweetness didn’t last till Sunday. I should have bought more than a pound.

What unusual foods have you found during your travels?


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Nearness, Public Art in Times Square

Normally when I’m rushing through Times Square, it’s the viewers – mostly from out-of-town – I have to watch out for. They gather in groups outside the ABC television studio window to watch the taping of the morning show, or wander around, camera at the ready, eyes lifted skyward oblivious to those of us who are trying to get to work on time. Sometimes, they cover the sidewalk like a slow-moving tide that rarely breaks.

Truthfully, Times Square can be frustrating for regulars in a hurry but there’s really no place like it.

Nearness, Public Art in Times Square
Arles del Rio’s Nearness, Times Square

To complicate matters, for several weeks the City had crews resurfacing the plaza in front of the ABC studio (those bricks are new) and repairing 43rd Street so a large swath of the Square inaccessible. Do you ever notice how much road and construction work take place in the summer? I was relieved when the work was done, when the Square was back to its normal size.

A few days after, as I hurried from Broadway on to 43rd Street, I stopped in my tracks. Directly in front of me in the plaza, the same one that for weeks construction crews had cordoned off, was a mass of cut-out figures. Now I have visitors and installations to avoid, I thought. But it was fleeting.

Truthfully, I love art. It lightens my heart when I find it in places I don’t expect. This did. These framed life-sized chain-linked embroidered cut outs of the human body, some standing together in twos or threes, like in a photo, some solo – made me smile.

Chain link art? Artists sure know how to make art of the everyday, that’s what I love about them, I though. Then I remembered reading my blogger friend, Jeff Titelius’s post on Nikolai Astrup. He once used denim as a medium. Now that’s thinking outside the box.

As I walked towards the figures, I realized that I could see people through the cut-outs. Then instead of walking around as I had done, one man walked right through one. This is pretty cool, I thought as I glanced at my watch – yes, I had time to check them out – and pulled out my cell phone.

Created by Arles del Rio, Nearness, according to the Times Square website, “deals with restrictions, distance, the forbidden and achieving longings despite impediments.”

Sometimes art is inaccessible, leaving the viewer wondering about the artist’s intent. What I like about Nearness is its simplicity. It communicates, engages, and invites you to interact.

One morning as I walked through, I noticed a new sign telling people not to climb on to the installation. I was late and promised to take a photo of it on my way home. The following morning, Nearness was gone. I was disappointed. I brightened up when I saw on the Times Square website that it had only moved to the next block. Nearness will be on view until August 18th so if your travels take you to Manhattan, be sure to check it out.

A Little About Arles del Rio:

Arlés del Rio was born on November 6th, 1975, in Havana, Cuba. He has participated in many national and international exhibitions including The XI Havana Biennial, and his public installation “Fly Away” was part of the Behind the Wall Project (Detrás del Muro) also exhibited at The XI Havana Biennial and The 8th Floor Gallery in NYC. Recently, Arlés participated in group exhibitions such as “Premio Maretti” and “Stealing Base”. He was nominated for the 2012-13 Vermont Studio Center Fellowship Award sponsored by the Reed Foundation. His work is part of private and institutional collections in several countries including the USA, Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland and Greece. – From Times Square website.

Where Nearness will be next:

July 20 – August 1, 2014: Broadway plaza between 42nd & 43rd Streets

August 2 – 9, 2014: Broadway plaza between 43rd & 44th Streets

August 10 – 18, 2014 Duffy Square at Broadway & 46th Street

Linking up with Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday.

Be sure to head over and check out more travel photos from around the world.

Coconut Drops

At the end of a birthday dinner a few weeks ago, the servers distributed small parcels containing coconut drops. Since we’d already had dessert, I decided to take mine home but having it in my hand, I couldn’t resist breaking off a piece and slipping it into my mouth. It was so delicious – just the right balance of spices and sugar – that pretty soon, the package was empty and I was feeling a bit guilty for finishing it.

Coconut drops or just plain drops are a traditional snack that’s very popular with young and old Jamaicans. The name comes from the way that drops are made – by dropping a hot mixture of diced coconut, ginger, spices and sugar onto a flat surface, traditionally banana leaf, to cool. Of course, if you don’t have a banana leaf, a greased cookie sheet will do just fine and because you spoon the mixture, you can control the size of each drops.

Since its such a simple recipe, coconut drops is one of the snacks almost everyone knows how to make, and did I say how tasty it is? In the days before packaged snacks, like banana or plantain chips, were what students reach for, it’d be one of the treats vendors always had for sale just outside the school gate.

A few years ago, one of my friends made coconut drops but she used only about half the sugar the recipe called for. Surprisingly, less sugar didn’t compromise the flavor.

Here’s a recipe for Coconut Drops from Enid Donaldson’s The Real Taste of Jamaica.

Coconut Drops
Yields 12

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  1. 2 cups diced coconut
  2. 1 tbsp powered ginger or 1 tsp grated root
  3. 1 tsp vanilla
  4. 1 lb brown sugar
  5. 1 pinch salt
  1. Combine all ingredients adding about ½ to ¾ cup water to cook coconut. Boil about 20-30 minutes. Stir well and drop by spoonfuls onto a greased tin sheet.
Adapted from The Real Taste of Jamaica
Adapted from The Real Taste of Jamaica

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A Week of Live Music and Restaurant Meals

When it’s as hot as it’s been the past few weeks, restaurants meals and takeout replace home cooked. Usually, it’s take out but last week, I ended up with several more restaurant meals than take out as we celebrated a promotion, friends visiting and a friend  leaving New York City temporarily.

The first part of the week found us at Birdland, a jazz club in midtown. My friend, Lorraine, a singer was visiting and wanted to listen to live jazz. There are several locations to listen to jazz in New York City but Birdland was close to where she was staying. We were chatting so much, I forgot to take photos of the meal when it arrived, and photography was not allowed when the Loston Harris Quartet, with special guest singer, Monica Behan, took the stage.

Later in the week, we celebrated our friend’s Judith’s promotion with a meal at Aba, a Turkish restaurant on Manhattan’s west side. I chose the Doner Kebab. I had read about doner kebabs in a post that Jan at Budget Travel Talk had written a while back. When I saw it on the menu, there was no question what I’d have for my main course.

A Week of Live Music and Restaurant Meals
Doner Kebab, Aba Turkish Restaurant

If you’ve had gyros, you know exactly what doner kebab are and most importantly, how it tastes. Very flavorful, succulent and plain delicious. I ate every slice.

Another friend is due to leave shortly on a fellowship in southern Africa. When she requested Jamaican food, I mentioned a few of my favorite restaurants. I don’t remember exactly how we decided on Ripe Restaurant in Mount Vernon but early Saturday afternoon, we were sitting in their “backyard” – Ripe is a small restaurant with maybe 15 tables so the backyard, which is open during the summer, extends the space – sipping a glass of their rum punch.

I had been salivating over two of my favorite appetizers at Ripe – the Strawberry Hill Codfish Spring Rolls and Cuban Plantain Boat – and undecided which I should order. Honestly, I would have ordered both but I decided on the spring rolls. Not your typical spring rolls, these are bullets stuffed with codfish and served with a vidalia onion mustard sauce.

A Week of Live Music and Restaurant Meals
Strawberry Hill Codfish Spring Rolls, Ripe Restuarant

I always have a difficult time deciding on what to order when I go to Ripe because I like just about everything on their menu. I was tempted to order the curried shrimp but I decided on the Jamaican Beachside Style Fried Fish. Ripe’s fried fish is so crispy, there’s nothing left on the plate when I’m finished. And yes, they leave the head on. I know, some people are squeamish about that but I love a crispy fried fish head.

A Week of Live Music and Restaurant Meals
Jamaican Beachside Style Fried Fish, Ripe Restaurant

My friend chose the “Big Ass” Jerk Rib Eye Steak – yup, that’s exactly what it’s called – and she loved it!

A Week of Live Music and Restaurant Meals
Big Ass Jerk Rib Eye Steak, Ripe Restaurant

We ended the evening in Harlem listening to the New York Flamenco Jazz Project at Silvana.

A Week of Live Music and Restaurant Meals
New York Flamenco Jazz Project at Silvana

What’s your go-to restaurant / food when you have out of town guests?

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Stewart Castle, Off the Main in Trelawny Jamaica

A year or so ago, Dr. Ivor Connolley of Falmouth Heritage Renewal asked me to join them for a site visit to Stewart Castle. I was unable to go but I was curious and intrigued.

A castle – in Jamaica? Where was this Stewart Castle and why hadn’t I heard of it before?

But as happens sometimes, life got in the way and I forgot about Stewart Castle. Then on one of my trips to Kingston, I spotted its hard-to-miss yellow, black and green sign about ten miles from Falmouth, capital of Trelawny. So that’s where it is, I thought to myself. The next time, I decided to stop.

Stewart Castle is a fortified cut-stone mansion that was owned by James Stewart who came to the island from Scotland in 1754. By 1756, he owned 167 acres. The Castle was built around 1880.

I didn’t know what to expect as we turned off the main highway on to Stewart Castle Drive, a bumpy road that is overgrown, in parts, by a variety of shrubs that I didn’t recognize, and trees. We followed Stewart Castle Drive, which is no wider than one lane, as it meanders through a small community of modest homes, looking for the Castle. After about a half mile, we saw the turn off.

Situated on a small hill, its location would have given James Stewart clear views of his workers below. (If you’ve been reading my blog about plantation houses in Jamaica, you’ll notice that they were all built at higher elevations offering the owners unobstructed views of their operations.)

Though now in ruins and surrounded by a thicket of fruit and other trees, it isn’t hard to imagine how Stewart Castle might have looked back when the estate hummed with the activities of the three-story main house and a sugar works.

The amenities included a cellar, indoor water tank and a fortified outhouse. In addition, there were indoor gun ports, and a perimeter wall protected the estate and the family from attack.

By 1799, Stewart Castle had expanded to 1200 acres, including quarters for the 300 slaves who kept the sugar works in operation. With its proximity to the Caribbean Sea, there probably would have also had a jetty to load sugar for transport to ships in Falmouth harbor.

Although the castle’s stone-cut walls still look relatively solid from a distance, I didn’t get too close as I was unsure of the condition of the structure, and I might add, I’m afraid of things that creep and crawl. I didn’t do much exploring of the grounds so I’m not sure what, if anything, remains of the sugar works.

JB Kidd's Stewart Castle
J.B. Kidd’s Stewart Castle 1835

Stewart Castle remained in the Stewart family for three generations. It passed to Stewart’s son, also named James, who established Stewart Town, a community in Trelawny, and became custos of the parish in 1812.

The estate changed hands several more times before Kaiser Bauxite Company bought it in 1930 and turned over the Castle, in ruins, in 1960, to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust Company.

Archeological digs on the property have unearthed a Taino site. There have been proposals to transform the property into a park.

JB Kidd’s painting of Stewart Castle from

This week, I’m linking this post to Budget Traveler’s Sandbox and  Travel Photo Monday. Be sure to check out the other photos that are posted there.


Rum Punch

The rum punch flowed freely at two events I attended last week. And as I sipped my third glass at the most recent – a birthday party for a long time family friend – I got to wondering about the history of this popular concoction.

According to Wikipedia, punch has been around for centuries. Seventeenth-century Royal Navy sailors who were used to receiving daily beer rations brought it back to England from India.

Wine or brandy was used until around 1655, when Jamaican rum became the fashionable spirit and a new flavor of punch was created. (Rum also replaced beer and the daily ration became known as the rum ration. The rum ration continued until the 1970s.)

Rum Punch
Calico Jack Rum Punch

From England, the use of punch expanded to other European countries and eventually, naturally, to the colonies.

Ask most Jamaicans how to make rum punch and you’re likely to be given the following direction: One of sour (lime juice), two of sweet (syrup), three of strong (Wray & Nephew Overproof rum), four of weak (water) – simple enough, right? You’ll also see this direction is the description of Planter’s Punch, a type of rum punch that apparently, was created in Jamaica.

A wine-glass with lemon juice fill, of sugar the same glass fill twice
Then rub them together until
The mixture looks smooth, soft, and nice.
Of rum then three wine glasses add,
And four of cold water please take. A Drink then you’ll have that’s not bad —
At least, so they say in Jamaica.
– From the September 1878 issue of the London magazine, Fun.

Just goes to show, there’s a story behind even the simplest food or drink.

Even with a recipe as simple as this, in my opinion, it takes a certain level of skill, and perhaps experience, to mix these four ingredients, to balance them so one doesn’t dominate the other.

Although it can last for several months after it’s been made (and usually tastes richer), we usually make it from scratch for each occasion, and most people I know wouldn’t even touch the prepared stuff.

I didn’t until my neighbor introduced me to Calico Jack Rum Punch. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the closest there is to the real thing. I served it at a dinner party last Christmas and even my finicky aunt (who knows a thing or two about making rum punch) agreed that it was good. Unfortunately, I have not found it outside Jamaica.

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