Farewell to Summer Pt. 3 – The CNE

Summer is not complete without a trip – or multiple trips – to The EX (AKA The Canadian National Exhibition or The CNE). The exhibition opens 18 days prior to Labour Day, and in my opinion, is the unofficial countdown to the end of summer. Just under 1.5 million visitors flock to the CNE grounds each year, making it the largest fair in Canada and the 7th largest in North America. As much as the CNE evolves year-over-year, I still find it does a great job of going back to it’s roots of promoting agriculture, manufacturing and the arts. Walking through the grounds is a spectacle in itself, but as you make your way through the various buildings – you do feel a sense of history of what was there before. Aw. Look at me getting all nostalgic!

FOOD

There is no doubt in my mind that the food at the CNE garners a lot of attention from visitors wanting to taste the latest and most bizarre fair food. Every year there seems to be some new marvel of culinary genius (although, some may want to argue with the use of that word) that makes its appearance at the fair. Whether it’s the deep fried butter, the Krispy Kreme Cheeseburger or the Nutella fries, the CNE offers quite a selection of random food concoctions. However, patrons do need to be wary about the food they put in their mouths at the fair. As we’ve seen with the infamous scandal of the ridiculously high-calorie-count Cronut Burger, the quality standards at some vendors are seriously lacking. But honestly, a Cronut Burger? Do you think you could walk away from eating something like that unscathed?!

This year the EX introduced Food Truck Frenzy – one of Canada’s largest food truck rallies. As soon as you walked through the Princes’ Gates, you were hit with a strip of Food Trucks selling anything and everything from frozen yogurt, to tacos, to churros. This year, I felt it would be more ‘safe’ to eat at one of the food trucks vs. eating in the food building (that Cronut Burger scandal really petrified me!). Based on a friend’s highly enthusiastic review, I decided to try the Pad Thai fries from Fidel Gastro’s. Looking at the picture above right now, my mouth is starting to drool and my belly is starting to rumble. These fries were quite tasty and gone within minutes. Not the healthiest dinner choice, but definitely one of the tastiest.

ENTERTAINMENT

The CNE has tons of things going on that some people may not even realize. You can spend an entire day there and not run out of things to do. Just walking through on a Sunday night I was able to catch the amazing Flying Wallendas, contestants battling it out in the Rising Star Talent Competition, and a performance at Bandshell Stage by Dragonette.

ART(ish)

Now, what is an exhibition without a butter sculpting contest? Not a very good one in my humble opinion. And this year’s creations did not disappoint! The butter sculpting display found in the farm building featured an array of fantastic sculptures by students from the college of art and design.

Another one of my favourite things to check out at the EX is the sand sculpting contest. I am always amazed at the level of detail that goes into these sand sculptures. The artists only have 6 days to create these sculptures which is a feat in itself when you are working with 10 tons of sand. Truly incredible.

THE RIDES

I think people who ride carnival rides are the bravest of the brave (and maybe the most crazy?) people in the world. The fact that these rides are put up in a matter of days just baffles me. While I haven’t heard about a major ride catastrophe in a really long time at the EX, you will never see me up on the Zipper. But what a sight these rides are – especially at night. Merry-go-rounds, ferris wheels, swings – they light up the sky and it really is something spectacular to see. I didn’t go on any rides this year (possibly due to the fact that I was chicken, they were expensive and the ticket lines were too long), but I did manage to snap some great pics. Take a look below!

THE SIGHTS

I find the CNE to be a very magical place to visit. The sights of the crowds, the games, the food, the rides – it’s just fantastic how they all come together to make this place such an experience. There is still this weekend to take everything in, so if you haven’t ventured out there already – be brave, face the crowds, check out the air show and say your farewells to summer!

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Farewell to Summer Pt. 2 – Fan Expo

Expo North BuildingAs previously mentioned in my last blog post, Fall is quickly approaching, but that doesn’t mean Summer can’t have one last hurrah! Toronto was definitely the place to be this past weekend — and I have the dark circles under my eyes to prove it! Between BuskerFest, Fan Expo, a friend’s wedding (don’t worry, I won’t be blogging about that) and The CNE, I was barely home this weekend and definitely need another weekend to recuperate (and hey, what do you know? It’s a long weekend tomorrow! Yippee!).

Now you may be thinking, Fan Expo, isn’t that the convention where people who are really into comics, gaming and science fiction get all dressed up as random characters you have never heard of and geek out over video games, movies and comic books? Well yes, you would be correct. However, Fan Expo is really more than that. What started out as a Comic Book Expo about 19 years ago has now turned into a pop culture phenomenon attracting over 90,000 fans over a 4-day period. It is also the 3rd largest pop culture event in North America (I am going to guess the other two are Comic Con San Diego and Comic Con New York, but don’t quote me on that!).

What I love about Fan Expo, and pop-culture events in general, is that there is something for everyone. You don’t have to be a die-hard fan of Star Wars or Steampunk to have a great time at the event (and don’t worry if you don’t know what Steampunk is, I just learned about it a couple of months ago). If you are into any sort of television series, toys, gaming (digital and traditional – like board gaming), art, fashion (more in the costume sense, but hey – it is still fashion) – I’m sure there is something there for you.

A lot of organizations have really jumped on board over the years to promote their products or properties at the event, and since I’m a sucker for green screens, I just had to take my picture at all of the corporate booths. I mean, who doesn’t want to be in a picture with Henry Cavill? Or, sitting with Hobbit Lego creations? It’s a nice little free souvenir from the event, because most likely you will end up spending all of the money you came in with because there is SO much awesome stuff to buy.

Speaking of cool stuff to buy, the Cyanide & Happiness booth definitely got my attention, although, I didn’t actually buy anything as I wasn’t patient enough to wait in the line. At this booth, you could buy one-of-a-kind plush toys, comics, posters – you name it – which were all really cool, but it was the bonus original art you received from purchasing their products that made it so special. From what I could tell (it was hard to get close because there were so many people in line), there were 3 artists sitting at the booth that would create original designs for customers. Each customer would pick random words or phrases out of a box, and the artists would then draw something reflective of the words that were selected. Some of the art seemed pretty wild and out there which made it so much more amusing and definitely unique.

Even though there was so much to see and do at the event, the big draw for me is viewing all of the costumes people create. A lot of the costumes are hand-made and just incredible to see (especially so many all at once). I’m a huge fan of dress-up, and I regret not having a costume for this event. Maybe next year I will give myself ample time to put something together because, seriously, this event is like Halloween on steroids! Honesty though, I didn’t really know what half the people were dressed up as, but it kind of made it more fun, or at least, more of a mystery.

If you are skeptical about attending Fan Expo in the future because you don’t quite think it’s your scene…think again! As I stated earlier, there is definitely something there for everyone.

Farewell to Summer Pt. 1 – BuskerFest

Toronto sure does know how to send off summer in style. As back-to-school time quickly approaches, there is no doubt that it feels like summer is dwindling down. To celebrate this last weekend of summer bliss, Toronto had numerous festivals and activities going on throughout the city. I managed to check out 3 of the larger festivals including BuskerFest, Fan Expo and the CNE (otherwise known as the Canadian National Exhibition for those of you not familiar with Toronto acronyms!).

The first festival of my very busy weekend was BuskerFest. I think this is the 3rd or 4th year I have attended, and it seems to get bigger and better each year. It was actually surprising to learn that this festival has been around for 14 years as I just heard about it not that long ago. This festival is very special to Toronto as it the largest epilepsy awareness event in the world, and the only festival in the world produced by a charity – Epilepsy Toronto. As soon as you enter the festival grounds (which occupied Yonge Street between Queen and College Streets vs. its prior home around St. Lawrence Market), volunteers politely ask you for any amount of change or money you can spare to help support the 40,000 living with epilepsy in our city. We only had a bit of change on us, so we gave what we could and made our way inside (only to notice about 20 minutes later that one of the volunteers had placed a sticker on my arm without my knowing. Sneaky sneaky volunteers).

busker scheduleUpon entering the grounds, we quickly found the festival schedule and mapped out the various acts we wanted to check out (really, I just wanted to see the USA Breakdancers because who doesn’t love people spinning on their heads?). After taking a picture of the schedule (to use for future reference so we didn’t need to keep returning to the big sign — genius I know!), we decided to venture off and check out some of the acts already mid-way through their performances.

The first act we caught was the Twin Tango. I am not really sure how to describe this performance. I saw a large stripper pole which immediately caught my attention and a man climbing up it with a rose in his mouth (wouldn’t you be intrigued by this?). We hung around for a few minutes to watch “Harold” do various flips and turns on the pole trying to impress a girl who sat on a chair and watched him. After reading the description in the handy busker fest newspaper, I learned that this was actually a love story of a man trying to woo the girl into his arms. I guess coming halfway through the act didn’t help put the pieces of that story together.

On our way to the next stage, we passed some fantastic installations and performances such as Marie Antoinette, the CANDYman and Krazy K (stilt walker). No matter where you turned, it seemed like there was something to see. There was some serious sensory overload walking through the streets of downtown Toronto.

As we continued our way north along Yonge Street, we managed to make it Yonge-Dundas Square where we got to hear some live music and watch some really fantastic balloon twisters in action. There was a quite crowd as the two twisters whipped up some impressive crowns for various kids in the audience. I have no idea why I am always impressed with clowns and people that can manipulate balloons this way. Maybe because I can barely blow up a balloon, let alone twist it into some sort of random animal or head-piece. Sigh. If only I could. Oh the possibilities.

As we continued to kill some time before heading back down to check out the USA Breakdancers, we stumbled upon The Flying Dutchmen –  a pair of crazy uni-cyclists/jugglers who are dubbed “The Rolling Stones of street performers”. We caught the end of their show where they juggled flaming torches at one another while riding the unicycles. I think I was more distracted by their costumes than the flames though (maybe that was part of the trick?). What I found pretty cool about watching a lot of these buskers is that many of them are from abroad and are brought into town for this festival. This was very noticeable when you heard the Australian accents of the performers in Natural Wings as they did their aerial routine at the festival.

The big finale of the night was the USA Breakdancers. I didn’t really know what to expect, but based on the quality of the performances I had witnessed that evening, I knew I was going to be in for a treat. The USA Breakdancers were a 3-man team that consisted of two breakers and an MC (also known as Julio “Klown” Santiago). The show combined some great breakdancing skills, but also had some humour that was provided by Julio. Probably the most entertaining part of the show though was when they asked men from the crowd to come up on the stage and have a dance-off. Something about watching middle aged men get their groove on to some hip-hop beats was very entertaining. The white-man overbite always cracks me up. In all honesty though, the group put on an amazing show and had some great tricks up their sleeves. It was a perfect way to end the evening, and definitely has me excited to see the performance line up for next year’s festivities.