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Those of you who have been reading the blog since the beginning know that about a year ago we purchased the lakehouse my grandfather built in the 70’s and moved from Chicago to Middle-Of-Nowhere-Michigan. We have an apartment in suburban Chicago, and my husband works in IL most of the week, commuting to our cottage on weekends most of this first year. It has been quite an adjustment, to say the least!
Growing up we came to the lake all the time. Throughout adulthood, I’ve come to the lake all the time. Our kids- the same, we’ve all come to the lake all the time. Coming to the lake for a weekend, or even two weeks, is WAY DIFFERENT than living here (mostly) full time. When you’re on vacation, you bring what you need and hang out at the house doing cottage-y things. When you live here, you realize that a town of 900 people is lovely and quiet and friendly, but doesn’t offer any amenities. At all. Going to Target is a half-day adventure that includes 1.5 hours in the car. The grocery store with a good wine and cheese selection is 30 minutes away. While the view is beautiful, and the sounds of nature are serene, it’s the country, and well, depending on the wind, sometimes it smells like a cow has unloaded in the yard. It’s very different from our last neighborhood in Chicago that had a population of over 70,000 with more than 50 restaurants within walking distance! It’s been a lesson in be prepared, or do without, that’s for sure! Thankfully our neighbors are awesome and are here year-round, otherwise, I may be a little nuttier than I already am. (We’ll see if I “winter” here again- it’s not looking good….)
So, if you can’t tell, I needed a break from the lake. The city girl in me needed some city. I lobbed out Traverse City to my husband a few weeks ago, and he countered with Toronto. He didn’t need to say it twice! I immediately started thinking about getting out of here for a weekend getaway. Lucky for us, our dog sitter was available, my daughter’s friends jumped at the chance to use our cottage, and we were ready to start planning! A Toronto vacation, no matter how short, was just what I needed. Road trip!
Ready to hear about our adventure? It was a blast! We had so much fun and Toronto is definitely on my list of “Places I Would Move To.” It’s a beautiful city with everything I love: tall buildings, an active lakefront, great restaurants and shops, and most of all (and what I miss most of all living at the lake) is diversity and culture. We walked about 1/2 mile from our hotel to the lakefront and heard at least 4 different languages being spoken by people who didn’t look like us. I was in heaven. We packed a whole lot into about 36 awesome hours exploring things to do in and around Toronto!
First, Toronto, like all good-sized cities, has tons of amenities for all types of travelers, from budget travel to luxury travel. You can find Toronto hotels, restaurants and things to do no matter what your budget is. That said, we found Toronto restaurants to be on the expensive side, even after the CSD to USD conversion for the exchange rate. Toronto hotel prices seemed on par with Chicago, New York, NOLA, etc. As with every larger city, the closer you are to the popular areas, the more expensive your lodging will be. If you’re willing to drive a bit, staying farther away from the main sights and attractions, or in a nearby suburb, can save quite a bit of money. Since I was jonesing for city life, we stayed right downtown at the Intercontinental Hotel, where we could walk to just about everything and experience the city in full, all on Toronto time! Since we visited in July, we found Toronto summer to be the same weather as Michigan/the Midwest. It was mid-to-high 70’s and absolutely perfect.
My husband and I drive just about everywhere that is 20ish hours away or less. We used to do it because it was cheaper than flying, especially with all of the kids, and while we still drive most places because of the savings, we have found that we really enjoy the drive itself. It’s a good way to see the country, and it’s a great way to reconnect and talk about things we may not normally have time to discuss. Plus, my husband really enjoys caraoke, my version of karaoke for the car, because where else would he hear my musical sounds of the 80’s and 90’s, with a good variety of old school hip-hop and pop music? Probably nowhere, so driving is a double win for him. 😉 It was about 6 hours from our house in west Michigan to Toronto. (I think I have perfected my June Carter after this trip.)
I was surprised to see most of the terrain was farmland! It’s chasing me! It took a lot longer than I thought it would to see some “city.” We crossed the US-Canada border at the Blue Water Bridge that connects from Port Huron on the US side to Port Edwards on the Canadian side. (Don’t forget you will need a US passport to travel to and from Canada. More information on getting or renewing your passport can be found here.) There are three bridges and a tunnel that connect different parts of Michigan to Canada. This is the view from the car as we crossed the Blue Water Bridge. The St. Clair river separates the US from Canada- you can see why it’s called the “Blue Water” bridge!
After crossing into Canada, which was super easy, we had about two more hours to go to Toronto and it was farm after farm after farm. Tip: If gas is less expensive in the US, which it was when we visited Canada, get gas at the very last exit before the bridge. (It is clearly marked.) This way you save on gas, AND circumvent most of the back up to cross the bridge because you enter back onto the expressway in the middle of the line to go through security.
The Intercontinental Hotel
For as excited as I was to experience city life, you would think I would have booked our hotel the minute we decided to go. I did not. I tried, but every time I started to do it, I was distracted by something else and never got around to it. About three days before we left I decided to wing it and use the Priceline “name your price” tool when we got to Toronto. Annnnnnd about 3 hours before we got to Toronto, I panicked and booked our room through the Intercontinental Hotel site, which was the cheapest way to book- even compared to Booking.com and Kayak.com.
There are many, many mid-range to high-end hotels to choose from, but booking at the last minute limited our choices. That said, the Intercontinental Hotel was a-maz-ing. I think we have found our new hotel brand, because not only was the location perfect, the hotel was beautiful, the staff was helpful and friendly, check-in was a breeze and the bed was seriously The Most Comfortable Hotel Bed we have experienced in a very long time. Not only that, the pillows were awesome, which was good because I am a pillow snob who forgot to pack her pillows! That is almost always a disaster, but not this time. I was tempted to steal a pillow, that’s how feathery and fluffy and cozy they were. Tempted, but did not. We upgraded a notch to stay on a higher level floor with city or lake views. Our room was technically a city view, but had a glimpse of the lake.
This is the view from our room. I was sooooo happy to see all of that beautiful glass and concrete!
Our room on the 23rd floor was very spacious, super clean and had a minibar like none other. I resisted, until I had to have the chocolate covered almonds. Don’t judge, I was on vacation! As you can see below, everything at the Intercontinental Hotel Toronto is very nice! The hotel also has a restaurant that seemed very nice and judging by the room service menu, had a great selection of menu choices. The hotel also has a full bar, which was great, and we were able to catch the end of the White Sox v. Blue Jays game after dinner Saturday night while enjoying All of The Wine.