Going to Canada is not really like going to another country. Sure, there are slight difference. They measure speed in kilometers (and after some serious calculating and recalculating, I figured out 10 km = about 6.5 mph), they say “mum” and their houses hang out flags with maple leaves on them, but aside from that, it might as well be the same country. Especially considering the highway didn’t even change once I’d entered Canada. In fact, aside from the stop at customs (which took 5 minutes going in and about 45 coming back), I’m not sure I would have noticed I’d crossed into a completely different country.
Not that I was really expecting it to be different. I’d been once before (pre-pasport days) as a chaperone on a school trip. I noticed the differences even less that time, but that was no doubt due to the fact we went to nothing but touristy places and aside from the people working there, I’m not even sure anyone else there was Canadian.
Now granted, I was in Ontario both times, and this time only about 90 minutes from the American border. And once again, I was in a town which thrives on tourism. Stratford, Ontario is home to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which according to the programs is North America’s Leading Classical Theatre.
Since we had four days and only three shows to see, we got to do a lot of exploring. Our hotel, The Mercer Hall Inn* was right in the heart of Stratford. Sure, downtown Stratford is only a couple of blocks each way, but our hotel was in the thick of it. And most of the “thick” was stores. Now, I’m not exactly the most enthusiastic shopper. I have a few tried and true stores I like to visit, but so much of what is out there seems a waste of my time, so the idea of spending four days shopping, was foreign to me. And yet, that’s just what we did.
Stratford’s shops were pretty one of a kind, which made them fun to comb through. While I can’t remember all of their names, there were some great shops there, like The Rabbit Hole, a funky boutique with kind of gothy clothes, artistic jewelry, vintage toys and the most personable store owner I’ve ever met. Jessica was so friendly. Not only did we end up talking to her for about half an hour (and buying some cute things, including an awesome wodden necklace), but she hand wrapped everything and even invited us to an 80’s retro party at a local bar. Unfortunately, after our long day of driving and a tedious showing of Macbeth, all we wanted was food and bed, so we skipped out on the club (it was 11:30 when the play let out).
There was an amazing toy store called Family and Company that we almost didn’t go in. We’d been in one earlier, but it wasn’t too exciting, plus my kid has a zillion toys. I’m glad I didn’t skip it though, not only is it a maze of neat toys that are reasonable priced, but they even had a magic show going on to entertain kids!
Bradshaw’s was almost across the street from our hotel, so we stopped in one day. It was this HUGE kitchen store/home store with things way out of our price range, but still really fun to look at. I really wanted to buy a ceramic gnome (I think it was a cookie jar) for a friend’s birthday, but it was like $60. I did, however, get some scandalous pictures of Eee posing with banana keepers.
Although I don’t remember the name, there was a great hippy store right next door to our hotel. While I’m not usually a fan of hippy stores, this one actually had really adorable clothing. I got a great shirt and Eee got a cute sundress. And across from our hotel was a super cool toy/hobby store with stuffed microbes. Yes, that’s right. I got my husband stuffed algae and Eee got her boyfriend a sore throat. CUTE!
Aside from the shopping, we found some great places to eat. Once again, so many things were Shakespeare themed, and my favorite place was Othello’s. We didn’t actually try their regular dinner items, we got three appetizers and split them. We had some sort of cream cheese filled tortilla pinwheels that were great. And there was a roasted red pepper dip that I gobbled down in disgusting proportions. Fellini’s, which was right across from our hotel had amazing bruschetta. We also found a great organic cafe by complete accident. We were walking down the street and a girl handed us a flier. Since there were tons of veggie options on the menu (and Eee is a veggie), we thought it would be perfect for lunch. They had a bar with nothing but side dishes and that’s what we filled our plates with. I don’t remember everything, but I had some vinegary potato salad, a great chick pea, tomato, onion salad, some tasty quiona with cranberries and scallions and some honey cake for dessert. Tasty!
One of the best culinary experiences though, was during the intermission of Julius Caesar. As we stepped out to get some fresh air, we noticed a truck across the street. Now this wasn’t just any truck. This, was a roaming fry truck. We hurried over and ordered a small fry with malt vinegar and salt. Though they were hot as can be and burned the roof of my mouth, they were AMAZING! Fresh cut, fried right there and full of mouth puckering saltiness. My only regret is that we didn’t get to eat the entire bag. Despite stealing the town’s name (and river and about a dozen other things) from the Brits, there is no food or drink allowed in theaters. Sigh.
In addition to the great food and fun shops, we also found a nice little park at one end of downtown. This was in addition to the quaint Avon river that ran behind our hotel and had great walking paths straight to the theater. And the cute little square that was loaded with flowers just a few doors down from us. The park reminded me of something straight out of England. I’m not exactly sure what these trees were, but they were gorgeous. The park wasn’t huge, but it was a nice walk, with a gazebo in the middle, and a picturesque tool shed (in the Tudor style). Yes, Eee and I both took pictures in front of the tool shed.
In addition to all of this, Stratford is also home to some really pretty (although no doubt mean) swans. They take good care of their swans, housing them in the winter and then having a parade for them every spring. They also have a video store (we got discounted rentals thanks to our hotel) with a Canadian movie section. Since we felt our Canadian experience was lacking, we rented Anne of Green Gables and nearly fell asleep watching it. Eee also made sure to drink plenty of Canada Dry.
To finish off our trip, we took a different route out of town and visited the miniscule town of Shakespeare. As far as we could tell, it was one road, which we drove down in about two minutes, then turned around and headed back toward the highway. We did make one stop though, at Shakespeare’s Pies. They boasted a menu full of meat and fruit pies. Much to Eee’s dismay, they did not have any veggie pot pies, but we each picked up a small fruit pie. I wish I could tell you they were amazing. But, somehow they got left in and then smashed) in my car. Luckily they were in plastic bags, so there was no mess to clean up. But it had been 6 days since we bought them and although my rhubarb custard was still in one piece, I figured that was too long in a car to be edible. Sorry Eee…I thought you had them!
If you’ve got some time, a passport and like the theater, I highly recommend Stratford, Ontario.
*This was our actual room