Monday, September 3, 2012

A Day at the Ex

The Penguins at the Ex
Sarah had a real bee in her bonnet to go to the Ex this year, for whatever reason. We tried to find a time last week to get to the fair, because the admission was only $5 after five p.m. on weeknights, but the only day we could have gone was Monday and it poured that night. So we put it off until the long weekend and when we saw how amazing the weather was going to be yesterday the decision became rather easy. At that point it just became a matter of working out how best to get there. A couple of years ago we drove down to an inexpensive garage we found near Union Station and took the Harbourfront streetcar. That was a truly awful experience, though, as the lineup to get anywhere near the streetcar at Union was very, very long. We rejected that idea this time. We thought about going down early and parking close to the grounds, but two things worked against that idea: 1) in the past when I have parked "at" the CNE, invariably I have decided I am tired enough to go home when I am about as far a walk from the car as is possible; and 2) we got up a lot later than we had hoped to. Ok, I got up a lot later than Sarah had hoped. Same thing. Well, close enough. Moving on...

Welcome to "Bacon Nation"
We decided to take the GO train down to the Ex and, since there is no parking at the closest station to us (Danforth), we drove in the opposite direction, parking and getting on the train at Scarborough. The train was jammed on the way into town, but it was still better -- and cheaper -- than the other options. It had a second advantage as well: the arrival point at the CNE is directly behind the Food Building, which was our first "port of call" once we got there. It also made it an easy walk when it was time to go home. Once in the Food Building, Sarah really wanted to have a look at the "Bacon Nation" booth, which she had been reading about for a couple of weeks. We wandered over there and were stunned by the scope of the menu of things you could order bacon-smothered, -infused or -wrapped. Even in this picture there are quite a few "surprising" (to put it mildly) items to choose from, including a deep-fried Mars bar with bacon and a "BBBLT" (I assuming that's triple bacon with lettuce and tomato) that contains Nutella. But the sign I really wanted to capture is the one in the centre of the frame. In case you cannot make it out, it reads: "THE DEEP FRIED BEER BATTERED BACON WRAPPED HOT DOG ON A STICK". Wow. I can't even. We couldn't bring ourselves to order anything from there, although I didn't do much better by grabbing a pulled pork sandwich on a Ciabatta bun. Still, it's the small victories.

Surprise! The sheep flocked to Sarah!
From the Food Building we headed west, past the Kids' Midway and a funny cooling station: a tower that sprayed water out of random faces that covered each side of it. We eventually ended up at the petting zoo, which neither of us could resist. We fed the goats and sheep from the outside but eventually had to go in and walk amongst the unpenned animals for a short time. I met a very cute little goat that wanted so much to be skritched behind its ears that it pressed up against my legs like a cat until it had had enough. The sheep, of course, were attracted to Sarah as you can see from this picture. We checked in on the llamas, miniature horse, chickens and even a couple of guinea pigs. At one point, though, one of the jets from the air show went screaming directly overhead and there were a few moments of dismay amongst all the creatures in that tent, human or not. I guess they're pretty much used to it, though, because it passed pretty quickly and things returned to "normal".

Butter Rob Ford
We made our way slowly to the Farm Building (formerly the "Better Living Centre") because we were in the mood to see more animals. There were some tremendously cute babies on display: calves, piglets and especially lambs, some of which came to the fence and allowed us to pet them briefly. They are indescribably soft, those lambs. It's a good thing they eventually wandered away or I'd likely still be there now. The Farm Building also hosts the butter sculptures each year. Sarah did one of these for the Royal Winter Fair when she was at the Ontario College of Art several years ago (she called it "Moorasic Park"; she sculpted a half-cow-half-dinosaur beast) but this year there is an infamous sculpture of Rob Ford reading (well, looking at) a Margaret Atwood novel which has considerably driven up the traffic flow to the exhibit. RoFo even showed up one day to check it out, declaring it to be a decent likeness with "a little more hair than I have", and he seemed impressed by the amount of work it took. The other sculptures there were quite good too, as always, and I hope they weren't overlooked in the frenzy to see the "Butter Rob Ford".

Do want

After being out of the sun for a little while, we decided it was time to take advantage of the beautiful day. We watched the air show for a few minutes from the lawn behind the Farm Building, then headed for a nearby beer garden to grab a couple of pints and watch a bit more of it, although our view from there was considerably obstructed by the Bandshell. Still, it was wonderful to be sitting outside with a beer in the middle of this huge crowd, just enjoying the sun and the winding down of the summer, watching all the people go by. That beer, by the way, went down very, very quickly indeed. When we'd had our fill of sitting down, we walk back east toward the main midway, taking our time but with one very specific destination in mind: the new -- but nostalgia-inducing -- Sky Ride.

View from the Sky Ride
This was the one ride I wanted to go on this year for sure. It's a new permanent attraction for the CNE, but for anyone over the age of thirty or so it brings back very fond memories of the late, lamented Alpine Way ride, which operated from 1966 until 1994. The Sky Ride doesn't go as high as the Alpine Way did (43 feet versus over 100 feet at its highest point) but that also allows riders to sit in an open-air bench-like conveyance, similar to a ski lift, whereas the Alpine Way cars were fully enclosed. Also, the new ride is considerably shorter in total distance and, therefore, time. But that didn't matter, we both still really enjoyed it and soaring over the midway on such a beautiful day was one of the highlights of our trip. There was a bit of a lineup at the end where we got on (it's a one-way ride and we took it from near the Better Living Centre towards the Princes' Gates) but it wasn't too bad. The lineup at the other end looked to be a lot longer, likely due to its location so close to the entrance to the Ex. The ride afforded me the chance to take a few great pictures, too:

Feet still on the ground
BMO field with bird-scaring fake animals

Sea of midway tents

A lovely cow mascot for Sarah
We were starting to run out of time once we got off the Sky Ride -- we wanted to catch the 5 p.m. train home so we could feed Addie -- so we went into the nearby Direct Energy Building to pay a short visit to my daughter's boyfriend, who was working at one of the Vitamix booths there. While we were looking for him, Sarah was thrilled to be able to get yet another picture taken with a mascot; it's become a bit of a theme for us the past few years and we've taken some very....odd shots over that time. Not this shot, though: this cow was delightful to look at and even shook Sarah's hand when we were done. They were promoting a cheese-tasting event put together by the Dairy Farmers of Ontario which looked pretty darned yummy. If we could have stayed for it, believe me, we would have. But alas, it was pushing 4:30 and we had to get to the station. We did manage to find Jim, said a brief hello, then grabbed a funnel cake for Sarah (who had always wanted to try one) and made our way quickly to the GO platform, getting there in plenty of time. The train on the way home was not very crowded at all, despite arriving nearly ten minutes late, and I can tell you we definitely made the right decision in our transportation choice for the day. I'm not sure I'll ever again go to the Ex any other way.

And, oh yeah: we passed two more mascots on the way to the train. This might have been Sarah's Best. Day. Ever.

It's a mascot festival!!

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