Friday, August 21, 2015

CNE 2015

It must have been over 10 years since we last went to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), so we decided it was time for a return visit.  We took advantage of the opening day $8 admission fee special, saving $10 off the regular $18 admission.  Taking the subway to Union Station in order to catch the Harbourfront 509 streetcar to the Exhibition Loop, we were thrilled to finally ride on one of the sleek, new, ultra-modern  Toronto streetcars.  The interior of these vehicles look and feel very much like our new subway trains, with the red and blue seats, the airy, open, walk-through compartments and the strong air-conditioning that was so welcome on a hot day. The multiple entrances are all outfitted to support the Presto card.

Since we don't really like going on rollercoasters or other amusement park rides, the main attractions for us at the CNE are the live shows, special displays and exhibitions, and of course, the wacky food offerings that are highly anticipated each year.

Part of the fun of eating at "the Ex" is to stuff yourselves with highly caloric, cholesterol-inducing junk food, to the verge of being sick, without actually crossing that line.  Our strategy was to space out our consumption, interspersing eating sessions in between show times in order to give our stomachs time to recover.  We started out by eating the deep-fried poutine balls, which consisted of breaded balls of mashed potatoes stuffed with cheese curds and then slathered with Bavarian style gravy and more cheese curds.  We followed up with the deep fried rice pudding balls, served with a custard dipping sauce.   Later on, we continued with the "Coffee and Donuts" flavoured milk shake, and thinly cut deep-fried potato wedges (just short of being as crispy and crunchy as potato chips) covered with sour cream and chive flavoured seasoning.  We waited a bit too long and missed out on the bacon-wrapped grilled cheese sandwich before they ran out of stock.  This might have been just as well, since eating that on top of everything else might have pushed us over the edge.  At least we had the good sense to bring our own bottled water instead of drinking sugar-filled pop.  Good thing we only attempt this unholy binge once every decade!

There were such entertaining shows to choose from that it was difficult trying to squeeze in as many as possible.  I did work out a rather aggressive schedule that had us running between buildings to catch one show after another.  But the whole plan fell apart right off the start.  We showed up minutes before the start of the first SuperDogs show and found out that in order to secure a seat, we would have to arrive at least 15-30 minutes earlier.  Quickly rescheduling on the fly, we dropped a few shows that we were less interested in and left more time between the remaining ones.  We managed to catch the first 20 minutes of the amazing Chinese acrobats before rushing back for another attempt to watch the next performance of the SuperDogs.

This time we got there far in advance and secured one of the best seats towards the front of the stage, right in the centre of all the action.  The group of dogs ranged in sizes and breeds, but they were all really fast and adept at navigating through obstacle courses.  A few times though, a couple of dogs veered from the course and tried to make a break for it, causing their owners/trainers to race after them.  The dogs each navigated individually through an obstacle course that included running through plastic tunnels, around barrels, and jumping both lengthwise and vertically over various gates, barriers and other obstacles, and later raced each other in pairs through a second course.  They showed their dexterity by weaving at full speed between tightly spaced poles in what the announcer described as "dancing".  Several dogs were brought out to display their specialized talents including playing Frisbee and finding hidden items.  The dogs were really fun to watch but what we found particularly amusing was all the advertising and product placement involved in the show, which was sponsored by President's Choice.  Dog food, grooming products and plush toys were hawked throughout the show–"You too can have a super dog if you feed your pet President's Choice dog food!"

Next we secured a spot in front of the Extreme Pogo demonstration, but after waiting over 15 minutes past the show's start time without any sight of the performers, we gave up and decided to move on.  Just as we departed, relinquishing our prime sight lines, we heard them announce that the show would start in another 5 minutes.  By then, it was too late and we could not get close enough to watch it–how disappointing!  Instead we went to the Lumberjack show to watch demonstrations and competitions with chain saws, hand saws and axes.  Finally we watched a Parkour demonstration, which involves athletic individuals running, jumping, and climbing on and over obstacles in an urban environment including fences, boxes, scaffolding, and building walls, stairs, windows and rooftops.

There were also interesting exhibitions and demonstrations in the various buildings.  In the Arts and Crafts Building, we visited the "Big Bang Theory International Art Exhibit".  In addition to artistic representations of the main characters from the hit TV show (Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, Howard, Penny, Amy and Bernadette), there were also some props including a reproduction of the elevator that is always out of service (a running gag on the sitcom). A plaque provides both written and pictorial explanations for the rules of "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock" which the guys play on the show–an unorthodox spin on the traditional "Rock, Paper, Scissors" game.

The art exhibit featured renderings inspired by the beloved characters, created by artists from around the world.  Heading into its ninth season, The Big Bang Theory is still soaring in popularity, with its four male leads holding the top four spots in the list of highest paid actors on television.

An excellent Sherlock Holmes exhibit was on display at the Enercare Centre, featuring drawings, posters and books of various Sherlock Holmes stories as well as props from Sherlock Holmes movies and TV shows.  We saw Irene Adler's gown, Holmes' cape and deerstalker cap, living room furniture and violin.  There were life-sized cutouts of the British TV series version of Holmes and Watson starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

There were also more whimsical renderings of Holmes and Watson including a scene made out of Lego, plush dolls (with striking likenesses to Cumberbatch and Freeman), a Sherlock Holmes of the Living Dead zombie doll and various cartoon representations such as Holmes and Watson as rabbits.  Included in the books on display was a copy of "Sherlock Holmes for Dummies".

An exhibit promoting the future opening of the Theatre Museum of Canada had costumes on display from various recent theatre productions.  Scattered throughout the various buildings were entrants for a sandcastle competition.  The Better Living Building is now home to the farm animals including horses, pigs, rabbits, cows and chickens.  We stopped by several times at the butter sculpture exhibit but it was obvious that this was going to be a multi-day operation since the sculpture was just barely taking shape by the end of the day.

While we don't like going on rides, it was still fun to walk through the Midway and feel the excitement in the air.  We did try our hand at a few of the carnival games, setting a $10-20 budget for this activity so that we didn't get carried away with trying to win a kewpie doll.  Be it whack-a-mole or shooting balls or water at targets, we just weren't very adept at these games.  When Rich lost in a race against a 4-year-old, we knew it was time to call it a day.

We wrapped up our day at the CNE by watching the free concert at the Bandshell.  The opening act was "The Abrams" featuring brothers John and James and their bluegrass band.  The brother who played the fiddle brought down the house with his energetic performance.  The feature act was the 1970s rock band "America", known for songs like Horse With No Name, Ventura Highway, Tin Man and You Can Do Magic.  The two surviving band members, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell were front and centre, singing all of their hits to a packed audience.

So we had a full and entertaining day at the Ex, but we both agreed that this experience was good enough to carry us through another 10 years before we would want to go again.  We probably need that long to recover from all the crap that we ate!

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