Utter Butter Showdown at the Drake Hotel

July 31, 2012

One of the best things about my marriage is that we're both struck with healthy doses of wanderlust. Combine that with my usual love for food, and you have me getting moon-eyed about trying out local delicacies wherever we go.

Picture from FiestaFarms.ca
In Toronto, it's kind of hard to determine what a 'local' delicacy is, because there's so much diversity, and food from all over the world is represented fairly authentically. I've asked people what I should be trying, and the answers are varied - maple syrup, poutine, steak. Nearly everyone makes a mention of desserts, and there's one dessert in particular that people in Ontario fondly turn to - the butter tart. 

The earliest noted recipe for the butter tart dates back to 1900, when it made an appearance in the Women's Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook, published in Ontario. Since then, it's been revised and refined with each chef adding their own touch to the filling and pastry of this otherwise remarkably simple dish. Butter, sugar, pastry. What's not to love.

Tarts being set up
When I heard about a butter tart Blue Ribbon showdown at the Drake Hotel, I knew I had to go. Hosted by Ivy Knight, gastronome and food writer, the event brought together 8 delicious tarts from chefs all over TO - and let the audience judge which was the best in a blind tasting. Not only did this give me a chance to sample tarts from  ACCBestellenthe Flaky Tartthe GabardineOrigin Liberty Village, and even the George Brown Chef School, but also, it gave me a chance to fell all Masterchef-like, which is always fantastic.

The Drake Hotel itself is charming, with an ambiance that instantly has you feeling at home. I particularly loved the boxed-in flatscreen showing old cartoons, and the shelf of books/records behind the DJ. It's a theme that many pubs attempt but very few manage to get quite right. It was definitely the perfect backdrop to the decadence of stuffing your face with 8 tarts loaded with butter and sugar, all within the hour.

Some were drippy, some were caramely, and every single one screamed indulgence. My personal favorite was a not-too-sweet somewhat solid filling held in place by a melt-in-the-mouth tart shell, known, last night, as number 6. 

Heather Mordue from @BestellenTO walked away with the best tart of the night, with a well-deserved second place going to Allison Jones from @AirCanadaCenter. As for me, I walked away with a stomach full of happiness. That should really be the tagline for butter.

The Joy of Doing Absolutely Nothing: Visit to the Toronto Islands

July 23, 2012

Ever since we got to Toronto, I've been philandering around town checking out my new home-city. My husband, on the other hand, has largely been to work. And back. And repeat. (Hey I've to get some sadistic kicks out of being in between jobs :)) 

To make up for the lost time and reward me for being such a patient uncomplaining dedicated wife (my words, not his, unfortunately), the husband whisked me off for a surprise all-day picnic on the Toronto Islands this Sunday. He'd bought flowers home on Friday, and done the laundry on Saturday, so this was the absolute icing on the cake. Yes, I'm aware that I'm super lucky :) He's a ridiculously good husband.

From Toronto.ca
We turned our mobile phones' data off, picked up some books, and went off to have a touristy picnic on the Toronto Islands. Over the course of the day, we walked the 7-ish km between the three islands, read a lot, and reveled in doing absolutely nothing. The islands themselves are beautiful - you can see the city if you look really hard, but largely you see trees on one side, the beach on the other. It's a writer's haven. I should take along a journal next time.

Visiting the islands gave us a chance to see, in person, how much the coastline of Toronto had changed over the years. The former lighthouse is now in the middle of a landlocked territory. It supposedly takes nature only 10 years to reclaim urban land if left unhindered. That's scarily impressive. Very Jumanji.

I was delighted with how superbly maintained it all is though. These are the things that your admittedly super-high income tax goes into preserving. While I haven't felt the pinch of my own salary being deducted yet, I can see how it's worth it when you're spending a Sunday unwinding. I also wondered, as always, when the Ontario Tourism Board's going to start seriously promoting eco-tourism. It'd be a definite hit.

Peachy Saturday at the Hot & Spicy Food Festival

July 21, 2012

On the day you're married, people in India say, "Congrats!" They wait till the honeymoon's over before asking where your progeny are. No rush or anything. 

Much as I'm reluctant to have kids of my own at the moment, I love other peoples', particularly for short durations of time. I'd a complete blast volunteering for Not Far From The Tree's Kids Zone at the Harbourfront Centre's Hot & Spicy food festival.

I introduced Not Far From the Tree in this post, but to recap, they're an organization that helps tree owners pick their fruit. Four volunteers had been on a farm pick lately, and ended up with - wait for it - three. thousand. peaches. They decided to put the fruit to good use, and donated a lot of it back to the organization.

Which meant that come Saturday, we'd whole wagon-fulls of peaches waiting to be consumed by the kids who came out to the Hot & Spicy festival. The peaches were neither hot nor spicy, but they were ripe and sweet, a complete delight. We had the kids wash their hands (and the fruit!) in big tubs of water, before carefully cutting them into little pieces with plastic knives, mixing them in sugar & spices, and then sprinkling the whole mixture onto pre-made tartlets. 

The kids were completely absorbed in their work and made my heart melt about forty thousand times per hour.Some of them were really really young, and I was thrilled with how interested they were in cooking & eating. Mini-foodies! They also loved the idea of climbing trees to pick fruit ('Do you get paid too? Is it hot? Are the trees really tall?')

Earlier in the day, there'd been a bike-powered blender which turned the peaches into smoothies as the kids cycled in place. I'll have to get one of those for my kitchen, talk about a productive workout!

And then, of course, there was a side show - both the kids who'd come to cut, and the college kids who were helping out, were fascinated when they heard how old I was. Most flattering.

All in all, a Saturday brilliantly spent, though the food festival itself was a bit of a disappointment. I couldn't track down the Farmer's Market I'd been really keen to check out, and when I asked around, it seemed no one else had either. The kids told me there were plenty of super hot sauces around though, and they were glad for the peachy respite from it all :)

Online Publisher Networks in Canada

July 19, 2012

While I've worked with the Indian and US-based digital markets before, the Canadian space is still new to me. I'm fascinated by the two dichotomies. On the one hand, you've a larger percentage of internet users than any other country in the world. On the other hand, advertisers are still fairly conservative about investing in online strategies.

I've been researching the space online of course, but I find great value in also talking to digital media professionals and getting their take. I love how friendly Canada is... almost everyone's willing to take time out to talk. Yesterday, I'd an informational call with Steve Macfarlane, the VP of Business Development at Suite 66

Suite 66 focuses on their publisher network, which includes some high-trafficked local sites such as BlogTo (my personal go-to for all things TO!). While Steve was quick to point out that Suite 66 isn't the biggest agency in the space, they do have an impressive set of long-established loyal clients, and plan to keep growing, a little bit every year. 

He confirmed a few theories I'd developed from my initial reading:

- There are quite a few competitors in the Canadian publisher market, but US still has fiercer competition 
- The majority of agencies in Toronto use 3rd party RTB systems & ad exchanges to allow for economies of scale
- The market's fairly well informed about ad exchanges and how they work 

The publisher side of things isn't my area of expertise, but if anyone's interested: he mentioned that several traffic monitoring agencies were looking to hire. You'll find the listings on the IAB Job Board

Next week, I'm talking to Sarah Trimble, Director of Interactive Marketing & Community at Sears. I've rather of gushing to do about Sears' innovative mobile strategy, but I'll reserve it for the post summarizing our conversation!

Exploring the Uniiverse: Stir-Fry Session

July 17, 2012

I'm back after an unexpectedly long, but much needed, hiatus. I spent the last week doing close to nothing, and I think it helped me deal with this. I did make it to Toronto's first TEDx salon for the year, a discussion on collaborative consumption based on this video

TEDx Salon, picture from site
I'm not necessarily persuaded by the speaker's conviction that barter-sites will, or should, replace consumption as we know it today. That said, I do use quite a few of these 'new-age' sites frequently, including AirBnB, Netflix, Freecycle, and Meetup... they've shown me Toronto in a way that conventional sites couldn't have, and I enjoy the open, sharing culture of this city.

Yesterday, I attended my first event from Uniiverse, 'the world's local platform for collaborative living.' Catchy, what? :) They've a great collection of listings, some free, some cheap, others justifiedly priced - and they invite you to host your own too. It's a fun way for people to share & showcase their, and other peoples', skills and/or products. 

Picture from site
I've been eyeing it for a while, and finally took the plunge with this stir-fry session. I'm an oil-wuss in my own kitchen, so it was definitely great partnering with someone gutsier. I also fell in love with Walmart's cut cauliflower/broccoli package and definitely need to change my vegetable shopping patterns. So those are my two big takeaways, other than a couple of boxes full of the yummy stuff we stirred up!

We spent an hour cooking up Tofu & Veg Stir Fry and Thai noodles with coriander, and then about ten minutes devouring it. The sad truth of relativity applied to cooking. It was a great meal though, and felt like it hardly took any effort at all to throw together. I'm definitely going to attend more of these in the future. 

A lot of people have been telling me I should host cooking sessions of my own in the free kitchen space at the Uniiverse office. I've to say, I'm tempted. Cooking together is way more fun than cooking alone. Let's see what August brings.

Moanday Blues

July 9, 2012

People often remind me that I just got to Toronto, and that I should enjoy my downtime between jobs. That sounds perfectly logical, and it was definitely helpful when I was searching for a house. But at the end of the day, as geeky as it sounds, not working is really just not my thing. As you can probably tell from how much stuff I did in TO last month, I'm not a stay-at-home person. 

That said, being in between jobs does have one enormous benefit: no Monday blues! It's almost worth it every time I see my husband angrily snooze his alarm every Monday morning. The simple sadistic pleasures of life. Not so this Monday though.

Today's been crazily busy. I've had to try tracking down a plumber and a handyman (when it rains, it pours - as my kitchen sink can tell you!). Then there was the coordination between various security personnel, the service elevator in the building, and deliverymen. I've been doing some research for an ex-company, and that means talking to a whole bunch of people.

In the background, I've been working on putting together content for a website in memory of my 100 year old grandfather. Much as I appreciate your support through this blog, I think he deserves a more concrete tribute, and I'm working on building it. That'll also be the place to look for more Mission: Obama updates as they happen.

Let's not forget that now that I technically found a house and have more or less furnished it, I have to officially start looking for a job. I do have a wishlist, but overall, I'm looking for something in the online marketing space, so let me know if you hear of something.

It's been the most emotionally draining weekend with the unexpected news about my granddad, and I don't feel up to doing too much this week other than deal with the stuff above. But I am going to be at the TedX Tuesday tomorrow, and I'm still going to volunteer with The Festival of India.

Mostly though, this is a heads-up that you may not hear too much from me for a bit.

Thank you

July 8, 2012

The internet's a strange place.

It gives you bad news faster than you wanted to hear it. But it also sends you instant reassurance from around the world.

Honestly, when I wrote the Mission Obama and Thatha posts, I was in a state of complete shock and grief. I didn't stop to think if there was a 'better' approach to the whole thing. I didn't even do a reality check to see if the whole thing made any sense, or if I should wait for a while, or whatever else I'd say if I was my usual self.

I'm touched by the number of you who responded by sharing and offering to spread the word. You make me believe this is something that's worth attempting. Thank you for all your support. It means a lot.

Mission Obama: In memory of my grandfather

July 6, 2012

My grandfather's '100 Not Out'
cricket themed cake
Not many people can say they have a grandfather who's a 100 years old (and counting!) Even fewer can say that their 100 year old grandfather goes in to work every day, talks to clients, and refuses to retire, because he'd be, and I quote him, bored at home. He's a definite personality, and he makes sure our lives are anything but boring! Last month, his US visa got approved. He planned to tour through the US, stopping at various relatives' places before going on to meet Obama. He was very decisive on that agenda item: he wanted to meet Obama.

He'd tell anyone who cared to listen that he'd met Gandhi and Bradman, and now it was time to add Obama to the list. I'm not sure what my grandfather wanted to tell the president, no doubt he had some interesting insights on US politics over the last century. It became a standing joke in my family - everyone knew the US agenda included a visit to the White House, and none of us had any doubts that he'd make sure it happened. He was that kind of man.

My grandparents
at the Eiffel Tower
Unfortunately, my grandfather was suddenly hospitalized last week, and I just heard that he passed away this morning. I've been in shock ever since - how does someone live to be a 100, and still have things left to tick off their to-do list? My grandfather lived a long, happy life, but he still had some living to do. You've no idea how much that thought hounds me.

I wish I'd found a flight that could get me to India in time for his funeral. I can't control that, but I am going to do everything in my power to ensure that meeting with Obama happens, in his honor. I've no doubt he'd have charmed his way into the White House without too much trouble (the universe has a funny way of ensuring that 100 year olds get whatever they want!) I can only hope I inherited some of his persuasiveness and tenacy, and that I can work my way in.

I'd greatly appreciate your taking the time to share this with everyone you know, because you never know if they know someone who can help me with this. It may take me a whole lot longer than it'd have taken him, but this is something I'm going to do, no matter how long it takes. I'm reachable at c.akshaya.n@gmail.com. Please spread the word.
My grandfather, at office,
last month


July 6, 2012

My grandfather's cricket themed '100 not out' b'day cake
Not many people can say they have a grandfather who's a 100 years old... and counting. Obvious bragging rights aside, it teaches you a lot. Speaking to him makes you feel just a little bit humbler about your own life. He has stories about all the people he's met, and he can tell you, in great detail, exactly how their conversation went. When we celebrated his 100th birthday a few months ago, I wanted to write about him. I wanted to write about how happy he was to be alive, how curious he still was about everything around him, how completely dedicated to his work (he went to office every day of his life, nearly!)... and I wanted to write about the moment when he turned to me and said, 'Sometimes, I wonder why God chose to have me live this long.'

My grandfather at his b'day party
The move to Toronto came along almost right after that, and in the flurry of getting ready, I forgot all about it. Then, last week, I got an email saying he'd fallen sick all of a sudden. That day, I was one of those people on the subway arbitrarily bursting into tears. Every time I saw someone older by themselves, I thought of him and resented them for being on the subway while he lay in the hospital. I know he's a fighter, you don't live to be 100 without being one, but at that age, you tend to worry about anything that happens, even though he was in perfect health before that. He recovered, of course he would, that's what we're all used to. Soon enough, he was asking my mom and anyone else who was around about everything from the nurses' salaries to my job search in Toronto. I let out the breath I'd barely known I was holding. Life was back to normal. And again, I resolved to blog about him, about the feeling of knowing he was there in the background in my life.

I just heard that he passed away this morning. I saw him a month ago, he told me he'd come visit me in Toronto, but that I shouldn't expect too much of his time because he had friends there too. I look around the house, and I see the painting I'd made before we left, a painting he looked at and decided it should be bigger. I look at my phone, a phone he proclaimed far too big. My grandfather had an opinion on everything, and he made sure we all knew it. 

I've no idea what the joke was,
but it beat Chennai's heat!
He was a man who lived a long, good, full, happy life, with a huge family that adored him and constantly got together to let him know it. We spoiled him and he enjoyed it, content in the knowledge that he had a rapt audience. He was constantly amused by life and laughed his way through it. I'm glad he had family around him in the hospital, it gave him a chance to play the role of storyteller which he enjoyed so much. Now that he's gone, I realize the extent to which I'll miss him, and it surprises even me. 

He was the storyteller fixture when I was growing up, the person with all the questions about my work when I went home once I started working, the person who came home after office with my dad and uncle. I'm not sure what my life looks like with him gone. He's touched so many people's lives, that his absence is hard to even contemplate. He'll be missed.

PS: I'm trying to make this project, Mission Obama happen, in his honour. Please spread the word and let me know if you know anyone who can help. I'm reachable at c.akshaya.n@gmail.com. Thanks.

An Ode to Ikea Furniture Assembly Service

July 5, 2012

Here's something every first-time Ikea visitor should know: the cheaper a product, the more assembly it's probably going to require! Even small footstools require at least four nails to be drilled in before they'll stand up, so you can imagine the kind of time and patience it'd take to put together furniture for an entire house.

We didn't even try. Instead, we chose to hire Ikea Furniture Assembly Service, a company we found on Kijiji.   While there are many Ikea furniture assembly services online (there's even one that Ikea has exclusive tie-ups with) we chose this particular company over all the others: they clearly stood out, with their prompt response to our enquiry, their ready availability (my email said 'asap!' and they responded that they could be there within hours for immediate furniture assembly, and be back the next day for the less-urgent pieces) and their more-than-fair prices (we sent them a list of every single item in our house and they replied with an overall quote that was lower than any we'd seen or hoped to expect!)

The owner, Ivan, was in constant communication, and offered to further discount the price for a review on their G+ page. This made me very happy. As an ex-employee of Google, I'm always happy when anyone understands G+'s uses as a marketing medium. I also believe that when a company offers to knock money off in exchange for a review, they're very confident they're going to hear good feedback. It's always a great sign.

I had no idea just how good their service would be. I truly believe this company's even better than the one Ikea endorses. Michael came over at 5:15pm sharp and went right to work. He had all the tools he needed with him, they were a very professional set and helped him get the job done in minimal time. It took until 11:30pm (!) for everything to be assembled, we had a lot of stuff... but Michael never seemed to tire, and, in fact, said he'd leave only when everything was fully done.

I particularly remember a couple of moments, when Michael realized that there was a more effective way of holding a piece of furniture together (eg: by nailing the cushion on a footstool to the footstool's base). He went back to the piece he'd already worked on, took it apart, and put it back together again. We know that we'll be using sturdy, well-finished pieces thanks to Michael. He was also really helpful with proactive suggestions on lighting and wall mounting.

Though it was 11:30 at night when he finished, and he had a 3 hour journey before he'd get home, he flattened all the furniture boxes, taped them together, and even offered to sweep the floor (not that there was any mess, he was very careful to always work on a covered surface and keep his tools on a separate cloth). This was easily the best customer service I've ever seen and I'm going to do my best to make sure they're re-hired by anyone I know!

PS: I'd take pictures of our beautifully assembled furniture but the internet companies aren't as quick to respond as Ikea Furniture Assembly Service and they'll only be here next week :)

A Short Stay at One King West

July 4, 2012

Pictures from website
I've finally sufficiently recovered from my exhausting weekend... thanks, no doubt, to the fantastic hospitality at One King West Hotel. In my earlier post, I'd mentioned that my husband whisked us away to the lap of four-star luxury, and after two days here, I'm inspired enough to write about it all.

For those of you who haven't heard about it before, One King West sits on the intersection of Yonge and King West (very close to the subway, to appeal to the lazy!) It's easy to pick the building out among the other buildings in this core downtown location - it's the one that looks like it's stepped right out of a history book.

The building was home to the original Michie & Co Grocers & Wine Traders in the mid-1800's, and The Dominion Bank bought it in 1879. The Dominion Bank (now known as Toronto-Dominion Bank or TD) quickly rose to fame and the building rose with it... literally, to become a 12-story skyscraper in 1914. The bank continued some operations in the vintage building until 1999 (finally, a year that I can recall!) when Stanford Downey Architect bought the property and re-purposed it for residential living.

You can find the entire story, along with some great pictures of the old bank, on the One King West website. Walking in past some very 21st century pizza joints and clothing stores, I loved the feeling of entering another era at One King West. The high ceilings, the slightly dark lighting of what must have been the bank's entryway... it all transports you immediately to what business in Toronto may have looked like a hundred years before.

The rooms are surprisingly well-equipped (kitchenette with microwave, fridge, cutlery, a toaster + kettle; washer, dryer, desk, chair, sofa, chest of drawers, ironing board, iron... why don't I just move in here and call it home?) and fairly big considering it is Downtown Toronto. You get a choice between a room with a view of the Harbourfront and a room with a bathtub in the restroom. You can probably figure out which one I went with - it'd been a long week!

As a foodie, I have to proclaim myself more than satisfied with the menu too - not too pricey considering the ambiance, plenty of vegetarian options, and, my favorite, a menu full of options available after 11pm! Now that's something that's near impossible to find in this city.

My only slight quibbles were with the TV, which also seemed to have stepped out of the 1900's, and with the internet (free wifi only in the lobby, you've to pay to use it in your room. Surprising enough from a 4-star hotel, but if you're paying to use it, surely you don't have to enter a very long pass code every three hours when it times itself out? Aurgh.)

That aside though, it's been a fantastic visit and I'm going to miss the friendly staff and the efficiency of staying here when we leave. I'll have to come back to sample more dishes off their menu.

My first Canada Day Weekend in Toronto

July 1, 2012

What do people do on Canada Day? Popular consensus said they go to cottages, eat tons, check out the Pride Parade... essentially, do anything, just don't stay home. It seemed like the whole of Toronto was on the road in front of our new condo! We ended up having to cart our luggage through the subway station and into the condo, since there was no way of getting in from the street entrance. Wince.

Picture from Niagara Falls site
By the time we finally finished the four (!) trips it took to move all our stuff in, it was time to head over to the Niagara Falls for some family time. Though I don't have very many relatives in Canada (by Indian standards anyway!), an uncle-type relative was visiting, and that meant a get-together of sorts at the Niagara Falls.

When we got to the Falls, we realized we'd been mistaken - not everyone in TO was watching the Pride Parade, the rest were all at the Falls! The five minutes of fireworks provided a nice touch against the mist of the Niagara, but it took us five. hours. to drive back to Milton (the journey to the Falls took only an hour, for some context). Talk about the theory of relativity in action! 

We were exhausted by the time we got back, and unanimously voted to just book a hotel room and hit the casinos if we do this again. That said, I definitely needed the family time this week. It's been a painfully long one, with my grandfather being hospitalized and the physical exhaustion of shifting houses and picking out furniture. Some good home-cooked Indian food and catching up on family picture albums were just what I needed to catch my breath a little.

Picture from Expedia
And when we got back to town, my husband surprised me with reservations at a four-star hotel, because, like he says, we definitely deserve it :) So we're now at  a super comfy suite at One King West, which is arguably the most character-filled hotel you can find downtown (let me know if there are others!) I'm enjoying life in the lap of luxury and feeling blissfully spoiled. 

All in all, a long weekend with the motto 'all's well that ends well.'

What did you do for Canada Day?

Wild Sound Festival

30 June, 2012

This weekend, I'm trying to see how far I can push myself before starting to feel my age. That's what it feels like in retrospect, at least! Friday evening, we shopped till we dropped, and discussed Ikea's wily plans to make us shop some more. Saturday, during the day, I volunteered at the Pride Festival  and was thrilled to see parents bringing their kids to the event too. What better way to tell a child that they can just be themselves, no judgment? Beautiful. 

And then, last evening, though it felt like my feet and hands were falling off in different directions after all the barricade-moving and heavy labor at Pride, I just had to check out Wild Sound Festival. It's a feedback event where the audience gets to watch, discuss, and then vote on a set of short films, handpicked to ensure we're watching movies from different countries, across different genres, with different budgets. Considering it's free-entry, and first-come-first-seated, the hall filled up remarkably fast with people who were soon talking to each other though many had come there alone.

The evening started off rather darkly, with a man tracing the history of dementia in his family (La Calma, Spain), and it got even more rocky with Netherland's entry, Year Zero OFFF, which was kind of a wordless Doomsday prediction. To end the last act on a cheerful note, we witnessed a soldier's interaction with the inevitability of death in the Canadian movie, The Soldier.

A moderated session followed, where the three movies were discussed by the group who'd come in early enough to secure seats in the main theater (and I was so glad I got a seat there, since I had lots to say!) while the ones in the side theater watched the comments through a live stream. We then went on to watch two slightly longer short films, Ireland's Nowhere in Particular, and an American Film Noir style flick, Vodka 7. While these two films also spoke about life and death, they were definitely perceived to be more optimistic than the first set of films. 

In addition to the five short stories we'd watched, I felt like I watched many more short stories as the personalities of the audience members came shining through in the moderated discussions. From the ex-army man who said he related with The Soldier, to the critique in the front row who bemoaned the Mustang's dent in Nowhere in Particular; you felt like you were getting a little bit of insight into the people watching the movies. There are 2-3 more events like this coming up, so let me know if you're interested and I can tell you when they're happening.

The Ukrainian girl I spoke with during a break mentioned another short film event, Short & Sweet, at No One Writes to the Colonel (Little Italy). It's free-entry Mondays, 8-10pm EST. See you there one of these Mondays? Let me know if anyone's going and I'll make my plans. For now, I'm a bit busy shifting houses and then watching the fireworks at Niagara Falls to celebrate Canada Day and then moving all that lovely Ikea stuff into the new flat and putting it together to make a home. Internet-less times ahead. Perfect time to hit Toronto's Public Library, which I've heard so much about!

Moving to Toronto, Moving in Toronto

29 June, 2012

Moving to Toronto was easy enough. My husband's company transferred us, and took care of all the (boring) paperwork. AirBnB hooked us up with a fantastic temporary accommodation. The City of Toronto gave us SIN numbers without protest. Et voile, we were here! 

Moving in Toronto, on the other hand, is a lot harder. Anyone who's tried to find a condo in the city in June/July can tell you that everyone in the city is looking for a condo in the city in June/July. You can count on apartments listed on Craigslist and Kijiji to be scooped up within the hour, and if they aren't... well, it's usually for a reason.

Such as that the bathroom in the apartment doesn't have a door. Or that the apartment has someone illegally camping out in it, who refuses to open the door to someone who wants to legally move in. Or because the appliances in the apartment look older than my grandfather. And he's 100 years old, no joke.

The whole process would have been infinitely annoying given we wanted to move asap. I think our real estate agent, Samantha Johnson, was the main reason it stayed fun and optimistic. She'd show up in her super-huge car, drive me around town, and ensure that we saw any house worth seeing. I can't emphasize enough how professional and helpful she was. 

The pros of having an agent, when you're new to the city:
- They have access to all the listings on MLS and can find you flats per your specifications
- You usually get taken around, so you don't waste time trying to figure out where things are/walking a roundabout route because Google Maps made you
- Since you likely don't have a credit history yet, it helps to have someone rooting for you and making your case
- You get to see flats at your convenience, rather than trying to coordinate with the owner for a time when he'll be there to personally give you the key

The cons of having an agent, when you're new to the city:
- If a listing's not on MLS, they usually won't know about it. So you may be missing out on a good deal from someone who's unwilling to hire an agent.
- The agent himself/herself! I've heard horror stories about real estate agents in Toronto feeding you false information, hustling you to hurry, and even threatening you because their commission depends on your cooperation. 

Not so with Sam. If you're thinking of hiring a real estate agent, I'd definitely unhesitatingly recommend her. We're moving into our new condo this weekend, and though it ended up being one that we found through friends (it wasn't listed on MLS), I know I'd definitely call Sam if we were looking for a house again.