My youngest brother, John, moved to Peterborough five years ago when he started at Trent University. I remember helping him move and subsequently catching my fingers in the car door resulting in spending 8 pointless hours waiting to find out that, although in excruciatingly pain, nothing was broken. So, easy to say, my first experience of the city was rather less than impressive. But I didn't spend much time there and missed out on exploring what this little city was all about. After university, John moved out there permanently. Seeing as he's always visiting us, I thought, as a change of pace, we would head over and spend a weekend up there to see what his side of the coin was all about.
What I found was an enormity of kind and generous people, beautiful architectural gems spotted across the city, cute little book shops, incredible gourmet cuisine and a quaint, little art gallery sitting on a serene and secluded river.
We arrived late Friday night and decided to hit up St. Veronus Café and Tap Room which was just down the road from the apartment we had rented for the weekend. Thank you AirBnb for the best rentals in town! (But more on that later). St. Veronus was a tiny pub, dimly lit with candles and bistro lights. We were delighted to find some of the best beer selections I've ever seen in a small town, with servers who had suggestions and recommendations to suit any palette.
We sampled various beers on tap and ordered way too much or their way too delicious food. We stumbled out of the bar, later than expected, and found everything else seemed to be closed so we headed in for the night. We had hoped to stop in at a few other hot spots but alas - this would have to wait till next time.
Instead of staying in a hotel (John's apartment barely accommodates him, so we couldn't stay there), we opted to search for an AirBnB deal. We found this ideal apartment in the centre of town that doubles as a yoga studio during the week. It was open and airy and was the definition of a home-away-from-home. And best of - mall just steps away from the main strip of hip cafes, bars and my favourite: magic card shops.
The next morning, our mission was to visit the local Farmer's market. John had talked a lot about this place and many of his friend's worked there so we were looking forward to getting to partake in the scrumptious delights this place on offer.
We were pleasantly surprised to find a small, yet satisfying myriad of local growers and regional creations.
After loading up with some smoked fish, spicy goat cheese, fresh Ontario apples and some marvelous mushrooms, we took a ride over to Trent U to see John's old (and also new) stopping grounds. He has the keys to a special room on campus where they have a beautiful old piano that he gets to plays for himself and the students. I'd never spent much time on the campus outside of the residence so I was surprised to see how beautiful the campus really was. Rivers flowing right through the grounds where kids sat playing guitar or studying a few last minute notes made for such an idyllic scene.
The buildings themselves were those unfortunate designs from the late 70's. Cold concrete and harsh geometric designs. But for some reason, it still seemed to work in this context. Instead of being smashed in-between more modern building, the unified confluence of these retro structures made you feel like you'd stepped through Wrinkle in Time. The lack of students also added to the abandoned and unchanged feel of this place. It was almost hauntingly beautiful at times.
One of the best part of the day was getting to meet John's piano. And boy is he/she beautiful. And although dating back from 1871, the piano still sings like an angel. There were a few students gathered for a late breakfast when we entered the room and as John played they casually bobbed their heads along to the music.
For brunch the next morning, John took us to one of the trendier parts of town (and to be honest it's really just one area and it's really just one street), to chow down on some organic breakfast platters at Planet Bakery.
The inside of Planet Bakery was not what I expected. I thought it would be covered in space junk and themery but instead it was a hodgepodge of retro colours, religious icons, antique trinkets and old, mismatched tables and chairs. Although it's called a bakery, they have everything from homemade scones to incredible veggie burgers on the menu. Everything had such a fresh flare to it and the food tasted as it if had been picked off the vine yesterday. And I supposed for all I know - it had been!
Afterward brunch we stopped in to a few used book stores and vintage shops, happily picking out little treasures to take home with us.
In the evening we were nice and early to get good seats for John's theatre show which he was a part of. That was the main thrust of coming out to Peterborough this weekend. He had a small cameo and also played the backing piano throughout the show. The play was written around the real-life story of the Jackson Park Project. Jackson Park is a beautiful area in the center of Peterborough that had been up for demolition in order to build a highway. Many students, activists and politicians had been trying to fight this bill for ages in order to protect their beloved park but, as of earlier this year, they found out they had lost and the construction of the highway was going to go forward. It was a heartfelt play that was surprising poignant and moving but definitely was chock-a-block full of youthful angst.
After the play I had the biggest craving for something sweet, so on our walk home, we searched out a nice cafe - open late - to dive into some chocolatey goodness. We found Black Honey. It was a cozy, little coffee show that was filled to the brim (even on a Saturday night) with students studying their little hearts out. Their coffee and tea menu caught my eye right away. I can never refuse a homemade chai latte so we ordered some coffees and a few selections of their decadent desserts and hunkered down for a few hours discussing the play, work and all those things that you seem to forget about day-to-day back at home. Sometime I feel like I have to go on some big trip to get away but who knew all these neat places and experiences were a mere few hours away from home.
We enjoyed ourselves so much at Black Honey that we grabbed John and met there for breakfast the very next day! Once we'd devoured our respective meals, then headed out to wander around the main streets. I loved all the painted exteriors and touches of the old town that are still there today. Unlike big cities where that stuff is washed away quickly to make room for more condos and more people, this town isn't too concerned with that and would rather leave those little pieces of history just as they are.
The Art Gallery of Peterborough is located along the river and although a tiny, intimate place, has a wonderful selection of Canadian and International touring artists on display. It's a free gallery to visit so there's no reason not to stop in and see what's there.
As a final stop on our journey, we walked around Jackson Park. The park was the central focus in John's play and it seemed fitting to end the trip off with a walk around this lovely environment. Although construction seems to be on the horizon, at least we got to see it while it was there and could understand why all those people were fighting so hard to keep it. It was a bittersweet moment but I was happy to understand (at least a little more) what Jackson Park, and Peterborough, was all about.