Toronto & Niagara Falls

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My first trip to Niagara Falls and Toronto was back in 1998 with my parents. It was warm and sunny, and border patrol did not require a passport to cross the border at that time. The wonders of traveling pre-9/11. My experience this time was far different for many reasons – that was 20 years ago when I was a teenager, this time was during the dead of winter, and my travel partner was obviously different.

I hadn’t slept since the day before. Because of my hectic workdays, I hadn’t eaten a full meal in two days. Not exactly the ideal way to start a three-day trip. My travel partner for this trip abandoned me for first class, while I waited in line for one of the last boarding groups, as well as a seat hidden at the back of the plane. When it finally came my turn to board, the gate check gentleman took my boarding pass, scanned it, and told me to have a good flight. I was about 30 feet down the jetway, when I heard my name called out. I abruptly turned around, and the friendly gate check dude came jogging towards me. “You have a complimentary upgrade, Ms. Ruby.” I accepted the ticket from his outstretched hand, and glanced at my new seating arrangement. Row 3. Did I pay for something and not realize it?

Upon hopping on the plane, I was advised by a flight attendant that all beverages were free, but I may not be able to partake in a meal. Shucks. She then pointed in the direction of my seat… right next to my frequent-flyer travel partner. Even with free drinks, I began my coffee intake instead. Sleep depravation made that a requirement.

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Let the coffee consumption commence!

JB (my travel companion) had every route planned upon deplaning the United flight to Toronto.  Convenient, I suppose.  We strode quickly through the airport, and found the train into downtown Toronto. We then transferred to Canada’s version of the metro, except FAR cleaner.  I was impressed. These very trusting people didn’t even strictly monitor the gates in and out of the subway – Apparently, the honor system is alive and well!  The subway dumped us a few blocks from our hotel.  A short walk later, we had checked in and strolled on up to the room.

Shortly after dropping belongings at the hotel, we departed on JB’s preplanned route towards downtown Toronto.

 

The St. Lawrence Market, located on Front Street in downtown Toronto.  It’s open on Sundays as one of the most intense farmer’s market I have even had the pleasure of wandering.  From 0500-1500, St. Lawrence has a distinct odor permeating the entire building, an odor of cooking food. Mainly, an insane amount of delicious, delectable meat – seafood, beef, poultry, sausage… anything you can possibly imagine.  Smoke wafted through the huge structure.  In addition to those delightful foods, there was a plentiful amount of fresh vegetables and fruits lining tables.  And one cannot forget the ridiculous amount of different cheeses.  I’ve been to Wisconsin several times – this display put every store up there to shame.

 

My appetite finally got the best of me after that, and I demanded food immediately.  While JB was less-than-pleased about eating at an actual restaurant that didn’t only serve cheap takeout fare, I had to insist.  Jersey Giant greeted us just down the block.  A cold beer was followed by a delightful sandwich, which I inhaled promptly after it landed on the table in front of me.  Good service, good beer, good food. Win.

The walk continued from there.  JB wanted to walk clear to Fort York Historic Site, but my quickly tiring body was nowhere near allowing that in the 20 degree weather (Fahrenheit, not Celcius).  After much prodding, we entered the CN tower, a communications tower that held the record for world’s tallest building, until it was overtaken by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  An elevator whisks you up the equivalent of 147 floors to the main viewing level.  This level is occupied by a restaurant, a glass floor, is surrounded by an observation deck outside, and packed with people.  Standing on the glass floor, you look straight down to the roads 1100 feet below.  The number and type of animals that the floor can hold was astonishing.  In the summer months, one can go farther up the tower to partake in the EdgeWalk.  This is a hands free stroll above the main pod of the tower and above the restaurant.  Those who have the guts (had it not been insanely cold, I certainly would have), are tethered to a metal ring above their heads, allowing them to lean out over the sprawling city below.  Maybe next time.

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CN Tower at night

We flew down the 147 floors in the exterior elevator, leaving the free-standing structure.  From there, we used our City Passes to enter the aquarium.  While it was quite interesting, my sleepiness caught up to me partway through, and I almost fell asleep while standing up.  Regardless, Ripley’s Aquarium provided an abundance of information, is kid-centered, and had some interesting exhibits.  Me, wanting the drag my travel partner out of there as I crashed, was totally not their fault!  After finishing with the aquarium, it was finally time for dinner.

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However, the hotel was situated in a less than convenient area north of downtown. There were very few restaurants in the nearby area, outside of fast food joints. Alas, my travel partner was perfectly fine dining on takeout.  We ate some Lebanese cuisine before returning to the hotel.  At which point, I promptly passed out from exhaustion.

JB’s alarm clock rudely awoke me at 0500.  I cannot say I’m keen on waking up at 0500 while on vacation.  I eventually pulled myself out of bed to shower sometime after 0600 while JB pecked away on his laptop.  Awhile later, a van picked us up from the lobby to ferry us down to Niagara Falls.  I had my Starbuck’s coffee in hand for the drive.  Those little bastards are on every block, sometimes twice.

A long-ish drive later, we were unceremoniously dumped at a traffic circle in Niagara Falls.  A rainy day greeted us for the walk along the falls.  A majority of the activities along the pathway were closed for the season, but the walk gave us a decent view of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, as well as the American side.  The Horseshoe Falls are definitely more awe-inspiring.

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Horseshoe Falls looking towards American Side
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Horseshoe Falls, Canadian Side

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Unfortunately, the viewing platform that juts out near the base of the falls is mostly closed during the winter months. A stroll through the tunnels behind the falls only results in a walled, extremely tight area with less-than-stellar views. Oh well, that water was a tad chilly anyway.

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Horseshoe Falls from the viewing platform
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Crammed in like sardines (winter viewing platform)

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Lunch today was more fast food, and my first experience with Tim Horton’s, a Canadian staple.  Tim Horton’s is your typical fast food joint, except it is an establishment that serves donuts with their everyday fast food meals.  The cop in me was thrilled!

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Three hours after we exited the van, we reboarded, bound for… well, I didn’t actually know at the time.  We ended up driving along the water, making a few short stops to gaze down in the canyon below.  I imagine this would have served as a nice bike ride in the Spring.  Anyway, a longer stop was made at Niagara-on-the-Lake, a small town perched along the river.  Splitting off from JB, I strolled down the quaint main drag, perusing the many shops that adorned the streets.

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Niagara-on-the-Lake

 

My obsession with glycerin soaps led me into a small shop wittily named Soap Opera. The super friendly shop keep greeted me immediately.  The Israeli-born gentleman regaled me with the unexpected story that he was formerly a member of the Israeli Army before emigrating to the United States.  He suggested several soaps, even pointing out donut-shaped, chocolately scented ones.  Buy 3, Get 3 resulted in my purchase of 6 soaps to fly home with. If you know nothing about glycerin soaps, a bar can last you 6 months in your everyday-use soap dish.  Not to mention that it’s great for your skin.

 

Stop number two was at a winery that made Ice Wine, known as Lakeview Winery.  Ice Wine is sinfully sweet, admittedly not my favorite type of wine, but I’ll certainly give it a shot.  The grapes that make Ice Wine are picked at a VERY specific time – when temperatures dip below -8 C.  The grapes are harvested in the middle of the night, and the temperature must be sustained during that time.  The grapes are shriveled up, resulting in a concentrated dosage of juice and sugar content.  We sampled 4 different types on this stop.

 

On the ride back or Toronto, I researched restaurants downtown, and there certainly seemed to be an abundance of tasty, unique choices.  Alas, once back at the hotel, my not-so-adventurous friend did not want to go out in the city after dark… umm, what? I love wandering cities at night. A nyhow, I was able to steer him away from another night of fast food, and convinced him the hotel dining room may have decent food – be it pizza or pasta or even a steak.  Basically, I craved something that wasn’t readily available in a doggie bag.  After JB attempted to choose my pizza for me, I decided on a normal pepperoni pizza with a glass of wine on the side.  After convincing JB to kick back and have a beer, we watched the winter Olympics while I struck up a conversation with the friendly bartender and another patron at the bar.  I remained downstairs chatting with the bartender and patron, much about gun control oddly enough, as JB retired to the hotel room before 2200.

Again, my travel companion’s alarm clock chimed ridiculously early in the morning.  I attempted to sleep in, while he got up and noisily prepared for the day.  We went our separate ways for the remainder of the day – I needed my beauty sleep.

After finally climbing out of bed and leaving my luggage at the front desk, I started my trek to Casa Loma.  Thankfully, the rain was light for my 2.5 mile walk.  I strolled along the outskirts of the University of Toronto (a gorgeous campus) on my way to Casa Loma, a historic residence north of the city.  This tourist trap is a Gothic Revival building that no longer serves as a private home, but is semi-preserved as it once looked with information posted throughout.  It’s often rented for private events and even in the winter was packed with people, and included an aerial ropes show.  I wandered the floors, and eventually made my way up to the rooftop.  The likely good view was unfortunately obscured by heavy fog.

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CASA LOMA

 

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Fog rolling in…

On my 2.5 mile jaunt back to the hotel, I detoured through the University campus.  Old buildings were strewn about newer ones.  Once I turned to head to the hotel, the stark difference in the cityscape became obvious – old buildings were surrounded, and even built into, glass skyscrapers and buildings.  It was a great representation of old and new.

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The aforementioned fog began permeating the city as we headed to the airport.  Flights were delayed and cancelled left and right.  JB seemed to panic, and attempted to switch us to a different flight more than once.  We ended up staying with our original flight, and thanks to JB’s frequent flyer status, enjoyed a free meal in the airline lounge.  I cannot say I have ever experienced the wonders of an airport lounge, so this was new for me. Free food and beverages (both adult and otherwise) adorned the counters. I could get used to this!

Finally, the hours delayed flight took off after the fog started lifting, and we departed bound for Dulles.


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