Monthly Archives: October 2022

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 3 – Niagara Falls

Seven years ago, I married a very lovely man from the Netherlands. Since then we have been able to visit places like New York, Athens and Busan in order to do something special on our wedding anniversary. Covid put pay to that, so this year we are back doing something special – a trip to Niagara Falls.

What we did not know when we booked this trip, was that our wedding anniversary would fall on Canadian Thanksgiving and a lot of places are basically shut for the holiday with some notable exceptions such as tourism. For Niagara Falls, including the trips there and back, this ended being a real boon as everything was operating on a weekend service – meaning an extra train and other services being a bit more frequent. Great for us, but I do feel for those who still had to work.

It was a bit of an early start, which meant getting whatever was open in Union Station. As we have already had two Tim Horton’s breakfasts in a row, it made sense to go for the other option… which was McDonald’s. As per normal holiday rules, if eating at a place we have in the UK, we need to have something we couldn’t get back home. So, we split a Sausage McGriddle (which I have some mixed feelings about) and had the BELT on an everything bagel. Gotta say, if that bagel was available in the UK, that would be yet another thing tempting me to get a McDonald’s breakfast.

Two hours on a train and bus later and we had reached scenic Niagara Falls. It has been 16 years since I last saw them and it is hard not to be in awe of the sheer force of nature that is the Horseshoe Falls. The American Falls are pretty, but they really are overshadowed in a major way. I know some people see these and are underwhelmed (which I get because they aren’t as tall as they look in pictures), but the roar and the throwing up of mist make them truly awe-inspiring.

This trip to Niagara was planned based on my very loose memories of summer 2006, meaning that I built a bunch of time for long tourist queues. I think back then, all we did was eat and do the boat ride – so as I had more time here on this revisit I wanted to do something we missed: a walk behind the falls.

Now, everything here is pricey because they know you’ll pay for it. The ‘Journey Behind the Falls’ is no exception. This is essentially access to some of the tunnels that run behind the Horseshoe Falls and a lower-level platform so you can take some snaps. It’s a great way to get close to the falls and learn a little bit of history.

You also are able to access two ‘viewing portals’ which are holes in the cliff-face behind the falls and allow you to see what they look like from behind. I guess it also takes away the idea that there is some treasure behind the falls as you see in any video game. There is really nothing to see here other than the sheet of water, but the noise and general presence of nature’s power makes this interesting to experience.

As I had it in my head that there would be some massive queue for the boat rides (I assume it was like that when I was last here) I pretty much frogmarched my poor husband to the boats as quickly as possible so we could get on a boat whilst most people were on lunch. You know, forgetting this is not high season for tourists. So yes, we go onto the next boat due to leave.

This is one of those things where I didn’t want to take a large number of photos and, instead, allow myself to fully experience the full power of the falls. That I did and it was such a fun 20 minutes with both of us stood at the middle and front of the boat’s top floor. I think even if I had managed to do some proper photos (without having to later stick my sodden phone in rice) it would not have come close to doing this ride any justice. Super pricey, but it is just one of those experiences.

At this point we had pretty much blown through my initial plans, including something we took off the list because it transpired it was meant to be pretty bad. We were faced with either leaving for the earlier train or to find something to fill in the gap. Well, we went for the second option…

…nope nothing here at Clifton Hills. I understand that this is all here ‘for the children’ but good grief this all just feels that little bit too much. I even thought this when I was a teen where I was just flummoxed by the giant Frankenstein’s monster above the Burger King.

Anyway. Before venturing off, we had a late lunch at Works where the number of different burgers they offer is so large that it actually made me sad to know I won’t be able to try some of them. I ended up with the ‘Sk8r Boy’ which had bacon, cheese and peanut butter. The patty was brilliant, although I wish it has been a thicker crunchy peanut butter on the burger instead. This meal unwittingly prepared us for the next stage of the day by giving us bottomless refills (served in measuring jugs) and bottomless fries (which we didn’t quite make use of).

One of the things that neither of us had thought of when planning this day was to try and see more nature other than the falls. Then one of the pictures on the tunnel leading to the boat caught our eye for Niagara Glen. We figured this would be a nice little walk and might kill some time in nature.

Well, if this didn’t end up being one of those things that I think will end up being one of the big memories of the holiday. Firstly, as someone who has become more potato thanks to the pandemic, I was tickled that I was able to do the whole main trail (plus one offshoot) without being too tired. Similarly, some of the views of the Niagara river downstream from the falls was breathtaking.

I don’t think either of us really thought that there would be more beautiful nature to be seen, but there we were having beautiful moments doing some light hiking at the Niagara Glen. It was all just so stunning and made for some excellent photos and general moments of being with nature. I can now see how people spend more than a day here, after all I probably would have liked some time in Bird World and in the Botanical Gardens. Hell, I guess it would be good to see what the fuss was about with that floral clock.

And that was it for the Niagara trip for our 7th wedding anniversary. The train ride back was a bit rough thanks to some delays, which meant dinner was super late at 10pm. With limited options, thanks to the time and it being Canadian Thanksgiving – we tried local chain Pizza Pizza.

Gotta say, this was nice pizza and was exactly what we wanted at such a late time. Certainly helped me wrap up this blog post before the stroke of midnight. Tomorrow is us finishing off our Toronto City Pass and, hopefully, trying one of the odd fusion foods to come out of here. But I need a shower and bed, so will wrap up here.

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Two Weeks in Canada: Day 2 – Toronto Zoo!

Okay, so I think I got a bit ahead of myself when I said that I had gotten this time difference thing licked. A waking time of 05:30 in a hotel room isn’t the mood I was wanting to go for. True, I could have gone to the Denny’s a few blocks away which is open 24 hours but I didn’t want to run an early morning gauntlet of homeless people.

I know, coming from London and having to walk past homeless people every morning, this is rich of me to say – but it feels like a different level of problem here in Toronto. For one thing, I have ridden the London Underground for years and have probably come across fewer people talking to themselves as I have today in Toronto. Every city has some kind of issue; I guess that this is the big issue here in Toronto.

Anyway, this is meant to be a happy blog about my nice times on holiday – it’s just that today’s early morning subway ride (I saw early, it was at 08:15, which is the first train on Sunday) really made me think about this and how it didn’t seem this bad when I was here back in 2002. I guess the recent cost of living crisis and the ramifications of Covid-19 really took a sledgehammer to a number of Torontonians.

Back on track, the plan today was to spend the whole day at Toronto Zoo. With one of the lines closed for the morning, this is not the easiest place to get to on a Sunday outside of tourist season. But, we managed to get there a few minutes after opening thanks to empty roads and the final bus journey being able to breeze through a lot of stops without picking anyone up.

Breakfast was, again, at Tim Horton’s as that is what can be found at the zoo. It was almost a repeat of what I had yesterday, but we both had different donuts and I did not have the bitter void that was a black coffee, instead a surprisingly nice hot chocolate. This brings us to 5 donuts since coming here, which now includes the zoo-exclusive Year of the Tiger donut which appears to be their Boston Cream donut with some printed rice paper on top.

As zoos go, Toronto Zoo is set in a stunning area. Parts of the surrounding woodland were going blood red with their autumn colours and, at one point, we heard the screech of some kind of local hawk/falcon/eagle. The layout is sprawling and, as the map would suggest, it is home to a lot of animals.

Now, I am aware that given the time of year of this visit – we were always going to come a cropper of something. It seems like there was a real mix of circumstances that meant a large number of animals were unseeable. Some of this was due to building works, others because they were being kept inside as it was too cold and the rest because of a recent outbreak of bird flu in Ontario that meant a bunch of areas were off limits. So that meant no moose, cougars, hyenas or clouded leopards – which was a real shame.

Let’s focus on those animals that I was able to see though. For starters, in the Africa area there was a young giraffe who went between getting their own food and then seeking the comfort of a parent who was just trying to finish her own breakfast. We also got to see some teenage cheetahs (named after the Aristocat kittens) having a nice laze around. I also really fell for their Ankele-Watusi cattle whose giant horns and general demeanor left me in the throes of cute aggression. I don’t understand this reaction either.

The Canadian Domain was pretty sparse without the cougars, bald eagles and moose. However, there were a lot of bison around. Also a grizzly bear who just finished off their lunch and a bunch of squeaking raccoons, which I guess would be the equivalent of London Zoo having a red fox enclosure.

Lunch was in the African section, which we had only half done at this point. It meant the first, of what I assume will be a few, poutine of the trip. There was also a side of deep fried cheese curds, which was just like having mozzarella balls. I understand why a lot of people think poutine is weird, but I have been a convert for years and look forward to seeing a few different versions of this.

We finished off the Africa section with a long time in the Rainforest Pavilion followed by the Americas pavilion. There was so much in these two buildings. I mean we are taking a section of their gorilla population, pygmy hippos, tamarins and some incredibly photogenic otters that just seemed to want in on everyone’s photos. I will also not forget the antics of a certain white-faced saki who was trying to steal food, only for it to drop on the floor and then incur the wrath of their neighbour.

As an area, the highlight really is the Tundra Trek. It’s not the largest area, nor does it have the largest diversity of animals. However, it has three really cool things to see. First there is the rather large wolf pack, who were happily chomping away on some bones with their white winter coats coming in rather nicely. Next on the path was the caribou which are always great to see because who does not enjoy seeing some animals who will later help Santa.

Then there are the polar bears. Granted, they were all laying down when we got there – but just to see how large they are and to get reasonably close to them (albeit through glass). I have seen a polar bear before in a zoo that I have mostly scrubbed from my memory – and seeing this massive enclosure has helped immeasurably. I did see a rabbit hopping around… who will probably be an ex-rabbit very soon.

The final main section was Eurasia… which was pretty much Asian animals and some chamois. The Amur tigers were very impressive, especially as one of these was 18-months old and already able to catch any goose that ventures into the enclosure. The snow leopard looked rightfully pissed off at the noises made by some nearby infants and the red panda was asleep high up in the trees (we only saw them because a nearby sign told us to look up).

We left via the gift shop and the mostly shut-off and underpopulated Australasia section. This was a really enjoyable way to spend a full day, but I can only imagine what this would have been like in late-Spring as the tourism season is just kicking off. Would have really liked to see cougars and moose, but it is what it is.

Being a Sunday, and tomorrow is an early start, we wanted to make dinner an easy one… so we raided the food court at the Eaton Centre. Did not realize that, as this was an hour before closure, we’d get money off all the food and we ended up getting a bit much. The sushi did make for a nice Pavlovian reward for finishing this blog entry though.

Still this was a really good day and tomorrow is going to be lovely one as I show my husband Niagara Falls on what is our 7th wedding anniversary… and Canadian Thanksgiving. I have no idea how much outside of the major tourism stuff will be open tomorrow, but here’s hoping we’re able to get in a boat trip, the trip behind the falls and some rather nice meals!

Two Weeks in Canada: Day 1 – Hello Toronto!

It feels like this has been a holiday more than two years in the making… mostly because that is exactly right. As we all remember from the 2020, there were many plans that we made and bookings that we clung to desperately because what was happening felt like something out of a book. For me, the major one of these was a planned trip to Canada for October 2020, which was cancelled in late September of the same year because we all live in hope.

Well, now in October 2022, the time came to try and resurrect these plans and to return to Canada after 16 years. The trip between London and Toronto was a bit patchy. Dinner before the flight was great and the in-flight entertainment meant I was able to watch the entire first series of Nathan For You before watching the surreal, but touching, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. On the other hand, I was next to a child who had probably not yet reached their second birthday and their parents didn’t exactly try and stop them from trying to sleep on partially on my legs. Also it took us two hours between landing and leaving the airport, which meant our door-to-door travel was about 15-16 hours.

Anyway, that wasn’t a proper Day One, more a Day Minus One. The proper Day One started at just after 7am because that, is our regular waking time for work and… well we seem to have nearly adapted to the time difference overnight.

We started as we mean to go on with a breakfast at Canadian institution Tim Horton’s. These have started to crop up around the UK, but the nearest one to me is over a hour away and, hey, it’s always good to see something like this in their native land. We also have a side-quest going on whereby we want to try as many of their donuts as we can in the next two weeks. The breakfast of a sausage and egg biscuit with a sour cream glazed donut was exactly what I needed (even if I couldn’t finish the coffee). Don’t think I have had a biscuit before, but I feel like I will end up having some more before this trip is over.

From here, it was off to City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square. I think when I saw the City Hall building back in 2006, I did not know it was City Hall. I think I thought it was some kind of swanky office building – so not completely wrong. Amazing thinking back to holidays where unless you came across a plaque or had a decent guide book, you could just walk around clueless. I do have to say though, as government buildings go this is definitely one of the most aesthetically pleasing ones around (once you discount those that are hundreds of years old).

Now, we had been up so early that our next stop wasn’t open. So rather than just try and kill time, we instead skipped ahead a few steps and went straight for the CN Tower. Another one of those things that is a revisit but enough time has passed that a lot of it has fallen out of my head.

Ascending the CN Tower at just after 10am in off season means one thing: no lines. We just waltzed straight to the elevator and got to enjoying some of the best tower-based city views you are likely to get anywhere in the world. Toronto itself has so much nature in and around it that each view from the tower gives you very different feelings. In one direction you get train tracks going into the distance and a lot of buildings, but a slight turn gives green islands and the vastness of Lake Ontario.

We went further up into the Skypod, whose extra height and slightly different configuration of windows does give a slightly different perspective. This is about as much as I am willing to do though. We did see some people clambering about on the tower itself as part of some high-up walk… and yes that is definitely not for me.

It was a bit of a walk through Old Toronto to get to some lunch at St Lawrence Market. This is one of those places, like the Markthal in Rotterdam, which I just adore. All the different meats, cheese and other produces available as well as cooking implements (like some nice cookie cutters I bought as souvenirs) and some actual food stalls.

Lunch took the form of a peameal bacon roll from Carousel Bakery. Being that we are in Canada, mine had the maple mustard on it (I mean, so many places in this country actually smell of maple so why not get with the program). Back in the old blog, this would have been my crossing off a food item and it definitely was a delicious lean pork loin of a sandwich.

Being a Saturday, the farmers market was also on which had their own annex next door. There was also, oddly, a British food stall in this Annex. Given everything happening back home… I didn’t exactly want to be that British tourist who went for the British stuff whilst away. So I stared at some local vegetables instead.

It was time to go back on ourselves now, but this time we went via parts of the Harborfront. The wind coming off the lake was cold, but some of the trees might as well have been on fire with their autumn colours. We will be back here in a few days time as we venture to the islands, but for now it was some enjoying the view of endless water and…

…okay so we were going to wait for these until Ottawa, but the stall was actually en route so we had to try a beavertail. We ended up splitting the classic (cinnamon and sugar) and the avalanche (cheesecake with toffee pieces) and both of us were taken aback at how crisp these were and how neither of them felt greasy. Rather it was like a large flat churro with. So we might end up getting different flavours in Ottawa rather than an initial try.

We were then on our way to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, but first stopped by Roundhouse Park and the many old trains on display there as a way to entice you into visiting the Toronto Railway Museum. We weren’t too tempted, but it was really cool to see the different old trains out and about. I tried to get my husband to have a photo with an old train, but alas he wanted no such picture.

Now then, Ripley’s Aquarium. This was not here when I was in Canada 16 years ago as I would have definitely wanted to have gone. Especially as it is actually rather large and, thanks to the City Pass we got for four other things on our to-do list, this was basically a free trip.

By now, I have been to a fair number of different aquaria around the world and what makes them special is how each one will have their own native species. In this one, we had fish from the Great Lakes and what might be the first Atlantic Cod I have actually seen in person. This stuck out mainly because these cod looked like cartoon fish and I have a newfound guilt over their consumption … not that I’ve had cod for years because of all the overfishing.

Other than the local species, you also had some really beautifully done displays of anemones and some great jellyfish tanks. Truly these displays were some of the most aesthetically pleasing things I have seen in an aquarium and actually lent a lot of sophistication to what’s a family attraction. Yes, I know how I sound by writing this.

Then there are the shark tanks. You have a standard one with rays and sharks together, but then there is the far larger one where, rather than having people cluster around and get in each others’ way, they employ a moving walkway. It’s an inspired idea and accidentally makes it feel like a level of Pokemon Snap where you are trying to get the best pictures of sharks and the sole green turtle that mostly seemed out of reach.

This was most of the things on the to do list checked off, other than our final stop of the Eaton Center. To get there, we opted to try and use the PATH network, a complex and utterly wild network of underground tunnels and elevated walkways that connects much of Downtown Toronto. It is bonkers and I love it so much that when I think of the one thing I’d take from Toronto to design my fake city of my dreams – it would be PATH.

The PATH route between the aquarium and the Eaton Center was probably more convoluted than if we had stayed above ground. However, being a weekend, so many sections were deserted and we also had no traffic crossings to deal with. It was like some surreal orienteering game to try and make our ways through the snickelways and get to our final destination without seeing daylight.

By the time we actually got to the Eaton Center, I think we had gotten into such a twisty turn mindset that it was weird to slow down and browse. So… we didn’t really other than a visit to Gamestop and Miniso. Also another Tim Horton”s trip to try their seasonal Maple Pecan and Pumpkin Spice donuts.

We had been going for 9 hours without much of a sit down at this point, so it was back to the hotel via a trip to buy me some caffeine. It was decision time: in a city as diverse as Toronto what should dinner be? The answer was Korean food and a lot of that is because I just really wanted some Korean food made by someone other than myself.

There is so much choice when it comes to Korean here in Toronto and some searching during the break sent me the way of Kimchi Korea House. It’s high rating had a lot to live up to and my word it did with taste and value for money (because these were massive American-style serving sizes).

Between us we had a selection of vegetable tempura and then some Korean fried chicken and japchae. This is a bit of my standard dream Korean food order, but screw it this is delicious stuff. There was also six types of banchan (little free side dishes), which I have not seen in a restaurant since I was actually in Korea. The food was gorgeous and put pay to any plans for us to get a late night snack.

For a first day, we did a lot. There was a lot of walking and a lot of getting things crossed off our little ‘foods to have in Canada’ list. Toronto has had a special place in my heart since I came here in 2002 as I think this is one of the few cities I’ve visited where I could actually see myself living – other than the deathly winters. Sure am glad I have more days on this current visit to explore it.