Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Niagara Falls - Wet, Wild and Wonderful

We had a great introduction to Niagara Falls, Ontario yesterday afternoon and evening but today was our first full day in Niagara Falls and we had a very busy day. We got to see and do almost everything on our list - so here is a look at our day.

First of all, we were tired when we finally went to sleep last night - yesterday was busy and long and a bit overwhelming (you know, seeing the Falls for the first time ever). So this morning we slept in. Around 9:00am we went down to the lobby of the hotel and talked with the concierge. They were very helpful and we decided to take a packaged guided tour of the area. The tour we took was . . .
VIP Tour Niagara Falls (Adult Only!) - Niagara's only adult-only, all-inclusive, VIP Niagara Falls summer tour chauffered by a professional tour guide in a luxurious limo bus.
I guess it was kind of expensive but worth it since we were driven around in a mini bus, we didn't have to wait in any lines and all admissions were included. Here were the selling points of us taking this tour . . .
1) VIP Treatment - Chauffered by a professional tour guide; 2) Hassle Free - Includes all admission and parking fees; 3) Fully Guided - We guide you through the heavy summer traffic; 4) Priority Parking - Fornt of the line access to the best attractions; and 5) Exclusive - Adults Only - 16 seats maximum.
The tour included the following . . .
Scheduled stops at Hornblower Niagara Cruises Boat Ride, Journey Behind the Falls, Niagara's Fury, and White Water Walk. Bonus stops at Horseshoe Falls, Souvenir City, and Whirlpool Rapids. Drive by with narration of Mt. Carmel Monastery, Harry Oakes Estate, Water Control Dam, Dufferin Island, Old Scow, Toronto Power Plant, Niagara Parks Greenhouse, Bridal Veil Falls, Goat Island, Luna Island, Queen Victoria Park, Inspiration Point, Harry Oakes Amphitheatre, Carillon Tower, Botanical Gardens, Great Gorge Adventure, Whirlpool Aero Car, Whirlpool, Niagara Helicopters, Niagara Glen, Robert Moses Power Plant, Sir Adam Beck Power Plant, Schoellkopf Disaster Site.
It was a very relaxing and informative tour and we enjoyed it and we were glad we signed up for it - we didn't have to worry about finding the different places, parking and waiting in lines. So here is how the day progressed.

We met our driver/tour guide in the lobby of the hotel. There were 14 people on our tour - a family of six from Malaysia, a young couple from Chicago (celebrating their first anniversary), an older couple from Kentucky, another couple from Indianapolis and us. Our driver/tour guide was named Greg and he was entertaining and informative. He escorted us to the mini bus and then we were off on our tour.
From our hotel we went south on Niagara Parkway and Greg talked about different things along the way. He pointed out the Floral Showhouse, Dufferin Island, International Control Dam, Old Scow, Mt. Caramel Monastery and Toronto Power Plant. We made our first stop at Table Rock Centre for Niagara's Fury and Journey Behind the Falls. We were taken to Niagara's Fury and give a poncho. We then entered a room where we watched a short animated film about the Falls. When the film was done we moved into another room where we 'experienced the Falls'. This is where the poncho came in handy. We experienced snow, rain wind, ground rumbling, thunder and lightning. It was kind of amusement parkish but enjoyable. When this ended we were then escorted to Journey Behind the Falls. We were given another poncho, then taken down in an elevator to some tunnels. One tunnel lead you out to a viewing platform where you stood next to the edge of Horseshoe Falls. Being out here was like standing in a rainstorm. The wind was blowing, the water was coming down from the top of the Falls creating splashes and mist. By the time we went back into the tunnels we were soaked (well the poncho help to keep most of our clothes dry but our heads and feet were drenched). Then you can take two other tunnels that take you behind Horseshoe Falls. There is a railing that keeps you back about 10 to 15 feet from the water but it is still impressive. When done here we could take the elevator back up and spend some time in the Visitor Center and go outside and stand near the top edge of Horseshoe Falls. Then at the appointed time to meet back at the bus we made our way there and continued on with the tour. [I forgot to mention that there was bottled water and fruit on the bus for us to snack on.]

From this point we drove up Niagara Parkway and made our next stop at the White Water Walk. Here you take an elevator down to a quarter mile boardwalk that parallels the Niagara River where you can see the rapids. Along this walkway the rapids get up as high as Class 6. So we strolled along the boardwalk mesmerized by the power of the river and stopped along the way at observation points. After about 40 minutes we had to return to the mini bus to continue on. Our next stop was at Souvenir City for lunch. They sold sandwiches and chips and we sat outside and ate. When everyone was done we boarded the bus and continued along Niagara Parkway. The next stop was Whirlpool Aero Car. We didn't ride the car we just viewed the Whirlpool that the Niagara River creates as it makes a 90° turn at this point. After a few minutes here we drove up to the Floral Clock. This is a giant clock that the face is made up of plants. Every year they do two plantings - one for Spring (which is the one we saw) and one for Summer. We stopped here long enough for everyone to take pictures and then we were off again to our last stop. I took a few minutes to change my shoes. I didn't want my shoes to be soaking wet after our next stop so I had brought my water shoes that I use for kayaking. Then Greg drove us to Hornblower Niagara Cruises. Here we were escorted by one of the employees there to the front of the line, then we were given ponchos and then escorted onto the boat. Thomas and I went up a level and stood on a platform up against a railing. This gave us a perfect view while we cruised up the river past the American Falls and pretty close to the base of Horseshoe Falls. It was exhilarating!!! Hearing the rush of the water, feeling the spray as it drenched us and experiencing the power of the Falls and River. The whole cruise only lasted about 20 minutes but the memory of the experience will last a lifetime. I enjoyed this part of our day the most! When we were back on land we took off our ponchos and I changed my shoes - thankful that we brought towels with us. I also had purchased a waterproof case for my camera before we left on this trip and I was glad I had it with me. I was able to get a few good pictures and my camera stayed completely dry. It was worth the money to buy the case! We then made our way back to the bus and Greg drove us back to the hotel.

Thomas and I made our way back to our room - tired, happy and thankful!. We took showers and changed. Then we sat and looked out our window at the fantastic view and relaxed for about an hour. Then we decided we were hungry and wanted pizza. So we found a place and set out walking. We ate at Antica Pizzeria & Ristorante on Victoria Avenue. We had some yummy pizza and relaxed and talked about how much we enjoyed our day. After eating we walked along Clifton Hill. We really went this way for one reason - a BeaverTail. You ask - "What is a BeaverTail?"! That would be a Canadian pastry made of whole-wheat dough, shaped like a much-respected national symbol: a beaver's tail. Cooked in canola oil, they are served hot with a variety of toppings like cinnamon and sugar, chocolate hazelnut, maple butter, and apple cinnamon. We had been hearing about them since we arrived in Canada so we had to try one and there happened to be a place just around the corner from the restaurant where we had dinner. We loved them - Thomas had one with cinnamon and sugar and I had one with hazelnut/chocolate spread and bananas. After we ate those we continued our stroll along Clifton Hill to Niagara Parkway. Then we walked along Niagara Parkway following the river back to our hotel. On the way back to the hotel we made one more stop to find a letterbox. You can read about that at Lucky Box in Niagara Falls.

Back at the room we sat in front of the window and watched the changing colors of the Illuminated Falls before finally calling it a night. A very full, busy, fun, exciting and wonderful day! So glad we decided to take this trip. We still have tomorrow here in Niagara Falls - we will see what we decided to do when morning comes.

. . . and here are a few more pictures from our day!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Arriving in Niagara Falls - WOW!!!

It is our final day in Toronto (well only part of the day) and then we are off to Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. We started this morning by getting all of our things packed and then loaded into the car and then checked out of the hotel. Once that was done we set out to do a few more things in Toronto before making the drive to Niagara Falls.

The first thing we did was walk along Queen St. W. and looked for Rush Lane. I was looking for Graffiti Alley.
[Also known as Rush Lane or Rick Mercer’s Alley: This motherlode of graffiti art (about a kilometre of space) runs west from Spadina Ave. to Portland St. The back alley entrance can be found between Queen St. and Richmond St. Some artery offshoots also run north or south from this alleyway.]
We had no problem finding the area and it was worth taking the time - some really beautiful art and we had a great time walking amongst it. There is one main alley with a few little side alleys and most of the buildings are fully covered in art. I took lots of pictures and we ended up spending about an hour in the area before moving on to our next location.

From here we walked along Richmond St. heading east until we arrived at Yonge St., here we turned and walked south to Wellington. We took Wellington east just a few blocks to Berczy Park. At this park we took pictures of the beautiful dog fountain and then continued our walk on Front St. passing by the Flatiron Building. A few more blocks down Front St. brought us to our destination - the St. Lawrence Market. We spent a little time wandering around the market checking out the vendors and then stopped at Paddington's Pump for some breakfast. After eating we walked around the market for another little while and then headed out to continue our day.

We continued our walked along Front St. until we reached Parliament St. and turned right and walked two blocks to Mill St. where we turned left and made our way into the Distillery District. We spent a little time letterboxing here but I won't go into detail about that. If you want to read about our letterboxing adventures you can go to A Few Boxes in Canada. We checked out a few places here and took some pictures. We decided we didn't want to walk anymore and we still had our tickets for the Hop-on, Hop-off bus so we made our way to the bus stop location to catch the next bus. We rode the bus to the stop closest to where our car was parked. It was now time to say good-bye to Toronto and head for Niagara Falls.

Before we settled in Niagara Falls we decided to take a drive up to Niagara-on-the-Lake. I had read that it was a beautiful place to visit and spend a little time. When we arrived in town we had some trouble finding a place to park. The town was packed. So we continued through town to Queenston Heights Park to do a little letterboxing (go to A Few Boxes in Canada to read about that) and walk around a bit. This park is beautiful - well manicured, some wonderful monuments, a restaurant and a commanding view of the Niagara River. We took pictures and found the letterboxes and then made our way back to Niagara Falls.
[Note: When I planned the drive to Niagara-on-the-Lake I had wanted to drive from Niagara Falls along Niagara Parkway. Everything I had read said it was a beautiful drive. But we ended up following Google Maps from our phone and it took us another way and I never realized what was happening. My point is that if you are going to drive from Niagara Falls to Niagara-on-the-Lake make sure to take Niagara Parkway.]
Once back in Niagara Falls we made our way to the hotel to get checked in. We pulled up in front of the hotel (Embassy Suites by Hilton) and we were greeted by valets. There is no parking at the hotel - it is a few blocks away - and you have to pay for parking (C$60/day). So, we gathered our luggage, left the keys with the valet and entered the hotel to get checked in. At the desk the guy checking us in showed us where our room was located in the building. I had reserved a Fallsview Room - it had a good view of  Horseshoe Falls. Then he showed us a room view that encompassed all the Falls (American, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe). It was only C$25/night extra. We took it! Check in was complete and we headed to the elevator, took it up to the 16th floor, found our room and entered. The room was incredible (and we had splurged for the room and view) - we entered into a sitting area with a desk, sofa, chair and tv. then you walk down a hall with a coffee set up and sink on one side and the door to the bathroom on the other. You enter the bathroom and there is a whirlpool tub on the right with an opening looking into the bedroom (it has shuttered doors to close for privacy if needed) and a sink on the back wall. There is a door on the left (opposite the tub) that goes into a small room with a toilet and shower. The bedroom had two queen beds and floor to ceiling windows, a dresser with a tv and a comfy chair. But none of that really mattered - it was all about the view. A full view of all the Falls, the Niagara River and Niagara Falls, USA. I have to admit that I would pay the money all over again to stay in a room with this view. It was stunning!!! We spent about an hour just sitting and enjoying the view and relaxing.

After a while we decided to find a place to eat dinner and then take a walk to get a closer look at the Falls. We ate at one of the restaurants in the hotel and then walked along a promenade that paralleled the road and river below. Along the way there were viewing areas (but because of trees there wasn't much of a view) where you could sit and there were shops and other buildings along the way as well. We then exited the promenade onto Murray St. and that took us to Niagara Parkway and a walkway along the river with great views of the Falls. So we walked from the American Falls down to Horseshoe Falls and the Visitor Center. We probably spent an hour or so just enjoying being at this incredible wonder before deciding to head back to the room to shower and relax after a long busy day. I am sitting here on one of the beds writing this and I am reveling in the view I have of the Falls. As the day fades the Falls are illuminated - the colors change every so often and my favorite so far is when the American Falls are red, white and blue and the Canadian Falls are red and white. It is really time for me to get some sleep so we can enjoy our first full day at Niagara Falls.

Monday, May 29, 2017

An Awesome Day in Toronto

After our long day of traveling yesterday we decided last night not to set an alarm. So this morning we slept in and awoke at around 8:00am. After getting showered, dressed and organized we were ready to venture out.

I checked a map and we decided to start our day by walking to the St. Lawrence Market thinking we could grab some breakfast once we got there. So we left the hotel on Queen St. W. and headed east. We walked approximately 2.1 km (1.3 miles) along Queen St. to Jarvis St and then headed south to the Market. Along the way we saw lots of things - the South African War Memorial, the Ontario Courts, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (home of the National Ballet of Canada), the Nathan Phillips Square (with a beautiful fountain and lighted 'Toronto' display), lots of shops and restaurants, some beautiful architecture, the Old Toronto City Hall, St. James Park, and then finally the St. Lawrence Market. Unfortunately, I did not do my homework and we weren't able to visit since it was closed today (Closed on Mondays). We still hadn't had any breakfast so we decided to head toward the CN Tower and looked for something along the way. We had passed quite a few places before we got to the Market but after the Market things were not looking so good. Then we saw a Tim Hortons (which happen to be everywhere) and decided to go in. This is a coffee house that also serves light breakfast. But we didn't stay here to eat - there was a line of about 18 people. So we left and saw some more restaurants a couple of blocks down. Again, no dice - these weren't open for breakfast. So we headed back toward the CN Tower and I noticed a sign at an office building for Coco Deli. So we went in and we each had a breakfast sandwich and coffee. Just what we needed! While eating we decided to do a sightseeing bus tour of the city and found where we needed to go for tickets. It was a little after 10:00am when we left the Deli. Just across the street from the Deli is Berczy Park. We noticed a trompe l'oeil painting on the back of a building. So we walked into the park and took some pictures. The painting is on the back of a beautiful old flatiron builiding. After the pictures were taken we walked down Wellington to Yonge. We walked down Yonge to Queens Quay. Then we walked down Queens Quay to Robertson Crescent. Here we found the place to get our tickets. During our walk here we stopped to take pictures and stopped to check out a few things. It was around 11:30am and the guy selling the tickets told us that the tickets included a harbor boat tour and there was one at noon. We decided to do that first.

So we walked a few blocks to the boat (crossing the Amsterdam Bridge - used in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding). We only had a short wait until the tour began boarding and we headed out. The cruise takes you out onto Lake Ontario and around the Toronto Islands (we had wanted to take a ferry to the Islands and do some exploring but the Islands were closed and the ferrys werent' running due to the Islands being flooded). It lasted about 45 minutes and when we first started out if was sunny and warm but towards the end a little storm moved in. We got some rained and wind and it got a little chilly out on the water but by the time we docked the sun was back out and it was as if the storm had never happened. I enjoyed the boat ride and getting to see the Toronto skyline. After leaving the boat we retraced our walk back to where we bought our tickets and boarded the bus for a driving tour of the city. This is one of those Hop-on, Hop-off tours and is called City Sightseeing Toronto. There are 21 stops along the route and you can get on and off the bus as much as you want for 48 hours from the time you bought your ticket. We did the entire route without doing the on/off thing and then we left the bus at around 2:30pm to find something to eat. We had a quick late lunch at Gabby's on King St. W and decided what we wanted to do next.

After eating and relaxing we decided to walk to the CN Tower and get some views of Toronto from way up high. We went through security, bought our tickets and took the elevator to the observation floor. The elevator is quick (58 seconds at 15 mph for 1136 feet) and interesting - you get a view of the City as you head up with a window looking out, you can see down to the ground with windows on the floor and you can see the elevator shaft with a window on the side - very nice! Once at the observation floor (called LookOut) you get some spectacular views pretty much 360° through large windows. Then you can go down a level (or two) to an outside (enclosed with bars and wire) for more views. Also, on that level is a glass floor that you can walk on - it is also set up with a camera overhead and you can have your picture take from above looking down to the ground below. No, I (nor Thomas) did not walk on the glass floor, I just stood at the edge and took pictures. For an additional fee you can also go up a little higher to the Skypod but we didn't do that. And, they also have something called the EdgeWalk (Watch here!). You get put into a jumpsuit and fitted with a safety harness. Then you go outside (yes outside the building on a platform that goes around the entire building way up in the air) and you are connected to a metal railing and you walk around the building. And if you are adventurous you can lean over the side looking down or lean backwards over the edge. And, NO!!! we did not do this - too expensive and too scarey! After leaving the Tower we spent a little time walking around outside and taking some pictures before going to one more thing before calling it a day.

We walked back to Queen St. W (which is where our hotel is located) and went to Nathan Phillips Square. I wanted to see the fountain and the Toronto display and get some pictures. We arrived there with lots of other people - it was around 5:30pm and people had finished work and were just hanging around. I got some nice pictures of the fountain and the display (this display consists of the letters spelling out Toronto with a maple leaf at the end - the letters light up and change colors). After this we decided to call it a day. We returned to the hotel, showered and just relaxed. Tomorrow we will spend a part of the day in Toronto and then head to Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side).