Country 4: Canada, April 2006

Country 4: Canuck land

Upon organising this trip, I was pretty keen to get to Europe as soon as I could, so I only gave myself 2 days to see as much of Canada as I could, and I did intend to return some day as my own personal apology, but sadly to this point I still haven’t done so. I swear I’ll get back one day.
When I arrived at Toronto airport, I didn’t have to line up for anything and was asked where I’d just arrived from and how many days I was to be here for, and my passport was stamped 10 seconds after I had got there. I was loving Canada already, such a contrast from the States!
As the shuttle bus rolled into the city centre, I saw a massive cheer rise up from this rather large stadium to my left, of which I could only assumed Toronto’s local hockey team had just scored. How I wish I’d arrived a few hours earlier so I could’ve caught the game. I arrived at my hostel which already surpassed any hostel I’d had over the past week just from the view of the foyer, caught a pizza at a decent place around the corner, and pretty much went straight to bed, content with a much more laidback feel of my surroundings.

I didn’t have much of a plan for the next day other than to visit the CN Tower, so that’s what I did first thing in the morning, and it was only about 15 minutes from my hostel. I took the elevator up to the observation deck and peered out over the Toronto skyline. I have to admit it wasn’t all that impressive, but I’m a big fan of climbing up ridiculously tall buildings and observation decks so I was still chuffed to be up there, and learn some fun facts about the tower itself and find out which other towers it was bigger than and where it ranked in the world. After a while I spotted a piece of perspex where I could see down to the ground below, or at least I would have if there wasn’t a little kid jumping on it as hard as he could to try to break it. I had to wait my turn to stomp on it.
My elevator back down was open for viewing so we could see ourselves descending at high speed. I thought it was amazing, but this girl next to me was freaking out, however before she could have a panic attack we were back on the ground, and I had no idea what else to do, I really should’ve looked into it, but I knew I’d be back one day so I figured I’d just wander around the city and get lost for a few hours then come back again with a better plan.
My stomach was rumbling, so I found a bar serving lunch, which I washed down with my first ever Canadian beer! It was quite smooth and refreshing, but I wish I could remember the name of it. It’s all good though as to date I’ve never tasted a bad Canadian beer, although I’ve only ever had Labatt’s and Kokanee and 2 or 3 others. The waitress was so friendly that I tipped her the full cost of my meal! This was only $10 though but that’s about as generous as I get with my tipping to be honest.
I spent the rest of the day wandering around aimlessly and couldn’t find much of interest really, and was getting bored, but I had someone to meet. Over the past year I’d been chatting on a travel message board to a few people, and one of them worked in Toronto’s CBD so I caught up with her for a few beers and a chat before she had to head home. It was great to meet a local and relax with them for a while. I was sad when she had to leave, but I had a big day ahead of me to look forward to.

The following day I woke up and met a small tour bus with a handful of people heading off to possibly the most famous landmark in the area, Niagara Falls! It wasn’t as far away as I had expected, and before I knew it we were driving through streets full of casinos and mega-touristy attractions and hotels that made it feel like i was in Canada’s version of Las Vegas. Luckily the bus didn’t stop and took us straight to a bus parking area.
What was the first thing I did when I got out? I had spotted a drink vending machine advertising what used to be my favourite drink of all time back in Australia, Fruitopia! Sadly it was taken off the market around 1999 and rather than a bunch of tasty unique flavours it returned a few years later as a boring generic juice option. So I was pretty excited to get my hands on a bottle of the real stuff. I think I chose something pink. It tasted a bit weird, much more sugary and sweet than the Aussie version, but it was still nice.
Nearby was a smaller version of the CN Tower, so being a sucker for observation decks I went inside where I was greeted by a barrel and a label saying this was the container that the first person used to take a ride down the falls, and he survived to tell the tale! I was quite fascinated by that, but on I went to the elevator. The view of the falls from up there was pretty amazing, and I stood and stared at the falls for a long time just zoning out and being mesmerised by such an immense flow of water. Although I was wasting time that I could’ve been spending experiencing the falls up close, so I headed back down.
I walked down to a sign that said Maid Of The Mist. I paid my admission fee, was handed a blue transparent poncho, told if I had a heart condition or was pregnant that I should reconsider the trip (I had neither as far as I knew), and wandered down a ramp to a boat.
Before I knew it the boat was edging closer and closer to the foot of the falls, to the point where it felt like I was stuck in a torrential rain storm! It was an exhilirating feeling, and I couldn’t help but bring my camera out even though I knew it wasn’t waterproof. The next day I noticed my camera had actually stopped working due to the massive water spray. I managed to destroy a camera within one week of leaving home, what an effort! I’m still quite proud of the photo of being in a blue poncho being absolutely soaked with a huge adrenalin-induced smile on my face.

I still had 2 hours to kill after this, so I figured I’d go walking along the edge of the falls for an hour then turn back. I scored some amazing close-up photos, took a photo of my Fruitopia bottle in front of the falls (seemed like a good idea at the time), and enjoying my serene and relaxing walk alongside the water more than I thought I would. Back on the bus at 12:30pm, I was quite content with the day being over, but it was off to lunch at a rather touristy-looking town called Niagara-On-The-Lake. An hour to score some food and another view of the river that leads to the falls, then back in the bus to a place I was somewhat excited about, a winery that sells a very rare type of wine.
Apparently there are only a small number of climates where ice wine can be produced, and this was one of them. If I remember correctly (and I’m sure my explanation will be wrong somehow), the grapes freeze in the winter but somehow seem to be able to survive and store more sugar in order to combat the freezing temperatures, which in turn produces a sweet mellow flavour. The bottle itself was being sold for about $80, but I was more content at passing over a few dollars just for a taste, and I have to say it was delicious. Not enough to fork out $80, but I was happy I got to taste it.
On the bus back, a guy from Marseille in France was talking about how he had visited Quebec a few weeks earlier and complained that he could not understand what the locals were saying even though they were both speaking French, or so they both thought. I was later told this was down to French Canadians developing their own version of the language over 2 or 3 centuries, but I still found this bizarre at the time.

I had put enough faith in my tour bus driver that she would drop me back at my hostel at the time she agreed, and I was counting on it as I had booked a flight a mere 4 hours after the tour was due to end! Luckily I got back to Toronto airport with plenty of time before my flight, all checked in and ready to get on an 8-hour flight to London! Not the London a couple of hours down the road, although I found it weird that there was one relatively close to my current location. My flight was to arrive at 8am, but this was still 3am Toronto time, so I tried my best to get some sleep this time amidst all the excitement of flying into Europe for the first time. It wasn’t easy.

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