Great Lakes Road Trip Days 11-12: Toronto

Welcome to Toronto, where there’s a Starbucks on every corner. We’re staying about as centrally as you can get – within easy reach of theatres, bars and restaurants, the CN Tower and Lake Ontario. And never further than about 30 seconds from a Starbucks.

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We’ve got two days to see the city, so we take in a few of the sights, experience the vibe of King Street and Queen Street, see the trams and visit the famous half-a-house. And we stand for two hours on the pavement while the fire alarm goes off when a torrential downpour results in flash flooding throughout the city.

Dominic grabbed a last minute ticket for “Come From Away“, which is a great musical about the planes diverted to Gander airport in Newfoundland during the 9/11 emergency. This is a real feel-good ensemble show, which makes you laugh and cry at the same time. If you get a chance, wrestle someone to the ground for a ticket – it will be worth it.

Meanwhile, Karen feasted on Poutine, a Canadian delicacy consisting of french fries, gravy, and curd cheese. Comfort food – she’s a bit under the weather. But it is what it is.

Which is also something that can be said of the CN Tower. It’s one of those sights you have to do, and our expectations were not disappointed: we queued to get through security; then we queued again in the ticket line; then we bought tickets to secure a specific time slot for access to the tower; then we waited for our time slot; then we joined another queue. Finally, we went up to the viewing gallery in the elevator, and after looking out of the window for a while we queued again to get back down. $100 well spent: four separate queuing experiences with a bit of variety in between.

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Of course, the view is pretty spectacular – it should be; this was the tallest tower in the world until 2010, and although the viewing gallery is only about two-thirds of the way up, that is still a height of about 350 metres. From here you can see for miles and get great views of all the Starbucks, with Lake Ontario and its islands in the background. The fact that you can’t see the far shore of the Lake even from this height just shows how great these great lakes are!

As it happens, we were reminded that the baseball stadium was right next door, complete with its fabulous 3D sculptures of Michael Snow’s “The Audience” at each side.

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Without further ado we bought us tickets for the ball game. Several years ago while staying in Boston we had tickets for a Red Sox game which ended up being rained off. But after the storm on our first night here, the skies had cleared: now we had a chance to see the Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays, so we headed up to the cheap seats to get our heads round the complexities of the game. It’s not cricket. More like rounders. And it was a lot of fun. We didn’t quite work out exactly what was going on, but we followed most of it. And we drank beer and ate foot-long hot dogs. Well, the Blue Jays won 8-5, so it’s a good job we didn’t cheer for the Red Sox.

And before we knew it, that was it: our Toronto adventure came to an end and we’re moving on with slight anxiety about where the next coffee will come from. Did we mention the Starbucks?

 

Great Lakes Road Trip day 9: Niagara

Well. You know what today is all about: there’s only one reason that people come to Niagara, surely? Yes – we’re going to be attempting a tightrope walk across the Niagara river, like Blondin did in 1859, and Nik Wallenda did as recently as 2012. Mind you, Dominic’s a bit afraid of heights, so scrap that. Instead: let’s seal ourselves in a barrel and throw ourselves over the falls like Annie Taylor did in 1901, followed by a queue of other loons. Still a bit crazy? How about a sedate canoe ride down the Niagara river and over the falls? That’s what Jessie Sharp tried in 1990. 1990! Where’s the health and safety officer? Sadly, he died. Anyway – after lots of deaths, some near misses and the odd success story, we decided to stick to the safe option: sailing in a pleasure cruiser into the heart of the falls. Our biggest decision? Which side to launch our intrepid escapade. The Americans dress in natty blue waterproof ponchos and sail in the Maid of the Mist, while the Canadians don a stylish shade of red, to ride the Hornblower. That was our preferred choice. So into the falls we went. Karen was so brave she decided not to wear a poncho at all. Or a barrel. In searing temperatures, the spray of the mist was a refreshing relief from the humidity on the shore.

Joking aside, these falls are pretty impressive – and the boat ride is a lot of fun, if you’re happy getting entirely drenched. Back up top the sheer scale of the falls and the force of the water is quite mind-boggling. Apparently, the erosion caused by the water has meant that the falls have receded 11km down the coast over the last 1000 years.

But if you thought that a phenomenally impressive wonder of the natural world was the only reason to visit this neck of the woods, think again. Just a hop and a skip down the river lies the picturesque town of Niagara on the Lake. And when we say picturesque, we mean chocolate box pretty.  Not surprisingly, there’s your fair share of boutique chocolate shops, so we had to purchase some delectable delights.

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Perhaps more significantly, Niagara on the Lake is home to the Shaw Festival, celebrating the work of GBS. Nowadays, the repertoire has expanded a bit – so had the theatres not been dark on the day of our visit, we could have enjoyed Sherlock Holmes, Joan Littlewood, or Chekhov in one of three delightful venues in the town.

As if that were not enough, Niagara on the Lake is also the epicentre of a thriving wine culture, with vineyards galore and a fair smattering of wobbly middle-class tourists cycling from one winery to the next. Sounds like a future trip for us and the Jaggers.

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However, the real reason we are here, of course, is to take in the lakes. And it’s at Niagara on the Lake that we meet Great Lake number three – Lake Ontario. Against the idyllic backdrop of a tree, we find a plaque celebrating the escapades of another load of crazies, who have taken to the water to swim 51km across the lake. We reckon the bloke on the right has just finished his crossing.

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Tomorrow, we’ll be making the same journey. But by car. And like the buffalo girls we are, we’ll be going round the outside. See you then.