Category Archives: Canada

A Date with Niagara Falls

After spending a few days in the city center, I booked a tour to Niagara Falls just to see a bit more of the place. Everyone kept telling me I should’ve visited Montreal, but it was too late for that. I didn’t have enough days to split between the two cities, so Niagara Falls would have to suffice.

My new friend Rachel, from Jersey, England, joined me on the tour, which consisted of less than 20 people. Despite this, the bus was late picking us up. What a bad way to make a first impression. When the driver finally arrived, it turned out there were several stops within the city and we were just the first. Also, some people hadn’t paid for the tour yet so we had to stop at their main office to process their payments. This seemed totally unorganized if you ask me.

We finally hit the road about an hour after the stated pick-up time. On the way over to Niagara, the driver pointed out some fun facts about the city and landmarks. Most of the passengers plugged into their iPods or slept.

At long last, we arrived at the historic Niagara Falls, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. The town surrounding the falls was extremely touristy with tall buildings, a casino and rides and games for the kids. It was like a mini Las Vegas and really turned me off. I had imagined the place to be a natural preserve of some kind since there are three waterfalls that make up Niagara Falls after all – Horseshoe, American and Bridal Veil falls.

The driver let us off and gave us a couple of hours to look around. Rachel and I took some quick photos before heading over to the café in search of food. As expected in any tourist trap of a place, the prices were outrageous but what choice did we have? After scarfing down an unsatisfying lunch, we rushed over to the Maid of the Mist, a boat that would take us up close and personal with all that water.

After posing for a photo (that you can buy later) and picking up our iconic blue plastic ponchos, we went down to the boat with the rest of the crowd. The Niagara Falls people tell you not to put the poncho on until you’re actually on the boat, and this is worth following as it traps the heat and you feel like you’re in a sauna. I’m sure people have passed out wearing these things having not followed instructions.

Luckily, Rachel and I ended up at the cut off for the next boat, which meant that we’d be first to board the next one. When the boat arrived, we quickly got up to the railing and held on to our positions for the duration of the tour.

The view of the waterfalls from ground level was pretty impressive. The force of the falls created large clouds of mist that soaked everything. It was a bit of a reprieve from the heat but got everything, including your camera, wet. As this was my last stop before home, I sacrificed my point-and-shoot to get the money shots from the bottom of the falls. I wouldn’t recommend this if you have an expensive camera or are at the beginning of a long holiday. The water got everywhere!

Maid of the Mist had on-board commentary about the formation of the falls and the hydro-electric power that it generates. The falls were created during the last Ice Age and sits between the towns of Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada and Niagara Falls, New York, USA. There are two Maid of the Mist tours, one running from each side of the border, and a bridge connects the two countries.

I’m glad I went to see Niagara Falls but fail to see how this is a favorite honeymoon destination for many people. Perhaps back in the 1950s, the place wasn’t as developed and commercial as it seems to be today? Maybe the nighttime view with all the sparkly lights shining on the falls is too good to miss? Maybe I’ve just seen more of the world and am too jaded to appreciate the things in my backyard (so to speak)? In any case, this will definitely not be my honeymoon destination of choice should I ever get married.

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Filed under Attraction, Canada, Nature

Hip Hop in Toronto

Wandering around a new city is always a surprising experience. You never know who you’ll see or what you’ll come across. As I explored Toronto’s CBD, I found some interesting murals/graffiti and an exhibition of hip hop and krumping near Eaton Centre.

I never expected to see a hip hop event right in the middle of the city in broad daylight. It was a large event that attracted people from all around despite the heat you could see leaving the concrete in waves. Using promotional vans, loud speakers and, of course, music, the event drew kids and adults of all ages. The event was vastly different from the show put on by b-boy buskers in Piccadilly Circus.

I stayed for a while watching the kids do their thing on stage. They even had a b-boy battle with crews from around the city challenging each other. Needless to say, they all needed a bit more practice. But, all teams were enthusiastically going for it and that’s pretty much all you can ask of them.

After a while, the battle between me and the sun came to an end when I sought out shelter at Eaton Centre. I wasted several hours window shopping and trying on clothes and shoes. Since this was my last stop, I could actually start buying things as long as they’d fit in my bag! What a momentous occasion! Too bad I wasn’t in a place a bit more exotic than Toronto.

When I finally left the mall, the hip hop event was still going hard and would probably continue into the night. I walked away with a few purchases, but I restrained myself from going all out as most of the items could be bought at home despite the sales and specials.

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Filed under Canada, Culture

Toronto: Journey Across the Atlantic

One step closer to home . . . that’s what I thought as I boarded the plane from London to Toronto. Toronto is the last new city I’ll be visiting before finally returning to Hawaii. I can’t believe I managed to travel more than halfway around the world! I’ve come a long way . . . literally and metaphorically.

The flight was full but I managed to get a row to myself. They were showing some great in-flight films that I would’ve loved to catch up on, but I can’t say that I watched more than 30 minutes of anything. It was just too early and I found myself sleeping for most of the flight.

If there’s one thing I appreciate about myself after all this time on the road, it’s my ability to fall asleep anywhere. When I started out, I was terrible about sleeping in new environments. Even back at home, I’d have difficulties sleeping anywhere that wasn’t my bed. But, travel makes you pretty adaptable, and I’ve adapted well.

The flight over the Atlantic was uneventful and painless. Before long I was landing in Canada’s largest city. After collecting my backpack, I made my way to a shuttle bus that would take me into the CBD. It was then that I noticed the accents around me (or rather that there were no accents). Everyone sounded generically North American, which was a big change after the Aussie, Kiwi, English and Scottish accents I’ve lived with for so long.

The North American lilt sounded oddly strange to my ears, and I found myself listening in on everyone’s conversations just to hear it. Every once in a while, the stereotypical Canadian “oo” sound would pop up, such as in “aboot,” but otherwise it was pretty indistinguishable from an American accent. Is it weird that I found the sound harsh and grating to my ears?

As we drove into the city, I immediately felt at home with the left-hand drive vehicles, multi-laned highways and humongous SUVs. It had been so long since I’d seen the likes of a Hummer or other gigantic SUV in such numbers. It dawned on me that these vehicles truly represented American (and Canadian I suppose since I was in Canada after all) excess. Then, I found the pinnacle of excess looming on the side of the highway – Costco! Yes, you could say that I was well and truly back home.

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Filed under Canada, Travel