Tails of a Travelling Cat
The Canada Edition
Hello, all! Today was split between visiting the amazing Niagara Falls and exploring the city of Toronto. It was another early start today as I caught the subway back into the city and took the 8:20am train to Niagara Falls – the earliest train of the day. I made it to the station but forgot what a long walk it was from Union subway to Union station. After joining the end of a very long queue, I was finally able to board the train which goes all the way to New York City. The two hour train journey took us much further away from Lake Ontario than I expected, meaning I didn’t get to see it at all. When the train arrived at Niagara Falls, the town, the crew had to change first, the Canadian crew getting off and the American crew taking over as the train would cross the border from Niagara Falls, Ontario to Niagara Falls, New York. When the crew had changed, we were allowed into Niagara Falls.
My first impression of the town was that it was rather run down, in fact the Hotel Europa opposite the station was long since boarded up. There were some fancy metal arches over the roads with street names on them, but otherwise there was a lot of peeling paint and run down shops. However, once I got to the Niagara River and followed it upstream to the Falls, things started to get smarter. The large houses and BnBs along River Road were very fancy, even if the river itself seemed quite green and on the surface at least seemed not to be flowing. I followed the river all the way to the Rainbow Bridge, where I got my first glimpse of the American Falls and then the mighty Horseshoe Falls – that’s the famous one every body take pictures of. There was also the tiny Bridal Veil Falls although from this angle it was obscured by the American Falls.
Then I walked across the Rainbow Bridge, so called because on sunny days, unlike today, rainbows can be seen in the spray from the Falls. This bridge allowed me to cross from Ontario into New York, a process which despite my research into the subject turned out to be much easier than I had thought. Turns out, to cross the Canadian-US border, all you need is $1CAN in quarters, a valid passport, an eSTA (filled out online already) and $6US. The Canadian dollar was to pay the toll to cross the bridge, I’m not entirely sure what the US dollars were for. Although I had to give my finger prints, I didn’t have to give my Facebook password and the customs check was done in all of five minutes. Immediately on the New York side, there was a Hard Rock Café, one stood in a similar position on the Ontario side. I’ve become quite a fan of the Hard Rock Café, but with only four hours (minus the half hour I had taken to reach the Falls) until my return by bus, there wasn’t time for a drink. Instead I headed straight to the American side of the Falls. I reached the smaller American Falls first, smaller but still 260m wide and 54m tall. After a few selfies it was a walk up the Niagara River to the Goat Island bridge. On the valley after the Falls, the water may have appeared to move slowly, but here it was almost at ground level, fast running and clogged with fallen branches and the odd chunk of ice, presumably from somewhere in Lake Erie. The Falls connect Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, forming part of the Great Lakes, they’re connected by the St Lawrence River to the Hudson Bay, or the Atlantic, maybe both.
Apparently renovation work is heavy in New York this time of year as well. The Goat Island pedestrian bridge was closed so I had to take a longer route via the road bridge. This did mean, though, that I got to catch a glimpse of Lake Erie in the distance. I finally made it to Goat Island which separates the Niagara River creating the separate Falls. On the far side of the island was the Horseshoe Falls, named as it’s shaped that way. Both Falls are amazing, but this one was particularly special at 670m wide and 57m high. Spray was thrown into the air higher than the Falls and fell like rain on me even before I had got close to the Falls. Here was the opportunity for more selfies, while sort of getting rained on before heading around the Island's edge, where I could see the tiny Bridal Veil Falls separated from the American Falls by Luna Island, an island slightly lower than Goat Island, enough to give the Horseshoe Falls their extra three metres. I crossed back over the Rainbow Bridge, only having to show my passport and the visa waiver slip I had been given at my first crossing.
Back on the Canadian side of the border, I went to watch the Falls from the front. Even on the other side of the valley, I could still feel the spray from the Horseshoe Falls. The amount of water pouring over the rocks is a truly amazing sight, thoroughly earning it’s title of one of the seven natural wonders of the world. I could have stayed to watch much longer but I had a bus to catch. This time I walked upriver, back under the Rainbow Bridge to the dilapidated part of Niagara Falls. I would say this was the non-touristy part of town, but the train and bus stations were both here, lots of tourists pass through here, especially during the summer season. Anyway, I was a little early for the bus so I ate my lunch while waiting for it.
Although it had only taken me two hours to get here this morning, this two hour train journey would be followed by an hour by train. Hmm... I slept for what felt like most of the journey but woke up in time to finally see Lake Ontario which was huge and truly magnificent. The bus crossed a bridge over the end of the Lake and soon we had arrived at Burlington. I would have had a forty minute wait here with nothing to do, but there was an earlier train that apparently I was allowed to get. No one ever checked my ticket anyway so I had nothing to worry about.
So, I’m on the train now, it’s a double decker train so naturally I headed upstairs for the best view. It’ll be some exploring of the city when I get back, the first time I’ve actually been outside above ground in Toronto, my hostel is in Scarborough. So, this train got me back into the city for 5pm. Channelling my inner cat, I headed for the tallest point in Toronto, the CN tower. I’ll be honest, I’m still not entirely sure what CN stands for but it could be Canada’s National. Anyway, this 553m tall tower was once the world's tallest building and still is the tallest in the western hemisphere. Its height no doubt contributed to the tower becoming a Toronto landmark. After fighting my way out of the station (everyone else was trying to get in) I made it to the tower, via the fancy old Fairmont Royal York Hotel. Opposite the tower was a collection of fancy old trains. I was all prepared to pay the $38 entrance fee, but I’d forgotten about tax. So in total it was $41.95. I think tax is about 13% but I'm not keen on it not being included in the price. So I paid my entrance fee and I was on my way up the tower. Just one floor at first for a photo with a green screen – so they could superimpose it over the view on a nice day – passed a moose statue and then to the lift to the top. Or should I say elevator? There are steps to the top, but these aren’t climbed for fun, usually for charity. So it was into the lift, which was glass sided so we could see the city falling away below us. There was also a glass window in the floor, presumably so we could see the inner workings of the lift. I was informed the lift moves at 22km/h and we were at the top in fifty eight seconds. Well, almost the top. The lookout pod was at 346m, but it still towers high above even the tallest skyscrapers. The views of the city were amazing and I got my guide book out to see what exactly I was seeing. I could see the parliament building and the Royal York Hotel. The Hotel had seemed pretty tall then, but now it was dwarfed. The cars and people far below were tiny and it was fascinating to watch them. To the south there were some pretty spectacular views of Lake Ontario as well. The pod also had a glass floor from which I could see all the way to the ground 342m below. As much as I love heights, I have to admit this was a nerve wracking experience! I had nothing to worry about though, the glass is strong enough to hold thirty five moose or 3,493 racoons. A whole host of other Canadian animals were recorded on a board next to the glass floor if you prefer your measurements in wolves, geese or polar bears.
So, the glass didn’t break and I went back up to the main pod to enjoy the view one more time while planning where I’d go next. I decided that, at just after 6pm, it was time for dinner, so I took a walk there via the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Toronto is a city of some amazing tall skyscrapers, mixed with older stone towers and smaller buildings like the 'Royal Alex’. About to be bulldozed in the '60s, the building was saved by 'Honest Ed' and today plays and musicals are still hosted here.
So, now it was onto dinner, the first time I’ve eaten out this trip which can only mean one thing – poutine!! This Canadian specialty is cheesy chips covered in gravy. I’ve had it once back in the UK and it was amazing so I came to dinner with high hopes. I found Copper Branch in a basement food hall and here I ordered a portabello mushroom burger and poutine. The burger was amazing, particularly the aioli sauce but of course it was really all about the poutine. This one was a Copper Branch special, the potato cut into cubes instead of chips, and the gravy was a mushroom sauce. It was still amazing and was a massive portion. I also got a cashew lime cheesecake for later which I can report was also amazing!
Then it was a quick trip up the street a couple of blocks to Planta Burger, mostly just because I wanted a milkshake. I ordered a peanut butter and chocolate brownie milkshake then got distracted by a giant chocolate chip cookie. The cookie weighed half a pound and cost $5, what’s not to like? I bought it to eat on the train tomorrow. The milkshake was amazing with plenty of ice cream to make it thick. I was very happy.
It was just starting to get dark so before the sun set, and because I hadn’t taken enough trips on the subway to pay for my day card ($13), I took the subway uptown to see the parliament building in its own garden. It was opened in 1893, when Ontario was but a small province, unlike now, where it is one of the largest. It’s made of limestone and apparently dinosaur fossils are visible in the stone on the inside of the building. Then it was back to the subway to City Hall, via a quick stop at the first Canadian supermarket I’ve visited (ok so it was more like a local) to buy some soya milk. As it turned out, the smallest quantity they sold was the very precise 1.89l. It seemed to cost $4.49 but when I got to the self service check out (which is almost the same as in the UK), I was only charged $3.50 – excellent! And it seems soya milk is marginally cheaper here than in the UK. Which is good because other vegan products aside from the Ritz crackers seem lacking so far. I also realised at this point I had acquired a US quarter from somewhere – mysterious. Shopping done, I went on to check out City Hall, although it was fairly dark now. Or what I thought was City Hall anyway. The guide book tells me City Hall, built in the '60s, has huge glass towers and I didn’t see them. Well, whatever it was, it was a nice building.
Well. That about sums up the day. I took the subway back to the hostel (I've really got the hang of the system) and got ready to spend the next few days on the train to Winnipeg.
Until then, folks,