Sunday, June 19, 2016

USA & Canada 2016 - Niagara Falls

I wasn't sure about Niagara Falls. But as we were kind of near, it felt silly not to go and see them. I didn't really know what to expect - would it be the slight underwhelming of the Grand Canyon? Or the unexpected brilliance of Monument Valley?

We stopped on our way out of Toronto at a mall which had a Pickle Barrel restaurant. I had pancakes. They were easily the best pancakes I had all trip. I will do another blog post about pancakes one day. I just wanted to mention them.

We arrived in Niagara Falls (the Canadian side), dropped our car at the motel and wandered down to the main bit of the town. Our first stop was the Skylon Tower.

It's very reasonable and from the top you get great views. (Probably helped by it being a lovely sunny day.)

The 'American Falls' are off to the left.

The Horseshoe Falls, which are the 'Canadian Falls' are off to the right.

You get to see how far in the boats go.

The boat ride was part of the plan. We bought the double-ticket for a daytime cruise and nighttime cruise with fireworks.

We began at this important stop.

Where we got our fetching 'one-size-fits-none' poncho.

You can upgrade to more substantial ponchos for a fee. Maybe we should have because as soon as you get out on the boat and into the spray the poncho inflates and the water flies up the sleeves.

The water-level view is great.

But close to the falls you can't see anything for the mist and spray. It's beyond noisy as well.

Back off the boat we took a walk up Clifton Hill, which is tacky beyond all reason, with souvenir shops, lazer tag, haunted houses (plural!), and other wet weather 'attractions'.

Up Clifton Hill is the Sky Wheel, right next to the rather ace looking Dinosaur Adventure Golf.

The views of the falls from the Sky Wheel are OK. But not as good as the views of the dinosaur golf.

Or the tacky bits of Clifton Hill.

The Canadians have the American tendency of building casinos next to big tourist attractions. One of the biggest casino hotels also had a Hershey's Chocolate Store. We posed for a selfie with one of their mascots.

Before heading back to walk along the promenade, looking at the falls.

You can get very close to the edge. Watching the water go over is hypnotic.

The spray coming off the falls means that near the edge it is permanently 'raining'.

Which means if the sunlight is at the right angle you can see a rainbow in the spray - a spraybow.

Here is a video of a complete spraybow. (It's 30 seconds long)

You can eat right at the edge of the falls in a fully spray-proof restaurant.

As dusk descends they turn on powerful searchlights to illuminate the falls.

And soon it was time for us to poncho up and head back out on the boat. We didn't go as far into the falls at night, and then stayed stationary mid-stream as fireworks popped brightly above us. It was one of those magical moments.

So what was the verdict? Niagara Falls was well worth doing, I think we did most of the best bits. There is a place where you can go down behind some of the falls and there are a few things on the American side. But considering we got there about noon, I don't feel we missed much by only having an afternoon and evening there.

We got to see the falls again the next day, as we crossed over the Rainbow Bridge to the US Customs point, re-entering America at the start of a mammoth two day, 450 mile drive across New York and Massachusetts. This was the final leg of our amazing trip and I'll blog about it next.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

USA & Canada 2016 - Toronto Zoo

We took a whole day to visit the Toronto Zoo, mainly because this offered us the best chance to see some genuine Canadian/American animals without going out looking for them. And as one of the animals we wanted to see was a grizzly bear, this was probably the safest way too.

Because grizzly bears are massive.

We started our visit with a ride on the zoo train that took us to the Canadian zone.

We arrived at the grizzly enclosure in time for feeding. The food was fruit and vegetables lobbed over the wall. Some went in the pool, so the bears went in the pool to get it.

Make no mistake, they look cute, but these animals could rip you limb from limb and not really exert themselves doing it.

Near to the grizzlies were the moose. They were rather diffident and were happy to lie down some distance away from the nosey visitors. But seeing a real live moose meant Cathy ticked something off her lifetime goals list.

We then walked past the wolves...

To get to the polar bear feeding time.

Again, there were on a more veggie-based diet than I expected.

But a few fish were chucked in and you could watch them dive for them.

And even get to high five the bears through the glass if you were quick.

The last bears on our trip were non-native to Canada.

Although, two would now qualify for Canadian passports.

The cubs in questions were snoozing photogenically.

While mommy panda (pictured above) munched through a load of bamboo. Her technique was to cover herself in bamboo and eat her way out.

I filmed her eating. This lasts one minute.

Meanwhile daddy panda was outside, snoozing in the sun.

And that was (just some of) our day at Toronto Zoo.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

USA & Canada 2016 - Toronto

I loved Toronto.

We stayed just around the corner from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

And a couple of blocks from the CN Tower.

When you get close you realise just how tall it is.

At the Tower's base, there's a railway museum.

Cathy posed with a caboose.

You can see the whole city from the top of the tower.

Next to the CN Tower is the Rodgers Stadium where the Blue Jays play. We went to see a game one night and they had the dome closed. First time we had seen indoor baseball.

There's loads to see back on the ground. I particularly liked the Freedom Arches.

Which are next to the city hall, that looks like an alien spaceship has just landed.

Toronto is full of impressive buildings. From bold, glassy new skyscrapers... old-fashioned "flat-irons".

And all kinds of things inbetween.

There's even a concert hall that looks like a hat.

Toronto has pretty much everything you would want, including postcards and places to post them...

...friendly locals...

... poutine (cheese and gravy on fries - this is a vegan version!)

... and a Tim Horton's doughnut shop on just about every corner.

And at night they light it all so you can see where the landmarks are in the dark.

I loved Toronto.