The Anchor Leg: Niagara Falls

Here we are at the end of the line. I left Niagara-on-the-Lake with a two spot itinerary, first Niagara Falls then home. The only way to get from Niagara-on-the-Lake is the parkway, stay off the QEW. The parkway is too pretty to miss.

The Falls are everything they are described to be. Loud. The roar from the water is amazing. Lovely (and loud) white noise. Wet. What people like to call a “mist” is just straight up rain. Seriously. Even if you are just doing what I did and staying at the Table Rock over look you need to take a poncho, umbrella, or rain jacket. When the wind hits the “mist” consider yourself drenched and cold. Beautiful. It is undeniably beautiful. Additional proof, in my opinion, that God is the most talented artist.

I enjoyed my visit, although I kind of pulled a Clark-Griswold-at-the-Grand-Canyon . . . I parked, got out, walked up to it, thought here it is, took some pictures, and left.

Things to know about a visit to the Falls before you visit:

  1. It is a total tourist trap. How can you tell? There is a casino, a Hershey Store, and a Hard Rock Cafe (on both the Canada and U.S.A. sides).
  2. Bring a towel or something to keep your phone or camera lens wiped down. Remember, it is wet there.
  3. Parking at the designated Falls parking lot in Canada will cost you $20.00 and best I can tell there is no where else to park. Monopoly.
  4. The Rainbow Bridge crossing the gorge will be slow-moving but the pictures will be worth it.
  5. People there and throughout Ontario love to say escarpment, as in the Niagara escarpment. Be prepared.

Now for the pictures. Enjoy and don’t forget to pack your raincoat.

I left the Falls and had an uneventful return to FW. It was a great adventure. I look forward to heading out again soon.

P.S. If you missed my blather on my other stops on this trip you check them out . . . Oh Canada!Toronto 1, Toronto 2, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Gluten-free Travel, and Traveling Solo. Thanks for tolerating my shameless self-promotion.

Second Stop: Niagara-on-the-Lake

My meandering through Niagara wine country ended in the tiny little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake (“NOTL”). NOTL is a historic town that sits right on the Niagara River as it strays from or into (whichever it is) Lake Ontario. NOTL was the first capitol of Ontario, hosted battles in the War of 1812, and is home to the Shaw Festival. It is a wonderful spot for history buffs and theatre enthusiasts.

I arrived in the afternoon, just in time for lunch. I took up temporary residence at The Moffat Inn just east of the main drag in NOTL (Queen Street). The Moffat is small, quaint, and accommodating. Of course, immediately upon arrival I requested a different room. My original room was right next to the back door which stays unlocked all night. Um,no. The desk clerk was kind enough to move me (after calling to see if a sister hotel in town could accommodate me), very kind. I then set out to explore.

There is a town park is right across the street from the Inn that was filled with people, music, and children playing in the water fountain. On down was the grand Prince of Wales Hotel, where you can have high tea and dine in style. Passed the Prince of Wales is a street filled, I imagine everyday all summer, with tourists. It is a tourist town, which means it is required to be filled with random shops catering to the needs of tourists (needs that they don’t know they have until they get there). I was not in the mood to participate in tourist shopping (when you are traveling solo your budget tends to be smaller), but I was looking for food.

Doors of the Prince of Wales, which are constantly manned by a gloved gentleman.

I opted for something Greek at Yianni’s Mediterranean Cuisine. I enjoyed a full plate of stuffed eggplant, which the server kind confirmed was gluten-free. I know, the asking gets old but I have to do it. Sigh. I cleaned my plate and enjoyed the cool quiet back patio location.

One of the primary attractions in NOTL is The Shaw Festival. The Shaw Festival is an extremely active theatre organization that operates in four local theaters in NOTL and “produces and presents the work of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) and playwrights writing anywhere in the world during, or about, the era of Shaw’s lifetime.” I immediately took the position that if I was going to have a NOTL experience I needed to see a show. I went to the box office at The Royal George Theatre and bought a ticket for 8:00 p.m. performance of His Girl Friday.

I took the rest of the afternoon off. I sat on my deck at the Inn, watched people, and worked on my pictures from Toronto. It was a lovely break followed by a much needed nap. My nap was followed by a walk down to the water and enjoy the view. You can see the Toronto skyline from NOTL and many folks were playing, resting, and visiting in the park. Very pretty.

The theatre features a 30 minute talk on each production prior to start of the play. So, I wandered over to the Festival Theatre in time for the talk. Luckily, the theatre has a little cafe in the lobby so I snacked and listened to the history of His Girl Friday. It was a nice preface to what was a fun show. The theatre was crowded with locals and tourists alike. Once the show began I understood why, the acting was outstanding. The female lead was especially charming and engaging. It was a great time. The theatre is worth a trip to NOTL.

Admittedly, I used a chunk of my time in NOTL to recover from the marathon of walking I did in Toronto. NOTL is a great place to relax. You can enjoy your quaint old hotel or Inn, lounge in the park and people watch, or pound the pavement shopping and visiting art galleries and restaurants. Either way, it is a peaceful time in NOTL.

It is a nice little town, but be advised that there will be tourists, and plenty of them. Some like me and some worse. My visit to NOTL was short, but enjoyable. Next, I made my way out of NOTL and down the parkway thirty minutes to Niagara Falls, where this story ends.

The Niagara Peninsula in Pictures

The second stop on my Canadian adventure was Niagara-on-the-Lake, about an hour and a half drive from Toronto along the Queen Elizabeth Way (the “QEW”). It is a lovely drive and worth a stop of its own. If only I had known. So, head west from the big city and be sure to veer off of the QEW and enjoy the view.

The country side of the peninsula is littered with scenic vineyards and gorgeous views. They don’t call it the Niagara Peninsula Wine Country for no reason. This is the De Sousa Wine Cellars Vineyard in Beamsville, Ontario.

At the Tawse Winery, 2010/2011 winery of the year, you can get a glimpse of the Toronto skyline on a clear day across the lake. It is breath-taking.

While at the Tawse Winery I met a kind gentleman named Dieter. Dieter met me at the door and gave me an interesting and enlightening tour of the winery. The picture on the left shows the gravity fed wine processing system, which is “based on the natural slope and contours of our property. The use of gravity as opposed to pumps allows the wine to move gently from pressing to bottling with minimum manipulation.” Fascinating stuff.

Dieter is also an interesting fellow. I told him that I was living in FW and he assured me that he knows all about FW. How, you say? He worked for GM, retired early, and took up the wine business with Tawse. My new friend Dieter is living the dream. I only spent little bit of time with him and it was clear that he is a happy guy. There is a lot to be said for doing what you love!

Tawse is a gorgeous place, whether you drink the wine or not.

This is the Tawse celler. One interesting fact I learned is that the red markings on the barrels that appears to be from the wine bleed-through is not. No, some poor wine intern has to go around and use the grape scraps to paint the center ring of all the barrels so that they will look neat rather than show the stains from samplings. Poor kid. Also, for the Celiacs out there that are wine drinkers – the wineries I visited make their wine in brand new barrels, not used ones. So, you do not have to worry about cross-contamination from used barrels. How is that for cheers to you!

Another lesson I learned on this trip was that grapes are fun. Fun to photograph, that is. I thought it would be boring, even though I love a farmer’s market. I am glad I tested my assumption and found I was wrong. The way the light moves through and around the grapes and leaves is really interesting and challenging to catch. And, they are pretty, especially the dark grapes – the purple on the green is lovely.

The drive from Toronto the Niagara-on-the-Lake should have taken an hour and a half. Lucky for me it took 3 hours. Three hours of peaceful driving, gorgeous views, and visiting. This area is really a must-see in Ontario. Also, it is impossible to get lost in (there are maps everywhere and great signage) and the people are super friendly and generous with recommendations for where to go next or where to have lunch. All you need is time, a car, and a camera.

Toronto, Day 2

So, what do I do before going on a walking tour? I walk. My day 2 in Toronto can be summarized easily – “walking around like my hair was on fire.”

I woke up got my Bible time in, had a LaraBar, and I was on the street. I enjoy a city in the morning. So I wandered east from the hotel along the harbor and then turned north in search of the St. Lawrence Market. The St. Lawrence Market is a large daily market that features a farmer’s market on Saturdays and an antique market on Sundays. It is in an old brick building surrounded by old and new construction.

The market was super lively with shoppers. Parents with children sifting through the produce and fruit for the best stuff. Elderly folks getting their flowers for the week. City dwellers pulling their small grocery carts with them so they can cart their loot home. Tourists, of course, taking pictures and admiring the fruit of the nearby farms and local vendors. I bought a container of fresh blueberries and finished them off as I walked the market. It was a lovely start to the day.

I started walking west to meet the walking tour group. It was a great stroll as I walked from the old part of town toward the areas were most new buildings have been constructed. It is interesting to see the new and slick rising up next to the old and grand. I found my meeting location – Ray Thomson Hall – ahead of schedule. So I decided to have some tea and admire the Ritz Carlton next door. The lobby was a great place for a pit stop and a photo opp featuring the freshly placed flowers adorning the gratuitous lobby furniture. Pretty.

The architecture tour was great. The tour was led by a volunteer who had been a banker in his former life and since his retirement he volunteers as a tour guide. I immediately liked him, he and his wife have spent time at Mount Rogers near my home in Virginia. It is a small world, after all. The tour group was small – me and my new friend David from Kenya. David has been in Toronto for 4 months. He and his wife, both architects, moved there from Africa. Super interesting.

The tour was specifically about contemporary buildings but the guide was also knowledgeable about the older buildings as well. So, we got the best of both worlds. We saw the TIFF building that is home to the Toronto International Film Festival, the Princess of Wales Theatre named in honor of Princess Diana and featuring beautiful murals by Frank Stella, the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts specially designed to insulate the building from the city noise and subway, and the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) designed by Frank Gehry and featuring a Henry Moore sculpture at the front doors. All the buildings were stunning in their own right.

We also stopped at the Umbra Concept Store on John Street. Umbra is a popular maker of household items that started in Toronto and now sells to companies the world around (including Bed Bath & Beyond). The concept store on John St. is the only place you can buy straight from Umbra. As the guide described the unique pink plastic facade of the building a striking gentleman came out of the store to greet us. Paul, the owner of Umbra who works at the concept store every other Saturday, introduced himself and gave the most wonderful talk about Toronto. Frankly, if I were a development person for the city I would hire him to do my marketing. After he stopped talking about the good things about Toronto I felt persuaded to move to Toronto immediately (my Daddy does not approve of this plan because Toronto is “not in the U.S.”). Paul is good. Paul was also kind enough to give David and me $25 gift cards to Umbra. After the tour, David and I headed to Umbra to get free stuff (of course I went over my gift amount . . . but wasn’t that the idea?).

As for old buildings on the tour, we saw the William Barber Building built in 1880 featuring “Toronto Brick”, which is yellow in color and everywhere in old Toronto. The Barber building was once a Whitewear underwear factory, which I thought was neat. We saw The Wesley Building on Queen Street West. The Methodist Church built this building and named it for the denomination’s founder John Wesley. The building is covered with Gothic detail. It is gorgeous.

The tour ended at the super cool and contemporary Ontario School of Art and Design with its black and white aluminum wing that is supported by giant multicolored pillars meant to resemble pencils. Very cool.

After the tour and my shopping excursion I stopped at a small Vietnamese restaurant called Ginger (recommended by the ladies at Umbra) for lunch and plotted my next move. By plotting I mean figuring out the quickest way to get back to the hotel to lay down. I was exhausted. I returned to the room did some reading and made a call to Daisy’s Aunt, Aunt Sharon, who lives in Toronto. Aunt Sharon was kind enough to give me her afternoon. So, after a rest I met her on the waterfront and we explored the Museum of Inuit Art, where I learned that Eskimo is an offensive term for the Inuit people outside of Alaska. Note to self. The art was gorgeous, carving in bone, tusk, and stone along with wall hangings, and basket weaving. If you have an opportunity to explore Inuit art, do it. It is my new favorite.

Next, we wandered through the international market where I scored a gray pashmina for $7 and now regret not getting the black cashmere one for $8. I hate when I do that to myself. Aunt Sharon found the perfect beach top to accompany her on her trip to the Carolina coast. Everybody wins!

We then settled in for people watching, great conversation, and dinner with a view. It took a couple of tries and a great deal of much appreciated patience from Aunt Sharon but we found a restaurant that could work my diet. The Pier 4 Restaurant served us some excellent orange roughy with a scallop and a beautiful view of the sunset and moon rise on the lake.

Aunt Sharon saw me off at the parking garage where she left her ride. She was lovely company.

I went up to the fancy Westin rooftop restaurant and had a decaf cappuccino and looked at Toronto at night. I like it there. It is a great city and I left plenty to see and do undone (like go up in the CN Tower, yes, I skipped it, don’t judge), so there will be a next time.

First Stop: Toronto

Toronto, Canada’s largest city, is the northeast anchor of the Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario – a horseshoe around Lake Ontario from Toronto to Niagara Falls. I arrived in Toronto on Friday afternoon after about seven hours of driving. I snagged a room at the Westin Harbour Castle with views of the lake and Old Town Toronto. Not bad for someone with only 3000 or so Starwood Guest Points.

I could not be bothered to spend much time in the room as I immediately realized that I forgot to pack a book (although I did remember my Bible). So, my nerdy little self decided that my first mission was to find a book store. Yes, really. Thanks to my trusty iPhone. I was able to locate a Chapters bookstore in the entertainment district (I would find out the next day that the building Chapters is in is worthy of a stop on the Toronto Architecture Tour). I set out to find the Chapters and some mealtime entertainment (eating alone = need book).

I know it sounds bizarre, you just got to the largest city in the entire country where there quite literally are a million things to do and places to see and you go to a bookstore. Yes, I did. But on the way to the bookstore I saw the entertainment district, The York Hotel (when it was constructed it was the largest hotel in the British Empire), the harbor front parks (including this huge sculpture that resembles the Death Star), a super cool grocery store in the terminal building (I like city grocery stores), various views of the CN Tower, and the general sights, sounds, and feel of the city. And such was my personal introduction to Toronto.

I made it to the bookstore, after numerous detours. The Chapters in the entertainment district is just around the corner from a row of brownstones and a small dining/shopping area with a very village atmosphere. The Chapters is a huge glass structure with a giant rubix cube on top (seriously, it was designed to be a rubix cube) with all red tiles. The building jumps out of the landscape from the smaller surrounding buildings. The store has very well-organized recommendation sections, which is awesome for someone who is looking for a book but not a particular book. There were popular, recommended, classic, etc. selections. I was looking for fun reading that would not require a lot of brain power – I chose I Don’t Care About Your Band. Mission accomplished.

Toronto, surprisingly, is a city that you can figure out easily on foot. It took one afternoon walk to figure out the primary streets and feel comfortable with the city grid. It was also easy to recognize that Toronto is truly an international city. Every single place I ventured you could hear languages other than English and French and see people from all walks of life. I recently read that nearly 50% of Toronto’s population is born outside of Canada – having just been there, I am not shocked. To use an Americanism, it really is a melting pot. But what can you expect, I am told that 100,000 new people move to Toronto every year.

En route back to the hotel I took a whole new path through the financial district. This is the most concentrated area of skyscrapers and it feels very New York. I enjoyed how different sections of Toronto had very different personalities and cultures. Very cool. As I walked on it became time to make the all important dinner decision. I opted to bail on my reservation at the fancy place in hopes of having a non-event dinner at a local joint. I approached the concierge and the sweet lady was kind enough to think carefully about where it is best to dine alone and where I could get a “grill” menu (translate: gluten-free). She sent me to a spot where she likes to eat alone – La Bettola di Terroni. She also reassured me that I was safe walking in the neighborhood. I love good helpful people the most.

Before dinner I took a trip up to the circular restaurant on top of the hotel and admired the lovely view of the lake and city. It was quiet and peaceful so I sat and looked and read. Unfortunately, this Westin tower restaurant does not spin like the one in Atlanta. You can’t have it all.

On the walk to dinner I walked past the hockey museum, which is in a beautiful old building with elaborate stone work and beautiful wood and iron doors. I did not go in but I certainly admired the structure. As you know, I don’t get hockey. I arrived at the restaurant and was extremely pleased. It was small and cozy with lots of little tables – perfect for one and its own DJ. I had a great experience there. The server was attentive, helpful, and reassuring that I was at an Italian place that could provide me a great,  gluten-free, experience. I had the best grilled tuna I have had in a long long time.

In addition to my book (which I unexpectedly found to be quite lewd) I was entertained by the Asian couple next to me who were very clearly on a date and so close to me that I could hear almost all their conversation. At one point they were examining the heels of each others hands to determine whose was the fattest. Apparently the size of it determines wealth or success or something like that. You just miss out on those kinds of details when you are traveling with others. I tried not to giggle aloud. The night time walk back to my Toronto home was gorgeous.

I covered some serious ground on first afternoon in Toronto, even if most of it was in search of reading material, and concluded with certainty that it is my kind of town. It is one of those places that is easy to love.

Oh Canada!

One of the great things about living in FW is that it is close to lots of places I want to go. Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and Canada, to name a few. What is even better is that all these places are accessible by car. If I were living back home and went to Canada, as I did recently, I would have had a one or two stop flight plus the added cost of a rental car (and gas, which is no cheaper in Canada). However, from FW, I made a call to Verizon to have international roaming added to my monthly bill, packed a bag, gassed the car, and left. That is nice.

Three or so hours later I was in line at the border, passport in hand. The handsome border agent was friendly and a little too concerned that I might be carrying a weapon “for my protection.” I immediately assumed this was because I was a woman traveling alone. I assured him that I left my gun in my nightstand. I would not call the Swiss Army knife in my purse a “weapon” unless I am defending myself against a bottle that needs opening. I left the border and forged on into Ontario.

I wish I could say that the Canadian countryside was something new, but it looks a lot like Indiana. Pretty, but lots of fields full of corn and soy. One thing I did notice as different and nice is the tourist signage along the Canadian highway. It is much more informative and great in number than U.S. tourist signage.

Thanks to this helpful Canadian signage I found Jakeman’s Maple Farm. Jakeman’s is hidden down a dirt road several kilometers (look at me acting all international) off of the 401. The dirt road to the farm and store is lined with tall corn rows and giant old trees, very pretty. The farm store is a worn and weathered old building that looks like it was once a country store. It was classically outfitted with a metal roof, chipped white paint covering its wooden walls, a buffet of farm implements and other “stuff” cluttering the porch and steps. It has a very small-country-town-down-south store feel to it. If you are from a tiny town that has a history then you know of what I speak. My Kentucky cousins (same family that made the ‘shine) owned one similar to this in Blackey, Kentucky and it looked a lot like Jakeman’s.

The kind lady inside the worn building gave me a maple candy to taste and educated me on the different grades of syrup. The candy was tasty and ensured that I would leave with something. However, beware, folks, maple syrup ain’t cheap. As much as I wanted to buy a gallon (this stuff is good) I came away with a set of three little glass bottles of medium (the most popular of course). One for me (I have already used it on some gluten-free pancakes and it was fantastic), the Mother of Six and the Father of Six. They have to share everything with those six babies, so this way at least they get their own syrup. Although, my guess is that it will get shared . . . .

Jakeman’s does most of its sales online so the property was pretty quiet. You can get syrup in all kinds of containers  – glass bottles shaped like leaves or an old oil can shaped containers. You can also buy their maple candy and cookies (I can’t eat them, so those stayed on the farm). The detour to Jakeman’s is the kind of thing that you can only experience via road trip. It was worth the stop.

I had many miles to go before I slept so I pressed on east. In Woodstock I had a very pleasant experience at the On Route – a building with several restaurants in it that resemble the food court at the mall and a gas station outside. It is like a fancy rest stop in the U.S. I went to the wash room (I am being very international again), got the Starbucks barrista to fill my Nalgene bottle (my little gift of love to the earth) rather than buy anything, and then, like a nerd, went outside and took pictures of Canadian soybean fields. Stop judging me, it has a pretty tree in it.

At the On Route I stopped to admire a couple of dogs whose owners were on their way to kayak. After this encounter I noticed that there are a lot of kayakers and canoeists in Ontario. Apparently they really like boats and getting the most of their lakes. I cannot drive a canoe (and probably not a kayak either, thought I have not tried) so I avoid such situations. I nearly mowed a fisherman down who was peacefully wading the Shenandoah River in Virginia. Not good, but I digress.

I was initially worried about my arrival in Toronto because I have never been there and it is a big city and I assumed I would have traffic problems. Wrong. The entry into the city via the Queen Elizabeth Way (the “QEW”) and Gardiner Parkway were super easy. Go straight and take your exit. I did get slightly turned around in getting into the Westin parking garage but I blame Google. I could see the hotel but could not get into the gate from where I was. The worst. But thanks to my handy-dandy iPhone that I was not supposed to use at all while driving in Canada I directed myself right to the front doors. Mission accomplished.

It was the most pleasant solo 7 hour drive I have had in a long time. No dread before leaving, no exhaustion while driving, and no regret upon arrival. Ontario is a great destination for anyone living in the Midwest. It is easy travel – pretty, interesting, and fun.

More to come about Toronto, the royal family, and free stuff.

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