Another two day entry: To Toronto, and my first 24 hours.
I still haven't managed a good night's sleep, so waking at 5.30 wasn't a great joy. The shuttle was on time and I was in the airport in good order to get through the nuthouse of US security.
No amount of prose can ever glamourise a cross-continental flight - particularly one with a change in Chicago. I was able to access the AA (American Airlines - not Alcoholics Anonymous!) club in Denver, and do some printing of tickets for buses etc while I was there. There was a little surprise in that I discovered that I was only waitlisted for the leg from Denver to Chicago, even though I had an allocated seat from Chicago to Toronto.Everything went smoothly and the 35 minutes for the change was plenty. For the first leg there was a small child in the same row who cried every time his mother picked him up off the floor. Wasn't looking too flash. Fortunately he went to sleep soon after takeoff. Then for the leg from Chicago, the woman next to me seemed set to cough her way to Canada, but that too eased at takeoff.
I walked straight into a cab and got to my hotel - the Hotel Victoria - quite quickly, with a Sikh cabbie. Just like home. The hotel is one of those historic gems that have been done up very nicely. The room is small, but well styled and comfortable, on the eighth floor. Views of a blank wall, but at the price.... You can check it out at http://www.hotelvictoria-toronto.com/.
The guy at the desk was most helpful, and even booked a Niagara tour for me on Monday as he predicted bad weather later in the week. As soon as I settled, I rugged up (about 5 degrees out) and headed up Yonge Street for a recce. It was around 6 by then. The place was packed after the annual Santa Claus parade, which I had just missed, and most of the shops were open, particularly in the Eaton Centre. I headed back to the hotel looking for a place to eat, and found the Marche' - a cross between a food market and a restaurant. There are "stands" for different kinds of foods - roasts and grills, pastas pastries, fresh fruit, drinks, roesti and sausages, Vietnamese, Japanese, ice-cream, drinks - and so on. You are given a card when you enter, and point at what you want at the different stalls. You are served and your card is charged up. You find a seat in one of the zones - differently decorated - and pay the total as you leave. Good and fresh!
Off to bed about 9, awake at midnight for three hours, then up at about 7 so I could be ready for pick up for the Niagara tour. They took us in a car to their central departure point, around the corner from Beth's old place at Primrose Hill. We paid there and set off in a 20 seater bus. One of the Parramatta principals was on the bus with his family - a very small world!
Our driver was a Pakistani, but very familiar with the run and gave a good basic commentary. The tour stopped at the Niagara airport where we could choose a helicopter ride. I opted in and got a front seat. A fabulous experience! I had views even between my feet through the prespex floor. The flight was about 25 minutes, and was very smooth. I'll try to load up some video. I don't think I have flown in a chopper since I was in cadets.
Next stop was a winery, where the main attraction was icewine, made with grapes which have frozen - each grape yielding only one drop of liquid. Verrrrrry sweeeeeet. But interesting.
We stopped next by the shore of Niagara on the lake, which is clearly a holiday town in "down mode". The old buildings are beautiful. Some of the old hotels have been restored, and the driver said that even in low season the rooms go for over $500 a night!
Next stop, Niagara falls - the whirlpool. A little underwhelming.
This was more than made up for by the sheer, rumbling, monumental enormity of the Falls themselves - particularly the Horseshoe Falls. The volumes of water pouring over the lip are simply incomprehensible. The spray thrown up creates its own rainbow, and you can see it describe about 270 degrees from the base of the cliffs on the Canadian side, out towards the other side and then curving back to land in Canada, behind us. I've included a photo that gives some sense of what it looked like.
After taking in the splendour of nature, I headed up the main strp to explore the Hollywood tinsel of the main drag. It was pretty quiet at this time of year, giving the solitary tourist plenty of opportunity to take in the neon, recorded carney style invitations and the absolute disconnection between any of them and the Falls. There were two or three "horror" related attractions, ditto waxworks, rock (and roll) themes, and every form of North American junk food on the list. I stopped for lunch at Tim Horton's - my first visit this trip. A must do for any returning Canadian citizen, no matter how tenuous the link.
The final stop was up the Skylon, which gives fabulous views of the falls from on high - but not so fabulous as those from the chopper. A kind of Centrepoint Tower with a view.
An uneventful trip back, a sally forth to the nearest laundromat, dinner at Marche' and then dealing with emails, uploading photos, and now this.
Starting to fade, so bed soon. No need to get up early tomorrow, so I'm hoping for a better night's sleep.