After so long in the southern hemisphere it felt a bit strange to be heading over the equator and much further north. Our flight to Toronto was via Miami and it certainly was strange to be in a US airport with all the peculiar arrangements for luggage handling and security, surrounded by masses of Americans of all shapes, sizes and colours. Landing in Toronto we saw the ground covered in snow and were hit by really cold air. Although we'd been exchanging emails with Lorna and Willy (who were meeting us at the airport) we hadn't had the benefit of seeing recent photos of them - but they'd seen our photographs on our blog. However, emerging into the arrival hall we couldn't miss Lorna's beaming face as she tracked us down through the crowd. It was really great to see her and the missing 34 years since we'd last seen each other just fell away. After hugs and introductions (E had never met the Canadian side of the McPhillips family) Lorna was quick to regale us of that day's major news story of a New York plane that came down in the Hudson River shortly after take-off from Laguardia (the airport we're flying into next week!). We were to get our next shock when we went outside to meet Willy, who was keeping the car warm, and saw thick, thick snow (there was about a foot on the roof of Willy's car) and felt the icy freezing air - lucky we still had some of our Antarctic gear with us.
Willy soon had us home along roads that were only passable thanks to the gritters and snow ploughs - apparently this was the coldest spell that Toronto had had for some considerable time. Strangely, as we were to discover, North American houses seem to keep their Christmas decorations up for a long time and Lorna and Willy's suburb looked quite festive, colourful and very welcoming. Once inside Lorna cooked a lovely meal and with Willy serving up an array of beverages we had a great evening talking non-stop about family and our travels into the wee small hours - Lorna and M didn't get to bed until 4.30 am!
With only a few days in Toronto, the following morning Lorna took us a quick spin round the local area where the family had lived for many years and which M had last visited in 1975. It was a beautiful clear, crisp, sunny day and Lorna took us to one of her favourite places, Scarborough Bluff which overlooks the vast Lake Ontario.Well, when we got out of the car we can honestly stay we'd never ever been as cold in our lives as we were then. As we stood overlooking the lake, with the temperature in the minus 20s Celsius (and with wind-chill would be much, much colder) we were covering our faces with our gloves because the cold was actually painful. Seeing the distress on the faces of two Antarctic explorers Lorna soon had us back in the warmth of the car and whisked us off into the city where she dropped us off to do some exploring ourselves. It being such a clear day the obvious first stop was the CN Tower, which we understand may still be the highest tower in the world. We got excellent 360 degree views and the snow and ice provided a great definition of the landscape below.
Toronto has a double life and in days such as this, not surprisingly, most of life takes place underground and out of the cold.So as we made our way through the city we kept dipping down into these underground havens. Eventually we found Eaton Mall, the main mall in the city centre, which was to become a regular haunt but on our first visit was where M got a much needed haircut. As darkness descended we took the streetcar (tram) back to Lorna's and had another good night catching up on news.
Saturday, still bitingly cold, saw us back in Toronto at the excellent Art Gallery of Ontario where we enjoyed a vast selection of mainly modern art, the highlight being Stretch, a 3D bust of a bloke, which in many ways was so lifelike. It brought smiles from everyone who saw it. Back at L & W's they'd organised a party where we met cousin, Linda and her husband Tom. It was also great to see our other cousins Anne, Cathy and her daughter Julie. We also met many of their interesting friends. As you will now expect we had a jolly fine evening enjoying the excellent spread laid on by Lorna and were amply 'watered' by Willy in his role of barman. Once again it was great catching up with family stories as well hearing tales from their friends. We fell into our bed at yet another ungodly hour.
Thirty four years ago Linda and Tom (as a couple of young lovebirds) had taken M to Niagara Falls. Today (Sunday) in somewhat different weather conditions they repeated the courtesy and took us to see a very cold and frozen spectacle. It was a long drive there and back for Tom in very, very wintry conditions but they also seemed to enjoy seeing it at this time of year. Whilst great swathes of water were still thundering over the Falls it was accompanied by huge sheets of ice. The sides of the Falls were covered in ice floes, giant icicles all rather the inside of underground caverns, and the surrounding railings were transformed into magnificent ice statues. Only a short distance from where the Falls tumbled into the Niagara River below the river was totally frozen over. We went into the tunnels beneath and behind the Falls only to find that what is usually a roaring rush of water was a still and massive sheet of ice. On our return journey Tom took us through the lovely quaint village of Niagara on the Lake. By this time it was snowing heavily and with about 140 kms to go to get back to Toronto we just didn't have the time to stop - other than to pop into the fudge shop where we bought the best ever peanut and cashew nut brittle. Tom did sterling work getting us home along snow covered roads to a great roast dinner at Lorna's. Sunday night was spent watching ice hockey and the dismal sight of the local team, The Leafs, getting gubbed yet again - all to the sounds of Willy's moans and groans (sounds like he's used to it!). After a wander around the city on Monday afternoon, we met up with Lorna, Linda, Willy and Tom in the Spice Route Restaurant for an excellent and (spicy) meal. On Tuesday morning, we got packed and Willy took us to the airport via a local diner for breakfast. We'd had a wonderful time and had been treated royally by Lorna and Willy. It was like the 34 years had never happened.
Lots of love
E & M xxx