Niagara Falls and Toronto

Grace had one last vacation day left for the academic year ending in June, and we took advantage of a post-call Friday and the vacation day on Monday to go to Niagara and Toronto. Here are the photos:

Niagara and Toronto pictures

One day, I’ll combine all this with a Google Maps route-marker, but the verbal description will have to do for now.

We headed up I-90 East late Friday morning, and got to the American side of the Falls in the late afternoon. It’s true: the American side has a somewhat run down, kitschy feel whereas the Canadian side has a more polished kitschy feel. What’s somewhat unexpected is that the Niagara river is flowing south to north at this point; for some reason, I had always thought it was a north-south flow, if only because Canada is vaguely to the north (the Panama Canal, in a bit of geographic surprise, similarly runs somewhat west to east, if you’re travelling from the Atlantic to the Pacific). We walked a bit around the observation platform just north of the Falls, and then across a bridge to the Goat Islands, took some pictures, and then headed over the bridge to a bed and breakfast in St. Catherine’s, in Ontario wine country.

The Fairview B&B is actually set in a golf course, so there are acres of green landscaping all around. Dinner that night, on recommendation of the B&B owners, was at Wellington Court in St. Catherine’s. It was one of the better meals we’ve had in a while; the food just clicked. The next day, again on recommendation of the B&B owners, we took the wine country trail, passing by the small Niagara wineries, farms and towns, rather than the isolated superhighway of the Queen Elizabeth Way. It was scenic, and didn’t add much more time to our drive to Toronto.

We stayed in downtown Toronto. There’s a Intercontinental hotel adjacent to the convention center, and we had a good AAA rate for that weekend. We went walking soon after we put our bags down, first to the St. Lawrence Market and then up to the University of Toronto before hooking west through the northern fringe of their Chinatown before winding up in a Little Italy street fair. And it was time for the World Cup match between Italy and the US! Crowds were gathered at any bar with a visible TV, mingling around the usual street fair booths. There were murmors as random things happened on the field. The final score was 1-1. Hey, we were now in Little Portugal, and Portugal vs. Iran was earlier in the day. Portugal won 2-0! And there were plenty of people milling around, wearing the national team’s uniform and cruising around with the flag fluttering from their car windows and antennas. We chatted with a random shopkeeper on how much he likes soccer.

Eventually, we wound through the crowded Chinatown, which is adjacent to Little Portugal, and eventually made our way down to the western part of King Street for dinner at Blowfish. The sushi was good, but the portions were a little smaller than I expected, and we actually went back to order another couple of rolls. I suppose I’m just used to the big American pieces, as opposed to the classically bite-sized Japanese-style pieces. Oh well.

By the evening, we wound up near the lakeshore and the lively entertainment district down there. Yes, Toronto is an order of magnitude more populous than Cleveland, but why can’t we have a similarly lively waterfront?

Interestingly, we didn’t find any free wi-fi access. Most coffeeshops in downtown offered subscription services. I later found this site; I’ll take a printout of the destination next time we go someplace unfamiliar.

The next day, we walked up Yonge street to reach the Royal Ontario Museum and the Bata Shoe Museum. The Royal Ontario combines both art museum and natural history museum, so it’s interesting for having good collections of both. Unfortunately, the museum was undergoing a massive renovation, and large sections of it was closed. The Bata Shoe Museum was small, and strangely focused on asubject I don’t think much about. It’s one of those random niche museums you find here and there. I would have also liked to have seen more functional design of, say, work shoes (e.g., the evolution of the steel toe boot), but there was a nice historical section showing the first known shoes and the cultural significance of footware in various societies. There was also the presumed money-maker galleries with the Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks. At the end of the day, we did the obligatory tourist trek to the top of the CN Tower. More expensive than I would have liked, but it’s, yes, obligatory, and you get to see the whole of Toronto’s tall buildings in one view, in some sense.

We headed home on the following Monday, taking local routes once we got into the Niagara district and stopping at the tourist town of Niagara-On-the-Lake for lunch. The town is in some guidebook somewhere, as there was at least a couple busloads of Japanese tourists, and some of the stores had signs in Japanese. We took the riverside highway thereafter, passing by the Whirlpool downriver of the Falls, and stopping at the main tourist area for some pictures before heading further down to cross to the U.S. near Buffalo.

The rest of the drive home was pretty uneventful, outside of some passing thunderstorms. Just remember, the cheap gasoline is near Ashtabula.

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