"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Mennonite country

We picked up a car in Toronto this morning and headed to the Kitchener-Waterloo area, about an hour's drive west of Toronto. Driving was fairly easy once we got used to driving on the wrong side of the road again. The highways here are huge, 12 lanes across sometimes. But all is well signposted, and we found ourselves north of Waterloo, looking for a little town called St. Jacobs. My Canadian FB friends have often talked about this place, so I definitely wanted to see it. We were lucky with the weather; it rained on the way, but once we got to St. Jacobs, the storm had passed and it was even sunny at times. As soon as we drove through the farmlands, I was enchanted by the big Amish-style barns and grain silos. Would have loved to look inside one! As interesting as the big cities are, I just love countryside! St. Jacobs was just delightful, and no sooner had I left the visitor information store, did I see a black buggy with two proud horses and a Mennonite couple dash past! I was too gobsmacked to even get my camera out! I so much wanted to see that, and was lucky enough to see many such buggies drive past over the next hour. And when I discovered the quilt shops - well, my day could hardly get any better! I just want to live at the Mennonite quilt shop, and if not there, then at the First Nations art shop next door. Although I would not say no to a stay at the Christmas shop either. Had lunch under a huge maple tree, and made rather a mess of my credit card - but let's not go there.... Leaving beautiful St. Jacobs behind us, we powered up the highway, back via Toronto, and landed in a little place called Belleville (somewhat of a a misnomer, I'm afraid). Still, the culinary highlight was a pulled pork bun (delicious), an Alexander Keith light ale (my new favourite), and my first coffee at Tim Horton's. AND I found those gorgeous maple leaf cookies and maple-blueberry tea my friend Kathryn and I love so much.
DH has taken to photographing quirky signs. Found a good one  tonight: "Worms for sale. 24 hours". So, if you have a craving for worms at 11:30pm, that's the place for you!
Well, let's see what tomorrow brings...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mother Nature delivers!

As I suspected, nature is more liable than folk to render me awestruck! But there's not much that beats Niagara Falls in that regard. Our tour began with a drive into wine & fruit growing country, and the beautiful landscapes between the lakes. While some people sampled the (liquid) produce, we admired the stately houses along the Niagara River. Just gorgeous! I loved the Amish-style barns, and even spotted a Mennonite lady in traditional garb. The drive up to the falls was mostly pleasant, there were some delightful guest houses and B&Bs, and a superb golf course, with a gaggle of Canadian geese to keep order. From there we entered the rather garish Niagara Falls proper (on the Canadian side), and were shown to the Sheraton Hotel's Falls View dining room for lunch. Now I challenge anybody to beat that for a lunch with a view! You get to look down on both major falls, and the weather was, of course, just peachy. Can't fault the food either, hot, fresh and delicious. The falls were just incredible, so powerful, and the "Maid of the Mist" boats were just little toyboats from that height, whereas in real life they're quite large. We made our way down to the water and donned the blue plastic coats. We all looked like oversized condoms having a suspiciously good time in a washing machine! The raincoats did help though, once the boats make their way under the falls, you're just soaked. It was wild, wet, and wonderful, and even a couple of little rainbows came out! The roar of the water is almost threatening; no wonder folks in the old days thought the sounds came from angry spirits. Our next stop was at the helipad, and Wayne and I thought this was too good to miss - so a few minutes later yours truly had her first chopper flight. All I can say is - FUN!! The flight took 12 minutes and made its way up the river, across the falls and back again. It was really worthwhile, fantastic to see the falls from above, but also the whole water system. Happy but exhausted, we stopped in Niagara-on-the-Lake for a fortifying maple-walnut ice cream and a short walk down the main street. It is a pretty, tree-lined, cutesy village, but a little too artificial-touristy for my taste. Still, a nice final stop on our tour, and well removed from the tacky horrors of Niagara. I mean, why does anybody need a Hard Rock cafe in one of the world's most beautiful nature reserves? Back in Toronto - with the sunset reflected in the city's skyscraper windows -  we opted for a dinner in Chinatown. We lucked out; stopped at a restaurant , in front of which a pretty white dog was sitting. I felt that was a good omen, and it was - great food, cheap, plenty of it, and good service. We couldn't remember the name of the place, so Wayne called it the "Lucky Dog diner"... In fact, it was the Gourmet Restaurant, and I do recommend it. The duck was divine! A strawberry daiquiri has given me enough 'mellow' to guarantee a decent sleep. And tomorrow, we're off to Kitchener, Waterloo & St. Jacobs, then heading north towards Kingston. More soon.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Toronto - the good, the bad , and the ugly...

Haven't blogged for a while, but I thought our trip might provide a good opportunity to get into the habit again. Well, we're happily in Canada again, one of our favourite holiday destinations. This time, we're starting in Toronto and exploring some of the east coast. After the wonderful weirdness of Los Angeles, coming here was almost a relief! After a relaxed flight on Air Canada - I watched 4 blissful hours non-stop of the latest "Downton Abbey" series - we arrived in a bit of a heat wave, it seems. Balmy mid-20s and going up to 33C tomorrow! The time difference meant we had a short-ish day, which I didn't mind, having woken at 5am to be at the airport at 8am! Enjoying a few quiet moments before bed, we were rudely jolted out of our jetlagged stupor by the hotel fire alarm. I knew we should have refused the room on the 22nd floor! So, down we trot, with a few likeminded zombies, into the lobby, which looked like a night club. Young folk in various state of undress and sobriety lolled about, madly texting, fire engines out the front, police on bikes cruising past. Nobody knew - or cared - if there really was a fire. Toronto's finest were present and seemed to be enjoying the party. After 20 minutes of aimless loitering, we were allowed back into our rooms. I still don't know if there was a fire, although I did smell something burning around the 11th floor, not that anybody seemed to be worried.
Today we made use of the hop-on, hop-off bus services and explored Toronto from a double-decker bus. Great way to see the city. I wasn't too sure what to expect from Toronto, so I was pleasantly surprised by the contrasts in neighbourhoods and architecture. All I saw from the bus into the city were skyscrapers and urban canyons. On today's excursion, it was gratifying to see some of the original architecture, the beautiful trees and parks, old churches, as well as the modern buildings, and the tranquil islands with swans, baby ducks, and people making the most of their weekend. And - I will have you know that we sampled Canada's national dish, poutine. I say sampled and mean it, a taste was quite enough, thank you. My arteries snapped shut upon entry. It was kind of the chef at the "Loose Moose" to let us try a bit, and I can see its potential as a comfort food. If you want to call poutine food, that is.
Our last stop was the Eaton Centre, where I wanted to see the flying geese sculpture. It's a nice, airy space, and I think I could spend a Canadian winter in there, only to emerge in spring, bear-like, but not with cubs.
Sadly, all the good impressions of this city came to an abrupt end at Dundas Place, a mad spot if I ever saw one. Some bloke, down in his luck, had decided to set himself up to make a buck, and had taken a small kitten along to serve as his way of generating income, by having people take photos and charging for it, presumably. Now, I have nothing against capitalist enterprise, and good luck to the fellow for dreaming up a way to raise revenue. However, I draw the line at animal cruelty, and making this poor little scap of a feline share his misery. In a forest of legs, assaulted by wayward children, and made a specatacle of by an uncaring owner, this traumatised creature's eyes will be what I remember about Toronto. I'm sure the kitten was not even 8 weeks old. Not being the sort to let such things pass, I looked for a police person, but of couse, when you need one, you dont see one. So I called the police department from the hotel, and guess what, they didn't want to know! They passed me on to the local SPCA. This being a Sunday, all one got was a recorded message. Very sad. Was it Gandhi who said that a civilisation is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable members?
But tomorrow is another day, and we're getting outta town to see Niagara Falls. I do prefer nature to so-called civilisation, it is much less cruel. So I'm hoping for a good day on the "Maid of the Mist".