Harry Potter and the Greyhounds of NYC

Where did we leave off yesterday?  Oh yeah. In Toronto, with travels plans in disarray, and the only feasible option for getting to NYC would take 12 hours.  Our 5:30pm Greyhound from the airport left at 5:15 (with us on it) to get us to Toronto , where we would change busses for the one to goes to New York at 7:00pm… which becomes more like 8:00pm.  I went to the canteen at the bus terminal to grab a sandwich, but really didn’t need to rush. Basically they just line people up and whoever is in the line fits on to whatever bus turns up.  So we ended up on the 8PM one – but they at least we’re on a bus, no dramas.  Its all first-come-first-served when boarding, so only a small number of lucky people get the window seats (not us) , and we have to sit apart.  It’s OK, my neighbour keeps to herself, and we all settle in for the journey.

There’s not too much to be written about long bus trips . I’d heard some kind horror stories of Greyhound journeys, but our little team of passengers weren’t too bad all things considered.  There was one person who maybe thought we wouldn’t all notice he was puffing on a special cigarette in the loo a few times… it’s not my thing, but if you’re stuck on a bus for twelve hours you probably can’t blame ’em.  There was also a guy, older than us, who was looking at naughty pictures of gentlemen on his phone – we only knew this coz an even older lady a row or two back gave him a good ticking off about it, as she was sooo disgusted.  But of course she had to sticky beak, right?! Anyway, just another few aspects of life’s rich pageant, I guess.

We got close to Niagara Falls again which was amusing, and before long it was time to cross the border.  I wondered what would happen – and is pretty darn efficient considering what we had to do.  Everybody off the bus.  Everybody get their luggage (both handheld and checked baggage) and into a room where we’re all processed and interviews by US Customs, and get all our baggage scanned and x-ray’d. Then all the checked baggage goes back under the bus and everyone returns to their seats – but again it’s a free for all but this time Perry and I ended up together.  This was also a bonus coz only the window-side people had access to power, so I would no longer need to keep my phone on like 1% brightness to make sure I didn’t run out of battery 🙂  Welcome to the USA!

Our next stop is Buffalo – only ten minutes away.  This is when we learnt of a change of plan.  Everybody off the bus again, everybody grab your checked baggage again, everyone stand in a big room again .. they must shuffle things around to make sure they have the most bums on the most seats at every opportunity, as a fair few people were only going as far as Buffalo.

This inconvenience paid off though – we had a nicer bus, and we thought we had spare seats, and we both got a window, woo! But then other people came on and filled up the gaps, but so what, I had a phone that was charging so hey, priorities, right? 🙂  Happily Perry was also in the same kind of situation. A window, and a charging outlet.

I was pleasantly surprised to find I maybe slept an hour – more than I was expecting, really.  Most of that was probably after 6AM, as I saw a pretty sparsely populated area, and when I woke up, we were only 10 minutes away from our destination, Port Authority Bus Terminal, New York City.  We made it.  We felt like shit, and possibly looked worse, but, we made it!

Then we had to walk, with our roughly  65 kgs of luggage, to the hotel, about 5 city blocks away.  It was uphill, but at least it was a very very gentle hill. We were really quite lucky – because for much of the tail end of the bus trip the rain and weather was fierce, probably the rest of what had shut down most flights going to LaGuardia.  But when we found the way out of the bus terminal and on to the street … it was dry.  A little bit before 7 we reached the hotel, feeling equal parts triumphant and exhausted.  And really hungry, and really really thirsty.  (A good tip that we took – don’t drink much, there aren’t many wee stops and apparently the onboard bus toilet can be pretty nasty).

So, yay, New York City, hello again at last!!

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We’re staying at the Hotel Edison.  For New York, the room is a good size – maybe a little bigger than the one we had at San Francisco, but smaller than everywhere else we’ve stayed.  The view, well, it’s a view directly into windows about maybe 5 metres away.  But at least we can tell if it’s night or day.  Mind you, in New York, that doesn’t often matter.

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Selfie in the hotel lift

Once we were settled in the hotel the most important thing was a nap.  A fractured sleep of one or two hours isn’t the best way to face the day, so a couple of hours solid sleep were most welcome.  After all, we had a show to see, the reason why we had to get the bus and couldn’t wait for the next available plane.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, parts One and Two.

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Part One started around 2:00pm.  I won’t do spoilers, I will indeed #KeepTheSecrets as they keep urging us to, but if you’re even vaguely interested in Harry Potter, do go see it.  Great performances, the way they use the stage and indeed the entire theatre is amazing, inventive, unexpected … really cleverly put together.  It’s looks just stunning, and it does have its share of ‘how on earth did they do that’ magic.  Really, really smart.  Loved it.  And a brilliant cliffhanger.  I want to go on and on about it, but I’ll be good, and stay quiet.  And it might be a funny thing to mention but Andrew the guy just serving drinks at the theatre bar seemed every bit as excited as us customers about the show. It was a really nice way to begin.

After Part One finished, and we picked our jaws up off the floor, we went back outside in to the crazy heat and humidity.  It was feeling like a Sydney summer – hot and sticky.  But this was one of the free weekends where in NYC they close of parts of the city to traffic, for ‘NYC Summer Streets’.   8th Avenue was closed to traffic for ages and there were tons of street markets stalls selling all kinds of stuff – food, souvenirs, trinkets, clothes..all sorts of good stuff.  We had a wander through, and at a place selling sunglasses this couple started picking out glasses for us, having a ball.  They assure us they had nothing to do with the stall owner, they were just having fun picking styles for people. Well, it worked in the stall owner’s favour, I did end up buying a pair of sunnies for the very expensive price of $7 – mainly because I’d left my sunnies at the hotel, as it was overcast when we left for the play.  For $7, lets see if they last for seven days.  One strange thing about this market was that even though the Avenue was closed, the streets weren’t – so for an unsuspecting tourist it would be easy to talk down the avenue and not realised that a car might zoom right across at any moment – seemed a bit odd but didn’t hear of anyone getting knocked down.

We also enjoyed a slice of pizza from another stall, (and yep we did the ‘new york fold’ of course), and some fried ice cream. All good!

By this time to beat the heat we went back to the hotel, but not for long because it was time for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Part Two, starting at 7:30.

I gotta say I have so much respect for the cast – because it’s all the same cast from the first play.  Man that is a LOT of lines to learn – and perform – in just one day.  Very impressive that they have to energy to do that.  Andrew our drinks guy was also there, just as enthusiastic as before, and just as excited to see the show as every customer he served.

It was just before Part Two that I learned of a company called ‘Ordertorium’. They work in conjunction with the theatre – basically, you order stuff, and they deliver it to you either before the show or at intermission.   The app was simple to download and setup so I gave it a go.  Sure enough, as soon as intermission started, just like magic someone appeared with an armful of paper bags, one of which was for us, containing two ice-creams, as ordered. Lovely!  A clever idea, sure beats queueing.

So yeah, again no spoilers, but I do recommend seeing both parts on the one day if you can -you won’t want to be left waiting.

After that, well it’s late night at Times Square, and that means a stupid amount of people.  It took a heck of a time to get back to the hotel, but we managed it eventually, so all good. It will be something to keep in mind though – allow plenty of time when trying to get to anything near or on the other side of Times Square.  It’s hectic!

Speaking of which I think our first day in NYC has been hectic enough… so time to hopefully get a proper, not-on-a-bus, night’s sleep.  Night! 🙂

…and then it all goes a bit wrong

Ah, Friday. Our final morning in Toronto. We kept it simple, having breakfast at the hotel buffet – not too bad.

We then headed back to the room to finalise the last of the packing, before checking out and heading to the airport – the hotel organised the transfer and for a hotel-organised thing, it was a pretty good price. So we were all organised and ready for the fun and games of New York.

Then the email came through.

Oh, poop.

Since it was nearly time for us to head off we decided to keep heading off and go to the airport anyway – to give us the best chance of getting ourselves on any flight that may be available.

In the car on the way to the airport, bing goes the phone, another email comes in, from American Airlines. Our flights have been rebooked. (Yay!) …For Saturday.

Oh, poop.

It turns out going to the airport was a good idea – at least we were closer to the action and hopefully get better info about what’s going on, We spoke to the lovely staff at American Airlines, and even though they had no other flights available, they were able to get us on to one of Westjet’s flights instead. They even still let us into the American Airlines Lounge so we could wait out the next 5 hours til our new flight was ready.

The lounge was pretty nice – not a ton of food, but great choc chip cookies 🙂 We settled in to while away the hours. After an hour or so, Perry did a check on how the Westjet flight was going. And he found…our Westjet flight had also been cancelled.

Oh, poop.


We queue to speak to the Westjet people. Hundreds queue to speak to the Westjet people. The Westjet people walk the queue and say – don’t queue to talk to the WestJet people. There are no flights. Phone the westjet people to re-book. For some other day. No flights today.

Oh, poop.

Plans are falling apart all around us. Holidays are collapsing. Homecomings are not-coming-home. Weddings are probably in peril. People are falling apart around us, too. Some are shouting, maybe hoping that yelling can fix the weather. No. No flights today.


We’d checked in our baggage about two hours ago. At least now we know what happens in this (suit)case. It gets regurgitated out at arrivals … eventually. In hindsight it’s lucky we were just able to walk in and get it – once it finally arrived. As always happens with luggage that goes in at the same time … one bag will always take forever before turning up.

While we were waiting we checked our options. No flights of course. There’s a train – but only one a day and it leaves just before 9am. We really need to get to New York. We have shows booked up the wazoo and don’t want miss a single one. Especially the two we’re seeing Saturday. Which we won’t see if we get a flight (afternoon only) or the train (which would arrive Saturday night)

So we’re getting a Greyhound. Ridin’ the bus. Why take a 100 minute flight when you can take a 12.5 hour road trip, right? Still, when ya gotta get somewhere, ya gotta get somewhere.

Did I mention it’s also a long weekend here in Canada?

Anyway we’re kinda lucky. There’s a bus stop st the airport. We just had to find our way over to the other terminal but st least the train was free. And, being Canada, the people were helpful.

We’re on the first bus now – we have to transfer at Toronto for another one which should then take us, eventually, to New York City.

Ah well, this is not ideal by any means. But hey, let’s drink a toast to new experiences! Fetch the … wait, they don’t serve champagne on this bus?

Oh, poop. 🙂

HOToronto. And squirrels.

It’s a warm and humid day!

We didn’t set out for breakfast until about 9:30, where we learned that Toronto is also not a town that does breakfast. Pretty much everywhere opens for brunch at 11. Eventually we did find a place – “What a Bagel!” Just in time, I was getting kinda hangry. Or at least desperately in need of caffeine. It was also nice to get out of the heat and humidity. Coffee was kinda ordinary – a 5/10, but wow, What a Bagel!

Cream cheese, lox (smoked salmon) capers, onion, and a massive salad … delicious! A good way to start the day. Perry’s healthier option was any looking pretty good.

Our plan for this morning was to follow a tip given to us by our tour guide yesterday – Kensington Market. Should be easy – it’s just off Spadina Ave, we’re having breakfast on Spadina Ave, so off we go, enjoying some quirky public art along the way.

There’s a lot of thimbleism in this work..,

To cut a long story short (lest we reach 2000 words like yesterday) Kensington Market isn’t so straightforward to find. A bit of a hidden gem. It’s not even a typical market – rather a number of streets in the neighbour full of an eclectic mix of shops and eateries. But eventually we did find the right place. Pretty bohemian / alternative, with lots of second hand clothing stores, little eateries, and a few fruit and vege shops as well. And also a cat on top of the world. Just because.

On sundays they close of a number of the streets, to make it more into a real market, I can imagine it would get really busy at that time – a cool little slice of Toronto.

Cool wasn’t really on the menu for today – it’s hot! Only 24 degrees, but it felt like 30 – maybe it’s the humidity, plus the fact we’d been walking nearly non stop for the past two hours or so. As luck would have it we chanced upon a nice park nearby – Grange Park. Nice and big, a fountain with really really cold water, some more art, a (kinda small) fenced-off area for unleashed dogs, and a bunch of trees with squirrels.

Squirrels are hilarious. I could watch them for ages. And so we did.  It in the shade and there was a small breeze, so seemed as good  place as any to spend a few minutes.

To get out of the heat for a while we headed back to the local Cineplex, to see Ocean’s 8. It was better than I expected – really enjoyable.  And two hours indoors, with aircon! 🙂

Walking back to the hotel we stopped in someone we had no chance of getting to last night despite out best intentions:  Sweet Jesus, the ice-cream shop.  Last night the queue was so ridiculous we walked straight on by, but today there were only a few people waiting so in we went. And indeed after the first taste, Sweet Jesus!  I had a ‘Hella Nutella’ and Perry had a ‘Red Rapture’ – mine’s pretty self-explanatory but Perry’s was a huge vanilla soft serve covered in red velvet cake crumbs, cream cheese sauce, meringue, and raspberry sauce.  Woah.  The person before us bordered a ‘Birthday Cake’ – a massive soft serve that comes complete with a lit candle on top.  Crazy, but crazy good! Now I completely understand why we couldn’t get anywhere near it last night just after the show finished.  Do check out http://www.sweetjesus4life.com/menu/

Making good use of the ice-cream-induced sugar rush – it was time to re-pack the suitcases.  It’s our last night in Toronto so time to see if we can squish everything back in for our impending journey tomorrow.  So far, so good. I’m very grateful that our remaining flights all have a 32kg-per-bag limit. We might need it!

Our last dinner in Toronto was at ‘Penelope’ – a great Greek restaurant not too far from the hotel.  Amazing saganaki cheese, tasty spanakopita, a fitting meal to farewell the city.

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So, that’s about it for Toronto, which to be honest is a bit sad.  We don’t leave until about half way through tomorrow so we still have a bit of time to experience this lovely place.  I’m really impressed by Toronto – mainly I think it’s the people. It’s a happening, vibrant, diverse and accepting city, with plenty to do an explore. We’ll be more than happy to return one day.

This also (very nearly) marks the end of our visit to Canada 😦  We’ll come back, eh!

 

What we’re seein’ from the CN

TL;DR version :

We did another tour, saw a show, it was all pretty awesome! The end.

The somewhat longer version  – sorry, this one’s wordy!

Today was a another good opportunity see and learn more about this vibrant city of Toronto.  We had a very small tour – just 4 tourists and our guide, which was nice.

The weather was a little cloudy, but none of the forecast rain ever eventuated – so we continue to be some of luckiest tourists ever.   Our first stop the day was …

CN Tower

I’ve kinda been itching to view Toronto from this tower since day 1.  But this day is near enough 🙂  Some days the cloud cover is low enough that you can’t see anything at all – but we were fortunate because despite the clouds, we still had a great view.  The fun part about the glass-walled lifts is that parts of the floor are glass as well.  For the easily freaked out they can instantly turn the glass parts opaque which is clever.

The whole tower is 553.3 metres tall.  The observation tower is about 350 m above sea level. For comparison, Sydney tower’s observation deck is about 268m above. So yep, it sure is big, and still dominates the city skyline.

The observation deck is surprisingly spacious – and of course offers some pretty amazing views.  There’s also an ‘open air’ deck just below, but its closed-in with a lot of wire.  It was a lot less windy up there than I thought it would be, and still pretty warm just like at street level. This lower level also housed a glass floor which was fun to walk on – we must have psyched ourselves up sufficiently after hesitating on the one at Calgary.

Exiting through the gift shop (of course!) we made our way back to our little tour bus and on to a very different destination:

Casa Loma.

But first, some history. (Or as Glinda said in Wicked last night, “Why can’t you teach us some history, instead of just harping on about the past…”)

Back in ye olde days of the late 1800s, there was a pretty smart cookie by the name of Henry Pellatt, who made his first fortune in daddy’s stockbroking business, but really got into the money when he foresaw that this fancy new ‘electricity’ thing really might have a future. We all know how that turned out – and as the sole electricity supplier for Toronto, he naturally made an absolute mint.

Well, as the very wise Jane Austen once said, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” And so, Henry married Mary in 1882. But where to live? For the richest man in Toronto, moneybwas. I object so he ended up building his own grand castle – Casa Loma. Built over a period of three years, it’s a gothic revivalist confection of 95 rooms, 30-odd bathrooms, ballroom, conservatory, lavish gardens, and, for the era, all the modernest of mod cons. A telephone in every room (yup, 95 telephones…), fancy modern flush toilets in all-marble bathrooms, and in his own ensuite a kind of power shower equipped with six different taps (and, we were told, a full time shower tap attendant to turn them). It was the first building in Canada to have a centralised vacuum machine. Also, of course, it had the modern wonder of electric lighting throughout.

All this, for just Henry and Mary – and for a short time, their son Reginald, who moved out after a few years.

It also has turrets, towers, seperate but equally grand stables, the works. In later years the government of the time put a road through the estate, cutting between the stables and the main residence. This so incensed the very-rich-but-slightly-eccentric (and snobby) Mr Pellat, who saw it as a grave offence to have to walk on a public road. So he had a massive tunnel dug under the estate over to the stables, so he wouldn’t have to debase himself by walking on a road that the common folk would also be able to access.  Sounds like a bit of a dick, right? Well he also did some good things, like personally pay for the first few streetcar lines in the town. So … I guess one needs to draw ones own conclusions.

I figure he must have upset a few people in government though, because what they did sounds pretty much like revenge to me. They raised property taxes from $600 per year to $1000 per month.  They ‘public-ised’ (i.e. took) the electricity network from him without compensation, leaving him with no source of income.  He ultimately had to give up Casa Loma – but not until the indignation of having all his person effect auctioned off at trifling prices; some lucky bugger bought themselves a Rembrandt for only $25.  So yes, his financial downfall was about as huge as his fortune once was.  Ultimately, he only lived in Casa Loma for about ten years.  After that, it sat derelict for a while, the city tried (unsuccessfully) to turn it into a hotel, unit in the early 1930s it was purchased by an entertainment company, who still owns it and runs it to this day.  Understandably, it’s a very popular wedding venue, and our tour guide said some scenes for the Harry Potter films where shot there – though 30 seconds of Googling didn’t lead me to any tangible proof.

But what of Henry Pellatt?  When Toronto became too much to bear, he simply moved on to one of his other larger properties.  He passed in away in 1939, and the people of Toronto lined the streets to pay tribute to his funeral processing, and he was buried with full military honours.  His son (his and Mary’s only child) did not have any children, so that kinda the end of the line for the Pellatt’s.

Sorry that’s a lot words but I found it a really interesting story, and an amazing, fascinating place to visit.  Loved the secret stairway hidden in the study, and the tunnels to the stables were pretty cool, if a little slippery.  Casa Loma was quite the house, that’s for certain.

Having drink all that in, and exiting through the gift shop … it was time for lunch.  Where’s a good spot for lunch in Toronto? Why, that’d be …

St Lawrence Market

It’s no Pike Place, but it is much easier to get around.  A huge big old shed, St Lawrence Market was founded in about 1803, and since then a number of buildings housing the  market have been built, the current one is mostly from 1968.  It was here that we were able to sample one of most famous Canadian foods.  Poutine? No.  Maple Syrup? Nope.  Then what is it ?  Behold, Peameal Bacon Sandwiches!

Layers of thick bacon, some relish and some onion, nice bread and ta-da – a whole big package of deliciousness ready to go.  I swear there were at least 6 or 7 layers of bacon… so how could you fault it. 🙂

The other famous food is the ‘Butter Tart’ – though its usually made with raisins or with pecans.  In short – tasted like a pecan pie.  But that’s no bad thing – pecan pie is delicious!

We didn’t have a whole bunch of time here but long enough to wander around and check it out (except for the fishy area), seeing the lovely produce and all the good stuff Toronto has to offer.  Sydney keeps trying but failing to come up with  great market like this – maybe the one at Carriageworks is coming close nowadays, but, Melbourne, Adelaide, Seattle, Toronto … all these places have markets that seem heaps better than those Sydney can manage at the moment.

Facing the onset of market-jealousy, it was now time for a relaxing boat trip around the shores of Lake Ontario and the small islands near there.  It really was relaxing, and a bit of fun being so close to the smaller Billy Baxter airport, seeing the planes come in close by.

And just like that, our tour was at an end.  A stellar job by Tori of SeeSights Tours – thanks a lot! It was also nice to hang out with Erin & her husband from Chicago.  Very nice people, all of them.

Naptime / Wander time

Back at the hotel, Perry opted for a nap, and I went out on a bit of a random wander to see the city, and re-visit an area that looked pretty when we’d driven past it in bus previously – around the corner of University and Queen.  Ultimately there wasn’t too much more to that corner than what we’d seen from the bus.  Some fountains, a garden, a statue of Adam Beck (instrumental in taking the electricity network away from Henry Pellatt, so …), and I thought that was about it.  Pressing on a little further north was nice though – the 11 people, a great piece of art regarding the jury system – with the viewer of course being the 12th person.  A clever piece of public art, simple, but made the message clear that the decisions you take have power.  A second after taking the photo a friendly Canadian said hi, clearly seeing I was a tourist I guess, and had a quick but pleasant chat.  People in this city are so nice. All those things they say about Canadian manners and hospitality, looks like it’s all true.

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Dinner…

I returned to the hotel in time to go out to diner – I took Perry to Red Tomato since I enjoyed it so much last night. Sure enough, excellent pizza was on offer, and a cocktail, because holidays.  The bubbly lady serving us had lived in Australia for a time so it was nice have a big old chat about it, and how it compares.  We get more holidays and they don’t get long service leave, just in case you’re ever considering moving to Canada…

…and a show!

“Come from Away” was tonight’s show – conveniently playing just a few doors down at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.  I knew next to nothing about this show, other than the most basic outline of the story.  After September 11, 2001 – all planes currently in the air were directed to land, and anyone outside US airspace was not able to enter.  This mean the little town of Gander, Newfoundland, Canada – a town of about 9000 – suddenly saw itself with 30-odd planes and around 7000 newcomers from all around the globe. What on earth do you do when that happens?  That’s what the show explored.

It was an amazing musical – 100 minutes long, no intermission, and after seeing the show it makes sense why it’s done that way.  It has an incredible energy that just does not let up, the music almost never stops, the songs keep coming and coming, the story runs along at a rapid pace, and it’s so funny in parts the place was roaring with laughter. Staging was simple but brilliant, the 12 main cast took on so many roles I don’t know how they remember who was who, and the whole thing was just brilliantly put together, end to end.

Normally, when a show concludes, the energy levels sink, there are some bows, everybody goes home.  This show ended on what I thought was a high – there was a theatre-wide standing ovation, everyone was cheering, it was awesome. But as the cast most off the stage, the musicians (who had been playing in a corner) took centre stage and lifted the energy even higher by continuing to play a rollicking Irish-inspired tunes (I think it’s fair to say there’s a fair bit of Irish culture and influence in Newfoundland. No I haven’t read anything of its history as yet).

Nobody left the theatre – instead we had 1200 people all on their fleet, clapping along, everyone finally leaving the theatre on a high once the music stopped.  Just brilliant.  And I think being able to see the show in Canada itself added a bit to it as well.

After that, back to the normal routine:  Hotel, Blog, Sleep, Repeat 🙂  Loving it!

 

Toronto and a show

“Breakfast at Timmy’s”. Wasn’t that a movie? OK, not quite, but was a convenient way to shove food and coffee into our gobs, not far from the hotel.

We had a go on the subway – very clean, pleasant, slightly confusing – the last of which is pretty much standard for any mode of transport you visit for the first time.  But we now have our Presto cards to add to the collection of Opal / Clipper / oyster / AT Hop / etc, etc.  There was some cool buildings and fun public art near St Andrew station.

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We were aiming for the Queen St shopping district, and after a few short stops, there we were.  The subway had a cool little map showing where the train was headed and what the next stop was – very handy.

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Exiting at Queen Station (hey, it seemed appropriate! 🙂 ) we started wandering.  Before long we noticed it wasn’t quite the shopping mecca we thought – but seems there’s a very big distinction between Queen St East and Queen St West.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the East End 🙂 After a few blocks, we decided to Go West (life is peaceful there haha).  It’s more than just shops though – old city hall, new city hall, a number of pretty places all around.  And a dude cleaning the floor of a pond in a little floor-cleaning-golf-buggy thing. Nice!

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How handy - a self-captioning photo :)

How handy – a self-captioning photo 🙂

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Not a very deep pond. Also an ice rink in winter I think.

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Building reflected in a building

We had a good wander around, popping in to the occasional shop, and having a break for a cold drink, before wandering again. Then we happened upon a couple of dickheads holding what they said were picture of aborted foetuses and spouting a bunch of nonsense, probably trying to somehow justify how a woman should not have a right to what happens in her own body.  Like I said, dickheads.  Because I’m nice, and kind, and quiet, I couldn’t help but call out “Shame on you!” as one of them tried to hand me a brochure.  Ugh.  Go away, you awful, awful people. But enough of the lunatic fringe, which seems to find a way to infest all corners of the planet.  It was beautiful sunny day, so we just kept a-wandering a while longer.

After returning to the hotel, Perry opted for a nap, and I went for another walk around to sample one of the many hip-and-happening coffee places that I’d seen.  I settled on “Strange Love” coffee which was nearby.

As soon as I saw they had flat white on the menu, once again I knew I was in good hands.  Sure enough, a few minutes after ordering I was presented with a cup of coffee that tasted just awesome.  Close your eyes and you could have been in a little Melbourne laneway somewhere.  Deeeelicious.  At least a 9/10 on the iScott Coffee Scale.  Coffee fans – get yourself to Strange Love if you visit Toronto.

I also a few more sights on my travels around the place, including some people hand-painting a giant Apple advert mural on the side of a building.

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Considering we both skipped lunch, we headed out pretty early for dinner, catching the train (or, since there are 5 different train networks, we caught the TTC) up to Dundas (ie Times Square). There we found a thing that all cities should have. Or at least Sydney. All-you-can-eat sushi, oh yea it’s a thing. A very good thing!! They basically throw you an iPad, you press a bunch of buttons. And delicious sushi and other Japanese delights keep arriving at the table. Brilliant! All you can eat? Challenge accepted!

That was only round one – we managed a bit more after that. One thing I really liked though, was that they had a food wastage charge – in other words if you go completely stupid and order way too much, you will get charged for wasting food – and rightly so. The food was all delicious, too. And no, we didn’t waste a single bit.

To waste a bit of time we walked around some of the Eaton Shopping complex – a pretty ginormous mall.

Nordstrom has some pretty crazy things – like rather diaphanous Burberry scarves for only $600. Good grief. The mall also had an Apple store so of course I had to take a souvenir snap lol.

Next thing we knew it was time for the show – Wicked. The Ed Mirvish theatre is very pretty – it’s no State Theatre but still a good dose of grandeur about it.

Yes we’ve seen Wicked a bunch of times but it’s always a good show so why not see it again. Sure enough, it was as good as ever. Brilliant performances from the whole cast, and while it wasn’t the strongest Elphaba we’ve ever heard, she still gave it her all for Defying Gravity, the defining moment of the show. At the end I think basically the entire theatre was giving a standing ovation, so yep all the audience was pretty thrilled with it. It was also great hearing a few people gasp at a pivotal moment – there are still people seeing it for the first time.

After that we eventually made our way out the theatre (that was kinda hard work!) , then jumped on he wrong train platform – oops, ah well that’s $5 in stupid-tax coz we had to load more money on to the presto card. There’s no such thing as “tap off” – so as soon as you tap on you have spent your money, and we needed to tap on again to go to the other platform. Never mind, all part of the learning experience 🙂

The train trip was no trouble – and maybe this is a small thing, but it always heartens me to see: a (I will take the liberty of assuming) couple, girlfriend and girlfriend boarded the train, having a bit of a snuggle and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears, and nobody batted and eyelid. It’s one of things that can say a lot about a city. So, Toronto, well done you. There are still plenty of times and places in Sydney where this kind of behaviour is met with verbal abuse or worse, and it’s something you kinda need to be a bit wary of every day. But good on you Toronto in this instance. Always makes me happy when people are allowed to be themselves.

We made it back to the hotel with no dramas, other than having to swim upstream against all the people who had just exited a performance of The King and I nearby. The end of another great day.

Tomorrow – finally we’ll get up that big tower and have a look around. And much more besides. Stay tuned!

Niagara (really, really) Falls

Forgive me father, for I have gone to Starbucks and not Timmy’s for breakfast. It’s attached to the hotel so it was convenient for a nice quick breakfast. They even had Flat White on the menu, and it was, well, passable. I’ll give it 6.5/10.

Happily this all happened after a nice long sleep, think I’m finally recovered from the 4am start the other day.

Breakfast was a bit of a quick affair as it was time to join another tour. I think we were both a bit excited about this one – as you might’ve guessed from the title of today’s entry, it was time to visit Niagara Falls.

We met our friendly tour guide, and after a few more hotel pickups we hit the highway and headed off on the roughly 90 minute drive. The urban sprawl gave way to masses of power pylons, and eventually, things turned a little greener.

As the traffic built up again, we knew we must be getting close. Ok, well it was kinda obvious when our tour guide, (doing her best to talk over a noisy crowd of people behind us who were all sure they knew more about their chosen field of work than the person with whom they were loudly conversing ) did her best to let us know.

Much of the traffic was due to people wanting to cross the “Rainbow Bridge” to the USA – as the Niagara Falls spans the USA and Canada.  Our tour bus stopped at the top of the Canadian (of course) part of the falls – also known as the Horseshoe Falls.  Spectacular.  Even from the top, the ridiculous amount of water just washing through and dropping off the edge was amazing.  As was the amount of ‘mist’ being thrown up in the process.  It was like proper rain, not mist! But wow, what a great sight to behold.  It’s one of those famous things your always hear about but in a way you never think you’d actually get there to see it.  It was kinda like when we went up the Empire State Building five years ago.  An amazing feeling to really be here, at the actual thing, taking it all in.

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In this case we couldn’t really take it all in as we only had about 15 minutes to grab photos.  All, however, for a good cause – because the next stop was the boat that takes you up close and personal to the falls themselves, at the face of it, where it all happens.  After only a small amount of queueing we were handed our lovely red plastic ponchos – and with about 698 other little red riding hoods, off we trotted, on to the boat.  Does anyone remember the old computer game Lemmings? It kinda looked a bit like that as we all walked along the snaking queue.

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Next minute – we’re off!  First, past the American part of the falls.  It really must tweak the Americans that they have the deeply inferior part o the bargain here.  The falls aren’t terribly wide, and it’s not a big drop – mainly on to large rocks rather than straight down the lake below.  The Canadian side, however, is this grand big magnificent horseshoe waterfall throwing tons of water off the edge every second, resulting in a lot, and I mean a LOT, of water being thrown back up as ‘mist’ when it hits the bottom.  As the boat drew close tot he bottom of the falls, the ‘mist’ became ‘torrential rain’ and the little red riding hoods we had on became very welcome indeed.  By that stage you could hardly see anything such was the volume of water hitting your eyes, but it’s all part of the fun.  Amazing to be that close to it, hearing the roar of all that water even when you couldn’t really see a thing.  The bot ride was only 20 minutes, but that was enough – any longer and I think even the red anorak wouldn’t have stopped all the water.  It was such fun though.

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After exiting through the gift shop (of course) – we had about an hour of free time before the lunch that was part of the tour. At this point it was surprising the see Clifton Hill.  I know it’s fully expected that Nigara Falls would be very touristy – but this was border on Vegas tacky levels of touristy.  Flashing lights, big signs, the works.  But it did have an ice cream place called “Sweet Jesus” so that was a least amusing.

Lunch was a buffet at the nearby Sheraton Hotel – and a very good buffet it was too.  It wasn’t too hectic despite the busload of people who were all arriving at the same time.

After enjoying lunch and getting back on the bus, next stop was the lovely, but not exactly nearby, village of Niagara-on-the-Lake.  What a lovely little town.  It’s like someone found a village, then carpet-bombed it with several thousand litres of Quaintness.  Lovely old buildings, lovely old shops, lovely gardens, lovely hanging baskets full of flowers, more lovely than professor lovely of lovely university with an electric lovely-ing machine.  Lovely.  It also afforded a good opportunity to just sit in a park for a little while and chill.

There were a few more stop-offs on the tour – another gift shop, a place that sold nice ice cream (hurrah!), and a winery, before the bus finally made its way back to Toronto proper, arriving around 7:30 in the evening.  Another big day – sitting in a bus doing pretty much nothing can still take it out of you!

Perry had done a good job with the buffet lunch (it was a pretty late lunch) and so wasn’t up for dinner – but I wandered across to the road to what is kind-of the other half of “Fred’s not here”, called Red Tomato.  A pizza and pasta place – and sure enough, delicious pizza.  A glass of Californian merlot didn’t hurt either.

Even though it was nearly 10pm when i went back to the hotel, the restaurant district was still buzzing, plenty of people out and about, having a good time.  Always nice to see.

Tomorrow isn’t chock full of plans, but the evening should be good – time for a New York warm up of sorts, we’re off to a show 🙂

Running around Toronto

(Yeah, as if I’d actually run …)

Breakfast today was at a place called Cora’s – average coffee, but the food was delicious. Toronto seems to be another one of those towns that wakes up a bit slowly but on a Sunday morning who can blame them.

We followed the ‘visiting a city for the first time’ tradition and jumped on the Hop on Hop of bus to get the lay of the land. We waited in the hotel lobby which was kinda pretty with its waterfall trying to disguise the fake fire behind.

After a few minutes of waiting, a bus came to pick us up and …took us to the bus. A bit odd, but hey saved us walking to he next corner. Maybe I don’t get out much, but I’d never see a ‘side-saddle’ shuttle bus like this before.

Once on the proper bus we perched ourselves on the upper deck and toured around. It’s a big city, with some interesting buildings.

The CN tower

A fountain full of puppy dogs

More of the CN tower. Gosh it’s tall.

I think we found Times Square / Piccadilly Circus

It also has some pretty low bridges…

It was nice hearing our Canadian bus tour guide, whilst we were driving down ‘Hospital Row’ – make a very clear point about the wonders and benefits of having a universal health care system.  Go Canada!!

Despite being allegedly only 23 degrees, it was a wee bit warm up there in the full sun at midday, so we did a loop then popped into a “Timmy’s” for some frozen lemonade. Like, proper lemony drink, not Australian lemonade.

Included in the ticket for the bus was a ticket for a boat. We got there and found that not only was there a boat tour – also included, totally free of charge, was a very long queue. Fortunately that’s about the same time Perry realised that a tour we’re taking in a few days also includes a trip on the water – so we opted out of this one and went for a wander.

We walked along the waterfront a little – seeing this amusing “W’otter Taxi” – they had names like “Scout’s Otter” and “Otter people’s money” – looks like you can build a whole business out of Dad-jokes after all 🙂

After a good bit of walking it was lunch time, which was also a good excuse to get out of the meet.  Found a mall, found a food court, found some lovely Greek food – win!!

We kept on with this ‘staying out of the sun’ idea, by noting we were quite near a cinema that was showing the “Mamma Mia Here We Go Again”  movie, in “VIP Class”, no less.  Just like Gold Class at home – nice big comfy seats, but the popcorn wasn’t free.  I didn’t think the movie was that great, but it was definitely rescued by Cher – she put in a fantastic performance.

After that, we did a bit more wandering back to the hotel. via Chinatown, to get a bit of a break (valuable blog-writing time 🙂 ) before heading out to dinner.

Dinner was at the interesting-named “Fred’s Not Here”. We never did find out why Fred wasn’t there – but did find one thing that was: great food. Delicious beef brisket – super tasty, very tender, and just pretty awesome all round. Nice one Fred, even if you’re not here.

And that’s it for the day! Pretty sure I still haven’t completely recovered from yesterday’s 4am wake up so it’s an early night. Gonna be a fun day tomorrow – it involves water and falls, and I’m not talking about slipping over in a puddle.

Toronto (or as we classy people say … Tronno!)

4AM starts are not my friend. It also had to be the night where there were sirens blaring a few times, and that sound sure travels even those though we were 15 floors up. But we made it to our transport at the front door at 5am, even if a little bleary-eyed,  so no dramas there. The car was a nice plush Lincoln MKT – very comfy. Surprisingly (in a good way) it cost the same as the taxi from the airport when we arrived.

Passing through security it was nice to be able to keep belt and shoes on – but they were really interested in checking my iPad and laptop, go figure.

We hung out the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge in Calgary while waiting for our flight. It was comfy, but there wasn’t much in the way food other than toast and cereal. Not to worry, we’d get fed on the plane anyway.  Coffee was out a machine, a pretty ordinary 5/10 on the iScott Coffee Scale.

Meh…

The flight was so good!  The seats were wide enough, but there wasn’t a heck of a lot of legroom – still enough to stay comfortable though.  It was an Airbus A320-200 – don’t tell anyone from Seattle that it wasn’t a Boeing 🙂  The quality of the service on Air Canada was just brilliant, can’t fault it at all.  Maybe we were just fortunate enough to get the best cabin crew member ever looking after us, but she did a fantastic job.  The food was also really nice – a plate of fresh fruit, followed by pancakes with maple syrup and apple/cranberry compote. The addition of a chicken sausage in to the mix was a but, umm, unorthodox, but it still made for a good, solid, tasty brekkie.  We were regularly offered drinks, and just before touchdown she came through with  basket of chock snacks to choose from. Welcome to Toronto, here, have a Kit Kat.

Breakfast menu

We both managed to get a bit of catch-up sleep on the flight which was nice.  I also finally got around to watching The King’s Speech, a movie I’d been intending to watch probably since it came out in 2010.  (Look, you can’t rush these things, OK?). Glad I finally watched it – really good movie. The only jarring thing was seeing Harvey Weinstein name in the credits.

Once the luggage (finally!) made its way off the plan and into our hands, we jumped in a taxi – there’s a flat rate far from the airport to downtown hotels, so that was nice and easy.  Our room wasn’t ready when we arrived, but no dramas they said, they’d give us a call the moment it was ready.  We took a wander round, to find we’re kind smack dab in the main entertainment district and restaurant district.

Fun Fact – just like home the main restaurant strip is King Street!

Dial-a-chum? Maybe if you’re lonely?

We partook in what I believe is a Canadian institution – coffee and a bite to eat at Tim Horton’s.  Nice enough fast food, and a nice cold coffee drink. Walking around the entertainment/restaurant district, it was heartening to see five or six coffee places that say they really specialise in their coffee (again, just like King Street in Newtown), so tomorrow morning should be a good wake-up.  We’re here for a few days so should get a good opportunity to sample a few of them and see how it goes.

Once we were done with wandering and eating, the hotel still hadn’t called, so we went and sat in the lobby for a little while until the 4PM checkin time.  Sure enough the room was ready, they just never called about it.  I think there was a shift change while we were out, and maybe notes didn’t get passed along.  Were were then checked in by someone whose name tag should have read Mr Unenthusiastic.  Sorry to sound whiny but to be frank, this place is bloody expensive, and I was expecting a better quality of service.  The room itself though it really nice – rather stylish and a good size.  It has a few red accents, they must’ve known we were coming.

We’re not far from a cinema, and our our wanderings earlier we saw that DeadPool 2 was still playing, to we popped in to see that.  Too tired to be bothered doing much else, really!  It was good – better than I was expecting for a sequel.  The pre-show suff was interesting – they had an interactive quiz game that you could play via your phone and compete against other people ion the audience if you were keen. No I wasn’t keen, but it’s a clever idea.

After the movie we found a Paramount – the amazing place we had dinner on our one night in Vancouver.  This one was quite  bit smaller and more of a takeaway joint – but still served up delicious middle eastern food.  We also somehow found gelato. So unlike us!  Their ‘London Fog’ (Vanilla and Earl Grey) wasn’t a patch on the homegrown version at Cow & Moon at Enmore, though.

Travelling from Calgary to Toronto, we shifted timezone, so it’s two hours later.  So it’s currently 9:15pm, but due to the lack of sleep and the early start, I’m glad we lost two hours out of the day – this way I don’t feel at all guilty going to sleep at 9:15 – whereas if it were 7:15pm it’d maybe be a different story.

So, it’s lovely to be here – looking forward to discovering and learning more about this buzzing city.  But not tonight, I’m tired….

Calgary and its animals

Despite having two nights here we really only have one full day to enjoy Calgary.  We started by getting out for breakfast around 8 … and finding basically nothing open.

Seeing this sign on the way amused me though…

Eventually we stumbled upon a fantastic wonderful and awesome cafe – Deville Coffee – https://www.devillecoffee.ca .  I knew it was going to be good as soon as I looked at the menu – they had a Flat White.  I ordered it, and happy to say I received the best coffee I’ve had on this entire trip so far.  Easily a 9/10 on the iScottboy Coffee Scale.  Deeeelicious.  I always know a coffee is good when it doesn’t need any sugar.  It was accompanied by a really flavoursome veggie breakfast wrap.

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best. coffee. ever.

By this time, the Calgary Tower had finally opened so it was time to go visit and get an overview of the city.  Along with access to the tower they also gave access to a fantastic audio tour – powered by an iPod Touch in a little case.  A great idea, and worked really well, gave you history and information about some of the stuff you were looking it.  For example I’d never have guess that the kind 80s looking glass stacked/stepped building was the ‘new’ City Hall, with the 1900s one right next to it. Also after what I’ll admit was a little hesitation, we stepped out on to the glass floor that looks straight down.  It’s like my brain knows its safe, when just before stepping out it’s all like “whoa hang on a minute!”. All good, we didn’t fall through 🙂

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Sooo flat. It’s like the anti-Banff.

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This is the time you don’t want to put a foot wrong

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City Hall in the centre

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Comparison with other towers around the world

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The place where we’re staying is circled

There was a building which caught my eye – it’s like an architect did a little bit of work and then just decided to copy/paste/  Thought it made for a kinda cool photo though…

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After towering over Calgary, we thought a vii=sit to the zoo would be in order.  That meant navigating the extremely difficult and challenging “C-Train” system.  Such complexity.  There are two different lines to choose from. One’s Red, one’s Blue.  Phew, it’s a wonder we ever managed to find our way to the Zoo 🙂

IMG_3495OK, so it was just three stops on the Blue Line, too easy.  Even the ticketing is easy – no need to tape on or tap off, just buy a ticket and have your proof of purchase with you.  No gates, barriers, just wander on and wander off.  I guess they’d have roving guards checking tickets but we didn’t see any.  Anyway, in almost no time at all we made it to the Zoo – which has its own train station. Lovely!

It’s quite a nice zoo – I don’t know if that much I can described that would cover anything new or exciting about a zoo… but I did take the requisite pile oh photos, some of which are worth posting here.  My favourite exhibit would have to be the Black-tiled Prairie Dogs.  Yep they were even funnier with the Meerkats.  Wonderful creatures.

It was a very nice way to spend a couple of hours on a rather warm day.  I don’t buy it for a minute that the temperature only reached 22 degrees, it felt a good five degrees warmer than that.  We’ve still been blessed with amazing weather for this whole holiday.

Saw the best sign at the zoo – I’m still not sure what this is all about:

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We caught the C-Train back, and here my inner sniggering 15-year-old found the perhaps Calgary does share some similarity with London.  London has trains terminating at Cockfosters … and as for Calgary :

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This amused me a bit too.  I mean I can press help, sure, but now I have to do what?!

IMG_3563Anyway, moving right along…

After the Zoo we caught the train back into town and checked out the main shopping district – Stephen Avenue.  Hi Stephen!

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It was nice – a kind of Pitt St without the Westfield getting in the way.  With our feet feeling like they were about to fall off we headed back to the apartment for a well-earned rest, and lots and lots of water (this holidaying can be very thirsty work).

Also noted this sign that you’d never see in Sydney:

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For dinner we headed back to the supermarket under our building, and found it has a restaurant attached as well. Not sure in hindsight if it was the beat idea as they were a bit under pressure, and things took their own sweet time to arrive, but it was really tasty, they didn’t crack under pressure at all. . And in a move that will surprise absolutely nobody, of course I took photos of the food :

Bacon-wrapped prawns

Maple-Apple chicken drumsticks and wings

Mac’n’cheese, and Margherita pizza bread

So … that’s it for Calgary.  Nice city, we didn’t really get enough time to really get a proper feel for it – but it was a very nice pit-stop for a place that has a decent airport where we can get a full-size plane to Toronto tomorrow.   Heading out at 5:15am is going to be a killer, but, so be it.

Allons-y!

A quiet day in Calgary

This will be a pretty short entry – it was a pretty quiet day.

But first a bit of a recap on some things I missed talking about previously.

JUNEAU – July 19

Remember the Mount Roberts Tramway – the crazy-steep cable car?

_1180432I’ve been able to upload a time-lapse version of the joinery up to the top. Happy travels!

BANFF – yesterday (July 25)

We entered one of the many many gift shops, will this was more a photography shop that also had a few souvenirs.  We bought a very cute orange glass moose (as you do), and got talking to the shopkeeper.  It was the standard ‘where are you from’ discussion, ’til we found out this guy grew up in Sydney and moved to Canada in 1994.  He’d been very much acclimatised, he retained barely  hint of his aussie accent.  After chatting a bit more we found our he grew up on Loftus – a whole one suburb away from where I grew up!  It is, as they often say, a small world indeed.

TODAY:

It was a bit sad to check out of Banff, such a beautiful place.  We booked a shuttle to get us to Calgary.  It was a very nice ride, but prt way through something kinda strange happened – all the mountains disappeared!  It was kinda weird staring at flatter, more ‘normal’ land as we travelled eastward.  I think maybe they were growing canola as there were some fields with a big splash of yellow.

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What else happened.  Umm, I saw a train?

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That was about it – it was a drive from Banff to Calgary, it took  little over 90 minutes, all was well, and I can recommend the ‘Banff Airporter’ service. It goes from Banff to the Airport, so then we got a taxi to our accommodation.  For Calgary, we’re staying in an Airbnb.  We’re up on the 15th floor of a block of flats, it’s quite nice, and has a bit of a view.

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The other exciting thing, at least exciting for anyone on a long holidays, is right here:

Laundry facilities!  It was nice to get all the laundry washed and dried without having to go find a laundrette or anything like that.

There’s a supermarket built into the ground floor of the building – and even a built in cafe which was nice – we grabbed a very late lunch, and then some bits and pieces to have for dinner.  In the taxi we heard reports of the major thunderstorm warning so we figured for today we wouldn’t stray too far from our place.

The major thunderstorm was about 10 mins of rains and a single crack of thunder.  But not to worry we made it through unscathed, somehow 🙂

And, really, that’s about it for the day.  We watched telly, ate the stuff we bought for dinner,

A very quiet day, but sometimes even when you’re on holiday, you need a holiday.